Hobbes vs. Bramhall: An uncivil war, 1645--1668

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Joseph M. Levine


Thomas Hobbes, John Bramhall, English civil war, Royalism, Episcopacy

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | European History | History


This dissertation provides the definitive narrative and analysis of the mid-seventeenth-century quarrel between Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and Archbishop Bramhall (1594-1663). While many commentators have described their quarrel as one of philosophy and theology, I argue that it was just as much about politics. Hobbes's positions on free-will and episcopacy jure divino associated him with Puritan and Erastian critics of the Caroline-Laudian regime. Hobbes was far from a solid or mainstream royalist, as his writings did not lend explicit support to the policies of that regime---and, if anything, contributed to their discrediting. Among other things, this dissertation argues the case for not classifying Hobbes as a royalist writer.

Ultimately, the clash of Hobbes and Bramhall was a by-product or remote, collateral skirmish of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. But after those wars ceased, their personal conflict fell into a new context as Charles II "succeeded" Charles I and the Rump and Cromwell filled the void left by the Stuarts. With this shift the contest became one for the mind and policy of a young, would-be king and, more broadly, the church and state of the British kingdoms from the 1650s onwards. Bramhall hoped to steer Charles II into the religious ways of his father, whose stubborn allegiance to the episcopalian Church of England of the 1630s in some sense cost him not only his crown but also his head. Hobbes posed a direct threat to Bramhall's project of securing Charles II's commitment to antebellum Anglicanism. For his part, the author of Leviathan hoped to persuade the new king (and any other would-be ruler of the British Isles) not to follow in the same political and religious footsteps as Charles I.


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