Monthly Archives: March 2015

Royal Memos: from Charles I to Charles III

Mike Bartlett’s recent play King Charles III, nominated for six Olivier awards, opens and concludes with a royal succession. The plot is a prophecy about Prince Charles’ future kingship, in which Charles uses dormant royal powers to stop Parliament passing legislation he disagrees with, and so sparks a revolution. Revolution is probably not at stake in today’s Supreme Court decision to release the real Prince Charles’ ‘black spider memos’. But these letters will bring the Prince’s political leanings under scrutiny.

The memos are a series of letters written by Charles to government ministers in the early 2000s. The Guardian newspaper issued a Freedom of Information request to see the correspondence in 2005, but it has been successively blocked. In 2012, the then Shadow Attorney General Dominic Grieve claimed that the publication of Prince Charles’ letters would damage his perceived political neutrality. Stating that this would not be in the public interest, Grieve refused to authorise their circulation. This morning, the Supreme Court ruled that the general public can finally have access to the letters. Continue reading

Isaac Newton and Queen Anne’s Coronation Medal

The Stuart Successions Project was conceived as an interdisciplinary venture. Although the project database only catalogues texts, successions were marked by lots of other artefacts too. Some of those artefacts are unofficial objects, souvenir items such as delftware or engravings of the monarch. But others were official products. For instance, every Stuart coronation was commemorated with an officially commissioned coronation medal. These medals—actually small metallic tokens—were distributed to peers and diplomats at the ceremony, or sometimes thrown into the crowds gathered in Westminster Abbey. For most of these medals the documentation explaining the processes behind their design and manufacture has now been lost. But the paperwork for Queen Anne’s coronation medal survives.

As part of my doctoral work on Anne’s accession, I took to the National Archives at Kew with hopes of uncovering new documentary evidence for her coronation. Among a cache of Mint papers in the Archives are a set of manuscripts belonging to the Master of the Mint, Isaac Newton. And in those manuscripts, in Newton’s hand, are sketches and explanations of Anne’s coronation medal and a range of other prospective coronation medals besides. While Newton scholars had already noted this material, nobody had fully explored its significance and implications. It soon dawned on me that I had happened upon a much bigger—and much less explored—subject than I had initially expected. Continue reading