1604 and 1626: Database Update

Since the colloquium last September we’ve been moving on with the compilation of the successions database. A prototype with entries for the first 6 succession years (from James in 1603 to Anne in 1702), based on research using EEBO and ECCO, is now available to browse. Meanwhile we’ve been cataloguing the ‘second cycle’ of succession years (1604, 1626, 1661 etc.) With work now done on 1604 and 1626 (and very nearly complete on 1661), this is the first time that it’s been possible for us to get a sense of what happens to succession writing in the aftermath of a new monarch’s accession. The picture beginning to emerge is one where writers quickly move on from celebrating the succession itself and begin to address some of its specific consequences for the nation.

We collected 74 succession publications on the database for the year 1604 out of 785 records on EEBO. Compared to the 121 publications we recorded for 1603 (out of 807 records on EEBO) there was obviously a drop in the proportion of succession literature being published in 1604. That was probably to be expected. Our original rationale for cataloguing a span of years has, though, been justified by the fact that the database is picking up works written about the Jacobean succession that appear to have been printed late. These include a number of poems by Scottish writers like the collection Northerne Poems and the fascinating (and very beautifully presented) book of verse by the Catholic Simion Grahame. Also in 1604, of course, we have encountered works on James’s royal entry, which took place in March having previously been cancelled due to the plague of 1603. This means that (finally!) Ben Jonson has found his way into the database.

The generic spread of the year’s writing suggests how quickly the event of the accession itself was overtaken by other issues. The 20 items of verse in 1604 is a significant drop from the 60+ items from 1603. The number of books with dedications to James I, though, has actually crept up (27 in 1604 versus 23 in 1603). Many of these books are about religion. The Hampton Park conference took place in January 1604 so these works attest to pressing questions early in James’s reign over Church structure and doctrine. Several of these dedications were written by Catholic authors. There was, it seems, a brief window between the succession in March 1603 and the Gunpowder Plot in November 1605 when Catholics might realistically have hoped that James would offer some kind of religious accommodation. One, slightly more earnest, tract – anonymous though attributed to Robert Parsons – looks forward to James’s imminent conversion. But this is all to suggest that as specific issues started to emerge in the first year of James’s reign, there was perhaps more obvious capital in trying to catch a monarch’s attention – say, with a dedication.

As for 1625-26, we already know from the small database entry for 1625 (63 items of 1017 EEBO entries) that this was not a succession that set the world alight. The nearly exact halving in volume of succession writing a year later (we’ve catalogued just 32 books out of the 760 that are on EEBO for 1626) confirms what we already knew: Charles’s accession just didn’t prompt very much response. Perhaps surprisingly – though perhaps not given that it was a closed affair – there is very little coronation literature in 1626. There are 18 books dedicated to Charles but many of them are concerned with a controversy over the publication of Richard Mountagu’s book Appello Caesarem, which actually started towards the latter end of James’s reign.

We could place one caveat on this though. Whilst there were more items of succession poetry written in 1625 than there were in 1626 (26 versus 5), most of those were elegies for James and there were very few stand-alone panegyrics for Charles. In 1626, however, there are a number of panegyrics addressed specifically to him as distinct from praise tacked on at the end of an elegy (Francis Hamiltoun’s “Exhortation to all true Christians for the praising of our Saviour”, for example, or the Latin verses by Thomas Hope and John Pyne). Paradoxically – and at the risk of damning him with faint praise – even though there is a fall in the volume of succession writing printed in 1626, Charles might, from a few poets at least, have begun to receive just a little bit more attention than he had hitherto managed.

Our ongoing work, meanwhile, suggests that 1661 is shaping up to have a far stronger entry on the database than either 1604 or 1626, although it is not going to reach the volume of 1660 itself. Both of these things, again, were to be expected. A lot of publications have emerged surrounding Charles’s coronation. However, it seems that, as with the other ‘secondary’ years, events quickly move on. For example, the recurrent theme of the 1661 succession literature catalogued thus far is the threat posed to the restored monarchy by religious fanaticism. These works are responding to the Venner uprising and their numbers suggest that, firstly, however poorly organised it might have been, that uprising was taken as a very serious threat by contemporaries; and, secondly, that there was a broader anxiety regarding the security of the new regime. Working on 1661, it feels as if one benefit of looking at the years immediately following a change of monarch will be in allowing us to examine how, and in what kinds of cultural and political arenas, the security of the succession was ensured.