In the early modern period, moments of royal and protectoral succession generated huge quantities of writing. Major authors, amongst them Jonson, Drayton, Donne, Marvell, Dryden, Behn, and Defoe contributed to this body of literature, which spans a range of forms: from panegyric to polemic to sermon to satire to history to drama. In these works writers reflected on unpredictable transitions of power, discussed the political values of the nation, and shaped contending perceptions of the person of the monarch and the institution of monarchy.
Since starting in April 2012, the Stuart Successions Project has been shedding new light on this body of succession literature that has long been neglected by literary and historical scholarship. Central to the project’s research is the online bibliographical database of writing printed in response to moments of succession from 1603 to 1702. Some early findings generated by the database are discussed over on the project blog. A searchable prototype of the database is also now available. The completed version, which will be launched in October 2015, will provide a detailed map for users to start investigating who was writing and producing succession literature, the forms it took during the period, and the themes on which it focussed.
The database has underpinned a variety of original research highlighting the diverse agendas manifest in succession writing, how it changed over the turbulent course of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, and its interactions with other material facets of early modern political culture (see, for example, Joe Hone’s blog on Queen Anne’s coronation medal). Much of this research was presented at our project colloquium, which took place in September 2013. A volume of essays edited by Andrew McRae and Paulina Kewes is currently in preparation, a provisional list of contents for which can be found here. An anthology of primary material, co-edited by John West and Andrew McRae, is also in preparation.
By uncovering and outlining new contexts through which canonical works of seventeenth-century literature and political theory can be explored afresh, the Stuart Successions Project has been energizing interdisciplinary debates on the interactions of politics and literary culture in early modern Britain.
The Stuart Successions Project was conceived and developed in collaboration with the late Kevin Sharpe. Although Kevin died shortly after the grant was awarded, the project remains greatly indebted to his work and aims to honour his memory.
From October 2015, the project team of Andrew McRae (PI), Paulina Kewes (CI), and John West (Impact Manager) will be working on a follow-on project entitled The Stuart Successions: Fresh Approaches to the Understanding of Seventeenth-Century History and Literature. Working alongside project partners the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the Historical Association, the Ashmolean Museum, and the Bodleian Library, and in collaboration with Historyworks, our aim is to translate the findings of the Stuart Successions Project to wider audiences. Our primary audiences will be teachers and students of History and English Literature at secondary schools. We are planning study-days on “Shakespeare and the Stuarts” for A-Level English Literature students, and “Stuart Successions and Seventeenth-Century History” for History teachers. The project will be supported by a new website on which there will be various learning resources, including a series of vodcasts (short, documentary audio talks illustrated by photographic images) focusing on key texts and objects from the seventeenth century, and beyond, that illuminate the stories and personalities that contributed to the rich and unsettled history of Stuart Britain.