Succession Literature at the Restoration

The task of cataloguing the succession literature of 1660 was always going to be one of the largest that the project faced. An EEBO search for the year returns 3511 records and to sift through these took around three and a half months. On completing this search at the beginning of autumn, around 545 new works had been added to the database. Many of these take forms that are familiar from previous succession years: of the current entries about a third for example are in, or include, verse. Other provisional information, though, reveals some more particular trends. About 7% are broadside ballads, more than in previous years and evidence of a widening commercial market for succession literature. About 10% are histories, most of which deal with the Civil Wars and the 1650s and thus seem to suggest that any impetus in 1660 to forget or turn the clock back to 1642 was more complex than it might first appear. We’ve also come across some firsts for the database: the first masque (Anthony Sadler’s The Subject’s Joy); the first genealogical chart (in Giles Fleming’s Stemma Sacrum); and the first item in Welsh, albeit an extract printed in a work written in English (William Williams’s none too ambiguously titled pamphlet The King, and none under God, but the King, can save this nation).

Yet determining what succession literature actually is in 1660 has been trickier than first expected. The project’s early definition of succession literature was: writing, printed in response to a new monarch’s assumption to the throne, which reflects on the transfer of monarchical power and / or attempts to shape perceptions of the new monarch. This definition responds to what is, in most years, a reasonably clear chronology of events where the death of an incumbent monarch prompts a new one to succeed pretty much straight away. But in this case who or what was Charles II succeeding in 1660?

The Parliamentary proclamation of May 8 1660 actually dated Charles II’s reign from the moment Charles I’s head left his body in January 1649. Yet Charles II couldn’t really be said to have assumed the throne until 1660. That is, at least in England: the Scottish coronation of 1651 complicates matters some more (Charles had something like three successions for the price of one). On assuming the throne in 1660, however, was he succeeding only his father or also one or more of the interceding rulers or regimes: either of the Cromwells; the Rump Parliament; John Lambert and the Army; the Long Parliament; George Monck? Somehow, could he have succeeded them all?

One of the fascinating things about 1660 from the perspective of the project is that it is a (perhaps unique?) case when the new monarch’s assumption to the English throne apparently took place some considerable time after the date when they had technically succeeded, at least as that date had been settled retrospectively by Parliament. However fascinating, though, it also causes a few headaches when it comes to compiling the Stuart Successions database: what, after all, counts as succession literature in a year when the timing and meaning of succession seems so unusually complex?

In deliberating this question, we’ve come up with the following rationale. The database catalogues literature printed in response to a new monarch assuming the throne. We have, therefore, worked on the basis that Charles II assumed monarchical power in 1660 and that we should catalogue the literature responding to that event. Normally, the assumption to the throne would date from the previous monarch’s death. But since no monarch died in 1660, we’ve needed to find another way of dating Charles’s assumption of power. The May 8 proclamation in this instance at least helps to clarify matters rather than muddy them since it provides a logical point from which to date Charles II’s coming to power. For now, then, our definition of 1660 succession literature goes something like this: writing that can with reasonable confidence be dated as having been printed after Parliament had proclaimed Charles II king on May 8 1660, and which discusses his assumption of power and / or is engaged in shaping the perception of the new monarch or the monarch and royal family.

The difficult thing about this definition, though, is what it misses out. The first four months of 1660 are crammed with literature that in different ways anticipates the Restoration, from prophecies of the absent king’s return (the earliest of which seems to be January’s Kaeis Prophetias) to anti-monarchy pamphlets (of which Milton’s The Readie and Easie Way is only the most well-known). Under the above definition, the current crop of 545 entries would fall in number. At such points, though, we need to remember that the database outlines the genre by cataloguing responses to specific moments of succession. In so doing it creates a discursive context in which to situate writing that may fall, however marginally, outside its specific parameters. The work on 1660 is already allowing us to see this process in action by prompting questions about the relationship of writing that anticipates to that which responds to Charles’s assumption of power, whether the year’s succession literature helps to settle the political debates of the early months of 1660 or rather continues them in new forms, and more broadly what it might mean for us to think about the literature of 1660 as succession writing instead of as Restoration writing. Such are the questions that we’re now beginning to investigate on the project and to which the database will ultimately help to provide answers.

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