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

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. Continue reading

Stuart Successions Colloquium

The Stuart Successions project colloquium took place at Jesus College, Oxford at the end of September. The event marked the halfway point of the project and was an opportunity for scholars contributing essays to the project volume to share their work-in-progress and to discuss with other literary critics and historians the importance of succession writing to the political culture of the early-modern period. The papers delivered over the two days of the colloquium analysed succession writing in a variety of generic forms, and alongside different media, from across the full chronological range of the project.

The first day was started by Richard McCabe who explored the uncertainties of the verse panegyric that was produced to mark the accession of a Scottish monarch to the English throne and the commencement of a new dynasty in 1603. Shifting the focus onto 1625, David Colclough examined the sermon as a genre of succession writing, looking especially at John Donne’s response to a last minute call-up to preach before the new king, Charles I, in April 1625. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

1625: Some Figures and Early Conclusions

At the end of May, we finished cataloguing works of succession literature published in 1625. Amongst these is a short panegyric on Charles I in which the author, one William Hodson, paused to wonder if any poet was really up to the job of writing about the new king: “Who’ll undertake so great a Task, who can”. Such rhetoric of poetic inadequacy is of course to be found frequently in this kind of panegyric, although who’s to say whether or not Hodson, just a year out of Cambridge and apparently making his first venture into print, hadn’t started to think the task a little too great after all. Regardless of it being a rhetorical commonplace, however, the question nonetheless captures something of the project’s early findings about the succession literature of 1625. For, when these are placed alongside the research on 1603 that was completed in the opening month of the project, it indeed becomes apparent that relatively few writers in 1625 were responding to Charles’s succession.

Some early figures help to illustrate the point. A search on Early English Books Online (EEBO) for printed works from 1625 reveals 1017 records. Having searched through these records, we’ve been able to add just 73 items of succession literature to the project database. Continue reading

Welcome to the Stuart Successions blog!

As members of the project team begin to catalogue publications about succession and plan for events and publications related to the project, this blog is designed to offer a window onto the progress of our research. We’ll be outlining some of the project’s key methodological questions; presenting our discussions on these topics as we approach the task of interpreting the material being highlighted by the database; and sharing some of the important, or just some of the more unusual, findings we make along the way.

Our aim here is also to include scholars working on the early modern period in the project’s discussions and to present our research to a wider public audience. We hope, therefore, that you’ll return to visit the site and the blog regularly, and we especially look forward to receiving your comments and input so that we may begin a wide-ranging conversation about the place of succession literature in early modern culture and politics.