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Narratives of Villainy and Virtue: Governor Francis Nicholson and the Character of the Good Ruler in Early Virginia.

Journal of Southern History, 2006, Feb, 72, 1

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FRANCIS NICHOLSON, THE ROYAL GOVERNOR OF VIRGINIA, WAS A WILDLY immoderate and disordered man. His character was depraved, dissolute, and ungodly. "One might as well pretend to describe an hurricane to one that never saw it," observed the Reverend James Blair in 1703, "as to think to describe the brutality and savageness of his passions." In February 1704 Robert Beverley likened "our poor unfortunate Contry" of Virginia to a "kind good natur'd man [who] nursed vipers in his bed." Beverley described Nicholson, one of the "vipers," as "the proudest man I ever saw," whose most common demeanor was "to hector and Domineer." Such commentators emphasized Nicholson's experience as an officer in the English army unit known as the Tangier Regiment, infamous for its excesses in putting down Monmouth's Rebellion in 1685 and not at all a training ground for leaders respectful of the rights of Englishmen. Nicholson, Beverley reported a year later, told his subjects "that they were dogs, and their wives were bitches; that he knew how to govern the Moors, and would beat them into better manners." (1) So said his detractors. In the first years of the eighteenth century many highly placed Virginians viciously disparaged Nicholson's character. He was, they charged, the antithesis of the public-minded, self-controlled governor whom Englishmen praised as the ideal ruler. Just a few years after he assumed the governor's office in 1698, Nicholson became the subject of a multitude of critical narratives that were recounted to officials, friends, and patrons in England. His critics depicted him as temperamentally unfit to rule. These descriptions of Nicholson offer a window onto the political ethics of a substantial body of early-eighteenth-century Virginians. In vilifying Nicholson, the authors of these stories revealed their understanding of legitimate authority and the good society.

Narratives of Villainy and Virtue: Governor Francis Nicholson and the Character of the Good Ruler in Early Virginia.
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  • Category: History
  • Published: 01 February 2006
  • Publisher: Southern Historical Association
  • Print Length: 66 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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