1. Sir John Stradling’s quarto volume Beati Pacifici was published in 1623. It was not his first appearance in public as an author. His first publication, in 1592, was A Direction for Travailers, which had at its core a translation of Epistola de Peregrinatione Italica by Justus Lipsius [1547 - 1606], the Belgian-born philologist and interpreter of Stoicism, but was not simply a translation, as its full title explains: A Direction for Travailers: taken out of Justus Lipsius and enlarged for the behoofe of the right honourable Lord, the yong Earle of Bedford, being now ready to travell. They that go downe into the sea in shippes, see the great wonders of the Lord. In 1594 he published a further translation from the same author, his version of Lipsius’ De Constantia Libri Duo (1584) appearing as Two Books of Constancie (a modern edition of Stradling’s translation, edited by Rudolf Kirk and annotated by Clayton Morris Hall was published by Rutgers University Press in 1939). For the wider context of Lipsius’ influence on English — and Welsh — thought, see Adriana McCrea, Constant Minds: Political Virtue and the Lipsian Paradigm in England, 1584-1650, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1997). Three years later, in 1597, one of his contributions to the Renaissance tradition of philosophical dialogue, De Vita et Morte Contemnenda Libri Duo, was published in Frankfurt. His collection of Latin epigrams, Epigrammatum Libri Quatuor saw the light of day in 1607. Beati Pacifici was his next publication, though it did not appear for some seventeen years. Divine Poems was published in 1625; at much the same time he wrote a prose dialogue, A Politike Discourse, or Dialogue between a knight of the Commons-house of Parliament; And a Gent: his friend being a moderate Romane Catholique, which survives in manuscript in the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth (MS. 5666c). A fascinating text which would repay fuller study, A Politike Discourse clearly reflects Stradling’s experiences as Member of Parliament for St. Germans (in Cornwall) and his awareness of the importance of the issues raised and discussed in a crucial moment in parliamentary history (see Robert E. Ruigh, The Parliament of 1624: Politics and Foreign Policy, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard U. P., 1971). A further work which Stradling left in manuscript, The Storie of the Lower Borowes of Merthyr Mawr, written in 1593, was first published in 1932, edited by William Rees and H. Randall and is a very lively piece of social history. Most of Stradling’s work as an author clearly falls well within the range of interests expected of a Christian Humanist of his age.
2. The Stradlings had long been established in the beautiful setting of St. Donat’s on the south coast of Wales. The connection seems to have been first established by Peter Stradling, son of one John de ‘Estratlinges’, the first of the family to be active in England and Wales (the family origins and name seem ultimately to derive from Strättligin near Thun in Switzerland). The handiest modern account of the family and its connections with St. Donat’s is provided by Glanmor Williams in his essay ‘The Stradling Family’ (in Roy Denning, ed., The Story of St. Donat’s Castle and Atlantic College, Cowbridge, 1983, pp. 17 - 53, with a useful Bibliographical Note), and also the Stradling family Web site. In 1571, with the death of Sir Thomas Stradling, St. Donat’s passed to Sir Edward Stradling [1529 - 1609]. Sir Thomas had been an ardent Catholic and this had, indeed, led to a spell of imprisonment in the Tower of London. Sir Edward seems, to have distanced himself from his father’s commitment to the Catholic cause, though it was only after Sir Thomas’ death that his son received marks of Queen Elizabeth’s favour. In 1573 he was knighted, reinstated on the commission of the peace, and undertook the first of his three spells as sheriff (1573 - 4, 1582 - 3 and 1595 - 6), before going on to hold a number of important positions, under the crown, in the local government of Wales. He several times undertook commissions for the Privy Council. He corresponded with figures such as Walsingham and Cecil. But he was not only a man of affairs. He was educated at Oxford, and in his youth he had travelled to Italy (in 1548 -9 ), when his travelling companion had been Sir Thomas Hoby, the English translator of Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano. Tastes which were learned — or, at any rate reinforced — in Italy he carried back to Wales. The gardens at St. Donat’s were graced with statues of Roman emperors. He planted a vineyard — celebrated in one of Sir John Stradling’s Latin epigrams (I.40). His gardens, too, were effusively praised by Sir John (I.120). In other ways, too, he was a man of the Renaissance. He had wide-ranging cultural interests. He was a patron of the arts. A resident harpist was maintained at St. Donat’s, one Thomas Richards. He supported the work of Welsh-language poets such as Meurig Dafydd and Dafydd Benwyn. The Welsh grammarian, Siôn Dafydd Rhys, who had lived for some years in Italy (as a student at the University of Siena and as Head of a grammar school at Pistoia), was a welcome guest at the castle, and Stradling footed the bill for the publication of Rhys’ Cambrobrytannicae Cymraecaeve linguae institutiones et rudimenta accurate, et, quantum fieri potuit in 1592. Edward Stradling was himself a historian of some distinction, though little of his work now survives (it is significant that William Camden was one of his friends). Sir Edward collected what was, to judge from contemporary account, a remarkable library at St. Donat’s, made up of both manuscripts and printed books. (James Ussher saw this library in 1645 and lavished praise on the many “ancient, rare and curious” items it contained: see Williams, op. cit., p.36. This collection was, sadly, dispersed in the eighteenth century). In 1566 Sir Edward had married Agnes, daughter of Sir Edward Gage of Sussex. The pair had no children. An heir had, therefore, to be chosen.
3. The young man adopted as Sir Edward’s heir was John Stradling, born in 1563 in the parish of St. George’s near Bristol, across the border in England, a descendant of a different branch of the family. The young man had been educated at the school attached to Bristol Cathedral under the supervision of Canon Edward Green, before entering Brasenose College, Oxford in 1580, proceeding to his M.A. from Magdalen Hall in 1584. Anthony à Wood tells us that he was “accounted a miracle for his forwardness in learning and pregnancy of parts.” He became a Fellow of All Souls and seems to have travelled on the continent thereafter. He later spent time at the Inns of Court. Given his evident learning and his interest in the Humanist (and Italianate) concerns that Sir Edward Stradling had so enthusiastically embraced, it is not perhaps surprising that he should have been chosen as his older elation’s heir. Quite when he was formally recognised as such is unknown. A letter by Siôn Dafydd Rhys, dated 1592, speaks of John Stradling as living at St. Donat’s. In a dedicatory epistle to Sir Edward, prefaced to his 1594 translation of Lipsius’ Two Bookes of Constancie, John Stradling explains something of the circumstances surrounding his undertaking of the work:
It may…please you to call to remembraunce, how about Christmas last. Maister James Thomas a studious gentleman, your kinseman and my good friend, coming to your house to visit you, wee happened to fall in talke of some bookes wherein I had done mine endevour by translating to pleasure you. Among which I chiefly approved that wherein I last laboured, being by the Author therof very learnedly handled, & having a notable Subjecte, to wit, matter of pollicie and governmente in peace and warre. Whereupon the gentleman recommended unto me another excellent booke of that argument, upon which he wished me to bestowe some paines for your pleasure, whom hee perceaved to bee greatly delighted with such exercises…Afterwardes seing the method of this writer so much pleased mee, (as I think it can displease no man that taketh pleasure in reading) I called to minde this treatise of CONSTANCIE, which came to my hands about ten years past, being a student in Oxford…I have reduced it into english, I feare me, with more hast then good speede, not having spent full five weeks ther abouts, as you very well know.
Stradling’s letter ends thus “From my chamber in your castle of Saint Donatts. The xiij of June. 1594. Your poore kinsman to command: John Stradling.”
4. We may note that Stradling, as a student, was reading the works of Lipsius as soon as they come out. And that, by 1594, he had his own room at the castle, able to share in and benefit from the cultured environment (and the library) that Sir Edward had created. The kind of literary conversation that John Stradling here recalls was not, it seems, a rare phenomenon at St. Donat’s. Siôn Dafydd Rhys addresses Sir Edward thus in the dedicatory epistle to his Cambrobrytannicae Cymraecaeve linguae institutiones: “You are a man who are most happily versed in letters, and are so fashioned by the charm which attaches to them that your home is always open to men of learning. For you find your pleasure in joining in discussion with such men, you exercise your own genius as you delight in talking to them and thus you summon back the vigour of your tired mind Furthermore, not only have you stayed for a long time in Italy…but you have also travelled the greater part of the rest of Europe. The result of all this is that experience has produced learning in you, and learning so many virtues” (quoted thus in Ceri Davies, Latin Writers of the Renaissance (Writers of Wales), Cardiff, 1981, pp.10-11). It was in such an environment that John Stradling’s literary career developed
5. In October 1599 the younger Stradling married Elizabeth Gage, niece to Sir Edward’s wife. In all probability he married safe in the certainty that he was the sure heir to Sir Edward’s considerable estate. The barrenness of Sir Edward’s marriage was not repeated — Sir John became the father of nine sons and four daughters. His eldest son (named Edward for obvious reasons) was baptised at St. Donat’s in November 1600. Sir Edward died in 1609. Even before that date, John had begun to play a role in the public life of the area. He became a Justice of the Peace in 1607; he was Sheriff of Glamorgan for the first time in 1607 (an office he was to hold again in 1619 and 1620). He was knighted in 1608 and was created a Baronet in 1611. He entered the House of Commons in 1623. He sat again in the session of 1625 - 6. He was an active member and played his part on a number of important parliamentary committees. In March of 1626 he was a member of the deputation sent by by the House of Commons to the House of Lords as part of the attempt to bring the Duke of Buckingham to face questions from the Commons, which suggests that he was held in some respect. He was Deputy Lieutenant of Glamorgan in 1626. By the end of the 1620’s he was perhaps withdrawing from public life to some extent; in 1631 his son and heir, Edward, succeeded him as Deputy Lieutenant.
6. For all his active public life, Stradling (in the best Renaissance traditions) never neglected the world of learning. In 1607 William Camden, in Britannia, referred to him as vir doctissimus (a most learned man); Sir John Harington was another friend. One of Sir John Stradling sons, George, became Dean of Chichester; a collection of his Sermons and discourses upon several occasions was published in 1692, with an account of the author’s life by James Harington in which John Stradling is lavishly praised: “his propensity to learning, and his progress in it, is easily discernible from those his works that are yet extant, and whether it proceeded from the greatness of his parts, the agreeableness of his temper, or the generality of his studies; we shall hardly find any gentleman whatsoever, that (among all the eminent scholars of that age…) appears by his writings to have gained so universal respect and esteem” (quoted thus by Glanmor Williams, op.cit., p.17) . In Beati Pacifici Stradling has composed a work in which he seeks to unite the lessons learned from his reading with those acquired through his experience of the world of practical politics.
7. Beati Pacific carries a portrait of James I facing its title page. The title page reads, in full, “Beati Pacifici: a divine poem. Written to the Kings most excellent Majestie. By Sir John Stradling, Knight and Baronet. Perused by his Majesty, and printed by authority”. The poem is prefaced by lines addressed “TO THE SACRED MAJESTIE OF MY DREAD SOVERAIGNE Lord the King”:
These Verses present in your Royall view,
Presumed not to presse into this roome:
But brought as prisoners to receive from you,
Of Death, or Life, as likes you best, the doome.
Thus th’Author and his rimes both prostrate lie,
And as your Highnesse saies, say they, and I.
Your Majesties most humble
and faithfull Subject and Servant:
It is, as it were, a “selling point” that Beati Pacifici expresses sentiments approved of by the King and this is a context important to any understanding of the poem. But, independent of such immediate political relevance, the poem clearly belongs in an important (Christian) humanist tradition, as exemplified by works such as Erasmus’ Querela Pacis (The Complaint of Peace), written in 1516. Erasmus writes in the person of Peace himself, seeking to draw his audience (and he seems to have had in mind such new European rulers as Henry VIII, Pope Leo X, François I of France, and others) back to the teachings of the Prince of Peace. He makes extensive use of materials both biblical and classical. Stradling’s address, too, is to a ‘Prince’ (though he is readier to praise James than to instruct or exhort him) and he too mixes classical and Biblical exempla. Some of the same breaches of peace — such as intra-Christian disputes- are discussed by both authors; some of Erasmus’ characteristic imagery — notably of sea-voyages and harbours — is replicated by Stradling. Erasmus’ exhortation: “Survey the life of Christ from start to finish, and what else is it but a lesson in concord and mutual love? What do all his commandments and parables teach if not peace and love for one another? Think of the mighty prophet Isaiah: when he was inspired by the divine spirit and prophesied that Christ would come to unite the world, did he promise a tyrant, a sacker of cities, a warrior, a conqueror? He did not. What then did he promise? A prince of peace. Isaiah wished it to be understood that his Prince was the best of all princes, and so he named him after that quality which he judged to be best” (translated by Betty Radice, Collected Works of Erasmus, Vol. 27, ed. A. H. T. Levi, Toronto, 1986, p.299) sums up to perfection the essential burden of Beati Pacifici, and generates distinct echoes in the text of Stradling’s poem. Nor is this by any means the only passage in the Querela Pacis of which the reader of Beati Pacifici will be unavoidably reminded. But detailed demonstration of any direct indebtedness on the part of Stradling is beside the point; what matters is a clear sense of how much Stradling’s poem is firmly located in a central stream of the Christian humanist tradition, how much it is the work of a man well read in the books available to him at Oxford (and at St. Donat’s), as it were.
8. We need also, however, to relate Beati Pacifici to its immediate political surroundings. That James I apparently gave his approval to Stradling’s poem need hardly comes a surprise; the poem is, in effect, an endorsement of much that was central to James’ own thinking. A reader of Beati Pacifici familiar with some of James’ key pronouncements will recognise many points of similarity. So, for example, in his speech in the House of Lords on the 19th of March 1603, James places his emphasis on the twin blessings of what he calls “outward” and “inward” peace. Of the first he declares:
I thanke God I may justly say, that never since I was a King, I either received wrong of any other Christian Prince or State, or did wrong to any: I have ever, I praise God, yet kept Peace and amitie with all … by Peace abroad with their neighbours the Townes flourish, the Merchants become rich, the Trade doeth encrease, and the people of all sorts of the Land enjoy free libertie to exercise themselves in their severall vocations without perill or disturbance. Not that I thinke this outward Peace so unseparably tyed to my Person as I dare assuredly promise to my selfe and to you, the certaine continuance thereof, neither shall I ever be moved for any particular or private passion of mind to interrupt your publique Peace, except I be forced therunto, either for reparation of the honour of the Kingdom, or else by necessitie for the weale and preservation of the same. In which case, a secure and honourable warre must be preferred to an unsecure and dishonourable Peace. (King James VI and I, Political Writings, ed. J. P. Somerville, Cambridge, C. U. P., 1994, pp.133-34).
These are ideals which the poet of Beati Pacifici clearly shared (see, for example, stanzas 22-26. The last of these stanzas would certainly have appealed to so fervent an enthusiast for the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings as James was). James, as is well known, saw himself as a great peacemaker; he declared himself especially well-pleased that the epithet ‘Pacificus’ was often applied to him. This has sometimes been presented as a kind of self-deceiving affectation on James’ part, but this is unfair. To imagine that he could bring peace to Europe was, doubtless, a presumptuous delusion. But that James was seriously committed to such an aspiration is undeniable. There is some flattery in Stradling’s presentation of James, when he writes:
Of Peacefull Princes, there is so great dearth,
For One I know, I cannot finde a mate:
That One must be the Phœnix of this age;
To him the Muses flie for Patronage.
But there is not only flattery in the lines. As W. B. Patterson has brilliantly demonstrated, James worked throughout his reign(s) “to achieve a religious reconciliation among Christians of many persuasions — English Protestants, Lutherans, Calvinists, Roman Catholics, and Greek Orthodox. James saw religious reconciliation as the key to a stable and peaceful Christendom at a time when religious disputes exacerbated the conflicts among states. Despite the mistrust and opposition some of his efforts generated, they brought significant benefits to Britain and the continent” (King James VI and I and the Reunion of Christendom, Cambridge, C.U.P., 1997, p.ix). Patterson’s study reveals a James who is “a shrewd, determined, flexible, and resourceful political leader who had a coherent plan for religious pacification aimed at resolving urgent problems in the wake of the reformation and Counter-Reformation” (ibid.). It is to such a James — rather than to the “wisest fool” of many intervening accounts — that Stradling addresses himself in Beati Pacifici. Certainly Stradling seems to share many of James’ ecumenical and irenic ideals. He is much disturbed by what he sees as the trivial disagreements which breed dissension between Christians — see, particularly, stanzas 79-104. Much of what divides Christians of different denominations he dismisses as “trifles” or “nifles”. He appeals to “learned men of tempr’rate disposition” to “reason mildly, rancour laid aside”. He complains of the activities of “precisians” (“of both sides”), and beseeches all to behave more mildly towards their “Christian brothers”. His stress his laid on that which — he insists — Christians have in common:
Th’ Apostles, and great Athanasius Creed,
The Pater-noster, and Gods Precepts Ten, .
We all beleeve, as in the Church Clarks reade,
And to each Article, we say, Amen.
The holy undivided Trinitie,
We all adore in perfect unitie. (stanza 92).
He makes the explicit declaration that he is not, himself, a Catholic; but is happy to praise the “many” Catholics with whom he is acquainted:
I am not on that side, I doe confesse,
(If siding may be nam’d with charity.)
Yet in this place, sure I can doe no lesse,
Then purge their hearts from such impiety.
I know so many good, devout and pious;
I’me sure th’are not so sacrilegious. (stanza 99).
His Stradling ancestry gave him reason to understand some of the costs of intra-Christian strife. Sir Edward was suspected of being, at the least, a kind of crypto-Catholic. Though the poet denies his own Catholicism, he is generous in his declaration in his affirmation that he knows “so many good, devout and pious” and he is strikingly willing to quote Jesuits such as Bellarmine (with whom James himself had conducted a pamphlet war) and Arias Montanus with warm approval. It is probably best to take him at his word. He was not, in any formal sense, a Catholic; but he refused to condemn Catholicism. It was, once more, an attitude with which James (though of course circumstances changed his views) would, in principle, have been ready to agree with. Patterson tellingly quotes from a report of an embassy sent to England by the Duke of Lorraine in 1604. According to the ambassadors, James repeatedly said “that he recognised the Roman Church as the Mother Church, and the Pope as the Universal bishop of the whole church, with spiritual authority over all, and that he would gladly be reunited with the Roman Church and would take three steps in that direction if only the Roman Church would take one”. They reported further that he “regretted that parliament had confirmed the laws against them, but would himself see that no action was taken against Catholics on purely religious grounds” (Patterson, op. cit., p.53). In seeking to avoid doctrinal quibbling, Stradling was in sympathy with the political designs of a king he admired. He was also following a line of thought already adumbrated by Erasmus in his discussion of peace:
When I hear the word ‘man’, I run to him at once, as if to an animal specially created for me [i.e. peace], confident that with him I shall be permitted to rest; when I hear the name ‘Christian’ I hurry the faster, full of hope that I shall certainly come into my kingdom. But here too, I am shamed and reluctant to say, assemblies, lawcourts, secretariats, and churches everywhere resound with strife, more so than among the heathen…
9. A striking and distinctive feature of Beati Pacifici is the passion with which Stradling urges the rulers of Europe to launch a new crusade against the Turks. By the time that Stradling was writing the threat from the Ottoman empire was far less than it had been in the earlier years of the sixteenth century, especially during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent [1520 - 1566]. The battle of Lepanto in 1571, saw the defeat of the Turkish fleet, but the alliance between the Pope, the Spanish and the Venetians, which had ensured that victory, did not last and the Turks soon had control of their original target of Cyprus. They largely controlled the Mediterranean to the east of Sicily, while Christian shipping held sway to the east. On land the Turkish threat diminished. The Ottomans were themselves troubled by the growing power of Iran under Shah Abbas. Still, as late as 1620-1 there was fighting between the Poles and the Ottomans. In effect Stradling emphasises the threat (both to military might and to religious truth, as it were) posed by the Turks as an important strand in his argument for the need for reconciliation between the various churches of Christian Europe. In doing so he strikes a note which was no longer so commonly heard. C. A. Patrides, in his discussion of European attitudes towards the Turks, notes that “Stradling was one of the few remaining advocates of a united crusade against the Turks” (‘“The Bloody and Cruell Turke’: The Background of a Renaissance Commonplace,” Studies in the Renaissance, 10, 1963, p.132).
10. Stradling’s verse essay on peace, moving as it does from the origins of peace, through an account of its corruption at the hands of men, to a vision of the “perfect-Peace” (st. 411) of Heaven (and an account of the Hell awaiting the enemies of peace), was written, significantly, before the author’s experience, as an active member of parliament, of the painful failure of James I’s attempted rapprochement with catholic Spain. When he came to write his dialogue, A Politike Discourse, in 1625, he seems to have been altogether less hopeful that the kind of universal peace which Beati Pacifici envisions could be expected to turn into any kind of reality. The “broad sea of Peace” (st. 411) with which his poem ends, is now replaced by a harsher sense of present political realities. In his Discourse the “moderate Romane Catholique” (perhaps significantly in terms of Stradling’s own religious inclinations?) comes closest to espousing views akin to those articulated in the earlier poem. He, too, affirms the necessity (and desirability) of a reconciliation of all Christians, to form a united force against their common enemy, the Turk. The “knight of the Commons-house of Parliament”, on the other hand, believes that the sheer intransigence and unreasonableness of the Spanish, specifically in their dealings with James and more generally in their part in European affairs, have rendered such an aspiration impossible, that conflict with Spain, both diplomatically and military, is now a political and national necessity. One senses that the two voices represent a split in Stradling’s own mind and sympathies. This parallels another ‘division’ apparent in Stradling’s writing after Beati Pacifici. His poem of 1621 integrates, inseparably, issues and attitudes one might call essentially political with ones that belong to Stradling’s own religious faith. There is no split between political principle and religious faith, or between practical political considerations and the deepest convictions of Stradling’s Christian humanism. After the period of his closest personal engagement with the world of political power and policy, during his time as a “knight of the Commons-house of Parliament”, we have two works by Stradling which carry the date of 1625, A Politike Discourse and the Divine Poems. The first is essentially a work of political analysis; the second an affirmation of faith. Each seems now to occupy a realm of thought and feeling into which the other barely trespasses. What was one integrated whole has become two distinct kinds of discourse, and a certain obvious tension exists between the two.
11. This edition of Beati Pacifici is a straightforward reprinting of the first edition. All punctuation has been retained; the use of i and j, u and v, has been modernised. A very few typographical errors have been silently emended. All of Stradling’s sidenotes have been retained. I have not always expanded these notes; where he gives a Biblical reference which is clear and unmistakable I have annotated it, or printed the relevant verse(s), only where Stradling’s treatment of his source seems of particular interest.
The image on the title-page is an illustration of St. Donat's Castle taken from William Daniell, Voyage Round Great Britain (1814)
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