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The Nautilus And The Pearl: Accreting The Early Modern English Collection

The Nautilus and the Pearl:
Accreting the Early Modern English Collection

Alexandra Marraccini

If you tasted it, it would first taste bitter,
then briny, then surely burn your tongue.
It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.

— from Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘At The Fishhouses’

I. Chambers

[1] The Cabinet in Early Modern England could be a series of small drawers, a room like a closet or a large parlor, or even a series of purpose-built display chambers. The nautilus is a creature famous for using its chambered compartments to be able to dive. While the nautilus accretes its chambers over time as it grows, deep under the waves, the Cabinet’s chambers are made by Early Modern collectors, and not grown—though they, too, are filled over time with much natural material that often creeps into the blurry realm of artifice and initially artificial material that asymptotically approaches the axis of the natural. Working particularly, but not only, during the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth centuries, these collectors were often also naturalists, merchants or aristocrats, and members of the early Royal Society. Their collections were forces and sources in shaping new period of scientific inquiry in England. This text examines the nautilus, the pearl, and the English Early Modern Cabinet together in context as a way of looking at looking itself, including in related scientific prints, silverwork, and still lifes in Northern Europe.

[2] This essay is also an exercise in Cabinet thinking as a methodology. Formatted as a series of related chambers, each spilling over into the next, it suggests a way of reading the Cabinet between multiple media and temporalities, dancing always between points of reference without a strict linearity, a structure imposed on the Cabinet only retrospectively by typical historical analysis. Echoing the multiplicities of shells, paintings of these same shells, accreted pearls and exotica, prints of oceanic objects, and paintings of oysters, this essay gives its reader a new way of negotiating the sensorium of the Cabinet as a whole and models this method in its structure. It begins with a wave of dates, names, and facts. This crests in a series of related observations, first turning to oysters and a still life by Roestraten, then to nautilus cups and the concept of liquidity in the Paston Treasure Painting, and to pearls and accretion in period literary sources, before returning to the Frewen Cup and then Von Somer II’s frontispiece to Willoughby’s Icthyographia as case studies, and finally concluding by asking how the Cabinet uses the interrelations of these things to construe what we call the ‘real’. Problems of Cabinet media and depiction inform a multivalent Cabinet ontology.

[3] The first wave begins to press at its chamber here, with a swell of relevant background information:

   Starting in about the 1590s, Portuguese and then Dutch traders in the Pacific brought back nautilus shells to Europe for sale to collectors. In 1594, Theodore De Bry, a Belgian exile in Amsterdam, engraved indigenous and enslaved peoples diving for pearls and other wondrous objects in the Caribbean. Both the pearl and the nautilus are described as far back as Pliny and Aristotle, and indeed Pliny was a primary source for considering these natural-historical phenomena in Cabinets and related painting.[1] Philemon Holland’s English translation of Pliny, including the passage on the nautilus and that on the pearl in Book IX, Chapter XXXV, was first published in 1601.[2] Channeling Pliny and his own distaste in turn, Holland notes specifically of pearls:

It was not sufficient belike to bring the seas into the kitchin, to let them down the throat into the belly, unlesse men and women both carried them about in their hands and eares, upon their head, and all over their bodies…this shell-fish which is the mother of Pearle, differs not much in the manner of breeding and generation, from the oysters[.] (Holland 1634: 254-55)

Meanwhile, in the mid-to-late 1600s in Amsterdam, Cornelius Bellekin used engraving on the surface of the nautilus and other mother-of-pearl shells to make images (Kisluk-Grosheide 1997). These are variously human, vegetable, and animal in form, and include images of specific fishes that look drawn from nature and resemble related scientific prints. In 1680, a Dutch émigré to London, Peter Roestraten, painted both oysters and nautilus cups, some engraved by Bellekin.[3] The paintings went on to hang in the Cabinets of Royalists and their allies. One example is the painting of the Paston Treasure, which is in the style of Roestraten, and hung in the cabinet of the Pastons at Norfolk, with no fewer than four nautilus cups shown in depictions of their collection. At roughly the same time, Paul Von Somer II, a Flemish Protestant religious refugee in England (who eventually went on to work as an engraver for Francis Willoughby, fellow of the early Royal Society and co-author, with John Ray, of its first book on ichthyology) was commissioned for an illustrated frontispiece. This frontispiece, which has numerous shells and shell creatures amongst its oceanic bounty, was published in 1685.

[4] In 1698, the English scientist and antiquarian Martin Lister went to France, ostensibly to study medicine. He ended up in the aquaria of Guillame Rondelet, trying to make pearls out of sea snail mucus. He wasn’t as far off from Mikimoto and the cultured pearl of the 20th century as it sounds, since nacre is mucus layered on an irritant in the oyster’s body. Lister also observed artificial pearls, made from ground mussels and mother-of-pearl bearing shells. He went on, with the aid of fellow antiquarian Hans Sloane in the Bahamas, to publish the first comprehensive treatise on conchology and the shells of related organisms, in which the pearl oyster and the nautilus both receive full page engraved foldouts. In the 1690s, in the Low Countries, Wenceslas Hollar engraved a plethora of these same shells, and in 1705, posthumous engravings from Robert Hooke, another prominent early scientist in England, prominently feature the nautilus. The Royal Society, meanwhile, had already published its first catalogue, again featuring pearls, oysters, and the nautilus, in 1685.

[5] There is a net here that dredges up things in common: the first is refugee or immigrant artists from Northern Europe producing media for the English aristocracy and their collections, and the links in these media between modes of representation from portraiture, to still life, and finally to scientific illustration. The Royal Society—and the new ‘English’ conception of scientific and natural-historical activity it nourished throughout the seventeenth century—is shared amongst people and things the nautilus and the pearl also share. This essay takes the nautilus and the pearl as its seed, and layers it with the accreted nacre of Early Modern English collecting culture, broadly conceived, as case study. From the oysters of Roestraten’s still lifes, to the nautilus cup engraved by Bellekin with marine animals for the Pastons, to the oyster and other shells of Lister and fish of Willoughby, the nautilus and the pearl allow us to ask how seventeeth-century collecting in England related to temporal layers and types of gazes, both for period collectors and art historians now. They particularly allow us to consider what it meant to show knowledge and its acquisition, situated precariously between art and nature, the personal and societal.

II. Oysters

[6] Pearls are embedded in oysters and their stories, including for Samuel Pepys, who sponsored Willoughby’s Icthyographia for the Royal Society, and specifically recommended oysters for New Year’s breakfast in his diary of 1661. The oysters at the Borough market in London, where they have been sold at the stall of Richard Haward since at least 1792, are shucked by professionals in one of two ways.[4] Especially with English native oysters, sticking the specialized oyster shucking knife through the ‘hinge’ at the back of the bivalve, where the two matching halves meet, is the preferred method. The ‘French’ or generally Continental method of shucking is to run the knife around the sealed edges of the two shells, where the membrane meets, and open the shells on their own hinges.

Figure 1. Peter Roestraten, ‘Porringer, German Cup, and Oysters’ (1680). © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

[7] Curiously, the oyster halves in ‘Porringer, German Cup and Oysters’ (Figure 1), currently hanging in the silver gallery of the Victoria & Albert Museum, and painted in London by Pieter van Roestraten around 1680, must have been shucked both ways. The halves are entirely separated, meaning the membrane connecting the two shells has been severed, but so too has the connecting ‘hinge’. It is shucked in both the Continental and English modes to display its innards, bitter and briny in contrast to the sweet white wine in the glass behind it. Roestraten, initially trained by Frans Hals in Haarlem, depicts an English collection for an English aristocratic patron in this still life, but one who is drinking imported Spanish or Italian wine, has a period English gilt-copper cup, and a porringer, or stew pot, that is German ware, in the style of many ornamental Kunstkammer objects.[5] Superficially an English painting for an English client, the artist’s Dutch origins, as well as the far- flung imported goods depicted in a single collector’s holdings, show that stylistic ‘Englishness’ in the object culture of the period is hybrid across national boundaries.

[8] The inside of the oyster, with the muscly white flesh that accretes the nacre to form pearls, is itself here a literal accretion of layers of oil paint in service of the figurative. The ‘real’ oyster and the ‘real’ wine, if there was ever any single oyster or cup of wine used as model and not indeed many equal ‘real’ multiples, are presumably long spoiled. The open golden pocket watch, in this Roestraten as well as in a comparable vanitas example in the Royal Collection, and another in the Art Institute of Chicago, recalls this tendency toward rot, an emblematic memento mori common in this type of pronk stillleven [ornamented still life] of the period.[6] The watch ostensibly reminds the viewer that all things perish, that mortal wealth is meaningless in the face of immortal salvation.

[9] I say ostensibly because the very existence of the images of bread, wine, and oyster, means that in some sense, these things don’t really perish at all, or if they do cease to exist in the flesh, the ‘real’, they continue to exist in the translated medium of paint, which is artificial, but not exactly ‘fake’ either, so far as the values-system of the Cabinet collection is concerned. Nor does the painting suggest the complete obliteration of memory in death that a memento mori implies is the fate of all earthly things. The specific metalwork objects in this painting cannot be traced, but many other such objects survive to this day, and in the case of the pronk stillleven crossover-style Paston Treasure painting, we can still handle the many specific cups, jewelry, and other luxury goods depicted. The real-fake ontological dialectic of the still life is troubled by the Cabinet and its contents—in this case beginning with oysters, and expanding to the precious material beyond pearls and the pearly surface of shells.

[10] In the Chicago example, a branch of coral dangles downward, and in yet another V&A Roestraten, a silver encrusted nautilus cup similarly represents the specific bounty of marine treasures dredged up. These are natural objects, enhanced by the means of art to appear in collections, and then by further art still, depicted in collection still lifes, which might in turn hang in those very same collections. These shells, pearls, and other sea objects are key examples of a kind of nature made art made art-as-depiction-of-nature, which is in turn hung as a sort of meta-art, a third-order ‘real’ that is either extreme artifice in some sense, or extreme reality — an encounter with modes of seeing and beholding — in another.

[11] The pearl and its oyster are biological accretions of calcified, membranous mollusk slime, but in their lives as collected and depicted objects, they become figurative accretions too. They enter the boundary territory not only between art and nature, between land and sea, air and water, but also between depiction, description, and collection. They are realfakes and fakereals, accreting ontologies and categories, as they make their way in the Early Modern world. Shucking these kinds of oysters also means turning the knife between membranes of both the material and the fundamentally abstract layers of the Cabinet and its constructions. What does it mean to peel back how the Early Modern Cabinet intends us to look?

III. Liquidities

[12] The Dutch-style still life has much to reveal about the nature of English collecting in the seventeenth century. As a form, it has been characterised by Alpers (2009) as mimicking the scientific gaze of the Dutch ambassador to England in the period, Constantin Huygens. For Honig (1983: esp. pp.175-6), the Dutch still life is a font of descriptive information, a way to transmit knowledge in multiple, sometimes conflicting material forms, with objects serving both literal and allegorical purposes. None of this would matter so much were it not for two crucial factors: the high number of Dutch genre artists abroad in England depicting Cabinet contents (especially those of Royalist patrons), and the incompleteness of surviving English Cabinet collections today in terms of material objects.[7] Although we have collection lists (like that of the Tradescants, compiled by Elias Ashmole[8]) many objects disappeared during the Interregnum or were accumulated into later museum holdings, without persistent recordings of their provenance. The shells that Hans Sloane collected in the Bahamas for Martin Lister, for instance, may have made it into Nehemiah Grew’s initial catalogue of the Royal Society’s own collections and Lister’s own books, but disappeared for several centuries until they were identified by Guy Wilkins in the existing collections of the Museum of Natural History in London in 1953.[9] Sloane’s carved and engraved nautilus shell, it should be noted, is an exception to this rule, and has been displayed fairly continuously and identified as Sloane’s—likely due to its status not merely as a natural specimen, but also as a biographical and art object.

[13] The nautilus, with its mother of pearl surface and association with mollusks, lies at the intersection of Dutch still life in the seventeenth-century English milieu and the pearl and its accreted relatives in natural-historical collections and books.[10] Not only is the nautilus cup a kind of stock object in the still life, it occurs in the same emerging visual sources as the pearl oyster. While Hollar’s illustrations of shells stand out as a singular focus for his genre painting, other still life drew on a wide repertoire of shell images and specimens in circulation.[11] Fossilised ammonites also spur Continental interest in the nautilus, as early as 1565 in Gessner’s De Rerum Fossilium Lapidum, which depicts the nautilus right after the ammonite fossil, and right next to the scallop and mussel (on pp.164-5). Other depictions for comparison, which can be found in Aldrovandi’s De Reliquis Animalibus [1606] and Michael Rupert Besler’s Gazophylacium Rerum Naturalium E Regno Vegetabili, Animali Et Minerali Depromptarumi [1642], show that a collector with any interest in shells or sea life would have been familiar, at least, with their illustrations, as these were widely purchased volumes for natural historians in both England and the Continent.[12]

Figure 2. Anonymous, ‘The Paston Treasure’, ca.1670. Norwich Castle Museum.

[14] The multiple nautilus cups of the Paston Treasure Painting (Figure 2) speak to both the still life as observational device for the collection, and the scientific gaze on the shell, which I will expand at length upon in my discussion of the Frewen Cup (Figure 3). This engraved nautilus cup in the Paston’s closet holdings can also be directly linked to the tradition of depicting and re-depicting natural-historical subjects—particularly marine ones. Exploring these linkages is a mode of understanding their multitudes. The Paston Treasure Painting as a whole, recently re-evaluated in an exhibition that re-united many of its objects and produced an accompanying catalogue on the painting, is somewhere between still life and portraiture, collection display as literal value, and material as allegory for other, moral values. The nautilus cups, various shells, and pearls in the Paston Treasure, along with the other numerous treasures, animals, and people, mark an uncertain point for the still life as metaphysical depiction versus the still life as a catalogue embodied in paint.

[15] To understand the more immediate oceanic liquidities of the collected pearl and its accretions, one must think through both the liquidity of capital as depicted in Dutch still life in Early Modern England, and the liquidity of metal itself. Metal is liquid capital in the sense that it can be melted down and sold. It is also liquid in that it is initially subterranean, formed as molten streams near the magma-heated mantle of the Earth. The gold or silver applied to a nautilus cup is, in a sense, just as strange and unworldly as the shell itself. From the practical manuals of mining like De Re Metallica, to Kircher’s more imaginative (and explicitly oceanic) Mundus Subterreaneus, to circulating Naturbücher and encyclopedias, these links were made manifest in illustrated books about mining as well as metalwork itself. The metals are also linked to the movements of planets and stars, making each part of the macrocosm—and the microcosm of the Cabinet—a mirror for the other. Just as Early Modern scientists often mapped the sub-marine world onto the world of the surface, so too does the submarine map onto the underground, as well as the cosmos above.[13]

[16] As crystals or minerals accrete in mines and caverns invisible to the eye of the surface, so too do new and puzzling catagories of materials accrete in the ocean. In his work on collecting and exploring the submarine in the period, James Delbourgo (2011: 149-50, 164-7) notes that Early Modern naturalists often sought out barnacle-encrusted wood, and coral that had grown over man-made shipwrecks, in order to understand where nature ended and artifice began (whether barnacles were alive was an open question). Liquidities and liquidity also mapped on to each other in the form of shipwrecks, recoveries of which were profitable enterprises. In his account of these wracks and their diving, Delbourgo acknowledges, through the work of Dawson and others, that these profits were also very much at the expense of indigenous lives and resources (see Dawson 2006: 1327-55). The pearl on the earring of the black servant or slave in The Paston Treasure, as well as the ‘Moor’s Head’ stopper of the shell cup she touches, speak directly to this link between bodies, rare objects, and metallic riches or profit (see Chadwick 2018). The Tempest’s Ariel, whose line about sunken eyes transformed by the alchemy of the sea into pearls (1.2.476) has become perhaps the most iconic use of the material in Early Modern English, is also enslaved—first by Sycorax, and then by Prospero, himself often read as a stand-in for the wonder-making of knowledge production. Hans Sloane, a pioneer of the plantation slavery system in the Bahamas, also traded in bodies as liquid capital, shuttled across the sea by many of the same shipping routes that on return legs to England often brought his objects, including shells specifically, back to Cabinets and their collectors.[14]

[17] The literary period use of pearl and sea material as collection and object is far more about pearl as metaphor for the world in which the colonial user dwells than the one from which it is dredged up and extracted by force. These texts, circulating in the same circles of Early Modern English society as scientific books, prints, and mercantile collections, give us some sense of what period viewers read about pearls and their meanings in depiction and substance. Playing on the trope of pearl as symbol of both virginity and purity, Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella has a beloved whose lips are sealed by pearls, as Shakespeare’s mistress in Sonnet 130 has lips redder than coral, whereas Milton reserves pearls for the sybaritic ornaments of Asia—paralleling the use of exotic materials to symbolize foreign accretion of capital in the physical Cabinet (see Paradise Lost, Book 2, ll.3-4). In a sermon delivered in 1627, Donne agonises about bodily presence and reconstruction after the apocalypse by linking the undersea and the underground, specifically though the device of pearls in the collecting Cabinet:

Where be all the atoms of that flesh, which a corrosive hath eat away, or a consumption hath breathed, and exhaled away from our arms, and other limbs? In what wrinkle, in what furrow, in what bowel of the earth, lie all the grains of the ashes of a body burnt a thousand years since? In what corner, in what ventricle of the sea, lies all the jelly of a body drowned in the general flood? […] One humour of our dead body produces worms, and those worms suck and exhaust all other humour, and then all dies, and all dries, and moulders into dust, and that dust is blown into the river, and that puddled water tumbled into the sea, and that ebbs and flows in infinite revolutions, and still, still God knows in what cabinet every seed-pearl lies, in what part of the world every grain of every man’s dust lies[.] (Donne XXXX: xx; see also Greteman 2010)

Ironically, on Donne’s own theological terms, nothing buried in human time can truly be completed until after the resurrection, whatever the categorical completeness and splendor of the cabinet in which tiny seed pearls are kept en masse. For Donne, the totality of turban and strombus cups, of coral spoons, and of all crafted metal things cannot stand in for the body lost in this life, until that body is resurrected by the all-knowing God. Whatever the liquidity of capital in the still life, or the liquid objects transported to air in the scientific miraculous, the dust of the body in infinite theological time, and a certain obsessive uncertainty about that dust, remains. The cabinet and its depictions in genre painting remind us of the power to be leveraged by man and the bodies at his disposal against the elements, especially the water of the sea. Donne, read as a rejoinder, is a reminder that even the life of the collector is dissolvable, liquid, and ultimately borne away by the currents of time. The Cabinet does not exist in a vacuum without sermons and vanitas poems that reiterate this conclusion in its parallel library.

[18] But what do literary period sources mean for how we consider the pearl and the Cabinet as theological things? Does this mean that the Cabinet is a kind of artificial salvational balm, promising mastery when earthly life is by nature only temporary? Or is it a real escape from the ravages of time in that it exists as preserved objects? When the pearls turn to dust, after the men, usually in 90-150 years, when the monarchy falls or the Cotton library burns, what then? Perhaps the pearl, the shell cup, and its cabinet don’t promise mastery at all. Its depiction in genre painting, after all, both cements and subverts its ontological status as both ‘real’ and ‘fake’, somehow simultaneously both permanent-seeming and imbued with historical and material contingency.

[19] Perhaps knowing this, we look at still life and pearl objects anyway, imagining the jellied dust of our bodies in the floods and ventricles of the Mariana Trench or the Gulf stream. Donne is good at uncertainty, at begging to be battered bodily by the truth while doubting and circling around it. But it is not just Donne who is uncertain; the sea brought into the Cabinet by way of the oyster and its pearl is in a middle space, between surety and doubt. Tides make us good at certainty, at thinking we can predict what comes next. Tsunamis make us doubt that same ability. After Charles I was executed, the single pearl drop earring he wore was taken from his ear by a bystander. It survives today, in the collection of the Dukes of Portland. The pearl is shaped like a tear, that smallest of salted seas.

IV. Handworks

[20] The Frewen Cup (Figures 3 and 4), a mounted nautilus with gold-plated ornament and foot, came into the collection of John Frewen by 1667, and was subsequently listed in the inventory of the Paston Closet, one of the sources for the objects in the Paston Treasure painting above (Vanke 2018). The cup is larger than the hand can grasp, and cool to the touch on both nacre and metal surfaces. Cups similar to this one are depicted in both the AIC Roestraten, the Roestraten in the Royal Collection that depicts the collection of Charles I, and in numerous other paintings of the period, including that of the Pastons’ objects. The metal was re-done by Yorkshire goldsmith John Plummer, including the strapwork, sometime after its transit to England from the Netherlands. Although Early Modern scientific observation found the nautilus or ‘boat shell’ interesting for its ability to pressurise and re-pressurise its successive chambers with air and water, and thus serve as a diving machine, this nautilus is filled internally mostly with gold.[15] It is thus serviceable, at least, as an actual cup, although the frequency with which it would have been put to this practical use is likely low. The cup could hold a small ocean of water that drained into the mustachioed mouth of the fanciful, gilt monstrum marinum on the topmost curve of the shell.

Figure 3. John Plummer, ‘The Frewen Cup’, ca. 1650 (engraved), 1658-1660 (repaired). © Victoria and Albert Museum, London


Figure 4. ‘The Frewen Cup’, reverse side. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

[21] The cup is small, and kept specifically in a treasure closet space (Vanke 2018), and so encourages a both haptic and visual intimacy. The shell is inscribed with marine motifs, to which I shall return shortly, but first I draw attention to perhaps its single flaw (visible in figure 3). There is a crack running up the middle of the wide face of the nautilus shell that has been re-sealed and filled with wax, then subsequently set against metal. You can see it only with close attention, as it was refilled before goldwork was added, and the best way to find it is to run one’s hands across the shell. The crack leads directly to the one part of the outer shell of the nautilus that hasn’t been stripped, a piece with striated brown marks that nestles the cup’s curve. This fracture in turn leads to the visibility of the cup’s both facture and manufacture. It shows a careful viewer how cups of this kind are made generally, but also the specific hand and choices of the artist who made this one in particular.

[22] Manufacture is typically defined as a less sensuous concept than the term ‘facture’, which is more often applied to the stroke of a brush than the casting of a cup in metal. The pseudo-indigenous female figures on the strap-work of the cup are common to this type of vessel, and at first seem an object of manufacture independent from this particular thing, and then subsequently applied by a goldsmith who did not necessarily purpose-make them. Yet, these figures, topless and crowned in feathers, are themselves wearing ornamental necklaces, irregular and ovoid in shape, suggesting mussel shells or drilled pearls.[16] To juxtapose the commodified body of an indigenous person with the nautilus body itself (likely recovered by a non-European diver from the Indo-Pacific) is provocative in a way that lends itself to a reading of the pronkstilleven that depicts such a cup, and indeed the Paston Treasure painting itself, as perhaps having an implicit question built into its material fabric. Manufacture has here superficially allowed, for a modern viewer, a crack into the colonial façade, allowing access into a postcolonial critique of the Cabinet’s global materialities and their human costs.

[23] Yet, pronkstilleven is not a period term (Honig 1998: 170). Overmuchness, superfluity, and indeed the idea of the decorative itself, are categories projected onto Kunstkammer and Cabinet objects by the world after modernism and the minimalist aesthetic that is now largely the province of the wealthy collector. Whatever the form’s associations with seventeenth-century Dutch mercantilism, and its triumphs or Calvinist religious pitfalls, these are mitigated by types and times of later viewership. Layers of accreted gold, engraving, and invented artificial life replaced the scraped away natural surface of the nautilus that forms the cup. The visible nacre is itself a wonder, but also a sort of inverse pearl, made visible by the removal of biological material formed in the ocean rather than by its accretion. What does accrete is goldwork, visual images, and depictions, layered on top of each other. The cup both as an object itself, then, even if some of its parts or co-objects in still life paintings are ready-made, is also a product of facture — conscious artisanal choice that reflects particular stylistic aims. Even if critique of its brutal colonial origins is possible on this level, any reading of the cup is also personal, intimate, and complicated with respect to its position in historical time, like the thing itself. The presence of facture, a very intentional artifice, along with nature, breeds uncertainties in looking and reading both for period actors and for modern ones.

[24] The form of the luxury cup even aside from this consideration is, to borrow Honig’s terms for still life objects, a ‘container for knowledge’ and taxonomic interplay (Honig 1998: 173). This is as much a product of artistic facture as any other aspect of the cup’s material being, and as significant. Material accretions reflect and refract phenomenological and ontological accretions in the Cabinet at large. That the English Cabinet is again at another degree of remove from Dutch objects, in Dutch cabinets with Dutch still lifes on the walls, creates even more space for negotiating meaning. Both separated and connected by the North Sea geographically, the Netherlands and England as proto-nation-states stand in the same physical and ontological relation to the nautilus cup as object. A liquid ocean, contained in the cup’s gilded shell, links and buffers both. Depictions of nautilus cups also depict this connecting and dividing North Sea relation by extension. The inscribed geography of the Cabinet is also worked into the nautilus cup as object.

[25] The engraved eyes on the cup’s surfaces (on the monstrum marinum, on all the bird-like hinges, on the women of the strapwork, and on the fish) all gaze outward at the viewer. These are ornaments, on an ornament, to an ornament—which is then painted as an ornament. The fourth order of ornamentation is also neither ‘fake’ nor ‘real’ per se but something that purposefully calls into question this ontological binary in the Cabinet. This is uncertainty lavishly embodied: like the oyster, the nautilus cup is an object that does not invite easy answers, and indeed invites rather more questions. It is rooted, heavy to lift because it is silver-plated gold. It is also fragile because it is biological, and additionally because its status as a bearer of meanings is fluid. It is nature artificed beyond easy recognition, or artifice shaped to the natural so that it elides what naturalness can be. As many eyes look out at us from the Frewen Cup as there are ways we can look back at them. Oysters and pearls can’t look back at their viewers. The engraved and ornamented nautilus cup can in some sense, being endowed with faces and eyes, giving it an agency both in and of itself, and as it is represented in the collection still life.

[26] The cup is inscribed with fish, shells, and looping acanthus; the realistic specimens in particular are closely associated with scientific fish books, such as Johnston’s Historise Naturalis de Piscibus (1650-3) (see Vanke 2018; for the history of the Bellekin family as makers of these cups, see Van Seters 1958). While the Frewen Cup predates Ray and Willoughby’s magnum opus on fish for the English Royal Society, and Lister’s Conchyliorum, it depicts many species with an accuracy that borders on illustration intended for classification purposes (on the nature drawing as means of classification, see Swan 2002). There is a possible murex, the source of Tyrian red (within Figure 3), carved into the surface, and then buffed with wax and black coal to make it visible. As I shall shortly elaborate, engraving printed illustrations of the ‘book of nature’ was the mode of representational choice of natural history in the early English Royal Society. Engraving directly on the pages of nature’s book—which is to say on natural objects themselves like the nautilus — is a second order act of knowledge production and a metaphysical conceit at once. Objects such as shells become, through this doubling inscription, treatises of knowledge about themselves, functioning as both the depicted thing and its ‘real’ counterpart in the Cabinet.

[27] There is also a strombus shell engraved on the surface of the Frewen Cup (see figure 4). This is the same type of mounted conch that is also depicted as engraved on the surface with tiny figures in the Paston Treasure Painting (see figure 2 detail). This strombus is a decoration depicting a shell, on a decorative shell as art, that may indeed derive from scientific depictions of shells, but that also crucially links circularly back to shells as objects that themselves serve as surfaces for depiction. (It may also derive from Collaert, shell still lives, and other sources. Still life paintings of shells are themselves a genre, particularly in the Netherlandish context.) The idea of drawing a shell on a shell, which in turn refers to shells as things to draw upon, and then encasing that drawing in a meta-depiction of the sea made of gold, is a kind of perfect nexus of baroque maximalism as structure for thinking, a kind of multiplication of wonder that provokes interrogation by the eye and mind. This depiction of shells on shells also layers places: a Pacific shell, from a Dutch workshop, worked by an English goldsmith, is kept in an English treasure closet, and then depicted in paintings by Dutch immigrants in England.[17] The nacre may be scraped down to make the mother of pearl visible, but everything else is built up, re-weighted not only with a baroque sensibility for mirroring real-fake conundra, but one in which geographic origin is also a sort of accreted multiple ornament in turn.

[28] The mother of pearl surface of the cup is of interest to both collectors and painters of pronkstilleven partly for its remarkable colour. In 1611, von Borsselen, quoted in Segal, notes of one nautilus:

Here follows a silver Hulck, the net of shell which holds the pearl, that is placed on the table on a golden foot, so that one can drink from a clean cup the joyful wine. The costly cup reflects the sun on man’s face and miraculously shows the rainbow, painted so often, which crowns the earth. (Segal 1989: 92)

The Neptune figure on the top of the Frewen Cup, like that on many similar objects, masters a gigantic fish, and in doing so, on the surface represents mastery over the element of the marine.[18] So too does the netted encasement of the mother of pearl nautilus in man-made goldwork, torn from the depths of the earth just as the shell is from the depths of the sea. Yet it is the rainbow, not of man’s doing but of God’s, that is the ultimate shining idiom the nautilus reflects in von Borsselen’s description. It is a wonder that cannot be captured, just yet, in a cabinet (or indeed in a modern photograph). The nacre evokes it, mirrors it, but cannot catch it. The rainbow is utterly free, momentary, and unembodied. It defies both the Cabinet and its still life, both the boundaries of art and that of nature. The nautilus cup engraved with all the bounty of the sea also reminds us of that which we cannot possibly have or make permanent. It is a paradox poured out.

V. Printings

[29] The Frewen Cup, and other nautilus shells engraved by Cornelius Bellekin for the collecting market, can easily be linked to sources of representation of natural abundance in Dutch period prints in general, from emblem books to allegories of the four elements. Bellekin produced at least one other cup currently in the collections of the V&A, this one adorned with morphologically distinct insects. This second cup is also mounted far more delicately, and parts of the shell are cut away like vaulting to suggest a ribbed structure. It is possible that this cup is representative of air as an element in the way that the Frewen Cup represents water, but they are not part of any set that we know of.

[30] Still, the hybrid method of using both ‘artistic’ and natural historical source material in tandem has many parallels, including in the books of marine life both cited directly in, and in turn influenced by, the presence of objects like the Paston Cup. One such example is the frontispiece to Francis Willoughby’s Ichthyographia (Figure 5). The Ichthyographia is more commonly referred to as the second volume to the work posthumously completed by its co-author, John Ray. The whole two volume work, known as the Historia Piscium of 1686, is discussed at length by Sachiko Kusukawa (2000) in an article of the same name, where she notes that the book had at least eleven engravers, that the sources included new specimens, illustrations, and written and verbal accounts from all over Europe, and that it was a collaboratively produced volume of the Royal Society. She traces not only John Ray’s use of illustration as a convincing proof of seventeenth-century scientific faith in images for classification, but also the near disastrous cost of the two volumes to the Society, for which they are possibly more famous than for their content, given that they almost inhibited the publication of Newton on gravitation.

Paul van Somer's 'Frontispiece' to Francis Willoughby's Icthyographia

Figure 5. Paul van Somer II, ‘Frontispiece’ to Francis Willoughby’s Icthyographia (Oxford, 1686). © The Trustees of the British Museum

[31] Nonetheless, the much-maligned fish books are here of interest not for their costly content, but for the frontispiece to the second volume, engraved by Paul Von Somer II for a then-large sum of £4 (Kusukawa 2000: 191). Paul II’s older brother Jan was also an immigrant to England (Curd 2010: 129-130). Paul von Somer I was a portrait painter of some renown in court circles of James I about generation earlier. He was apparently not directly related to the later two brothers, who are also notable for their early use of mezzotint. Thus, the engraver we now call ‘Paul Von Somer II’ signs the elaborate frontispiece to the figures of De Piscibus, a volume titled the Ichtyographia in its own right, with the phrase ‘Paul von Somer invent et fecit Londini’ in an oar on the frontispiece’s lower right-hand corner.

[32] This signature is just one part of a multi-level, multiply encrusted and depicted, frontispiece. Like the Frewen Cup, or indeed the Paston collections in which it was contained, Von Somer II’s frontispiece contains multiple accreted layers of images that speak to its status both as art and as a depiction of nature intended for natural historians. The first of these layers, in descending perspectival order from the viewer, is the outer architectonic ‘frame’ of the page. Against this structure, fish specimens—some as depicted in the internal plates to follow—hang encircling the centre images. The sheer diversity and close detail of each of these species, including sharks, pufferfish, and flatfish among others, attest to the value attached to illustrations of morphology in the book’s instructive plates.

[33] The bottom of the first frontispiece layer, however, conflates the mythological and naturalistic. A typical monstrum marinum, much like the one on the Frewen Cup, rests at the feet of a nereid crowned in shells and bearing a trident. Behind her Poseidon blows into a conch shell (much like those set into gold and fashioned into cups), presumably to summon the bounty of the ship on the section of the plate positioned behind him in space. The two nereids to the fore frame a gigantic fish, whose mouth violates the scheme (and in some sense, the constructed reality) of the rest of the plate by opening onto blank white paper, and a text acknowledgement of the Royal Society as printer-funder, and the date (‘Sumptibus Societas Regalis Londinesis 1685’). This device reminds us that even though the frontispiece (and the book’s many plates) depicts nature accurately and in detail, printed images themselves are an illusionistic device that represents a step between the reader and observation of nature in the field. They aren’t fakes, per se, but neither are they real–that is, nature in the flesh. While this isn’t Donne’s explicitly theological and bodily uncertainty, it does raise questions about the status of the illustrated book as an epistemological device. The book juxtaposed with the nautilus cups in the Cabinet once again troubles the status of the ‘real’ as reference, whether in artistic or scientific knowledge production.

[34] Van Somer II continues to draw attention to this discomforting ontological doubling with a figure of Athena sketching the section of the plate that is in front of her gaze and set back with respect to the frontispiece’s first section. She renders the fish in front of her from life on a square board, angled so as to be visible to the frontispiece’s audience. A finished sketch rests on the shelf below, on a long, curling sheet of paper. Knowledge herself works, as the Dutch would have it, naer het leven, drawing the flopping body of the gigantic fish in front of her, again visible at the same time to the reader-viewer, who sees both the depiction of the fish, and the depiction of its depiction. The interaction between the two layers of the frontispiece is thus a crash course in the layers of natural historical methodology and its many mediations through initial drawing, print, and reception. That this book would have itself been shelved in a Cabinet next to, say, an engraved nautilus cup, and again next to specimens of taxidermied fish, further problematizes making and looking at images as modes of knowing.[19]

[35] The second layer of the frontispiece features what at first seems to be a fairly normal scene of working fishermen. The sail the men raise in the background, flush against a sky decorated with flying fish, disrupts the illusion of the image as a realistic scene once again by being a paper space for the title of the volume. For all the nets, boats, and buckets, this portion of the plate, however real it seems, is twice-removed from the world—encased in the first layer where the mythological figures dwell, which is itself evidently part of a book, teased into existence by the open mouth of the central fish.

[36] Nothing is what it seems, even though the premise of Ray and Willoughby’s two volumes is that everything labeled and described therein is exactly what it seems, making it useful for the scientists of the Royal Society. Fish engraved onto the surface of a shell carry with them less expectation of physiological accuracy (because they are ornament in this context), and the same shell engravings as depicted in pronkstilleven examples are even further removed from the account of the scientific gaze in the seventeenth century. Yet Van Somer II’s frontispiece reminds us that this accretion of looking, the ways in which we are distanced from nature through art that also purports to bring us closer to it, is just as much a part of the seventeenth -century scientific collection as the plates that follow it of isolated, seemingly sterile and unproblematic specimens. The frontispiece to Willoughby’s Icthyographia and the Frewen Cup share both possible print sources of inspiration, but they also share a mode of visual dialectic that opens up the English Cabinet.

[37] Another crucial aspect of the frontispiece (and the book it introduces) is that it exists, in virtue of being a printed object, multiply. Natural objects resist this kind of reproducibility — after all, every nautilus shell is uniquely grown in the depths of the sea, and every pearl formed in what is often allegorically portrayed as the miraculously sealed womb of the oyster. The problem of reproducing the singular specimen to diffuse knowledge across a wide range of readers and places is one the Royal Society, its mostly expatriate Dutch printmakers, and the presses on the Continent, were keen to address. Martin Lister was an English antiquarian and scientist and friend to Ray and Willoughby, as well as a member of the same formative Royal Society cohort. He attacked the reproduction problem in two ways. First, he resisted importing a Dutch printer or engraver to manufacture his treatise on shells, instead training his own teenage daughters as limners and engravers (Roos 2019). The volumes were conceived and printed in England by English hands. The illustrations of the species of pearl oysters, one of which is a particularly full page, were completed by Anna and Susanna Lister in their father’s study, and the family retained the plates for further printings. This is not the case for Robert Hooke and Waller’s drawings of fossils and related shells, for instance, which were sent off to an engraver to copy for the publication of Hooke’s posthumous works in 1705 (Kusukawa 2013). That the acts of both drawing and engraving scientific images played crucial mediating roles in the transmission of knowledge was, however, duly noted by Hooke while he was alive, and he famously retained architect Christopher Wren for the plates of the Micrographia. Similarly, Wenceslas Hollar’s studies of shells, for which a mysterious patron remains unidentified, were etched by the artist himself from his own drawings (for a more detailed account, see Leonhard & Leuker 2013).

[38] Lister did not limit the problem of reproducibility to printed images, however. He was similarly interested in how one might reproduce mother-of-pearl, or pearls, either by mimicking nature or by other laboratory procedures. In his published accounts of his travels in France in 1698, he discusses the manufacture of artificial pearl from stripped-down shells:

Amongst the Bïoux made at Paris, a great quantity of Artificial Pearl is to be had, of divers sorts but the best are those which are made with Scales of Bleakes. These Bleaks they find in the River Seine at Paris and sell them to the Pearl-makers for that purpose[.] (Lister 1699: 142)

Lister then describes how the shells or scales of fish are beaten down to a powder, and then reconstructed with glass and cast into beads in the shape of natural pearls:

Enquiring of a Goldsmith a great Dealer in Pearl about those which were made the Scales of Fishes he told me that it is so: That the Scales were beat to Powder and that made into a Liquid Paste with Izing-glass and cast into the hollow Glass beads, and so gave colour by way of the foil from the inside. (Lister 1699: 142)

This is less about how nature makes pearls than how they might be credibly imitated for the purpose of commerce, but Lister is interested nonetheless in how art might form a plausible nature. The liquidity of pearls as capital is inseparable from the quiddity of the pearl as a thing, one which might in fact be merely an illusion of a ‘real’ pearl. The illusion interests Lister as much as the real pearl because it also relies on generation by (al)chemical process, albeit not the same process as forms the pearl inside the oyster.

[39] From ‘fake’ nature, Lister still learns something about the structure of minerals and accreted stones like pearls in the ‘real’ world. After the pearl merchants, Lister visits a manufacturer of false eyeballs, Hubins, who confirms that some of the same processes apply to his goods, which must match nature exactly – ‘this being a Case where Mis-matching is intolerable’. The process used to accrete fake pearls that do indeed perform the decorative function of pearls is also used to accrete eyes that perform the decorative (but not of course, anatomical) function of eyes. The replicability of nature depends on whether the artificial substitute is meant to been merely seen, or truly used in some way that would reveal its non-functionality. Then again, the purpose of a false eye or false pearl is in this case, to be looked at, so the artificial replica succeeds almost or as well as the real in fulfilling the function of a visual stand-in. The ontologies of the ‘fake’ shed light here on the similarly problematic category of the ‘real’.

[40] Of course, not all glass or paste replicas of nature last as long as prints of nature usually do, which in their durability often form our contemporary general impression of Early Modern collections. Most Cabinet objects, from the bodies of specimens to the delicate hybrid wares fashioned from them, do not survive. Since the prints outlast the bodies and often the other treasures, it is from the reproducible and multiple that we learn about the singular and irreplaceable. Further, Dutch printers and painters in England, as well as other expatriate artists and their representations, mediate what is superficially called the ‘English’ Cabinet in our reconstructed schemata. We are, as it were, looking through our own kind of pearlised glass eyes at the past—tinted by the inner foil of the reproductive media we tend to see more often and with more primacy. The encrustation and accretion of gazes in the period Cabinet extends forward to the modern gaze backward at that same Cabinet.

VI. Conclusions

[41] The line between real and fake is well and truly blurred just as intentionally as that between nature and its reproductions. Consider another engraving on a shell, by the same Cornelius Bellekin that engraved the Frewen Cup, this one created in late seventeenth-century Amsterdam (Figure 6). This little box is in the shape of a scallop or bivalve oyster, and was made to contain the original piece by Louis Métayer. It is in the same stylised oyster form: it opens on delicate hinges like an oyster, and it is even made out of the same materials (the shell itself) as an oyster. It plays on its oyster-ness even as it is manifestly not an oyster. It relies on the viewer’s knowledge or the origin of the then doubly-artificed shell in the ocean and organism to make the play on oyster/not-oyster work.

Figure 6. Cornelis Bellekin & Louis Métayer, ‘Engraved shell box’, late seventeenth century.  Image made available under a CC 1.0 license by the Amsterdam Museum: see <https://hart.amsterdam/nl/collectie/object/amcollect/21075>

[42] Such objects pleased the collector’s sensibility because they also innately commented on the ontological status of the collection and its in-betweeness. The topic of the engraving is the allegorical figure of the element water, again drawing on several likely print sources. Bellekin’s central female nude is draped against a rocky shore, and stands out particularly because the lines she is made of were not later filled with blackened wax like the rest of the shell, but have a white-on-white softness. Like a similar nude of Marten de Vos from the same period that was likely a source for this depiction, she is surrounded by both the danger and bounty of the sea. The monstrous fish in the background of both the print and the shell, as well as the litoral pile of creatures at Aqua’s feet, are stereotypical elements of these depictions of water as element. Hieronymous Cock and Collaert treat the subject similarly. De Bruyn’s engraving after De Vos (ca. 1645-1665) of ‘Aqua’ also recalls Van Somer II’s frontispiece, with a bounty of natural diversity laid out in a didactic frame that suggests specimen display just as much as general oceanic fertility. The idea that scientific illustration exists separately from both viewers and makers of this kind of nominally decorative scheme is exploded both by scientific books and by these kinds of prints and objects.

[43] Bellekin’s box features a particularly striking example of where scientific, bibliographic, and artistic interests collide, in a detail of the shell pile at Aqua’s feet. Next to an oyster and a scallop is a shell that is a particular favourite of Early Modern collectors. It is a pointed, round conch found in the Pacific, known as Conus Litteratus or Conus Arabicus in the period and in early Linnean coinage, because its organised, linear striping and spotting looks like letters, or Arabic script. The enduring popularity of these shells in Early Modern cabinets is such that one even appears in a 1636 painting by Frans Francken the Younger of a Continental Kunstkammer. They were sold at auction in the Netherlands to collectors across Europe after they were imported on VoC ships coming back from the Pacific. Next to the portrait of Ortelius in this same cabinet, this shell—actually a closely related species called Conus Marmoreus—embodies the accretions of both depictions and multiple spaces spanning the early modern globe, whether literally, or with the hand across a newly bound world map.

[44] As Roos carefully explains, a Codex Marmoreus was one of the shells which Anna Lister engraved for her father, although not without knowing about the most famous representation of it, a drypoint by none other than Rembrandt. Anna corrects Rembrandt though, because she and her sister, along with their father, were interested in the left- or right-handedness of shells, and Rembrandt’s is, in fact, a mirror-image when printed (Roos 2019: 115). The biological specimen engraving requires the additional accuracy, but retains the aim of beauty. The Lister sisters ultimately engraved both shells with the name of books as well as the name of marble.

Anna Lister’s engraving of Conus Marmoreus next to Rembrandt’s print of the same shell

Figure 7. Anna Lister’s engraving of Conus Marmoreus  next to Rembrandt’s print of the same shell (Rijksmuseum)

[45] Known by the vernacular name of the ‘alphabet cone snail’ this creature—whether painted in the Netherlands or engraved in England—is indeed part of a larger metaphorical alphabet. In natural historical encyclopaediae like Willoughby’s Icthyographia and Lister’s Historiae Conchyliorum (1685/92), each letter is a fish or a shell, a single species among a plethora in the language of the natural world. The alphabet cone snail also works in translation, from the shoals of the Pacific to the then newly-established headquarters of the Royal Society in Holborn, London. Each related object of the natural historical collection is too a letter, a volume perhaps in a shell library that could tell the whole history and composition of the sea if one could only read it. The oyster, like the book, opens in two halves when shucked; a bifolium.

[46] Bellekin’s engraved oyster box can also be read as a layering of meanings, places and substances around the pearl and nautilus—from Anglo-Dutch still life, to Cabinet objects from global networks, and finally to depictions of the marine life in scientific books that both the paintings and objects gesture towards. These literal and figurative encrustations ask what it means to look in the seventeenth-century English collection, and what looking allows us to know about the Cabinet and the world. Shucking the oyster of the ‘real’ and the ‘fake’ via oceanic accretions in collections is not as easy as the deft slice of the knife. In their various intersecting media, and as mediations, the nautilus, oyster, and pearl interact with one another, the period viewer, and the modern art historian, to suggest that thinking with the Early Modern English Cabinet is as much a question of the deep ontology of depiction and source, as it is of materiality and origin. This Cabinet of sea things is itself certain and uncertain, briny and bitter, accreted and stripped, showing and shown.



​[1] The use of Pliny in Continental Wunderkammern, including specifically with respect to nautilus and mother of pearl, as well as other natural exotica associated with the four elements and Continents, is well documented. For a particularly relevant case here, see Baadj 2012, especially pages 221-3.​[back to text]​

​[2] ‘Of the Calamarie, Cuttles, Polypes, and Boat-fishes called Nautils’ (Holland 1634: Ch. XXIX). The (inaccurate) description, following Pliny, reads: But among the greatest wonders of Nature, is that fish, which of some is called Nautilos, of others Pompilos. This fish, for to come aloft above the water, turneth upon his backe, and raiseth or heaveth himselfe up by little and little: and to the end he might swim with more ease, as disburdened of a sinke, he dischargeth all the water within him at a pipe. After this, turning up his two foremost clawes or armes, hee displaieth and stretcheth out betweene them, a membrane or skin of a wonderfull thinnesse: this serveth him in stead of a saile in the aire above water: with the rest of his armes or clawes, he roweth and laboureth under water; and with his taile in the mids, hee directeth his course, and steereth as it were with an helme. Thus holdeth he on and maketh way in the sea, with a faire shew of a foist or galley under saile. Now if he be afraid of any thing in the way, hee makes no more adoe but draweth in water to ballaise his bodie, and so plungeth himselfe downe and sinketh to the bottome.​[back to text]​

​[3] A good, brief overview of Roestraten’s still life in England that informs this short summary and later sections is to be found in Shaw 1990.​[back to text]​

​[4] The account of shucking methods comes both from a visit to the market and Smith 2016.​[back to text]​

​[5] The provenance of many of these objects is identified by their makers’ marks, and listed in the V&A’s description of the painting, item P.3-1939.​[back to text]​

​[6] ‘Still Life with Ostrich Egg Cup and the Whitfield Heirlooms’ at the AIC, and ‘A Vanitas c.1666-1700’ in the Royal Collection Trust.​[back to text]​

​[7] On the nature of Dutch artists working in England in the long term and the relatively low status of still life in England under Charles II, see Curd 2010. For period accounts of still life versus other types of painting see Talley 1983.​[back to text]​

​[8] This eventually made it into print under Tradescant’s name, even though Ashmole may have written most of the source material: see Tradescant 1656.​[back to text]​

​[9] See Wilkins 1953. This find was brought to my attention by the Sloane Letters Project and historian Anna Marie Roos.​[back to text]​

​[10] The nautilus is, of course, a cephalopod, but Early Modern natural historians associated the shape of the animal’s shell with the snail.​[back to text]​

​[11] For an overview of the shell still life in the Netherlands (including examples by Linard and Kalf) and its emblematic origins, see Segal & Jordan 1989, esp. Chapter 5, ‘The Shell Still Life’, pp.77-92.​[back to text]​

​[12] These volumes were part of a long natural-historical argument that also concerned the relation of the nautilus to fossil ammonites: see Findlen 2015: 238.​[back to text]​

​[13] The correspondence between these cosmoi, and especially between ocean and macrocosm on earth, is briefly drawn out in Delbourgo (2011: 152-3, 156), but I expand and allegorise the concept.​[back to text]​

​[14] A full exploration of Sloane’s slavery and his collections, as well as his books, is currently being spearheaded by the ‘Reconstructing Sloane’ consortium at the British Museum, British Library, and Natural History Museum in London.​[back to text]​

​[15] Once again, Early Modern sources here evoke Pliny’s description, or Holland’s English translation of it.​[back to text]​

​[16] Provocatively, this toplessness, and the woman’s body as an object in parts, might be suggested by the form of the shell itself, as it is in Nuremberg examples of goldworking (see Grasskamp 2017).​[back to text]​

​[17] The accretion of nationalities present in the cup, even for Dutch viewers right after its manufacture, is also significant (Kehoe 2011).​[back to text]​

​[18] For more on this genre of Neptune figure in general on nautilus cups, see Zuroski 2017. Zuroski argues that the monstrous figures on the cups can be read in light of ambivalence about Dutch nautical power in particular (7). For Zuroski, it is the monstrous and grotesque aspects of these cups’ decoration that trigger their formal fluidity as meaningful signifiers. She also describes the presence of the cups in Dutch still lives, including Kalf and the Paston Treasure Painting, in terms of excess and instability in a culture of plenty.​[back to text]​

​[19] One such example resembles the surviving taxidermied pufferfish of Tradescant that hangs in the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford today.​[back to text]​


Texts Cited

Alpers, Svetlana. 2009. The Art of Describing: Dutch Art in the Seventeenth Century (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press)

Baadj, Nadia. 2012. ‘A World of Materials in a Cabinet without Drawers: Reframing Jan Van Kessel’s “The Four Parts of the World”‘, Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek (NKJ) / Netherlands Yearbook for History of Art, 62: 202–23

Chadwick, Esther. 2018. ‘This deepe and perfect glosse of Blacknesse: Colour, Colonialism, and The Paston Treasure’s Period Eye’ in Moore, Andrew W., Nathan Flis, Francesca Vanke, and Miko McGinty. The Paston Treasure: Microcosm of the Known World

Curd, Mary Bryan H.  2010. Flemish and Dutch Artists in Early Modern England Collaboration and Competition, 1460-1680 (Farnham: Ashgate)

Dawson, Kevin. 2006. “Enslaved Swimmers and Divers in the Atlantic World”. The Journal of American History, 92.4: 1327-1355

Delbourgo, James. 2011. “Divers Things: Collecting the World Under Water”. History of Science, 49.2: 149-185

Paula Findlen. 2015. ‘The Specimen and the Image: John Woodward, Agostino Scilla, and the Depiction of Fossils’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 78.2: 217–261

Findlen, Paula, and Pamela H. Smith. 2002. Merchants & Marvels: Commerce And The Representation Of Nature In Early Modern Europe (New York: Routledge)

Grasskamp, Anna. 2017. “Spirals and Shells: Breasted Vessels in Sixteenth-Century Nuremberg”. Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics. 67-68: 146-163

Greteman, Blaine. 2010. ‘”All This Seed Pearl”: John Donne and Bodily Presence’, College Literature, 37.3: 26-42

Holland, Philemon, and Pliny. 1634 [1601]. The History of the World, Commonly Called the Naturall Historie of C. Plinius Secundus (London: A. Islip)

Honig, Elizabeth A. 1998. ‘Making Sense of Things: On the Motives of Dutch Still Life’, Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics, 34: 166-183

Kehoe, Marsely K. 2011. ‘The nautilus cup between foreign and domestic in the Dutch Golden Age’. Dutch Crossing : a Journal for Students of Dutch in Britain, 35.3: 275-285

Kisluk-Grosheide, Daniëlle. 1997. ‘Dirck Van Rijswijck (1596-1679), a Master of Mother-of-Pearl’, Oud Holland, 111.2: 77–94

Kusukawa Sachiko. 2013. ‘Drawings of fossils by Robert Hooke and Richard Waller’, Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, 67.2: 123–138

______. 2000. ‘The Historia Piscium (1686)’. Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 54, 179-197

Leonhard, Karin, and Maria-Theresia Leuker. 2013. ‘Who Commissioned Hollar’s Shells?’, Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art, 37.3/4: 227–239

Lister, Martin. 1699. A Journey to Paris in the Year 1698 (London: Printed for Jacob Tonson)

Moore, Andrew, Nathan Flis, and Francesca Vanke. 2018. The Paston Treasure: Microcosm of the Known World (New Haven: Yale Center for British Art)

Roos, Anna M.  2019. Martin Lister and His Remarkable Daughters: The Art of Science in the Seventeenth Century (Oxford: Bodleian Library)

Segal, Sam, and William B. Jordan. 1989. A Prosperous Past: The Sumptuous Still Life in the Netherlands 1600-1700 (The Hague: SDU Publishers)

Shaw, Lindsey Bridget. 1990. ‘Pieter Van Roestraeten and the English “Vanitas”‘, The Burlington Magazine, 132.1047: 402–406

Smith, Ed. 2016. ‘Drawn together: the oyster shucking knife ‘, Borough Market, 28 April. Originally at <http://boroughmarket.org.uk/articles/drawn-together-the-oyster-shucking-knife>, now available at <https://web.archive.org/web/20190522223050/http://boroughmarket.org.uk/articles/drawn-together-the-oyster-shucking-knife>

Swan, Claudia. 2002. ‘From Blowfish to Flower Still Life Paintings: Classification and Its Images, circa 1600′ in Findlen, Paula, and Pamela H. Smith. Merchants & Marvels: Commerce and the representation of nature in Early Modern Europe (New York: Routledge), pp.109-136

Talley, Mansfield Kirby. 1983. ‘”Small, Usuall and Vulgar Things”: Still-Life Painting in England 1635-1760’, Volume of the Walpole Society, 49: 133-223

Tradescant, John. 1656. Musaeum Tradescantianum : or, A collection of rarities preserved at South-Lambeth neer London. (London : Printed by John Grismond, and are to be sold by Nathanael Brooke)

Vanke, Francesca. 2018. ‘Treasures of the Paston Closet, 73. The Frewen Cup’ in The Paston Treasure: Microcosm of the Known World, ed. by Andrew W Moore et al. (New Haven: Yale Center for British Art), pp.350-51

Van Seters, W. 1958. Oud-Nederlandse Parelmoerkunst: Het Werk Van Leden Der Familie Belquin, Parelmoergraveurs En Schilders In De 17e Eeuw. Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek (NKJ) / Netherlands Yearbook for History of Art, 9: 173-238

Wilkins, Guy. 1953. ‘A Catalogue and Historical Account of the Sloane Shell Collection’, Bulletin of The British Museum (Natural History) Historical Series, 1: 3-50 <https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/page/2238723#page/11/mode/1up>

Zuroski, Eugenia. 2017. ‘Nautilus Cups and Unstill Life’, Journal18, 3: n.p. <https://www.journal18.org/issue3/nautilus-cups-and-unstill-life/>

An Historian fit for a Queen? Elizabeth I’s translation of the Annales and the Tacitean Turn

An Historian fit for a Queen?
Elizabeth I’s translation of the Annales and the Tacitean Turn

John-Mark Philo

[1] The re-emergence of Elizabeth I’s translation of Tacitus has important implications not only for our understanding of the queen’s literary tastes and pursuits, but also for our understanding of Tacitus’s reputation in the final decades of the sixteenth century (LPL MS 683; see Philo 2020b). After all, there could hardly have been a stronger endorsement for the study of a particular historian at court than the queen’s own reading and translation thereof. Elizabeth’s Tacitus encompasses the first book of the Annales, covering a period of history that witnessed extraordinary changes in the traditional political structures of Rome, namely the gradual centralisation of power in the emperor Augustus and Rome’s transition from republic to principate. Taken on its own, the first book might be read as illustrating the stabilizing effects of monarchical government for a troubled state, a theme which, as is explored below, also underpinned the queen’s translation of Cicero’s Pro Marcello. By examining Elizabeth’s choices as a translator and her implicit support of Tacitus as an historian suitable for study at court, this article underlines the significance of the queen and her translation in the early modern reception of Tacitus.

[2] The majority of scholarship to date has associated Elizabethan enthusiasm for Tacitus with the Essex circle and with the political ambitions of the Earl of Essex himself.[1] In this view, Henry Savile’s translation of Tacitus’s Historiae and Agricola (1591), despite its being dedicated to the queen, has been understood as a kind of textbook for Devereux, ‘support[ing] what seems to have been Essex’s political strategy in the early 1590s’ (Womersley 1991: 317). Though Bart van Es allows that ‘Savile himself was a proficient servant of monarchy who was successful in his pursuit of patronage under both Elizabeth and James’, he suggests nonetheless that ‘through the Essex circle […] Tacitus came increasingly to be associated with subversion’ (2015: 448). This view, though enduring, has been challenged. In her essay on Henry Savile’s Tacitus and the politics of Roman history, Paulina Kewes cautions against reading Savile’s translation ‘proleptically’, noting a tendency of scholarship to approach the work ‘as a knowing supply of images and vocabularies of corruption, despotism, and faction that had not in fact come to determine the view of Elizabeth among Essex and his followers until several years later’ (2011: 516). Instead, Kewes reads Savile’s translation as a subtle commentary on the unsettled succession, not least of all through ‘its vivid depiction of civil wars ignited by brutal competition for the throne’ (2011: 544). More recently, Mordechai Feingold has questioned the depth of Essex’s engagement with Tacitus, as well as his apparent friendship with Savile, concluding persuasively that ‘nothing like the intimacy and extended patronage between Savile and Elizabeth (and Burghley) can be found in Savile’s relations with Essex’ (2016: 863).

[3] This article instead posits the queen’s activities as a translator as one of the most important influences for the study of Tacitus at the Elizabethan court. In her negotiation and occasional dilution of the republican elements of Tacitus’s political history, there is even the sense that Elizabeth was, through translation, making him an historian fit for consumption at court. In his recent examination of the plurality of responses which Tacitus’s histories inspired in early modern England, R. Malcolm Smuts observes that ‘Tacitus did not provide a single cohesive message so much as a supply of nuggets of insight and information ready to be deployed in different situations’ (2020: 443). A key, and compelling, element of Smuts’ analysis is his observation that the reading of Tacitus in fact helped to reinforce the intellectual and cultural status quo, ‘sharpen[ing] and extend[ing] patterns of thought already present in English culture’ (2020: 450). This article argues that Tacitus, as well as early imperial history more generally, could be read in late Elizabethan England as reinforcing not only the intellectual and cultural norms of the day, but also the governmental.

[4] The first section of this article considers the patron-translator relationships that encouraged the study of Tacitus at court in the latter half of the sixteenth century, namely those enjoyed by Giovanni Maria Manelli and the Sidney brothers, Robert Greenway and Robert Devereux, and finally and most significantly, Henry Savile and Elizabeth I. The second section examines those passages of the Annales which speak to the most pressing questions of Elizabeth’s late reign, from the anxieties surrounding the unsettled succession to the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1542–1587). More generally, this section explores the power of the historical precedent during this period as a rhetorical tool: depending on the context, the ancient past could be used to reinforce or undermine a given course of action or practice, at one moment celebrating the stability of the English legislature and, at another, subtly outlining the necessary conditions for rebellion. As this section explores, however, the most readily accessible narratives of successful revolution for an Elizabethan readership were to be found not in Tacitus, but in Livy and Ovid. Finally, the article addresses an apparent conceptual shift between the final years of the sixteenth century, when Tacitus was an historian who found favour with the queen herself, and the reign of Charles I, when the antiquarian Edmund Bolton (1574/5–c.1634) read the Annales as a fiercely pro-republican tract.[2] Just thirty years after the queen’s death, Bolton composed his Averrunci, or The Skowrers (1629–1634), a vigorous critique of Tacitus which he dedicated to ‘his Majesties most honorable Privie Counsel’ (2017: 67). Written in the first decade of Charles’s reign, Bolton underlined what he understood to be Tacitus’s pro-republican and anti-monarchical bias. He focused on the first six books of the Annales, and in doing so, attempted to salvage Tiberius from Tacitus’s alleged misrepresentation of the emperor. For Bolton, there was a very real danger lest the devoted reader of Tacitus, repelled by the historian’s depiction of Tiberius, might be persuaded of the virtues of popular government. Intriguingly, Bolton not only touched on Elizabeth’s enthusiasm for Tacitus, but also identified what he saw as the obvious parallels between her reign and that of Tiberius. The question of succession, the censorship of historiography, and the suppression of revolts at home and further afield which defined the latter years of Elizabeth’s rule all suggested to Bolton compelling similarities with Tacitus’s account of Tiberian Rome. This third section thus considers the importance of Edmund Bolton not only as an early modern critic of Tacitus, but also as a witness to the final years of Elizabeth’s Tiberian reign. By considering the queen’s contribution to Tacitus’s growing popularity in the final years of the sixteenth century and the ways in which the Annales may even have helped to reinforce Elizabeth’s approach to and method of rule, this article offers some fresh perspectives on the court reception of Tacitus and the uses of imperial history.

I. The Reception of Tacitus at the Elizabethan Court

[5] The final two decades of the sixteenth century saw the publication of three translations of Tacitus. Each of these was dedicated to a member of the Elizabethan court whose interests in the historian went beyond simply receiving these translations. The first of these was produced in Italian by Giovanni Maria Manelli in 1586 and dedicated to Robert Sidney (1563–1626). Manelli describes the presentation of this work to Robert not so much as introducing but returning Tacitus to the patronage of the Sidney brothers: ‘With regard to Cornelius Tacitus, it would seem to me to be doing him too much wrong, if I were to remove him from the protection of the Sidney gentlemen, who singularly penetrate and understand the wisdom with which he has written’.[3] As Smuts notes, Tacitus’s focus on Agricola’s career as governor of Roman-occupied Britannia may well have suggested to the Sidney brothers ‘the career of Philip’s father, Sir Henry Sidney, as lord deputy of Ireland’ (2020: 444).

[6] In October 1580, Philip Sidney had written to his younger brother, Robert, while the latter was undertaking a tour of Europe in the company of Henry Savile, the mathematician who would, of course, ultimately translate Tacitus himself. Here Philip took the opportunity to recommend the study of Livy for his ‘Sentences’, Plutarch for his ‘similitudes’, and Tacitus for his ‘wittie word’ (Sidney 2012: 1008). Robert is to pay particular attention to each area ‘wherein the Historian excelleth’, including, for example, ‘Dion Nicæus in the searching of the secrets of Gouerment. Tacitus in the pithy opening the venome of Wickedness & so of the rest’ (Sidney 2012: 1008). While he underlines the moral value of Tacitus’s history to Robert, it was with an emphasis on warfare that Philip Sidney had recommended Tacitus to Edward Denny (1547–1600) in May of the same year. Denny would leave for Ireland just two months later (July 1580), with his cousin, Walter Ralegh (1554–1618), in an effort to suppress the second Desmond rebellion. Sidney most probably had this expedition in mind when he wrote to Denny suggesting reading material that would be of most use ‘to you that with good reason bend your selfe to souldiery’ (2012: 982). Here Tacitus appears last in a long list of ancient historians, including Herodotus, Xenophon, Quintus Curtius, Polybius, Sallust, and Caesar, the reading of whom will furnish the soldier with ‘excellent examples, both of discipline & stratagemes’ (Sidney 2012: 983). As Joel Davis has explored, Robert Sidney purchased his own edition of Tacitus while serving in the cavalry of the Earl of Essex in The Hague (2006, 3–5). Robert annotated his copy of Lipsius’s 1585 edition in considerable detail, with an eye to trends and fashions ‘now in our court’ and to the machinations of competing courtiers (quoted in Davis 2006: 10).

[7] Henry Savile’s translation of the Historiae and Agricola appeared in 1591, accompanied by one of the most detailed commentaries on Tacitus to be written during the early modern period. Savile prefaced his translations with an historical supplement of his own composition, The Ende of Nero and the Beginning of Galba, filling the historiographical gap between Tacitus’s Annales and the Historiae. According to the antiquary and biographer, John Aubrey (1626–1697), Savile served the queen as personal tutor in both Greek and politics (2015: 1.264). It seems plausible that Elizabeth was also reading Tacitus in the company of Savile in his capacity as tutor, much as she had once translated ‘a great part of the History of Titus Livius’ in the company of Roger Ascham (William Camden 1625: sig. Ar). As Savile explains in the dedication to the queen, he has published his own translation ‘as by a foile to communicate to the world, if not those admirable compositions of your owne, yet at the least those most rare and excellent translations of Histories’ (1591: sig. ¶2r). Though Savile does not explicitly refer to the queen’s translation of the Annales, we might reasonably take this to suggest that by 1591, the queen had already completed her own version of Tacitus. As Mordechai Feingold proposes, Savile may in fact have deliberately avoided translating the Annales ‘precisely because he was loath to compete with – or upstage – his sovereign’ (2016: 869). Of significance to dating the queen’s own translation, the scribe responsible for copying Elizabeth’s Tacitus appears to have been active in the secretariat from the late 1580s. This scribe was responsible for preparing fair copies of letters addressed to foreign princes, including James VI and Henri IV (Philo 2020b: 57; cf. ‘The Queen to Henry IV’, TNA, SP 78/27 fol. 19r–v), whose hand bears a resemblance to that of ‘Scribe B’, as discussed in Carlo Bajetta’s study of Elizabeth’s Italian correspondence (Bajetta 2014: 48; figures 4a and 4b: 58–9). Though it is not impossible that the Lambeth scribe completed the transcription at some remove from its original composition, the example of Thomas Windebank’s preparing a fair copy of Elizabeth’s Boethius suggests a reasonably close window between rough draft and fair copy (TNA, SP 12/289: fols 100r–102v; see Elizabeth I 2009: 72 n. 1). We might tentatively suggest then that the translation was originally completed in the second half of the 1580s or even 1590, prompting Savile to undertake his own translation of the historian.

[8] It would be difficult to conjure a scholar from the period who benefitted more directly from the favour he found with the queen than Henry Savile. It was through Elizabeth’s intervention that he secured his position not only as Warden of Merton College, Oxford, but also as Provost of Eton College. In 1592, the queen visited Oxford where she exchanged speeches with Savile and appears, as Mueller and Scodel suggest, to have undertaken her translation of Cicero (Elizabeth I 2009: 3). A fair copy of the historical supplement which Savile prepared for his translation, The Ende of Nero and the Beginning of Galba, now survives among the Cecil Papers at Hatfield House (Cecil Papers, MS 139: fols 194r–203v). As Feingold proposes, ‘its provenance may suggest that prior to publication, Savile had submitted his ingenious composition to Lord Burghley for approval – as befits a long-time client of the Lord Treasurer’ (2016: 858). Even the paper on which the fair drafts of Savile’s translation were written speaks of the patronage he enjoyed under the queen. The printer’s copy of the Savile Tacitus, now preserved at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, was written on paper produced by John Spilman (d.1626), whose watermark, featuring the garter, crown, and ‘honi soit qui mal y pense’, can be found throughout the manuscript (Gravell Catalogue Arms.021.1). The same royal watermark is also present in the paper used for the fair copy of Savile’s historical supplement preserved at Hatfield House (see Philo 2021: 11–2). Savile’s translation then was not only dedicated to Elizabeth but was even drafted on paper embossed with the queen’s coat of arms.

[9] The lattermost of the three translations of Tacitus to be printed in Elizabeth’s reign was published in 1598, undertaken by Richard Greenway and dedicated to the Earl of Essex. The Earl’s wider interest in Tacitus is suggested by a letter from Henry Brooke, Baron Cobham, to an unknown recipient (possibly Richard Cotton), dated January 1602 and preserved among the Cotton Manuscripts, according to which Essex was making his own notes on the historian (BL MS Cotton Vespasian F/XIII: fol. 290r. cf. Hammer 1996: 43). Greenway himself assumes the Earl’s familiarity with the historian, remarking in the dedication that ‘the worthiness of this Author [is] well knowen vnto your honor’ (1598: s.p.). Though Mordechai Feingold has interrogated the extent of Essex’s commitment to scholarship in general, there is no reason to doubt that Greenway believed sincerely that his translation had found a suitable dedicatee (2016: 864–867). Greenway’s version was read in at least some quarters with an eye to the practical lessons that it might afford the prince. The annotator of a copy now preserved in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, next to the account of Sallustius Crispus’s advice to Livia concerning the ‘arcana domus’ (‘secrets of the royal household’), writes, for example, ‘a good rule for a wise prince to follow’ (Bod. AA3 Art. Seld.: A2r). The diplomat and administrator, Sir George Carew (1555–1629), read Greenway’s Tacitus in considerable detail, quoting directly from the translation in his extensive notes on warfare and statecraft, now preserved at Lambeth Palace Library (LPL, MS 951/1: fols 132r–133v; MS 954: fol. 36rv). It is not clear when Carew came to read Greenway’s Tacitus, but it is possible that he did so while serving in Ireland, much as Robert Sidney had read his Tacitus while on campaign in the Netherlands (Carew refers directly to the English occupation of Ireland in his notes on the Roman conquest of Britain, LPL, MS 951/1: fol. 130r). Carew appears to have taken an interest in the provisions which Augustus made for the events immediately following his death. Under the heading ‘Care of the publicke estate is most necessary for princes’, he writes: ‘Augustus example is good for princes to imitate, for after his death a booke of his owne hand writinge was found, wherein was conteyned the wealthe of the publike Treasure, how many Cittyzens and allies were in Armes, what strength the state had by sea […]’ (LPL, MS 951/1: fol. 132r). For Carew, as for Augustus, it seemed prudent for an ageing prince to attend to matters directly concerning the smooth administration of the state in the wake of the monarch’s death. Carew’s phrasing here closely echoes the translation offered by Greenway, the relevant page of which he cites immediately following this note: ‘fol: 6:’ (cf. Greenway 1598: 6). So too, for example, Carew’s pessimistic observation under ‘princes’ – ‘princes are sayed to be like vnto gods, but gods favour no petitions but suche as are Just’ – echoes closely Greenway’s wording of Gaius Cestius’s speech, as recorded in the third book: ‘Princes were like vnto gods: but yet the gods heard no supplications but iust’ (LPL, MS 951/1: fol. 132r; Greenway 1598: 75).

[10] The strongest indication of court-centered interest in Tacitus, however, is the queen’s own translation of the Annales. Elizabeth was an accomplished linguist, well versed in French, Italian, and Latin, and familiar with Spanish and Greek.[4] As Alessandra Petrina notes, the queen’s activities as a translator cover a period of over fifty years, including translations of religious works undertaken in her youth – e.g. Marguerite de Navarre’s Miroir de l’Âme Pécheresse (1544) and John Calvin’s Institution de la Religion Chrestienne (1545) – as well as translations of Seneca, Boethius, Horace, Plutarch, and Cicero completed in her maturity. If, as Petrina suggests, at least some of these works ‘were meant for semi-public perusal at court’, it seems reasonable to assume that the queen’s study and translation of Tacitus was familiar to her courtiers (2018: 39).

[11] It is not difficult to imagine why the first book of Tacitus’s Annales might have appealed in particular to an early modern prince: it shows the disintegration of the Republic and the emergence of a monarchical form of government which is able to bring stability to a state exhausted by civil war. With the first words of the Annales, Tacitus puts Rome’s remarkable political transformation in focus, offering a concise summary of the shift from monarchy to republic, and from republic to principate:

Vrbem Romam à principio reges habuere: Libertatem, & Consulatum L. Brutus instituit […] & Pompeij Craßique potentia citò in Caesarem: Lepidi, atque Antonij arma in Augustum cessere, qui cuncta discordiis ciuilibus fessa, nomine principis sub imperium accepit.

(The city of Rome was ruled by kings to begin with: Lucius Brutus established freedom and the consulship. The might of Pompey and Crassus quickly yielded to Caesar, and the arms of Anthony to Augustus, who took everything exhausted by civil strife into his power under the name of ‘prince’) (Tacitus 1574: 215. Cf. Annales: 1.1.)

For which Elizabeth gives:

Rome citye at first Kinges guided. Popularitie and Consulshipp L. Brutus ordained. […] Pompeys and Crassus rule to Cæsar fell. Lepidus and Anthonyes armes to Augustus gaue place, whom he to his rule did take with Princes title, all weryed with ciuill discordes. (LPL MS 683: fol. 1r)

[12] Here Elizabeth uses ‘popularitie’ to translate Tacitus’s ‘Libertatem’ (‘freedom’), a word which, in a political context, typically carried the sense of civil freedom or liberty.[5] Thus Cicero had used libertas in opposition with servitus in the Philippics, presenting liberty as a quintessentially Roman trait: ‘Aliae nationes seruitutem pati possunt, populi Romani est propria libertas’ (‘other nations are able to suffer slavery, but freedom is peculiar to the Roman people’) (Cicero, Philippics: 1.19). That Elizabeth chose to translate libertas as ‘Popularitie’, which in the early modern period was used of a popular or democratic form of government, suggests that she was sensitive to Tacitus’s politically-charged use of the word. ‘Popularitie’ was frequently invoked in opposition to a monarchical form of government and carried, as one might expect, distinctly negative connotations. Thus John Whitgift (1530/1–1604) in his response to Thomas Cartwright (1534/5–1603) at the height of the Admonition controversy warned that his opponents were fostering ‘contempt of magistrates, popularitie, Anabaptistrie and sundrie others pernicious and pestilent errors’ (1574: sig. aivr). At other moments, Elizabeth translates libertas with the cognate ‘liberty’, or else ignores the word completely.[6] As Augustus grows weaker, there is talk at Rome of the old libertas: ‘pauci bona libertatis incassum disserere’ (‘a few spoke in vain of the benefits of freedom’), for which Elizabeth gives: ‘few carelessly their good neglected’ (Tacitus 1574: 217, cf. Annales: 1.4; LPL MS 683: fol. 1v). Once again the emphasis has subtly shifted, and while in Tacitus the citizens of Rome find themselves longing for ‘the benefits of freedom’, that is, for the republican form of government, in Elizabeth’s version, they themselves fail to appreciate and attend to their own quality of life.

[13] In contrast with republican libertas, Tacitus sets the servitium (‘slavery’) suffered by the Roman people under the princes. Tacitus explains, for example, that Augustus found little opposition at Rome to his gradual assumption of sovereignty since many of the nobility stood to profit from this kind of political servitude:

ceteri nobilum, quanto quis seruitio promtior, opibus & honoribus extollerentur, ac nouis ex rebus aucti, tuta & præsentia, quàm vetera & periculosa mallent.

(the rest of the nobles, as much as each of them was the more inclined to slavery, were elevated by wealth and honours, and, now advanced by the revolution, preferred the stability of the present than the insecurity of the past)

For which Elizabeth gives:

The rest of the noblest, as redyest in seruice, so most aduanced in wealth and dignitie, increased by new gyftes chose rather the saffe, and present, then ancient, and dangerous. (LPL MS 683: fol. 1r)

[14] Here Elizabeth dilutes the force of Tacitus’s ‘servitio promtior’ (‘more inclined to slavery’) with ‘redyest in seruice’ – in Elizabeth’s translation, the senators are officious and dutiful subjects, rather than political slaves, and are therefore duly rewarded. Elizabeth has also missed, or perhaps deliberately ignored, the specialist sense of ‘novae res’ as ‘revolution’. Thus, for ‘nouis ex rebus aucti’ (‘made greater through revolution’), by which Tacitus implies that certain members of the nobility have actively benefitted from the alteration in regime, she gives ‘increased by new gyftes’.

[15] At another moment, Tacitus juxtaposes republican ‘freedom’ and imperial ‘slavery’ when he touches on the assassination of Julius Caesar, referring to those citizens who had witnessed, or had at least heard tell of, ‘diem illum crudi adhuc seruitij, & libertatis improsperè repetitæ, cum occisus dictator Cæsar’ (‘that day, when slavery was still young, and freedom was sought again in an ill-starred attempt, when Caesar dictator was killed’) (1574: 220; cf. Annales: 1.8). Perhaps telling of how Elizabeth was reading Tacitus more widely, she gives this line a different gloss in her translation: ‘that day shoulde be the caller in of cruell bondage and unfortunate libertie. when Cesar Dictator was slaine’ (LPL MS 683: fol. 3r). In Tacitus, slavery was ‘still young’ because Rome, under Julius Caesar, was experiencing its first taste of monarchy since the expulsion of the Tarquins almost five hundred years before. In Elizabeth’s version, however, it is now the assassination of the monarch which heralds in a new age of servitude. Elizabeth’s subtle condemnation of Caesar’s death we might contrast with the account offered by an anonymous tract entitled A Conference About the Next Succession to the Crowne of Inglande, published at Antwerp in 1595. Here in a section entitled ‘Of Kings Lawfully Chastised by their Common Wealthes for their Misgouernment’, Caesar’s assassination is directly attributed to his usurpation of governmental powers: ‘when Iulius Cæsar uppon particuler ambition had broken al law both humane and diuine, and taken al gouernment in to his owne hands alone, he was in revenge hereof, slayne as the worlde knoweth, by senators in the senate-house’ (44). There were then conflicting readings of Caesar’s rule and murder at the hands of the Roman senate circulating in the final years of the sixteenth century. For Elizabeth, however, the assassination of a monarch signified the beginning of ‘cruell bondage’.

[16] Tacitus’s description of Augustus consolidating his power in the wake of civil war and offering stability to a people ‘exhausted by civil strife’ bears a striking resemblance to Cicero’s portrait of Julius Caesar in the Pro Marcello, translated by Elizabeth in around 1592. M. Claudius Marcellus had supported Pompey’s cause in the First Civil War and, following Pompey’s defeat at Pharsalia, had retired to Mytilene. Cicero’s speech, delivered in 46BC, was part of a wider effort at Rome to have Marcellus safely repatriated. What is so striking about the Pro Marcello, however, is just how little the eponymous defendant features. Instead, the emphasis is on Caesar. As Scodel and Mueller note, Elizabeth ‘chose to translate a work that a strict republican could only have regarded as an unfortunate lapse on Cicero’s part but a believer in virtuous monarchy would find profoundly congenial’ (Elizabeth I 2009: 4; see Petrina 2018: 49–56). Here Caesar is praised for his martial prowess and urged, as Elizabeth puts it, to ‘quench the flame of civil stir’ (2009: 37; cf. Cicero, Pro Marcello: 29). Now that Caesar has proven beyond question his abilities on the battlefield, ‘yet there bides behind another part for you to play, another deed to execute; and this must be your travail: to frame a Commonwealth and compound it in so quiet sort as you may enjoy with it your ease’ (2009: 35; cf. Cicero, Pro Marcello: 27). Though Tacitus does not explicitly praise Augustus for the stability which he brought to the state – in Cicero the tone is one of celebration, in Tacitus, one of resignation – there are certainly parallels between Cicero’s Caesar and Tacitus’s Augustus, especially in their consolidation of authority in the wake of civil conflict. We might readily compare Cicero’s description, as translated by Elizabeth, of ‘this Commonwealth afflicted with this wretched and evil-destined war’, with Tacitus’s description in the above, of a city ‘weryed with ciuill discordes’ (Elizabeth I 2009: 39; cf. Cicero, Pro Marcello: 31. LPL, MS 683: fol. 1r; cf. Tacitus, Annales: 1.1). It seems probable then that Elizabeth, translating the first book of the Annales, approached Tacitus’s account much as she had Cicero’s, namely as an endorsement of the stability achieved through individual rule.

[17] There is in Elizabeth’s Pro Marcello a subtle but discernable introduction of monarchical vocabulary. The queen thus has Cicero single out Caesar’s ‘princely and wise voice’ for praise, where ‘princely’ translates ‘praeclarissimam’ (‘extremely distinguished’) (2009: 33; cf. Cicero, Pro Marcello: 25). So too Elizabeth’s Cicero refers anachronistically to ‘the acts of our emperors’, where ‘emperors’ translates ‘imperatorum’ (‘generals’) (2009: 19; cf. Cicero, Pro Marcello: 5). There is a similar effect at work in the queen’s translation of the Annales. Here the city is not merely splendidly restored by Augustus (‘magnifico ornatu’), but ‘royally adorned’, while the ‘initiis Tiberij’ (‘the beginning of Tiberius’) becomes ‘Tiberius new raigne’ (Tacitus 1574: 220; cf. Tacitus, Annales: 1.9; LPL MS 683: fol. 3r; Tacitus 1574: 224; cf. Tacitus, Annales: 1.16; LPL MS 683: fol. 4v). At another moment, Tacitus refers to Germanicus as ‘Augustæ nepos’, that is, grandson of Livia Augusta, for which Elizabeth gives ‘nephew to the Empresse’ (Tacitus 1574: 232, cf. Tacitus, Annales: 1.33; LPL MS 683: fol. 7v). Under the Republic, the adjective ‘augustus’ suggested ‘sacred’ or ‘venerable’ (see OLD s.v. ‘augustus’). In 27BC, however, the senate awarded it as a title to Octavian, whence it was adopted by subsequent emperors. Ultimately, it acquired a more general sense of ‘imperial’ or ‘royal’. In his Dictionarium of 1587, Thomas Thomas thus defines the word as ‘consecrate, holy’, but also ‘noble, royal, imperiall, full of maiestie’ (s.v. ‘augustus, a, um’). In this latter sense, it was applied to Elizabeth herself. During the Queen’s visit to Norwich of 1578, for instance, the city Mayor addressed Elizabeth as ‘Augustissima Princeps’, or, as the accompanying translation puts it, ‘most Royall Prince’ (Ber. Gar., 1578: sig. Aivr; Biv). The English ‘Empress’, which Elizabeth employs here for ‘Augusta’, was commonly used of the consort of the Roman emperor in the sixteenth century, as with Shakespeare’s description of Tamora in Titus Andronicus as ‘Rome’s royal empress’, or Bartholomew Yong’s account of Cleopatra ‘hoping […] to have been crowned Empresse of ye Romane monarchy’, reworking Boccaccio’s ‘aspirava all’altezza del romano imperio’ (we might also note Yong’s rendering of ‘imperio’ here as ‘monarchy’) (Shakespeare 2016: 3.55 (p. 206); Yong 1587: 116–7; Boccaccio 1952: cap. VIII, p. 1211). Elizabeth herself was addressed as ‘empress’ with greater frequency in the 1580s and 90s. Thus, James Aske in his poem commemorating the English victory over the Spanish, Elizabetha Triumphans (1588), refers to the queen as ‘the only Empresse that on earth hath liu’d’, while Edmund Spenser dedicated The Fairie Queene (1590) ‘to the most mightie and magnificent empresse Elizabeth’ (Aske 1588: 24; Spenser 1590: sig. Av). In the dedication to his translation of Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita, The Romane Historie (1600), Philemon Holland (1552–1637) brought together both the ancient and contemporary, addressing Elizabeth as ‘most Worthie and Powerfull Empreße’, while in the preface to the reader he refers to ‘prince Augustus, and Livia the Empresse’ (Holland 1600: s.p.). By introducing ‘Empress’ to her translation, Elizabeth thereby invoked a title of her very own.

[18] Perhaps the most striking introduction of royal lexis to the Tacitus translation, however, is found in the description of the German mutiny. Unusually for rebelling troops, Tacitus explains, there is a focus and precision to their actions: ‘Nought don at a fewes instigation, but togither they attempt, and so silent, with so like like lasting myndes, that Kinges you wolde haue thought them’ (LPL MS 683: 7v). That the queen should find monarch-like resolve in rebelling soldiers is perhaps surprising, but the wording appears to have been prompted by some confusion arising from the phrase ‘ut regi crederes’ (‘you would believe that they were being directed’), where Tacitus has left the direct object implicit (Tacitus 1574: 232; cf. Tacitus, Annales: 1.32). Elizabeth, however, treats ‘regi’ not as an infinitive (‘to be directed’), but a plural noun, ‘Kinges’, perhaps confusing ‘regi’ for ‘reges’. For the phrase ‘tanta æqualitate & Constantia’ (‘of such great uniformity and symmetry’), Elizabeth gives ‘with so like lasting myndes’, a quality which may well have appealed to a monarch who deliberately styled herself as ‘Semper Eadem’ (Camden 1615: 40). Even with the confusion over ‘regi’, however, it remains curious that the queen should associate this virtue with mutinous soldiers.

[19] The queen’s decision to focus on a moment of historiography which examines Rome’s transformation from a consular republic to what was in effect a kind of monarchy complements her choice of subject matter elsewhere. The first book of Tacitus’s Annales and Cicero’s Pro Marcello, by highlighting the stability brought to Rome by the rule of Augustus and Julius Caesar respectively, could easily be read and translated as extolling the virtues of monarchical government. In her translations of both Cicero and Tacitus alike, we can identify the queen’s negotiation with, and occasional dilution of, republican vocabularies. So too we can see the subtle introduction of monarchical lexis where there is no direct equivalent in the Latin, as well as a more general reflection of how this political lexis (princeps, augustus, libertas etc.) was being redeployed in early modern England. With their depictions of a Rome exhausted by civil war and united under a single ruler, it is not implausible to imagine that Elizabeth was reading both the Annales and the Pro Marcello as the triumph of monarchy as a means of securing the stability of the state. There were, however, some less palatable elements of the Annales for a monarch who was apparently unwilling to discuss the details of her own succession, as the next section explores.

II. The Queen’s Tacitus and Elizabethan Statecraft

[20] Elizabeth’s reign was marked from its earliest days by Parliament’s concern for a stable, and, if possible, male succession. Even towards the end of her reign, however, Elizabeth was reluctant to discuss the question of who was to inherit the English throne. As Arthur Wilson records in his History of Great Britain (1653: 2), ‘In the wane, or last Quarter of the late Queen, the Court Motions tended (by an Oblique Aspect) towards this Northern Star [i.e. James VI], and some of her great Council in her Presence, would glance at the King of Scots as her Successour which would make her break into Passion’.[7] In the Annales, however, Elizabeth was confronted directly with the question of succession and the public acknowledgment of an heir.

[21] For Scipione Ammirato (1531–1600), whose Discorsi on Tacitus were published at Florence in 1594, this was one of the most important lessons a prince might glean from the first book of the Annales. In the second discourse, entitled ‘with how much diligence a prince must seek to have a definite successor’ (‘Con quanta diligenza debba ricercar un Principe d’hauer certo successore’), he drew attention to how ‘very great the care was, and the endeavour, which Augustus employed to establish a definite successor, seeing that nature did not grant him male children’ (‘grandissimo fu lo studio, e il proccacio, che usò Augusto, non gli essendo dalla natura stati conceduti figliouoli maschi, in stabilirsi certo successore’) (Ammirato 1594: 4). Indeed, the opening chapters of Tacitus’s first book deal with the complex series of adoptions and promotions made by Augustus in an effort to secure the stability of his own sovereignty and that of his dynasty:

Ceterùm Augustus subsidia dominationi Claudium Marcellum, sororis filium admodum adolescentem, Pontificatu & curuli ædilitate: M. Agrippam ignobilem loco, bonum militia et victoriæ socium, geminatis consulatibus extulit: mox defuncto Marcello generum sumsit: Tiberium Neronem & Claudium Drusum priuignos imperatoriis nominibus auxit, integra etiamdum domo sua: nam genitos Agrippa Caium ac Lucium in familiam Cæsarem induxerat

(But Augustus, to bolster his rule, advanced Claudius Marcellus, his sister’s son, though he was still a young man, to the pontiff’s office and curule aedileship, and raised Marcus Agrippa (of low social standing, but worthy in warfare and his companion in victory) through successive consulships, and, with the death of Marcellus, soon took him as a son in law. His stepsons Tiberius Nero and Claudius Drusus he elevated with the title of ‘Imperator’, though his own household was yet intact: for he had welcomed the sons of Agrippa, Gaius and Lucius into the house of Caesar) (Tacitus 1574: 216, cf. Tacitus, Annales: 1.3)

For which Elizabeth gives:

But Augustus tooke for rules healpe Cla: Marcellus his sisters sonne, a yong man aduancing him first to be Bushoppe and Aedyle. And Agrippa also, base for his place, but a good soldier, and compagnon of his victories, he preferred to a double Consulshippe. and soone after Marcellus dying, he chose him for a sonne in lawe. Tiberius Nero and Claud: Drusus his wyfes sonnes, he endued with Emperors names, though his own howse were well filled, for he had drawen into the family of Cesar Caius and Lucius Agrippas sonnes (LPL MS 683: fol. 2r)

[22] In making provision for the succession, Augustus turns first to Marcus Claudius Marcellus (42–23BC), son of his sister, Octavia, and of Claudius Marcellus. A favourite of Augustus’s, Marcellus married Augustus’s only daughter, Julia, in 25BC, but died just two years later. Marcus Agrippa (b. c.63BC), loyal soldier and lifelong friend of Augustus, had commanded the left wing at the Battle of Actium. Following Marcellus’s untimely death in 23BC, he married the widowed Julia in 21BC. With Marcellus dead, Augustus was compelled to turn to his stepsons, Tiberius and Drusus, whom ‘he endued with Emperors names’, that is, awarded them both the title of ‘imperator’ (‘general’). Tiberius (42BC–37AD) was the eldest son of Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia, later wife of Augustus. Augustus reluctantly named Tiberius his heir in AD4. Livia was already pregnant with Tiberius’s younger brother, Drusus (38–9BC), when Tiberius Claudius Nero was compelled to divorce her to make way for the marriage with Augustus, a fact to which Tacitus refers later in the same book: ‘abducta Neroni uxor: & consulti per ludibrium pontifices, an concepto nec dum edito partu rite nuberet’ (‘he seduced the wife of Nero, while undertaking a farcical consultation with the priests as to whether it was right for her to marry before she had given birth’), for which Elizabeth gives: ‘for marying Neros wife, in a skorne he demanded the Bushoppe whether mary he might one with childe afore the birthe’ (Tacitus 1574: 221, cf. Annales: 1.10; LPL MS 683: fol. 3v). This conglomeration of names and familial and inter-marital ties is deliberate: Tacitus stresses the complexities and machinations of the emperor’s foreplanning, remembering Augustus not only as a bringer of peace to a troubled state, but as a cunning strategist or ‘machinator’ (‘architect’) (Annales: 1.10).

[23] As Paulina Kewes notes, the MP Peter Wentworth (1524–1597) appealed to this very moment of Roman history in his Pithie Exhortation to Her Maiestie for Establishing Her Succesor to the Crowne (1598) (see Kewes 2011: 542–3). Drawing on the pagan precedent, he remarks: ‘wee reade that the Romane Emperours when otherwise their successor was not known, did in their lifetime adopt them heires, to whome by order of that gouernement, they caused the right to succeede them to be established. Thus, Iulius Cæsar adopted Octavius Augustus, and hee Tiberius Cæsar’ (Wentworth 1598: 23). To the example of Wentworth, we might add that of Charles Merbury, who, though he refrained from drawing quite such a bold comparison, also included the Roman precedent for adoption in his Briefe Discourse of Royall Monarchie (1581), which he dedicated to the queen: ‘Cæsar the dictator [adopted] his Nephew: Augustus th’Emperor, adopted Tiberius: Claudius, Nero: Nerva, Traian: Traian, Adrian, who after adopted Antoninus’ (17). For Scipione Ammirato, the securing of an heir was of pressing contemporary relevance more generally: ‘If ever there was ever a time, in which it were fit to put the present discourse into consideration, it is this one, in which we find that there are many princes living, who do not have a definite successor’ (‘Se mai fù alcun tempo, nel quale sia degno d’esser messo in considerazione il presente discorso, è questo, nel quale ci ritrouiamo, vivendo molti Principi, i quali non hanno certo successore’) (1594: 6). Such negligence on the prince’s part, Ammirato explains, has pernicious consequences for the dynasty as well as the state as a whole: ‘whence it comes to pass that either states pass into other families, or that, dismembering themselves, they become less strong, or struggling over the successor, they spill forth into civil conflicts’ (‘onde auuiene, ò che gli stati passino in altre famiglie, ò che smembrandosi diuengano men forti, o contendendosi del successore s’empiano di ciuili battaglie’) (1594: 6). Both in England and on the Continent, this moment of Roman history was read as underlining the importance for an heirless prince to secure his, or indeed her, own succession.

[24] Yet for all Augustus’s attempts to establish the stability of his dynasty, Tacitus also presents the reader with the complications and corruptions thereof. The demise of Augustus’s favourites leads to the ascendency of the imperfect Tiberius:

Vt Agrippa uita conceßit, L. Cæsarem euntem ad Hispanienses exercitus, Caium remeantem Armenia, & vulnere inualidum, mors fato propera, vel nouercæ Liuiæ dolus abstulit, Drusoque pridem extincto, Nero solus è priuignis erat, illuc cuncta vergere: filius, collega imperij, consors tribuniciæ potestatis adsumitur, omnisque per exercitus ostentatur, non obscuris vt antea matris artibus, sed palàm hortatu

(Once Agrippa had passed away, death, hastened by fate, or else the cunning of their stepmother, Livia, snatched away Lucius Caesar as he was going to the Spanish armies, along with Gaius, who remained at Armenia, already enfeebled through his wound. As Drusus was a long time dead, Nero was the last of the stepsons, and everything turned to him: he was adopted as a son, as a partner in empire, as a consort of the tribunician power, and was paraded through all of the armies, not, as previously, through his mother’s secret schemes, but with her open encouragement) (Tacitus 1574: 216; cf. Tacitus, Annales: 1.3)

For which Elizabeth has:

As Agrippa dyed. so did hastie death or stepdame Liuias crafte, depriue of lyfe Lucius Cesar going to the spanishe army, and Caius leauinge Armenia for his wound vnseruiceable. So Drusus destroyed. Nero alone remained, of all his wifes children. whom onely all respected. He was the sonne. the rules compagnon. the Tribunes powers fellow. sette out to all the army, not by slye art, as before of his mother, but openly now by a publike desire. (LPL MS 683: 2r)

[25] Augustus strives to establish the security of his dynasty with ‘pluribus munimentis’, literally ‘many defences’, a wording which Elizabeth reworks in periphrasis as ‘greater strength to enforce his rule’. Gaius Julius Caesar (20BC–AD4) was the eldest son of Agrippa and Julia. A favourite of Augustus’s, he was the most likely candidate to succeed the emperor, who had adopted him in 17BC. In 2AD, however, Gaius was severely wounded at the siege of Artagira and died two years later during his return to Rome. Gaius’s younger brother, Lucius, also adopted by Augustus in 17, died in 2AD on a journey to Spain, as Tacitus implies here, through Livia’s intervention. Tiberius’s position as Augustus’s successor was thus as much a consequence of ‘stepdame Liuias crafte’ and ‘slye art’ as it was of the emperor’s foreplanning. In Tacitus’s portrait, Livia is ruthless in securing the place of her son as Augustus’s successor and potentially dangerous in the influence she wields over the ageing emperor: ‘she had so wonne the olde Augustus, that he banished his onely nephew Agrippa Posthumus into Planasia Island’ (LPL MS 683: 2r). Livia’s influence over Roman politics was of particular concern to Annibale Scoto, valet to Pope Sixtus V (1525–1590), whose political commentary on Tacitus appeared in 1589. Of the complaint made by the citizens of Rome that, as Elizabeth translates it, ‘serue they must a woman’ (fol. 1v; cf. Annales: 1.4), Scoto comments:

Quid miserius excogitari potest, quam servire feminae viros? hoc est, liberos servis; qui ad imperandum nati sunt, ijs qui ad parendum? Hinc iure, misera Anglia, defleri status tuus potest; quæ tam peruersæ ac impiæ mulieri Iezabeli inseruis; et ei subiecta durissimam tyrannidem toleras

(What thing more wretched can be imagined, than men serving a woman? That is, free men, who are born to rule, serving slaves, who are born to obey? Therefore rightly, miserable England, we can weep for your state, who serve such a perverse and impious woman, a Jezebel, and, subject to her, endure the harshest tyranny) (Scoto 1589: 7)

Intriguingly, in at least some quarters on the Continent, Tacitus’s Livia, and the tremendous influence she wielded, was being read directly in relation to Elizabeth.

[26] Similarly desultory attempts to secure the succession were also to be found in Tacitus’s Historiae. When the emperor Galba nods to Augustus’s adoptions in Book One, he hopes to surpass what he describes as the emperor’s nepotistic precedent. As Savile puts it in his translation of 1591, Galba presents himself as:

following herein the example of Augustus, who places in estate next to himselfe, first Marcellus his sisters son, afterward Agrippa his sonne in lawe, then his daughters sonnes, and lastly his wiues sonne Tiberius Nero. But Augustus, as it seemeth, sought a succesour in his family, and I in the common wealth. (Savile 1591: 9; cf. Tacitus, Historiae: 1.15)

[27] As Kewes notes, however, Galba’s attempt to leave the Roman state in the hands of a man of ‘integritie, friendship’ and ‘round and free dealing’ ultimately comes to naught and the imperial throne falls by force to Otho (Savile 1591: 9, cf. Tacitus, Annales: 1.15; Kewes 2011: 547). Elizabeth was thus confronted with distinctly pessimistic examples of attempts to secure the succession not only through her translation of the Annales, but also through her tutor’s rendering of the Historiae.

[28] As the Annales suggest, the public naming of an heir is also a recipe for conflict. Unlike Elizabeth, Tacitus’s Augustus openly, perhaps imprudently, discusses the nomination of potential successors. As Tacitus explains,

Quippe Augustus supremis sermonibus cum tractaret, qui nam adipisci principem locum suffecturi abnuerent, aut impares vellent, vel idem possent cuperentque, M. Lepidum dixerat capacem, sed aspernantem: Gallum Asinum auidum & minorem: L: Arruntium non indignum, & si casus daretur ausurum

(Indeed, when Augustus discussed the matter in his final conversations, namely who would be able to obtain the prince’s office but refused it, and those who were unworthy of it but wanted it, and then those who were both able and desired it, he had said that Lepidus was capable but disdainful, Gallus Asinus keen but inferior, and Lucius Arruntius not unworthy, and, if the opportunity presented itself, bold enough to take it) (Tacitus 1574: 222–3; cf. Annales: 1)

For which Elizabeth gives:

For Augustus in his laste speaches, of such, as ether sufficient wolde refuse a Princes place, or vnfitt wolde haue it, or might and desired. he sayd Marc: Lepidus capable but despising it. Gallus Asinius greedy, but vnworthy. L: Aruntius not vnmeet, and if chance happened, wolde aduenture it. (LPL MS 683: fol. 4r)

[29] The potential benefits of openly discussing the succession are immediately undone, however, when Tacitus explains the dire consequences of these discussions for the candidates: ‘omnesque præter Lepidum variis mox criminibus struente Tiberio circumuenti sunt’ (‘all of them, except Lepidus, were beset by various charges fabricated by Tiberius’) (Tacitus 1575: 223; cf. Annales: 1.13), or, as Elizabeth translates it, ‘All but Lepidus alone were taxed with diuers crymes, Tiberius framing it so’ (LPL MS 683: fol. 4r). Once again, Augustus’s attempts to safeguard the succession are undermined by the machinations of those closest to him. Immediately following the death of Augustus, Tiberius removes another rival claimant to the imperial throne, Agrippa Iulius Caesar. As Elizabeth’s translation puts it, ‘The first mischief of the new rule was Post: Agrippas murder’ (LPL MS 683: 2r). Like Tiberius, Agrippa had been adopted by Augustus in AD4, but was later exiled to Planasia. Nonetheless, Tiberius, according to Tacitus’s account at least, continued to consider him a threat. After he has been dispatched, however, Tiberius hastily denies any involvement in his death:

Nuntianti centurioni, vt mos militiæ, factum esse quod imperasset, neque imperasse sese, & rationem facti reddendam apud senatum respondit

(Once the centurion had announced, as is a soldier’s wont, that what he had commanded was accomplished, Tiberius denied that he had commanded it himself, replying that an account of the deed would have to be given before the senate) (Tacitus 1574: 218; cf. Tacitus, Annales: 1.6)

For which Elizabeth gives:

The Centurion telling (like martiall guise) that don was, what was byd. he denyed that charge and sayd he shoulde make accompte to the senate for it. (LPL MS 683: 2r)

[30] With the phrase ‘what was byd’, Elizabeth makes a passive construction of Tacitus’s active ‘quod imperasset’ (‘what he had ordered’), removing Tiberius yet further from the deed and so also from culpability. Such a scenario was evidently not beyond imagining for an Elizabethan courtier. Beside this moment in the 1585 Antwerp edition, Robert Sidney writes: ‘A prince should not desauow his secret commandment but if he do the seruant must [abide] to be disauowed’ (Quoted in Davis 2006: 11). Of this same moment, Annibale Scoto remarked:

Princeps numquam probare aperte & fateri debet res improbas, etsi ipsi conducit, vt commisa sint, ne praui nomen adipiscatur. Immo præstat extrinsecus clementem, benignum, affabilem, mansuetum, & similia præseferre. Quoties vero ipsi aliter conducit agere, id caute, & quasi coactus agere videatur.

(A Prince must never openly approve nor admit to morally reprehensible deeds, even if it serves his turn that they should be undertaken, lest he acquire a reputation for depravity. Rather, it is better that on the outside he pretend to be merciful, good, courteous, gentle, and similar. However often it serves his turn to act otherwise, he should do so cautiously, and appear to have been almost forced) (Scoto 1589: 10)

[31] Even if politically expedient, the prince should at least appear reluctant to undertake deeds which might undermine his reputation. It is difficult to read this account of Tiberius’s dispatching a potential claimant to the imperial throne and subsequent (and prudent, according to Scoto) denial thereof without thinking of Elizabeth’s response to the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1542–1587), who, as the granddaughter of Margaret Tudor (1489–1541), had once been considered a potential claimant to the English throne. In the aftermath of Mary’s death, William Davison (d.1608), a junior member of the Privy Council, served as scapegoat, not unlike Tiberius’s centurion. He was blamed by Elizabeth for having shared the signed warrant for Mary’s death with the Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas Bromley. Davison was sent to the Tower on 14th February and was tried on the 28th March, charged with disobeying the queen’s command to retain the warrant.

[32] For the most part, Elizabeth’s biographers have focused on the queen’s emotional response to the execution. As J. E. Neale puts it, ‘She could neither eat nor sleep. Pity that with her womanly sorrow she could not maintain the tragedy at its most sublime level!’ (1934: 281). More recently, Wallace MacCaffrey describes the queen ‘hysterically disavow[ing] having ordered the execution’, while Paul Jonson ascribes her ‘nervous state’ during these months to the menopause: ‘she may also have been undergoing her climacteric’ (MacCaffrey 1993: 352; Jonson 1974: 289). Such analysis, however, distracts from the fact that it was also politically expedient for Elizabeth to deny firmly responsibility for the Scottish queen’s death. Following the execution, there was civil unrest in both Scotland and France, and Elizabeth was clearly concerned for her international reputation. The queen sent her ambassador, Robert Carey (1560–1639), to James VI, ‘to make known her innocence of her sister’s death’ (Carey 1972: 7). As Carey explains, however, the anger with which Mary’s death was met in Scotland made this a dangerous and almost impossible task: ‘I was waylaid in Scotland, if I had gone in, to have been murdered: but the King’s Majesty, knowing the disposition of his people, and the fury they were in, sent me to Berwick’ (1972: 8). In these ‘letters of credence’, ultimately conveyed to James via two of his counsellors, Elizabeth emphasized her distance from his mother’s execution, which she refers to as ‘that miserable accident’: ‘I beseech you that – as God and many more know – how innocent I am in this case’ (Elizabeth I 2000: 296).

[33] The reaction in France to Mary’s death was equally hostile. As Sir Edmund Stafford (1552–1605), Elizabeth’s ambassador in Paris, wrote to Lord Burghley in March that year:

I never sawe a thinge [more hated by] lytell great, olde yonge and of all Relligions then the Queen of Scotts deathe, and espesially the manner of ytt […] I beseeche god and so I have written to her majeste shee maye think to look well unto her self, for I think she neuer had more nor so mutche neede, for I never sawe all so desperately bent against her as theie are. (TNA, SP 78/17: fol. 19r)

There was therefore a practical benefit of denying any involvement in Mary’s death, however incredible such a denial may have seemed. Without suggesting that Elizabeth had a copy of the Annales open before her when she denied responsibility for Mary’s execution, clearly the queen found in Tacitus practical examples of statecraft which complemented, and perhaps even reinforced, her own method of rule.

[34] Intriguingly, the authority of the classical exemplum can be found in the wider political and legal contexts surrounding the imprisonment and trial of Mary Stuart. While the tracts and dialogues which emerged in the wake of Lord Darnley’s murder had compared the Scottish queen, as Cathy Shrank has explored in detail, to those infamous heroines of Greek myth, Clytemnestra and Medea, the ambassadors sent by Henri III to sue on Mary’s behalf made an appeal to the legend of Mucius Scaevola, as recorded in the second book of Livy’s History of Rome (Shrank 2010: 523–541; For Mary’s own reading of Livy in the company of George Buchanan, see TNA, SP 52/7: 32). According to Camden’s account in the Annales, Pomponne de Bellièvre made the case that, even if the queen were found guilty,

she should be pardoned, because that would remaine an eternall example of the English clemency. Alledging to this purpose the History of Porsenna, which drew out of the fire the right hand of M. Scevola, who had conspired his death, and let him go. (Camden 1625: 187)

[35] As Livy records it, the young nobleman, Gaius Mucius, having set out to assassinate Porsinna, King of the Etruscans, is captured in the attempt. Brought before the king, he thrusts his hand into the fire in a show of Roman fortitude: “en tibi’ inquit ‘ut sentias quam vile corpus sit iis qui magnam gloriam vident’ (‘this is so you can see’, he said, ‘how cheaply they value their body that look to greater glory’) (Livy, AUC: 2.12). So impressed is the Etruscan king by the young man’s bravery that he lets him go free. Though the exemplum here points to Livy, the wording of Camden’s Latin original more obviously recalls Tacitus’s Annales. The phrase ‘eternall example of the English clemency’ (‘æternum clementiæ exemplum’) echoes the speech which Tacitus puts into the mouth of Caratacus, who, captured and delivered to Rome, persuades the Emperor Claudius to spare his life: ‘si incolumem seruaueris, aeternum exemplar clementiæ ero’ (‘if you keep me unharmed, I will be an eternal example of your clemency’) (1574: 433; cf. Annales: 12.37). There are then two historical exempla at work here – one overt, the other tacit – of foreign captives who, faced with execution, successfully delivered orations to secure their freedom.

[36] It was not only Henri’s ambassadors who appealed to ancient precedent in relation to Mary’s trial. A treatise now preserved among the State Papers, dated to October 1586 and copied by William Cecil’s clerk, makes a detailed case for the legality of proceeding against Mary Stuart. It does so with an appeal to various legal authorities – Justinian, Sextus Africanus, Paulus de Castro – as well as a series of historical exempla, drawn from Livy, Pliny, Cicero, Caesar, and Sallust. Having stated that Mary Stuart ‘hath many waies committed high Treason against the whole state of this Realme’, the treatise gradually turns to discussions of this crime in antiquity. Appealing to a definition of lex majestatis recorded in Justinian’s Digest, the treatise flags up the law’s abuse under the principate, with ‘euery mans life standing at the courtesie of a bad prince’, contrasting this with the apparent stability and consistency of treason legislation in England (TNA, SP 53/20: fol. 88v). A law which, under the republic, concerned treason committed against the state ultimately came to be used, it explains, in imperial Rome to punish verbal attacks, perceived or actual, against the prince. Intriguingly, the value of this moment of Roman history for the legal tract is to emphasise the essential distance between the ancient past and the English present:

Therefore haue those Countries dealt more prouidently, which haue not lefte the Construction of this Cryme to the uncertainty of theise generall words, Qui maiestatem læserit, Etc [‘who has injured majesty’…] but doe admitt punishment by that title only for facts certaine, as for practising the death of the Prince, leauying war within his Realme, conspyring with his enimies, and such like particularly allowed either by ancient Custome, or expresly sett downe by lawe, whereof our countrie of England is a most happie paterne. (TNA, SP 53/20: fol. 89r)

[37] The Roman lex majestatis, exploited by Augustus and Tiberius alike, thus casts a comparatively positive light on the English laws concerning treason, the phrasing of which is, the treatise argues, less vulnerable to manipulation. Here the wording of the Roman law, as found in Justinian, is set against the specificity of the version developed in ‘our countrie of England’ (Cf. Justinian, Digest: 48.4). It is from a sound legal foundation then, the treatise maintains, and with the English emphasis on ‘facts certaine’, that proceedings may begin against the Scottish queen. This particular moment of Roman history could thus be read, via negativa, as lending legitimacy to governmental strategy, drawing a contrast with the robust legal framework of contemporary England and the legislature of imperial Rome, which was, the treatise suggests, all too readily abused by unscrupulous princes.

[38] Elizabeth herself had in fact translated Tacitus’s account of the shifting definition of the lex maiestatis under the principate. Towards the end of the first book, Tacitus explains how Tiberius followed in Augustus’s footsteps by harnessing the law to encompass verbal defamations of majesty:

legem maiestatis reduxerat, cui nomen apud veteres idem, sed alia in iudicium veniebant, si quis proditione exercitum, aut plebem seditionibus, denique male gesta Republica maiestatem populi Romani minuisset: facta arguebantur, dicta impune erant. Primus Augustus cognitionem de famosis libellis, specie legis eius tractauit commotus Caßii Seueri libidine, qua viros feminasque inlustres procacibus scriptis diffamauerat

([Tiberius] had renewed the lex maiestatis, which had the same name among the ancients, but other matters came under its judgement, as, for example, if someone had compromised the army through treachery, the people through sedition, or finally, the majesty of the Roman people through the misgovernment of the state: deeds were charged, but words went unpunished. Augustus was the first to conduct a trial under the pretence of this law, unsettled by the wantonness of Cassius Severus, who had slandered noble men and women with his scandalous writings) (Tacitus 1574: 251; cf. Tacitus, Annales: 1.72)

As Elizabeth translates it:

He renewed the lawe of maiesty. whose name among the auncient was the same, but other matters it extended to. If anie by betraying armies. or raising sedition, or gouerning the common wealthe, had diminished the maiestie of the Roman people. but deedes were punished, wordes without awe. Augustus was the first that under collor of that lawe, called in question infamous libels, offended with Cassius Celerus intemperancy, who men and honorable women with vilanous pamphlets defamed. (LPL MS 683: 15v)

[39] Under Tiberius, the lex majestatis was employed with greater frequency to punish slander. When consulted by the praetor Pompeius Macer as to whether ‘maiesticall iudgment shoulde be giuen’ in regard to such libel, Tiberius replies in the affirmative that ‘the laws must be executed’, spurred on by ‘verses of vnknowen authors’, which had ‘spread abroad his cruelty, pride and discorde with his mother’ (LPL MS 683: 15v). The charge of treason was thus extended by both Augustus and Tiberius to encompass slander, though in its original form under the republic it had concerned ‘betraying armies or raising sedition’. Of this manipulation of the law under Augustus and Tiberius, Robert Sidney remarked in his own copy of the Annales that: ‘A prince that wil have anything a[nd] wil find law for yt’ (quoted in Davis 2006: 15).

[40] The example of Augustus intervening on behalf of members of the nobility who had been the subject of ‘infamous libels’ and ‘vilanous pamphlets’ was of special relevance to Elizabeth in the 1580s. In 1584, the royal printer, Christopher Barker, published on the queen’s behalf ‘A Proclamation for the suppressing of seditious Bookes and Libelles’, that seek, the proclamation explains, to ‘bring in obloquie & hatred, her Maiesties principall Noblemen, Counsellers, Judges and ministers of Justice’ (Elizabeth I 1584: fol. 1r). Though not explicitly named, the proclamation most probably targets the work now known as Leicester’s Commonwealth (1584), a dialogue published on the Continent eviscerating the character and conduct of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (1532/3–1588). This is suggested by a letter, prepared by Burghley in the following year at the queen’s behest, urging the Mayor of London to take more decisive action against ‘certain seditious and traitorous bookes, and libelles, covertly spread, and scattered abroad’, and in particular, ‘among the rest one most infamous containing slanderous, and hatefull Matter against our very good Lord the Earle of Leycester’ (SP 12/179: fol. 93r).[8] Although Tacitus refrains from speculating over Augustus’s motivations in revenging the reputations of those ‘men and honorable women’ targeted by ‘vilanous pamphlets’, for the Privy Council, the danger was obvious, namely that to critique a favourite of the queen was to undermine her majesty’s judgment:

Her highness not onely knoweth in assured certainty the Libells, and Bookes against the said Earle to be most malicious, false and slanderous […] but also thinketh the same to have proceeded of the fulnes of Malice, subtilly contrived to the note and discredit of her princely government over this Realm, as though her Majesty should have failed in good Judgement, and discrecion in the choice of so principall a Counsellor about her (SP 12/179: fol. 93v)

[41] Leicester’s Commonwealth insinuates that the queen has not only made an error of judgement concerning one of her closest counsellors, but that this choice may well have disastrous consequences for the queen and her reign. In a discussion of the Earl’s apparent licentiousness, the dialogue turns to the example of Lucretia’s rape by the Roman prince, Tarquinius Sextus, and how this served as a catalyst for the overthrowing of the monarchy at Rome. The Scholar laments:

that amonge us christians […] such a riot should be permitted upon mens wives whereas we read that among the verie heathens, lesse offences then these, in the same kinde, were extremelie punished in Princes themselves, and nor onlie in the person delinquent alone, but also by extirpation of the whole familie for his sake, as apeareth in the example of the Tarquinians amonge the Romans. And here also in our own Realm, we have regestred in Chronicle, how that one king Edwin above six hundreth years past was deprived of his kingdom, for much lesse scandalous factes then these. (Anonymous 1584: 37)

[42] Of note here is the readiness with which the speaker slips from the Roman example to the English, collapsing the distance between ancient Rome and medieval England. There are, the scholar suggests, rich examples from the past, both classical and domestic, for the ‘extirpation’ of princes. The rape of Lucretia and the subsequent expulsion of the Tarquins from Rome were recorded not by Tacitus, whose histories relate the events of imperial Rome, but two staples of the early modern grammar school, Ovid and Livy (see Ovid, Fasti: 2.685–852; Livy, Ab Urbe Condita: 1.57–59; cf. Baldwin 1944: 2.418–9, 573; Mack 2002: 13–14). This episode of Roman history had long since established its place in vernacular English literature, variously reworked at the hands of Chaucer, William Painter, and Shakespeare (see Philo 2020a: 93–114). As for the English exemplum, King Edwin’s reign was, according to Holinshed’s Chronicles, defined by the ‘Kings lust’ and his corruption of noblewomen, with this misconduct ultimately leading to his dethronement: ‘At length, ye inhabitants of the middle parte of England, even from Humber to Thames rebelled against him, and elected hys brother Edgar to haue the gouernemente ouer them’ (Holinshed 1577: 231). In both the Roman and English tradition, there were compelling precedents, the dialogue suggests, of the prince’s deposition due to sexual assault or misconduct, whether committed by the king himself, or by one of his kin. It is understandable then that Elizabeth intervened, much like Augustus, in an attempt to suppress ‘infamous libels’ and ‘vilanous pamphlets’ targeting the English nobility, given that these were being used to comment as much on her own competence as a prince as they were on the misconduct of her subjects. Once again, the first book of the Annales speaks to another key event of Elizabeth’s later reign, namely the attempt to restrain and punish defamations of the nobility.

[43] In the final decades of the sixteenth century, Tacitus was an historian of the court, attracting particular attention from the Sidney brothers, Henry Savile, and, to a lesser extent, the Earl of Essex. This engagement with the historian at court can only have been encouraged by the queen’s own study and translation of the Annales. There were a number of themes explored by Tacitus which spoke directly to the events and preoccupations of Elizabeth’s late reign, namely the question of the succession, the potential threat posed by rival claimants to the throne, and the suppression of libel. It seems reasonable to assume then that the queen found in Tacitus examples which not only complemented but perhaps even reinforced her approach to and method of rule, from highlighting the potential dangers of publicly acknowledging a successor to the suppression of slanderous tracts. The favour which Tacitus found at the Elizabethan court, however, was not to last. James I appears to have had little admiration for the historian, while the responses to Tacitus under Charles I were actively hostile. The following section considers Tacitus’s fall from favour at the Stuart court as well as the parallels drawn between Elizabeth’s reign and that of Tiberius by one of Tacitus’s fiercest critics, Edmund Bolton.

III. ‘Her times were a true copie of the times of Tiberius’: Edmund Bolton on the reign of Queen Elizabeth

[44] Though Tacitus had enjoyed the favour of Queen Elizabeth, he was met with greater caution under James I and Charles I, and, in certain quarters, with hostility. As part of a wider ‘Stuart antagonism towards Tacitus’, Alan Bradford points to comments made by James to the French scholar, Isaac Casaubon (1559–1614), concerning the king’s ambivalence towards the historian (1983: 138; see Casaubon, 1656: 676–7). Casaubon himself had expressed his misgivings towards the study of Tacitus in the dedication to Henry IV, which prefaced his Latin translation of Polybius (1609): ‘what indeed could be more harmful to a prince, especially a young one, than the reading of the Annales?’ (Polybius 1609: Oiiv–Oiiir).[9] The fact that James was himself compared to Tiberius, and for less than flattering reasons, perhaps compounded Stuart distaste for Tacitus and his depiction of the emperor. In his History of Great Britain (1653), Arthur Wilson (bap.1595, d.1652) observed that ‘some parallel’d him to Tiberius for dissimulation’, while Peter Heylyn (1599–1662) in his Observations (1656) described James as ‘neglecting the affaires of State, and cares of Government, to hunt after pleasures; deserting the imperiall city, to sport himself at Raiston, Newmarket, and such obscure places (which were to him as the Isle of Capre to Tiberius Caesar)’ (Wilson 1653: 289; Heylyn 1656: 13–14; see Bolton 2017: 27). To this we might add what Bradford has identified as James’s support of, and possible contribution to, Edmund Bolton’s Nero Caesar, or Monarchie Depraved (1624), in which Bolton put forward the case that ‘No prince is so bad as not to make monarckie seeme the best forme of gouernement’ (Bolton 1627: sig. A3v). Referring to the king’s ‘sponsorship’ of Bolton’s project, Bradford suggests that ‘James wanted to set right the antimonarchist view of history that was gaining ground among his subjects along with the Tacitean revival; the mischief started by Lipsius, Savile, and Essex must be undone’ (1983: 147). Elizabeth’s translation of the Annales suggests, however, that the monarch herself had played no small part in legitimizing Tacitus’s status as an historian of the court. If James was indeed engaged in dismantling a Tacitean ‘mischief’, then it was a mischief which had been cultivated by the queen herself.

[45] Reflecting on Elizabeth’s reign some thirty years after the queen’s death, the antiquary and historian Edmund Bolton saw clear parallels between Elizabeth’s England and Tiberius’s Rome. Bolton drew his comparisons in a manuscript work entitled Averrunci, or The Skowrers (1629–1634), a vigorous critique of what he understood to be Tacitus’s gross misrepresentation of Tiberius. For Bolton, there was a pressing danger lest the ‘credulous reader poisned with those unjust preoccupations, and prejudices, sees little afterwards, or nothing in that Prince (not perhaps in any other Princes) but as through those false forestallings, and abusive interposals’ (2017: 75). Bolton’s treatise thus represents one of the earliest examples of the ‘anti-Tacitist movement’ in England, when Tacitus’s works came under greater scrutiny for their allegedly suspect political and moral values (Burke 1991: 489).

[46] Bolton had his own motivations in drawing parallels between the reigns of Tiberius and Elizabeth: if the late queen was praised for such conduct, then why not the Emperor Tiberius? Nevertheless, Bolton had lived through the latter years of the queen’s reign, even contributing ‘A Canzon Pastorall in Honour of her Maiestie’ to Englands Helicon (1600: sig. 4v), perhaps in the aspiration of royal patronage. As such, Bolton serves not only as a commentator on but also a witness to the most pressing national and governmental concerns of the late sixteenth century. By highlighting the parallels between these reigns, including the censorship of historiographical works and the question of the unsettled succession, Bolton offers a near-contemporary perspective of the queen’s rule in relation to the Annales.

[47] Touching on Elizabeth’s admiration for Tacitus, Bolton highlights those elements in particular for which ‘she might have some use in her roiall steerage’:

Queen Elizabeth was a very great Queen, a most learned, and wise, and a secund Julia Augusta, and it is not to be denied, but that the works of Cornelius Tacitus were held by her in high esteeme […] And why should they not? for her times were a true copie of the times of Tiberius, according to Tacitus his description of them, under whom the case of Germanicus Cæsar in the right of his wife Agrippina, was a pilotage in the case under her of an heir to the crown; quarrels, and warrs abroad were after that manner managed; delations, and depressions were familiar under the one, as under the other; and some verbal disparagements of Majestie were by publick authoritie made more terriblie punishable under her, then they were under Tiberius, the paines, and forfeitures for high treason, beeing laid upon them, and starr-chamber powr held to short, though erected by the prudent Henrie the seaventh; and these, and other courses of that Queens time, so farre as they were Tiberian, were caused perhaps through the necessitie of some circumstances, and considerations, with which her title, and state were inter-tangled, rather then effects of her own heroical disposition; as hapned to Tiberius. (Bolton 2017: 146)

[48] Ultimately, Bolton argues that the queen’s ‘estimation of the writings of Tacitus’ should not be taken as an endorsement of his histories in general (2017: 146). Nonetheless, both the queen’s enthusiasm for the historian and the parallels between her reign and that of Tiberius appeared obvious to Bolton. With ‘the case of Germanicus Cæsar’ and ‘the right of his wife Agrippina’, Bolton refers to Tiberius’s adoption of Germanicus and the weight lent to his claim to the imperial throne through the status of his wife, Agrippina, as the granddaughter of Augustus. That these circumstances apparently acted as a ‘pilotage in the case […] of an heir to the throne’ nods perhaps to the fact that Elizabeth was succeeded not by a direct descendent, but rather a cousin.

[49] Bolton’s allusion to ‘starr-chamber powr’ refers, as Patricia Osmond and Robert Ulery suggest, to the Star Chamber Decrees for Order in Printing of 1586 (Bolton 2017: 225). These ‘extraordinarily conservative’ Decrees stipulated that only Stationers and privileged printers were permitted to publish, and that printing was to be confined to London and to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge (Clegg 1997: 58). Intriguingly, Bolton also refers to the widening definition of the lex maiestatis under Tiberius, which, as we saw from the previous section, not only featured in the queen’s own translation of Tacitus, but was cited by the materials prepared in advance of Mary Stuart’s trial. Whereas these materials had appealed to the law to emphasise the essential distance between imperial Rome and Elizabeth’s England, this was, for Bolton at least, another key point of contact between the two. As Bolton argues, ‘some verbal disparagements of Majestie were by publick authoritie made more terriblie punishable under her, then they were under Tiberius, the paines, and forfeitures for high treason, beeing laid upon them’ (Bolton 2017: 146).[10] Bolton returns to Elizabethan censorship in his treatment of the Cremutius Cordus episode, as found in Book 4 of the Annales, which sees Cordus charged with maiestas (treason) for his writing a history of the Civil Wars (see Tacitus, Annales: 4.34–5). For Bolton, this had an obvious relevance to Elizabeth. As he explains, ‘some points, far short of those stinging ones in Cremutius, did cost, under Queen Elizabeth, [a] learned, wise, and laudable historian, imprisonment in the Towr of London during her life’ (2017: 174). Bolton refers here to Sir John Hayward (c.1560–1627) and his Life and Raigne of King Henrie IIII (1599), copies of which were gathered and burnt after their publication, much like those of Cremutius Cordus (Cressy 2005: 366). According to Bolton, both the history’s dedicatee, the Earl of Essex, and its subject matter, the deposition of Richard II (1367–1400), brought Hayward’s work under suspicion (2017: 174). Francis Bacon referred to Hayward’s history in the Apologie (1604), where he recounts that the queen ‘asked me if I could not find any places in it, that might be drawne within case of treason’. Bacon replied that ‘for treason surely I found none, but for fellonie very many’, explaining that ‘the Author had committed very apparent theft, for he had taken most of the sentences of Cornelius Tacitus, and translated them into English, and put them into his text’ (Bacon 1604: 36). Bacon’s attempt ‘to take of the Queens bitterness with a merry conceit’ with an appeal to one of her favourite historians was unsuccessful, however (Bacon 1674: 9). The Attorney General Edward Coke (1552–1634) used Henry IV as evidence in the trial of Essex, and Hayward was imprisoned in the Tower in July 1600: ‘such were the affrights’, Bolton explains, ‘and jealouses of the later end of that Queens reign; so as none can condemn the times of Tiberius for Cordus, who applaud Queen Elizabeths for Heyward’ (Bolton 2017: 174–5).

[50] There is a certain Tacitean ambiguity in Bolton’s description of the queen as ‘a secund Julia Augusta’. Livia Drusilla (58BC–29AD), wife of Augustus and mother of Tiberius, took the title ‘Iulia Augusta’ upon her husband’s death.[11] Having ‘played a role in the Augustan system which was unusually formal and conspicuous for a woman’, she would ultimately be deified during the reign of Claudius (Purcell 2003: s.v. ‘Livia Drusilla, b.58BC’). Tacitus’s portrayal of Livia, however, was far from complimentary. In the first book of the Annales, he implicates her in the deaths of Lucius and Caius Caesar, as we saw above, and even that of her husband, referring, as Elizabeth translates it, to her ‘feminyne weakenes’ and ‘wifes mischief’ (LPL MS 683: 1v, cf. Tacitus, Annales: 1.3–5). She is curtly summarized in some quarters of Rome as ‘Livia, oppressive mother to the state, grevious stepmother to the house of Caesar’, or, as Elizabeth puts it, ‘Livia heauy mother to common wealth, more grieuous stepdame to Cæsars howse’ (Tacitus, Annales: 1.10; LPL MS 683: 3v). For Bolton, as with Annibale Scoto, there was perhaps something of ‘Livia’s crafte’ to Elizabeth’s method of rule.

[51] In the address to the reader which prefaces Henry Savile’s translation of the Historiae and Agricola, the anonymous ‘A. B.’ had stressed the distance between Elizabeth’s England and Tacitus’s depiction of imperial Rome: ‘If thou doest detest their Anarchie, acknowledge our owne happie gouernement, and thanke god for her, vnder whom England enioyes as manie benefites, as euer Rome did suffer miseries vnder the greatest Tyrant’ (Savile 1591: sig. ¶3r). For Edmund Bolton, however, writing his critique of Tacitus some thirty years after the queen’s death, there were obvious parallels between Elizabeth’s reign and that of Tiberius. Whether Elizabeth was reading the Annales, as Bolton was, to ‘refine Tiberius from Tacitus’ and to ‘thresh him out of the husk with which that author covers him’, it is, without her own commentary, difficult to say (Bolton 2017: 154). Equally difficult to determine is whether Elizabeth was able to detect in Tacitus the same pro-republican bias as Bolton evidently could when he turned to the Annales under the reign of Charles I. What is clear, however, is that the queen’s reputation as a keen reader of Tacitus lasted long after her death, to the extent that Bolton felt compelled to address the queen’s enthusiasm for the historian in one of the most detailed anti-Tacitean treatises of the seventeenth century.


[52] In the final years of the sixteenth century, Tacitus attracted considerable attention at the Elizabethan court. The engagement with Tacitus demonstrated by the Sidney brothers, the Earl of Essex, and Henry Savile can only have been encouraged by the queen’s own reading and translation of the same. As with her English rendering of the Pro Marcello, Elizabeth found in the first book of the Annales the portrait of a ruler who unified a state exhausted by civil war. Perhaps even more so than her other translations, however, Elizabeth’s Tacitus speaks to the most pressing demands and debates of her late reign. While the unsettled succession loomed large in the court politics of the late sixteenth century, Elizabeth found in the Annales an historical narrative which underlined the potentially disastrous consequences of openly nominating an heir. So too in Tiberius’s denial of involvement in the execution of rival claimants to the throne there was something of the queen’s official response to the execution of Mary Stuart. In Tacitus, the queen thus found exempla which complemented and perhaps even informed her own understanding of statecraft.

[53] Towards the end of the sixteenth century, Tacitus was an historian of the queen and her court. The royal enthusiasm for Tacitus, however, did not survive Elizabeth. James I was ambiguous in his assessment of Tacitus and under Charles I, critical responses to the historian were actively hostile. It is no small irony then that the popularity which Tacitus enjoyed at the turn of the century had been fostered by the queen herself. Not only did Elizabeth receive a translation of the Historiae and Agricola by her perennial favourite, Sir Henry Savile, but she undertook her very own translation of the Annales, helping to cement his status in the late sixteenth century as an historian of the queen and her coterie. Elizabeth’s reputation as an enthusiastic student of Tacitus lasted long after her death, as Bolton’s comments in the Averrunci suggest. For Bolton, there were obvious similarities between Elizabeth’s England and imperial Rome: the question of succession facing both Augustus and Tiberius, the extension of the lex maiestatis to include charges of libel, and the suppression of revolts at home and further afield all found their equivalents in the queen’s late reign. It does not seem improbable to suggest that the queen herself was alert to at least some of these parallels, and was able to find in Tacitus echoes of her own approach to and method of rule. The queen’s study and translation of Tacitus thus suggests that, rather than acting as a strongly subversive force in her reign, as is sometimes suggested, the historian could also be read as supporting and even reinforcing the governmental status quo.


This research was undertaken through a Frances A Yates Fellowship held at the Warburg Institute. I owe a debt of thanks to the anonymous reviewers for their helpful insights and comments, and to the editors of the Journal of the Northern Renaissance for the care and attention with which they prepared this article for publication.

[1] See David Womersley 1991; Paul Hammer 1994; Janet Dickinson 2012.[back to text]

[2] For Stuart antagonism towards Tacitus, see Alan Bradford, 1983.[back to text]

[3] ‘Quanto poi a Cornelio Tacito, mi parebbe di far troppo torto à lui, s’io lo leuassi dalla protettione de signori SIDNEI che singolarmente penetrano, & intendono la prudenza con egli hà scritto’. Manelli 1585, s.p.[back to text]

[4] For the queen’s linguistic prowess, see those chapters edited by Carlo Bajetta, Guillaume Coatalen, and Jonathan Gibson for Elizabeth I’s Foreign Correspondence: Letters, Rhetoric, and Politics.[back to text]

[5] For ‘libertas’ as used of the political status of a sovereign people, see OLD, s.v. ‘libertas’, 2.[back to text]

[6] For Elizabeth’s translation of ‘libertas’ as ‘libertie’, see LPL MS 683, fol. 16rv.[back to text]

[7] For the question of the succession in the latter years of Elizabeth’s reign, see Susan Doran and Paulina Kewes (eds). 2014.[back to text]

[8] This fair copy of the letter addressed to the Mayor of London is preceded by a rough copy with correction and an endorsement in Burghley’s hand (SP 12/179, fol. 92rv).[back to text]

[9] ‘Quid enim Principi, præsertim iuueni, lectione Annalium esse queat pernitiosius’.[back to text]

[10] For Bolton’s understanding of the lex maiestatis and its treatment by Tacitus, see Patricia C. Osmond 2020, 607–11.[back to text]

[11] ‘Julia Augusta’ may also refer to Agrippina the Younger (AD15–59), eldest daughter of Germanicus and mother of Nero, who received the title ‘Augusta’ in the reign of Claudius.[back to text]



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Review Essay: Dürer’s Journeys: Travels of a Renaissance Artist

Review Essay

Susan Foister and Peter van den Brink, eds., Dürer’s Journeys: Travels of a Renaissance Artist, exh. cat., National Gallery, London (London: National Gallery Company, distributed by Yale University Press, 2021), 304 pp., £40.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Chipps Smith

book cover image[1] On 12 July 1520, Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) embarked on a year-long trip to the Low Countries. Accompanied by his wife Agnes and her maid Susanna, they voyaged down the Main and Rhine Rivers. Three weeks later they arrived in bustling Antwerp where they settled into rooms at the inn of Jobst Plankfelt. Dürer’s primary reason for the long journey was to obtain Emperor Charles V’s renewal of the annual pension that his grandfather and predecessor, Maximilian I, had awarded the artist in 1515. Yet Dürer lingered for another eight months even after the annuity was approved. As one of Europe’s most celebrated artists, Dürer was no ordinary traveller. The Nuremberg master produced an unprecedented record of this trip in the form of over one hundred extant drawings and paintings plus a remarkable travel journal. This text, known from two seventeenth-century copies, is part business account and part diary of whom he met, where he went, what he saw, and what art he made.

[2] In certain respects, Dürer’s travels to Antwerp went more smoothly than the plans for the London exhibition. The show was to open at the National Gallery on 6 March 2021 but due to the pandemic the new dates are 20 November 2021 to 27 February 2022. The emphasis of the exhibition and catalogue is, not surprisingly, on the Netherlandish trip since this show and the related exhibition at the Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum in Aachen (see below) celebrate the 500th anniversary of Dürer’s visit to the Low Countries.

[3] The beautifully illustrated catalogue of Dürer’s Journeys offers a superb introduction to the artistic and textual evidence about the artist’s travels. In their joint opening remarks, Susan Foister and Peter van den Brink, the show’s organizers, justify concentrating on the Netherlandish journey since there have been numerous exhibitions and specialized studies about the artist’s Italian trips and about the critical importance of the city of Nuremberg for young Dürer’s career. The last major international exhibition about the Netherlandish trip was Albert Dürer aux Pays-Bas. Son voyage (1520-1521), son influence at the Palais des Beaux-Art in Brussels in 1977.

[4] Susan Foister’s essay (‘Dürer’s Early Journeys: Fact and Fiction’) provides brief yet helpful background about the artist’s Wanderjahre or journeyman sojourn in Upper Rhine between Strasbourg and Basel in the years between 1490, after completing his training with Michael Wolgemut in Nuremberg, and 1494, when he returned home to marry Agnes Frey. Foister discusses the theories about whether Dürer visited Venice (or just north Italy) in 1494-95 as well as his better documented stay in Venice from late summer 1505 to early February 1507.

[5] The catalogue is divided into five sections beginning with ‘Albrecht Dürer: Artist, Writer, Traveller.’ Andreas Beyer stresses travel as a means of self-discovery for the artist. He warns against thinking that we truly know Dürer’s character based on the wealth of autobiographical writings, self-portraits, and other personal works. Inspired perhaps by Conrad Celtis, Dürer actively engaged, both visually and textually, in self-fashioning. He was acutely self-conscious whether depicting himself as the Man of Sorrows (fig. 8) or recording the acclaim he received while abroad. Joseph Leo Koerner’s ‘Dürer in Motion’ portrays him as the ever-curious traveller whether encountering the ingenium of the creators of the Aztec objects that he saw in Brussels or his quest to view a gigantic whale that washed up in Zeeland. Koerner insightfully discusses the concept of mobilitas (mobility) less as it applied to the artist’s literal travels. Rather he discourses on the need for the mobility of mind, both in terms of ‘his curiosity and absorptiveness’ (p. 50), and the mobility of the artist’s hand that restlessly records what Dürer sees or imagines, such as how to pose St. Christopher carrying the Christ Child in nine different ways (cat. no. 17).

[6] Section II (‘Europe North and South’) follows Foister’s contribution on Dürer’s early journeys with essays by Till-Holger Borchert and Larry Silver on Dürer’s engagement with Netherlandish art and artists. Borchert surveys how Dürer’s portraits changed over his career. Since he arrived in Antwerp as a mature master, the portraits he encountered by Quinten Massys, Jan Gossaert, Bernaert van Orley, or Joos van Cleve exerted little discernible influence. While Dürer drew many lively likenesses while in the Low Countries, Borchert argues his painted portraits from 1519 on aspire to a reductive ‘timeless and classical appearance’ (p. 97). Although Dürer met most of the leading Netherlandish artists during his travels, he never encountered (or, at least, mentioned encountering) Massys, though he toured his house soon after arriving in Antwerp, and Gossaert. Silver discusses Gossaert’s frequent borrowing of figures and architectural motifs from Dürer’s prints. The Nuremberger even inspired Gossaert to make several engravings. While visiting Middelburg Abbey in Zeeland, Dürer noted in his journal that ‘Jan Gossaert has painted a great altar panel, not as good in terms of the modelling of the heads as in its use of colour’ (p. 103). This was one of his rare remarks about contemporary art.

[7] In section III (‘Court and City’), Dagmar Eichberger and Stijn Alsteens explore Dürer’s relations with Margaret of Austria, regent of the Low Countries. Eichberger recounts the evidence culled from the Netherlandish journal about the artist’s encounters with Margaret in Brussels and Mechelen. Dürer cultivated Margaret and members of her court hoping to secure support for his petition to Emperor Charles V to renew his imperial annuity. He presented her with gifts of prints and a portrait of her father, Emperor Maximilian I, who had died in 1519. The fact that she disliked the portrait and never directly reciprocated with any payment or gifts to him disappointed the artist. Yet it seems she promoted his case. Dürer enjoyed his encounters with her court artists van Orley, sculptors Jean Mone and Conrat Meit, and goldsmith Marc de Glasere. Alsteens offers the intriguing hypothesis that a group of twenty related drawings (1521-22) for an elaborate Virgin and Child with Saints composition might have been planned for a painting project that Dürer hoped Margaret might commission. These include some exquisite figure studies done in black chalk on green ground paper, such as St. Apollonia (fig. 59), as well as a series of working pen and ink sketches for the horizontally-oriented composition. Alsteens proposes the woman, kneeling in the role of donor in a drawing now in the Louvre (cat. no. 63), wears a Netherlandish-type hood and widow’s dress much like that seen in van Orley’s Portrait of Margaret of Austria (cat. no. 57). Alsteens admits the evidence is scant yet the attention Dürer devoted to his unfinished project suggests he envisioned a patron of high rank.

[8] The four essays of section IV (‘The Visual Legacy of the Netherlandish Journey’) examine Dürer’s drawings. Christof Metzger observes that Dürer listed at least 140 drawings in his journal. He often included information about when, where, and why he made the sketches. Many were portraits but others show costumes, animals, landscapes, and objects that caught his attention. These may be considered stock for study and potential future use. The careful silverpoint drawings were mostly part of a bound sketchbook. A second sketchbook held pen and ink drawings. Based on the research that he did for Albrecht Dürer, his outstanding 2019 exhibition at the Albertina in Vienna, Metzger traces the subsequent provenance of the large portions of the artist’s estate to later collectors such as Willibald Imhoff (d. 1580) of Nuremberg, Cardinal Antoine Perenot de Granvelle, Emperor Rudolf II, and Sir Hans Sloane.

[9] Arnold Nesselrath presents a very thoughtful discussion of Dürer’s silverpoint sketchbook. He argues the artist purchased a commercially-produced, bound sketchbook with prepared ground for use with a silver stylus. Dürer refers to this as his ‘Büchlein’ or small book. 15 folios survive, now scattered among different collections, from this quarto-size book. Nesselrath suggests that since three sheets were still blank when Dürer returned to Nuremberg that the booklet likely consisted of four gatherings or 16 total folios. If so, then just one folio is lost. The drawings are occasionally mentioned in his journal. The first sketches were made while the artist, as a member of Nuremberg’s delegation, attended the imperial coronation of young Charles V in Aachen. It includes meticulous renderings of Aachen’s Rathaus and famous Carolingian church. Nesselrath sensitively explains the artist’s drawing practice, including how sketches of portraits or landscapes on the same folio were sometimes made months apart. Nesselrath, like most other scholars, laments the lack of drawings and/or journal descriptions by Dürer of contemporary art. In about 1515, Dürer and Raphael exchanged works of art. His Netherlandish journal reveals his continued interest in the Italian master especially after meeting Tomasso Vincidor, a former pupil of Raphael. Vincidor was in Brabant supervising the translation of Raphael’s Acts of the Apostles tempera cartoons into a set of tapestries for the Sistine Chapel. Dürer surprisingly never mentions seeing the full-size cartoons nor the tapestries then being woven in the Brussels workshop of Pieter van Aelst.

[10] Sarvenaz Ayooghi and Heidrun Lange-Krach consider his drawings and watercolors of people, landscapes, and animals. They discuss Dürer’s special fascination with clothing, which ranges from chiaroscuro studies of fabric to Agnes wearing a Netherlandish dress to the exotic regional costumes of Livonian women (cat. nos. 73-4, figs. 99-101). The artist favored pen and brown ink for rapid figure sketches. Dürer was captivated by the live lions he encountered in Ghent (figs. 94-5). The authors do make the questionable claim (pp. 201-02) that Dürer’s expressive watercolor of a walrus (fig. 112) was not executed in Zeeland or Flanders but drawn during a stop in Strasbourg(!) on his way back to Nuremberg. The town is well south of any convenient route back to Nuremberg.

[11] Peter van den Brink investigates Dürer’s portrait drawings. The artist listed around 107 sketched portraits in his journal. About 80 survive. Many were made after a meal as presents to his hosts. When he portrayed other guests, he expected a gift in kind either of money or something else of value. There are several journal entries noting his displeasure at not being compensated for his labors. Van den Brink discusses the portraits according to their media: pen and ink, silverpoint, and charcoal or black chalk. Dürer developed a distinctive formula for the charcoal-chalk portraits in which the sitter is rendered in bust-length placed against a dark background. A thin uncolored strip at the top of the sheet is inscribed with the date, Dürer’s monogram, and sometimes the individual’s age. Van den Brink observes that with the exception of a few efforts by Lucas van Leyden that none of the other Netherlandish artists followed Dürer’s example of making independent portrait drawings.

[12] Section V (‘Albrecht Dürer and Martin Luther’) begins with Jeroen Stumpel’s argument that the so-called Lutherklage or Luther lament in the Netherlandish journal is not by the artist but also is not a forgery. Rather he claims the text was authored by Jacob Prost, prior of the small Augustinian community in Antwerp. It voices a passionate response to the current rumor that Luther was captured while returning from the diet of Worms (1521) and was perhaps dead. The passages stand out distinctly from the general contents and style of the journal. Stumpel posits that since Prost was then in Wittenberg taking his university examinations, he wrote the lament to his fellow brothers in Antwerp. Dürer, a Luther sympathizer, knew the prior and had dined at their house on several occasions. Stumpel assumes that Prost’s letter, written in Latin, was quickly translated into German and somehow Dürer obtained a copy. It would strengthen the argument if there was a detailed comparison of the language of the lament with Prost’s other writings including the prior’s account of his travails published in German in 1522. Since Dürer’s journal is known only from two seventeenth-century copies, Stumpel concludes the lament was inadvertently or intentionally inserted into the text. Stumpel also speculates the growing anti-Lutheran sentiment in Antwerp prompted the artist’s departure for home.

[13] Dana E. Cowen studies the eleven surviving drawings that Dürer prepared for the Oblong Passion. Between 1520 and 1524, the artist made sketches of the Last Supper, Christ on the Mount of Olives, Procession to Calvary, and Christ carried to his Tomb as he entertained authoring a fifth Passion cycle a decade after his last efforts. Cowen sensitively examines the different drawings as well as the challenges Dürer experienced while working in a horizontal format. She concludes by relating several drawings as models for the attributed Procession to Calvary (1527, cat. no. 109), perhaps Dürer’s final painting, which also exists in two later copies (figs. 138-39).

[14] Dürer’s Saint Jerome (1521, cat. no. 110) in Lisbon is the best known of his Netherlandish paintings. Astrid Harth and Maximiliaan P. J. Martens consider the history of this picture plus Dürer’s exquisite sketches of a 93-year-old man and other preparatory drawings on grey-violet grounded paper (figs. 144-48). Dürer created this picture for his friend Rodrigo Fernandes de Almada, the Portuguese trade secretary and, from 1521 to 1540, factor in Antwerp. It inspired numerous copies and variants by Netherlandish artists (cat. nos. 111-12, figs. 141-43). Scholars debate whether Quinten Massys or Dürer invented the composition of the saint shown in half-length seated at his desk with one hand resting on a skull. Harth and Martens give precedence to Massys based on his earlier portrait of Erasmus (1517). Yet their respective treatments differ as Dürer’s rather melancholic saint turns to address his memento mori warning directly to the viewer.

[15] Several of Dürer’s figural and landscape drawings dated 1520 to 1523 were reused as models for the unfinished engraved Crucifixion in Outline (cat. no. 115, fig. 154). The print’s attribution to Dürer has long been debated. With typical care, Giulia Bartrum untangles the issue as she sensibly argues that engravings, pulled from two separate and slightly different plates of this composition, were likely made by an Antwerp artist in about 1558-64. The scene is a pastiche assembled using different drawings by the Nuremberg master (cat. nos. 117-18, figs. 158-62). Many of these drawings may have been in the collection of Cardinal Granvelle who lived in Brussels. She suggests that the Crucifixion in Outline is a product of engravers working for Hieronymus Cock’s prolific publishing house Aux Quatre Vents in Antwerp.

[16] Foister, van den Brink, and their contributors are to be congratulated for their outstanding and much needed new examination of Dürer’s Netherlandish journey. By 1520, Dürer was an international celebrity who clearly enjoyed the acclaim. The textual and visual products of this trip, both by the Nuremberg artist and those whom he encountered, are unique for this period. Other masters travelled but none left such a wealth of information about who and what they saw or about their reception. Even though Dürer is quoted briefly in many of the essays, I wish his words were included more fully in the catalogue. Whether it is a simple remark about his dinner hosts or his self-satisfaction while overlooking Ghent from the tower of St. Jan’s church (later St. Bavo’s), his observations are as revealing as his art. Keeping Andreas Beyer’s apt warning in mind about falsely assuming we know Dürer’s personality, his words nevertheless are those of someone engaging with his contemporary world. Beyond certain legal records and miscellaneous documents, we lack the ‘voices’ of almost all sixteenth-century northern European visual artists. Most of the cited quotations from Dürer utilize Jeffrey Ashcroft’s translations from his herculean two-volume Albrecht Dürer: Documentary Biography (London: Yale University Press 2017). I wish that Ashcroft, a retired German literature professor at the University of Saint Andrews, or Heike Sahm, a noted expert on Dürer’s writings at the University of Göttingen, had been commissioned to discuss both the history and linguistic characteristics of the journal. This is a missed opportunity.

[17] The London exhibition is organized in partnership with the Suermondt Ludwig Museum in Aachen. From the outset, director Peter van den Brink and his colleagues intended to focus just on the Netherlandish trip. One of the highlights of Dürer’s journey was, of course, his three-week stay in Aachen in October 1520. As originally planned, the Aachen show was to open in October 2020, precisely five hundred years after the artist’s stay in this German town. The Aachen exhibition, entitled Dürer war hier. Eine Reise wird Legende (Dürer was here. A Journey becomes Legend), ran from 18 July to 24 October 2021 before the London premiere a month later.

[18] The Aachen catalogue, in recognition of the unique opportunity of this anniversary, is considerably more ambitious than the London version. This is not intended as a negative remark about the wonderful National Gallery catalogue, which in design and length conforms to the standards of most of the museum’s major publications. It will enjoy a huge audience. Dürer war hier, edited by Peter van den Brink, includes almost all of the content of the London version but much more. It is a massive volume with 680 pages, 427 figures, and a hefty 4.5 kilos weight. It is beautifully published by Michael Imhof Verlag (Petersberg). The coverage of the theme is more comprehensive with the inclusion of ten additional essays. English translations of seven of the ten texts, but without any illustrations, were posted on the National Gallery’s website once the show opened in London. Essays that appear in both volumes are often more thoroughly illustrated in the Aachen catalogue.

[19] Dürer war hier is organized around three themes: travel, art, and reception. Alexander Markschies discusses the art and artists that Dürer encountered in the Netherlands. Thomas Schauerte critically examines Dürer’s visit to Aachen as well as the documents associated with the renewal of the artist’s imperial annuity. Birgit Ulrike Münch provides a fascinating look at how nineteenth-century artists mined the contents of Dürer’s Netherlandish journal to create new themes, such as Pierre François Noter and Félix de Vigne’s Albrecht Dürer Visiting the Ghent Altarpiece (cat. 198; c. 1840; Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede). Using infrared and ultraviolet reflectography, among other tools, Georg Josef Dietz and Annette T. Keller reconstruct a scarcely visible sketch (fig. 157) Dürer made of the interior of a room with a chimney on the reverse of his silverpoint portraits of Paul Topler and Martin Pfinzing (fig. 127) in Berlin. Marina Langner discusses the Dresden and Bergamo copies after a lost Christ Carrying the Cross composition by or in the style of Dürer. Jaco Rutgers presents the intriguing history of the Large Calvary, a composition known from the Uffizi drawing (fig. 320) by Dürer’s workshop that was repeatedly replicated by Netherlandish artists. One exquisite painting (fig. 322), also in the Uffizi, by Jan Brueghel the Elder is documented in 1628 as a showpiece framed together with the drawing in the Medici collection in Florence. Dagmar Preising addresses the impact of Dürer’s prints on Netherlandish artists. Christiaan Vogelaar looks at the relationship between Lucas van Leyden and Dürer. Similarly, Ellen Konowitz demonstrates how the Nuremberg master, especially his Apocalypse series, inspired Dirk Vellert’s stained glass designs. Finally, Joris Van Grieken considers how Dürer’s woodcuts and engravings served as a catalyst for southern Netherlandish printmakers between 1520 and 1540. Collectively, these additional essays enrich our understanding of the Nuremberg master’s trip and the impact that he had on many Netherlandish artists.

[20] The two exhibitions include 264 objects by or related to Albrecht Dürer and his 1520-21 journey to the Low Countries. As frequently happens, not all works could be exhibited at both venues. The London show contains 116 items. More were displayed in Aachen. Thankfully, Peter van den Brink compiled a comprehensive listing of all of the objects (pp. 614-48). His detailed research on the provenance and bibliography of each work will prove especially helpful to future scholars. As the world starts to emerge, however haltingly, from the pandemic, these exhibitions of Albrecht Dürer’s art offer a feast for our art-starved eyes and ample delights for anyone willing to look very closely at what the Nuremberg master’s curious mind and skilled hand have created.

University of Texas, Austin