Arthur Maynwaring, Tarquin and Tullia (1689)

Tarquin and Tullia was published anonymously in 1689, but is frequently attributed in manuscript to Maynwaring. Alexander Pope believed the poem to be by Maynwaring, whom he knew. In both style and politics, Tarquin and Tullia resembles poems by John Dryden, the Catholic Stuart laureate who was ejected from his post after the Glorious Revolution. Maynwaring’s use of direct parallel between ancient legend and contemporary politics was probably inspired by Absalom and Achitophel (1681), Dryden’s great satire on the Exclusion Crisis. The resemblances are such that, in 1704, Tarquin and Tullia was attributed in print to Dryden. The venom of the piece, however, is more typical of the younger Maynwaring that the ageing Stuart apologist.

Although Maynwaring later made a name for himself as a Whig politician and member of the exclusive Whig Kit-Cat Club, he started life as a Jacobite. In this poem Maynwaring draws extensively on the Roman legend of Tarquin, who, at the instigation of his wife, the princess Tullia, usurps and murders the rightful king (and his father-in-law) Tullius. The effect of this story, when applied to contemporary politics, is to criticise William III and Mary II as parricides. Tarquin is William, Tullia is Mary, and Tullius is James. Admittedly, James II had not been murdered. But, as another contemporary polemicist put it: ‘Had he been murdered, it has mercy shown, / ’Tis less to kill a King, than to dethrone’. Accusations of parricide were often flung at William and Mary throughout their reign. This poem was among the first.


In times when princes cancelled nature’s law,
And declarations, which themselves did draw;
When children used their parents to dethrone,
And gnawed their way like vipers to a crown;
Tarquin, a savage, proud, ambitious prince,
Prompt to expell, yet thoughtless of defence,
The envied sceptre did from Tullius snatch,
The Roman king, and father by the match.
To form his party, histories report,
A sanctuary was opened in his court,
Where glad offenders safely might resort.
Great was the crowd, and wonderous the success;
(For those were fruitful times of wickedness)
And all that lived obnoxious to the laws
Flocked to Prince Tarquin, and embraced his cause.
Amongst these a pagan priest for refuge fled,
A prophet deep in godly faction read;
A sycophant that knew the modish way,
To cant and plot, to flatter and betray;
To whine and sin, to scribble and recant;
A shameless author, and a lustful saint:
To serve all times he could distinctions coin,
And with great ease flat contradictions join;
A traitor now, once loyal in extreme,
And then obedience was his only theme;
He sang in temples the most passive lays,
And wearied monarchs with repeated praise;
But managed awkwardly that lawful part:
For to vent lies and treason was his art,
And pointed libels at crowned heads to dart.
This priest and others, learned to defame,
First murdered injured Tullius in his name,
With blackest calumnies their soveraign load;
A poisoned brother, and dark league abroad,
A son unjustly topped upon the throne;
Which yet was proved undoubtedly his own:
Though, as the law was there, it was his behoof
Who dispossessed the heir, to bring the proof.
This hellish charge they backed with dismal frights,
The loss of property and sacred rights,
And freedom: words which all false patriots use,
The surest names the Romans to abuse:
Jealous of kings, and always malcontent,
Forward to change, yet certain to repent.
Whilst thus the plotters needful fears create,
Tarquin with open force invades the state,
Lewd nobles join him with their feeble might,
And atheist fools for dear religion fight:
The priests their boasted principles disown,
And level their harangues against the throne:
Vain promises the people’s minds allure,
Slight were their Ills, but desperate the cure.
’Tis hard for kings to steer an equal course;
And they who banish one, oft get a worse.
Those heavenly bodies we admire above,
Do every day irregularly move.
Yet Tullius, ’tis decreed, must lose his crown,
For faults that were his councils, not his own;
He now in vain commands even those he paid;
By darling troops deserted and betray’d;
By creatures which his genial warmth had made.
Of these a captain of the guards was worst,
Whose memory to this day stands accurst:
This rogue advanced to military trust,
By his own whoredom, and his sister’s lust,
Forsook his master, after dreadful vows,
And plotted to betray him to his foes:
The kindest master to the vilest slave,
As free to give, as he was sure to crave.
His haughty female, who, as books declare,
Did always toss wide nostrils in the air,
Was to the younger Tullia governess,
And did attend her when in borrowed dress
She fled by night from Tullius in distress:
This wretch by letters did invite his foes,
And us’d all arts her father to depose;
A father always generously bent,
So kind, that he her wishes did prevent.
‘Twas now high time for Tullius to retreat,
When even his daughter hastened his defeat;
When faith and duty vanished, and no more
The name of father nor of king he bore:
A king! whose right his foes could never dispute,
So mild! that mercy was his attribute;
Affable, kind, and easy of access,
Swift to relieve, unwilling to oppress;
Rich without taxes, yet in payment just;
So honest that he hardly could distrust;
His active soul did never from labours cease;
Valiant in war, and sedulous in peace;
Studious with traffic to enrich the land;
Strong to protect, and skilful to command;
Liberal and splendid, not without excess;
Loth to revenge, and willig to caress:
In sum, how Godlike must his nature be,
Whose only fault was too much piety!
This King removed, the assembled states thought fit,
That Tarquin in the vacant throne should sit,
Voted him regent in their senate house,
And with an empty name endow’d his spouse.
The elder Tullia, who some authors feign,
Drove over her Father’s corpse a trembling wane:
But she! more guilty! numerous wanes did drive,
To crush her father and her king alive;
In glad remembrance of his hastened fall,
Resolved to institute a weekly ball:
She! jolly glutton! grew in dulk and chin,
Feasted on rapine, and enjoyed her sin;
With luxury she did weak reason force;
Debauched good nature, and crammed down remorse:
Yet when she drunk cool tea in liberal sups,
The sobbing dame was maudlin in her cups.
But brutal Tarquin never did relent;
Too hard to melt, too wicked to repent;
Cruel in deeds, more merciless in will,
And blest with natural delight in ill;
From a wise guardian he receiv’d his doom,
To walk the change, and not to govern Rome;
He swore his native honours to disown;
And did by perjury ascend the throne:
Oh! had that oath his swelling pride repressed!
Rome then had been with peace and plenty blessed.
But Tarquin, guided by destructive fate,
Wasted the country, and embroiled the state;
Transported to their foes the Roman pelf,
And by their ruin hoped to save himself.
Innumerable woes oppressed the land,
When it submitted to his curst command.
So just was Heaven that it was hard to tell,
Whether its guilt or losses did excel.
Men who renounced their God, for dearer trade,
Were then the guardians of religion made:
Rebels were sainted; foreigners did reign;
Outlaws returned preferments to obtain,
With frogs and toads, and all their croaking train;
No native knew their features, nor their birth,
They seemed the greasy offspring of the earth;
The trade was sunk; the fleet and army spent;
Devouring taxes swallowed lesser rent;
Taxes imposed by no authority;
Each lewd collection was a robbery.
Bold self-creating men did statutes draw,
Skilled to establish villainy by law;
Fanatick drivers, whose unjust careers
Produced new ills, exceeding former fears.
Yet authors here except that faithful band,
Which the prevailing faction did withstand;
And some who bravely stood in the defence
Of baffled justice, and their injured prince:
These shine to after times, each sacred name
Stands still recorded in the books of fame.