There has been much talk of late about the Elizabethan state as a “monarchical republic” and about the emergence in and through the religious disputes of Elizabethan England of a “post-Reformation public sphere.” The term popularity emerged as a pejorative term used by contemporaries to refer to and condemn the sorts of attitudes and modes of communicative and political action associated in the recent scholarship with those terms. This essay traces the emergence of popularity as both a term of abuse and as something of an analytic category in the antipuritan and more particularly the antipresbyterian polemic of the 1570s. The argument is that John Whitgift's conduct of that polemic represents a crucial moment in the process whereby the term popularity gained much of its immediate (and subsequent) purchase and power, and that in this context of antipuritan polemic the theory of popularity as a bad thing was first coherently developed and adumbrated by contemporaries. The essay also makes a case for religious and particularly eccesiological dispute as an under-used source for the ways in which contemporaries thought about politics.

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