An Account of Popery and Arbitrary Government, 1678


This anonymous political tract denounces the growing influence of both France and Catholicism at the English court, and by extension in the English government. We now know that it was written by Andrew Marvell (1621–1678).

To address the lurking threat of political and spiritual tyranny, Marvell uses elegant rhetoric and includes authentic transcripts from the House of Commons (of which he had been an elected member since 1659). Nowhere in the tract is King Charles II (1630–1685) explicitly criticised. Instead, his limitations are made clear through Marvell’s use of irony: by extensively and repeatedly praising the monarchy and Charles, Marvell creates doubt and a strongly contrasting view of the king.


The tract caused such an uproar in English court circles that a reward of £100 (a vast sum at the time) was offered for its author’s identity. The first editions were therefore printed anonymously for fear of reprisals. Readers were also misled by the location of publication, given on the title page as Amsterdam – a Protestant stronghold and supplier of printed anti-Catholic material.

Marvell escaped exposure and official punishment by dying suddenly in the summer of 1678 from a tertian ague (a fever-based illness, probably malaria).


The copy digitised here was printed after Marvell’s death and includes his name as both a tribute to him and as a testament to his political genius.

An Account anticipates the Exclusion Crisis (1679–81), and pre-empts the Whig party’s stance against Catholic rule and its fervent belief in the integrity of Protestant England. Marvell’s subsequent reputation was that of a political mastermind and English patriot: the foresight and accuracy of An Account coloured and influenced the reception of his work, including his lyric poetry, throughout the remainder of the 17th century and the whole of the 18th.

Full title:
An Account of the Growth of Popery, and Arbitrary Government in England. More particularly from the long Prorogation, of November 1675 ... till the last meeting of Parliament, the 16th of July, 1677.
Book / Folio
Andrew Marvell
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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