Introduction to the Database

The Stuart Successions Database is the central, open-access output from a four-year research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Led by researchers from the universities of Exeter and Oxford, The Stuart Successions Project aimed to identify and interpret the wealth of material published in response to each of the six Stuart successions: i.e. those of James VI and I (1603), Charles I (1625), Charles II (1660), James II (1685), William III and Mary II (1688-89), and Anne (1702). In the interests of establishing a more complete picture of the period, the project also covered the accessions to the role of Lord Protector of Oliver Cromwell (1653) and his son Richard (1658).

While we hope that the database will be relatively straightforward for researchers to use, the present introduction is designed to outline: the potential value of succession literature to researchers of seventeenth-century literature and history; the principles that governed the compilation of the database; and its functionality for future researchers.

The Value of Successions Literature

The Stuart Successions Project was based on the hypothesis that it is possible to identify a category of ‘succession literature’. In practice, this category encompasses a wide range of genres and forms, including: elegies, panegyrics, ballads, sermons, histories, genealogies, prayers, proclamations and speeches. Despite these manifest variations, all such material is united by a common purpose, to reflect upon a moment of succession. And the Stuart era stands as the great age of British succession writing. By comparison with the Tudor successions, the Stuarts all faced greater public scrutiny and comment, on account of the rapid growth of print culture. Moreover, while much of the literature welcoming the Tudor monarchs to their thrones was written in Latin, by the seventeenth century most relevant texts were published in the vernacular. The Stuart century produced some of the best panegyric poetry in the English language, and much of this was stimulated by successions. Poets listed in the database include some of the leading writers of the age: Ben Jonson, John Dryden, Aphra Behn and Edmund Waller, to name just a few.
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While the phenomenon of Stuart succession literature has long been recognized by scholars of the period, it has never been the subject of concentrated analysis. Studies to date have tended to focus on momentous or controversial years of succession, such as 1603, 1660 and 1688-89. The monumental work of one of the project’s initiators, the late Kevin Sharpe, surveying all representations of Tudor and Stuart monarchy, served further to draw attention to the wealth of available material. In this context, the database is intended as a kind of map, opening multiple pathways to the interpretation and analysis of succession writing. ‘The Stuart Successions Project’ has made a start on the task of interpretation: one of our principal outputs, alongside the database, is Literature of the Stuart Successions, ed. Paulina Kewes and Andrew McRae (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2017). This volume presents a coordinated collection of different approaches to succession writing across the Stuart era; our goal was to model some approaches to interpretation, and then to open routes into the material for future researchers.

What can succession literature tell us? As noted already, it can be valuable in the study of particular moments of succession. Many pieces are conventional, even formulaic; others are more sophisticated, deeply engaged in the debates and concerns of their time. In 1603, for instance, many of the period’s most prominent poets reflected upon the transition from Tudor to Stuart rule. These writers – including Samuel Daniel, Michael Drayton and Ben Jonson – were concerned above all to press their claims for patronage in the new era. But they were also capable of using the conventions of panegyric in order to reflect upon matters that troubled English men and women, from uncertainty about religion through to anxiety about a possible union of England and Scotland. Other potential lines of interpretation, meanwhile, involve comparison of works from across the Stuart century. Scholars of political and literary history alike have been drawn to questions of change across this turbulent period: in ideals of monarchy, in relations between subjects and their rulers, in forms of political speech, and so forth. Queen Anne, when she ascended the throne in 1702, represented different values, and was perceived differently by her subjects, by comparison with King James I just under one hundred years earlier. Succession literature offers fresh perspectives on these narratives. Comparison of approaches to succession panegyric, or sermons, or pageantry, for instance, may help to elucidate the complex nature of change in political ideals and literary practice.

For scholars tackling such questions, the database will enable different kinds of research. In large part, its value will consist in its capacity to direct researchers to new texts. To take a couple of examples, compiling a reliable list of sermons associated with the Glorious Revolution of 1688-89, or of ballads celebrating successions across the Stuart era, is now an entirely straightforward matter. It may thus serve as a bibliographical aid, to underpin qualitative research. A secondary function is quantitative. Researchers might approach the database wondering about patterns in succession writing across the period: years that produced the greatest outpouring of writing, or that produced unusual quantities of particular types of writing. We might note, for instance, the relatively small quantity of material marking the succession of Charles I in 1625. Looking across the whole Stuart era, to take another example, it becomes apparent that the balance between poetry and prose tends to shift from one succession year to another. As contemporaries came to terms with the events of 1689, they turned more often than not to prose; this, by comparison with 1660, or even 1685, proved a challenging year for the nation’s poets.

Principles and Methods

In the database, we have attempted to record any publication, printed in a succession year or the following year, that engages in some way with the succession. The focus on print is in part pragmatic: attempting to include manuscript material, spread across archives in different parts of the world, would have made the project unrealistically cumbersome, while our desire for comprehensive coverage precluded the addition of selected manuscript sources. Yet it is also legitimate academically, since the Stuarts were the first British dynasty to be exposed to the gaze of the press. Granted, printed discourse was constrained by censorship throughout all but a few years of the period; however, it is entirely possible that no dynasty, neither before nor since, has attracted such a volume of attention, if measured by the percentage of printed material concerned in some way with the monarchy. There is also a degree of pragmatism to the focus on just two years for each succession, given the amount of work required to survey the publications of a year. We found, however, that responses to successions tended to be printed within weeks and months, rather than years, of the event. Inevitably we will have neglected some potentially valuable items as a result of this approach; moreover, the risk of this happening is greater in years when a succession occurred towards the end of a year. But in general terms, one characteristic of succession literature is its speed of response.
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Which were the ‘succession years’? Some are uncontestable. James I in March 1603, Charles I in March 1625, James II in February 1685, and Anne in February 1702, all acceded after the death of a preceding monarch. But other succession years are more problematic. Charles II consistently dated his succession from the day of his father’s execution, 30 January 1649; indeed many pieces of succession writing in 1660 insist that Charles was by then in the twelfth year of his reign. To complicate matters further, he had also been crowned in Scotland in 1651. We have, however, opted for the common-sense interpretation that he succeeded to the throne at the moment when he was recognized as monarch by his parliament and subjects, in the year 1660. While 1649 was the century’s greatest moment of rupture, it remains a year when one king died without a succession. The Glorious Revolution of 1688-89 presents further challenges. The intentions of William of Orange, when he landed an invading force in England in November 1688, remain a matter of conjecture. Even in the early months of the following year the occupation of the nation’s throne remained a matter of conjecture. Yet it would have been perverse not to survey 1688, given the consequences of the invasion, so we consider 1688 and 1689 as the years of the contested accession of William III and Mary II.

And then there are the Cromwells. In our initial planning, we did not intend to consider Oliver and Richard Cromwell at all; they took the title of ‘Lord Protector’ rather than ‘King’, and they were decidedly not Stuarts. With Oliver, moreover, questions arise over when exactly he assumed a quasi-regal status: in 1653, when he first accepted the title of Lord Protector; or in 1657, when he assumed greater powers (including the right to nominate his successor)? Richard inherited the title after his father’s death in 1658, but held it for just nine months. Given their significance within any narrative of seventeenth-century political history, however, that strictly logical decision to exclude them belied the realities of seventeenth-century authority, and would have frustrated researchers. The extent to which the Cromwells were draped in the imagery and discourse of monarchy, after all, remains one of the most fascinating aspects of political culture in this period. For Oliver, we then decided to concentrate on 1653 and 1654; despite the subsequent increase in his powers, these years remain key turning-points away from republicanism. Oliver’s death in 1658 was a more obvious moment of succession, although our research found remarkably little attention to his successor.

Our method of surveying entire years means that, for some successions, we have been able to include valuable material which precedes the actual moment of transition. Succession is a different matter to accession; it is a process that may anticipate or contest a change of monarch, as opposed to an event that demands recognition and endorsement. Given that some of these processes stretched out over many years – notably, the anxiety-ridden latter years of Elizabeth I, who famously refused to endorse a successor, or the debates incited by Jacobites at the other end of the era – it would never have been possible to survey them methodically. Some designated ‘succession years’, however, nonetheless present rich material of this kind. Hence 1658 and 1659, included on account of the ‘succession’ of Richard Cromwell, enable researchers to trace a run of years (i.e. 1658-61) that was crucial in determining the shape of political authority in Britain. Moreover, the inclusion of 1688 means that we have been able to catalogue material relating to Mary of Modena’s pregnancy and the birth of Prince James in the summer of 1688, an event that exacerbated the fear of a Catholic dynasty and galvanised attempts to overthrow James. Furthermore, for 1689, texts on the conflicts between Williamite and Jacobite forces in Ireland are included on the grounds that they constitute part of the military fallout of the succession.

In practical terms, the work was done principally with the aid of the electronic databases, Early English Books Online (EEBO) and Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO). Every item catalogued on EEBO and ECCO under one of our designated years was examined, in order to determine whether it engaged in any significant way with the succession. Whenever possible, we also sought to consult physical copies of items that were either not available, or not fully legible, on the electronic databases. An exercise of academic judgement was inevitable in some cases. But where in doubt, we opted for inclusivity; in the interests of researchers using the database, we wanted to give as rich as possible a guide to the field of material. Our primary aim was to serve the interests of researchers, rather than to prescribe forever the parameters of ‘succession literature’.

Within the context of our overall commitment to inclusivity, some basic principles were nonetheless required and followed, and the more important of these are worth noting. Firstly, on occasion old works were republished in order to position them within the context of a succession year. A prime example is provided by the quick publication, in London, of works by King James that had previously been published in Edinburgh. Such instances of calculated republication, we decided, were worth registering. Secondly, many authors dedicated works, sometimes on subjects with no relation to matters of state, to new monarchs or members of their family. In such instances, again, we opted to err on the side of inclusivity. Thirdly, albeit with some regret, we decided not to include dramatic works unless they manifestly engaged with the topic of a succession, such as in the case of the pageantry and entertainments connected with royal entries. Scholars of early modern drama argue, with very good cause, that playwrights were often very deeply engaged with political matters. But determining, for the purposes of this database, whether a particular play by, say, Shakespeare or Jonson, is or is not a ‘succession text’ was beyond the range of academic judgement we were prepared to exercise.

Functionality and Possibilities


Interface of the Stuart Successions Database

Users of the Stuarts Successions Database can explore its contents in a variety of ways. The title, author, date, printer, publisher, place, and format of each publication are recorded in the database where that information is available. The filters on the right-hand side of the publications grid allow users to arrange the contents of the database under headings of date, author, and so forth. The text-search function, meanwhile, enables keyword searches across the data collected about each publication. This is especially useful when searching for title keywords. The search and filters can be used in conjunction with one another. It is therefore possible, for example, to filter for works printed in a particular place in a series of succession years, and then search for keywords within those results to further narrow down the results.
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Each publication on the database has also been categorised, where applicable, under several headings relating loosely to form and content. These categories are:

  • Stuart monarch(s) to whom the publication pertains;
  • Protector(s) to whom the publication pertains;
  • genre(s) of the publication;
  • language(s) used in publication (where other than or supplementary to English);
  • non-Stuart monarch(s) who is or are the subject of a work;
  • other key political figures, including princes and consorts, who are the subject of a work.

The categories are not designed as absolute descriptions of the content of any given publication, more as gestures towards some important details. They have been developed so that researchers can begin to map some of the key genres of succession writing, and get a sense of the personalities with whom this writing was preoccupied. All of these extra categories have filters on the side-bar, and these will facilitate research that focuses either on individual moments of succession, or succession writing across the century. Scholars interested in the generic make-up of succession literature in particular years or across the longue duree can use the genre filter in conjunction to year filters to explore these issues. Bibliographical analyses of succession writing – who produced it and in what formats it was published – can be conducted using the format, printer, and publisher filters. Whilst the great majority of publications on the database were printed in London, the wider geographical spread of succession writing can be explored by filtering by place.

When the title of a publication is clicked on, users are taken to a publication record that includes, in many cases, notes about that publication. A variety of information, recorded    in the notes box, aims to bring details about a publication to a user. Most obviously this is a chance to explain why a publication is included in the database, especially in the case of publications that may from their title alone not immediately appear relevant. For example, with publications that contain a dedication to a monarch, the details of the dedication (length and manner of address) are recorded in the notes field. Copy-specific information is given where it has been uncovered: the most obvious example being the dates that George Thomason wrote on his books during the 1650s and early 1660s. Any further details we have discovered that can help with the specific dating of a text (when an address or petition was delivered; the date printed at the end of a dedication, etc.) are recorded. Details of reprints, or of previous and subsequent editions of a publication, and questions concerning attribution are addressed where relevant. Paratextual materials, like title-page epigraphs, are recorded, and in the case of sermons, the biblical text preached on is also given.

The Stuart Successions database was originally conceived of purely as a bibliographical catalogue. The possibility emerged during the course of our work, however, at least in some cases, to make it also a gateway to full open-access transcriptions of some publications. This was owing to the work of the Text Creation Partnership (TCP) – a collaboration between Proquest and over a hundred libraries worldwide – which, from 2000 to 2009, created electronic text editions of over 25,000 of the books that had been digitised on the EEBO platform. On 1 January 2015, these electronic editions were made open-access (unfortunately no comparable release has happened with ECCO). In keeping with the principles of open-access that guide the database itself, we decided that where an open-access TCP text existed that corresponded to a publication catalogued in the Stuart Successions Database, a link to that text would be made available. These links are placed at the bottom of the relevant publication record, underneath the notes section.

Andrew McRae and John West