Early modern English concepts of ‘friend’ and friendship, as elsewhere in Europe, were heavily influenced by the rediscovery of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Cicero’s De amicitia, which proposed a vision of friendship that exalted virtuous unions between men who shared similar interests and social status. Ciceronian views of friendship were particularly popular in Tudor intellectual circles, after John Tiptoft’s translation of the Ciceronian works printed by William Caxton in 1481, and John Harrington’s translation of De amicitia in 1550. Harrington explained to his reader that his translation of Cicero’s ‘booke of freendeship’ aimed to promote ‘the goodly rules, the naturall order, and civle use of freendship’ and demonstrate that only a ‘feithfull, a sure, and a trusty freende, muste needes bee a good, a wise, and a vertuous man’.[1] For Harrington, the ‘man that is apt to amitee, and that hath bent his herte to entreteyne freendship, dooeth more love, & faster sticke to his frend, than one brother to an other’.[2] Around 1580, Richard Hoper, in The instruction of a Christian man, in vertue and honestie, mentioned Cicero’s work to support his theory that ‘friends are to be reverenced and worshipped’ in a relationship in which both parties are ‘good and Honest’, reciprocal, share a similar social status and education (‘unlikenesse of studies, and diversitie of manners, do still breake and departe friendshippe in sunder’), are only motivated by ‘mutuall love and favore’ and not by flattery and rewards.[3] In 1588, Thomas Churchyard stated that true friendship ‘proceedes from vertue, and hath so noble a nature (by a divine motion of goodnesse) that neither vice can corrupt, nor any kinde of vanitie vanquish’.[4]

Also inspired by Cicero, Walter Dorke argued that ‘[f]riendship is a perfect consent and agreement with benevolence & charity in all things, appertaining as well towards God as men' that was only possible ‘among good men, and cannot be where vertue is not’.[5] This emphasis on virtue led Dorke to exclude ‘the profitable friendship which is among Merchants … the pleasant friendship which is among Courtiers … [and] the common friendship which is among Clownes’ from ‘the true, perfect, and unfeyned friendship, which is neither for pleasure partely, nor for profit chiefely, but for vertues sake onely’.[6] Dorke’s ‘petite pamphlet’ was written with the intention to stimulate ‘our Anglians to entertaine & imbrace Friendship as a mightie co[m]panion and aide to vertues’.[7] True friendship, according to Dorke, was only possible in England, a ‘flourishing Iland’ with religious and political stability and thanks to Protestantism blessed by God and freed from the ‘vices’ that plagued other countries. In this way, Dorke defined friendship by invoking the customs of other geographical spaces — Rome (too covetous, superstitious, and vainglorious), Turkey (‘their Mahomet is too monstrous’), India (‘too rude and barbarous’), Italy (‘proud and ambitious’), Spain (‘disdainfull, vile and vicious’), France (‘craftie, fierce and furious’), Germany and Denmark (‘they dedicate themselves to Bacchus’).[8] Dorke’s vision of the perfect friend as one who relates to a Protestant morality was epitomized by Elizabeth I, who, as the queen of England, reflected the English natural inclination for friendship. The queen, according to Dorke, was an example of a true friend for ‘her gracious inclination and readinesse in aiding the oppressed … her godlie zeale in planting the Gospell … her princely care, pitie, and pietie towards her owne people and countrey, it woulde séeme such, and so great, that it might well make all other Princes and Potentates rather amazed to heare it, than apt to imitate it’.[9]

Perfect friendship was virtuous, but not all friends were virtuous. In Mirror of Friendship (1584), Thomas Breme outlined ‘how to knowe a Perfect friend, and how to choose him’, warning his readers that ‘it is hard to finde a perfect and true friend: for now friendly wordes are common, but when friendship commeth to the touch or proofe, the alteration is marvailous: yea and sometimes so daungerous that of friendes in wordes they will become enimies in deedes: for many that will be accounted as friendes, if a storme of adversitie or a tempest of troubles fall out to those they have professed friendship unto, they utterly withdrawe their good wils, and become so cold, that no regard is had at all of their former professed good wils’.[10] Thomas Churchyard ‘complained about ‘the extraordinary dissimulation of fine people … that worke with worldly wickednesse and policie, to bee accepted as friends’. Despite his enthusiastic praises for the virtues of friendship, Thomas Churchyard complained about the ‘craftie practises, the extraordinary dissimulation of fine people … that worke with worldly wickednesse and policie, to bee accepted as friends’. In spite of its many moral virtues, friendship had several practical advantages. Patron-client relationships were often presented as relations between friends. Indeed, Churchyard’s essay on friendship was dedicated to Sir Walter Ralegh who was addressed not as patron or a master, but as ‘honorable frend’. Indeed, as Lorna Hutson has noted, by the end of the sixteenth century, the English perceptions ‘friendship’ and ‘friends’ tended to emphasize relationships that were both instrumental and affective.[11]

This contradiction between the moral virtues of friendship and the instrumental interests of friends was often explored by Jacobean authors, who tended to hold a pessimistic view of friendship as the pursuit of self-interest. This was partly influenced by the nature of the Jacobean court, where many observers accused the king of being overly affectionate towards his male favourites. Masculine relationships became imbued with a mistrust of flattery and biting satire against ‘false’ friends who sought only social advancement, a critique stemming from James’ tendency to elevate his lower-born favourites to the ranks of the nobility with alarming speed. Friendship at the heart of the political realm therefore seemed to be more a matter of economic transaction than the pursuit of goodness. In Ben Jonson’s Volpone, Mosca declares that for ‘being not borne, To a free fortune’ he was forced to be a dissimulative character and a flatterer who manipulated friendship by ‘rending friends asunder,/ Dividing families, betraying councells/ Whispering false lies, or mining men with prayses,/ Train'd their credulitie with perjuries’.[12]

The link between ‘friends’ and political relationships can be seen in the rhetoric of friendship that often guided diplomatic language. The impact of the Reformation on fracturing the idealised world of a unified Christendom, one that followed a juridical and diplomatic system sustained by the papacy, as well as increasing contacts with non-Christians beyond Europe, made ‘friendship’ and ‘friend’ a rhetorical solution to express the intention to sustain frequent and stable relations with another state or ruler. The popular Ciceronian notion of friends as individuals engaged in a relationship of mutual kindness also contributed to the use of a diplomatic rhetoric that evoked amity or the prospect of friendship even between hostile states. Elizabeth I addressed other European rulers, including her arch-rival, Philip II of Spain, with the formula ‘Brother, cousin and our dearest friend’.[13]

Friendship was therefore a guarantee of diplomatic communication and also trade, especially outside Europe. Anthony Jenkinson, for example, described his mission as Elizabeth’s ambassador to the court of Tahmasp I of Persia as an intent ‘to intreat friendshippe and free passage, and for his safeconduct to be granted unto English merchants to trade into his Segniories, with the like also to be granted to his subjects, when they should come into our countryes, to the honour and wealth of both realmes, and commodity of both their subjects’.[14] The relations of friendship forged in cross-cultural trade were often used as a vehicle for diplomatic communication and evoked as sign of friendship between different states that could expand commercial exchanges. Elizabeth raised the utility of diplomatic friendship in a letter addressed to the Sultan of Aceh, in which she suggested that when ‘one land may have need of the other’, they could ‘breed intercourse and exchange of their Merchandise and Fruits, which doe superabound in some Countries, and want in others: but also ingender love and friendship betwixt all men, a thing naturally divine’.[15] In 1618, Richard Cocks reported to the administration of the East India Company (EIC), that the English factory at Bantam hoped to use their ‘China friends’, identified as captains Andre Dittis and Captain Whaw, to translate and send two letters from James I to the Chinese emperor, which included ‘one in a friendly sort, and the other some stricter terms’.[16] After reading the two letters, Dittis and Whaw advised the EIC ‘not to send the threatening letter, for they are assured there will nothing be done with the King (of China) by force … and the English nation worse thought of’.[17]

Diplomatic friendships between states were often confirmed or established by treaties of ‘friendship and alliance’.[18] This association between friendship and alliance consolidated throughout the second half of the seventeenth century, coinciding with the increasing formalization of diplomatic relations in early modern Europe, as well as with the escalating conflicts between England, France, Spain and the Netherlands. Terms such as ‘friend’ or ‘ally’ were therefore increasingly used in diplomatic texts and treaties to express an intention to normalize the relation between rival states, or to establish a set of conditions to avoid future conflicts. For example, the peace treaty signed between the Commonwealth of England and the United Provinces of the Netherlands in 1654 established that ‘the two Common wealths shail remain confederate friends, joyned and allyed together’ and that both parties were ‘bound to treat each other on both sides with all Love and Friendship.[19]

Indeed, the term ‘ally’ or ‘alliance’ often described specific types of political relationships. Alliances intended to formalise a set of rules that would secure the mutual kindness between both parties, and which usually included the obligation to allow the subjects of each party to travel and trade freely in each territory and to be protected by the same laws; the obligation to include each party in other treaties of friendship and alliance signed with other princes or states; the prohibition to aid each other’s enemies; and the obligation to provide military assistance. The duties imposed by treaties of alliance, however, were fragile and subject to the interests defined by reason of state. Peter Heylyn criticized the pope for allowing the breaching of ‘the Oaths of Princes, when they conceive themselves induced upon reason of State, to flie off from those Leagues, and break off those Treaties, which have been solemnly made and sworn betwix them and their Neighbours’.[20] The administrators of the East India Company had cynical vision of the mutual obligations determined by these treaties, stating, during a period of conflict with Dutch East India Company in the 1680s, that ‘the obligation of protecting an Allye, is but a politick artifice’.[21]

The reciprocal obligations imposed by these treaties also echoed the use of the term ‘alliance’ as synonymous of marriage or an union between different families, since marriages, like treaties of ‘peace, friendship and alliance’, were theoretically based on mutual or contractual obligations. In The justification of a sinner, a translation of a treatise by Johann Crell that was published as the work of an anonymous ‘reverend and learned divine’, presented ‘the contract of Marriage’ as an alliance since ‘all Alliances are also Contracts; because an alliance is alligatio partium … a binding or tying of parties together each to other’.[22] Marriage was therefore the basis of ‘all naturall and legitimate alliance by blood’ in which ‘man is thereby bound to performe unto his Wife all the offices and duties of a Husband, and reciprocally the woman is bound to all the offices and duties of a Wife; for hence Marriage is called Wedlock, because it lockes and bindes the parties wedded’.[23] And like the conditions determined by treaties of ‘peace, friendship and alliance’, marriages ought to not be temporary, ‘but of perpetuity for ever’.[24]

Crell’s analogy between a marriage and a treaty of alliance reflected an increasing trend by the mid-seventeenth century to use terms such as ‘friend’ or ‘ally’ to describe relationships between family members, spouses or business partners. Jeremy Taylor, in The Measures and Offices of Friendship (1657), based on an analysis of the classical, medieval and Renaissance visions of friendship, stated that ‘friends are meant our acquaintance, or our Kindred, the relatives of our family or our fortune, or our sect’.[25] Taylor’s inclusion of kin and spouses in his ideal type of friend reflected a vision of friendship as ‘something of society, or something of kindnesse … a tendernesse of appellation and civility’ which involve a myriad of relationships established ‘by gifts, or by duty, by services and subjection’ that made ‘the word friend … of a large signification; and means all relations and societies, and whatsoever is not enemy; but by friendships, I suppose you mean, the greatest love, and the greatest usefulnesse, and the most open communication, and the noblest sufferings, and the most exemplar faithfulnesse, and the severest truth, and the heartiest counsel, and the greatest union of minds, of which brave men and women are capable’.[26]

Taylor’s universal notion of the term ‘friend’ which suggested an equality between men and women collided with the more traditionalist views proposed by classical and puritan works such as the anonymous A discourse of friendship (1676), which argued that ‘[p]ersons of different sexes cannot comport themselves for friendship … they must be either men or women, not a man and a woman, and that because as their natures are contrary, so is their condition, fancy & business’.[27] The different roles and education of men and women in late seventeenth-century England made them unable to enjoy an ‘equal conversation without which Friendship is very imperfect, and but a lame attainment; nor can there be that familiar converse and intimacy necessary to this concern, without reflections, if not temptations'.[28] Around 1676, Taylor refuted these views by arguing that ‘we may as well allow women as men to be friends; since they can have all that which can be necessary and essential to friendships … for if to friendships we admit imperfect men, because no man is perfect: he that rejects women does find fault with them because they are not more perfect than men, which either does secretly affirm that they ought and can be perfect, or else it openly accuses men of injustice and partiality’.[29]

George Whiter, A collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne (London, 1635), p. 99[30]
1. Marcus Tullius Cicero, The booke of freendeship of Marcus Tullie Cicero, ed. and trans. by John Harrington (London, 1550; STC 5276), sig. A3r, A7r.
2. Ibid, sig. A4v.
3. Richard Hoper, The instruction of a Christian man, in vertue and honestie (London, 1580; STC 13766.5), pp. 86-8.
4. Thomas Churchyard, A sparke of frendship and warme goodwill (London, 1588; STC 5257), sig. B4r.
5. William Dorke, A tipe or figure of friendship (London, 1598; STC 7060.5), sig. A4v.
6. Ibid., sig. A4r
7. Ibid., sig. A2v.
8. Ibid. sig. B1r.
9. Ibid., sig. B1r.
10. Thomas Breme, The mirrour of friendship (London, 1584; STC 17979.7), sig. B1r.
11. Lorna Hutson, The Usurer’s Daughter: Male Friendship and Fictions of Women in Sixteenth-Century England (London: Routledge, 1994).
12. Ben Jonson, Volpone or the Foxe (London, 1607; STC 14783), sig. F4r.
13. Rayne Allinson, A Monarchy of Letters: Royal Correspondence and English Diplomacy in the Reign of Elizabeth I (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), p. 60.
14. Anthony Jenkinson, ‘A compendious and briefe declaration of the journey of M. Anth. Jenkinson, from the famous citie of London into the land of Persia’, in Richard Hakluyt, The principal navigations (London, 1599; STC 12626a), p. 346.
15. ‘Elizabeth by the grace of God, Queene of England, France and Ireland, defendresse of the Christian Faith and Religion’, in Samuel Purchas, Purchas his pilgrimes (London, 1625; STC 20509), p. 154.
16. 'Doc. 273, Richard Cocks to the East India Company, 15 February 1618', in Calendar of State Papers Colonial: East Indies, China, Japan (London: Longman, 1870), pp. 127-8.
17. Ibid.
18. Evgeny Roshchin, Friendship Among Nations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), p. 128.
19. Articles of peace, union and confederation, concluded and agreed between his Highness Oliver Lord Protector of the common-wealth of England, Scotland & Ireland, and the dominions thereto belonging (London, 1654; Thomason, E1603[35]), pp. 293, 298.
20. Peter Heylyn, Cosmographie (London, 1652; Wing H1689), p. 90.
21. East India Company, An impartial vindication of the English East-India-Company (London, 1688; Wing I90), p. 45.
22. Johann Crell, The justification of a sinner being the maine argument of the Epistle to the Galatians (London, 1650; Wing C6878), p. 199.
23. Ibid., p. 199.
24. Ibid., p. 235.
25. Jeremy Taylor, The measures and offices of friendship (London, 1657; Wing T350), p. 4.
26. Ibid., sig. pp. 9-10.
27. E.G., A discourse of friendship (London 1676; Wing G11A), p. 52.
28. Ibid.
29. Jeremy Taylor, Taylor's Opuscula the measures of friendship (London, 1678; Wing T355), p. 66.
30. George Whiter, A collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne (London, 1635), p. 99
Usage Examples
'I maie conclude, that he that is a feithfull, a sure, and a trusty freende, muste needes bee a good, a wise, and a vertuous man.'