Thomas Aston and the Ancient Constitution of the Church

Charles W. A. Prior

in A Confusion of Tongues

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780199698257
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191739040 | DOI:
Thomas Aston and the Ancient Constitution of the Church

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  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)


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This chapter engages in a close reading of a defence of episcopacy, written by a prominent figure in county politics. Sir Thomas Aston (1600–1646) was a trained lawyer and an MP in the Short Parliament. He was active in the religious politics of his home county of Cheshire, which in turn can be placed within a widespread campaign of petitioning in support of episcopacy. The chapter examines Aston's defence of bishops, published in 1641 as the Remonstrance against presbitery. This work offered a nuanced historical argument, that defended episcopacy as constitutionally correct; in this sense, Aston offered a robust reply to arguments that portrayed bishops as the agents who undermined liberties of the subject. Instead, he argued, it was presbyterianism which posed the real threat to what he called the ‘ancient constitution of the church’. The chapter also examines a brief reply to Aston's work, which defended an exclusively scriptural constitution for the church, and the distance between these two positions is used to illustrate tensions over the suitability of ‘custom’ and history to debates on ecclesiology.

Keywords: Thomas Aston; episcopacy; ancient constitution; presbyterianism; common law

Chapter.  14529 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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