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Elizabeth Goldring, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and the World of Elizabethan Art: Painting and Patronage at the Court of Elizabeth I (Yale University Press, 2014)

Elizabeth Goldring, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and the World of Elizabethan Art: Painting and Patronage at the Court of Elizabeth I (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014). ISBN: 978-0-300-19224-7, 380 pp., £40.00.

Reviewed by David Howarth

DH[1] The personal papers of Robert Dudley, first Earl of Leicester, lie scattered across Britain and America. Those of William Cecil and Frances Walsingham form the heart of what survives as Elizabethan State Papers at the Public Record Office. But if the diaspora creates frustrations, what we do have is the Leicester inventories; in more detail and density that with any other great Tudor magnate. This is owing to the unexpected death of Leicester in 1588: before he had had time to clear massive loans to the Crown, and before too, his servants had been able to make inroads into the debts he had amassed during his largely disastrous regency in which he had lorded it over the Netherlands as the Queen’s deputy. Elizabeth Goldring is a most impressive analyst of what the Leicester inventories reveal. She draws her conclusions as to what was in the Leicester collection with admirable clarity: never taking the evidence further than can be justified, and using a welcome degree of restatement. This allows a grasp of such patterns as can be extrapolated from the tastes and temperament of the boldest and most audacious of the courtiers who attended Elizabeth I. There are welcome appendices running to fifty pages: transcriptions of all the relevant documents.

[2] Having survived the real possibility that he would become a chip off the old block, when, little more than a boy, he was implicated in the treason of his father, he lost no time in becoming an important art patron. He rapidly established himself as foremost among the distinguished group of courtier intellectuals who from the 1560s, either promoted or protected the visual arts, the universities, authors, poets and non-conformist divines. But it was not just Leicester’s superbia which allowed this: his father had been the chief instigator of that Edwardian interlude in classical building; the most distinguished protagonist of which was John Shute whose First and Chief Groundes of Architecture (1563), promised what would only come to be fulfilled with Inigo Jones in the next century.

[3] The story of Leicester’s patronage is one of abundance but for the historian of today, also of abiding frustration. As so often with inventories of this period, not enough is committed to paper to allow us to know what was what; what was conventional and what new. We simply cannot tell just how varied Leicester’s collection was; how many pictures, if any, might now be wanted by the National Gallery. The author acknowledges all of this: but without abandoning a calm, measured and authoritative account or by reacting with vain and unsupported speculation. Patience and sobriety are duly rewarded for this is the finest case study of an Elizabethan patron of the visual arts which we have.

[4] Leicester had an audacious disregard for convention when it came to portraiture. We are told that at Kenilworth he did things differently; so differently, indeed, that no one could fail to have noticed it when arriving for what turned out to be the best party of the reign. This was the reception of the Queen on progress at Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire in the summer of 1575; matched only as costume drama by the Eglinton Tournament of 1839. As for mine host, he had the cheek to have not just one, but two pairs of full length portraits of himself with his sovereign hung in the public rooms. These pairings were probably displayed in the Dancing Chamber in Leicester’s Buildings; the designation unfortunate, since it makes the principal Tudor addition to the pre-existing structure, sound like an office block on a dual carriageway, whereas in truth, it was the high tower overlooking the meads in which the eleven year old Shakespeare was then learning to poach, and the setting for the denouement in the high romance of the most famous affair between a sovereign and a favourite in English history. However, there were limits to Leicester’s presumption. The critical thing was that in the case of both pairs, the two look in the same direction; rather than en face, as with Van Dycks of Charles I and Henrietta Maria. Nonetheless, Burghley must have had a fit when he puffed up the stairs right to the top of the building only to be confronted by this platonic entanglement; the more so since, as he never missed anything, he would have noticed that instead of having the statutory series of Kings and Queens, Leicester had just Elizabeth herself. This was a song without words which began ‘I only have eyes for you’.

[5] Thinking of eyes, Leicester knew that most alluring of Holbein portrait in oils, the Christina of Denmark. Goldring suggests that the design of Zuccaro’s Elizabeth I (now lost), may have been based on his fulsome admiration for the Holbein, which he saw in the collection of the first Earl of Pembroke, in the company of Leicester, when they were all at Baynard’s Castle in the City of London in 1575. Could that encounter have been still more multi-layered than is supposed? Zuccaro had been summoned to lend his talents for the fireworks of Kenilworth in what turned out to be an unforgettable year. The Kenilworth reception was enacted in high summer; representing the fruit of a famous dalliance. Never again would Elizabeth and Leicester play the game of ‘Let’s get Married!’. Perhaps Leicester had known that the Christina portrait by Holbein had come to London because the sitter was being wooed by Henry VIII; just as Elizabeth was coming to Kenilworth. In the self-same year in which the Holbein was the matrix for what must have been one of the greatest of her great many portraits, she came to play a virgin bride who was to be wooed by her knight, cavorting under the shadows of his crenellated make-believe castle. Elizabeth left Kenilworth when the fun was over; widely believed to have released Leicester who, it is suggested, now abandoned ideas of marrying the Queen. In 1578, he married instead, Lettice Devereux, the dowager Countess of Essex. And that, at last, was that.

[6] As is to be expected with a man who had more charisma than the rest of them put together, Leicester did a great deal for painting in England and also beyond. Antwerp features prominently; a city thought by Guiccardini in his Descrittione di Tutti i Paesi Bassi (1567), as the place with the greatest concentration of artists in Europe. People who could deal and appeal with pictures, did themselves no harm at all: Ciappino Vitelli and Tommaso Baroncelli among them. Vitelli arrived carrying Vasaris and Bronzinos for the Duke of Alva, whilst such was the intimacy between Baroncelli and Leicester, that the former was able to muster an illustrious roll-call as godparents for his children. Leicester was among those who condescended to honor a Baroncelli daughter named after Elizabeth I no less. Goldring makes the exciting suggestion that the two men worked to get Bronzino to the English court; new, bold and welcome speculation, inferring that there was a great deal more than we know about Baroncelli who returned to Florence to become Cosimo I’s nuovo maggirodomo. Assuredly he is worth pursuing; if only the archives will surrender his details. It would be an exaggeration to say that Nicholas Hilliard owed everything to Leicester, but certainly he was more beholden to him than to anyone else. It is known that Leicester was Hilliard’s first patron; but here it is argued that he was his most ardent. Leicester persuaded Hilliard to spend two years in France which was critical to everything that followed. Client-protégé relationships were always a diptych, and Hilliard was determined such largesse should outlive the hand which dispensed it – baby Hilliards had Dudley names to a boy. Leicester was a chancer, a man of action, but also someone who had an abiding respect for the contemplative life; hence his serious commitment to mathematics, exploration and the life of the mind. It was under his aegis that Sir Philip Sydney became the first native writer to argue that poetry and painting were worthy of each other; something he did in his Defence of Poetry written in the late 1570s, and whilst the poet was roosting at Leicester House. Leicester would have approved of this book; condescending to allow it to have become the ninety-ninth dedicated to himself. Uncommonly pleasing is how, in Goldring’s hands, he emerges as culturally a European: of no one else could this have been said between the lives of Cardinal Wolsey and the Earl of Arundel.

University of Edinburgh, September 2015

Micheál Ó Siochrú and Jane Ohlmeyer (eds), Ireland: 1641, Contexts and Reactions (Manchester University Press, 2013)

Micheál Ó Siochrú and Jane Ohlmeyer (eds), Ireland: 1641, Contexts and Reactions (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013). ISBN 978-0-7190-8817-9, 304 pp., HBK £75.00.

Reviewed by Naomi McAreavey

NM[1] October 2010 marked the culmination of the 1641 Depositions Project, which digitized, transcribed and made available online (http://1641.tcd.ie) thousands of witness testimonies collected in the wake of the Irish rebellion of 1641. Overwhelmingly representing the voices of Protestant settlers, the 1641 depositions are at the heart of one of the most notorious periods in Ireland’s troubled history, and central to the heavily disputed allegation that the rebellion began as a massacre of Protestants by Catholic natives. The publication of this unique resource on an open and fully searchable website is truly groundbreaking, and the possibilities for the scholarship of early modern Ireland is only beginning to be realized.

[2] Ireland: 1641, edited by principal investigators Micheál Ó Siochrú and Jane Ohlmeyer, is one of two essay collections produced by the 1641 Depositions Project: the other, The 1641 Depositions and the Irish Rebellion (2012), was edited by researchers Eamon Darcy, Annaleigh Margey and Elaine Murphy. While Darcy et al’s volume showcases the work of the new voices in Irish history who have already utilized the riches of the 1641 Depositions Project, Ó Siochrú and Ohlmeyer’s Ireland: 1641 brings together an established group of early modern historians, some well-known names in Irish historiography, and some specialists in British, Dutch, French, Spanish and Southeast Asian history, to think more abstractly about the 1641 Depositions Project and the future of Irish historical scholarship. Many of the essays in the volume do not directly address Ireland, and some are only tangentially connected with the 1641 rebellion, but the intention is that each contributor brings a new context or perspective to 1641, suggesting innovative possibilities for future research. Ireland: 1641 is the second title in Manchester University Press’s new Studies in Early Modern Irish History series, which seeks ‘to identify key themes for exploration and thereby set the agenda for future research’ (p. xv). Given the nature and scope of the 1641 Depositions Project, as well the timing of this volume, this approach has enormous value because it throws open the resource, illuminating its rich research potential, and demonstrating the exciting possibilities of the digital humanities more broadly.

[3] A pithy and informative introduction outlines the nature and background of the 1641 depositions, then provides a description of the context and objectives of the 1641 Depositions Project, outlining its immediate impact and future potential. It explains the rationale for the volume in which contributors ‘adopt a variety of historical, geographic and anthropologic perspectives’ to ‘situate the massacres in their early modern Irish, European and global contexts and suggest fresh ways of conceptualising how we might study both the depositions and the events they record’ (p. 6). The introduction finally ends with a reflection on the status of 1641 in Irish memory and history. Essays cover themes as diverse as the conceptualization of historical violence, the definition of ‘massacre’, reports of the Irish rebellion in contemporary Europe, the public memory and commemoration of atrocity, the orality of testimony, the context of New World colonialism, the history of localized rebellions in Ireland, and the mapping and geography of the rebellion. The volume presents broad conceptual essays alongside those that showcase new research on the digitized depositions, and the overall balance is stimulating and effective. The international contexts provided, from the Thirty Years War to genocidal massacres in Southeast Asia, are pertinent and interesting, and they also help to bring Irish historiography into conversation with scholars grappling with similar issues in different national contexts; they also publicize the fertile collaborations that already exist in related fields internationally (co-ordinators of the network on Early Modern Memory, based in Leiden University in the Netherlands, for example, contribute to the volume). By offering a wide range of fresh, innovative and often provocative new approaches to the 1641 rebellion, Ireland: 1641 challenges the limits of current research and raises important new questions.

[4] Given the sheer range and diversity of persectives presented in the volume, and especially the looseness of the Irish connections in several essays, the editors might have done a little more to draw out the implications of the contexts and perspectives selected. The involvement of other disciplines might have further refined the conversation: a lone geographer (William Smyth) flies the flag for discipines other than history, and the exclusion of literary or cultural scholars was disappointing. The redolence of 1641 in Irish memory permeates the volume, and this will undoubtedly stimulate further discussion and debate with scholars in the burgeoning field of (Irish) memory studies. But the volume’s central assumption that ‘post-conflict’ Northern Ireland has provided the necessary environment for the publication of the controversial depositions is something that needs to be further scrutinized. Added to questions about the cultural memory of 1641 are issues relating to the workings of memory in the depositions themselves, which involves further investigation into the mechanics of the collection and delivery of testimony. The editors and contributors raise some of these questions, but further enquiry will be significantly enriched by dialogue across disciplinary boundaries – such collaboration which the 1641 Depositions Project facilitates and encourages. This is an exciting time for the scholarship of early modern Ireland, and there is no doubt that our understanding of the 1641 rebellion and its varied contexts is likely to be dramatically revised, expanded and complicated in the light of the project and the kinds of possibilities presented in the volume.

University College Dublin, September 2015

Kerry McCarthy, Byrd (Oxford University Press, 2013)

Kerry McCarthy, Byrd (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). ISBN: 978-0-19-538875-6, 282 pp. + xvi. £25.99.

Reviewed by Katherine Butler

[1] KBWilliam Byrd (c.1540-1623) has become a central figure in our understanding of Elizabethan musical culture. His extant music includes significant examples of all the major vocal and instrumental genres of his day: from Latin motets and Catholic masses to Protestant services and anthems, and from consort songs and madrigals to viol fantasias, keyboard dances, and more. The printing patent granted to him (jointly with Thomas Tallis) by Queen Elizabeth I gave him a vital role in the development of polyphonic music printing in England. Yet our fascination with Byrd stems not only from his compositional activities, but also from the complex entanglements of his life and music with the politics and religious tensions of the period. Indeed his position as both a Gentleman the Chapel Royal held in high royal regard and a conspicuous recusant Catholic has been credited with inspiring the expressive poignancy of his most enduring music. He has been a controversial figure, variously regarded over the decades as a mainstay of early Anglican Church music, a defiant spokesperson for the Catholic oppressed, and even a traitor.

[2] Kerry McCarthy avoids such polarised positions in her new biography. While Byrd’s religious convictions remain central to her understanding of much of his musical output, she portrays him not as a rebel or outsider, but as someone intimately connected with the political establishment, protected by the Queen and patronised by the most powerful courtiers and noblemen of the era. The book’s cover image – a portrait of negotiations for a peace treaty (the Somerset House Conference) in 1604 – makes this point: Byrd had connections with every one of the powerful men in the English delegation, and indirect links on the Flemish and Spanish side too. Moreover, McCarthy argues that these close courtly connections continued even in the latter decades of his life, as he moved away from London to Stondon Massey in rural Essex and became more intimately involved with East Anglian Catholic community (including the Paston and Petre families). He was still composing his Great Service and at least some anthems for the court, despite turning his attentions to the Catholic liturgy with his masses and Gradualia. Byrd emerges as a well-connected courtier, as much as a musician and Catholic.

[3] One of the challenges of writing a biography of any Renaissance composer is the scant information regarding the years before they gained a significant post and became well established at the height of the profession. While we have a rough idea of the year of Byrd’s birth and know a fair amount about his family, nothing is known about his musical training, and we can only speculate as to whether his earliest known position at Lincoln cathedral was his first employment. Rather than simply ignore Byrd’s developmental years, McCarthy takes a contextual approach, considering the types of institution in which he is most likely to have trained and the kind of education provided there. As Byrd’s training took place during the turbulent religious changes of the mid-sixteenth century, these also provide a backdrop (and often a means of dating) for Byrd’s earliest works and musical experiences. Changes in the role of music in worship, the styles considered suitable and the resources devoted to its performance all shaped the young composer.

[4] Such contextualisation is central to McCarthy’s approach and results in an especially rich biographical narrative. The following chapters interleave key events in Byrd’s life with evocative and insightful explorations of his musical compositions, all in relation to the political and religious life of both the court and his Catholic patrons. It is no easy to task to meaningfully connect a composer’s life and works, especially when few sixteenth-century pieces are securely or precisely dateable. Nevertheless McCarthy’s musical discussions permeate the chronological narrative, while other chapters break out to explore particular genres such as sacred or secular song in more depth, as well as aspects of Byrd’s somewhat surprising reading habits.

[5] The ‘Afterthoughts’ chapter highlights some of the tensions of writing a biography for a ‘Master Musicians’ series in an era where the notion of a canon of genius composers has been challenged. While Byrd was unquestionably among the most highly respected musicians of his day, he has dominated scholarly attention to a degree that can obscure the broader picture. McCarthy’s book is one of a growing line of Byrd biographies and musical studies, while other significant contemporaries have yet to receive their first (for example Christopher Tye or John Sheppard; even Byrd’s own teacher Thomas Tallis has just a single book dedicated to his life and works). McCarthy’s book makes little attempt to engage critically with Byrd’s exalted position in modern scholarship, but in this final chapter she is aware of the potential trap of ‘hero-worship’. Here she reviews the less appealing aspects of Byrd’s character: stubbornness, a capacity to hold a grudge and the disputes and petty rivalries that pepper the extant sources from his earliest employment at Lincoln cathedral to his legal wranglings and ruthlessness as landlord of Stondon Place in his later years. This chapter offers a valuable and measured reflection on the man behind the musician, even if the combination of volatile personality and musical talent that emerges perhaps conforms suspiciously to our inherited Romantic notions of the irascible musical genius.

[6] Kerry McCarthy is a leading Byrd scholar and this book draws on her wealth of knowledge and personal research, even as it aims to engage with the student, the music lover and the non-musicologist. The style is engaging and McCarthy’s admiration for the composer and passion for Byrd’s music is infectiously communicated. Indeed her evocative prose leaves one wanting to hear the music. While it is true that few academic books come with accompanying CDs or links to musical tracks online, for a book aiming to bring Byrd to non-specialist audiences I think this would be a useful addition. Nevertheless, the book is a highly enjoyable read which one could pick up simply for pleasure and interest. This readability is what separates McCarthy’s Byrd from the densely written and meticulously footnoted approach of other recent studies of the composer. It is a brilliant introduction for the student, music lover, or reader with a general interest. When it leaves you wanting to know more, the appended ‘Reader’s Guide to Byrd Literature’ offers the means to take this reading further and the ‘List of Works’ offers an invaluable guide to tracking down editions of Byrd’s music. The appendix of ‘Personalia’ also assists with keeping track of the key patrons, relatives, scribes, printers, fellow musicians, Jesuits priests and other contacts of Byrd.

[7] As a starting point for research, however, the lack of footnotes will be frustrating as one cannot easily follow up the sources for debates and information that catch one’s interest. The ‘Documents of Byrd’s Life’ appendix provides a helpful overview of the known facts, but will not assist the researcher in finding any of sources for consultation, while consulting the ‘Reader’s Guide’ will still leave the scholar much work to do in tracking down that particular pertinent point (a search which may in case be unfruitful if it is an item of McCarthy’s own, previously unpublished research).

[8] This, however, is to judge the book against criteria beyond its stated purpose and audience. McCarthy’s Byrd is a richly rewarding read that comes highly recommended, particularly to amateur musicians, students or scholars in other disciplines interested to find out more about the music of the English Renaissance and its most iconic composer.

University of Oxford, September 2015