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Archive for the ‘Issue 2 (2010) – Memory’ Category:

Editorial: Imagining the Past, Remembering the Future

Editorial: Imagining the Past, Remembering the Future

R.W. Maslen

[1]  This issue of the Journal of the Northern Renaissance draws its inspiration from a colloquium, ‘Memory: Recollections of the Renaissance’, which took place at the University of Glasgow on November 1st 2008. Originally JNR was to have published the proceedings of this conference, at which Kate Chedgzoy, Michael Dobson, Ruth Evans, Andrew Gordon, Andrew Hiscock and Vicky Price gave papers on topics ranging from Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde to Henry Howard, Thomas Middleton, Moll Cutpurse, and some long-forgotten performances of Shakespeare’s plays by English POWs in the Second World War. Things move quickly in twenty-first century academia. Papers were accepted elsewhere, or incorporated into other projects, or set aside for revision when the pressure of work is lifted; and in the event, the only piece from the colloquium that has made it into the issue is Kate Chedgzoy’s fine essay on Aemilia Lanyer. It seems worth remembering that autumn day, however, when a group of scholars came together to ponder the processes of recollection; not least because Willy Maley wrote for it a Call for Papers which has since become the stimulus behind this issue of JNR.

[2]  Here it is:

Under the term ‘Renaissance’, the early modern period has often been articulated as a process of recovery, rebirth and remembrance – words which invoke their shadowy counterparts, loss, death and forgetting. Shakespeare’s plays are just one place where such processes are enacted – ‘Awake remembrance of these valiant dead’, ‘Great thing of us forgot’, ‘My lord, I fear, has forgot Britain’, ‘Let not your sorrow die, though I am dead’ – and the preoccupation with the past runs right through the culture, from notions of nationhood to ideas about the body and the self, from antiquarianism to translation as a means of recovering and storing information. The purpose of this one-day colloquium is to think through some of the uses and abuses of memory in and of the period.

Substitute ‘issue’ for the term ‘colloquium’, add a sentence reinforcing the northward orientation of this journal, and you have here the call for papers sent out to our contributors. The most striking thing about Maley’s paragraph is its recognition that the act of remembering is integral to the term ‘Renaissance’ – a word that has come back into favour with scholars in the last decade or so, as Douglas Bruster points out in this issue, after having been supplanted for some years by the designation ‘early modern’. Since JNR has chosen to include the term ‘Renaissance’ in its title, our contributors have good reason to unpick its ideological implications – as in the editorial for Issue I, which reopened the question of whether Northern Europe ever had a Renaissance, or the ambitious essay that followed it by Jane Stevenson and Peter Davidson, which traced Renaissance humanist influences on Scottish culture from the late 15th to the early 17th centuries. In the present issue, Michael Bath takes up Stevenson and Davidson’s narrative, disclosing new evidence that a ‘renewed dialogue with antiquity’ (Jeffrey Chipps-Smith’s phrase, cited in the editorial for Issue 1) took place in Scotland in the first half of the sixteenth century – at least where the arts of architecture and interior design are concerned. That Gavin Douglas’s great translation of the Aeneid should have formed part of a wider movement to transplant the ancient arts from the Mediterranean to the North makes perfect sense, and Bath’s hints at a Scottish landscape before 1540 dotted with mansions built ‘after the fassione… sene in France’ and grotesquely decorated in imitation of the Emperor Nero’s Golden Palace is a wonderfully beguiling one. Bath may not take memory as his explicit subject, but his essay demonstrates the extent to which ‘recovery, rebirth and remembrance’ are integral both to Renaissance culture and to the academic project of reclaiming it from obscurity.

[3]  Bath’s essay is of direct interest to art historians as well as students of Scottish literature; but Bath himself comes from a background in English Studies. The colloquium ‘Memory: Recollections of the Renaissance’ was held in a Department of English Literature, and most of the delegates came from English departments, as do all the scholars who have contributed to this issue of JNR. If, then, the present editorial seems more preoccupied with ‘English’ than with other branches of Renaissance studies, this arises from the concerns of our contributors. It is not intended to detract from the journal’s continued aim of fostering interdisciplinarity; and Bath’s essay serves to indicate that scholars from other disciplines will find much absorbing material in the essays that follow, which cover topics as diverse as the tombs of Jacobean women, the eye-witness testimony of Irish massacre survivors, and Protestant attitudes to relics in post-reformation Europe. Each of these topics is, however, scrutinized from the special perspective of a scholar of English in the Renaissance; which presents us with a good opportunity to consider what that perspective seems to involve at this particular stage in the subject’s evolution.

[4]  As Willy Maley knew when he proposed the topic of the Glasgow colloquium to me late in 2007, memory has been a special focus of scholars of early modern English in recent years. Things move rapidly in twenty-first century academia – the theme may already be passé by the time this issue goes on line – but we should perhaps consider why it has preoccupied us so intensively in the first decade of the new millennium. No doubt an element of millenarianism is involved. With each significant anniversary we feel afresh the need to reassert the validity of our dating system by reflecting on the current state of affairs in any given discipline. But there are other contributory factors: for instance, a sense that we are currently casting about for new directions in literary studies – among which we may count the possibility of recapturing old ones. The New Historicism of the 1980s, from which much contemporary scholarship derives its initial impetus, could be accused, despite its name, of having indulged in a concerted act of forgetting. Its rejection of the theoretical naivety of earlier criticism led to a tendency among some of its followers to acknowledge only recent publications in the field, a habit reinforced by the scholar’s need to name-check influential living academics in the interests of job security. At the same time, Cultural Materialism embarked on a programme of recollection and reconstruction, inviting its readers to return to the moment when university English departments were first formed, and when the terminologies and techniques of criticism were first established, in order to rethink the function of literary studies in the twentieth-century academy. In recent years the process of forgetting has continued unabated, as Douglas Bruster points out in his provocative essay review in this issue. The post-structuralist theorists who gave New Historicism what was new about its philosophy tend to drop out of sight, as we draw on simplified versions of their insights to produce identikit arguments whose relationship to what we teach in the classroom seems in danger of getting lost. That’s perhaps why remembering has been foregrounded in the twenty-first century, as we seek to recall the origins both of our discipline and of its current preoccupations in order to ask ourselves, as Bruster does here, where we are now, and what strains in contemporary criticism might point the way to the discipline’s future.

[5]  Bruster’s topic is the field of New Globalism as defined by the book he reviews; but the issues he raises are equally applicable to Renaissance English studies as a whole, which have ‘gone global’ in admiring emulation of the capitalist corporations on which universities increasingly seek to model themselves (at least in the UK). Bruster’s use of the term ‘brand’ to designate the discipline neatly draws attention to the economic context within which the academy now operates, and in adopting it Bruster shows a sceptical alertness to the implications of the enthusiastic embracing of the history of the market-place in recent scholarship which that scholarship itself doesn’t always manifest. When one university ‘brand’ is competing against another for the limited resources of those students who still wish to study the arts instead of business, our employers seem to have decided that we can only survive by making business our topic, and by exploiting an inept and outdated pastiche of the vocabulary of business to describe the work we do. Remembering can take us back to a time before this was thought necessary; so recollection can be seen as a form of resistance rather than conservatism; a way of recovering a range of critical discourses that made it possible to do work quite different from the work done in private limited companies, and a vocabulary which can be fruitfully deployed to pick apart the languages of commerce, management and venture capitalism wherever these are encountered.

[6]  Bruster’s review of the Blackwell essay collection A Companion to the Global Renaissance, edited by Jyotsna Singh, applies a number of criteria to its assessment of the book’s success which might be interestingly applied to the current issue of JNR. Do our scholars make use of archives from more than one country, and of texts in languages not their own? Do they offer compelling answers to the question of why they offer their work in the context of the English departments in which they are or have been employed? And does their analysis transcend cliché? While Bruster implies that some of the essays in the Companion may not meet these criteria – and he is honest enough to admit that they might not have to – the current issue of JNR could almost have been assembled with the objective of letting the editors answer ‘yes’ to each of Bruster’s questions.

[7]  The first criterion – that you should consult international archives and texts in several languages before claiming that your subject is international – would seem to apply better to a collection on ‘New Globalism’ than to a journal issue addressing memory; but JNR’s name implies a concern with matters beyond England, and the contributors to this issue have gone far to address this concern. Naomi McAreavey has consulted the archives in Dublin (where she works) to find the witnesses of female dismemberment at the hands of Protestants in mid-seventeenth century Ireland – witnesses whose words inadvertently became part of the ongoing dialogue between England and Ireland. Marion Wynne Davies has travelled to the Hutchinson library to trace the dealings between an English husband and his agent in Italy as he seeks out a suitable monument to commemorate his dead wife. Elizabeth Elliott draws on Sebastiaan Verweij’s work in the Scottish archives to uncover a potential dialogue between the poet William Fowler and the Italian memory specialist Giordano Bruno. And Michael Bath has travelled all over Europe and the United States in a lifetime of detective work, tracking down sources and analogues for the decorative designs he has catalogued in Scotland, and in the process revealing a busy cultural interchange between Stirling, Edinburgh, Antwerp, Paris, Rome and Piedmont which brought a long-forgotten Renaissance in the visual arts to the Northernmost part of the Western Archipelago in the early sixteenth century. Not all of us have time or resources to visit archives overseas, but most of the other essays in this issue trace links between texts that originate in different languages and regions, illuminating as they do so different segments of a variegated map of artistic and literary cross-fertilization between North-West Europe and the world beyond.

[8]  The second of Bruster’s criteria for a good essay collection – that it address the question of how and why literature should be used as the medium by which to address historical questions, and what it is that literary-critical techniques have to offer that historical methods do not – constitutes the topic of Donald Jellerson’s fine essay on ‘The Spectral Historiopoetics of the Mirror for Magistrates’. Here Jellerson seeks to identify the qualities that made William Baldwin’s edited collection of historical poems, the Mirror for Magistrates, the most successful literary miscellany in Tudor England; and he finds it in the work’s intransigent refusal to make a monologic statement – to become a monument – in sharp contradistinction to another great Tudor work of recollection, the Acts and Monuments (Foxe’s Book of Martyrs). As poetry, the Mirror’s imaginative retelling of history through the mouths of spectres enables it to prevent its audience – whether the notional audience that listens to the poems in the text or the actual Tudor readers of the early editions – from carrying away a fixed idea of the moral ‘lessons’ they should gather from the ghost-written stories unfolding before them. Each tale is told in the first person by the ghost of its protagonist, and the investment of these tale-bearing spirits in the narrative renders it unreliable; and each is analysed afterwards by a roomful of opinionated listeners; so that we are quickly disabused of the illusion that this particular set of histories will testify in favour of any entrenched contemporary policy or doctrine. The poems and their prose commentaries emphasize the contingent and the debatable, thus exemplifying Sidney’s view in the Apology for Poetry (a text that strongly recommends the Mirror for Magistrates as a model for poets, as Jellerson reminds us) that fiction may range freely through the zodiac of human invention, without the need to kowtow to the authorities as chroniclers do. For Sidney, historians must always be mindful of the interests of their patrons, whereas poets operate without regard for patronage. In fact, however, both poets and historians could fall foul of authority, as Sidney knew very well. What Jellerson doesn’t remind us is that both the Mirror and the history on which it is based, Hall’s chronicle, were censored in the reign of Mary Tudor – showing that governments could feel as unsettled by the high-flying liberty of the poet as by the partisan politics of the early modern chronicler. Sidney was not so much stating a fact as making a point about the possibilities for radical, liberated poetry opened up by a text like the Mirror for Magistrates, whose freedom from ideological subservience is give a new dimension by Jellerson’s essay.

[9]  A not dissimilar meditation on the degree of imaginative liberty afforded by poetry underlies Kate Chedgzoy’s essay on Aemilia Lanyer’s verse miscellany Salve deus rex judaeorum. In the first half of the piece, Chedgzoy demonstrates how the miscellany builds up the picture of a utopian community of women by forging a collective ‘counter-memory’ from what Gerald Hammond (discussing a range of seventeenth-century poetry) calls ‘fleeting things’: the author’s possibly tenuous relationship with the group of women to whom she dedicates her volume; her rewriting of the story of Paradise Lost using the voice of a marginal figure in the Bible, Pilate’s wife; and her temporary stay with Margaret Clifford in Cookham, a place which comes to stand for the possibility of breaching class divisions and establishing a new female collective based on mutual affection and intellectual and artistic compatibility. In this miscellany, Chedgzoy argues, ‘the transformation of cultural memory and historical narrative is what is at stake’, and women’s ‘Libertie’ the prize, much as the male poet’s liberty was the prize in the Mirror for Magistrates. And the essay closes with a lyrical meditation on the question of how best to pursue the feminist project of restoring women to a central place in literary history: a project that has been both helped and hindered by the tendency of scholars to situate female writers in relationship to ‘great men’ – as Aemilia Lanyer has been situated, first in the guise of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady and more recently as a possible influence on Milton. Can this androcentric way of locating Lanyer help us to construct an independent role for her as an integral element in the unfolding narrative of English literature? Bruster would perhaps identify her recent prominence in university classrooms as proof that it can.

[10]  For many scholars of English, the Renaissance Arts of Memory were first revealed in all their richness in the pioneering work of Frances Yates. Chedgzoy notes how Lanyer makes use of these arts in the construction of her verse collection, and two more scholars in this issue find that they afford a convenient entry point into close readings of literary and theatrical texts, although only one refers to Yates’s work. Elizabeth Elliott locates a sonnet sequence written by the Scottish poet William Fowler in a contemporary debate among Protestants over the use of visual imagery – above all, of erotic visual imagery – to stimulate the process of recollection. Placing his sequence Tarantula within this debate, which saw the image-based memory systems favoured by Italian Catholics such as Petrarch, Castiglione and Bruno pitted against the verbal mnemonics of the French Protestant Ramus, enables Elliott to produce a nuanced reading of Fowler’s verse narrative, in which the sophisticated Scottish taste for the decorative arts as attested by Michael Bath comes into conflict with the iconophobic impulses of Scottish Calvinism, giving the sequence an atmosphere of heightened moral and psychological tension. Rebecca Warren-Heys, meanwhile, examines in detail the rhetorical techniques by which Shakespeare’s Henry V seeks to shape his subjects’ memories of war with France. In doing so she identifies once again a clear distinction between literary techniques and the techniques of the historian. The play’s Chorus renders the process of remembering problematic, acknowledging the potential for the same event to be recalled in ‘fractured and various’ ways even as he forges a persuasive myth of Agincourt that takes firm root in the minds of his English audience. The link with the Mirror’s and Aemilia Lanyer’s poetic challenges to the methods of chroniclers is obvious, and taken together these three essays offer formidable testimony of the ambitious scale of the Renaissance poet’s project of writing new versions of England to compete with the versions sponsored by the nation’s past and present governments.

[11]  On the evidence of this issue, literary historians take special pleasure in spying out the ghosts of forgotten or half-remembered pasts, or the spectral tracks of paths not travelled, peering out from between the lines of a play or poem. In the speeches of the Chorus in Henry V, as Warren-Heys shows us, the ghost of events described in the English chronicles complicates the spectator’s response to what unfolds on stage, and the Chorus seems unnervingly keen to remind us of the difference between what we’re seeing and what we may previously have read. We’ve already noted how Jellerson’s essay considers the spectral speakers of the poems in the Mirror for Magistrates as rendering responses to those poems problematic; how Bath’s essay is haunted by the ghosts of lost Scottish houses (and it’s worth recalling here that the working title for Stevenson and Davidson’s essay in Issue 1, to which Bath responds, was ‘Ghost Renaissances’); and how the spectral presence of a forgotten quarrel over memory glimmers through a sonnet sequence in Elliott’s article. Naomi McAreavey’s essay, meanwhile, culminates in the sighting of an actual ghost; not the literary spectres of the Mirror but an apparition witnessed by real historical figures, in a location that can still be visited, as the witnesses visited it, for the purpose of tracing the geographical contours of a past atrocity.

[12]  McAreavey takes as her subject a historical archive often frequented by the historian, and subjects it to a self-consciously literary reading as a specimen of the literature of trauma. Her chosen texts are depositions by female survivors of a massacre of Protestant women and children in the Irish Rising of 1641; and McAreavey’s purpose in analysing these testimonies is to snatch them from the usual contexts in which they’ve been examined – as part of a male Protestant narrative of Irish Catholic atrocities, or more recently as evidence of the false accusations levelled against Irish Catholics by Protestant propaganda – and place them in a new, non-judgmental narrative which might make it possible, conjecturally at least, to reconstruct the psychological motives of the witnesses, as they told and retold the story of the horrors they had seen or heard of. For the female deponents, McAreavey suggests, their testimonies may have served the therapeutic purpose of confirming that they had indeed survived the suffering they related. She skilfully demonstrates the porosity of the women’s accounts, showing how intensely conscious the speakers were of how close they had come to sharing the fates that overwhelmed their relatives and friends; and she shows too how their accounts of those fates represent a kind of triumph over them – a triumph finally embodied in the description of a phantom woman who appeared at a ford where one of the massacres had been committed. Visited in grieving pilgrimage by women who had lost family members at that spot, the ford delivered to the pilgrims a visual emblem both of their grief and of their enduring vitality, an apparition that possessed the power to terrorize the massacre’s perpetrators (the locals fled from the vicinity when they heard the ghost’s wailing) and protect its survivors. Whether or not the apparition really existed, or was imagined by the community of female mourners, the pilgrims’ narration of its appearance enabled them to ventriloquize their rage and sorrow and begin the process of ‘re-memberment’, reclaiming their minds and bodies from the passive victimhood to which Catholics and Protestants alike seemed determined to reduce them.

[13]  The two essays I have not yet discussed are concerned not so much with spirits (though ghosts occur in one of them) as with the material embodiment of the past in the present; a present that defines itself by its difference from what came before, and especially from the religious and social orders that governed the lives and deaths of our ancestors. Lucy Razzall’s magical essay on post-reformation recollections of the culture of relics reveals the extent to which Protestant writers found themselves repeatedly reactivating the idea of the relic as the living, material continuation of a holy person or event in the here and now. Books and libraries in particular, she suggests, attract to themselves the vocabulary once attached to relics, most famously in Milton’s description of the text as the ‘pretious life-blood of a master-spirit’, a warm and throbbing crimson river that taps directly into the veins of its long-dead author. While reading Razzall’s discussion we might wryly recall the laments penned by Protestant antiquaries, such as Bale and Leland, for the cavalier treatment of the great religious libraries of England at the dissolution of the monasteries. If books were the Protestant equivalent of relics, there is a rich irony to the fact that the Catholics had preserved them with reverence alongside the remains of the saints, and that this life-blood of the past was in danger of being spilled along with the sacred body-parts and fluids flung to the ground from vials and shattered jewel-encrusted caskets by the agents of the reformation. Razzall’s essay highlights, in fact, like several essays here, the complex dialogue between Protestant and Catholic culture that continued throughout the Renaissance period despite the entrenched positions of hostility adopted by the more radical adherents of each faith. A close analysis of language, such as literary criticism revels in, can do much to recover the psychological transformations being undergone in Europe as old orders metamorphosed into new and new orders mutated under pressure from the old.

[14]  Finally, Marion Wynne-Davies’s essay gives a fine example of how the application of analytical techniques from literary studies can lend new warmth and urgency to texts not usually considered literary: in this case, inscriptions on the tombs of two eminent seventeenth-century sisters, Elizabeth Brackley and Jane Cavendish (Lady Jane Cheyne). In conjunction with the writings of the tombs’ occupants, elegies lamenting their deaths, accounts of their passing away and the visual statements made by the monuments, these inscriptions serve to give an enduring vitality to the women who inspired them. The difference between the inscriptions encourages us to conclude that the women’s husbands had radically different reactions to the loss of their spouses. Of course it’s hardly fair to Jane Cavendish’s husband to infer that because the sculpture he ordered for his wife’s tomb is somewhat tasteless and overbearing, and because he couldn’t think of appropriate words to set on the monument beyond a few banal references to her rank and connections, he must therefore have suffered from her death less fiercely than his brother-in-law, whose tender words on Elizabeth Brackley’s tomb speak his grief with such eloquence. After all, in McAreavey’s account of the traumatized female victims of the Irish Rising inarticulacy is accepted as a sign of inexpressible horror and bereavement. But Wynne-Davies rightly points out the emotional impact of the loving inscription on Elizabeth’s tomb, and suggests that it brings to life, as Jane’s grandiose monument does not, the motive that led to its construction: not self-promotion, religious fervour or social ostentation but ‘quite simply’ that of love. What literary studies can do better than most branches of scholarship is to locate a fleeting thing like love among the more conspicuous ‘human and artistic practices’ of a given period, to awaken our recognition of the quotidian joys and griefs that get variously expressed in different epochs, as well as of those emotional, intellectual and artistic reactions of the past that seem alien to us now. Sidney said poetry takes for its subject the things that move us, and has the ability to move us afresh each time we read. Good criticism, it seems to me, can move us too, by drawing our attention to moving moments and techniques at work in literature and the arts that we might previously have overlooked or misinterpreted. In this issue of JNR, an unusual number of essays engage the emotions as well as the intellects of their readers, and in doing so demonstrate the robust strength of Renaissance studies at the end of the first decade of the new millennium.

[15]  Douglas Bruster’s last criterion for a good essay collection is that it avoid cliché. I couldn’t see much in the way of cliché in the essays here, in part perhaps because the subjects they treat are so various, their methodology so diverse; none of them manifests the need to invoke catch-phrases or key words in order to align themselves with a particular literary-critical faction (not that such alignment is a bad thing – it only becomes so when it’s the raison d’etre of a discussion). The topic of the issue – memory – has as many different manifestations here as there are articles. One thing that all these pieces do have in common, however, is a preoccupation with the workings of the imagination. The ‘fantasy’ McAreavey sees being worked out in the depositions of her female survivors; the imaginative refashioning of the selves of dead women and their commemorators being enacted by Wynne-Davies’s tombs; the self-conscious fictionalizing of history in the Mirror for Magistrates and Henry V; the reinvention of Scotland as successor to ancient Rome achieved through a fanciful style of interior decoration; the fusion of early modern books with the bodies of the persons who wrote them; the anxiety conjured up by mental images in a sixteenth-century sonnet sequence; the envisioning of a feminist utopia – all these topics are as much concerned with the reordering of the material supplied by the past into new and different contours as they are with the various processes of summoning it up.

[16]  To avoid cliché we must always be moving on (hopefully moving our readers as we do so); and it seems to me that one direction we might consider moving in at this point is to think with greater precision about the imagination in early modern Europe. What did people think the imagination was and did? What were the specific functions of fiction, fantasy and fancy in and beyond the early modern arts? Sidney said that imaginative fictions – verbal artefacts that deliberately transmute or traduce what we remember – could generate ‘forms such as never were in Nature’, shaping golden worlds and ideal commonwealths and drawing the mind into enraptured engagement with these new spaces ‘more effectually than any other art doth’. To speak of memory is in some sense safe; we can pit it against the record of what ‘really’ happened, and reach a consensus about the course of history. But we have not yet fully risen to Sidney’s challenge – in this generation at least – and traced the evidence of how the Renaissance imagination could be said to have shaped the future, both by the challenge it posed to the cultural dominance of ‘authoritative’ representations of the past and by the seductive blueprints it offered of people and places that had not yet come into existence. As a project, the drawing of a map of the Renaissance imagination – that perilous region of our forebears’ heads where dragons brooded – would seem to be the next logical (or challengingly less-than-logical) step after the mapping of the early modern memory. And one can think of no better way of addressing the urgent question of where we are going in literary studies than adopting this as our new topic.

[17]  But that’s another issue – even if it seems to have infiltrated this one, in which our contributors grapple with the task of recollecting the Northern Renaissance.

University of Glasgow

Andrew Bairhum, Giovanni Ferrerio and the ‘Lighter Style of Painting’

Andrew Bairhum, Giovanni Ferrerio and the ‘Lighter Style of Painting’

Michael Bath

[1]  The name of Giovanni Ferrerio crops up from time to time in recurrent debates on the question of whether Scotland ever enjoyed a northern Renaissance, most recently by Jane Stevenson and Peter Davidson in their discussion, in this journal, of what they call ‘the continuing problem of the Scottish Renaissance’ (Stevenson and Davidson 2009: 82-3). The Scottish contributions and European connections of this Italian scholar, who migrated several times between Scotland, Paris and his native Piedmont during the 1530s and 1540s, have been well studied in a number of ground-breaking articles by John Durkan, which clearly establish Ferrerio’s role in helping to initiate what Durkan calls ‘the beginnings of humanism in Scotland’ (Durkan 1953, Durkan 1981).

[2]  Born near Turin in 1502, Ferrerio always described himself as Piedmontese (‘Pedemontanus’), enrolling at the University of Paris in 1525, where he worked on an edition of Ficino’s translations of Plato. In Paris he met Robert Reid, abbot-designate of Kinloss, who invited him to Scotland to spend three years at the court of James V, in Edinburgh and in Perth, before taking up his duties, in 1531, as tutor to the monks at Kinloss Abbey, where he instituted a syllabus which included texts by Lefèvre d’Etaples, Melanchthon and Erasmus. In Scotland he developed friendships with such Scots as Reid and Hector Boece, whom he had first met in Paris in 1527 when Boece was engaged in publication of his Scotorvm historiae a prima gentis origine, the pioneering history of the Scots for which Ferrerio was eventually to write some additional chapters. Boece (c.1465-1536) had himself studied in Paris in the closing decades of the fifteenth century (c.1485-1497), when he had served as regent of the University, and it was in those years that he had bought the copy of Marsilio Ficino’s De triplici vita which, Stevenson and Davidson argue, influenced his layout of the buildings of the University of Aberdeen on cosmological principles after he had become the university’s first, founding, Principal in the 1490s. Ferrerio’s work on Ficino must have fostered this friendship. On returning to Paris, 1537-41, he acted as corrector for university publisher Michel Vascosan, who published several of Ferrerio’s own scholarly works, in one of which he comments on the extraordinary liberalisation and expansion of the humanist curriculum that had taken place in the university of Paris in the years since he last studied there (Durkan 1981: 187). Reid was determined to bring Ferrerio back to Scotland, securing him a pension of forty pounds which Ferrerio continued to receive for many years after his return to Kinloss, resuming his duties as tutor from 1541 to 1545, during which time he wrote his Historia Abbatum de Kynlos. Ferrerio’s correspondence with Conrad Gessner in Geneva in the 1550s is acknowledged for a number of the illustrations which appear in Gessner’s monumental Historia animalium (1551-60), including several of those which supplied patterns for the present Oxburgh embroideries executed by Mary Queen of Scots.[1]

[3]  Although mostly remembered for his role as tutor to the monks of Kinloss abbey and his continuation of Hector Boece’s history, the fuller investigation of his circles of friendship and correspondence reveals a picture in which, far from being merely ‘a fairly marginal figure at the remote edge of Scottish life’, Ferrerio emerges as a potentially important agent for the transmission of leading humanist values and ideas between Scotland and elsewhere in Europe, and may specifically ‘have acted as a vehicle for the entry of Italian ideas’ (Durkan 1980: 181). It is one such Italian idea that concerns me in this paper, for art historians have occasionally noted something Ferrerio says, in his history of the abbey of Kinloss, about an otherwise unknown painter called Andrew Bairhum who, as early as 1538, redecorated the abbot’s lodgings in what he calls ‘the lighter style of painting which is now most fashionable throughout Scotland’ (pictura leviore quae nunc est per Scotiam receptissima, Ferrerio 1839: 50-51). Previous art-historical discussion of Ferrerio’s comment has tended to focus on the identity of Andrew Bairhum (e.g. Brydall 1889: 57), but I suggest that it is the expression Ferrerio uses to describe this style of painting that is of the greatest interest. As Duncan Macmillan notes, the expression suggests that ‘the fashion for painted interiors that we know from surviving painted ceilings prevailed in Scotland in the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, was already established in the reign of James V’ (Macmillan 1990: 36). My discovery that the same Latin expression (pictura leviore) is used on the title-plate of an influential set of Italian ornament prints, produced in Rome at exactly the period Ferrerio was writing, now sheds further light on the exact meaning of this expression, on Ferrerio’s role as a channel for the entry of Italian ideas, and on the wider history of the visual arts at this period in Scotland. The title advertises a set of engravings illustrating ‘The lighter and – as can be seen – extemporary paintings which are commonly known as grotesques, which the ancient Romans used as decoration in their dining rooms and other more private parts of their buildings, which have been variously selected and brought together with great exactitude and care from many vaulted chambers and ancient walls’ (Leviores et (ut videtur) extemporaneae picturae quas grotteschas vulgo vocant quibus Romani illi antiqui ad triclinia aliaque secretiora aedum loca exornanda utebantur e pluribus concamerationibus parietibusque antiquis varie desumptae ac summa fide diligentiaque in unum redactae). (Fig. 1) It thus identifies ‘the lighter style of painting’ explicitly with that development in the decorative arts which we call ‘grotesque’.

Fig. 1. Title page for a set of grotesque prints, Leviores picturae, undated and unsigned though now thought to have been published in Rome by Antonio Lafrery (1512-77) sometime after 1544. The title page refers to a series of nineteen engravings of grotesques often ascribed to Enea Vico but now thought to be reverse copies of Vico’s originals, 1541-42. London: Victoria and Albert Museum.

[4]  This set of decorative prints and, indeed, this particular title-page with its clear and informed explanation of the historical basis and nature of the grotesque style have often been cited in modern histories of the applied arts at this period in Europe, when the association of grottesco both with all’antica models of design in the decoration of major buildings and also with the influential development of a distinctive type of ornament prints was particularly close.[2] As Nicole Dacos says, this long and ambitious title-plate makes a clear allusion to the Golden Palace of Nero, in whose excavated grottoes artists in the closing years of the fifteenth century had famously discovered the most authentic models of a classical decorative style (Dacos 2001: 79). From then until at least the nineteenth century these supplied the most authoritative patterns for any designs in the applied arts that aspired towards the antique, which means that if the grotesque style was already becoming widespread in Scotland as early as 1538, then we will have to revise most of our received ideas about Scottish visual culture in the first half of the sixteenth century. Although Ferrerio tells us that 1538 was when Andrew Bairhum was summoned to decorate the Abbot’s lodgings in this style, he also says the work occupied Bairhum for three years and the very next sentence, describing Abbot Robert Reid’s move to Orkney, begins ‘Hoc anno 1544 …’. Ferrerio was evidently writing his account of Kinloss at, or shortly after, this time (he mentions this date at various other points in his account of the recent history of the abbey, but nothing later than this). We may well wonder, however, whether this Italianate style of authentically ‘antique’ painting could really have been widespread (receptissima) in Scotland at such an early date, or if not what else Giovanni Ferrerio could have meant by the expression ‘pictura leviore’. Can we be sure he is using it in the same sense as the Italian engraver? Could he possibly have seen the engravings concerned, or is he using the expression in some looser and more generic sense? For any answer to these questions the dates are crucial, but unfortunately the history of this influential set of prints is exceptionally complex and difficult, and until we can sort that out we are unlikely to be able to answer those questions.

[5]  There were, as it happens, at least two different early sets of these prints, one of which evidently copies the other (with variations), and prints scholars have not yet succeeded in deciding which is the earlier. In one of the sets the majority of plates are, indeed, signed and dated 1541 or 1542, carrying the initials both of Enea Vico and also those of Roman engraver and prints publisher Tommaso Barlacchi. Ever since Adam Bartsch produced his monumental catalogue of engravings in the Imperial collection in Vienna (Bartsch 1803-1821, see 1854-1876 edn., vol. 15: 467-490), it has been normal to ascribe the twenty-three grotesques in this series to the eighteen-year-old Enea Vico, who was apprenticed to Barlacchi at this time. However, a different set, lacking four of Vico’s designs, carries no dates or signatures, varying some details and reversing the orientation. In their book on the history of ornament prints, Rudolf Berliner and Gerhart Egger insist that the unsigned and undated versions are the earlier set, and that those carrying Enea Vico’s initials must have been copied on the orders of his employer, Barlacchi. This assumption is shared by Michael Snodin and Maurice Howard in their Ornament: A Social History (1996: 39-40). However, more recently, Elizabeth Miller has produced a fuller account of the complex publication history of this influential prints series. Her authoritative catalogue of Sixteenth-Century Italian Ornament Prints in the Victoria and Albert Museum (1999: 98-101) identifies at least three different issues of the series, only one of which is the signed and dated set of twenty-three unnumbered plates produced in Rome by Vico and Barlacchi in 1541-42. This set has no title page, since the plate corresponding to our Leviores picturae title page lacks the inscription. Two further sets consisting of nineteen plates are anonymous, and both of these include the Leviores picturae title page, but no signatures. Of these one set is numbered 1-16, with the three extra plates being printed as unnumbered pairs on single sheets: Miller identifies this set with a Libro de Grottesche which is identified in the stocklist circulated c. 1573 by Roman prints publisher Antonio Lafrery. The evidence for this ascription is largely circumstantial, though it certainly corresponds to Lafrery’s normal publishing habits, which relied heavily on copies: ‘Clearly Lafrery’s methods of building up his business routinely involved publishing anonymous copies of works by named engravers’ (Miller 1999: 100). This numbered set reissues the other, unnumbered, set which Lafrery would, presumably, have printed a few years earlier, but certainly ‘no earlier than 1544, when Lafrery was first active’ (Miller 1999, 99). This account, therefore, gives priority to the set produced 1541-42 by Vico and Barlacchi, followed by an unnumbered and anonymous set of reverse copies published in Rome after 1544 by Lafrery, who reissued it in a numbered sequence which he advertised around 1573 under the title Libro de Grottesce. This reconstruction of the publication history produces a date for the earliest appearance of the Leviores picturae title page that is almost certainly too late for it to have been seen by Ferrerio when writing his History of the Abbey of Kinloss in Scotland in 1544-45.

[6]  There is only one piece of evidence that might still raise questions over Elizabeth Miller’s otherwise persuasive reconstruction of this publication history, for in a recent article on these engravings, Nicole Dacos – pioneer of modern scholars of the grotesque – notes that Enea Vico, in the signed 1541-42 series, makes all the human figures left-handed.[3] This is of little consequence when the figures are engaged in their fantastic activities or erotic games, but it is highly problematic and unconventional to find a god steering his chariot or an archer drawing his bow left-handed.[4] This would suggest that the left-handed versions are the later copies, and that the anonymous and undated leviores picturae series are the earlier originals, which could well therefore have been published in the 1530s, early enough to have been seen by Ferrerio. If the jury is still out on the dating and priority of these different sets of prints then Giovanni Ferrerio’s use of the same expression might itself offer some support for this priority. The engravings certainly had a long posterity and wide influence, being copied by Jacques Androuet Ducerceau in 1550, and influencing successors such as Jan Vredeman de Vries in 1565. Their use as patterns has been traced in the painted decoration of various buildings ranging from the Prior’s lodgings in Assisi, in the Palazzo Farnese at Caprarole, in the Château de Chareil in Auvergne.[5] Can we really believe, however, that there were enough high-status buildings for this cutting-edge European Renaissance style of internal decoration to have become widespread in Scotland as early as 1540? If so, it would be telling evidence for the revisionist histories of Scottish architecture in this period that have been advanced by such scholars as Deborah Howard, Aonghus MacKechnie and, above all, Charles McKean.

[7]  We might certainly recall the sheer number of buildings recorded on the maps of Timothy Pont. As McKean puts it, ‘if there were indeed buildings approximately where Pont placed them in the late sixteenth century … Scotland was well provided with country seats, many of considerable splendour’. Moreover, as he argues, the period c. 1500-1542, which he characterises as Early Renaissance, was when a large number of these houses appear to have been constructed. This was followed by thirty years of French-educated transformation under Mary of Guise and her daughter, Mary Queen of Scots, when, as Bishop John Leslie recalls in his retrospective History of Scotland:

Here is to be remembered that their was mony new ingynis and devysis, asweill of bigging of paleceis, abilyementis, as of banqueting and of menis behaviour first begun and used in Scotland at this time, after the fassione quilk thay had sene in France. Although it seemed to be varray comelie and beautifull, yit it was more superfluous and voluptuous than the realm of Scotland might bear or sustain. (Leslie 1830: 8, cited McKean 2001: 18)

The idea that any civilised ideas only entered the design of Scottish buildings with the Reformation in 1560 or, more radically, once the Scots had absorbed more enlightened English tastes following the 1603 Union of Crowns, is now wholly untenable, and a good case can be made for the development of the country seat in Scotland occurring ‘midway through the Marian period – the time when Scotland was under the influence of Mary of Guise and her daughter Mary Queen of Scots’ (McKean 2001: 8). The sheer number of surviving examples of decorative painting on walls and ceilings that I was able to document in my book Renaissance Decorative Painting in Scotland makes the likelihood that such painting ‘in the lighter style’ was already widespread as early as 1540 by no means improbable.

[8]  But do we have any evidence for the circulation of European pattern books and ornament prints in Scotland at such an early date? The sheer number of print sources that I was able to identify as the patterns used by Scottish house owners in the later-sixteenth and early-seventeenth century is surely suggestive (Bath 2003). Among the earliest surviving artefacts in Scotland that have been shown to copy European engravings are two of the statues of classical gods – Jupiter and Venus – among the extraordinarily ambitious and diverse statuary which enriches three of the external elevations of James V’s new palace at Stirling, whose building coincides almost exactly, 1538-42, with Andrew Bairhum’s work at Kinloss and with Ferrerio’s writing. Those two statues have long been known to copy prints from Hans Burgkmair’s Seven Planets series.[6] The earliest surviving examples of decorative painting to be found in Scotland are in a wing of the house at Kinneil, Bo’ness which James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran, cousin to Mary Queen of Scots and heir to the throne, enriched and redecorated at public expense during the years 1542-54, when he was Regent of Scotland. The surviving painting of this period at Kinneil probably dates from 1553-55, and is of a richness and sophistication which can only have been the product of a well-established national tradition. Although it is chiefly noted for its biblical Good Samaritan sequence, this is surrounded by trompe-l’oeil classical pilasters, medallions, and antique-work which must go back to continental print-sources, and are certainly in a lighter all’antiqua style of painting which is handled with some assurance. (Fig. 2) The coffered oak ceiling to this ‘Parable Room’ (Fig. 3), moreover, takes its pattern from the most influential pre-Palladian guidebook to classical architecture, Sebastiano Serlio’s Regole generali di architectura, Book IV of which (the first volume to be published) had appeared in 1537. (Fig. 4) This discovery ought, finally, to banish whatever doubts we might still have about the immediacy of Scottish access to and familiarity with continental prints sources from an early period. None of these sources, so far, are what we should properly describe as grottesco, but they are all examples of classical antique decoration. Any doubt as to the extent to which artistic and architectural tastes aspired to imitate strictly ‘classical’ design models from a period that begins some time before the mid-sixteenth century in Scotland ought to be dispelled by these tell-tale examples. They make it seem at least possible that Scottish houses, as early as 1540, might have been so frequently decorated with grotesque painting as to impress an educated and well-travelled Italian immigrant.

Fig. 2. Kinneil House, Bo’ness (West Lothian), detail of mural painting in Parable Room, executed for James Hamilton, Earl of Arran, c. 1553-56. Photo author.

Fig. 3. Kinneil House, Bo’ness, coffered oak ceiling executed for Regent Arran, c. 1542-56: the pattern copies a design from Serlio. Photo author.

Fig. 4. Patterns for classically-inspired Renaissance ceilings, woodcut, Regole generali di architettura, 1537, book IV of Sebastiano Serlio’s architectural treatise. Glasgow University Library, Department of Special Collections.

Fig. 5. Grotesque decoration copying details from Vredeman de Vries, Grottesco (c. 1565), and other sources, painted ceiling, tempera on board, from Prestongrange (East Lothian), 1581, when the house was owned by Mark Kerr; the ceiling has been reassembled at Merchiston Tower, Edinburgh, on the Napier University Morningside campus. Photo RCAHMS.

[9]  By 1581 we certainly have the compelling evidence of Mark Kerr’s ‘dreamwork’ at Prestongrange to convince us that the grotesque style was, by then, fully assimilated into the rich Scottish tradition of fully Renaissance domestic decorative painting. (Fig. 5) As I show in my book, the painted ceiling from this house makes extensive use of a set of ornament prints which stands as a direct successor to the Leviores picturae series, namely the Grottesco in diversche manieren designed by Jan Vredeman de Vries and printed in Antwerp, c. 1565-71 (Bath 2003, 104-21, Apted 1966, pl. 42). It is not just the sheer accomplishment of this painting at Prestongrange that stands out, but also the fact that the same set of prints was used by Robert Melville at Rossend, Fife, probably in preparation for James VI’s royal visit in 1617 (Bath 2003, 43-52, 258-60). The Rossend ceiling can now be seen on display in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Grotesque painting survives at several other sites and although no continental print sources have yet been identified for these we can be in no doubt that – well before the end of the sixteenth-century – it was a widespread and familiar part of the decorative painters’ available repertoire of styles. The idea that it had already become fashionable as early as 1540 thus begins to seem a little less ridiculous: indeed we might conclude that it was only what Charles McKean has called the ‘nineteenth-century cult of rubblemania’ and its ‘ratcheting up the romanticism’ of early Scottish architecture (McKean 2001: 6) that ever made it seem so. [7] As Geoffrey Harpham puts it, ‘For decades after the initial discoveries, the appearance of the antique style was often the first sign that the Renaissance had arrived’ (Harpham 1982: 34). That would be as true in Scotland as it was anywhere else in Europe.


[1] For these see my Emblems for a Queen: The Needlework of Mary Queen of Scots (London: Archetype Publications, 2008), 78, 83-5, 124. [back to text]

[2] The standard work on grotesque remains Nicole Dacos 1969. [back to text]

[3] Dacos 2002: 79 : ‘on n’a pas encore remarqué qu’en inversant les gravures, Vico a rendu tous ses personages gauchers’. [back to text]

[4] For these left-handed figures see Miller 1999, cat. 33b pl. 6, 33b pl. 13; 33c pl. 14(l) shows a conventionally right-handed archer in the version supposedly published by Lafrery, whereas Vico’s reversal of 1541/42 (unillustrated in Miller) makes him left-handed. [back to text]

[5] See Dacos 2001: 82 and, for Chareil, A. Regond, Peinture murale du xvie siècle en Auvergne (1983 : 328-9). [back to text]

[6] See RCHMS Stirlingshire: 220-23, pl. 71, 72, 76, 78; I am not convinced that the two further, badly eroded, statues at Stirling copy Burgkmair’s engravings of Sol and Saturn, and Helena Shire’s argument that the iconography of James V’s palace at Stirling followed an extended programme of sun symbolism is tendentious and unconvincing (Shire 1966). Burgkmair’s engravings of Mars and Venus from the same set also supplied the patterns for the representation of these two figures on Henry VIII’s wonderful writing desk, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. [back to text]

[7] McKean’s recent ‘What Kind of Renaissance Town was Dundee?’ (Chapter 1 in McKean, Harris and Whatley 2009: 1-32) is wholly relevant, as its title suggests, to the wider issue of whether Scotland enjoyed any kind of Renaissance. McKean identifies various books published in Britain and abroad, including what can only be a copy of Whitney’s Emblemes (1586) in the library of Dundee merchant ship owner, David Wedderburn, and which are mentioned in his account book in 1621. Although Wedderburn also, apparently, imported paintings from the Netherlands and France (McKean, Harris and Whatley, p.21), these dates are rather too late to tell us anything about the early use of a grottesco style in sixteenth-century Scotland. [back to text]


Apted, M. R, The Painted Ceilings of Scotland 1550-1650 (Edinburgh: HM Stationery Office, 1966)

Bartsch, Adam von, Le peintre graveur, 21 vols (Leipzig : J.A. Barth, 1854-1876, 1st edn. Vienna, 1803-1821)

Bath, Michael, Renaissance Decorative Painting in Scotland (Edinburgh: National Museums of Scotland Publications, 2003)

Bath, Michael, Emblems for a Queen: The Needlework of Mary Queen of Scots (London: Archetype Publications, 2008)

Berliner, Rudolf, and Gerhart Egger, Ornamentale Vorlageblätter des 15. bis 19. Jahrhunderts, 3 vols (Leipzig, 1926, repr. Munich: Klinkhardt und Biermann, c.1981)

Brydall, Robert, Art in Scotland (Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1889)

Dacos, Nicole, La découverte de la Domus Aurea et la formation des grotesques à la renaissance (London : Warburg Institute, 1969).

Dacos, Nicole, ‘Leviores et extemporaneae picturae … quas grotteschas vulgo vocant. Du profane chez Domenico Fiorentino’, in S. Poeschel, R. Steiner and R. Wegner, eds., Heilige und Profane Bilder: Festschrift für Herwarth Röttgen (Weimar: Verlag und Datenbank für Geisteswissenschaft, 2001), 79-96.

Durkan, John, ‘The Beginnings of Humanism in Scotland’, Innes Review, 4 (1953), 5-24

Durkan, John, ‘Giovanni Ferrerio, Gesner and French Affairs’, Bibliothèque d’humanisme et renaissance: travaux et documents, 42 (1980), 349-60

Durkan, John, ‘Giovanni Ferrerio, Humanist: His Influence in Sixteenth-Century Scotland’, in K. Robbins, ed., Religion and Humanism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1981), 181-94

Ferrerio, Giovanni, Historia Abbatum de Kynlos (Edinburgh: Bannatyne Club, 1839)

Harpham, G., On the Grotesque: Strategies of Contradiction in Art and Literature (Princeton, 1982)

Leslie, John, The historie of Scotland wrytten in Latin by Jhone Leslie and translated in Scottish by James Dalrymple, ed. E.G. Cody (Edinburgh: 1885-1890)

Macmillan, Duncan, Scottish Art 1460-1990 (Edinburgh: Mainstream, 1990

McKean, Charles, The Scottish Chateau: The Country House of Renaissance Scotland (Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 2001)

McKean, Charles, Bob Harris and Christopher A. Whatley (eds.), Dundee: Renaissance to Enlightenment (Dundee: Dundee University Press, 2009)

Miller, Elizabeth, Sixteenth-Century Ornament Prints in the Victoria and Albert Museum (London: V&A Publications, 1999)

RCAHMS, Stirlingshire (Edinburgh: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, 1963)

Regond, Annie, La peinture murale du XVIe Siècle dans la région Auvergne (Clermont-Ferrand : Institut d’Etudes du Massif Central, 1983)

Shire, Helena M., ‘The King in His House: Three Architectural Artefacts belonging to the Reign of James V’, in J. Hadley Williams, ed., Stewart Style 1513-1542: Essays on the Court of James V (E. Linton: Tuckwell, 1966), 62-96

Remembering Aemilia Lanyer

Remembering Aemilia Lanyer

Kate Chedgzoy

[1]  This essay considers Aemilia Lanyer as both subject and object of practices of memory. Writing as a subject of the verb ‘to remember’, Lanyer drew on techniques of memory and a storehouse of memorized cultural materials as resources for the composition of her sole publication, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (London, 1611). Thematically and conceptually, too, memory is crucial to this volume of verse.  At its heart is a long narrative poem which articulates a revisionary, woman-centred account of Christian tradition. This is framed by a suite of dedicatory poems and the country-house poem ‘The Description of Cooke-ham’, which together deploy personal and cultural memory in support of Lanyer’s attempts to fashion patronage relations with some of the women celebrated in the volume. By writing and publishing Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, Lanyer sought to construct her own textual legacy, claiming a woman’s right to assert a poetic vocation and address posterity in terms previously restricted to men (McBride 1998; Rogers 2000). Her success in securing a place in cultural memory was belated, however. Consigned to oblivion for nearly four centuries, Lanyer has only in recent decades become the focus of a significant body of critical scholarship and achieved a presence in the mainstream of Renaissance poetry. She has, in that process of scholarly recovery, become an object as well as subject of practices of memory. Indeed, as an object of purposeful recollection by those – particularly feminist scholars – who have read her work, meditated on her life, and sought a place for her in cultural memory, she can now be seen as an exemplary instance of the transformation of the canon of English Renaissance literature effected by feminist practices of counter-memory.Memory as technology of writing and thematic content in Aemilia Lanyer’s work thus intersects with the sucession of forgetting and recollection that characterizes her subsequent reception to make of her life, writings and afterlife a richly symptomatic ‘site of memory’ (Nora 1989). And it is on this site that I wish to ground the present essay’s analysis of the gendering of memory in the literary culture of the Renaissance. Remembering Aemilia Lanyer, I pose two key questions: How did early modern women engage with the arts and politics of memory in order to reflect in their writings on the personal and historical dimensions of female experience? And what difference has the challenge posed by feminist scholarship to ‘the official “forgetting” of women’s histories’ (Hirsch and Smith 2002: 4) made to the ways in which women like Lanyer, and the literary texts they created, are recalled or forgotten?

[2]  As Marianne Hirsch and Valerie Smith have argued, ‘[w]hat a culture remembers and what it chooses to forget are intricately bound up with issues of power and hegemony, and thus with gender’ (2002: 6). Re-reading Lanyer’s career, writings and after-life within a critical and methodological framework derived from memory studies offers new insights into the project of remembering the past differently to which she committed herself in composing Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum. This process of revision exposes the ways in which her access to literary creation and the construction of her career and reputation as a writer have been inflected by power and gender. Feminist scholarship operating in the mode of counter-memory aspires to transform what we think, know and feel about the past by recovering women’s contribution to it, and revising dominant androcentric narratives to take that contribution into account. It is an attempt at remembering differently in order to ensure that women are inscribed differently in the historical record. The nature and implications of Lanyer’s proto-feminism have been much discussed (see, for example, Mueller 1993, Schnell 1996 and Trill 2001). Here, I argue that she too, like the feminist scholars who have recently reconsidered her life and work, can be seen as engaged in a project of feminist counter-memory. Her poetry engages with both personal and cultural memory in the service of a rethinking of the gendered nature of the relations between memory and history. The feminist commitments of Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, this essay argues, constitute not only an intervention in the contemporary debate known as the querelle des femmes and a future-oriented claim to women’s rights,[1] but also a bid to reimagine the dominant narratives of the past that shaped the cultural world of the English Renaissance.

1. ‘Writ by the hand of true Eternitie’: Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum as memory work
[3]  Lanyer inhabited a cultural world in which memory work played a crucial role in supporting literary production by both men and women (cf. Chedgzoy 2007). Like most other writers in early modern England, she employed mnemotechnical arts designed to train a retentive memory and support the retrieval of items from it for new use. They meditated on the meanings of events and experiences recalled from their own lives, and tried to intervene in what other people would subsequently recall about them and their times. And they drew on their culture’s discourses and repertoires of memory and history, understanding themselves self-consciously as recorders of the past and present for the benefit of the future. We can find all these aspects of memory work in play in Aemilia Lanyer’s oeuvre. Memory is not only crucial to her method as a writer; it is also thematised in the structure of Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum. A concern with memory as a shaping factor in Lanyer’s relationships with her putative patrons and in the securing of her literary legacy frames the volume, being prominent both in the dedicatory texts and in ‘The Description of Cooke-ham’. In the long narrative poem positioned at the centre of this frame, history and memory intertwine to fashion a revisionary account of the core narratives of the Christian tradition shaped by methods and motives congruent with the feminist accounts of early modern literary history that have revised our perception of Lanyer and her peers.

[4]  The dedicatory poems that preface Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum both demonstrate how mnemonic strategies underpin Lanyer’s writing, and provide a map of her book’s persistent commitment to remembering women. In these nine poems and two short prose pieces, she frames the women she addresses as figures of exemplary femininity, even as she constructs an empathetic (and putatively predominantly female) reading community of ‘all vertuous Ladies in generall’ (12), who are tasked with remembering and emulating the idealized female figures to whom the book is dedicated.[2] Lanyer constructs a complex web of relationships among women over time, for example, when in the first dedicatory poem, ‘To the Queenes most Excellent Majestie’, she laments that it has been her fate to ‘live clos’d up in Sorrowes Cell / since great Elizaes favour blest my youth’ (ll. 109-10). Echoed in another dedicatory poem, ‘To the Lady Elizabeths Grace’, the sense of loss and nostalgia for an absent powerful and ideal woman articulated here prefigures the themes of ‘The Description of Cooke-ham’, and participates in a broader mood of (often politically-inflected) Elizabethan nostalgia in Stuart women’s writing (cf. Gim 1999 and 2007). At the beginning of the narrative section of Salve Deus, Lanyer says that it is because ‘Cynthia’ (Queen Elizabeth) has passed on to a realm beyond the power of human expression that she turns now to the Countess of Cumberland, choosing to ‘applie / My Pen, to write thy never dying fame’ (ll. 9-10). Nostalgia for Elizabeth motivates Lanyer to create a permanent textual memorialisation of the Countess: ‘That when to Heav’n thy blessed Soule shall flie, / These lines on earth record thy reverend name’ (ll. 11-12). When Margaret Clifford too has gone into the realm of the inexpressible, a record of her will remain on earth, embodied in Lanyer’s own verse. Here and in the dedicatory poems, Lanyer’s poem deploys materials associated with both personal and cultural memory to underpin her attempts to manipulate patronage relations with a series of elite women – of whom Margaret is the most important – and thereby her very desire to be remembered as a writer.  Offering Salve Deus to Margaret, Countess of Cumberland as a true and enduring ‘mirrour of [her] most worthy minde’ (35) which she hopes will outlast both author and addressee, Lanyer articulates her own claim to a place in cultural memory as a memorializing tribute to a woman whose patronage she seeks, and who plays a key role in the drama of memory and nostalgia staged in this volume of poems.

[5]  The dedicatory poems thus model Lanyer’s revisionary account of the past and put forward her claim to a place in cultural memory as a writer. In addition, they exemplify the importance of memory work in Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum in a third way, in so far as they introduce the highly citational, intertextual style, informed by Lanyer’s recollected reading of both classical and Christian texts, which characterizes her poetic style and method throughout the volume. Invoking Muses and wise virgins alike, ‘To all vertuous Ladies in generall’ unites both aspects in bringing together classical and Biblical references to idealized female figures in order to underwrite the ‘godly labour’ of composing this book which addresses virtuous ladies and seeks to draw them into a transhistorical community (ll. 8-14, 29). For a writer who had received the kind of Christian humanist education to which Lanyer, on the evidence of her writings, had access, such intertextuality is grounded in memory work. The education that equipped Lanyer to write Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum involved both the process of training an active memory to store and retrieve images and ideas for use in conversation and writing, and the labour of stocking that memory with material for such retrieval. Her densely intertextual and allusive compositional method is clearly indebted to the practice of commonplacing which was integral to the strategies for purposeful reading, writing and remembering popularized in works such as Thomas Wilson’s much-used 1553 Art of Rhetorique, a work with which Susanne Woods suggests she was probably familiar (Woods 1999: 13). This compositional method may embed both carefully reproduced allusions and half-recollected echoes of one’s reading. With a certain self-consciousness about the pedagogic processes by which her memory had been trained and stocked, Lanyer alludes to such practices of collecting citations from one’s reading for deployment as a writer when she portrays herself as a ‘painefull Bee’, laboriously gathering from diverse flowers honey ‘Which is both wholesome, and delights the taste’ (‘The Authors Dreame to the Ladie Marie’, ll. 197, 199).

[6]  The textual purpose of such allusions sometimes seems to be merely to demonstrate that the author can draw on the storehouse of common knowledge about classical culture to which an educated person would have access. ‘To the Queenes most Excellent Majestie’, for instance, racks up an extended series of brief allusions – to deities including Juno, Pallas, Cynthia and Venus, and to the Muses and satyrs – which are essentially superficial, doing little to illuminate the specific concerns or dynamics of the textual contexts where they occur. Such classical references are mainly found in the dedicatory poems and in ‘The Description of Cookham’. The most resonant classical allusions in the latter are those to Philomela, whose ‘sundry layes, / Both You and that delightfull Place did praise’ (ll. 31-2), but who later ‘leaves her mournefull Ditty, / Drownd in dead sleepe’ (ll. 189-90); and to Echo, who, though ‘wonted to reply / To our last words, did now for sorrow die’ (ll. 199-200). In each case, Lanyer takes a classical figure associated with the capacity of the female voice to mourn and lament for losses and wrongs, and transforms her into a motif of absence and oblivion. Her recreations of Echo and Philomel thus exemplify the difficulties female voices have often had in being heard, recorded, and remembered. Both Danielle Clarke and Susan Wiseman have explored Echo’s perhaps surprising capacity to serve as a model for female authorship in seventeenth-century women’s writing: this possibility is ironically enacted here as Echo’s lapsing into silence becomes the ground of Lanyer’s own poetic self-assertion in her poem of loss and lament (Wiseman 1998; Clarke 2007).

[7]  Susanne Woods judges that Lanyer employed intertextual techniques of composition throughout her volume with ‘a learned person’s decorum’ (1999:  13); however, many of her allusions are marked by a certain imprecision. Lanyer uses both Latin and Greek names apparently indiscriminately for classical figures, for instance, and some of her allusions are inaccurate. In ‘The Authors dream to Ladie Marie’, for instance, she presents Aurora as goddess of morning rather than dawn, for instance, and at one point appears to confuse Bellona with Minerva as the goddess of wisdom (though Bellona is later correctly identified as the goddess of war). I would suggest that this imprecision comes about because Lanyer was working from memory, rather than copying references out from written sources. To say so is not to excuse inaccuracy, but rather to see it as evidence that Lanyer was practising a compositional technique highly valued in her own time by maintaining a mental storehouse of citations and formulations that she could draw on in her own writing. Her use of classical allusion may thus draw on a memory-store furnished by her general participation in literate culture, rather than representing specific borrowings from particular works.

[8]  Though classical references are found in the narrative section of Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, not surprisingly they are employed less frequently and prominently in this part of the poem, which favours Biblical intertextuality, and which goes beyond embedding textual allusions in a citational manner to rework Biblical narratives with a gendered perspective. At the heart of Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum is the Bible, the text which more than any other occupied a vital position at the nexus of many intertwining discourses of reading, writing, rewriting, and memorizing in early modern literary and spiritual culture. Lanyer’s revisionary woman-centred re-reading of the scriptures is articulated to a considerable extent through intertextual strategies of citation, re-ordering, juxtaposition and retelling. The language of Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum has a densely intertextual relationship with Biblical discourse, in which the psalms are particularly significant. The psalms played a key role in pedagogic, devotional and literary culture in the early modern period. Through recitation and reading, many early modern women (literate or not) would have memorized passages of the psalms, and it is not surprising that they feature in their writings (cf. Trill 1996). A woman of Lanyer’s education and spiritual commitment would certainly have had a deep familiarity with them. Psalmic references are particularly important in ‘The Authors Dreame to the Ladie Marie’ ll. 117-20 and ‘The Description of Cooke-ham ll. 87-90, as well as ll. 73-144 of the central narrative section, where the verse takes on the almost palimpsestic quality often associated with memory writing. Kari Boyd McBride and John Ulreich have argued that at times her poetry manifests in its form and language an ‘internalization and rewriting of the Psalms’ which had a profound effect on shaping Lanyer’s poetic style (McBride & Ulreich 2001: 335). But perhaps their key role in the volume is the way they position her in a lineage of literary creation, revision, and memorialisation. For the key version of the psalms for Lanyer is the immensely influential psalter produced by one of her dedicatory addressees, Lady Mary Sidney.

[9]  Completing and revising after the death of her brother Sir Philip Sidney the volume of psalm translations which he had begun, Lady Mary Sidney undertook a work of memorialization which erected a poetic monument to her brother and tied her own place in cultural memory to his through their shared poetic labour. Characterizing the psalms she published as ‘Immortall Monuments of thy faire fame’ in her elegy ‘To the Angell spirit of the most excellent Sir Phillip Sidney’, Lady Mary Sidney designates them as both the work of her brother and a monument to his memory (Herbert 1998: II. 105). Lanyer, however, separates out the siblings’ contributions to the volume even as she echoes her predecessor’s wording when she pays tribute to Mary in ‘The Authors Dreame’ (ll. 121-2). She invokes Philip as one ‘whose cleere light / Gives light to all that tread true paths of Fame’ (ll. 138-9), but says nothing concrete about how his fame was earned, making no mention of his career as a writer or, specifically, of his contribution to the psalter. Rather he is called up as the object of the memory work of others, in particular the labour of memorialization and monumentalization carried out by his sister which, in Lanyer’s words, ensured that ‘beeing dead, his fame doth him survive, / Still living in the hearts of worthy men’ (ll. 141-2). Occluding Philip’s share of the work of psalm translation, Lanyer asserts that the Sidney psalter would assure Mary a place in ‘th’eternall booke / Of endlesse honour, true fames memorie’ (ll. 127-8). The composition of a book of devotional verse as a monument to her brother’s memory has secured for Mary the place in ‘fames memorie’ that Lanyer hopes her own book of religious poetry  – which, in turn, monumentalizes Mary herself – will gain for her. It was the work of memorializing Sir Philip that gave Mary Sidney access to a literary career, and though Lanyer highlights her contribution to the psalter, in subsequent centuries her literary fame was eclipsed by her brother’s. Yet like Lanyer herself, Mary Sidney was eventually to be a key beneficiary of the collective remembering of early modern women writers effected in recent decades by feminist criticism. The recent scholarly revaluation of her contribution to the Sidney psalter both runs parallel to the recovery of Lanyer and confirms the latter’s emphasis on the importance of her part in the psalter.[3]

[10]  ‘The Authors Dreame to the Ladie Marie’ both explores and enacts processes of textual inheritance across generations. The responsibility of memorialization through poetic creation which Mary Sidney undertook in relation to her brother becomes a textual legacy which Aemilia Lanyer in her turn claims as her inheritance from Lady Mary. This gesture of literary filiation is reiterated in other dedicatory poems, as Lanyer repeatedly textualizes her relationships – real or wishful – with women like Mary Sidney and Margaret Clifford in terms of an interest in how they will promote her reputation and protect her memory as a writer. Dedicatory poems addressed to Margaret Clifford and her daughter Anne explore how women can act to establish their own familial and textual legacies, to enable the transmission of  material inheritance through the female line, and in doing so to secure their own places in cultural memory. And it is again through constructing an enduring textual monument to these women that Lanyer asserts her own claim to be remembered:

And knowe, when first into this world I came,
This charge was giv’n me by th’Eternall powres
Th’everlasting Trophie of thy fame,
To build and decke it with the sweetest flowres
That virtue yeelds. (1457-1462).

An eternal memorial to Margaret Clifford’s celebrated virtue will be adorned by the flowers of Lanyer’s verse, ensuring in turn the poet’s own perpetual renown. It is this reciprocal association of memorialisation and poetic vocation that gives Salve Deus its coherence and integrity as an instance of memory work. The dedicatory verses trace women’s cross-generational relationships and construct genealogies of female virtue and cultural influence (cf. Miller 1998). Transmitting a ‘legacy of virtue from mothers to daughters’ (Lewalski 1998: 49), they revise a popular genre of memory writing, the mother’s legacy, from the daughter’s point of view. In mother’s legacy texts, a mother anticipating her own death writes to her children to record the spiritual and ethical inheritance she hopes to leave them (cf. Brown 1999). Lanyer was certainly concerned to construct her own textual legacy, but there is nothing specifically maternal about her self-fashioning as a writer. If anything, she seems to seek a dependent position in her poetry, one in which fantasies of idealized imagined daughterhood in relation to the older elite women she addresses intersect complexly with her positioning of herself as a supplicant for their patronage as a writer.

[11]  The dedicatory poems map out a set of textual dynamics that shape relations between women as an informal collective project that aims to secure their place in memory and history, and to shape the way in which they will be interpreted by the future. In undertaking memory work in this fashion, they model the central project of Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum as a whole, to which the narrative section of the volume contributes by offering a revisionary account of the past as a gesture towards securing how women will be remembered in the future. Lanyer takes familiar events which have  traditionally been narrated in a way that foregrounds men’s agency, and re-views them from a female perspective. The title page articulates this clearly from the outset, advertising that the poem contains:

1.    The Passion of Christ
2.    Eves Apologie in defence of Women
3.    The teares of the daughters of Jerusalem
4.    The salutation and sorrow of the virgin Marie.

While Christ’s passion is primary in Lanyer’s Biblical revision, it is her point of departure for a set of accounts of women’s stake in the past. The central event of Christian history is framed in terms of women’s engagements with it. Memory work in Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum is thus not merely allusive, but also ideological in nature, as the poem sets out to challenge the ‘official forgetting’ – and ideologically-charged misremembering – of women’s place in memory and history. The intervention of Pilate’s wife in the section known as ‘Eves Apologie’ (ll. 761-832) is a key example of this. A figure mentioned briefly in the biblical narratives of the Passion, she does not occupy a major role in the way the Easter story was told in popular culture or represented in Christian devotional practice in Lanyer’s time. But Lanyer makes this unnamed woman – remembered, like so many women in history, only in relation to her husband – absolutely central, by conflating her voice with that of Eve. It is Pilate’s wife who utters ‘Eve’s Apologie’, and in doing so makes the much-quoted demand which has become a synecdoche for Lanyer’s feminist claim, ‘Then let us have our Libertie againe, / And challendge to your selves no Sov’raigntie’ (ll. 825-6). Re-imagining Eve, Pilate’s wife undertakes the same cultural work that Lanyer is engaged with in the poem as a whole: one challenge to the way in which women’s place in history is recorded is nested inside another. And although Eve had certainly not been forgotten, the point here is that Pilate’s wife – as Lanyer’s surrogate – is trying to change how she is remembered. The transformation of cultural memory and historical narrative is what is at stake. Shannon Miller’s recent argument – of which more below – that Lanyer’s Eve may have influenced Milton suggests that Lanyer was perhaps more successful in this transformative effort than scholarship has hitherto assumed (cf. Miller 2008).

[12]  This ‘message’ from Pilate’s wife to her husband was conveyed to her in a dream, endowing it with prophetic and representative authority:

Witnesse thy wife (O Pilate) speakes for all;
Who did but dreame, and yet a message sent (ll. 834-5).

The unique insight and authority associated with dreaming is a recurring theme in Lanyer’s volume. ‘The Authors Dreame to the Ladie Marie,’ for instance, uses dream vision to establish a writerly lineage between Lanyer and her addressee. This distinctive textual mode is implicated in the politics of memory and nostalgia both because it deliberately stages the recollection – the making conscious – of something remembered from an altered state of mind, and because it was a rather old-fashioned form at this time, to the extent that Lanyer’s use of it has been described as a deliberate archaism (cf. Shea 2002: 386). The relationships between dream, memory, writing and authority staged in Lanyer’s work are complex. Pilate’s wife ‘did but dreame’, a phrase which implies that dreams are fragile and insubstantial; and yet her dream provides the justification for her to invert normal power relations and to take on a role as representative of all women in calling on her husband not only to set Jesus free but to ‘let [women] have [their] Libertie againe’ (l. 825). In ‘The Authors Dreame’,  the speaker is instructed by ‘God Morphy’ to remain in ‘Slumbers bowre…/ Till I the summe of all did understand’ (ll. 18-20), suggesting that sleep can bring learning and wisdom not accessible to the waking self. The volume ends with a privileging of such insights when Lanyer claims, in the final note ‘To the doubtfull Reader’ that her poem itself had its origins in a dream. The title, she says,

was delivered unto me in sleepe many yeares before I had any intent to write in this maner, and was quite out of my memory untill I had written the Passion of Christ, when immediately it came into my remembrance, what I had dreamed long before (139).

The act of writing summons back to the poet’s memory a prophetic insight received in a dream and subsequently allowed to lapse into oblivion. Writing serves as a prompt to recollection, but one with ambiguous implications for Lanyer’s claims to control over her text and her memory. In this endnote, she employs the interaction of forgetting and recollection to disavow authorial agency and to claim prophetic authority instead. The apparent loss of intellectual control associated with the lapse of the phrase Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum ‘out of my memory’ corroborates the speaker’s passivity in the face of the (presumably divine) intervention that endows the titling of the poem in a remembered dream with its prophetic authority. Oscillating between past and present, ‘To the doubtfull Reader’ seeks to forestall future scepticism about Lanyer’s authorial undertaking by insisting that she was ‘appointed to performe that Worke’ (139).

[13]  Lanyer’s narrative of the passion and defence of Eve are framed within retellings of other narratives of the past which foreground women’s agency. She meditates on the historical and continuing significance of women including Helen of Troy, Lucrece, and Cleopatra; less well-known figures from English history such as Rosamund and Matilda; and women of the old testament such as Esther, Deborah, Judith, and Susannah as heroic figures. The cataloguing of ‘women worthies’ is a familiar tactic in the querelle des femmes, and its importance as a rhetorical strategy within Salve Deus is signaled by Lanyer’s rehearsal in the prose preface ‘To the Vertuous Reader’ of the names of some of the key female Biblical figures she will represent in the narrative poem. Lanyer’s engagement with this diverse – and by no means all unambiguously worthy – cast of characters is no mere catalogue, but a complex and multi-faceted meditation on women’s place in historical record and memorial discourse. There are certainly moments in her volume where she signals anxiety about how women have been or should be remembered (Eve, Pilate’s wife, Margaret and Anne Clifford), or whether they have any claim to be remembered at all (herself). But when Lanyer comes to write of women like Deborah, Esther et al, she does not see her task as being to retrieve them from obscurity. Rather, she identifies them as ‘famous women elder times have knowne, / Whose glorious actions did appeare so bright’ (ll. 1465-6). Not merely celebrated in ‘elder times’, these are women whose ‘worth’ remains known centuries later because it was ‘writ in lines of blood and fire’ (l. 1473). Likewise, the Queen of Sheba’s ‘memorable Act’ is in no danger of falling into historical oblivion because the account of her deeds too has been ‘Writ by the hand of true Eternitie’ (ll. 1687, 8). Foregrounding heroic women of ancient times thus enables Lanyer to make a case that not all women have been subjected to the disregard of posterity, but that some at least have succeeded in staking their claim to history’s consideration. The sections of Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum which rehearse and revise the stories of Biblical women embody a sense of history in which such women enjoy a secure, lasting, and, indeed, memorable place in narratives of the past.

[14]  In this respect Lanyer’s poem is not a work of recovery of forgotten and overlooked women; rather it is a celebration of women’s place in the historical record. Yet her ostensible purpose in retelling the stories of women such as Cleopatra, Esther, Susannah and Sheba in the closing section of the narrative poem is to employ their enduring fame as a foil to Margaret Clifford’s unique and incomparable virtues. Women of the past are invoked to set off a woman in the present, inscribed in the textual record formed by Lanyer’s verse so that she will be remembered in the future. In each instance, Lanyer praises the selected heroine for her virtues, but finds them lacking because they are essentially worldly in comparison with Clifford’s purer orientation towards the divine. Compared, for example, with the ‘Scythian women’ who ‘by their power alone / Put king Darius unto shamefull flight’ (ll. 1469-70), Margaret is more virtuous and more notable:

[Their] worth, though writ in lines of blood and fire,
Is not to be compared unto thine;
Their powre was small to overcome Desire,
Or to direct their wayes by Virtues line:
Were they alive, they would thy Life admire,
And unto thee their honours would resigne:
For thou a greater conquest do’st obtaine,
Than they who have so many thousands slaine. (ll. 1473-80)

The juxtaposition of Margaret Clifford with her female predecessors shows Lanyer framing an intervention in public historical narrative within intimate stories of personal memory, in the service of her articulation of what Constance Furey calls a ‘utopian vision of women’s place in history [a]s the site of a dynamic exploration of what it means for women to have a place – to read, to write, to speak, to create different roles for themselves’ (Furey 2006: 562). In this sense, then, Lanyer’s poem may be read as staging the education of utopian desire for a different future by means of a different reading of the past. At the same time, she aspires to inscribe something as enduringly powerful and memorable as the stories she rehearses – to write her own lines of blood and fire.

[15]  Lanyer’s focus on Margaret Clifford as the object of her memory work and the embodiment of the dynamic, utopian relation between past, present and future which her poetry seeks to instantiate is also central to her country-house poem ‘The Description of Cooke-ham’. Bringing Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum to a conclusion, this is an elegiac poem of parting and departure, in which the abandoned place is given ‘great charge’ to ‘preserve’ the ‘noble memory’ of those who have left (ll. 155-6). The poem foregrounds its own status as a text of memory by beginning with an invocation of the muses, who as the daughters of Mnemosyne, the Greek patroness of memory, embodied the vital relationship between memory and creativity. Cookham, Lanyer says, is the birthplace of her poetic vocation, the site where ‘the Muses gave their full consent, / I should have power the virtuous to content’ (ll. 3-4). ‘The Description of Cooke-ham’ exemplifies the Janus-faced nature of memory work. Creating in her description of the garden at Cookham the textual trace of a material memory-place, Lanyer both reminisces about this lost paradise and rests her own claim to be remembered as a writer on her association with the Clifford women there.

[16]  Like other country-house poems, ‘Cooke-ham’ encodes a politics of place and of historical change, but it gives voice to a distinctively feminine perspective within a predominantly masculine genre.[4] The focus on the garden is a key aspect of Lanyer’s feminization of the country-house poem. Imagined as a shared female space, the garden becomes the locus of Lanyer’s recreative deployment of memory. The opening lines establish it as both the textual ground of her invocation of the lost past for which she yearns, and the poetic figuration of the space where the memories she summons up were created:

Farewell (sweet Cooke-ham) where I first obtain’d
Grace from that Grace where perfit Grace remain’d;
And where the Muses gave their full consent,
I should have power the virtuous to content:
Where princely Palace will’d me to indite,
The sacred Storie of the Soules delight,
Farewell (sweet Place) where Virtue then did rest,
And all delights did harbour in her breast:
Never shall my sad eies againe behold
Those pleasures which my thoughts did then unfold (ll. 1-10)

Thoughout ‘The Description of Cooke-ham’, Lanyer repeatedly calls upon memory to restore the lost social and emotional plenitude she claims to have shared with the Clifford women in the garden at Cookham. Yet she regretfully acknowledges that it can only do so imperfectly, substituting ‘dimme shadows’ for the ‘celestiall pleasures’ the women have lost (13-15). Lanyer’s depiction of the garden at Cookham both recreates Eden in the English countryside, and refashions the culturally powerful Biblical associations of women with gardens, and of gardens with suffering, evoked by her retelling of the stories of Eve and of the Passion in the main part of Salve Deus. Danielle Clarke insists that Cookham is continuous with the narrative section of the volume insofar as its nostalgic evocation of ‘an ideal exchange between devout and virtuous women in the earthly paradise’ forms a counterpart to the utopian ‘vision of the heavenly paradise adumbrated in the main body of the text’ (Clarke 2000: xxxv). As a site of memory, the ‘Cooke-ham’ garden is thus implicated in both the revisionary narrative of the central poem in the sequence and the very fact of the poem’s existence. For Jennifer Munroe, the trope of the garden in Lanyer’s volume works to bind past, present and future, in a way which, I would suggest, is analogous to the work of memory itself:

If the Garden of Gethsemane offers Lanyer’s female readers the promise of salvation and inheriting the kingdom of heaven later, the Cooke-ham garden offers them the hope of enjoying the circumstances of Edenic perfection in the present, perpetually re-experienced in Lanyer’s poetry and in the memory of the women who lived there with her (Munroe 2008: 76).

This celebration of Cookham’s Edenic qualities occludes the sense of loss that pervades Lanyer’s depiction of it, however. The idealization of Edenic unity is fractured by the different material relations which Lanyer and the Clifford women have to the estate. The preoccupation with class and status which is a persistent feature of the country-house poem as a genre complicates the sense of shared nostalgic pleasure associated with Cookham in Lanyer’s poem. Her apostrophizing of ‘sweet Memorie’ as a bulwark against the loss of ‘pleasures past, which will not turne againe’ (ll. 117-8) concludes a sequence in which she meditates on the barriers imposed by social distinction, which she identifies as the ultimate cause of her separation from the Clifford women: ‘our great friends we cannot dayly see, / So great a diffrence is there in degree’ (105-6). In the context of a volume which is strongly committed to framing a bid for patronage in the terms of female friendship, the early modern significance of ‘friends’ not merely as social companions but as people who could forward one’s material and worldly interests is clearly pertinent here. Though the poem holds out hope that heaven may eventually offer a healing, unifying ‘entire love’ (l. 116), for the time being memory alone offers consolation for the wounds of class. What then is at stake, in class terms and in terms of the relationships between the women, in the injunction to Margaret to ‘Remember beauteous Dorsets former sports… / Wherein my selfe did alwaies bear a part’ (ll. 119, 121)? Recalling togetherness at the same time as highlighting the current separation, the nostalgic injunction to her social superior is marked with a sense of loss, which may signal anxiety about the fragility of the speaker’s hold both on memory and on the potentially advantageous relationships her poem celebrates.

[17]  Yet the position of Margaret and Anne Clifford in relation to the wealth and prestige emblematized by Cookham is less secure than this reading might suggest. The anticipation of exile and loss is intrinsic to any evocation of the garden of Eden, and the Edenic locus represented by Cookham is similarly shadowed by the threat of dispossession. The garden evoked by Lanyer is merely a temporary refuge for the Clifford women, not a centuries-old family possession And this temporary status is gendered: the moment of Margaret Clifford and her daughter’s presence at Cookham is a fraught one in the dispute over Anne’s inheritance rights. The textual production of the garden as memory place is thus also a record of its loss and a performance of mourning for it – a performance in which the garden itself participates:

Each arbour, bank, each seat, each stately tree
Looks bare and desolate now, for want of thee;
Turning green tresses into frosty grey,
While in cold grief they wither all away. (ll. 191-4)

Cookham itself holds onto the physical memory of emotion: ‘every thing retaind a sad dismay’ (l. 130) and is endowed with a certain agency in the processes of remembering and representing, in an echo of memory theory which links these lines back to the opening reference to Cookham as the ‘princely Palace’ that ‘will’d [her] to indite’ (l. 5). ‘The Description of Cooke-ham’ is thus both an exhortation to recollect, and itself a site of memory.

[18]  Lanyer depicts a complex, reciprocal relationship between human subject and inhabited landscape as sites and agents of memory and emotion when she addresses Margaret as the caretaker of the ‘former pleasures’ of the ‘sad creatures’ idenfied with Cookham itself, which she has lodged within her heart, ‘Giving great charge to noble Memory / There to preserve their love continually’ (ll. 155-6). Bidding herself think on Margaret’s past youth as a way of recreating in her own memory the relationship between her putative patron and the garden at Cookham, Lanyer holds out to herself the possibility that recalling those shared recreations will be consolatory, but dwells in doing so on her grief at what she has lost: ‘Those recreations let me beare in mind, / Which her sweet youth and noble thoughts did finde: / Whereof deprived, I evermore must grieve’ (ll. 123-5). In the end, it is Margaret, not Cookham, who is to be the focus of the writer’s emotional engagement; and yet the very existence of the poem as a memorialisation of Cookham nuances and complicates that distinction. By systematically articulating all the features of Cookham, in a kind of blazon of the landscape, and connecting each of them to something about Margaret Clifford, Lanyer’s poem quite precisely employs the specific relationship delineated in classical memory theory between loci and imagines – the imagined ‘site’ where the memory will be stored, and the image that will be associated with it and used to retrieve it (cf. Carruthers 1990). Acting on the injunction to endow that which must be remembered with affective and sensory significance, she depicts Margaret moving through the garden, inscribing the memorial associations with ‘pleasures past’ its features will ‘retain’ as she passes each of them: ‘How often did you visit this fair tree … In these sweet woods how often did you walk’ (ll. 59, 81). Memory work need not, then, be exclusively visual or textual, but can also be embodied – enacted in movement through a place, not merely in a taxonomizing gaze at it. This emphasizes the intimate connection between Margaret and the garden at Cookham. ‘The Description of Cooke-ham’ thus concludes the volume’s sustained address to Margaret as an idealized female figure who embodies a particular virtuous and gendered relationship between past, present and future. In contrast to the narrative section of Salve Deus, however, ‘Cooke-ham’  locates that conjunction not in narratives of women’s history, but in a concrete place which materializes the symbolic resonance of such narratives on an intimate domestic scale.

[19]  Lanyer concludes her reflections on the absence of Margaret and Anne Clifford and closes the poem with her own ‘last farewell to Cooke-ham’, a valediction that attempts to pre-empt mourning by asserting the immortal memory that her verse will bestow on Margaret and on the place which constitutes her poetic monument: ‘When I am dead thy name in this may live, / Wherein I have performed her noble hest’ (ll. 206-7). In making this claim at the end of the poem – and nearly at the end of the volume – Lanyer returns to a point made in her prose dedicatory epistle to Margaret, where she offered up her book as ‘the mirrour of your most worthy minde, which may remaine in the world many yeares longer than your Honour, or my selfe can live, to be a light unto those that come after’ (p. 35). Lanyer’s own textual memorial is thus identified with her poetic monument to Margaret and to Cookham, reciprocally associating their fates in a corporeal metaphor that evokes a powerful combination of interiority, intimacy, and subjection: ‘Whose virtues lodge in my unworthy breast, / And ever shall, so long as life remains, / Tying my heart to her by those rich chains’ (ll. 208-10). In employing the elegiac mode not merely to monumentalize and mourn what has been lost, but to assert her own claim to poetic fame by ‘tying’ her reputation as a poet to that which she celebrates, Lanyer employs a venerable poetic strategy. In doing so, she exemplifies the memorial aspirations she shared with many other early modern women writers – not least Anne Clifford, whose presence and absence from Cookham Lanyer memorialises in her verse.[5]

2. Aemilia Lanyer remembered
[20]  The recollection of Aemilia Lanyer began, somewhat disconcertingly for feminist critics, with A.L. Rowse’s dubious identification of her in the early 1970s as the ‘Dark Lady’ to whom some of Shakespeare’s sonnets were supposedly addressed (Rowse 1973: 12, and Rowse 1976). Rowse legitimised the reprinting of Lanyer’s poetry by framing it as a supplement to Shakespeare’s Sonnets and casting her as the lover of the more famous and canonical writer. Problematic both in terms of its methods – Rowse took poems by Lanyer and Shakespeare as transparent evidence for their lives – and its consequences for the public perception of Lanyer as a sultry temptress rather than an ambitious poet, nevertheless his publication of The Poems of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady: Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum by Emilia Lanyer enabled Lanyer to take a step out of the obscurity in which she had long remained. Available in public libraries as well as universities, Rowse’s quirky edition had the real value of making Lanyer’s poetry much more accessible at a time when the nine extant copies of the 1611 edition of Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum could be consulted in just seven libraries worldwide (three in the USA, four in the south of England). Rowse’s volume helped to enable the first stages of the salvaging labour of feminist scholarship which transformed Lanyer’s place in historical discourse and cultural memory. There are now more than two hundred items in Kari Boyd McBride’s invaluable online bibliography of Lanyer studies, and only two of them – both entries in biographical indexes – precede Rowse’s identification of her as Shakespeare’s Dark Lady.[6]

[21]  Though few Lanyer scholars have taken the identification of Lanyer as Shakespeare’s mistress seriously, it has nonetheless been influential in two ways. Firstly, to the extent that Lanyer has any purchase on cultural memory or popular perceptions of the Renaissance beyond the academy, it is in her capacity as Shakespeare’s putative Dark Lady rather than as the author of a significant volume of verse. The growth of the blogosphere, and of electronic self-publishing more broadly, has given new impetus to the Dark Lady fantasy in recent years. Lanyer now has an internet presence that encompasses not only McBride’s scholarly bibliography, but also a slideshow dramatizing her secret marriage to Shakespeare in distinctly queer terms, and the website John Hudson set up to advance his contention that she was not merely Shakespeare’s lover, but his collaborator: ‘this black Jewish woman, Amelia Bassano (the first woman to publish a book of original poetry) wr[o]te Shakespeare’s plays’. [7]

The fact that feminist critical agendas have apparently had less impact on the presence of early modern women in popular culture than such constructions of women writers as erotic accessories to more famous men is a cause for concern, and a challenge for future work. Secondly, this framing of Lanyer’s recovery from cultural oblivion established a context in which questions of biography – of the relations between life and writing – have been intimately entangled with her relationship to the canon, and her status as an object of critical scrutiny. An interest in the writer’s biography is not intrinsically illegitimate, of course, and careful, responsible biographical research is vital in enabling readers to contextualize a writer’s literary production. In Lanyer’s case, though, the interest in biography has had problematic consequences. Rowse is by no means alone in using Lanyer’s literary compositions as surrogates for documentary evidence: the relative paucity of historical documentation concerning her life, combined with the apparent riches offered by the poems as a source for some aspects of her experience, have encouraged a persistent conflation of life and text. One instance is critical anxieties about whether Lanyer’s textual fantasies of female community can and should provide a map for our interpretations of her real-life relationships with her dedicatees. Posing complex methodological questions about how best to trace the relations between memory and history, experience and inscription, examining these interactions can have the benfit of disclosing what is at stake in our textual constructions of women writers and our attempts to research their lives. The investments and critical desires revealed in these ways of reading have played an important role in energizing the project of recovering women from the past. However, they risk foreclosing the range of ways in which the recovered writer/texts may be read: a fascination with certain aspects of her life may overdetermine critical agendas, leading to an overly confessional and personalized reading of texts whose literary aspirations were not in fact determined by an autobiographical impulse. The danger is that such a concern with the grounding of a woman’s writing in her life will lead to the reading of her work solely as a symptom of female experience. This is less true that it once was of scholarship on Lanyer, but it remains an issue in pedagogy, as students find the earlier phase of work on her that focuses on biography appealing. The challenge for feminist scholars is to capture this interest, in students and more broadly, in Lanyer’s biography and use it to intervene in how she is represented in the wider culture. Moreover, biography is not a purely personal matter – though too often it appears as such, both in scholarship and in popular discourse – but rather a way of situating an individual life-story in relation to the historical and the political. As such, it can serve in the classroom and in scholarship to link personal memory with cultural history.

[22]  The cultural fantasies about Lanyer’s life which followed in the wake of Rowse’s identification of her as Shakespeare’s Dark Lady have had their counterparts in an important trend in the recovery of Lanyer to the canon. Advocating and modeling cautious handling of biographical material, scholars including Josephine Roberts and Lisa Schnell have reinflected the identification of Lanyer as Shakespeare’s lover and the addressee of some of his sonnets to serve the purposes of feminist criticism (Roberts 1996; Schnell 1996). For Schnell, juxtaposing the careers of Aemilia Lanyer and William Shakespeare enables us to see more clearly the socio-economic and cultural factors that shaped an early modern literary career and to expose and critique the power differences between male and female poet that affected their access to such a career, however similar their class positions and situation in the literary marketplace. This strand of Lanyer studies is clearly indebted to the agendas for feminist scholarship laid out in Virginia Woolf’s truly groundbreaking, and still hugely influential, search for the material and cultural explanation for the apparent silence of women at a time when, ‘every other man, it seemed, was capable of song or sonnet’ (Woolf 1998: 53). Indeed, had the work of recovery which has restored Lanyer to the canon been done in time to make Woolf aware of her foresister’s career, she might not have needed to invent the aspiring poet Judith Shakespeare. The myth of Aemilia Lanyer as Shakespeare’s Dark Lady both testifies to our continuing cultural investment in a fantasy of a female Shakespeare, and reveals some of the anxieties about difference that haunt canonical Renaissance literature. Lanyer’s career and writing answered well to the concerns of feminist scholarship, and as a result they have been vigorously and inventively re-membered, in ways that are symptomatic of the changing agendas of feminist and other scholarship. Readings of her work have enabled scholars to move forward the discussion of key concerns such as female community, canon formation, women’s engagement with religious discourse as well as questions of racial and national identity. As researchers, we too have indulged our fantasies about the ‘dark lady’ – even if rather than considering her to be Shakespeare’s, we have instead focused on the conditions that might enable such a woman to achieve the agency associated with becoming a writer.

[23]  Remembering Aemilia Lanyer does not merely illuminate the conceptual questions addressed by feminist scholarship, but also challenges us to rethink our sense of women’s place in literary history, and to meditate on the ways in which we make sense of the presence in and absence from literary history of particular kinds of texts and writers. Arguing that because of the lack of evidence for any attention and response to it in its own time Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum cannot meaningfully be seen as having a place in literary history prior to its recent rescue from oblivion by feminist scholarship, Marshall Grossman  has interrogated the implications for criticism of Lanyer’s belated entrance into literary history (Grossman 1998: 128).  In this reading, we might see Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum as being known and read now for the first time, rather than being remembered, and Lanyer as a representative of all the women whose work has lurked in oblivion. Thus the work of recollecting her, and meditating on how she came to be forgotten, should provoke us to consider not merely the fact of and individual woman’s writer inclusion in or exclusion from the canon, but also the processes by which canons get constructed, and writers are remembered or forgotten. As Grossman contends, ‘it is in the interest of literary history to consider Lanyer’s peculiar ability to make us aware of what we might otherwise not notice, to recall what we have been in fact trained to forget’ (1998: 130).  The disjunction between the obscurity in which Salve Deus lingered for centuries and Lanyer’s own vigorously articulated desire to be remembered as a poet is a painful reminder of the vulnerability both of women as historical subjects, and of all textual production, to lapsing from cultural memory.

[24]  However, Shannon Miller has recently countered Grossman’s certainty that Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum went largely unheralded and unread in the seventeenth century by exploring a range of possible connections between the poem and Milton’s literary career (Miller 2008: 49). Miller tracks ‘a suggestive range of stylistic tropes’ as grounds for ‘hazarding’ an intertextual relationship between Lanyer’s and Milton’s revisions of Eve; argues that both writers share a distinctive concern with the spiritual politics of the gaze in their re-narration of the Fall; and situates these putative intertextual connections in the context of wider claims that Milton could have had access to Lanyer’s text as it circulated through a cultural network in which both he and the Clifford women were involved. To see Lanyer as a possible influence on Milton – or at least a co-participant in a shared literary conversation – replaces her in literary history and makes it possible to see men and women as in dialogue with each other in their cultural work. The repositioning of Lanyer in relation to cultural memory and the literary institutions that sustain it has, Erica Longfellow warns, tended ‘to isolate Lanyer from history and her contemporaries by emphasizing her exceptionalism’ (Longfellow 2004: 60). Yet the culture of memory work that informed Lanyer’s own writing practice was one to which textual exchange and interaction with other readers and writers were crucial; the series of dedicatory poems testifies to her own sense of the importance of a cultural community for the woman writer. Relocating Lanyer as a participant in a world of reading, thinking and writing that was shared not only with other women, but also with male writers, enables us to understand the landscape of that world differently – as a place where women did not merely inhabit the margins, but where they were more normal presences than scholarship has sometimes assumed.

[25]  In her revision of the Christian past, Lanyer writes as a precursor of the feminist project of counter-memory. More than that, her tactics and motives for seeking to be remembered anticipate it, in that the intensely gynocentric nature of the content of her poem, the context of her dedications and the bid for patronage and tissue of social relations woven through them, together signal that it is specifically as a female poet that she wants to be remembered. Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum interlaces an intervention in public historical narrative with intimate evocations of personal memory.  This volume of verse both constitutes an extended meditation on personal and cultural aspects of memory and situates the representation of women past and present at the interface of memory and history. Lanyer’s engagements throughout the volume with modes and genres associated with memory writing – mother’s legacy, lamentation, and elegy –  combine the articulation of personal memory in the face of bereavement and loss, with the writerly desire to ensure that inscription will endure and transcend the oblivion that such loss threatens. It is ironic, then, that for so long this was a poetry that did indeed suffer oblivion, despite Lanyer’s best efforts to ensure that her textual legacy would secure her place in cultural memory.

University of Newcastle



[1] On Lanyer’s engagement with the querelle des femmes, see, for instance, Richey 1998.[back to text]

[2] On the relationship between female exemplarity and ‘empathetic female reading communities’ see Hampton 2007.[back to text]

[3] For an overview of the body of scholarship on Mary Sidney, see Hannay 2009, vol. 2.[back to text]

[4] On the genre’s concern with historical continuity and the continuing presence of the past, see Fowler 1994: 7-8. Other women who intervened in the genre include Lucy Hutchinson, in her elegies on her husband, and Katherine Austen (cf. Norbrook 1997). Katherine Austen’s ‘On the Situation of Highbury’ can be found  in Stevenson et al. 2001: 315-6.[back to text]

[5] On Anne Clifford’s various memorial projects, see Chedgzoy 2007, chapter 1.[back to text]

[6] http://www.ic.arizona.edu/ic/mcbride/lanyer/lanbib.htm. Accessed January 5 2010.[back to text]

[7] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=em3IgjdpWOchttp://www.darkladyplayers.com/index.html. Both accessed January 5 2010.[back to text]


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‘A memorie nouriched by images’: Reforming the Art of Memory in William Fowler’s Tarantula of Love

‘A memorie nouriched by images’: Reforming the Art of Memory in William Fowler’s Tarantula of Love

Elizabeth Elliott

[1]  The manuscripts containing the works of William Fowler (1560-1612), Scottish Jacobean courtier and poet, who ended his days as Secretary to Queen Anna of Denmark, present an intriguing juxtaposition of a draft sonnet associated with his sequence, The Tarantula of Love, and a love letter in his hand. Appearing above the sonnet on the recto of a sheet of paper, the letter runs as follows:

My faire and sweit harte gif I wer assured that your inward conditiouns wer ansuerable to your untovard beautye, I wald have adventured to wryte mair particularlie vnto yow then I can or will att this houer, be reasoun my trustie servant reported vnto me that ye did say to him that ye culd not wryte and I wald be laith to be so far scorned or humbled that my wryting war red by any other ene then be your awen quhase brightnes hes summoned me to love you, nor by any other hands fingers answered […] then be theme that a far aff I have Indurd of there plesantnes. sua gif it sal stand with your plesour to lat me see the farder proofs of your perfection I will be mair plane in my nixt letters and how euer it be sal rest your maist honest and vnfeind friend to honour you [1].

A revised version of the accompanying sonnet, ‘It is thy plat and course o Mightye Love’, appears elsewhere in Fowler’s papers (Hawthornden MS XI, f. 23v). Cancelled in this manuscript, the revised sonnet was excluded from the second, and most authoritative, version of the Tarantula, preserved in the Drummond MS (Edinburgh University Library, De.3.68; for a detailed account of the MSS, see Verweij 2007). Perhaps simply the effect of a convenient use of blank space, the conjunction of letter and sonnet might alternatively suggest the autobiographical nature of the passion depicted within the Tarantula, or an abandoned direction for Fowler’s literary project, as a heterogeneous work encompassing a variety of forms and evoking the processes of textual circulation, rather than a sonnet cycle (for an analysis of one such text, Isabella Whitney’s A Sweet Nosgay, see Wall 1991: 47-48). Yet, if the precise nature of the connection between letter and sonnet remains uncertain, their shared function as forms of erotic petition is indicative: Fowler’s letter articulates concerns that are also central to the Tarantula, and the treatment of desire in these interlinked texts illuminates the later sequence of seventy-one sonnets, most probably composed between 1584 and 1587 (Verweij 2007).

[2]  In voicing a desire for tangible proof of the beloved’s perfection, for evidence that her beauty is an authentic sign of her inward worth, Fowler articulates an impossible longing for direct access to truth. Composed despite the apparently conclusive report of his ‘trustie’ servant, the letter conceives writing as a medium that might serve as a substitute for its author’s physical presence, as the object of the beloved’s gaze, and of her touch. In framing his request in terms of a wish for visible proof, Fowler’s letter suggests a paradoxical attempt to dispute the information he has received. It implies a hope for an answer in the lady’s hand, rather than for confirmation of her ability to read. Transforming the intimacy that belongs to the personal letter into a distasteful exposure of private sentiment, the beloved’s putative lack strikes at the heart of his desire because it renders her imperfect. As such, the addressee is an unsuitable object for a mode of loving that characteristically identifies the beloved as the embodiment of all that is desirable, a being who resembles Christian and Neo-Platonic conceptions of the divine in her completeness: as the accompanying sonnet expresses it, one ‘on quhome the heavens hes steld / attains all that which sondrie hes in part’ (Meikle, Craigie, and Purves 1914-40: I. 209, ll. 9-10; hereafter Meikle). In Fowler’s letter, the hope that writing might operate as a material support enabling the lover to approach such perfection is not only deferred, but already forlorn, as the anxious request for reassurance reflects an awareness that his desire is misdirected, and that the medium in which it finds expression will prove inadequate. If the lady lacks the skill to write, her perfection cannot be proven, and Fowler’s desire cannot be satisfied; if she is unable to read, writing cannot serve as a means to achieve intimacy, as others will be made party to their correspondence. Fowler’s Tarantula displays a similar preoccupation with human artifice and its potential as a means to obtain the ends of desire. This article seeks to locate Fowler’s sequence against the background of contemporary debates surrounding the relationship between practices of representation, the training and exercise of the faculty of memory, and the government of desire.

[3]  Fowler’s own proficiency in the art of memory, the systematic mental training that facilitated the storage, retrieval, and creative recombination of ideas and information, is indicated by the presence of an ‘art of memorye’ in the list headed ‘My Works’, preserved amongst the Hawthornden papers. Although no such work survives, his manuscripts offer some further evidence of an interest in mnemonic praxis: a page of jottings includes a sentence in which Fowler addresses James VI, recollecting that ‘Whils I was teaching your majestie the art of me[m]orye yow instructed me in poesie and imprese for so was yours. sic docens discam’ (Meikle, II. 1; III. XIX n. 4). ‘Thus by teaching I shall learn’: the same Latin tag appears in James’s ‘Sonnet of the authour to the reader’, printed in the Essayes of a Prentise in the Divine Art of Poesie (1584), and Fowler’s tantalising claim underlines the complementary nature of the arts of poetry, memory, and emblem (Craigie I.69, l. 12).

[4]  Fowler’s interest in emblems, reflected in his design for the ceremonial at the baptism of Prince Henry, in surviving notes on impresa, and in the title of another lost work, the ‘art of impreses’, has been remarked by Michael Bath, who elsewhere draws attention to the symbiotic relationship linking emblematics and the art of memory (Bath 2007; Bath 1994: 48-51). Traditional memory systems involved the visualisation of a series of places where data, translated into the form of images, might be arranged and stored (Yates 1966; Carruthers 2008). As a practice that entails the generation of figures capable of expressing complex meanings, the art of memory anticipated the later emergence of emblematics. The definition of the art of memory offered by Francis Bacon serves as an index of the extent to which the two practices shape and inform one another: Bacon uses the term emblem as a label encompassing the conversion of data into images central to the art of memory, finding that ‘Embleme reduceth conceits intellectuall to Images sensible, which strike the Memorie more’ (Bacon 2000: 119; on the relationship between memory and emblem, see also Fowler 1999: 8-9).

[5]  Fowler’s apparent interest in forms of memory-training that employ images is especially intriguing because his activities brought him into proximity with Giordano Bruno, who was to become one of the key figures in a controversy surrounding this aspect of the art of memory. Detained by the English authorities whilst in London during 1582, Fowler presently became one of Walsingham’s agents, cultivating an acquaintance with the French ambassador, Michel de Castelnau, seigneur de Mauvissière, which earned him the displeasure of his family and of his connections in the Kirk of Scotland (Meikle, III. xvi-xix). Fowler was a regular visitor to the ambassador’s house at Salisbury Court until his return to Scotland, with his last dispatch to Walsingham from London dated 8 July 1583; it is therefore likely that he came into contact with Bruno, resident at the embassy from April 1583. If such contact remains a matter for speculation, however, the dispute in which Bruno was to become embroiled the following year provides an insight into the tensions surrounding the practice of the art of memory within a culture in the grip of religious reform.

[6]  The controversy over the uses of memory in 1584 emanates from the wider conflict over the role of visual representation shaping reformed ideology. Conducted within a series of tracts published by Bruno’s Scottish disciple, Alexander Dicson, and G. P., who has been persuasively identified with the Puritan divine and Ramist William Perkins, the debate sets the traditional use of places and images as a support to memory in opposition to a form of the art of memory derived from the teachings of Pierre de la Ramée (Ramus), founded upon logical disposition (Yates 1966: 260-78; Durkan 1962). In her groundbreaking study, Frances Yates locates the Ramist rejection of the traditional methods of memory-training against the background of a Protestant repudiation of devotional images, finding that Ramism ‘provided a kind of inner iconoclasm, corresponding to the outer iconoclasm’ (Yates 1966: 231). Yates’s analysis anticipates the highly influential reading of the impact of Protestantism upon English culture proposed by Patrick Collinson. Collinson identifies the 1580s as marking a radical shift from an iconoclasm that distinguished between acceptable and unacceptable images, between the aesthetic and the devotional, to iconophobia, inimical to art and engendering ‘a society suffering from severe visual anorexia’ (Collinson 1988: 119). Recent work has cast doubt on this model, however, drawing attention to a more complex process of transition in attitudes to the visual within reformed society, encompassing the creative assimilation and adaptation of inherited visual and material culture (Hamling and Williams 2007; Watt 1991). By illuminating the impact of Protestantism on visual imagery, such studies facilitate critical reflection on the issues at stake in the debate surrounding the art of memory in 1584, and their significance for an interpretation of Fowler’s poetry.

[7]  The Ramist emphasis on logical order as the foundation of good mnemonic practice does not entail a complete rejection of the visual: Ramist methodology employs structures conceived in spatial terms, stimulating the production of printed diagrams in a development that accentuates and enlarges the traditional function of page layout as a material supplement to memory, or cognitive prosthesis (Hallett 2007; Ong 2004; Tribble 2008; Yates 1966: 230). Perkins’s attack on the traditional art of memory is specifically concerned with the use of images that appeal to the emotions in order to stimulate recollection, a criticism repeated in the preaching manual published under his own name in 1592, and later translated into English as The Arte of Prophecying: ‘The animation of the image, which is the key of memory, is impious; because it requireth absurd, insolent and prodigious cogitations, and those especially, which set an edge vpon and kindle the most corrupt affections of the flesh’ (1607: 130). An emphasis on the affective character of memory images is a standard feature of writing on traditional forms of the art of memory, reflecting the origins of such images in sensory experience, and the fundamental role attributed to the emotional response as a means of imprinting and retrieving data in the memory (Carruthers 2008: 75-76, 217). The Antidicsonus of 1584 identifies a more particular cause of disquiet, however, in an allusion to Peter of Ravenna (Pietro Tommai) as an advocate of licentious images (Yates 1966: 267). A highly popular treatise on memory, Peter’s Phenix was first published in Venice, 1491, and an English translation ‘out of French’ was printed in London c. 1545 (Phenix, sig. B8v; Rossi 2000: 20-22, 254 n47). Peter illustrates his art of memory with examples of his own use of the image of Juniper, a Pistoian whom he ‘loved greatly’ as a young man, and of various ‘fayre maidens’, some of them ‘all naked’. He advises the reader that these images are useful to him ‘for they excite greatly my mynde and frequentation’, but warns that the method is inappropriate for those who despise women (sig. A7r-A7v, B2v).

[8]  If the use of the female form as a mnemonic focus is a source of particular anxiety for Perkins, however, the relationship between Peter’s apparently libidinous and practical art of memory and the more mystical form disseminated by Bruno and Dicson is difficult to quantify. Recent work has questioned the assumption that Bruno’s attitude to the Protestant Reformation was wholly hostile: of particular interest here are the philosopher’s repudiation of devotional practices involving images, and the emphasis placed on his refusal to accept Mariolatry or veneration of the saints in a report issued shortly after his death in 1600, at the hands of the Inquisition (Gatti 2002). A further indication that the Brunian version of the art of memory was not necessarily incompatible with Protestantism is provided by Dicson’s sixteenth-century reputation as a former attendant on Philip Sidney.  Bruno dedicated two of his works to Sidney, whose conception of the art of memory was, on the evidence of an allusion in the Defence of Poetry, traditional rather than Ramist (Yates 1966: 275-77; Durkan 1962). Moreover, Perkins’s suspicion of the construction of inward images coexisted with other Puritan traditions endorsing the cultivation of mental pictures in devotional meditation, with such images perceived as a wholesome contrast to the material objects formerly displayed in places of worship (Moore 2006).

[9]  Bruno’s own writings reflect a profound distrust of the erotic: especially significant is his De gli eroici furori (c. 1585), dedicated to Sidney. The furori reads Petrarch’s Canzoniere as a depiction of the harmful effects of sensual love, and enacts a creative adaptation of the sonnet sequence form to frame a philosophical enquiry, a search for truth (Gatti 2007). Bruno’s text is organized as a series of dialogues, arranged in sections that typically consist of a visual device described in words and without pictorial illustration; a poem, usually a sonnet, in which the emblematic imagery takes the form of a literary conceit; and a commentary expounding the significance of the image in spiritual terms. For example, an emblem comprising stars as eyes, accompanied by the motto Mors et vita, is matched with a sonnet that imagines the beloved’s eyes as stars, whose glance is fatal, yet also grants the lover a reprieve from death. The meaning of the two is linked in a commentary that glosses the image as a metaphor for the soul’s longing for God, and the conventional amatory petition of the sonnet is expounded as a plea for a vision of God that is not mediated by similitudes or veiled in mystery. This vision is identified with ‘eternal life, which a man may anticipate in this life and enjoy in eternity’ (Part 2, Dialogue 1, VII; Bruno 1889: 30). As Frances Yates argues, in this respect, Bruno’s treatment of Petrarch resembles that of the emblematists who mined the Canzoniere for images to be reinvented as sacred emblems (Yates 1943). The strong connections between the arts of memory and emblem suggest that such traditions function to reinscribe Petrarchan tropes as memory images. In doing so, Bruno and the emblematists may be responding to Petrarch’s reputation as a master of the art of memory: regularly cited as such in sixteenth-century treatises, Petrarch is also mentioned as an authority on memory by Perkins, in another work against Dicson published in 1584, the Libellus de memoria verissimaque bene recordandi scientia (Yates 1966: 109-12, 267, 303; Rossi 2000: 227-28).

[10]  In witnessing the particular anxieties surrounding the role of images, the affective, and, especially, the erotic, in the art of memory as it was practised in the 1580s, the interaction between Bruno, Dicson, and Perkins offers a valuable insight into the tensions mediated within Fowler’s Tarantula. The possibility that Fowler was aware of this debate cannot be ruled out, but his earlier work suggests that he already shared the concerns at its heart. The question of the proper use of images had a personal dimension for Fowler, whose first publication, printed in Edinburgh, 1581, has its origins in a theological debate with violent consequences. In Paris continuing his studies, Fowler became party to a discussion of the Jesuit John Hay’s new book, Certain demandes concerning the Christian religion and discipline proposed to the ministers of the new pretended Kirk of Scotland (1580), in a group of his compatriots that also included Hay himself (Meikle, II. 22). According to Fowler, the flashpoint that tipped this ‘prolix disputation’ into threats of physical violence was the success of his own counterargument against the proposition that the making of images is not contrary to divine law, because representation is to be distinguished from worship. For his pains, Fowler claims, he was subjected to a bloody public beating at the hands of his Catholic countrymen shortly thereafter (Meikle, II. 23-25). In An Answer to the Calvmniovs letter and Erroneous propositiouns of an apostat named M. Io. Hammiltoun, Fowler responds to a letter sent by one of his assailants, John Hamilton, in a challenge to the ministers of the Kirk of Scotland. Apparently written at the ministers’ request, Fowler’s Answer is nonetheless framed by an account of his personal grievance, and his arguments clarify his stance on images to some extent.

[11]  Fowler allows for a distinction between ornamental and devotional imagery, arguing that ‘Christe him selfe did not condemne Cæsars Image in the money. For painting & grauing ar things indifferent nather guid nor euil, in sa far, that quhen thair vse tends not to deuotioun bot to decoratioun and ornament. Bot euin sua, that God can not be representit be na Image’ (Meikle, II. 56). This would seem to leave substantial scope for artistic representation, and perhaps reflects the particular cultural climate of early modern Scotland, where Protestant iconoclasm coexists with a flourishing tradition of decorative painting (Bath 2003). Fowler’s later comments on devotional objects, however, suggest that the relationship between memory and images is a focus of anxiety:

ze esteem them as books of the Laics & commoun pepill, be the quhilks they are callit to remembrance to serue Christ. Bot an vnhappie memorie is that quhilk stands in nead of a sightfull conceat, and miserabill is that man quhilk na vtherwayis can haue the presence of Christ with him vnles he haue his Image paintit on the wall, or expressit in sum vther mater, for sic a memorie that is nouriched by Images procedeth not of harty loue: bot of necessitie of eye sight. (Meikle, II. 57-58)
Fowler’s emphasis on the inadequacy of a memory reliant upon material prompts is perhaps intended to suggest the value of the capacity for the contemplation of mental, rather than physical, objects, making a distinction like that found in the Puritan traditions described by Susan Hardman Moore (2006). Yet Fowler’s distrust of the nourishment that eyesight provides for the memory undermines the basis of any such distinction. Traditional forms of the art of memory underline the visual qualities of mental images, emphasising the role of sight in the creation of foci for meditation; in contrast, Fowler’s analysis of the question of devotional objects suggests that reliance on the visual sense is in itself problematic.

[12]  The tensions aroused by the confluence of the art of memory and the iconoclastic tendencies at work within Protestantism cast new light on Sarah Dunnigan’s subtle argument that ‘Fowler’s erotic poetry can be conceived as a mirror image of his 1581 polemical Epistle’ (Dunnigan 2002: 163). Reading the Tarantula as the expression of a form of Protestant revisionism directed towards Petrarchan tradition, Dunnigan traces a poetic sequence in dialogue with Petrarch’s Canzoniere, and its concluding invocation to the Virgin Mary. As she argues, within Fowler’s erotic poetry, ‘the feminine is identified as the locus of sin and an idolatrous object of abject adoration’, and the Tarantula mediates the complex interplay between ideas of Catholicism, the feminine, and the love sonnet within early modern Scotland, shaped by the experience of Marian rule and its aftermath (Dunnigan 2002: 150; on idolatry in the Canzoniere, see also Roche 1989). Against this background, Fowler’s Tarantula functions as a setting where the anxieties provoked by the contested role of the Virgin as intercessor, and of material images of Mary as supports to the memories of Christian subjects in devout meditation, come into contact with the profound disquiet aroused by the affective aspects of the art of memory, and especially, by the use of the eroticised female body as a mnemonic device. The Tarantula’s revisionary approach to its model perhaps reflects an appropriation of the Canzoniere as a means to negotiate the friction between memory and the erotic, not unlike that enacted by Bruno in the furori, or his emblematist counterparts.

[13]  In the Tarantula, the nature of the connection between memory and desire is further refined by another intertextual relationship at work within the sequence: as R. D. S. Jack argues in his pioneering work on Fowler’s place in the Scottish sonnet tradition, variations in the speaker’s desire for his beloved, Bellisa, evoke the neo-Platonic progression described by Bembo in Book 4 of Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano (Jack 1970: 488-89; Jack 1972: 84-85). Yet the image of the ladder of love, tracing a movement from sensual passion to a mystical union with the divine, is summoned up only to be undermined, as Fowler throws the workings of Bembo’s model into doubt. Fundamental to the advancement of Bembo’s ideal loving subject is the action of the faculty of memory, as a means to assuage the pain of separation from the beloved. As Bembo advises:

To avoide therfore the tourment of this absence, and to enjoy beawtie without passion, the Courtier by the helpe of reason muste full and wholy call backe again the coveting of the body to beawtye alone and (in what he can) beehoulde it in it self simple and pure, and frame it within in his imagination sundred from all matter (Hoby 1900: 357)
Castiglione’s text is itself involved in an attempt to neutralise the threat erotic desire poses to the stability of the subject, as the transference of affection to an image framed within the imagination relieves it of the corrupting influence of matter. As Sarah Dunnigan and Sebastiaan Verweij argue, however, in Fowler’s sequence, the transition from love of the lady to the love of God is frustrated, and instead gives way to humble pleas for divine grace (Dunnigan 2002; Verweij 2007). The authority of this conclusion to the sequence, expressed in the final two sonnets of the Drummond manuscript, has been obscured by the editorial history of the text, as Verweij demonstrates: unpublished during Fowler’s lifetime, the text as reconstructed by its first modern editor, Henry W. Meikle, misidentifies four discarded sonnets from the Hawthornden MSS as an ending to the cycle (Verweij 2007). Recognition of the structure of Fowler’s design underlines the stark quality of his conclusion, as the lover acknowledges that he has been seduced by carnal affection, pleading that he had lost ‘self and sense’ in love in the penultimate sonnet:

though, soverene prence, I have in playning most
bewailed my panis bot not bewaild my sinn,
and so maid sad in me thy holie ghost,
yet drawe my saule from hell that thense doth rin.
this, O Sueit lord, to grant I will begin,
that I have blaikned beutyes lovd and servd,
and hethe adord bot outward bark and skin,
and earthlie things to heunlye hes preferd:
yet let thy mercie the to mercie move,
and off my mortal mak immortal love. (Meikle, I. 206, ll. 2, 5-14)

The lover’s former passion is represented as an impious devotion to worldly things, while he himself lacks agency: only divine grace can open his heart to immortal love.

[14]  Beauty’s failure as a means to evade the impulse of libidinous desire is foreshadowed in the effect of attempts to frame the beloved object in the imagination. During a period of separation occasioned by plague, the lover seeks to assuage the pain of absence through the exercise of memory:

Far from these eyes, and sondred from that face
which with alluring lookes hethe me ortayne,
I move vnmoved, I chainge vnchaingde eache place,
and therbye thinks to mitigat my payne.
and quhils I thus wayes fra your sight remayne,
remembring all the moments that ar past,
yea, euerye houer that I have spent in vayne
in follouing yow quhair ȝe have fled als fast,
Vnto this dyell horologe att last
I me compaire, quhaire love the neidile is,
my hart the glass which schawes al grace is past,
the threid my thoughts, the schaddow a reft kiss:
See me quho then wald morning knaw by noone,
I am the dyell, sirs, and shee the sune. (Meikle, I. 161, ll. 1-14)

Already the hope that memory will serve to relieve pain is weakened, since far from restoring equilibrium to the speaker, reminiscence engenders a vain and ceaseless motion. Rather than sundering him from matter, the action of framing his beloved in the imagination reifies him. Like the sundial, his response to external influence is involuntary, and the image of the heart as ‘the glass which schawes al grace is past’ sounds an especially ominous note. In the next sonnet, Fowler at once extols memory’s capacity for recollection and underlines its detrimental effects:

I have not yet preaste to escape by flight
furth of your yok, which nek and fredome boues:
for ay my thoughs which chainging disavoues,
trewe secretars of my affections all,
presents your absent schape more me to thrall,
and in this distance dothe to mynde recall
your rare perfections and theme right recyte,
which maks all men in madneß for to fall. (Meikle, I. 162, ll. 3-6, 7-10)

The familiar trope of the prison of love both complements and conceals Fowler’s subversion of the Neo-Platonic conceit, as the lover’s imprisonment is presented as a matter of free choice. Yet rather than contributing to his liberation from material bondage, reminiscence increases his subjection, while the common mnemonic techniques of cataloguing and recitation produce a general madness. As Fowler concludes, ‘so present, absent, I my noyes renewe, / And Fouler rins not Foule to girnis and glewe’ (ll. 13-14).

[15]  In contrast to Castiglione’s idealized courtier, the speaker of Fowler’s sequence persistently fails to find consolation in the imaginative power of recollection: as he protests, ‘far aff, your face enflams me mair and maire’ (Meikle, I. 169, ll. 11). Instead of bringing relief, memory increases the pain of frustrated desire: ‘quhils that hee quhome thrist dois sore assayle, / remembring drink, recressis mair his drouthe, / so I remembring the rebreids my bayle’ (Meikle, I. 197, ll. 9-11). Nor is the transition that Jack traces within the Tarantula, a progressive movement resembling the contemplative journey described by Bembo, as benevolent as its model suggests (Jack 1970: 489). Bellisa is increasingly identified with nature, marking a shift from a contingent experience of love to a generalised affection that embraces the world, yet, as Verweij observes, at the same time ‘her destructive powers rage more fearfully than ever’ (Verweij 2007: 17). Associated with natural disasters, ‘wynds, tempests, haile’, and ‘vncouthe stormes’, plagues, floods, and thunder, Bellisa functions as an image of the extremes of worldly mutability, and the speaker’s devotion to her reflects an increasing and terrible subjection to matter (Meikle I. 168, ll.5- 6, and sonnets 32-40). Insofar as this development is sequentially linked with the lover’s attempts to make use of the faculty of memory to recreate the image of the beloved in absence, Fowler’s sequence is in sympathy with Perkins’s judgement that such meditative practices ‘set an edge vpon and kindle the most corrupt affections of the flesh’.

[16]  The opening sonnet of Fowler’s sequence frames the problem as it explores a convergence of related impulses at work in memory, literary composition, and sexual reproduction. As a reinterpretation of the first sonnet of Petrarch’s Canzoniere, Fowler’s poem evokes the central message of its original, the theme of worldly transience, as a subtext, even as it develops its source material along new lines (for a recent overview of the influence of Petrarch on the Scottish sonnet, see Jack 2007). This association with transience anticipates the rejection of carnal love that concludes the sequence, and provides a counterpoint for the speaker’s hope: ‘gif euer flams of love hathe touchte your hart, / I trust with sobbs and teares the same to perse’ (Meikle I. 136, ll. 3-4). In the image of the wounded heart, Fowler introduces a figure with strong connections to mnemonic tradition. The heart was conceived as a seat of memory, a sense preserved in the phrase ‘to learn by heart’, and the metaphor underlines the association between affect and memory. The trope of the piercing of the heart reflects the sense that the process of fixing an impression in the memory might be difficult and painful; it also evokes the widespread use of images of violence in the art of memory, because they stirred up an emotional response, and were therefore inherently more memorable. The ‘blodie bloodles wou[n]ds’ with which the speaker will ‘depaint’ his ‘ruid rigours’ belong to a related tradition, and evoke the popular imagery of late medieval piety (Meikle, I. 136, ll. 5-6). In a familiar trope, the body of Christ was imagined as a manuscript page, whose surface is broken by the strokes of the pen, while his blood was likened to ink (Carruthers 1998: 99-105). Fowler’s imagery recalls the pious meditation that is being displaced by idolatrous carnal love, as the drive towards sexual reproduction supplants the injunction to remember heaven, and those forms of contemplation conceived as a preparation for the life eternal.

[17]  Traditionally considered as part of rhetoric, memory continued to be perceived as a tool of literary invention in the early modern period, forging a link between the speaker’s production of ‘disordred verse’ and the effect it is to have on the hearer. Fowler’s hearers are to ‘sperse’ ‘there plaints’ and ‘mak the haggard rocks resound sad sounds’, in an image that suggests the contribution that processes of recitation and circulation make to textual reproduction (ll. 7-8).  Imagining Fowler’s readers as echoing his lines back to Bellisa, the closing couplet of this first sonnet plays on the interrelation between memory, poetry, and sexual reproduction: ‘O of this stayles thought the stayed sing / breide him not deathe that glore to the dois bring’. The juxtaposition of ‘stayles’ and ‘stayed’ suggests the speaker’s frustrated longing for the cessation of desire, for equilibrium, while the image of ‘stayles thought’ evokes a problem of particular importance to mnemonists. Typically discussed in terms of locational metaphors, the problem of distraction or mental wandering is detrimental to the focus necessary to construct and navigate mental pathways (Carruthers 1998: 82-84). The ‘stayles’ or, in a deleted alternative, ‘wandring’ quality of the speaker’s thought evokes a mind whose state is mirrored in the ‘disordred verse’ it produces, where desire functions as a distraction that obstructs the proper ordering of thought and poetry (Drummond MS. f. 1r). Conversely, the prospect of an immortality achieved through textual circulation is presented to Bellisa as an argument persuading her to embrace another form of breeding, the sexual reproduction whose function it shadows, and which might offer at least a temporary satisfaction for the impulse of desire.

[18]  As the image of ‘disordred verse’ suggests, the role of order in the art of memory and its relation to the affective impulse also finds expression in the construction of the Tarantula itself. In his revaluation of the manuscripts containing the sequence, Verweij draws attention to the sophistication of Fowler’s drafting techniques, and of his editorial practice in organising the sequence. Commenting on the numerous revisions and deletions witnessed by the manuscripts, Verweij argues: ‘it is evident that Fowler is feeling his way around his material, often substituting or moving whole lines, and frequently changing rhyme words’ (Verweij 2007: 14). Given Fowler’s training in the art of memory, this practice is especially significant, since he might instead have chosen to compose poetry in his mind, rather than on the page (Marcus 2000: 26). Although many of the revisions are in a different ink, indicating a lapse of time rather than an immediate amendment, the extent and nature of Fowler’s drafting practice suggests that paper and pen operate as an intrinsic part of his cognitive processes. Through the production of material forms, revisited and revised over time, Fowler employs and internalises a prosthetic supplement to memory as storehouse and tool of literary composition (Sutton 2002). In doing so, Fowler’s methodology resembles that of the Ramists, in exploring material and visible systems for structuring information that do not employ images, although the poet’s avowed interest in emblems suggests that such practices do not necessarily preclude the use of other forms of the art of memory. A similar ordering impulse is reflected in the construction of ‘The Tabill’, a compendious index of first lines whose precise purpose is unknown, but which answers a parallel need for visible structuring devices, and reflects the established role of a text’s opening or title as the starting point for memory work (Hawthornden MS XI. f. 253; Meikle I: 333-4; Verweij 2007: 18; Carruthers 2008: 109).

[19]  Verweij’s analysis of the manuscript context offers ample evidence of the Tarantula’s status as a coherent collection, and indicates that the same cannot be said of the other two groups of poems with which the Tarantula has been studied, Of Death and A Sonnet Sequence. Of Death is the more coherent of these two groupings of sonnets, but the female figure within this cycle is not named. Of Death’s status as a reworking of a Petrarchan narrative, as Dunnigan persuasively argues, may reflect a parallel literary project, rather than a continuation of the Tarantula. Although the second grouping, A Sonnet Sequence, includes Bellisa sonnets, there is evidence to suggest that these were perhaps composed some twelve years later, and their relationship to the carefully planned Tarantula sequence is uncertain (Verweij 2007). The final sonnet of the Tarantula presents a compelling conclusion to the sequence and its exploration of the tensions at work in the convergence of memory, the erotic, and Protestantism, in a poetic prayer:

Lord quha redemes the deid and doth reviue,
and stumbling things preservs fra farder fall,
quha mercyeis maks the sinfull saul to liue,
and dothe to mynde na mair there guylt re[call],
aboliss, lord, my faults baith great and smal,
and my contempt and my offence efface;
by thy sweit meiknes and thy mercy thral
my stubborne thoughts, proud rebels to thy grace;
In thy sones bloode my sins, great god, displace,
and giue me words to cal vpon thy name.
Lord in thy wonted kyndnes me embrace,
that to this age I may these words procla[m]e:
‘as I IN ONE GOD EUER ay haith trust,
so ar his promeis steadfast, trewe, and Iust.’ (Meikle I. 207)

This final supplication presents a sacred counterpart to the erotic pleading of the secular love poetry, as the speaker once again offers up words of praise in the hope of obtaining embraces. Yet the desired embrace will not result in the reproduction of the speaker, either sexually or through textual circulation. It will not inscribe him in living memory. Instead, as Dunnigan argues, ‘Spiritually, it must be a process of effacement and wilful forgetfulness’ (Dunnigan 2002: 153). Longing to be encompassed by a divine amnesia that wipes out the memory of faults and quells troublesome thoughts, the speaker desires a union with God that entails a radical self-abnegation. The imperfections that characterise the inhabitants of a transient material world are to be swept away, as the art of memory gives way to the art of forgetting.

[20]  Fowler’s desire for the suppression of ‘stubborne thoughts’ is in this respect reminiscent of negative mysticism, which privileges active forgetfulness, resisting the imaginative capacity for image making, and cognition itself, as impediments to communion with an unknowable God (see Lochrie 1991: 30). In place of the mnemonic cues employed in the practice of affective piety, such as meditation on the body of Christ, in negative mysticism, as Karma Lochrie argues, ‘Forgetfulness of all creation and resemblances, including the images which the imagination preserves as signposts for recollection, becomes the method of true contemplation’ (Lochrie 1991: 30). The conclusion to Fowler’s Tarantula aspires to a similar form of forgetfulness, in a movement that displaces the conception of poetry as a means to the fulfilment of the individual’s erotic desires, articulated in the first sonnet of the sequence, and instead imagines the erasure of subjectivity, as the speaker becomes the mouthpiece of God. The problems posed by the ambiguity of images, and other signs whose inward conditions are not necessarily answerable to their outward beauty, can be resolved only through divine grace. If Fowler’s imagined solution suggests a turn towards a form of internal iconoclasm, this necessarily remains an aspiration, associated with the spiritual resurrection that is predicated upon the death of the body. Although the speaker ultimately identifies his love of Bellisa as an idolatrous carnal desire, the success of his reorientation towards immortal love is a matter of faith: deprived of direct access to truth, he must take the risk of trusting in God, in a gesture that acknowledges his own dependence on the symbolic order.

[21]  The emergence of more nuanced readings of Protestant attitudes to the visual in recent scholarship facilitates an analysis of the extent to which Fowler’s Tarantula mediates and responds to contemporary debates surrounding the affective qualities of images and their role in the art of memory. Yet, if Fowler’s reputation as a mnemonist underlines the particular relevance of such controversies as contexts for the interpretation of his poetry, the interplay between Petrarchism, art, and the faculty of memory that this examination reveals suggests the value of a reassessment of the work of other sonneteers, and especially that of Philip Sidney. Sidney’s contact with Brunian arts of memory, through his association with Dicson, and indicated by the dedication of works to Sidney by Bruno, has long been acknowledged; so too have his connections to Ramism via his secretary, William Temple, and in his role as the dedicatee of Ramist works such as Abraham Fraunce’s The Sheapheardes Logike (Yates 1943; Yates 1966: 275-77; Durkan 1962; Cummings 2002: 256). Yates’s influential analysis in The Art of Memory focused on the hostilities at work in the mnemonic conflict between Perkins and Dicson in 1584 in order to propose an opposition between Brunian and Ramist arts of memory. In doing so, it obscured the subtleties of the assimilation and adaptation of memory-training taking place within Protestant culture. In offering an exploration of the ambiguous position adopted by Fowler, this article suggests the need for a similar examination of attitudes to memory as mediated in Sidney’s work. Renewed attention to this aspect of Sidney’s work, and further exploration of attitudes to memory in other sonnet sequences, will also illuminate the role of Petrarchism in negotiating the tensions between memory and the erotic. I have suggested that the adaptations of the Canzoniere enacted within Bruno’s furori and the Tarantula may be read as responses to Petrarch’s fame as a master of the art of memory, and it is hoped that this article demonstrates the need for further work in this area, not only to gauge the influence of Petrarch’s reputation as mnemonist on the reception of his poetry, but also to illuminate the extent to which Petrarch’s poetry itself explores the relationship between memory and the erotic.[2]

University of Edinburgh


[1]National Library of Scotland, Hawthornden MSS, vol. XII, MS. 2046, f. 134r. The letter bears Fowler’s signature, and the version given here is slightly expanded from that published in Verweij, based on my own reading of the manuscript (Verweij 2007: 13). [back to text]

[2]I would like to thank Dr. Sebastiaan Verweij for very kindly allowing me access to his unpublished dissertation, ‘I am first in love as last in verse’: A Revaluation of William Fowler’s Tarantula of Love (Vrije Universiteit, 2004). I also wish to thank the reviewer and several other readers for their comments and advice on earlier versions of this article; all remaining errors are, of course, my own. [back to text]



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The Spectral Historiopoetics of the Mirror for Magistrates

The Spectral Historiopoetics of the Mirror for Magistrates

Donald Jellerson

[1]  The Mirror for Magistrates was first published in 1559, soon after Queen Elizabeth I ascended the throne.[1] A group of poets under the direction of William Baldwin wrote the volume as historical ‘poesy’ that would instruct the current English nobility by conjuring the spectres of past political figures to give accounts of their lives and deaths. The Mirror’s revenants rise from the grave in historical order to tell of their falls from power, beginning with figures from the reign of Richard II and ending with those in the time of Edward IV. (The 1563 sequel extends that chronology into the reign of Henry VII.) The authors interpose prose links between the poems, often in order to comment on the moral lesson of the previous poem and sometimes to introduce the next. From these linked exercises in prosopopeia in which poets voice historical figures, current magistrates are supposed to learn virtue. As Baldwin explains in his dedication, the spectres are meant to provide examples of how providence works in English history, detailing ‘[h]ow [God] hath delt with sum of our countreymen your auncestors for sundrye vices…’. These historical examples of vice, Baldwin suggests, ‘will be a good occasion to move you to the soner amendment’. [2] The apparitions of the Mirror are doubly constrained: first by the moralizing historiography of the chronicles in which their stories are encoded and then by the Mirror’s poets, who conjure them as examples of vice and recipients of a divine retribution achieved through the inexorable turning of fortune’s perilous wheel. The title page reads:

A Myrroure for Magistrates. Wherein may be seen by example of other, with howe grevous plages vices are punished: and howe frayle and unstable worldly prosperitie is founde, even of those, whom fortune seemeth most highly to favour. Foelix quem faciunt aliena pericula cautum.

The Latin sentence translates to ‘happy are they who are made cautious by the dangers of others’. The emphasis on punishment and divine intervention leads readers to assume that in these narratives, Fortune will serve as the handmaiden to God. Baldwin and his fellow writers promise spectral poems that will comprise a history of providential justice. Many of the spectres fail to deliver on that promise, however, despite the heavy-handed terms of their appearance. And that very failure, as I will argue in what follows, lays the foundation for the Mirror’s success—its popularity and proliferation in editions, expansions, and spinoffs in the decades to follow—and its influence on sixteenth-century poetics.

[2]  Midway through the first edition of the Mirror for Magistrates the image of Salisbury rises in a poem entitled ‘How Thomas Montague the earle of Salysbury in the middes of his glory, was chaunceably slayne with a piece of ordinaunce’. The ninth in a series of nineteen spectres, Salisbury tells the story of his accidental death at the siege of Orleans. In so doing, he calls into question the didactic purpose of the Mirror. The poem demonstrates not divine providence but fickle fortune, simple chance that neither the authors nor Salisbury can interpret as a providential account. ‘Now Baldwin’, the Earl says, ‘note mine ende’:

I stoode in vewing where the towne was weake,
And as I busily talked with my frend,
Shot fro the towne, which al the grate did breake,
A pellet came, and drove a mighty fleake,
Agaynst my face, and tare away my cheeke,
For payne wherof I dyed within a weeke (152).

Salisbury dies as the result of standing too close to a window struck by a cannonball. Neither the writers of the Mirror nor the Earl himself know how to interpret this ill fortune because Salisbury does not seem to deserve his end. A valiant soldier and loyal servant to the King, he is loved by nobles and commoners alike. After the poem ends, the authors are nonplussed. As Baldwin reports in the prose link following the poem, ‘This straunge adventure of the good erle drave us al into a dumpne, inwardly lamenting his wofull destynye…’ (154). Soon they snap out of their reverie: ‘To what end (quote one) muse we so much on this matter. This Earle is neyther the first nor the last whom Fortune hath foundered in the heyth of their prosperitye’. The poets resolve to henceforth skip over stories of ‘many whych have bene likewise served, whose chaunces sith they be marcial, and therefore honorable, may the better be omitted’. This spectre, they admit, has done nothing to further the didactic purpose of the collection. In fact, Salisbury’s apparition scandalously speaks against the entire project of reading providential lessons into history:

[…] how many shall we find
For vertues sake with infamy opprest?
How many agayn through helpe of fortune blind,
For yll attemptes atchived, with honour blest?
Succes is wurst ofttimes whan cause is best,
Therefore say I: god send them sory happes,
That judge the causes by their after clappes (144).

For this speaker, we can read the pattern of human destiny only as chance. Fortune ‘gideth al the game’ (143). Interpreting after the fact, judging by ‘after clappes’, does not provide reliable moral lessons, much less an understanding of God’s divine plan. ‘God doth suffer that it should be so, / But why, my wit is feble to decise’ (145). Historical interpretation produces only ‘uncertaynty’; our best intentions and most praiseworthy desires may misfire when ‘sodayne mischief dasheth all to dust’ (153).

[3]  Stories such as Salisbury’s contribute to the difficulties modern scholars encounter in attempting to categorize and evaluate the Mirror. If viewed as a form of history writing, the Mirror may appear as an odd and ‘lackluster’ step between the medieval chronicle and an ostensibly more objective, modern narrative history (Levy 1967: 217). (For history writing’s supposed ‘objectivity’—the positivist assumption before the postmodern turn—see Certeau 1988.) If examined as poetry, the volume’s apparent didacticism seems difficult to embrace. And if understood as moral or religious philosophy, the text seems inconsistent. As Paul Budra claims of the Mirror’s critical reception,

either the individual tragedies are shown to be predictable stories of the schematic retribution inflicted upon the morally or politically corrupt, and are therefore consistent and tedious, or they are shown to be a haphazard assortment of tales mixing divine Providence with irrational Fortune, and are therefore inconsistent and tedious (1988: 303).

The accusations that the Mirror poems are either tediously consistent or tediously inconsistent betray the degree to which scholars have been unable to reach a consensus about what exactly these poems are supposed to be and do. Yet by all accounts the Mirror was widely read and much appreciated in its time. It was reissued and expanded often over the course of more than fifty years. Sir Philip Sidney ranks its poetry with Chaucer and Surrey, calling it ‘meetly furnished of beautiful parts’; Sir John Harrington’s translation of Ariosto’s Orlando includes a reference to the volume, ‘in which the life and fall of many great persons is very well set downe, and in a good verse’; and Jasper Heywood doubts that his poetic abilities measure up to those of Baldwin, the editor and principle writer, ‘whose Myrrour doth of Magistrates, proclayme eternall fame’ (Trench 1898: 71–88). Elizabethans clearly enjoyed the Mirror’s blend of poetry, history, and moral philosophy. Given the difference between modern and early modern receptions of the Mirror, Jim Ellis asks the right question: ‘What did the Elizabethans find so fascinating about the poem[s] that the rest of us have been missing?’ (2000: 1033).

[4]  Scholars have dealt with the most flagrant of the Mirror’s inconsistencies, the fluctuation between fortune and providence, in a number of ways. Some attempt to understand the Mirror as consistent in its belief structure, while others admit and explain its inconsistency (Keifer 1977, Budra 1988 and Winston 2004). The former critics understand the volume as didactically consistent: following classical and renaissance dialectic, the Mirror authors intend to synthesize opposing voices and points of view into truth—the moral lesson that the dedication promises (Mack 2002: 141ff). The exceptions, in other words, prove the rule. By contrast, I suggest that Baldwin’s editions of the Mirror are better described as dialogic—conversational, multivocal, happy to present contradictions and question their own premises, reflecting what Baldwin in the prologue to his Treatise of Moral Philosophy (1547) calls the ‘mutuall conuersation of lyfe’, and what one scholar, Jessica Winston, calls a ‘collaborative conversation’ (2004: 395). I suggest that the ‘inconsistencies’ and contradictions that have so troubled critics of the Mirror are, in fact, part of its purpose and appeal. If we reevaluate the Mirror’s spectral effects in order to appreciate its dialogic sensibility, we may better understand why the collection was so well-loved in Elizabethan England and so influential for the era’s literature. The Mirror’s poetic effects, I argue, arise from its historiopoetic engagement. Baldwin and his fellow writers use spectral effects to fashion a politically engaged, dialogic text that prompts a conversation about the interpretation of history even as it pretends to be a didactic lesson in history’s meanings. In so doing, they provide models for poetics in the Elizabethan period.

[5]  The 1559 and 1563 versions of the Mirror edited by Baldwin prompted many editions, expansions, and spinoffs over the course of several decades. Among the most intriguing trends generated by the Mirror was a vogue for ghost complaint poetry in the 1590s. These late Elizabethan works took the Mirror poems as their pattern (Kerrigan 1991, Dubrow 1986). Works such as Samuel Daniel’s The Complaint of Rosamond (1592), Thomas Lodge’s The Complaint of Elstred (1593), Thomas Churchyard’s rewrite of the 1563 Mirror’s Jane Shore poem as The Tragedie of Shore’s Wife (1593), Michael Drayton’s Matilda (1594), John Trussell’s The First Rape of Fair Helen (1595) and Thomas Middleton’s The Ghost of Lucrece (1600) proliferated in the era. In these poems, as in the Mirror, historical and legendary figures rise from the dead to contest previous accounts of their lives. Such poems markedly influenced literary history in the early modern period. As Richard Helgerson notes, among the most famous of the female characters in complaint poetry, Jane Shore, ‘went on to be made the subject of plays that redrew the generic map of European drama even more remarkably than her story had redrawn the generic map of Elizabethan poetry’ (1999: 461). Helgerson and Wendy Wall both point out the ways in which seventeenth-century domestic tragedy was measurably influenced by complaint poems such as Jane Shore’s. Wall suggests that the ‘Shore’s Wife’ story demonstrates a growing interest in ‘the household as an alternative historical space to chronicle’ (124). Recent criticism has focused productively on the Mirror’s aftereffects and its place in Elizabethan culture. Meredith Skura, for instance, sees the volume as precursor to autobiography or ‘life writing’ (2006: 27), Jim Ellis suggests that the Mirror registers the change from ‘a residual feudalism’ to ‘an emergent capitalism’ (2000: 1052), and Scott Lucas writes about ‘the role of the Mirror as a text of political critique and commentary’ (1995: 52). These critics attempt to counter decades of relative neglect in order to show that the Mirror is both culturally relevant and influential. Scholarly work proceeding in this direction convincingly demonstrates the need for further investigation into the influence of the Mirror on later literary trends.

[6]  Why did Baldwin’s Mirror volumes prove intriguing enough to later Elizabethan poets to serve as objects of imitation? I suggest that part of what fascinates poets such as Daniel, Drayton, and Middleton about the Mirror poems is the way in which the figure of the spectre revives, in the Mirror authors’ words, the ‘auncient liberties’ of the poet (359). The poems insist on the autonomy of poetry over and against history even as they animate their apparitions precisely as historical figures that vex historical interpretation. This dynamic becomes highly influential for later articulations of the power of literary representation such as that of Sir Philip Sidney’s Defence of Poesy (1595) as well as for later literature. Sidney famously makes the case that poetry precedes and enables history: ‘…historiographers, although their lips sound of things done and verity be written in their foreheads, have been glad to borrow both fashion and perchance weight of the poets’ (2004: 5). The Mirror’s spectral histories, as critics have noted, influence literary complaint, domestic tragedy, autobiographical writing, and even index a trend for a more inclusive ‘public political discourse’ (Winston 2004: 400). I am interested here in describing the foundational move through which the Mirror exerts such influences. I suggest that the resistance to history, the assertion of independence from the perceived biases and determinations of the chronicle tradition, constitutes that move.

[7]  I began this essay with the Earl of Salisbury not only because his poem disputes the Mirror’s avowed providentialism, but also because in doing so it perfectly captures the way in which the volume’s speaking avatars challenge the moralizing of chronicle history. These spectres are not only fictionalized simulacra of past ‘real’ figures; at their most scandalous, they break their enabling frame and question the historicity they represent. Moments of interpretive impasse such as the one in the Salisbury poem occur many times in Baldwin’s editions of the Mirror. Uncertainty about the volume’s didactic message and its reception by readers becomes a motif in the poems. The spectre of the poet Collingbourne, for instance, pleads with Baldwin to end the project, citing the uncontrollability of interpretation: ‘Ceas therefore Baldwyn… / Withdrawe thy pen, for nothing shalt thou gayne / Save hate, with losse of paper, ynke and payne’ (349). In fact, the very first poem of the first edition, featuring Robert Tresilian, takes interpretation as its theme—specifically, Tresilian’s penchant for ‘wrest[ing] the sence’ from words and therefore misinterpreting the law (73). And the poems featuring Owen Glendower and George, Duke of Clarence, also take up interpretation and misinterpretation—both cite Merlin and bemoan ‘false…prophecies / That go by letters, siphers, armes, or signes: / Which all be foolish, false and crafty lies…’ (228). Such poems, depicting limit cases, problems of interpretation, and challenges to the volume’s overarching message, occur alongside others that more straightforwardly demonstrate divine providence. The cumulative effect of this uncertainty serves less to secure a comforting, providential view of history than to demonstrate the difficulty of doing so. The moralizing mode of the Mirror for Magistrates, at least in Baldwin’s editions, prompts many questions. Conflicts abound between Fortune and Providence, Human and Divine law, and so forth. The Mirror’s moralizing is less dogmatic than dialogic. The volume complicates preconceived notions of how providence directs historical progress and reveals historical meaning, less concerned with unfolding history’s absolute moral truths than with the lament produced by our inability to securely know either what history teaches or what God’s lesson plan might be. Despite its insistently didactic introduction, the Mirror as a whole is more concerned with the questions that history raises than with providing answers to those questions.

[8]  Unlike in the modern world, as Blair Worden remarks, in the Early Modern period ‘Poets and historians were…the same individuals’ (2005: 72; see also Kewes 2005: 7–8). Both a collection of poems and a history book, the Mirror for Magistrates exemplifies the way in which sixteenth-century historian poets felt free to combine the ars historica and the ars poetica. We might add that these individuals often, and without contradiction, saw themselves as moral philosophers. Baldwin’s other famous and often reprinted work, we might recall, was a work of moral philosophy. Later in his life he became a preacher (King 2004). Certainly the Mirror promises to be a moral guidebook in the tradition of princely conduct manuals. The Mirror, then, is an attempt to write within the terms of discourses that were not yet firmly separated in the sixteenth century: history, poetry, and philosophy. Though the borders between these fields had been contested since antiquity, early modern humanists would once again address the need to define them (Levy 1967, Baker 1967, Kewes 2005, Woolf 2005). Such fields would grow into distinct disciplines in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Sir Philip Sidney would famously insist on the borders between disciplines in his Defence. In his Novum Organum (1620), Francis Bacon would distribute knowledge into the time-honored categories of memory (history), imagination (poetry), and reason (philosophy). And seventeenth-century historians from Degory Wheare to John Milton (History of Britain, 1670) would revive classical distinctions in order to keep historical ‘truth’ separate from poetic invention. (Wheare registers this growing separation by suggesting that historians are those who write ‘explications’, ‘relations’, or ‘narratives’ as distinct from ‘chronicles’ or ‘lives’—1685: 17–18.) While we may argue about how these borders were redrawn, few would argue that by the eighteenth century these kinds of writing had acquired distinct procedural and formal identities.

[9]  The mid-sixteenth-century Mirror, however, attempts to use the poet’s pen in order to write history as moral philosophy. Its well-educated writers could not have been unaware of the long standing debates between the practitioners of such discourses since Plato. Indeed, they seem to have considered the ars historica and the ars poetica related but distinct (Kelly and Sacks 1997), and distinct in turn from moral philosophy or a religious doctrinal writing, often termed ‘divinity’. Yet in writing the Mirror, Baldwin and his cohorts were more interested in the shared aims of poetry, history, and philosophy (secular or religious) than in respecting the borders between those discourses. For the purposes of this essay, I am less interested in the early modern development of these disciplines—whether the growth of historiography, the territories defensively staked out by poetry, or the move from moral philosophy to more ‘scientific’ approaches—than in what the Mirror envisions as their shared aims. The historiopoetic Mirror knowingly performs its work in the shared terrain of discourses in the slow process of becoming separate disciplines.

[10]  With this in mind, we can investigate the memorializing and moralizing aims the Mirror shares with the historiography of the period and how the Mirror puts those aims into operation differently. One productive way to do this is to look at Hall’s chronicle (1548), one of the history books that Baldwin and his fellow writers claim to have open in front of them as they select their subjects. As Lily B. Campbell notes, ‘The prose links state explicitly that the work was based upon the histories compiled by Fabyan, Halle, and Sir Thomas More. Wherever the chronicles disagreed, the authors accepted the authority of Halle’ (10). Among the most influential of sixteenth-century chronicle histories, Edward Hall’s The Union of the two noble and illustre famelies of Lancastre & Yorke opens by inveighing against ‘Oblivion’, described as ‘the cancard enemie to fame and renoune’ and ‘the dedly darte to the glory of princes’. Hall opposes Oblivion, a ‘sucking serpent’ and ‘dedly beast’, to ‘memory by litterature…the verie dilator and setter furth of Fame’. For Hall, as for early modern historians to follow, such memorializing has a moral purpose:

If no man had written the goodnesse of noble Augustus, nor the pitie of mercifull Trajan, how shoulde their successours have folowed ther steppes in vertue and princely qualities: on the contrarie parte, if the crueltie of Nero, the ungracious life of Caligula had not beene put in remembrance, young Princes and fraile governors might likewise have fallen in a like pit, but by redyng their vices and seyng their mischeveous ende, thei bee compelled to leave their evill waies, and embrace the good qualities of notable princes and prudent governours: Thus, writyng is the keye to enduce vertue, and represse vice (ii).

In this vision, writing about the past becomes the means by which morality and proper governance can be defined in the present. Indeed, this kind of exemplarity is the hallmark of early modern historiography. Whatever else it does and however it changes from the late medieval period to the enlightenment, early modern history writing retains this emphasis on memory and morality—above all else, early modern historiography preserves and moralizes. As Thomas Blundeville writes in 1574, ‘All those persons whose lyves have beene such as are to bee followed for their excellencie in vertue, or else to be fledde for their excellencie in vice, are meete to be chronicled’ (sig. C2r). And Degory Wheare explains that history writing is ‘undertaken to the end that the memory of [particular affairs] may be preserved, and so Universals may be the more evidently Confirm’d, by which we may be instructed how to live well and Happily’ (15). In Hall’s account, history writing bestows meaning on past lives by bringing those lives into the present. Princes, governors, and nobles may shuffle off their mortal coils, ‘yet thei by writyng and Fame live and bee continually present: Thus fame triumpheth upon death, and renoune upon Oblivion, and all by reason of writyng and historie’. Hall’s introduction to The Union of the two noble and illustre famelies of Lancastre & Yorke thus previews a central preoccupation of the complaint poems of the Mirror: the moral effect of memorializing the dead.

[11]  But a comparison between the Salisbury stories in the chronicle and the Mirror shows how very differently they employ the historiopoetic aims of memorializing and moralizing. When Hall comes to the freak accident that kills Salisbury, he does everything he can to both memorialize the Earl and securely moralize his death. Hall calls Salisbury a man of ‘wit, strength and pollicie’:

in whose power (as it appeared after his deathe) a greate part of the conquest consisted and was estemed, because he was a man both painful and diligent, redy to withstand thynges perilous and imminent, and prompt in counsail, and with no labor beweried, nor yet his corage at any tyme abated or appalled, so that all men put no more trust in any one man, nor no synguler person gat more the hartes of all men (sig. R4r).

This panegyric prepares the reader for the meanings that Hall will make of Salisbury’s sudden death. The phrase ‘as it appeared after his deathe’ reminds us that the florid praise to follow depends on a retrospective view of events. Hall’s post-mortem memorializing of Salisbury eulogizes the dead man. After Hall describes Salisbury’s death, he tells us about its effect:

what losse succeded to the Englishe publique wealthe, by the sodain death of this valiaunt capitain, not long after his departure, manifestly apered. For high prosperitie, and great glory of the Englishe nacion in the parties beyond the sea, began shortely to fall, and litle and litle to vanishe awaie: which thing although the Englishe people like a valiant & strong body, at the firste tyme did not perceive, yet after that they felt it grow like a pestilent humor, which succescively a litle and litle corrupteth all the membres, and destroyeth the body. For after the death of this noble man, fortune of warre began to change, and triumphant victory began to be darckened (sig. R5v).

For Hall, Salisbury’s death becomes the turning point in the Hundred Years’ War. It marks the moment at which the English begin to lose by suggesting that the death of such a highly valued leader ruins the nation’s resolve. Hall explains the loss of the battle at Orleans in the context of the larger historical narrative. There is, therefore, much at stake in moralizing Salisbury’s death: no less than the trajectory of the wars with the French.

[12]  Even if Hall’s introduction makes much of literature’s ability to make the dead live again, those dead live a qualified existence in fame or infamy; they must be safely contained in moralizing writing. Unlike the Mirror’s spectral historiopoetics, Hall’s historiography cannot allow ‘dedde bodies’ to shamble out of the grave to interrupt its narrative, the meanings it makes of death: ‘dedde men cannot with sorowe be called again, nor lamentacion for dedde bodies cannot remedy the chaunces of men livyng’. Hall’s use of Salisbury recalls the double gesture of elegy: with one hand it buries and with the other it praises and eternizes. Hall’s historical narrative may appear naively moralizing to us from our historical distance, but it is worth remembering that moralizing haunts history writing whether ancient, early modern, or modern. As Hayden White suggests:

If every fully realized story, however we define that familiar but conceptually elusive entity, is a kind of allegory, points to a moral, or endows events, whether real or imaginary, with a significance that they do not possess as a mere sequence, then it seems possible to conclude that every historical narrative has as its latent or manifest purpose the desire to moralize the events of which it treats (1987: 14).

White reminds us that narrativity itself is inseparable from ‘the impulse to moralize reality’. No narrative history can therefore escape it. For modern historians this desire may be more or less ‘latent’ under whatever disciplinary cover of objectivity is available. Hall’s ‘desire to moralize’ is certainly not latent, and he uses it in service of an authoritative account. In reading Salisbury’s death as a signal moment in the larger historical narrative, Hall’s authority arises from what Michel de Certeau calls a ‘will to objectivity’:

Even though historiography postulates a continuity (a genealogy), a solidarity (an affiliation), and a complicity (a sympathy) between its agents and its objects, it nevertheless distinguishes a difference between them, a difference established in principle by a will to objectivity (1986: 4).

This ‘will’ works to make a ‘clean break between the past and the present’ even as it relies on strong sutures across that break. That is, Hall’s account relies on two kinds of appeal. The first establishes connections to the past, those Certeau names genealogy, affiliation, and sympathy. Hall must see the Salisbury episode as part of a genealogical story that will lead, as his title suggests, to the end of the wars (both civil and international) in a marriage of the Lancaster and York factions. What Certeau calls ‘affiliation’ we can read in Hall’s account as nationalism: ‘the great glory of the Englishe nacion’. And ‘complicity’ or ‘sympathy’ in Hall’s chronicle is evident in his use of pathos—in the Salisbury story, a lament for the dead (and battles lost) that includes the audience in shared affective response. If these appeals are to similarity, the second kind of appeal is to difference. Certeau writes about the ‘will to objectivity’:

The space it organizes is divided and hierarchical. That space has an ‘own’ [un propre] (the present of this historiography) and an ‘other’ (the ‘past’) under study. …the discourse of interpretive knowledge subjugates the known, cited, represented past.

Hall’s knowledge relies on the historian’s perspective from the present, subjugating the past as other. The events he describes have a telos to which he has access—the union of warring factions—and Salisbury’s death must be interpreted in that frame. Salisbury’s death must mean something relative to the larger narrative, which can only be grasped from the retrospective position of the historian. Capricious Fortune may have a hand in the event, but she does not finally determine its meanings. What’s past is prologue.

[13]  Memorializing seeks to both preserve and bury the dead; it erects monuments that assign meaning to past lives, dealing with loss through attempts to entomb and idealize; and moralization attempts a mastery of the past through received understandings of history, whether religious or secular, by which to evaluate past lives. As we have seen, it is precisely this monumentalizing quality of Hall’s narrative that the Salisbury of the Mirror refuses. Both Hall’s chronicle and the Mirror memorialize the dead and moralize their lives. But for Hall, that turns out to be a mode of monumental historicism: he brings back the dead only insofar as he can freeze them in the amber of moralizing writing. History writing—what Hall calls ‘litterature’—provides the dead with a moralized story, a ‘fame’ that eternizes them as figures of either virtue or vice. From the perspective of the living, the dead survive in memory because historians have pronounced on the moral value of their stories, their ability to either ‘enduce vertue’ or ‘represse vice’. The memorializing of complaint poetry, on the other hand, is more likely to destabilize the moralizations of the present than to secure them. Hall’s historicism, like any such elegiac discourse, must founder when the dead return to speak on their own behalf.

[14]  Baldwin frames the 1559 Mirror with a conceit: the authors gather one day to select their subjects from Fabyan’s and Hall’s chronicles. They thumb through these histories, choose stories to represent in poetry, then read the resulting poems to each other. This mythical exchange structures the volume, often working to give the impression that the writers compose on the spot as the spectres possess them. The imagined gathering represents the voices of eight poets. More often than not the poets’ voices are detached from particular names with phrases such as ‘quoth one’, ‘another said’, ‘the company said’, and so on, forming a spectral octet for which the audience only learns two names in the 1559 Mirror: William Baldwin and George Ferrers. (Later editions name others such as Chaloner, Sackville and Phaer, though only sporadically; many of the poems still go without attribution.) In the narrative frame, the poets agree that each of the spectres will speak to Baldwin. In Baldwin’s words, the poets ‘al agreed’ that ‘the wretched princes’ should ‘complayne unto me’ (69). That is, the Mirror employs a self-conscious prosopopeia that fictionalizes the voices of the poets as they voice their apparitions. Keeping this conceit in mind, we might profitably ask how it is that the poets are taken aback when Salisbury refutes their providential project.

[15]  In the prose link following the Salisbury poem, the Mirror writers (again, as imagined and penned by Baldwin) bemoan their inability to moralize Salisbury’s accidental death: ‘This straunge adventure of the good erle drave us al into a dumpne, inwardly lamenting his wofull destynye.’ When, on the other hand, the Duke of Suffolk falls, the authors ‘rejoyce […] to heare of a wicked man so righteously punished’ (170). The prose links model the reader’s response in feigned lamenting and rejoicing after the apparitions speak. Such affective modeling invites readers to participate in a conversation about the meaning of history by assuring them that not even the authors know beforehand what the spectres will say or how to moralize their speeches. If Baldwin and his cohorts had desired a simpler, perhaps less poetic kind of moralizing—a ‘looking glass’ in which vice is punished, as the dedication promises—they could easily have chosen only those figures in whose righteous punishment they could rejoice, figures who would simply and consistently reinforce the providential model. But, as one of its writers says, the Mirror ‘is a Poesie and no divinitye’ (346).

[16]  We see prosopopeia at work to its full, spectral potential when Salisbury’s speech causes surprise in the chorus of poets. Speaking for the dead works as temporal palimpsest, creating the possibility that the voices of the dead may contest those of the present. As in a ventriloquist’s act, the object ventriloquized is most interesting and uncanny when it seems to take the ventriloquist by surprise, when it seems to speak without the ventriloquist’s volition and against his or her design. Clearly the Salisbury poem aims for similar effects. The poem, however, complicates and accentuates this effect by spectralizing the poet. Though Salisbury addresses Baldwin, the prose link that precedes his poem denies us knowledge of the author. Though the prose link cites him, it does so anonymously: ‘quoth one…I wyll take uppon me the person of Thomas Mountague earle of Salysburye…’ (142). We never discover who this ‘one’ is. What happens when an anonymous voice takes on the voice of a spectre? At this level of complexity, prosopopeia creates harmonics and dissonances between absent (past) and present voices, threatening the seemingly secure borders between past and present, dead and living. It invites the kind of disturbance Jacques Derrida describes as ‘spectrality’, in which the past operates inside the present (1994). The more effective the prosopopeia, the greater the sense that the poet is possessed by the spectre and dispossessed of his own intention.

[17]  Salisbury’s opening speech to Baldwin amply demonstrates the spectre’s doubled, metaleptic perspective. The Earl spends the bulk of the poem recounting the events of his life from a first person perspective, but he also looks back on those events from the distance of Baldwin’s present. In the following stanza, the spectre speaks directly to the poet of the way in which events are resignified in hindsight:

The ende in dede, is judge of every thing,
Which is the cause, or latter poynt of time:
The first true verdyct at the first may bryng,
The last is slow, or slipper as the slime,
Oft chaunging names of innocence and crime.
Duke Thomas death was Justice two yeres long,
And ever sence sore tiranny and wrong (144).

This passage and those like it slip between cause and effect in a manner difficult to interpret. Here and in the passage I cited earlier—‘god send them sory happes, / That judge the causes by their after clappes’—Salisbury speaks of two kinds of causes. The first is rooted in motive, the reason for action. In the opening of the poem, the Earl attempts to clear the name of his father, John, who took up what the spectre claims was a noble cause—a ‘iust pursute’ and ‘purpose good’—that nevertheless led to unforeseen evil effects. Teleology informs the second kind of cause, an inciting incident—regardless of the motivations that may prompt individuals to action—held responsible for present conditions and valued on that basis. Salisbury suggests that ‘the cause’ (the first, motivational kind) and not the ‘causal spede’ (the second, teleological kind) ‘is to be wayed in euery kinde of dede’. Moral lessons change with time and circumstance, and we revalue past people and actions given our ability to view them in hindsight. History, then, according to Salisbury (and he is not the only Mirror spectre who says so), happens after the fact, and events will be given the valence of ‘innocence’ or ‘crime’ by those in the present who seek to control interpretation of the past according to changeable current values and power structures.

[18]  Using the same emphasis on memorializing and moralizing reconfigured by spectral poetics, the Mirror plays havoc with Hall’s monumental historicizing. As Nietzsche reminds us in his own treatise on ‘the use and abuse of history’, the object of monumental history ‘is to depict effects at the expense of causes—monumentally’,

that is, as examples for imitation; it turns aside, as far as it may, from reasons, and might be called with far less exaggeration a collection of ‘effects in themselves’ than of events that will have an effect on all ages. The events of war or religion cherished in our popular celebrations are such ‘effects in themselves’; it is these that will not let ambition sleep, and lie like amulets on the bolder hearts—not the real historical nexus of cause and effect, which, rightly understood, would only prove that nothing quite similar could ever be cast again from the dice-boxes of fate and the future (15).

When Salisbury returns from the dead in the Mirror, he disavows the ‘causal spede’ that Hall relies on to create historical narrative. By insisting on the rule of fate, which ‘gideth al the game’ (143), Salisbury insists on what Nietzsche calls the ‘real historical nexus of cause and effect’, a game of chance that cannot authorize monumental history.

[19]  Salisbury’s musings about causes and ‘causal spede’ occur in a conversation with the poet that takes place in the present looking back on historical events. ‘Baldwin’, the spectre demands, ‘waye the cause’. The apparition pleads with those in the present to take intention into account when judging past figures, not the resulting events or the way in which history has made its heroes and villains after the fact. The authority for such a plea is based on the point of view of a first-hand participant in events who now also understands the use history has made of those events. Such a perspective—that of both the eyewitness and the historian—imaginatively trumps the singular perspective from the present. In this respect, the poet triumphs over the historian. At stake is the way in which moral lessons are drawn from the past. A later poem in the 1559 Mirror takes up the issue of ‘causes’ again. This time, the speaker is not an innocent victim of Fortune but one who clearly deserves death, as we can tell from the title of the poem, ‘The infamous ende of Lord Iohn Tiptoft Earle of Wurcester, for cruelly executing his princes butcherly commaundementes’ (197). For this spectre, stories about the past should be told truly, ‘Feare, nor favour, truth of things to spare’, but the biases of those who tell them prevent it, so that ‘stories never can be true’ (198). The spectre accuses chronicle writers in particular of writing useless or partial history:

Unfruytfull Fabyan folowed the face
Of time and dedes, but let the causes slip:
Whych Hall hath added, but with double grace,
For feare I thinke least trouble might him trip:
For this or that (sayeth he) he felt the whip.
Thus story writers leave the causes out,
Or so rehears them, as they wer in dout.

The two chronicle histories that the volume as a whole claims as source materials are here put in question. Fabyan presents no historical ‘causes’ and Hall’s are overly influenced by his desire to appease the powerful and elude punishment. The spectre continues:

And therefore Baldwin eyther speake upright
Of our affayres, or touche them not at all:
As for my selfe I waye al thinges so light,
That nought I passe how men report my fall.
The truth wherof yet playnly shew I shall,
That thou mayst write, and other therby rede,
What thinges I did, wherof they should take hede (199).

Here we can see both the doubling of perspective (metalepsis) and voice (prosopopeia) at work. The spectre claims authority over historians by virtue of his first person narrative. It tells us it will speak the truth about its life. The poet persona, Baldwin, will take dictation. The audience will read and learn. The confusion between speech and writing, however, is no accident. Baldwin is asked to both ‘write’ and ‘speake’ here—‘speake upright’, ‘That thou mayst write’. And again we are not told in the prose links who of the eight poets writes (or speaks) the poem. The authority over the historian ostensibly results from the first person quality of the narrative. However, any authority (moral or otherwise) that such a narrator might provide for the reader is put in doubt not only because of the spectre’s ostentatiously fictionalized, doubled perspective as a figure of the past occupying the present, but also because the poetic voice (and writing) that gives it form and presence bears a forged signature, ‘Baldwin’, that draws attention to its own forgery. In the Mirror, poetic memorializing in the form of prosopopeia and perspectival metalepsis deconstructs the volume’s ability to apply doctrine and demand judgment.

[20]  Critics have sometimes understood Baldwin’s Mirror as oppressively moralistic in contrast to the seemingly more complicated, ambiguous, and irreverent poetic productions of the late sixteenth-century superstars such as Spenser, Sidney, and Shakespeare. But by crafting the Mirror poems as a conversation—creating a dialogic exchange with both the prose links and the various spectral speeches—its authors employ a kind of moralizing that challenges the audience to interpret. The Mirror authors understand something of what Spenser sees as the necessity of ‘darke conceit’ in framing moral lessons. As Baldwin reports after the Lord Hastings poem, ‘one sayd it was very darke, and hard to be understood’ (297). ‘I like it the better’, another in the group responds, because it will ‘be the oftener reade, and the better remembred’. It is ‘written for the learned’. In fact, the learned poets of the 1590s do read and remember the Mirror. Baldwin’s volumes prompt the kind of conversation they model. In so doing, they exert a marked influence on sixteenth-century literary history. When Sidney’s famous Defence valorizes poets, who ‘borrow nothing of what is, hath been, or shall be; but range, only reined with learned discretion, into the divine consideration of what may be and should be’ (11), against historians, whose work is ‘captived to the truth of a foolish world’ (21), it seems fair to say that the Mirror has already made the same argument.

Vanderbilt University


[1] The author thanks those who have guided this essay’s development, Leah Marcus, Lynn Enterline, Kathryn Schwarz, Peter Lake, Christina Neckles, and a particularly helpful anonymous reader for JNR. [back to text]

[2] William Baldwin et al., The Mirror for Magistrates, edited by Lily B. Campbell (65–66). All citations of the Mirror are from Campbell’s edition. Several versions of the project were produced from 1559 to 1610. Later editions (1574, 1578, 1587) reach back in time to depict spectres from Roman history and early English legend. But the individual poems, be they representations of Caligula or Richard III, retain a recognizable pattern, and the didactic intent of the volumes remains clear through changes in historical location. Each aimed to expand on the exemplary history of Boccaccio’s De casibus virorum illustrium, which was adapted into English by John Lydgate as The Fall of Princes in the 1430s (through the intermediary of a French translation of Boccaccio by Laurent de Premierfait). [back to text]


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Re(-)Membering Women: Protestant Women’s Victim Testimonies during the Irish Rising of 1641

Re(-)Membering Women: Protestant Women’s Victim Testimonies during the Irish Rising of 1641

Naomi McAreavey

But this horrid kinde of cruelty was principally reserved by these inhumane Monsters for Women, whose sexe they neither pitied nor spared, hanging up severall Women, many of them great with childe, whose bellies they ripped up as they hung, and so let the little Infants fall out (Temple 1646: 96-7).

[1]  So wrote Sir John Temple in The Irish Rebellion, a book that by imagining the worst violence of the Irish Catholics through the trope of the dismembered body of the Protestant woman is emblematic of contemporary depictions of the 1641 rising.[1] Led by Sir Phelim O’Neill, the Irish Catholic uprising began in Ulster in the penultimate weekend of October 1641 with the aim of negotiating a resolution to grievances relating to land ownership and religious practice from a position of strength. It quickly spun out of O’Neill’s control, however, and Protestant settlers throughout Ireland were robbed and ejected from their lands by Catholic neighbours. As exiles sought refuge across the water, tales of Catholic-orchestrated atrocity were brought to Britain and spread throughout the rest of Protestant Europe. The Dutch propaganda print (see Figure 1) is exemplary in its gendering of Catholic violence in Ireland. In its graphic depiction of the atrocity that takes place within the home of ‘S[i]r’, the figure of the husband/father is at the literal centre of the image. Yet his impending murder is framed by three tableaux of the rape, murder and dismemberment of his female dependents. Through the strategic use of light and shading, the viewer’s gaze is drawn to the hanging body of the pregnant woman whose babies have been ripped from her womb. The dismembered maternal body thus forms the ideological centre of the image, which is illustrative of Protestant stories of the 1641 rising.

Fig. 1. Violence during the 1641 Rising. Credit: TopFoto

[2]  Like The Irish Rebellion, such images of violence against women played a crucial role in the ‘mythologization’ of the 1641 rising, which Kali Tal defines as the process by which traumatic events are reduced to ‘a set of standardized narratives (twice- and thrice-told tales that come to represent “the story” of the trauma) turning it from a frightening and uncontrollable event into a contained and predictable narrative’ (1996: 6). For the Irish uprising, tales of the murder and dismemberment of women – particularly pregnant women – quickly came to represent ‘the story’ of Catholic atrocity. Diane Purkiss persuasively suggests that such stories were ‘possible fantasy resolutions of the intolerable pressures placed on the death drive by the war’. She adds: ‘Such rhetoric was reassuring because it assigned passivity, disorder and dismemberment to the feminine corpse, releasing the male identity of the soldier for military action on her behalf and reassuring him that his own being was different’ (2005: 43). While this explains men’s investment in such stories, it cannot explain why they were so often told by women. For if, as Purkiss suggests, the dismembered female can be contrasted to the man’s ostensibly whole self, for the woman the question of sameness means identification rather than differentiation. So what do such stories mean for women? My essay seeks to answer this question.

[3]  This essay emphasizes Protestant women’s fundamental role in the creation and circulation of stories of the dismembered female, and argues that for these women they represent complexly gendered post-traumatic responses to their experiences during the rising. Such stories, I will suggest, are a fitting expression of the ‘shattered’ (Henke 1998) subjectivity of the trauma victim. Reading as ‘literature of trauma’ the testimonies of Protestant settlers that constitute the 1641 depositions, my essay proposes that the dismembered female constitutes a fantasy by which women could come to terms with psychic trauma by enabling them to articulate both past suffering and their survival. As they ‘remembered’ traumatic experiences by speaking of the murder and dismemberment of other women, this essay suggests that Protestant women could begin the process of ‘re-membering’ – that is, putting together again – their traumatized and dismembered selves.

[4]  The 1641 depositions is a collection of over 3,000 victim testimonies – of which women’s depositions account for up to a third – gathered in the wake of the Irish rising.[2] Collected by government-appointed officials (a committee of eight Protestant clergymen led by Bishop Henry Jones), they are the sworn statements of Protestant victims, largely settlers of English and Scottish descent.[3] Designed ‘for the enquiry & examination of the losses & sufferings of the British & protestants within this kingdome of Ireland’, as Ellen Adams’s deposition indicates (TCD MS 835, f. 257), their ultimate purpose was to compensate victims for losses, but they were also used to collect information on the uprising. Originating as oral testimony spoken before at least two commissioners and a scribe who recorded the statement, the depositions represent the answers to a series of pre-established questions. Typically, they begin with the deponent’s name, address and social status; they then state when the deponent was robbed, lists the value of her losses, and names those responsible; the depositions then identify other Irish in arms, and recount what disloyal or traitorous words they were heard to say; finally, they provide details of murders, and identify Protestants who had converted to Catholicism, along with any miscellaneous information (Clarke 1986: 112). The depositions thus follow a standard formula, yet they vary enormously, ranging from simple statements of losses to extensive and sensationalized accounts of suffering, which indicate that many deponents found room within their strictures to produce individuated accounts of Irish rising experiences.

[5]  It is the more lurid accounts that have historically received most attention. Excerpted in The Irish Rebellion, Temple acknowledges that the depositions are ‘most commonly decried, and held by the Irish as very injurious to their country men’ (1646: A4v), and his book makes a key intervention in the controversy surrounding their reliability that continues among historians today.[4] Questioning the foundations of this debate, Aidan Clarke observes: ‘From the inference that what had been printed was representative there had arisen, and there was to survive, the belief that every page in the collection told similar tales of horror’. In fact, he estimates that only two out of five depositions make reference to deaths; one out of five reports death through privation; and only one out of five speaks of death by violence (1986: 112-3). Since Clarke’s pioneering work, the 1641 depositions have started to receive serious scholarly attention from historians, and Nicholas Canny and others maintain that they cannot be dismissed as historical evidence ‘because they constitute the only detailed information we have of what happened’ (2001: 468; also Simms 1993: 123-38). Taking a literary approach to the depositions allows us to think about them in ways other than as guides to the facts of the rising, however, as Marie-Louise Coolahan argues:

But to approach the depositions as narrative, rather than to interrogate their veracity, allows us to sidestep the controversies over historical facts. From a literary perspective the more valuable depositions are precisely those which are likelier to be sensationalized. These are the lengthier depositions by women, the accounts in which female deponents have taken the opportunity to develop a personal narrative and to implement their narrative skills (2010: 144).[5]

While I agree, I also propose that by reading the 1641 depositions specifically as ‘literature of trauma’ it is possible to bridge the gap between literary and historical approaches. As any text written by the victim of trauma, Tal’s definition of trauma literature (1996: 17) can include the 1641 depositions, authored, if not ‘written’, by the traumatized victims of the rising. Such a literary-critical approach might help to illuminate a range of non-traditional genres of wartime writing, including other legal testimony, pamphlets and newsbooks, letters, conversion narratives, and much more. Thus, what I hope to provide in this essay is a model for reading a variety of autobiographical texts through the lens of trauma theory.[6]

[6]  The best examples of trauma literature among the depositions are, of course, the two fifths that speak of deaths, whether as first-hand evidence or second-hand report. The admission of hearsay evidence is at the centre of the debate surrounding the veracity of the depositions. Bennett acknowledges that they are ‘replete with lies, hearsay and speculation’, yet he adds that they ‘demonstrate what many witnesses believed to be the truth’ (2000: 46; emphasis added). Canny similarly maintains that hearsay evidence is of value ‘if only because they convey some sense of the terror which gripped the minds of the settlers’ (2001: 468). Coolahan concurs, arguing that ‘they are, at the very least, important evidence of contemporary anxieties’ (2010: 144). Reading the depositions as literature of trauma allows us to see in the testimonies of the Protestant victims the ‘truth’ of the trauma survivor’s experience, which must be differentiated from the objective ‘facts’ of the rising. Trauma theorist James E. Young maintains that we need to separate the ‘authenticity’ of the survivor narrative from its ‘authority as “fact”’ (Young 1988: 23; see also Laub 1993: 62, LaCapra 2001: 88-9). He argues that ‘it is not a matter of whether one set of facts is more veracious than another, or whether the facts have been transformed in narrative at all’. Instead, he proposes, we must determine ‘how writers’ experiences have been shaped both in and out of narrative’ (1988: 39). His case that ‘even the Holocaust can never lie outside of literature, or understanding, or telling’ (1988: 98) is also applicable to the 1641 rising. So whether or not women were dismembered and murdered in great numbers during the uprising (this will continue to be debated), the stories are ‘true’ insofar as they are an authentic representation of Protestant women’s experience and expression of terror.

[7]  As literature of trauma, the depositions should be read, at least in part, through the process by which Protestant victims of violence began to work through their traumatic experiences. Tal maintains that ‘literature of trauma is written from the need to tell and retell the story of the traumatic experience, to make it “real” both to the victim and to the community’ (1996: 21), and Deborah Horvitz adds: ‘The need to be listened to, in addition to “the need to tell”, is a trope that appears and reappears in the written and oral testimony of victims’ (2000: 19; see also Felman and Laub 1993). Many deponents speak of the importance of sharing their stories with women who endured similar experiences. Suzanna Steele situates herself at the centre of a large network of women who shared their trauma with each other. A ‘greeved and distressed mother’ who had lost her husband and several of her children during the rising was only one of many women who ‘(with teares) afterwards told this depon[en]t’ of her experiences. Steele stresses the comparative sympathy of a woman’s ear when she expresses her own frustration at speaking to men who refuse to take her testimony seriously. She tries to tell Lord President Jones of Connaught about a conspiracy involving the Irish Catholics, but instead of welcoming her message, he (according to Steele) ‘did not believe it, for it was noe matter what women said’ (TCD MS 817, f. 215). Resisting such misogynist attitudes, Steele instead establishes a supportive community of and for women in which their stories are truly valued. Elsewhere, both Joane Constable and Margaret Phillis repeat Ann Smith and Margaret Clark’s story of their miraculous escape from the burning house in which a group of Protestants were murdered. Echoing the story also told in Smith and Clark’s joint deposition, Phillis testifies that ‘whilest these Rebells were busyed in burning the rest of the howse: It pleased god to give them two strength to rise & escape away w[i]th their lives (as both the said Agnes Smith & her daughter have since divers tymes tould her this depon[en]t’ (TCD MS 836, f. 66; emphasis added). The fact that the mother and daughter’s story of survival is re-told by Phillis in her own deposition, which also testifies the frequency with which the two women repeated their tale to her, reveals the extent to which communicating among friends – both as speakers and listeners – was part of the process by which women came to terms with traumatic experiences.

[8]  Yet while voicing trauma is crucial to the survivor’s ability to work through her experiences, the irony is that trauma is itself essentially unspeakable. ‘The fundamental dislocation implied by all traumatic experience’, as Cathy Caruth argues, is ‘both its testimony to the event’ and ‘the impossibility of its direct access’ (1995: 9). Unlike mother and daughter Smith and Clark who together find the words to tell their story, Ellen Matchett – who lost her mother during the rising – struggles throughout her deposition to voice her trauma. Listing the ‘great numbers’ of Protestants who were murdered by the Catholics, ‘some burned, some drowned some hanged & the rest murthered & masacred in most barbarous & inhumane manner’, she desperately tries to speak her horror. But the experience is so overwhelming that she became so ‘overfrighted & feared therewith as grew almost insensible’ (TCD MS 836, f. 59). It seems that for Matchett the crisis of witnessing brings her to the brink of madness, the ultimate dislocation of self, and this traumatic disturbance seems to be tied to the circumstances of her mother’s death. Forced to leave her ‘wounded bleeding mother’ to die on a ‘could mountaine’ so that she and her family could ‘fly away to save their owne lives’, Matchett tries to articulate her ‘unspeakeable greiffe’ at the loss (TCD MS 836, ff. 59-59v). Trying ‘to make sense of an overwhelming experience’ while simultaneously acknowledging ‘the unspeakability of trauma itself, its resistance to representation’ (Gilmore 2001: 25), Matchett is the archetypal trauma survivor. Her failure to find the words to express her anguish at the abandonment and subsequent death of her mother – ‘to speak out, to name the unnameable, to turn and face it down’ (Ziegenmeyer and Warren 1992: 218) – impedes her ability to work through her trauma, particularly her guilt as a survivor. Still, Matchett’s deposition represents the beginning of the process of recovery, since the 1641 deposition commission provides a supportive framework in which she could begin to speak of her experiences. It is important to note that Catholics who suffered as a result of retaliatory violence at this time did not have access to officially-appointed ‘listeners’ like the deposition commissioners to whom they could speak their traumatic experiences. The resultant marginalization of the voices of victimized Catholics raises important questions about the alternative ways in which Irish Catholics might have worked through trauma, and for which evidence undoubtedly exists in other Catholic-authored texts.

[9]  Nevertheless, as a record of Protestant suffering during the rising, the 1641 depositions exhibit the key qualities that characterize trauma literature, depicting the ‘basic wound’ of the traumatic event, as well as providing evidence of the deponent’s new ‘adaptive lifestyle’; the retelling process that ‘rebuilds shattered personal myths’ is also evident; so too is the identification with a community of survivors (Tal 1996: 78). For the female deponents, the characteristic features of trauma literature are feminized, with women identifying with other female survivors, telling and re-telling their stories to these women, and representing trauma specifically in terms of violence against women. The characteristic struggle to prevent the experience from ‘being appropriated and incorporated into myth’ (Tal 1996: 78) is not evident in the depositions, as the women could not have foreseen that their stories of the dismemberment and murder of women would become fundamental to the mythologization of the rising. Yet by showing that this myth has its origins – at least in part – in the women’s depositions, my essay challenges the inherent misogyny of such stories and explores what they meant to women.

[10]  Like The Irish Rebellion and the other stories they inspire, throughout the 1641 depositions female deponents represent women and children as the primary victims of the rising. Even when they describe the victimization of men, they are represented as being emasculated or feminized, usually attacked within a domestic or familial context. Alice Champion testifies that her husband ‘was assaulted and cruelly murthered and killed before his owne gate’ (TCD MS 835, f. 26). And an eyewitness to her husband’s murder, Margaret Farmenie describes how the insurgents bound her husband ‘and dragged him up and downe in a Rope and cutt his throate in her owne sight w[i]th a skeane [dagger]’ (TCD MS 835, f. 29). Mary Smyth speaks of her husband’s murder and then castration, testifying that the insurgents ‘cutt off his tongue & secrett members most inhumanely’ (TCD MS 823, f. 17). Throughout the depositions, women speak of eviction, robbery, stripping, exposure, imprisonment, starvation, violent assault and murder, and these stories are told through disturbing accounts of the brutal disruption of the home and family, the traumatic loss of husbands and children, and direct experience of Catholic violence and persecution. For example, Magdalen Redman testifies being (with other widows) robbed, stripped, and then nearly burnt alive by the Irish (TCD MS 814, f. 77); Ann Ogden talks of her family’s eviction and then her children’s deaths through starvation and exposure (TCD MS 835, f. 37v); and Elizabeth Coates describes a violent assault on her and her daughter in their ‘dwelling howse’, as well as the murder of her husband and son (TCD MS 835, f. 4v). Throughout the 1641 depositions, women share a distinctly feminized voice. They register their personal experience of trauma while cataloguing the suffering and deaths of other women, suggesting that they identified themselves with other women. In doing so, their traumatic experiences are repeatedly represented in terms of threats to the maternal body, and the mutilation and murder of pregnant, labouring and lactating women, and their children, are tropes that recur throughout the depositions.

[11]  Temple used these stories in The Irish Rebellion, constructing his narrative of rebellion with excerpts from the depositions. Yet in appropriating women’s words and experiences, for him – as for the many men who describe the murder and dismemberment of women throughout the depositions – they come to mean something different. This is not to say that Temple misrepresents women’s experiences in his book. In fact, what is striking about The Irish Rebellion is the amount of space given to the depositions, which are often presented in long excerpts, and are, on the whole, transcribed faithfully.[7] Rather, it is to argue that when women’s words are taken out of their original context, and incorporated within a male-authored text (especially one with such a strong implied male readership), women’s experiences come to speak for men and not for the women themselves. This chimes with Tal’s argument that

two people can represent the same experience, using similar imagery and descriptive terminology and create literary works with entirely different meanings – meanings which are located not in the words themselves, but in the interaction between writer and text, between reader and text, between reader and writer (1996: 18).[8]

So even if Temple records women’s depositions verbatim, by incorporating them in his text they come to speak for the trauma of the Protestant man in Ireland. In doing so, women’s experiences are appropriated to serve the psychic needs of men. Moreover, Protestant women’s trauma is also exploited for political ends, with Temple using the experiences of female victims to characterize the perpetrators as monstrous and barbaric, in order to advocate a radical policy that would ensure that Irish Catholics could never rise again (1646: A3v). While such polemic may not have been challenged by the female deponents cited by Temple, the aim of this essay is nevertheless to resist the male appropriation of women’s traumatic experiences that leads to such mythologizing of the rising, and instead focus on what stories of the dismembered female body meant to Protestant women.

[12]  With the dismembered maternal body particularly emblematic of women’s victimization during the rising, it seems that their expression of trauma involves (at least in part) the re-elaboration of anxieties surrounding pregnancy, childbirth and lactation, periods of extreme vulnerability shared by seventeenth-century women. By re-imagining these fears in hyper-violent, nightmarish ways, such stories allow women to voice their specifically gendered experience of trauma during the wars. Some deponents describe the violence they endured during their pregnancies. Judith Phillipps testifies that when she was ‘in the latter end of her time’ she was beaten and wounded with a skein, ‘whereupon she imediatly miscarryed of a man child’ (TCD MS 820, f. 219). Much more frequent in the depositions are graphic third-person reports of the mutilation and murder of pregnant women. Ellen Adams describes the death of one Cary Brent, ‘she being bigg with child, and at the very last of her time’, whom the Irish ‘did barbarously murther’: ‘one of the said Rebells’, she says, ‘ran his skyne into her body and the child ripped from her’ (TCD MS 835, f. 257). Elizabeth Price tells a similar story of when the Irish ‘tooke an Englishwoman nere [th]e bridge of Portadown by name the wife of one Arnold Taylor; when shee was great w[it]h child; And that they ripped up her bellie so that the child fell out of her wombe; And then they threw both the moth[e]r and the child into the wat[e]r’ (TCD MS 836, f. 104v). Reporting the murder of a group of Protestants, Elizabeth Holliwell says that ‘one of those wyves being great w[i]th Chyld & hanged up. the Rebells thrust theire pykes into her Belly becawse as they sayd the child should not Live’ (TCD 830, f. 35). Similarly, Anna Hawkesworth testifies that the Irish drowned one woman ‘& gave her such a wound in her belly that the childes Arme (wherew[i]th she was great) appeared through the wound, and she & her child in that posture were carried down w[i]th the stream’ (TCD MS 830, f. 40v).

[13]  Other deponents describe assaults upon the labouring body. Joane Constable tells of the drowning of one Mrs Maxwell ‘when she was in labour of childbirth & soe pregnant & forward therein’ (TCD MS 836, f. 88). Dame Ann Butler speaks about how the Irish compelled an Englishwoman ‘who was nuly delivered of two childeren in one birth They violently compelled her in her greate paine and sicknesse to rise from her childbed and tooke the infant th[a]t was left alive and dasht his braines against the stones and after threwe him into the river of Barrow’ (TCD MS 812, f. 69). Thomasin Osbaldeston’s testimony reveals the acute vulnerability that women felt during their pregnancy and lying in and the knowledge that their condition would not spare them from violence. She had been ‘in Childbed but 7 or 8 dayes’ when she heard that armed Irish Catholics were coming into Waterford ‘that would destroy all the English’. She ‘fled for succour into the hospitall att Waterford & there lay secretly upon bare straw for 4 dayes & nightes together untill she escaped away by sea with her twoe Children’ (TCD MS 820, f. 8). Mary Hammond is attacked and miscarries, after being tormented by the Irish throughout her labour. She says: ‘she was delivered of a dead child: w[hi]ch she veryly believed was kild by the ill usage she had received […] it being very lively before’ (TCD MS 830, f. 136).

[14]  Even after the safe delivery of a child, infant and mother were not safe, and stories of the murder of the lactating mother and her baby abound in the depositions. In their joint testimony, Margery King and Margaret Simon report that one Jane Adis was murdered with her child still feeding from her (TCD MS 814, f. 81). Elizabeth Trueman talks about the drowning of two women ‘that had both of [th]eir children sucking att their breste w[hi]ch they drowned alsoe’ (TCD MS 836, f. 117). Alice Champion likewise describes how when the insurgents discovered the corpse of a woman with ‘a yong chyld of his [sic] lying sucking the dead mothers breast they killed the said child’ (TCD MS 835, f. 27). The nursing infant and his mother are attacked in more insidious ways in Ann Reade’s deposition:

Ellen the wiffe of the said Donnell oRely haveing the nursing of a yong male sucking child of the depon[en]ts stripped him of his clothes as this depon[en]t verely beleeveth and brought him to him [sic] this depon[ent]t: Whoe being stript of all her meanes had not wherewith to releeve the Child Soe as he by Cold and famin dyed (TCD MS 831, f. 12v).

Rejected by his Irish wet-nurse, and with her own milk dry, Reade speaks of the trauma of being unable to provide for her son.

[15]  Many women testify that their children died because they were unable to nourish and protect them. Ann Hill describes the deaths of three of her children through exposure to the cold (TCD MS 812, f. 39v), and Christian Olliphant similarly testifies: ‘the depon[en]t haveing at that tyme three small children they were all Stript naked beinge a weeke before Candlemas, in the extremity of winter, which soe penetrated the infants that since they have all dyed (TCD MS 831, f. 77). Likewise, Ann Ogden describes the deaths of her children ‘whoe (through the torments, hunger & cold that they endured in their jorney are both dead at Dublin’ (TCD MS 835, f. 37v).

[16]  Other women testify that their children died as a direct result of Catholic violence, and often these deaths are described in terms of the violent parting of mother and child. Ann Hill and Ruth Martyn both describe their child being taken from their arms and murdered: Martyn testifies that the Irish ‘killed a young child of the examtes (being about three yeares ould) in the armes’ (TCD MS 817, ff. 309v-310); and Hill claims that they ‘pulled off her back a yong child of about a yere and a quart[er] ould, threw it on the ground & trod on it that it dyed’ (TCD MS 812, f. 39v). There are also stories of the dismemberment and murder of older children alongside their mothers. Martha Mosley, for instance, tells of the murder of a ‘little boy & his mother’, ‘the poore childs head being pittifully mangled & his belly soe opened that his bowells fell out’ (TCD MS 812, f. 91). Another deponent, Ann Mawdesley, describes how the Irish ‘struck and beat a poor English woman untill shee was forced into a ditch where she dyed Those barbarous Rebells haveing first ript upp & letten her childs gutts about her heeles & most cruelly murthered that child’ (TCD MS 812, f. 221). Often the child is left alongside the corpse of its dead mother. Joane Constable, for example, describes the murder of a woman who was ‘stabbed w[i]th a skean to the hart […] he having first beat out her braines & that he left her child alive lying by her’ (TCD MS 836, f. 88).

[17]  The murder of children (and their mothers) was seen by many women as part of a plan to extirpate the entire Protestant settler community in Ireland. Joane Constable reports that she heard an Irishman boast that he had pulled an English child ‘fro[m] und[er] a bedd whe[re] it was crept & [th]at he knockt out his braynes against the wall. Saying he did it because he would have none of the English breed left’ (TCD MS 836, f. 88v). Elsewhere, Ann Smith and Margaret Clarke claim that after 1641 ‘all the full & faire plantatons of protest[ant]s in the Cuntry thereabouts were quite depopulated and distroyed’ (TCD MS 836, f. 73v). Once ‘full & faire’, the two women imagine the Ulster plantations in terms of a fertile femininity that is now destroyed. Many of the female deponents thus understood violence against women and children as an attack against the Protestant community through the medium of the reproductive female body.

[18]  It may be surprising then that so few deponents testify to rape, as other commentators have observed (O’Dowd 1991: 101; Simms 1993: 136; Canny 2001: 544). There are some examples from hearsay. Susan Steele testifies that ‘one Edmunde duffe ffarrell a noteable Rebell attempted to have ravished one katherin Orbuson’ (TCD MS 817, f. 215). Ellen Adams suggests that the pregnant Cary Brent was raped before she was murdered, the Irish Catholics ‘first stripping of her naked, and then barbarously having used her’ (TCD MS 835, f. 257). Since the stripping of Cary Brent leads to her rape, Adams’ testimony may suggest that stripping was perceived by some women as being on a continuum with sexual assault. Numerous women describe the trauma of being stripped, including Jane Gowrly who testifies that ‘she was stript of her clothes seven severall tymes after she gott other clothes and at length they left her not soe much as her smock or hairlace’ (TCD MS 836, f. 57). Since the social stigma means that it is unlikely that a seventeenth-century woman would have spoken about rape, as O’Dowd (1991: 101) has persuasively suggested, it may be that the fear or experience of sexual assault may have emerged obliquely in women’s description of the experience of being stripped. Whether or not this is the case, since the pregnant Cary Grant is raped before her mutilation and murder, it is clear that Adams saw both rape and dismemberment as different manifestations of sexualized violence against women.

[19]  So how might these stories help women work through trauma? As I have already suggested, Purkiss’s theory (2005: 43) that narratives of the murder and dismemberment of women are ‘possible fantasy resolutions’ for men cannot be straightforwardly applied to women, since the dead women mirror the female survivors. Many of the deponents who tell stories of the dismemberment and death of other women also speak of their own maiming. Ellice Meagher claims that ‘she t[hi]s Exa[minan]t had 11 wounds’ (TCD MS 821, f. 259). And Adams – who spoke so vividly of Cary Brent’s horrific murder – describes how she herself was so severely wounded that she ‘wilbe weake and impotent while she lives, for besides sev[er]all wounds she receaved in her hands, sides, & skull […] one of them gave this examinant a wounde with his skyne under one of her jaw=bones, threatening there to pull down this examinants tongue’ (TCD MS 835, f. 257v); her fears that she was left ‘impotent’ by the attack may have undercurrents of infertility, and thus reflect the sexualized dismemberment she describes of other women. Adams’ testimony that her daughter, also called Ellen Adams, was ‘soe pittifully cut & mangled that a longe time after she was not able to goe or stirr’ (TCD MS 835, f. 257v), epitomizes the blurring of self and other in women’s representation of traumatic suffering, especially since mother and daughter share their name.

[20]  Yet stories of the dismemberment and murder of women constitute fantasies for female deponents also. Developing the Freudian notion that fantasies are ‘protective fictions’, Jacqueline Rose argues that ‘fantasy is also a way of re-elaborating and therefore of partly recognizing the memory which is struggling, against the psychic odds, to be heard’ (1996: 5). Stories of the dismemberment and murder of other women represent female deponents’ memories of personal experiences of traumatic suffering. Elizabeth Price speaks of the horrifying violence she endures when, imprisoned by the Catholics, ‘divers tortures were used upon’ her. She testifies being ‘thrice hanged upp to confess moneys and after [lette] down, & hadd the soales of her feete fryed and burned at the fyre & was often scurged & whipt’. As well as suffering physical trauma, Price and her fellow prisoners were ‘often affrighted with a block and a hatchet: which to putt them more in feare was alwaies left near them as the engine of their death’ (TCD MS 836, f. 102). Testifying her prolonged and enduring fear of dismemberment and death, her escape, against the odds, is (in her deposition) juxtaposed with stories of others who were not so lucky. One group of Protestants, ‘especially women and children’, were, according to Price, ‘pricked and stabbed with their pitchforks skeanes & swords and [the Irish] would slash mangle and cutt them in their heades breasts faces armes handes and other parts of their bodies, but not kill them outright, but leave them wallowing in their bloode to languish and starve to death’ (TCD MS 836, f. 104). Thus, the ‘engine’ of ‘death’ of Price’s traumatic memory dismembers and murders these women in the way she feared she would die. In mirroring and exaggerating her past experiences, then, Price’s stories of the murder of other women represent the re-elaboration and part-recognition of her own memory of traumatic suffering.

[21]  Yet unlike the other women, Price lives to tell their story. As ‘an ey witnesse’ to their murders (TCD MS 836, f. 104), Price exhibits and anatomizes the women’s mangled corpses through her gaze, revealing them as other to her own surviving and whole female body. Stories of the dismemberment and murder of other women thus constitute a reassuring fantasy for Price because she survives to bear witness to the deaths of other women. Yet since the women’s dismembered corpses mirror Price’s – and Meagher, Adams and other female deponents’ – mutilated bodies, it seems that for women (unlike men) the boundary between self and other, between survival and death, remains frighteningly porous. In trying to make sense of the deep tensions embedded in women’s stories of the dismemberment and murder of women, Purkiss’s work on another set of depositions – those made by women in witch trials – provides a useful model for interpreting them as fantasies for women. As ‘a story in which people both express and relieve their unconscious (and sometimes their conscious) fears, conflicts and anxieties’ (Purkiss 1996: 93), women’s fantasies of the murder and dismemberment of women who are uncannily similar to but ultimately different from themselves may help women work through trauma by allowing them to voice the ‘double knowledge’ (Rosenfeld 1978: 26) of both facing death and surviving it. The dismembered woman thus becomes for the female deponents an emblem of trauma and survival.

[22]  Yet since female survival is expressed through feminized images of dismemberment and death, such fantasies prevent women from fully conquering their traumatic pasts. Unlike men who, as Purkiss (2005: 43) argues, are spurred into action on behalf of the dead woman, the lack of a positive alternative for women renders it impossible for them to be anything other than victim (albeit alive rather than dead). But attempting to break free from this trap, some deponents began to work through their experiences by re-imagining the trope of the dismembered woman in more life-affirming ways. In her deposition, Martha Mosley offers a wonderful account of feminine healing, which helps her both remember and work through trauma by voicing an empowering fantasy of the re-membered female. When they were driven from their home, Mosley and her mother and husband fled to safety in Carlow Castle, where her husband and mother later died. Mosley describes a subsequent siege of the castle where ‘there were slayne and hurt at the Church and about the same nere to the Castle the number of xxv men women and children English protest[ant]s & were moste barbarously mangled hewd and slashed by the Rebells’ (TCD MS 812, f. 90v). With Protestant victimhood remembered through the trope of the mutilated body, for Mosley it soon becomes specifically gendered:

And one woman whoe had her hand cutt off the depon[en]t (by gods assistance) cured as she did divers o[the]rs, whilest she was there, And amongst the rest she soe cured there was a poore stript woman that the night aforesaid was most miserably wounded and cutt by fowre sevral great cutts all through the scull of her head, and one in her face, And left for dead & layd there for about 24 howres. and that at length by goods [sic] great helpe recovered her senses and soe much strength that she crawled And came into the Castle being here a most miserable Object of pitty & although such as saw her despaired of her recovry yet god working w[it]h such meanes as this depon[en]t used to her, she was afterwards very well recovered (TCD MS 812, f. 90v).

In a striking extension of the traditional nurturing roles of women (and one that so many of the deponents are catastrophically unable to fulfil during the wars), Mosley becomes a nurse to her suffering female companions. In this capacity, she cures these women and ‘divers others’ like them, saving them from death. In doing so, she pieces together their mutilated and dismembered bodies. Mosley thus produces a reassuring fantasy in which the mutilated female body can in fact be re-membered, or put together again, restored to their wholeness before the terrible violence and trauma of war. And since she is the one to heal them, Mosley’s fantasy is one that is particularly empowering for her. Even as she attributes the miracle to God who ‘assist[s]’ and ‘work[s] through’ her, since ‘the deponent […] cured’ one woman, and another woman recovered ‘with such meanes as this deponent used to her’, she – like contemporary female prophets who assume an active role while deferring to God – claims responsibility for their survival.[9] Mosley thus asserts both the possibility of women’s recovery and her control over the healing process. So as she begins to imagine post-traumatic recovery through the trope of the re-membered female (just as traumatic suffering had been imagined through the trope of the dismembered woman), Mosley starts the process of re-piecing her own traumatized and dismembered self through narrative.

[23]  The theme of drawing together fragments into a whole is found again and again in the literature of trauma’, writes Tal (1996: 137-8). With this theme echoed in her story of miraculous recovery, Mosley’s deposition reveals one fantasy through which women could begin to ‘re-member’ the dismembered woman of their traumatized memories. An alternative fantasy of the re-membered woman emerges from one the best-known of the 1641 depositions, that of the Co. Armagh woman, Elizabeth Price. Price’s children died in one of the most infamous atrocities of 1641 – the drowning of a group of Protestants at Portadown. Under the pretence of being given safe passage to England, five of her children along ‘with about threescore and fifteen more protestants’ were released from their imprisonment by the insurgents. Price continues:

Their Com[m]ander or conductor for that purpose being as he quickly after proved to bee a most bloudy & cursed rebel by name Capt[ai]n Manus Cane – & his souldiers having brought or rather driven like sheepe or beasts to a Markett those poore prison[er]s being about one hundred and fifteen to the bridge of Portadowne: The said Capt[ai]n and rebels then and there forced & drove all those prison[er]s (and amongst the rest the dep[onent]s five children: by name Adam John Anne Mary and Joane Price off the bridge into the water and then and there instantly & most barbarously drowned the most of them: And those that could swim and came to the shore they knockt them in the heade & soe after drowned them, or else shott them to death in the water (TCD MS 836, f. 101v).

Not a first-hand witness to the massacre, Price draws upon collective Protestant memory of the event to voice her losses. She participates in the circulating discourse of Irish violence to which Ellen Matchett also contributes when she (like Price) likens the prisoners to ‘heardes of sheepe’ being driven to the river (TCD MS 836, f. 59). Many other deponents speak of the atrocity, but their allusions are fleeting, primarily concerned with establishing the number of Protestants who died there (and inflating Price’s estimate to more than one hundred and fifty victims). It nevertheless seems that the massacre at Portadown was at the heart of Ulster Protestant articulation of shared trauma. Price draws upon her community’s experience of the atrocity in order to express her personal losses, but she focuses on her own children and (unlike other deponents who simply specify their sex and age) identifies each child by name.

[24]  Price’s inability to speak more fully about the circumstances of her children’s deaths may be what draws her to visit the scene of their murder upon ‘hearing of divers apparitions & visions that were ordinarily seene nere portadowne bridge since the drowning of her children and the rest of the Protest[ant]s there’ (TCD MS 836, f. 102r). Since Joane Constable elsewhere specifies that the apparitions at Portadown ‘did most extremely and fearfully shriek & cry out for vengeance and bloud against the irish that had murthered their bodies there’ (TCD MS 836, f. 89v), it seems that the apparitions were popularly believed to be the ghosts of the massacred Protestants. Price may have hoped that a visit to Portadown Bridge would offer her the possibility of seeing and hearing her dead children, which would then give her the words to adequately voice the trauma of their loss.

[25]  Price is accompanied to Portadown Bridge by ‘the wiffe of Newberry; the wiffe of one Prescot Ann Stubbs, Susan Stubbs, and Elizabeth this depon[ent]s surviving child, and about 40 more her fellow prison[er]s being women whose husbands were murthered & slain’ (TCD MS 836, f. 102v). By travelling with other English Protestant women – widows and bereaved mothers who perhaps also lost family in the atrocity, but who certainly share her experiences of suffering – Price (with her one surviving child – a daughter) forms an exclusively female community of Protestant survivors. And it is with these women that Price sees the apparition:

then and there upon a sudden there appeared unto them a vision or spiritt assumeing the shape of a woman waste highe upright in the water naked with elevated & closed handes, her haire dishievelled, very white, her eys seeming to twinckle in her head, and her skinn as white as snowe which spiritt or vision seeming to stand straight upright in the water divulged and often repeated the word Revenge Revenge Revenge &c (TCD MS 836, ff. 102v-103).[10]

Significantly, the apparition witnessed by Price and her female companions manifests as a lone woman, despite earlier sightings of ‘divers’ apparitions at Portadown Bridge, which Joane Constable indicates were ‘somtymes of men & somtymes of women’ (TCD MS 836, f. 89).[11] Indeed, Price later explains (perhaps at the prompting of the commissioners) that before she and her female companions came to Portadown Bridge – and prior to the appearance of the female apparition – ‘the first visions or apparitions after the protest[ant]es drowned, were in shewe a great numb[e]r of heads in the water w[hi]ch cried all w[i]th a lowd voice Revenge Revenge &c, as this depon[en]t hath been credibly told by the Rebells themselves’ (TCD MS 836, ff. 103-103v). Yet these disembodied and ungendered ‘heads’ are mentioned only as an afterthought as Price instead prioritizes the sighting of the woman.

[26]  With her femininity crucial to her representation, Price’s refusal to categorize the apparition as either ‘vision or spiritt’ or ‘spiritt or vision’ may (as well as revealing Protestant ambivalence about ghosts) suggest that she perceived her (consciously or unconsciously) to be both the ‘spiritt’ of a murdered woman and a ‘vision’ produced by the women who see her. With her bared breasts emphasizing her femininity and maternity, and her nakedness reflecting the condition of so many Protestant women who were stripped of their clothes (Price included), the apparition is at once a spiritual manifestation of another (dead) Protestant woman and a mirror of Price and her fellow female survivors. Reflecting their sufferings and losses specifically as women, widows and bereaved mothers, she is both a materialization of their past sufferings and an embodiment of their fears that they could have – and may still – die.

[27]  Yet unlike the murdered female bodies that litter the depositions – but like the women who see her – the apparition is not silent, passive, or dismembered: she is whole and she speaks, commanding attention on her own terms. She is thus an expression of the women’s survival – and their urge to fight back against the men who killed their families. Crucially, the apparition’s naked body reveals strength rather than vulnerability. Her whiteness and cries are reminiscent of the banshee of Gaelic mythology whose wails herald an imminent death, and her presence forebodes retribution against the murderous Catholics.[12] By crying repeatedly for revenge, she is also an unusually feminized personification of vengeance, with suggestions of the Furies as well. But she is Christianized through her hands, which, folded in apparent prayer, define her as a divinely-appointed instrument of Protestant vengeance. The apparition’s exposed breasts and quasi-combatant stance also characterize her as Amazon and, proclaiming war against the Irish men, she calls the women to arms.

[28]  So the female apparition gives voice to Price and her companions’ grief and rage as women. Emerging from the waters in which her children died, the phantom specifically gives fantastic expression to Price’s trauma as a bereaved mother. Price ventriloquizes her desire for reprisal against those who murdered her children by repeating the apparition’s cries for vengeance. Yet the ghost does not avenge the dead children, but instead offers protection to their grieving mother. Price claims that the Irish were so terrified by the apparition’s presence that they were ‘soe again affrighted that they ran quite away and forsook the place’ (TCD MS 836, f. 103). Instead of avenging the dead Protestants, therefore, the apparition primarily functions to protect Price and the other women from further harm. Identifying with the survivors rather than the dead victims, the apparition’s vigorous femininity comes to stand for the women’s survival in spite of the violence and death that threatened to overwhelm them. By rising from the waters that engulfed Price’s children and so many other Protestants, the apparition comes to symbolize the women’s resilience and courage through traumatic suffering. She thus represents an empowering feminized fantasy of wholeness and survival – a reassuring alternative to fantasies of the dismembered female corpse – and by speaking about her, Price begins to work through traumatic memories. Repeating the story of the women’s remarkable encounter with the apparition allows Price to bear witness to past sufferings, and especially the loss of her children. But it also facilitates her acknowledgement of her survival, while simultaneously providing a reassuring fantasy of her future safety and protection. The re(-)membered vision of the vengeful apparition thus helps Price work through trauma by fostering the process through which she can begin to re-piece her shattered self.

[29]  The process of recovery begins in Dublin when she speaks to the deposition commissioners. But it is not to the apparition that Price is indebted for her safe arrival in that city. Rather, the Irish Catholic Owen Roe O’Neill accompanied her and her female companions part of the way, before leaving them with enough money and food for their onward journey. Price already had Owen Roe to thank for her release from prison, and he also provided the convoy in which she and her companions were able to visit Portadown Bridge. As the man to whom Price and her companions owed their survival, Owen Roe is cast as chivalric hero. Not only does this reveal the multiple and complex constructions of Irishness in the depositions, as Deana Rankin (2005: 27) has pointed out, but it also indicates the women’s need for male protection. Indeed, shortly after Owen Roe’s departure the women were attacked by ‘the Scottch army’. As ‘these Scotts forcibly robbed and despoyled them of all the mony and meale they had left & badd them goe to the Rebells & get more’ (TCD MS 836, f. 105), Price’s deposition further disturbs simple oppositions between British and Irish, Protestant and Catholic. Portraying Ulster Protestants divided across national lines, her deposition indicates the multiplicity of British Protestant identities. Yet its focus on the repeated victimization of Protestant women characterizes women as pawns in a war fought between men. This may have been a persuasive strategy as the women sought compensation from the male commissioners in their own right. But it more importantly indicates women’s gendered experience and expression of trauma. Thus, even as they bear witness to women’s survival, the 1641 depositions remain scarred by Protestant women’s memory of traumatic suffering during the Irish rising.

University College Dublin


[1] I would like to thank Danielle Clarke, Edel Lamb, and the anonymous reader and editors of the Journal of the Northern Renaissance for their helpful suggestions on earlier drafts of this essay. [back to text]

[2] The 1641 depositions (TCD MSS 809-39) now occupy thirty-one manuscript volumes in Trinity College, Dublin, grouped according to county. Long accessible only by microfilm, the depositions are now the subject of a three-year research project, which aims to transcribe and digitize the entire collection. The number of female-authored depositions varies according to county. As low as 5% in Kerry but as high as 39% in Kilkenny, it seems that more female deponents emerged from counties that saw the most violence, which may have been a result of higher mortality rates for men or their enlisting for military service (Bennett 2000: 67; Canny 2001: 348). [back to text]

[3] On the distinctly Protestant ways in which many women articulated their victimization in the depositions, see Coolahan 2010: 153-54, 158-59. [back to text]

[4] On Temple’s influence, see Gillespie 2005: 315-33. [back to text]

[5] I am grateful to Dr Coolahan for allowing me to read the relevant chapter of her book before its publication. [back to text]

[6] For book-length studies on trauma theory in an early modern literary context, see Anderson 2006 and Cahill 2008. [back to text]

[7] Coolahan observes that Temple typically chooses the more lurid depositions to illustrate particular events of the rising, with little concern for the most accurate (2010: 142-43, 148-50). [back to text]

[8] For a similar argument in an early modern context, see Purkiss 1996: 199-230. [back to text]

[9] See, for example, Hinds 1996. [back to text]

[10] Price’s account of the apparition rising from the waters in which her children died chimes with Constable’s story of the drowning of a labouring mother and her unborn child, after which (she claims) ‘the very childe at once appeared & moved in [th]e wate[r] the child being halfe borne when the poore mo[th]e[r] was soe drowned […] w[ith]out doubt that child cryed for vengeance’ (TCD MS 836, f. 88). In Price’s reimagining of the same story, it is not the child but the mother who cries for revenge. [back to text]

[11] Constable’s account of the apparitions at Portadown shares some similarities with Price’s:

And [th]at after there appeared visions or apparitions somtymes of men & somtymes of women brest highe above the water att or nere port a downe bridge: w[hi]ch did most extremely and fearfully shriek & cry out for vengeance and bloud against the irish that hadd murthered their bodies there And that their cryes & shriekings did soe terrify the irish thereabouts That [none] durst stay nor live long there, but fledd & removed fur[ther] into the Cuntrie. And this was a Com[m]on report amongst the Rebells there, and this passed for truth amongst them all for any thing shee could ever observe to [th]e Contrary (TCD MS 836, ff. 89-89v)

Constable confirms the key points of Price’s account (the apparitions, some of whom were female, their cries for vengeance, and the terror and flight of the Irish), and there are also echoes in phraseology. [back to text]

[12] Ann Fanshawe (1905: 86-8) provides a contemporary depiction of a banshee:

about one o’clock I heard a voice that wakened me. I drew the curtain, and in the casement of the window, I saw, by the light of the moon, a woman leaning into the window, through the casement, in white, with red hair and pale and ghastly complexion: she spoke loud, and in a tone I had never heard, thrice, ‘A horse’; and then, with a sigh more like the wind than breath she vanished, and to me her body looked more like a thick cloud than substance.

There are some similarities between Fanshawe’s banshee and Price’s apparition: her pale complexion, loud voice, and the repetition of her words three times. [back to text]


Trinity College, Dublin. 1641 Depositions. MSS 809-39.

The 1641 Depositions Project http://www.tcd.ie/history/1641

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Bennett, Martyn. 2000. The Civil Wars Experienced: Britain and Ireland, 1638-1661 (London: Routledge)

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‘[R]emember, with advantages’: Creating Memory in Shakespeare’s Henry V

‘[R]emember, with advantages’: Creating Memory in Shakespeare’s Henry V 

Rebecca Warren-Heys

[1]  In three sections, this essay will explore how one of Shakespeare’s best known history plays, Henry V, works to create rites of memory principally via language, which through both form and semantics constructs the memory it endeavours to transmit. My first section will briefly consider the play’s reputation as a whole and how it has been remembered and understood in literary studies, and argues that the play’s attempts to create memory have often been misconceived by critics to date. My second section considers Henry’s St. Crispin’s day speech at Agincourt and argues that he endeavours to create the enduring memory of himself and those around him on that day, before considering how successful he is in doing so. My third section discusses how the Chorus engages with memory, arguing that the Chorus seems to provide the audience with the means of creating their own memories of the play within set parameters, but that at the same time the Chorus’ own language constrains it from doing this. This reveals the way memories inhere as much in the style and structure of the play as in its characters or events.

1. ‘The warlike Harry’: The problem of how we remember Henry
[2]  In this section I want briefly to consider the record of the play’s reception, which is important because it affects how history has remembered the play and its protagonist. Henry V is one of the best regarded of the history plays, but as a character Henry has not fared well. Though we cannot concretely know how he was portrayed in the 1600s, his depiction when the play returned to the stage in the 1730s (having missed out on early revivals immediately after the Restoration) was decided by the nation’s frequent wars with France over that period, and presented Henry as a heroic warrior King. But this representation was much hurt by the advent of World War I, after which he, his army, and his war were open to a divided interpretation. On the one hand the play was viewed as ironic and expository of the folly of combat (for example Gould 1919, Van Doren 1939); and on the other it was appropriated for almost propagandistic purposes (as witnessed by critics such as Stoll 1930, Williams 1936, and Walter 1954, and indeed by the film version by Olivier). Is Henry, as the Prologue claims, ‘warlike’ (Prologue 5), or is he a ‘King … of grace and fair regard’ (1.1.22)? [1] More recently it has been suggested that both of these versions of Henry exist, but they can only be seen one at a time (for example, Rabkin 1981: 33-62).

[3]  By looking at the exploits of Henry’s famous speech at Agincourt and the Chorus in two further sections below, I hope to do something to free the play from the memory of the criticism that too easily obscures it. Part of the reason for this colourful reception history is the critics’ failure to perceive and analyse the attempts of the play to create its own memory. It is not a coincidence that, as Gary Taylor notes, the word ‘memorable’ is ‘used by Shakespeare only four times, all in this play’ (1998: 149). Henry V’s endeavour to create memory is palpable, but most critics seemed to have missed it; only Jonathan Baldo has written at some length on the way memory works in Henry V (1996: 132-159), but there is more to be done in this area.

[4]  Throughout the play Shakespeare allows characters to generate rites of memory for others with them on stage and for the unseen audience offstage, not only through what they say but in how they say it. This unseen audience were Shakespeare’s contemporaries, who, despite living hundreds of years after the events portrayed by the play, were still susceptible to the power of the characters, the events, and the language that Shakespeare used which tries to work to transmit memory – as are we.

2. Agincourt: ‘This story shall the good man teach his son’ (4.3.56)   

[5]  The St. Crispin’s day speech in 4.3 is a prime example of memory in Henry V. In this section my analysis of it focuses not only on the actual words used but also on how Henry says them, because it is both Henry’s wording and his rhetoric that shows his creation of memory through the language he uses.  The St. Crispin’s day speech is a good example of the creation of memory through language as it provides us with an extended and undisturbed address from the King to his listeners, onstage and off.  Though the speech is famous, well-known, and oft-quoted, when considered with memory in mind it repays a careful and close reading with wider implications about how language can work to create memory. I have reproduced the speech in full below, indicating line numbers and the number of syllables per line, and pointing out the significant pauses in the speech with ‘[BREAK]’, as these provide both particular spaces where memory can seep into the gaps, and appropriate points at which to discuss the speech in more detail.

This day is called the feast of Crispian. [BREAK] 10  40 epistrophe
 He that outlives this day and comes safe home 10 anaphora
Will stand a-tiptoe when this day is named 10 anaphora
And rouse him at the name of Crispian. [BREAK] 10 symploce
He that shall see this day and live old age 10 anaphora
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours, 11  45 anaphora
And say ‘Tomorrow is Saint Crispian.’ [BREAK] 10 symploce
Then shall he strip his sleeves and show his scars, 10
And say, ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’ [BREAK] 10 symploce
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot 10 ploce
But he’ll remember, with advantages, 10  50
What feats he did that day. [BREAK]Then shall our names, 10
Familiar in his mouth as household words, 10
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter, 10
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester, 10
Be in their flowing cups freshly remembered. [BREAK] 11     55 epistrophe
This story shall the good man teach his son, 10
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by 10 ploce
From this day to the ending of the world 10
But we in it shall be rememberèd, 10 epistrophe
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. [BREAK] 11  60 epanalepsis
For he today that sheds his blood with me 10
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, 10 anaphora
This day shall gentle his conditíon. [BREAK] 10
And gentlemen in England now abed 10 anaphora
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here, 10  65 anaphora
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks 10 anaphora
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day. [BREAK] 10


[6]  Immediately the reader or hearer gets the feel of the speech as a masterful piece of rhetoric. Though I have pointed out the main device of each line there are of course others at play, often within the same line. The immediately obvious repetition of ‘forget’ and ‘remember’ points out its task of instructing the soldiers with Henry how they are to conceive what they are experiencing. I want now to break the speech into its constituent parts and see how it effects this creation of memory.  The speech begins thus:

This day is called the feast of Crispian. [BREAK]  (4.3.40)

While the feast of the brothers Saints Crispin and Crispinian (not, as Shakespeare has it, Crispian, which suits his blank verse better) on the 25th October was celebrated in Catholic Henry’s era, it was not celebrated in Protestant Elizabethan England. The brothers, who were possibly twins, are the patron saints of cobblers and tanners. Legend has it that they were born to a noble family in Rome, but went as missionaries to preach Christianity to the Gauls in Soissons, making shoes by night to fund their activities and help the poor. They were tortured and then beheaded by the governor in 285 or 286 A.D., during the reign of Diocletian. It has been argued that by engaging so thoroughly with the feast of ‘Crispian’ in this speech, Henry attempts to ‘displace or appropriate a religious holiday with a secular one in a bid to substantiate national identity’ (Chapman 2001: 1467).  Indeed, as Henry imagines his soldiers remembering this day there is no mention of religious celebration of any sort:

He that outlives this day and comes safe home
Will stand a-tiptoe when this day is named
And rouse him at the name of Crispian. [BREAK]    (4.3.41-3)

The break at the end of this triplet, and indeed at the end of every passage of this speech, has, to my mind, three potential effects. Firstly, these breaks could be a place where memory seeps away in order that there can be a change or move, possibly into something new. Secondly, and conversely, they could be a place that forges and achieves consistency, memory moving into the space provided to support or uphold what is already conceived. Thirdly, they could act as a ‘nothingness’, an ellipsis or lacuna encroaching on the speech and thus on Henry and his audience also.

[7]  Which of these three is happening in this speech? I think that here it is a space where anticipated memory is allowed to creep in, a pause wherein Henry’s audience (both on stage and off) can envisage the promised time, can picture the scene, the coming safe home and the tip-toe stance. These gaps or breaks stand in, then, for the time that has elapsed between Agincourt and the present performance, an elapsed time that continues into the next quotation:

He that shall see this day and live old age
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘Tomorrow is Saint Crispian.’ [BREAK]      (4.3.44-6)

Using the same sequence of initial words (anaphora) – ‘he’, ‘will’ and ‘and’ – and the same final word in the clause (epistrophe) – ‘Crispian’ – as in the previous triplet, Shakespeare here enables Henry to stack up his tower of anticipated reminiscences. The preservation of the form enacts the continuation of memory expressed here. By using the same words, remembered from the preceding three lines, Henry further refines the memory he is trying to create: this time we see old age, a fantastic feast surrounded by friends, and a proud recollection of Saint Crispian. The feminine hendecasyllabic penultimate line hints at the over-abundance of the feast and makes it sound more real; it fleshes out the feast in the imagination. Indeed, the working of the imagination is one of Henry’s strongest tools in evoking memory, as the following lines show:

Then shall he strip his sleeves and show his scars,
And say, ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’ [BREAK]             (4.3.47-8)

The repetition of the ‘And’ (lines 43, 46 and 48) links this passage to the two previous triplets, but in being a distich rather than a triplet this passage does reflect a slight change of pace for the speech. Its shortness may be to do with its subject matter: this sentence is one of only two in the entire speech which indicates the pain and bloodshed to follow (the other is line 61, ‘he that sheds his blood with me’). However, by speaking of displaying scars got from battle wounds, Henry modifies the prophecy or prediction of ‘legs and arms and heads chopped off in battle’ voiced by Williams (4.1.135-6) and turns it into a transitory hardship which can be overcome and then transformed into a longer-lasting, enduring pride. Pistol shows that this triplet will not be fulfilled, at least by him, when he tells us he will go back to England and swear that his ‘cudgelled scars’ (5.1.89) from Fluellen were got in generic ‘Gallia wars’ (l. 90), not at Agincourt specifically. This is in contrast to Henry’s boast that the soldier will ‘show his scars, | And say, “these wounds I had on Crispin’s day.”’  Thus Henry’s prediction or promise is revealed as vulnerable to the lies of others. Pistol refuses Henry’s contract of memory, and not because of the reason Henry automatically ascribes to forgetfulness – age:

Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. [BREAK] x x x x           (4.3.49-51)

Here the speech has returned to the triplet form but employed a completely new repeated word, ‘forget’, which forms a ploce. At this point the speech confesses its preoccupation with memory by repeating words already in themselves associated with memory. However, despite emphasising the words ‘forget’ and ‘remember’, connected as they are with memories of the past, the speech also acts of course as a prophecy and a promise of memory to come in the future. And the line which forms part of the title of this essay – ‘remember, with advantages’ – reveals the stories or embellishments that make up memories, revealing them as partly fiction, not unadorned fact. The near-identical caesurae of the first two lines of this passage are both syntactic and deictic, making the passage into a caesura-to-caesura line with the feel of rocking lineation, as we hear the rhythmic counterpoints to the actual verse lines (Cuddon and Preston 1998: 105).  It is this rocking lineation which prepares us for the litany which follows:

x x x x x x Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words,
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remembered. [BREAK]       (4.3.51-55)

This passage, the longest so far, involves a sort of release of memory. It modifies the preceding triplet by sharing (finishing) the line. The focus moves from ‘what feats he [the common soldier] did that day’ to ‘our [the nobility’s] names’ – and it is the nobility’s names that have the important final position on the line. We glimpse Henry attempting to forge an actual ‘band of brothers’ through the creation of the illusion or the memory of one through language. Although we may have forgotten them now, this litany of great Dukedoms takes on the character of a memorial service where a list of names is repeated.  This has a powerful effect, particularly for the contemporary audience who may have been familiar with the characters mentioned as the chief protagonists of the first tetralogy – after all, ‘Warwick and Talbot are not otherwise mentioned in this play’ (Gurr 2005: 175). In this way, Henry foresees a future time when these names will be important, which in fact already exists at the time of performance. The names are not just ironic; they are representative, symbolic, standing in for more than what they are. Later, York’s death embrace with Suffolk (4.6.7-32) gives their names a pathos and significance which makes up for their not being mentioned in the Agincourt speech.  Yet the mention of ‘flowing cups’ reminds us that, as demonstrated elsewhere in the second tetralogy by the likes of Falstaff, some things are more likely to lead to forgetting than remembering.

[8]  In ‘he’ (the common soldier) and ‘our’ (the king and his nobles) sharing a line, a correlation between the two is effected, which means Henry can be as much Harry Le Roy (the soldier) as Henry V (the King). Meanwhile, the epistrophe in the final line again works to remember the previous triplet, and we also witness in this line the second use in this speech of the feminine hendecasyllable to aid the process of remembering, and enact the ‘flowing’ of the cups.  Henry continues to think about the actual men who will fight his battle in the next passage:

This story shall the good man teach his son,
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by
From this day to the ending of the world
But we in it shall be rememberèd,
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. [BREAK]       (4.3.56-60)

The semi-fictional or created status of the battle revealed by ‘remember, with advantages’ is again admitted in ‘this story shall the good man teach his son’, and the inclusion of the word ‘good’ works simultaneously to congratulate those who engage with Henry in remembering, and condemn as ‘bad’ those who will not. In this way, story-telling in this context becomes a corporate activity and one which repeats the original act of war. Henry knows that memory evaporates if not refreshed from time to time; it needs to be actively passed on down the generations if it is to survive in popular memory and not just in written chronicles. Indeed, the heroic battle told to the third generation becomes almost a fairytale or legend, a story so old one cannot be sure whether it is true. By writing Henry V to be performed on stage Shakespeare involves himself in the task of telling the ‘story’ to later generations.

[9]  In the next line Henry combines the two saints and rolls them into one, ‘Crispin Crispian’, effecting a ploce that tries to impress the names of the saints into the minds of his audience so that they will be remembered, allowing the remembering of ‘this day to the ending of the world.’ The epistrophe of ‘remembered’ with the ‘remembered’ four lines previously also works to this end. But while Agincourt itself ‘burned in the national memory as having ascended the brightest heaven of invention of English martial pride and continental achievement’ (Fitter 1991: 259), St. Crispan’s Day was not remembered for the victory at Agincourt in the Elizabethan era (RSC 1997). So Henry’s promise that ‘Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by | From this day to the ending of the world | But we in it shall be remembered’, is somewhat exaggerated. Yet we are talking about it now, we know when it was and why it was significant for those men, and as long as Shakespeare’s play is read and discussed it will remain in memory. The idea that ‘this day’, its events and people, shall be remembered ‘to the ending of the world’ is a great and stirring thought, but it is still one largely achieved by this speech and the play of which it is a part.

[10]  In the repetition of ‘we’ in this passage Henry again tries to combine together the ‘he’ (the common soldier) and the ‘our’ (the nobility) of the previous passage, effecting the ‘happy’ ‘band of brothers’ that his previous passage began to hint at. In this final line of the passage we also find the third instance in the speech of a hendecasyllabic line, which here acts to swell the ‘few’, the happiness overflowing to the ‘brothers’.  But this happiness is bought at a price – bloodshed:

For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his conditíon. [BREAK]        (4.3.61-63)

Finally Henry shows how he will effect the comradeship he speaks of – by raising up soldiers to his level. The ‘royal fellowship’ (4.8.102) of blood, shed together, effects a brotherhood that ennobles the common soldier. Henry continues the work of the last passage, trying to unite all those who shed their blood, be they ‘vile’ or ‘gentle’. There is a concentrating procedure at work here which is familiar to us from the compression of ‘Crispin Crispian’. But the promise that fighting at Agincourt with Henry ‘shall gentle’ the condition of the common soldiers is not borne out by what follows: on receiving the roll of the dead after the battle has finished, Henry names ‘Edward Duke of York; the Earl of Suffolk; | Sir Richard Keighly; Davy Gam, esquire; | None else of name…’ (4.8.104-6). Phyllis Rackin points out that ‘the play ultimately erases the memory of the plebeian men that fought and died on Henry’s behalf’ (1990: 227).  And it is the ‘gentlemen’, not the commoners, that Henry continues to comment upon:

And gentlemen in England now abed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day. [BREAK]                            (4.3.64-67)

The ‘Shall’ of the previous passage links with this final passage and the anaphora effected by the repetition of ‘and’ and ‘shall’ reminds us of the beginning of the speech, as does the final use of ‘Crispin’, the word on which the speech opened. We have begun to see how throughout this entire speech Henry has made his language work to effect the vision of the battle that he wants, both in the present (at the moment of giving the speech), in the near future (when it will occur), and in the distant future (in the way it will be remembered as a past event). Henry is attempting to create ‘new templates for experiencing time’ (Chapman, 2001: 1467) as well as, at the same time, invigorating himself and his soldiers by reinventing himself as one of them; or, rather, re-inventing them as one of him. He does this by a means of memorial projection – explaining to them who they will have been, when they look back on this day from the future. His own identity and those of his soldiers are tied closely to the way Agincourt is remembered.

[11]  Baldo says that Henry must do this, that the speech is necessitated by the need to keep the keys to collective memory, because it is critical to his power: ‘control over how a nation remembers a momentous event like a war is almost as significant as the outcome of the war itself’ (1996: 133). While it is true that ‘[m]ost of the battles in the play are over memory’ (1996: 132) I prefer to see ‘battles’ not only in Baldo’s sense, as a forceful grab for the power that inheres in memory as the means to realise and consolidate national history and identity, but also as an urgent fight to accommodate side-by-side the differing versions of events that exist within the memories of the characters and the audience, because however much they differ, as memories they are equally valid. In this fight it is not necessary to reconcile the heroic with the cynical, something my reading has attempted to show by demonstrating how the speech’s active creation of memory can be read both positively and negatively at the same time; heroic possibilities exist next to the possibility of more ironic readings of the speech. My reading can accommodate a wide range of views which are not mutually exclusive, ‘one at a time’ like Rabkin, but simultaneously co-existent.  An entirely cynical reading of the Agincourt oration such as Baldo’s excludes the visceral dynamics of this speech. These dynamics have been picked up on by Olivier, Branagh and others who portray the heroic side of Henry, as well as by generations of spectators who have come away from the play feeling invigorated. I hope I have shown how it is not only in what is said but in how it is said that the speech works to create memory, the rhetorical strength exerting its power on Henry’s audience, onstage and off.

[12]  In Henry V the creation of memory is the play’s work.  This does make it somewhat more serious than its predecessors in the second tetralogy, not least because of the inclusion of elements such as the choruses and this speech at Agincourt, which initiate a headlong momentum which the play does not really seem to need. After all, it is not a tragedy leading to the multiple deaths of its principal characters, but a history which shows only one slice of a larger action and is even less ‘wrapped up’ at the end than the comedies. The play’s sense of location on a time line (with the rest of the second tetralogy before it, and the first tetralogy after it) demonstrates the location of the play in time, but the memories the play creates in some way escape this time line by being simultaneously of the future (of Henry’s onstage audience), of the past (of Henry’s offstage audience) and of the present (remembered by us now).

[13]  It is Henry who wins the battle at Agincourt and therefore Henry who has the honour of naming it. On asking, ‘[w]hat is this castle that stands hard by?’ (4.7.87), and on being told its name, he declares, then ‘call we this the field of Agincourt’ (l. 89). Henry has confirmed for himself and his troops the memorialising power of the association between ‘Agincourt’ and a great English victory. As with the ‘Jerusalem’ chamber in 2 Henry IV, we see here that ‘memory attaches itself to sites’ (Nora 1989: 22); memory inheres in places as well as in names like ‘Crispin’, and a location can literally ‘place’ memory, the word ‘Agincourt’ itself evoking the location, both event and site heavy with memory.

[14]  At the close of the battle the army begins to commemorate the dead. From a Catholic perspective, commemoration of the dead redeems the remembered through the mechanism of the Requiem Mass, whose principle object was  prayer for the repose of the souls of the departed. The dead were saved from ‘the terrifying prospect of purgatorial torment’ (Greenblatt 2002: 22) by prayer and specifically by the sacrifice of the Mass, often paid for out of their estate. Though this was of course no longer available to most Elizabethans, excised as it was from the Protestant mourning rites available to the bereaved, yet it is something that Henry explicitly remembers (as would, perhaps, those in his offstage audience) when he requests ‘[d]o we all holy rites. | Let there be sung Non Nobis and Te Deum, | The dead with charity enclosed in clay’ (4.8.123-5). In saying so, Henry shows how important memory is, not only for the dead, but for also the living, in mourning those gone but also in getting on with life, in lending it a sense of purpose and continuity. Despite the deaths incurred the Chorus takes us ‘to Calais, and to England then, | Where ne’er from France arrived more happy men’ (ll. 126-7), which leads us to think about what role the Chorus has in the creation of memory in the play.

3. The Chorus: ‘myself have played | The interim, by remembering you ’tis past’ (5.0.43-4)
[15]  In this section I wish to consider how the Chorus creates memory in the play and whether those memories complement or contrast with those of Henry’s making, which I have just discussed above. In the opening moments of the play we are presented with the Prologue. Further appearances of the Chorus, cropping up at the start of every act to frame it for the audience, are one of the things which mark Henry V out from amongst the other plays in the second tetralogy. On a simple level the Henry V choruses act to show the passage of time. The Chorus glosses over in a few lines the intervening period between the scene which precedes its appearance and the scene which succeeds it, standing in and for the natural pauses between the acts of the play. The instruction ‘brook abridgement and your eyes advance | After your thoughts straight back again to France’ (5.0.45-6) is one example of this, the Chorus acting both as ‘bridge’ and ‘abridgement’. The Chorus operates on a simple level to remind us of what has happened between the acts.

[16]  But the Chorus also seems to operate in a more complicated way which allows us to create our own memories of the play. It has often been noted that

one of the most peculiar features of [the Chorus’s] appearance is how frequently and consistently he whips up enthusiasm for his misrepresentation of what follows. … In varying degrees the events of each act belie the claims made by the Chorus that introduces it.  (Gurr 2005: 7)

Sometimes, the Chorus indeed says one thing and the drama another. For example, the Chorus tells us that

[t]he French, advised by good intelligence
Of this most dreadful preparation,
Shake in their fear, and with pale policy
Seek to divert the English purpose’ (2.0.12-15)

when in fact, when we do finally see the French, quite the opposite is true, as ‘with men of courage’ they bravely prepare to face the English (2.4.1-14). And not only does the Chorus contradict the action of the play but in at least one place he even contradicts himself. At one point it is the English who are powerful (as above); at others, the English are ‘low-rated’, ‘poor condemned’, a ‘war worn’, ‘ruined band’ (4.0.19, 22, 26, 29). What is happening here is that the Chorus is changing his perspective to suit the sympathies of the characters in the following scene.

[17]  Or perhaps it is that the Chorus is manipulating our sympathies?  The Chorus asks us to ‘suppose’, to ‘divide’, to ‘think’ all these things into being: the horses, the men, the castles (Prologue 19, 24, 26). And not only the theatre audience but even generations of critics have done as the Chorus has asked – ‘ ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings’ (Prologue 28). The Chorus is an unreliable narrator, but he is also an interface between the text and the spectators, courteously soliciting audience participation. In acting as an interface the Chorus raises the question of the location of the edge of theatre: he bursts through its membrane or ‘fourth wall’, performing an intriguingly liminal action by stepping out of the play only to invite us into it. This is particularly evident on the thrust stage space of the Renaissance, as opposed to our more modern proscenium arch, as the Chorus can come amongst the crowd, rather than addressing it from afar. But in explicitly asking us to do the work that Shakespeare’s writing and the company’s acting should do – to suppose, for example, that we have really ‘seen | The well-appointed King at Hampton pier’, ‘the hempen tackle ship-boys climbing’, ‘the threaden sails’, ‘the furrowed sea’ (3.0.3-4, 8, 10, 12) – the Chorus gives us the opportunity to make our own memories of the play. These are manufactured or confected memories, not experiences, because we have not actually seen, felt, or heard what the Chorus describes, except through our imagination of its pastness. Just as we cannot have a true experience of a time we have not lived through, but can entertain and participate in historical memories of that time, so the Chorus allows us to create memories of events we have never experienced. The Chorus facilitates this by helping us see in our own ‘mind’s eye’, to use a Shakespearean coinage from Hamlet (1.1.115), what is apparently (though actually not) being portrayed on stage. Tiffany Stern says that:

Often Shakespeare utilises the spectators so that they become, unwittingly, part-actors in the plays that they are observing. They can supply the massed army that the Henry V prologue could not come up with. When Henry ends his ‘once more unto the breach, | Dear friends’ speech with a three-part expression designed to elicit applause, he urges the audience to cry out and swell the multitude: ‘cry God for Harry, England and Saint George!’ We become complicit. (2004: 28)

‘We become complicit’; ‘the chorus in Henry V insists… on our complicity with the play to the extent that we continue reading or watching at all’ (Fernie 2006: 106). But it is not a given that we are unwilling actors in the plays that we are observing, because more than passively reading and watching, we actively conjure up the images that the Chorus evokes. We do as the Chorus asks, and therefore the great scenes presented to us by productions of the play make sense even when the strictly dramatic action does not agree with what the Chorus has said. ‘[T]he Chorus is responsible for Olivier’s and Branagh’s cinematic images of epic battles scenes that are not in the play’ (Gurr 2005: 9). To repeat, upon reading the play or upon hearing it, we have in our ‘mind’s eye’ what the Chorus has stated, and have often done so purposefully.

[18]  While our power to act, to effect change in a play, is crucially minimalised by our being spectators, and while in this role of spectator we invest the Chorus and the actors with the power to act on our behalf, we nevertheless retain the power to re-member a play, promised by the Chorus, that has not even been performed. In the normal way, for as long as we are present in the theatre we give an ethical and political imperative to the actors, because we allow them to act while we watch relatively passively. In sitting and watching we receive what they transmit, for better or for worse. Normally this imperative for action returns to us when the play ends, the characters evaporate, and the actors depart the stage, leaving us with our memories of the play and the capacity to be more active – to act – if we should so desire (see Cavell 1997). But in Henry V that ethical and political imperative is given to us during the play as we make our memories of the interim times even while the play is being performed; and the play cannot continue, does not make sense, without this interaction of ours, which is one of the things, I want to suggest, that makes Henry V so extraordinary a play in terms of its creation of memory.

[19]  The Chorus is a rhetorical spectacular, like a statue larger than life, but is also characterised, not only because he is ordinarily played by a human being rather than by a dismembered voice, but also because of his shifting point of view mentioned above. ‘[T]hat the Chorus varies his perspective according to the course of events gives the audience the impression of his active participation in the events’ (Weiss 2000: 19). The Chorus betrays human emotions such as, to name but a few, longing (Prologue 1), embarrassment (Prologue 8, 15), pride (2.0.16-19) and scorn (2.0.26). The Chorus is not just a dramatic mechansim in the play, but exists as a character in a different ontological space, a zone elsewhere to the scene presented. And it is this part-personalised character who gives us the opportunity to make our own memories of the play, which are absolutely inimitable and unique to us as individuals, even if those memories are restricted by the parameters of the descriptions the Choruses give us. It seems that unlike that of Henry, who aims at a shared or collective memory of Agincourt, the subjectivity of the Chorus accepts that the corporate memory he creates will be various and splintered.

[20]  The Chorus’s language is heavily rhetorical and embellished with devices of all descriptions, including syllepsis and antanaclasis, which makes it quite distinctive.[2]    But it is also, at times, ‘very close to Henry’s own’ language (Gurr 2005: 14). For example, when Henry says,

Your fathers taken by the silver beards,
And their most reverend heads dashed to the walls,
Your naked infants spitted upon pikes,
Whilst the mad mothers with their howls confused                          (3.3.36-39)

we are reminded of the Chorus’s England ‘Guarded with grandsires, babies and old women’ (3.0.20), of which we have heard just before. So in his lexis, the Chorus shares in some of Henry’s powerful attempts to create memories.  It is this similarity of language which first hints to us that the Chorus’s creation of memory is not as far from Henry’s as it may first appear.

[21]  Once one has accepted that we are given at least a partial power to make our own memories of the play, that realisation is further modified by an auxiliary recognition of the way the Chorus works. I want to argue that the Chorus also seems to act in a more sophisticated way to actively create our memories of the play, in a way similar to that of Henry, whose speech also actively worked to create memory. If we allow that (as I explained above) ‘breaks’ in the action can create a space for memory to enter into and inhabit, it is significant that it is the Chorus that should fill the gaps between acts in this play.

[23]  Moreover, Shakespeare effects a prolongation of time by carefully manipulating his scenic divisions: ‘[t]he periods of time which are assumed to have elapsed between the scenes leading up to the battle of Agincourt are short, and hence time seems to drag slowly’ (Wilders 1978: 11), where elsewhere time flies by as the Chorus wafts us over oceans: ‘Heave him away upon your winged thoughts| Athwart the sea’ (5.0.8-9). The Chorus thus performs not only as a messenger, but as an agent of time: ‘myself have play’d | The interim, by remembering you ’tis past’ (5.0.43-4). It is possible to read 1 and 2 Henry IV as an extended Prologue which is really leading up to – or an interim time before – Henry V. The problem with this is that it denies the Henry IV plays their existence as discrete art works. But if we do accept them as a kind of ‘waiting room’ for Henry V, we could almost hear Henry saying with Hamlet that ‘the interim is mine’ (Hamlet, 5.2.73). Yet when the Chorus says that he himself has ‘play’d | The interim,’ he inevitably shares or even appropriates some of Henry’s power to effect the ‘remembering’ of what is past. In the word ‘playing’ we must hear not only ‘acting’ but also ‘toying’; the Chorus acts the interim time but also plays with it. And so we come to the realisation that, like Henry, the Chorus tries to holds on to his control of memory through his very language.

[24]  The difference between Henry and the Chorus is that the Chorus’s language actually seems to reinforce the real time his words are attempting to leap over. Because of the time it takes to read or say the actual words of the text, the line fails to over-leap the time it is trying to pass in its meaning. The text thus ‘produces’ time by its very nature, continually reminding us through its form of the ineluctably present moment. Consideration of how many of the Chorus’s lines are extrametrical betrays a figure who attempts to run ahead of himself: a cursory count of syllables in the lines of the Chorus at 3.0 suggests long lines at 6, 8, 15, 17, 18, 20, 21, 24, 27, 28, 30, 31, 32, and 33. This is forty per cent of the Chorus’s lines, a not insignificant minority. And the same thing is true of the Chorus’s speech elsewhere. The Chorus’s verse narrations repeatedly attempt to fast-forward time, using prolepsis to instil in the audience’s minds memories of events they have not witnessed, such as the huge armies, Henry’s appearing to his troops as himself the night before Agincourt, or his triumphant homecoming after victory has been won. The Chorus’s speeches want to create memory by projecting eidetic images of events both past (as is the case with Chorus 5, speaking of Henry’s triumphant return to England) and present (as is the case with Chorus 3 at Harfleur). But there is a disconnection between the mission of his speech (to create memories) and his language, which, being in iambic pentameters, beats out the present time like a metronome, the course of accented and unaccented syllables marking time’s steady flow. So, the Chorus’s use of verse admits the staging of memories, because it is in the verse that we hear the steady tick-tock rhythm like a clock that ‘tells’ the time, revealing the fact that the memories the Chorus creates are actually present now, not ‘memories’ at all. The reason that this is not the case with Henry’s speech (despite his being largely in pentameters, too), is that Henry is not trying to jump over the present moment of speech in the way the Chorus is.  The Chorus has perhaps forty or fifty lines between each act to show the passage of a great expanse of time, whereas Henry’s speech is very much in the present moment, even if it is thinking about the future.

[25]  The Chorus also always ends with a rhymed couplet; ‘pray-play’ (Prologue 33-4), ‘may-play’ (2.0.39-40), ‘then-scene’ (2.0.41-2), ‘kind-mind’ (3.0.34-5), ‘see-be’ (4.0.52-3), ‘advance-France’ (5.0.45-6), and ‘sake-take’ (Epilogue 13-4). Ivic says that ‘[r]hyme – it goes almost without saying – is supposed to reinforce memory’ (2004: 83), but I would go even further, and suggest that rhyming couplets are in themselves memories, recalling the ending of the previous line in order to match it. Here, rhyme works both forwards and backwards, the first part of the couplet anticipating the latter and the latter part of the couplet remembering the former. It is this that makes the Chorus’s rhyme another chime of memory in the play, aurally collapsing the movement between supposed past and present that the Chorus’s speech works to portray. The events the Chorus spuriously ‘remembers’ are actually entirely present, present in their apparent re-telling which is, for us, actually only a ‘telling’, a first-time view, and not a remembering at all.

[26]  This argument seems to be (even more) complicated if we know the story from another source, since then we might well remember what we know of Henry’s campaign in France, and equate that memory with what the Chorus tells us, perhaps noting where the discrepancies are. Obviously, this would compromise the Chorus’ ability to make our memories of the events of the play. The Chorus does break from its sources in places, for example when he does not mention the stakes in front of English lines used to kill the horses of the charging French (found in Shakespeare’s major source, Holinshed), but it must be said that these are less likely to be noticed in performance than upon reading and studying the play. When the Chorus says, ‘Vouchsafe to those that have not read the story, | That I may prompt them’ (5.0.1-2), he acts also to ‘prompt’ those who have ‘read the story’ by giving his own version of events. This is a version which has almost become definitive, as a result of Shakespeare having become the pinnacle of Western culture and thus arbiter of its literature, historic or otherwise (Bloom 1995).

[27]  These few paragraphs have attempted to show just how complex the working of the Chorus is. He seems on the surface to be quite unlike Henry, providing us with the avenue to create our own memories of the play, but at the same time he edges closer to Henry by attempting to create those memories for us within set parameters (indeed, pentameters), pentameters which in turn belie the pastness of memory by being entirely present. The Chorus tries to ‘jump o’er time’ (Prologue 29), but at the same time its own language seems to constrain it from doing this, and this reveals the way memories inhere as much in the style and structure of the play as in its characters or events. The Chorus says that in interpreting the play we must do what it cannot, ‘jumping o’er times | Turning th’accomplishment of many years | Into an hour glass’ (Prologue 29-31) – with the codicil that in doing this, we ‘[a]dmit [him] Chorus to this history’ (Prologue 32). Ostensibly, ‘[t]urning th’accomplishment of many years | Into an hour glass’ refers to the fact that Henry’s historical campaign of six years (1414-20) is condensed into the two-hour’s traffic of the stage, or one ‘turn’ of the hour glass (Craik 2005: 121). But we can also hear a caveat against the too easy vulgarising or reduction of memory.[3]    The chorus releases within us the fragile potential to forge our own memories of the play, a potential which, while vulnerable to conditions, remains.

Conclusion: ‘of famous memory’ (4.7.91)
[28]  Through this play, and particularly through Henry’s pivotal speech at Agincourt, Shakespeare has shown how language can work to create and transmit a memory, both for characters on stage and for the audience off stage. The Chorus too wants to work to create memory for those listening on stage and off, but shows quite clearly how problematic the construction of memory can be because language can constrain as well as release time. Like the dead on both sides, Henry’s campaign in France finally exists only in memoriam, and, whatever we think of that memory, whether we see it as a force for good or for bad, it is very powerful. Part of the power of this memory comes from language, and also from its being embedded in this seminal play, which has rendered Agincourt ‘of famous memory’ (4.7.91) even now. And that is perhaps enough for Henry – and for us.[4]

Royal Holloway College, University of London


[1] My default text for the play is T. W. Craik’s Third Series Arden edition (2005), which is based on the Folio text. All of the Chorus’s quotations are missing from the Quarto text of Henry V and thus are ‘Folio only’.[back to text]

[2] Syllepsis is ‘a figure by which a word […] is made to refer to two or more other words in the same sentence’; antanaclasis is ‘a figure of speech, when the same word is repeated in a different, if not in a contrary signification’ (OED).[back to text]

[3] I was reminded more than once in thinking about the Chorus of Macbeth’s speech at 1.3.150-156. The Chorus solicits the audience’s ‘favour’, and his own brain, ‘wrought with things forgotten’, also asks that those ‘things forgotten’ be remembered. He implores the ‘kind gentlemen of hearers and readers who ‘turn / The leaf’ to read the play of memory, and in the play he himself reads their historical activities. He ostensibly requests the audience to ‘turn towards the king’, and to ‘think upon what hath chanced’ in the play and in history. While playing the ‘interim’ between the acts he also acknowledges that the ‘interim’ provides a space where ‘what hath chanced’ can be ‘weigh’d’.[back to text]

[4] My sincere thanks to Ewan Fernie for his careful and thoughtful comments on my draft, to the anonymous peer reviewers at JNR for their suggestions for amendments to the draft, and to John and Emily Warren-Heys for their unfailing support.[back to text]



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‘A good Booke is the pretious life-blood of a master-spirit’: Recollecting Relics in Post-Reformation English Writing

‘A good Booke is the pretious life-blood of a master-spirit’: Recollecting Relics in Post-Reformation English Writing

Lucy Razzall

[1]  In Ancient Funerall Monuments, John Weever describes how ‘Reliques were euer holden in most reuerend regard, amongst all sorts of people, insomuch that in the taking of any solemne oath, they vsed to lay their hand vpon certain Reliques, as they did vpon the holy Euangelists’ (1631: P2v). His words point to what was seen in post-Reformation England as a perilously close relationship between sacred texts and relics. In medieval ecclesiastical jurisdiction as well as in liturgical practice, relics are interchangeable with the Bible, and thus they are particularly dangerous objects in the eyes of Protestant reformers striving to assert the singular authority of holy scripture. Swearing oaths on the Bible employs the book in a way which does not demand literacy – even without being opened, it has some kind of power which can be absorbed by touch, rather than through the intellectual engagement of reading.[1] In his recent discussion of the perceived dangers of the Reformation-era relic as a focus for lay piety, James Kearney contends that ‘the holiness of the relic is a function of its contiguity with the world and the flesh […] Its materiality is not incidental to its meaning, but essential to it. Relics even more than images have the potential to lead to a misunderstanding of the sacred’ (2009: 58). Perhaps more so than the religious statue or icon, in its three-dimensionality the relic is a contentious object throughout the sixteenth century and into the seventeenth because of the questions its materiality provokes: what exactly a reliquary contains and how it can be accessed is inextricably linked to the broader ideological dilemmas debated during and after the decades of the English Reformation.

[2]  Recent criticism across several disciplines has drawn attention to the complex anxieties surrounding the material aspects of religious culture in England during and after the Reformation. One major area of discussion is that of changing attitudes towards sacred space; the Protestant battle for control over the sacred in the material world is now generally agreed to be one of modification and adaptation rather than simply eradication.[2] As Alexandra Walsham has persuasively argued, ‘the Protestant religion did not entirely relinquish the idea that the created world might be a vessel for supernatural grace’ (2005: 235). Walsham’s words bring in an important image here: the question of what exactly could serve as a ‘vessel’ of divine power is intensified in the reliquary as a religious object with troubling material and spiritual contents. My purpose in this essay is to examine some of the ways in which the relic persists as a powerful literary metaphor in post-Reformation English writing. Even after relics are literally and rhetorically attacked by royal injunctions in the 1530s, the image of the reliquary – an often ornate vessel containing blood or bones – endures well into the seventeenth century as a way of thinking about what a book or text might contain as a physical object which possesses some kind of intangible, numinous power. John Weever’s observation about the literal proximity of books and relics still has a certain truth, even in the seventeenth century: physical contact with a book, as with a relic, is sometimes as important as intellectual or spiritual engagement with its contents.

[3]  I begin with a case study from the middle of the seventeenth century. John Milton’s pamphlet Areopagitica was published in November 1644 after the licensing order of 1643, and his defence of the liberty of the printing press is constructed through a rich variety of metaphors, many of which engage closely with the materiality of printed books. In Areopagitica, as Joad Raymond observes in his work on the growth of the pamphlet as a literary and political form throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Milton is ‘supremely conscious of books as physical objects, and the experience of writing, handling, reading and smelling them inhabits his argument’ (2003: 272). Milton’s metaphor of the ‘good Booke’ as ‘the pretious life-blood of a master spirit, imbalm’d and treasur’d up on purpose to a life beyond life’ – is one of the most arresting and oft-quoted from this pamphlet.[3] He famously asserts that ‘books are not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a potencie of life in them to be as active as that soule was whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a violl the purest efficacie and extraction of that living intellect that bred them’, counselling that ‘We should be wary therefore what persecution we raise against the living labours of publick men, how we spill that season’d life of man preserv’d and stor’d up in Books’. This is because, we are warned, ‘who kills a Man kills a reasonable creature, Gods Image; but hee who destroyes a good Booke, kills reason it selfe, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye’ (492). Books hold within them something which as a pure ‘extraction’ on the printed page is a physical manifestation of the contents of the writer’s mind.

[4]  This depiction of the book in positive terms as a kind of relic – an object which preserves within its pages some residual numinous qualities of the author – startles partly because of the strong Catholic resonances it invokes in a text in which the Church of Rome is held primarily responsible for the invention of licensing, and in which Roman Catholicism is proscribed from Milton’s outline of liberty in relation to the printing press (565). Throughout the pamphlet Milton criticises Catholic institutions for their history of ruthless licensing and censorship: ‘Nor did they stay in matters Hereticall, but any subject that was not to their palat, they either condemn’d in a prohibition, or had it strait into the new Purgatory of an Index’ (503). At the Reformation, he claims, they ‘sought out new limbo’s and new hells wherein they might include our Books also within the number of their damned’ (506). Milton’s criticism of the Council of Trent and the Spanish Inquisition (they ‘engendring together brought forth or perfeted those Catalogues and expurging Indexes that rake through the entralls of many an good old Author, with a violation wors then any could be offer’d to his tomb’, 503) resonates with his depiction of the post-publication censorship of books in particularly graphic and emotive terms as ‘a kind of homicide’, ‘a martyrdome’, or even, if the entire edition is destroyed, ‘a kinde of massacre’. In latter such cases the action ‘strikes at that ethereall and fift essence, the breath of reason it selfe; slaies an immortality rather then a life’ (493). Later in his argument, Truth also becomes embodied: Milton writes of doing ‘our obsequies’ to ‘the torn body of our martyr’d Saint’ as it lies, ‘torn’ like a leaf in a book deliberately damaged and defaced by censors perpetrating a kind of iconoclasm (550). Volumes threatened by licensing become like reliquaries, sacred vessels which preserve ‘as in a violl’ an ‘ethereall and fift essence, the breath of reason it selfe’ long after the author’s death.

[5]  Elsewhere in his writings, Milton explicitly derides relics and other devotional objects as the paraphernalia of a ‘Paradise of Fools’.[4] By this point in the mid-seventeenth century, relics were often the subject of ridicule in English literary culture; a broadsheet ballad, for example, satirises many relics including ‘a Bottle of Tears/ Preserv’d many years,/Of Mary’s that once was a sinner’. [5] Richard Overton’s New Lambeth fayre (1642) similarly mocks the church of Rome and her relics, but in the same year the printers of this pamphlet also produced an anonymous pamphlet which reported with genuine dismay and suspicion the landing on the Cornish coast of Spanish ships intended for Ireland, in which were found many relics, including ‘a little water in a very small Vessell, which the Priests say is Mary Magdalens Teares’ (1642: A2v). Thus when Areopagitica was first published, the relic was associated with a religion that at best was seen as foreign and old-fashioned, and at worst, suspicious and dangerous. Through his vivid imagery, Milton seizes on the identity of the relic as an object with a materiality that is challenging and culturally charged, and his language engages with the problematic material and spiritual characteristics of the relic in post-Reformation culture.

[6]  Milton’s polemical text is an extreme example of how the concept of the relic – as something which preserves both the material and the spiritual, treasuring up an intangible ‘essence’ – is brought into close proximity with ideas about writing and books in seventeenth-century England, in contrast with the literal juxtaposition of books and relics in previous centuries, as described by John Weever. In this essay I examine several encounters with relics and books in England and abroad from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, synthesising some important cultural and textual points of contact between relics and books. Such moments of contact, often expressed in more explicit ways than in Milton’s text, point to challenging questions about the location of the numinous or the sacred in the material world during this period, especially in human or literary remains. The first two sections of the essay, set in England and Rome as contrasting locations in post-Reformation Europe, examine the discourses surrounding relics as objects which must be alternatively believed in, interpreted, or challenged. The narratives I discuss demonstrate how relics may be deconstructed as profane objects which trick and deceive through their multiple layers of matter and rhetoric. Building on the ways in which these relics draw in both the faithful and their critics, in the final section I return to the persistence of the relic as literary metaphor, exploring how the image of a sacred vessel filled with blood or bones presents such an appealing way into thinking about what texts and books might contain as material objects.

I: Remembering English Relics
[7]  Erasmus visited the Marian shrine at Walsingham, Norfolk, in 1512. His satirical dialogue Peregrinatio religionis ergo (A Pilgrimage for Religion’s Sake), based on his experiences there and at other European pilgrimage sites, was first published in 1526, and so not long before statues, images, and relics were destroyed and forbidden in England.[6] One of the two speakers, Ogygius, has recently visited the famous shrines at Compostela, Canterbury, and Walsingham, and he describes the scene at the latter to his friend Menedemus, mentioning in particular that some of the Virgin Mary’s breast milk is displayed ‘on the high altar’. Their discussion continues thus (632-3):

Menedemus So it’s in plain sight.
Ogygius Enclosed in crystal, that is.
Menedemus Therefore liquid.
Ogygius What do you mean, liquid, when it flowed fifteen hundred years ago? It’s hard: you’d say powdered chalk, tempered with white of egg.
Menedemus Why don’t they display it exposed?
Ogygius To save the virginal milk from being defiled by the kisses of men.

Ogygius also recounts how he obtained his own secondary relic (a piece of wood on which Mary ‘was seen to stand’) which he treasured away in his purse, planning to ‘set it in gold, but so that it shines through crystal’. Ogygius insists that he cured an insane man with this relic, and in response to Menedemus’s scepticism, protests ‘To make fun of the saints is neither reverent nor prudent’ (637-641). Menedemus’s questions about the way the relic of the crystal bottle of milk is displayed betray Erasmus’s suspicion of relics as potentially deceitful objects whose contents are not fully ‘exposed’, as does Ogygius’s implication that some relics, in contrast to this one, might be forged from ‘powdered chalk’.[7]

[8]  Nevertheless, it is by virtue of being contained (and stored securely, often being hidden away in the less accessible, dark recesses of religious buildings – at Walsingham there is ‘very little light: only what comes from tapers’, 629) that blood, bones, and even gold and jewels become exclusive, sacred objects. As Ogygius reveals, only favoured visitors are allowed to come near the most precious treasures at both Canterbury and Walsingham, and even fewer are allowed to touch the contents of the coffers and reliquaries. Thus the opening of a holy object is tightly controlled and may be dramatically staged to orchestrate responses to it; Ogygius describes how at Canterbury in the tomb of Thomas Becket, a ‘wooden chest conceals a golden chest’ and he recalls that ‘When the cover was removed, we all adored’ the gold and jewels it contained (645). Similarly, in the sacristy, he was allowed a glimpse of some linen rags supposedly used by Becket to wash himself: ‘a chest with a black leather cover was brought out, placed on the table, and opened. Immediately everyone worshipped on bended knee’ (647). Such opening and displaying of the reliquary or coffer is crucial in emphasising the object’s value.[8] The medieval relic embodies a particular tension then, as an exclusive object which is enclosed and locked away secretly but at the same time represents an overflowing, outpouring of spiritual grace.[9]

[9]  As Erasmus’s dialogue illustrates, gazing, kissing, and interceding were all ritual elements of the veneration of both primary and secondary relics. Ogygius claims that in response to his Marian intercession ‘the sacred milk appeared to leap up, and the Eucharistic elements gleamed somewhat more brightly’ (633). According to this description the bottle of milk seems to contain, to use Milton’s phrase, ‘a potencie of life’ manifested in its apparent agency when activated by words of prayer. Patrick Geary outlines the three principle interconnected beliefs that had to be held communally for the acceptance of a particular relic in medieval culture: that the person was a genuine saint, that their earthly remains should be venerated, and that the remains being venerated were those of the person in question (1986: 169-194). As he points out, the latter question of authenticity could be tested through examination of the tomb or reliquary for documentary evidence of some kind, and could be confirmed by the supernatural intervention of the saint himself in the performance of miracles via his remains. To this end, Erasmus’s cynicism is further implied through Ogygius’ interaction with the guide at the shrine. Ogygius recalls asking ‘what proof he had that this was the Virgin’s milk’, explaining that he wanted to know this ‘clearly for the pious purpose of stopping the mouths of certain unbelievers who are accustomed to laugh at all these matters’. In response, Ogygius reveals, the guide, ‘as if possessed, gazed at us in astonishment, and as though horrified by such blasphemous speech, said, “What need is there to inquire to that when you have an authentic record?”’(633). Ogygius and his interpreter search out the ‘record’, finding it ‘hung so high it could not be read by just any eyes’, and thus literally elevated, like the relic it claims to verify (634). The document relates the biography of the relic in great detail, and after reading it Ogygius ‘was ashamed of having doubted, so clearly was the whole thing set before my eyes – the name, the place, the story, told in order. In a word, nothing was omitted’ (634-5). This apparently comprehensive document suffices to confirm his belief in the veracity of the reliquary’s contents. On a reliquary, as Seeta Chaganti rightly suggests, ‘inscription counted itself as an important enshrining sign’ (2008: 92). As evidenced by relics which survive today, the bones inside a reliquary may be inscribed directly with the name of the saint they are believed to belong to. The written word is important in cementing the tradition and identity of relics and for the faithful, the combination of relic and text presents an assured truth about the presence of the sacred in matter.

[10]  Visitors to medieval shrines wanted proof that they had seen or touched holy relics, and this demand for souvenirs nurtured pilgrimage industries. At Walsingham, second only to Canterbury as a site of pilgrimage in England, souvenirs for sale included a miniature monstrance enclosing a replica of the shrine’s vial of milk, labelled lac Marie. As Brian Spencer comprehensively illustrates, ampullae – small vials which could be filled with water from holy springs or wells – were the predominant type of pilgrim souvenir between the sixth and fourteenth centuries, before they began to be replaced by badges (1998: 147). Usually cast in tin or lead, they could be decorated with inscriptions or depictions of the saint’s martyrdom, or formed in the shape of a miniature church or a pilgrim’s scallop shell. Spencer observes that ampullae were made in a range of sizes to suit all budgets, but he suggests also that the minute dimensions of some of them might have served to emphasise the preciousness of their thaumaturgic contents (1998: 41). At Canterbury, ampullae had a particularly long-lasting popularity because, according to legend, immediately after Becket’s death the monks collected his blood in small vials. A drop of this blood mixed with water (to make ‘Canterbury water’) was said to have miraculous healing properties, and so the provision of ampullae enabled tiny volumes of this liquid to be conveniently carried away from the shrine. The treatment of the miniature vials in the medieval cult of Becket’s blood betrays a particular fascination with the dynamic of container and contents: Spencer describes how ‘ampullae that were believed to have unaccountably lost or rejected Canterbury water were suspended over the martyr’s tomb. The sight of these, and the belief that Canterbury water had the power to bubble and, as it were, boil over, probably accounted for the very positive way in which most ampullae were sealed’ (1998: 39). Spencer stresses the relationship between ampullae and reliquary chests as analogous receptacles of the sacred, and Hester Lees-Jeffries’s pertinent description of ampullae as a ‘formalized (and fetishized)’ way of carrying liquid from the shrine further emphasises their similarity to reliquaries (2007: 145). Inside the exclusive space of an ampulla, a material manifestation of the sacred in the form of holy water or blood could be, to use Milton’s words, ‘treasur’d up on purpose to a life beyond life’.

[11]  Blood relics, and statues which miraculously exude blood, are some of the most highly valued objects in Christian culture, pointing ultimately to the pouring out of Christ’s blood at the Eucharist. Keith Thomas notes that in 1591 John Allyn, an Oxford recusant, had a quantity of ‘Christ’s blood’ which he sold for twenty pounds per drop as protection from bodily harm (1971: 33). As John Calvin scornfully points out in his treatise on relics, in the sixteenth century an incredible number of religious communities claim to have reserves of Christ’s blood: ‘In one place certain droppes, as at Rochell in Poitou the which Nicodemus (as they saye) dyd gather in his gloue. In other places violes full, as at Mantone and elsewhere, in other places goblets ful as at Rome, at Sainct Eustace’ (1561: Biiiv-Bivr). One such relic in England, the renowned ‘blood of Hales’, was denounced by Hugh Latimer who inspected it for royal commissioners, reporting in a letter of 1538 to Lord Cromwell that it was ‘wonderously closely and craftily inclosed and stopped up, for taking of care. And it cleaveth fast to the bottom of the little glass that it is in […] It hath a certain unctuous moistness, and though it seem somewhat like blood when it is in the glass, yet when any parcel of the same is taken out, it turneth to a yellowness, and is cleaving like glue’ (Corrie 1845: 407-8).[10] As enclosed objects, relics embody a tension between display and concealment and it is this tension which is seized upon by Protestant polemicists anxious to expose the deceitfulness of the relic.

II: Reporting from Rome
[12]  Writing about his own travels some decades after Erasmus’s visit to England, the playwright and translator Anthony Munday recalls ‘some of the Romish Reliques’ in the churches frequented by students living at the English College in Rome. First published in 1582, The English Romayne Lyfe describes many of the relics in the seven main churches of Rome, objects which are ‘honoured and worshipped, as if they were God him selfe’ (1582: Hir). At the church of St John Lateran, Munday relates, the purported relics include some of the Virgin Mary’s milk, Christ’s first shirt, a portion of the crown of thorns, and ‘a glasse vial, which is full as they say, of the blood of our Saviour, that ran out of his precious side hanging on ye Crosse’. When this vial is shown to the people they ‘take their hands, & hold the palmes of the[m] toward the glasse, and then rub all their face with their hands, with the great holines they receiue from the Glasse’ (Fiir). It is significant that Munday notes that the worshippers receive ‘great holines’ from ‘the Glasse’ – the reliquary vessel is as essential a part of the relic’s identity as the bloody contents, marking a point of transmission between the human and the divine, even when it is not touched directly.

[13]  Gesturing towards the object is often not enough however; ultimately closer physical contact with the sacred container is desired, and Munday describes how in St Peter’s the priest on duty

taketh euerie bodies Beades, that layes them on the Aultar, and then he wipes them along a great proportioned thing of Christall and Golde, wherein are a number of rotten bones, which they make the people credite to be the bones of Saintes: so wiping them along the outside of this Tabernacle, the Beades steale a terrible deale of holynesse out of those bones, and God knows, the people thinke they doo God good seruice in it: Oh monstrous blindnesse […] (Eiiir).

More explicitly than Erasmus, Munday is suspicious of the way in which the ‘great proportioned thing of Christall and Golde’ becomes a boundary between the material and spiritual, and thus a point at which the distinction between the sacred and the profane is dangerously blurred. While the beads ‘steale a terrible deale of holynesse’, a printed marginal note in the 1582 edition describes this as ‘A craftie kinde of cosonage, whereby the ignorant people are beguiled’. Munday portrays the extraction of the relic’s holiness through a language of thievery, emphasising the trickery and fundamental deceitfulness of relic rituals. Such a rhetoric of secrecy and mystery is, however, employed by those writing in defence of relics as well as those denouncing them. Towards the end of the seventeenth century, the Jesuit divine John Barclay defended ‘[the] Reliques we either deposite under the Altars, or lay up in Beautified Coffers’, explaining how ‘We diligently and devoutly apply our Handkerchiefs and Garments to the Coffin, or Bier, in or on which these Sacred Bones are laid, that secret Blessings may flow upon us’ (1688: B3r-Cr). Barclay argues that the Church, as it did in its early years, should continue to recognise miracles performed through relics, protesting ‘Nor are you contented only to take away all Honour from the Souls of the Blessed, but you make war also on their Bodies. I tremble to relate how many Reliques of Saints you have scatter’d in the wind, thrown into the water, consum’d with Fire; how often you have in scorn pluckt their sacred Limbs out of the Gold, and Gems, in which they were inclos’d, to expose them to Contempt. Posterity will lament their loss, we are asham’d for the Infamy of our Age’ (B2v). Employing apocalyptic imagery which resonates with Milton’s vivid depiction of censored books in Areopagitica, Barclay compares the literal exposure of ‘sacred Limbs’ when they are ‘pluckt’ from their jewelled reliquaries with their rhetorical exposure to the scorn and contempt of reformers. For both reformers and those they attempt to reform, the relic embodies a very close relationship between literal and rhetorical containment and concealment.

[14]  The pilgrims’ beads do not come into direct contact with the bones Munday sees, but they somehow ‘steale a terrible deale of holynesse out of those bones’ through being ‘wiped’ along the outside of the reliquary. Unlike the pilgrims in Erasmus’s dialogue, who are allowed to touch the contents of some of the reliquaries, visitors to Rome in the 1580s are physically distanced from the contents of the relic at multiple removes: they must leave their beads on the altar to be taken by a priest who will then touch them against the outside of the relic on their behalf. Through such performance the relic is reinforced as an exclusive object wherein the sacred is found concentrically bound up in human remains, but which can also transcend the bounds of the container and be absorbed into other materials. For those who believe, the reliquary constructs not an impermeable barrier, but a point of transmission. Munday seizes on the reliquary container as a particularly problematic element of the relic: it is because outer coverings of ‘Gold, Siluer, or Christall’ literally obscure the contents of a relic (if indeed, it has any contents at all) that deception is possible. Munday asserts that it is in fact he who reveals the truth and exposes the crafty deceitfulness of Catholic doctrine, protesting that

they tell the people, this is the Reliques of such a Saint, and this is such a holy and blessed thing: but they be either couered with Gold, Siluer, or Christall, so that we can not tell whether there be any thing within or no, except it bee sometime in a broade Christall Tabernacle, and there you shall see a company of rotten bones, God knows of what they be […] (Fiiv).

The juxtaposition of apparently historically specific relics with vague collections of bones is a significant factor in Munday’s attack. If pilgrims will believe that the vial before them contains blood from the side of Christ (and pay good money to see it) then they should also have no doubts about a pile of bones similarly displayed in a reliquary.

[15]  In traditional worship before the Reformation, seeing was believing, epitomised at the elevation of the transubstantiated host at the Mass. To a hostile reformer however, the question of whether a reliquary contains the bones of St Peter or the bones of a pig is ultimately beside the point, because scripture is the only transparent source of truth, and reliquaries containing bones represent intellectual blindness to this truth. Calvin scorns the behaviour of worshippers who ‘haue bowed them selues and kneeled before the reliques, euen as before god. They haue lighted candles and torches in sygne of homage and honour. They haue put their trust in them: they haue had theyr refuge to them, as though the virtue and grace of God had bene enclosed in them’ (Aiiiiv-A5r). The final clause in this passage attacks the idea that there is any supernatural power at all in relics; it is impossible that divine grace might be ‘enclosed in them’. As Calvin protests further, closing one’s eyes in prayer before a relic prevents one seeing beyond the glass to the falsehood of its contents: ‘For many beholding a relique shut their eyes through superstition to the ende, that they seing shoulde see nothing at all: that is to say that they dare not looke in good earnest to consider what the thing is’ (Bir). Whereas traditionally positive accounts of relics emphasise the importance of touch and physical contact with the container, polemical works which denounce them return repeatedly to the metaphor of blindness, and the apparent inability to see the truth beyond the materiality of the relic. In Protestant rhetoric, closing one’s eyes before a relic is transformed from a sign of piety into an unwillingness to look, literally and spiritually, at what is or is not contained in the reliquary. The texts I have here examined demonstrate the extent to which relics are objects constructed (and deconstructed) both by their physical features and by the pro- and anti-relic discourses which grow up around them during and after the Reformation.

III: Rewriting Relics
[16]  So far this essay has considered some of the ways in which the relic, as an object which embodies a challenging combination of the material and the spiritual, is subjected to scrutiny and opposing interpretations during the Reformation decades and afterwards, both in England and in Europe. From recollections of relic worship and more polemical works against relics, I have drawn out some of the connections between texts and relics to consider the ways in which the physical features of the relic as a material object become the focus for rhetorical attacks on the troubling interface between the secular and the sacred they present. In this final section I return to the relic as a metaphor in post-Reformation English writing, exploring how and why the relic, as the embodiment of spirit in matter, becomes an appealing metaphor for thinking about books as sources of intellectual and spiritual nourishment.

[17]  In her description of the elaborate bindings on medieval and early modern holy books, Alexandra Walsham (2003: 156) articulates how ‘Placed on the altar in close proximity to the consecrated host, such books were receptacles of numinous power’. Medieval Bibles with richly decorated covers were integral to the performance of liturgy, sometimes being kissed, like relics, alongside the other instruments of the mass (2004: 124-5). Crucially, Walsham points out that ‘Often enclosing fragments of the bones and other remains of martyrs and saints, book covers were sometimes indistinguishable from reliquaries’. Influenced by Eamon Duffy’s fundamental work on medieval lay piety (1992), Walsham goes so far as to suggest that Books of Hours were believed to have talismanic power: ‘No less than phials of holy water, wax tablets of the agnus dei, and objects which had come into contact with special hallowed places, they might be seen as sacramentals’, and notes also that in Lutheran Germany Books of Hours were believed to be, like relics, incombustible (2004: 141). Her evidence suggests that even after the English Reformation the preservation of Bibles and prayer books (rather than any other suspicious Catholic artefacts) as precious vessels for the Word was part of the Protestant assertion of the authority of holy writ above anything else, in a surprising material synthesis between reformed and traditional belief. Esteemed Protestant works could be similarly treated: John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments (or ‘Book of Martyrs’) may have been chained alongside bibles in churches.[11] Its title plays on the overlap between ‘monument’ as written document and tomb or sepulchre, and John N. King (2006: 8) argues that the book as a whole functions ‘in the manner of a symbolic reliquary that preserves for posterity the deeds and words that constitute the essence of saintly sacrifice’. Rather than the mortal remains of the Protestant martyrs, it is the written details of their lives and deaths that are sacred and must be preserved inside this doubly monumental volume.

[18]  Yet apart from these more obvious connections between sacred texts and relics there are other, more implicit, ways in which the idea of the relic informs thinking or writing about books. As in Areopagitica, these points of connection are not always felt explicitly, but in the section which follows, beginning with Michel de Montaigne’s account of his visit to the Vatican Library, I will explore how these understated moments of reflection between texts and relics may be read fruitfully. Montaigne visited many of the Roman churches just a few years after Anthony Munday, and writes in his travel journal of seeing certain relics used in exorcisms during Holy Week, such as a ‘Veronica’ cloth which is elevated before the assembled worshippers who prostrate themselves and cry out.[12] In contrast with other texts I have discussed so far, Montaigne’s travel journal is not a polemical work. In this text, the relationship between books and relics is enlightening in ways that are not engaged with religious and political debate, but is expressed in Montaigne’s personal recollections of the privileged quasi-sacred space of the Vatican Library.

[19]  Montaigne notes that the Vatican Library contains both religious and secular books from Europe and further afield, and he remembers that there were ‘a large number of books attached onto several rows of desks; there are also some in coffers, which were all opened to me; lots of books written by hand, and especially a Seneca and the Moral Essays of Plutarch’ (949). He makes specific reference to some individual volumes, including ‘a book by Saint Thomas Aquinas in which there are corrections in the hand of the author himself’ and ‘an Acts of the Apostles written in very beautiful gold Greek lettering, as fresh and recent [‘aussi vive et récente’] as if it were of today. This lettering is massive and has a solid body [‘un corps solide’] raised on the paper, so that if you pass your hand over it you feel the thickness’ (950-951).  [13] Like the relics at Canterbury, as described by Erasmus, these treasured books are stored in ‘coffers’ which must be ‘opened’ for the visitor. There is, as at a cathedral shrine, an evident tension between permitted access and the secrecy and security of the library’s valuable treasures. However, Montaigne is pleased about the relative ease with which he accessed the library, recalling ‘I saw the library without any difficulty; anyone can see it thus, and can make whatever extracts he wants’ (950). Readers can take away ‘extracts’ from these books, as if visiting a medieval shrine armed with an ampulla which will enable them to share the spiritual succour offered by the material treasured up in the sacred site.

[20]  Montaigne’s encounters with books of particular value are partly characterised by sensuousness – he is allowed to handle the books and recalls how he touched them, observing the texture of the page under his hand, just as the priest ritually strokes the relics in Munday’s report from Rome. Authorial manuscript copies have a special value; Montaigne remembers seeing ‘the breviary of Saint Gregory, written by hand; it bears no evidence of the year, but they hold that it has come down from him from hand to hand. It is a missal about like ours, and was brought to the last Council of Trent to serve as a testimony of our ceremonies’. From more recent times, he sees

the original of the book that the king of England composed against Luther, which he sent about fifty years ago to Pope Leo X, inscribed with his own hand (950).

Montaigne superstitiously appreciates being able to touch the pages on which ‘there are corrections in the hand of the author himself, who wrote badly, a small lettering worse than mine’. Books such as these are legendary artefacts passed down through history ‘from hand to hand’, objects which allow physical contact with the past, and thus become a permanent embodiment, like Milton’s ‘pretious life-blood of a master spirit, imbalm’d and treasur’d up on purpose to a life beyond life’. Indeed, as James Kearney points out (2009: 7), pages of parchment may visually reinforce their identity as once-living skin, still bearing tangible signs of their fleshliness in the form of marks left by scars, blemishes, and hair follicles.

[21]  Some decades later, Montaigne’s compatriot Gabriel Naudé insisted that ‘it is the very Essence of a Library, to have a great number of Manuscripts; because they are at present in most esteem, and less vulgar’ (1661: E3r). For both Montaigne and Naudé, the identity of the manuscript which has a distinctive material connection to its author is part of the ‘Essence’ of a library, in the same way that the touch-relic of a saint or martyr might be found at the heart of a medieval cathedral, defining its identity. Relics and manuscripts represent the desirable, the specialist, and the elite, to be treasured up. The contrast between the relative worth of manuscript and printed books in Montaigne’s account illustrates another way in which a book’s materiality defines its identity as much as its literary contents.

[22]  As Montaigne’s narrative suggests, the connections between books and relics discussed so far are closely embedded in a broader discourse surrounding libraries and memory which evolved in the decades following the destruction of medieval monastic libraries. In Memory’s Library Jennifer Summit presents an important critical account of post-Reformation library-building, in which she describes how in the hands of early modern collectors such as Robert Cotton, the contents of medieval books were rescued and rediscovered. To a certain extent these new libraries were seen as sites of memorialisation of the medieval past; Summit observes that John Weever ‘calls on libraries to do what churches can no longer be trusted to do: to preserve the memories of the dead’ (2008: 193). Ultimately however, seventeenth-century libraries such as the Bodleian served a much more complex purpose than this. Summit stresses the function of post-Reformation libraries as sites of intellectual dynamism in which the contents of books, as well as being ‘imbalm’d and treasur’d up’, were debated and actively redefined. Although such libraries were locations in which the dead author’s spirit could be remembered for eternity through the preservation of his books, they could also be the site of regeneration, in which voices from the past could be challenged and debated, as if they yet lived. As Summit puts it, ‘in preserving the medieval past, the libraries of post-Reformation England also remade it into a body of evidence’ (15).

[23]  Summit and other recent critics have frequently cited Francis Bacon, who in 1610 was called upon to oversee the founding of the library at Lambeth Palace. Bacon provides us with some elegant but not unproblematic comparisons of books with relics. At the beginning of the second book of The Advancement of Learning (1605), he declares that libraries are ‘as the Shrynes, where all the Reliques of the ancient Saints, full of true virtue, and that without delusion or imposture, are preserued, and reposed’ (Kiernan 2000: 56). Bacon presented a copy of The Advancement to Thomas Bodley to mark his refounding of the university library at Oxford, and in his accompanying letter praises books as ‘the shrines where the Saint is, or is believed to be’. Elsewhere he writes that the Christian church ‘did preserve in the sacred lap and bosom thereof the precious relics even of heathen learning, which otherwise had been extinguished as if no such thing had ever been’ (Spedding 1861: 3,151). Bacon’s metaphors compare books and libraries alike with relics and shrines, and in his language there is a slippage between book/library and relic/shrine as sacred places and things which mutually define each other. Post-Reformation libraries such as the Bodleian are depicted as new kinds of shrine removed from Catholic ritual and superstition, places where ‘saints’ may be found in a discriminating setting which acknowledges its medieval past but is not constrained by it.

[24]  As Bacon sees it, books preserve learning at the same time as enabling it to be ‘improved or advanced’ (Spedding 1861: 3, 235). Even though their authors may be long dead, books have a voice which may yet be heard and challenged. The interplay between the living and the dead which characterises Milton’s metaphors in Areopagitica is also found here in the popular discourse of the early modern library as a living repository of knowledge located in the literary remains of deceased authors. Summit points out (2008: 167) that Robert Cotton’s cabinet of curiosities, containing amongst other things a fragment of Thomas Becket’s skull, directly adjoined his library. By the seventeenth century, bones and books sit side by side as comparable sources of knowledge and discovery. However, although (as Bacon demonstrates) the idea of the relic is translated into secular locations and discourses in post-Reformation culture, the image is not freed from the complicated relationship of matter and spirit it embodies. While books are a location of intellectual and even spiritual contact with the dead, they must be carefully contained and controlled.

[25]  Daniel Woolf argues that by the late seventeenth century ‘most Protestants could safely adopt an attitude of benign amusement to popular Catholicism, so long as it was kept outside the church and off the throne’. Surviving medieval relics began to be transformed into antiquarian curiosities; as Woolf puts it, ‘the antiquarian artefact filled the empty space left by the relic, by providing an object of interest for people in the present which could be more safely examined, fondled, cherished, and displayed, even it if were no longer venerated’ (2003: 194). It is important to appreciate, however, that the England of the post-Reformation years did not witness a straightforward replacement of the sacred with the secular. Even if relics and relic-like objects were no longer believed to be vessels of divine grace, they might still be treated with respect, reverence, and even superstition.

[26]  In his first published poem, a sonnet commemorating Shakespeare for the publication of the second Folio, Milton praises the poet’s ‘honour’d Bones’ and ‘hallow’d reliques’, emphasising the futility of a marble tomb in contrast to the ‘live-long Monument’ of his intangible reputation, perpetuated through the printing of his literary creations. Milton’s words play into the long poetic tradition of connecting an author’s mortal body with his immortal corpus of work. Far from being an expensive book, however, Milton’s Areopagitica – a ‘meer unlicen’t pamphlet’- is an affordable product of the printing press which was published at a time when the pamphlet form was multiplying rapidly as a tool of public debate. After the Reformation, the banned religious relic becomes illicit and dangerous, demanding unsanctioned loyalty not dissimilar to that demanded by the politicised and possibly unlicensed pamphlet. Unlike manuscripts treasured up in elite libraries and collections however, the pamphlet is widely dispersed, a grubby ephemeral object which is ultimately disposable. The ‘breath of reason itself’ may be found in all kinds of books, including pamphlets such as this. Like the spirit at the core of medieval relics, reason transcends the material of the vessel it is held in whilst simultaneously drawing attention to its materiality.

[27]  As demonstrated by the range of texts I have discussed in this essay, the idea of the relic remains a powerful one in literary culture following the English Reformation. The relic, as a material object which encloses both material and spiritual content, persists in English writing as a metaphor loaded with historical and religious memory, even as it appears to be de-sanctified. In ways that might be implicitly or explicitly expressed, the interface between the material and the spiritual, between the visible and the invisible, and between the secular and the sacred presented by the relic remains a commanding one for English writing about writing, even after the relic is removed from popular worship.

University of Cambridge



[1] For further discussion of non-literary uses of holy books, see Aston (1984). [back to text]

[2] Coster & Spicer (2005) provide a valuable outline of the major areas and current state of criticism in these fields. See also Woolf (2003), and Duffy (1992). [back to text]

[3] Complete Prose Works, vol. II, p. 493. All further page numbers given parenthetically in main text. [back to text]

[4] Paradise Lost, 3.484-497. [back to text]

[5] Religious Reliques, the Sale at the Savoy, upon the Jesuits Breaking up their School and Chappel (London, 1688). [back to text]

[6] Collected Works, vol. 40; page numbers given parenthetically in main text. [back to text]

[7] This relic was at Walsingham from around 1300 until the destruction of the shrine in the late 1530s. Along with the blood of Christ and pieces of the True Cross, the milk of the Virgin has remained one of the most popular Christian relics. Vials of breast milk are especially precious because of the belief that Mary’s body was taken directly to Heaven. See Rubin (2009: 138-150). [back to text]

[8] See Malo (2008) for further discussion of the ‘occlusion’ of medieval relics as objects which were manipulated in material and rhetorical ways. [back to text]

[9] The accounts of the medieval hagiographer Jacobus de Voragine, for example, illustrate how the tombs, shrines, and relics of saints provide access to the sacred in ways that are often visually and physically realised, in sensuous outpourings of oil, blood, water, scent, or heat. [back to text]

[10] Latimer also preached about this relic in a sermon of 1549: see Latimer (1562: Miiir). [back to text]

[11] Some debate surrounds this: Evenden and Freeman argue that there were probably relatively few chained copies (2005: 1288-1307). [back to text]

[12] Complete Works, pp. 957-8. Further page references given in main text. [back to text]

[13] French text is taken from Garavini (1983: 214). [back to text]


Primary works

Anon. 1642. A true Relation of Certaine Passages which Captaine Baset brought from the West parts of Cornewall CONCERNING Some Shippes which came from Bilbo in Spaine to goe to Ireland (London: R.O. & G.D)

Anon. 1688. Religious Reliques, the Sale at the Savoy, upon the Jesuits Breaking up their School and Chappel (London, n.p.)

Barclay, John. 1688. John Barclay His Vindication Of the Intercession of Saints, The Veneration of Relicks and Miracles, Against the Sectaries of the Times (London: Mary Thompson)

Corrie, George, ed. 1845. Sermons and Remains of Hugh Latimer, Sometime Bishop of Worcester (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)

Erasmus, Desiderius. 1974-. Collected Works, ed. Craig R. Thompson et al, 42 vols (Toronto: University of Toronto Press)

Kiernan, Michael, ed. 2000. The Oxford Francis Bacon IV (Oxford: Clarendon Press)

Latimer, Hugh. 1562. Certayn Godly Sermons (London: John Day)

Milton, John. 1953-82. Complete Prose Works, ed. D.M. Wolf, 8 vols (New Haven: Yale University Press)

Montaigne, Michel de. 1957. Complete Works: Essays, Travel Journal, Letters, trans. Donald M. Frame (London: Hamish Hamilton)

___. 1983. Journal de voyage, ed. Fausta Garavini (Paris: Gallimard)

Munday, Anthony. 1582. The English Romayne Lyfe (London: John Charlewood)

Overton, Richard. 1642. New Lambeth Fayre newly consecrated and presented by the Pope himself (London: R.O. & G.D.)

Naudé, Gabriel. 1661. Instructions Concerning Erecting of a Library, trans. John Evelyn (London: Bedle, Collins, & Crook)

Spedding, James, ed. 1861-74. The Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, 7 vols (London: Longmans)

Weever, John. 1631. Ancient Funerall Monuments within the United Monarchie of Great Britaine, Ireland, and the Islands adjacent (London: Thomas Harper)

Wythers, Steven, trans. 1561. A Very profitable treatise, made by M. Ihon Caluyne, declarynge what great profit might come to al christendome, yf there were a regester made of all Sainctes bodies and other reliques, which are aswell in Italy, as in Fraunce, Dutchland, Spaine, and other kingdomes and countreys (London: Rowland Hall)

Secondary works

Aston, Margaret. 1984. Lollards and Reformers: Images and Literacy in Late Medieval Religion (London: Hambledon Press)

Chaganti, Seeta. 2008. The Medieval Poetics of the Reliquary: Enshrinement, Inscription, Performance (New York: Palgrave Macmillan)

Coster, Will, & Andrew Spicer, eds. 2005. Sacred Space in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)

Duffy, Eamon. 1992. The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580 (New Haven & London: Yale University Press)

Freeman, Thomas, & Liz Evenden. 2005. ‘Print, Profit and Propaganda: The Elizabethan Privy Council and the 1570 edition of Foxe’s ‘Book of Martyrs’’, English Historical Review 119: 1288-1307

Geary, Patrick. 1986. ‘Sacred commodities: the circulation of medieval relics’, in The Social Life of Things, ed. Arjun Appadurai (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 169-194

Kearney, James. 2009. The Incarnate Text: Imagining the Book in Reformation England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press)

King, John N. 2006. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and Early Modern Print Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)

Lees-Jeffries, Hester. 2007. England’s Helicon: Fountains in Early Modern Literature and Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Malo, Robyn. 2008. ‘The Pardoner’s Relics (and why they matter the most)’, The Chaucer Review 43: 82-102

Raymond, Joad. 2003. Pamphlets and Pamphleteering in Early Modern Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)

Rubin, Mary. 2009. Mother of God: A History of the Virgin Mary (London: Allen Lane)

Spencer, Brian. 1998. Pilgrim Souvenirs and Secular Badges (London: Stationery Office)

Summit, Jennifer. 2008. Memory’s Library: Medieval Books in Early Modern England (Chicago & London: Chicago University Press)

Thomas, Keith. 1971. Religion and the Decline of Popular Magic (London: Redwood Press)

Walsham, Alexandra. 2005. ‘Holywell: contesting sacred space in post-Reformation Wales’ in Sacred Space in Early Modern Europe, ed. Coster & Spicer, pp. 211-236

___. 2004. ‘Jewels for Gentlewomen: Religious Books as Artefacts in Late Medieval and Early Modern England’, in The Church and the Book, ed. R. N. Swanson (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer), pp. 123-142

___. 2003. ‘Unclasping the Book? Post-Reformation English Catholicism and the Vernacular Bible’, Journal of British Studies 42.2: 141-166

Woolf, Daniel. 2003. The Social Circulation of the Past: English Historical Culture 1500-1730 (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

‘With such a Wife ’tis heaven on earth to dwell’: Memorialising Early Modern Englishwomen

‘With such a Wife ’tis heaven on earth to dwell’: Memorialising Early Modern Englishwomen

Marion Wynne-Davies

1. Introduction [1]
[1]  Ghosts are not the only ones drawn irresistibly to graveyards; they are joined by serious scholars who study sixteenth and seventeenth century monuments and epitaphs in order to uncover the ways in which Early Modern society memorialised its dead. This article explores the construction of two tombs: the first for Elizabeth Countess of Bridgewater in the Church of St Peter and St Paul in Little Gaddesden and the second for Lady Jane Cheyne in All Saints Church in Chelsea. The two women were sisters and more commonly identified by the names Elizabeth Brackley and Jane Cavendish since this is how they are described on the manuscript versions of their plays, poetry and prose works. Today, their reputation as two of the earliest Englishwomen dramatists has supplanted the memorials of status and virtue that characterised the epitaphs and elegies composed when they died in 1663 and 1669. But by re-examining these contemporary texts, along with letters and monumental forms, it becomes possible to trace patterns of a more complex subjectivity that lie within and beneath the conventional phrases and representations, allowing us to unearth the sisters’ distinctiveness. And this is precisely why the reference to ghosts is apposite, since the memorials do not allow either Elizabeth Brackley or Jane Cavendish to slumber in the quiet earth.

[2]  Critics analysing discourses of death have found the Early Modern period particularly rewarding because of the significant shifts in cultural, spiritual and artistic practices that impacted upon the process of commemorating the deceased. The increased emphasis upon individual identity, the impact of the Reformation and the way in which artists began to supplant artisans produced radical revisions in the shape of, and inscriptions on, tombs. A brief account of scholarly evaluations of Early Modern memorials demonstrates the ways in which these key discourses have been analysed. For example, the use of large, elaborate and ostentatious grave monuments, which became increasingly popular during the post-Reformation period, is discussed by Nigel Llewellyn in his comprehensive Funeral Monuments in post-Reformation England, where he points out that tombs came to be seen as ‘expensive objects of display and culture’ – the last word, as it were, in Renaissance self-fashioning (2000: 225). Llewellyn also describes the commissioning process in which ‘patrons exercised close controls on the designer and on the sculptors, masons and painters who realized their plans,’ although the reliance upon local craftsmen diminished in the Restoration as ‘sculptors’ replaced ‘masons’ (1991: 102). The changes endemic upon the establishment of Protestantism are discussed by Peter Marshall in Beliefs and the dead in Reformation England, where he explains how the words on pre-Reformation graves ‘had an overtly intercessory purpose…[they] invoke prayers for the soul [since]…it was already’ separated from the body and in purgatory, whereas those of the post-Reformation were ‘designed solely to commemorate the past achievements of the dead’ (2002: 271, 275) – although Marshall goes on to argue for a more complex post-Restoration interpretation in which retrospection was integrated with a lingering concern for the future state of both body and soul. However, with the Catholic belief in purgatory increasingly abandoned, memorials no longer had to encourage the reader of the grave inscription to pray for the soul’s release.  Yet Protestants themselves could not be certain that their beloved had been judged saved, and so deaths were increasingly inspected for some evidence as to the fate of the soul. Ralph Houlbrooke in Death, religion, and the family in England, 1480-1750 includes a chapter on ‘good’ and ‘bad’ deaths in which he points out that ‘The deathbed was seen as the supreme trial of faith. A successful outcome […] was widely interpreted as an indication of the individual’s eternal fate [and] left a good example to survivors’ (1998: 183). By analysing last actions and words to determine whether or not the dying person could be seen to accept their end with patience, faith and a renunciation of worldly affairs, onlookers were able to judge between a good death/salvation or a bad death/damnation. Early Modern accounts of deathbed scenes, epitaphs, and elegies commonly memorialise the deceased as having experienced a good death with descriptions of stoic humility, piety and good works. These expositions were then transformed into monumental inscriptions that presented the dead body as suitably decayed and the immortal soul celebrated in heaven. But, not always.

[3]  The critical debate about Early Modern graves originally focussed upon the monuments in order to contextualise them within art history, most famously in Erwin Panofsky’s Tomb sculpture: four lectures on its changing aspects from ancient to Bernini (1964). By the 1980s the impact of New Historicism ensured that such grandiose memorials were firmly entrenched within theories of self-fashioning; for example, in the work of Nigel Llewellyn. However, Houlbrooke’s identification of the spiritual context of the deathbed scene has recently been transferred to grave monuments by Peter Sherlock in Monuments and Memory in Early Modern England, where he argues convincingly that tombs ‘were more concerned with the sacred than most scholars have hitherto acknowledged’ (2008: 3). While Sherlock traces versions of ‘good’ deaths within the context of the sacred, by following Houlbrooke’s evocation of ‘bad’ deaths it becomes possible to search, in addition, for those inscriptions which posit a more complex end – for words and images that imply the soul might not have been transported so readily to heaven. It is here that theories of the revenant become apposite. In her book, Over Her Dead Body (1992), Elizabeth Bronfen describes the way in which women are morally evaluated through the inscriptions on their tombs not only in terms of their life, but also through a projected identity after death. If the tomb’s inscription claims, in word or image, that the woman’s body is successfully transmuted into dust and that her soul has risen to heaven then she is a ‘good’ corpse as well as a good woman. If, on the other hand, the tomb does not offer a satisfactory conclusion, in that the body may be imagined as intact or only partially decayed with the spirit remaining on earth, then the woman remains in limbo as a ‘bad’ corpse. This uncanny presence may be represented through disturbing words and images in which the woman’s body is imagined as still present in the grave, neither of the living nor eclipsed by death. Bronfen proceeds to argue that the ‘written documents and gravestone [that] ornament [the] pictorial or textual representation[s]’ are, of necessity, ‘based on difference and semantic indeterminacy’ that ‘transforms [the dead body] into a disturbing double’ (1992: 296). The parallel between Houlbrooke’s ‘good death’ and ‘bad death’ and Bronfen’s ‘good corpse’ and ‘bad corpse,’ combined with Sherlock’s recent identification of the intrinsic spiritual discourse of Early Modern tombs, predicates a re-evaluation of the ways in which women were memorialised. Moreover, Bronfen’s analyses of ‘difference’ and ‘indeterminacy’ provide the theoretical means for exposing representations of the revenant.

[4]  Following a ghost’s path about any Early Modern graveyard or church will confirm that by far the majority of women memorialised experienced good deaths and, being thus assured of a place in heaven, become good corpses, with the tombs recounting their piety, chastity and humility. In this sense the monuments of Elizabeth Brackley and Jane Cavendish at first appear to conform to the expected stereotypes: Brackley is described as ‘meeke and humble’ while Cavendish is represented as ‘Pietissimæ et sanctissimæ’, pious and religious (all quotations from the tomb inscriptions are taken from the monuments of Elizabeth Brackley and Jane Cheyne). Yet their final resting places belie the complex, detailed and persistent manner in which their deaths were recorded. The next two sections serve to recount these labyrinthine narratives while considering how the sisters were allowed to evade conventional female roles in death, as they did in life.

2. Elizabeth Brackley (d.1663 aged 37)
[5]  Brackley’s oeuvre, while not as sophisticated as her sister’s, is nevertheless extensive; she co-authored two plays (The Concealed Fancies and A Pastoral) with Cavendish while they were imprisoned by Parliamentarian troops in their home, Welbeck Abbey, during the English Civil War and, when released to join her husband, John Egerton, second Earl of Bridgewater, she wrote several spiritual treatises, Loose Papers and Meditations. The shift from sparkling pastoral comedy to devout piety has been interpreted by Betty Travitsky in her comprehensive account of Elizabeth’s marriage and authorial work, Subordination and Authorship in Early Modern England: The Case of Elizabeth Cavendish Egerton and Her ‘Loose Papers’, as evidence of her ‘subordinate’ role and her husband’s ‘autocratic ways’ (1999: 91, 121), although this interpretation should not be accepted without question. However, it is certainly true that John had – as Travitsky also notes – a ‘deep affection’ for his wife; indeed their mutual love is shown by the way in which their writings often merge into one another’s, using the same phrases, sources and events. Elizabeth’s death, therefore, was profoundly shocking to her husband.

[6]  In 1663 Elizabeth was pregnant with their tenth child when John was detained in his London house at the Barbican on the order of the King when a challenge made by the Earl of Middlesex was not resolved. Elizabeth immediately joined her husband but, as her death certificate notes, she ‘was there surprised by the coming of her Travaile sooner then she expected, which ended in her being delivered of a sonne, who came dead into the world, & she her selfe dyed within one quarter of an houre after her delivery’ (Hunt. MS EL8348). Subsequently, as was fitting for the daughter of a Marquess (William Cavendish, Marquess of Newcastle) and the wife of an Earl, Elizabeth’s body

was honourably conveyed… being attended by Nine Mourning Coaches with Six Horses apiece; filled with the Children, & other neere Relations, & accompanied by an Extraordinary great number of the Nobility, & many of the Gentry about London, in their coaches, & waited on by her Servants & other Mourners on horseback, her coronet being carried before her by one of the officers.   (Hunt. MS EL 8348)

Status and wealth were thus appropriately recognised in the form of a large and prestigious funeral procession, one that perfectly aligns with the critical perception of memorial discourses as essentially about the position of the deceased family. The certificate concludes with a formal affirmation by John – ‘the truth thereof attested by the Right Honourable John Earle of Bridgewater’ – but his own indexing comment on the outside of the folded paper suggests a more personal note, ‘certificate entred into ye Heralds booke upon ye death of my intirely beloved wife, whose departure hath made her disconsolate Husband irrecoverably Miserable.’ A parallel paper transcribes the coffin inscription which tells of a ‘Beloved Wife’, together with an assertion that Elizabeth has gone to ‘Heaven’, thereby according with the requirements for a good death and suitable for public display. Yet again, the heading of this note offers a glimpse of private grief, ‘The Coppy of ye Inscription on ye Brasse plate on ye Brest of ye Coffin of my Deare & neuer to be forgotten Wife’ (Hunt. MSS EL 8348 & 8349). Further, in his letters about the tomb construction he writes of ‘my incomparable Wife’ and of how he has ‘underualued all other Charges [costs/expenditures] in ye world; for all other Charges do not breake ye purse, but this hath broke my heart’ (HRO MSS AH 1074 & 1075). Social status and spiritual probity might well be secured by the conventional memorials of death certificate and coffin plate, but John’s personal comments prefigure a prolonged and intensive grief in which his wife can ‘neuer…be forgotten’ and in which his happiness is ‘irrecoverabl[e].’ In themselves, such emotional addenda might appear formulaic, but John’s anguish suggests an excessive form of memorialisation that was to become increasingly (in Bronfen’s term) ‘disturbing’.

[7]  One of the key elements in Early Modern memorial discourse is the production of elegies, and Elizabeth’s status, together with the literary associations of her family, engendered a number of tributes. These include formal ones, such as that undertaken by Samuel Holland, a minor Restoration dramatist, whose rememberances of the great and good were designed more as a source of pecuniary favours than as any accurate representation of grief. Unsurprisingly, Holland utilises conventional terminology, referring to Elizabeth as ‘most Vertuous and most Religious’ and assuring her family that ‘She…Is hence to Heav’n ascended’ (Hunt. MS EL 8350). In addition, as a writer from within the family, Jane Cavendish wrote an elegy memorialising her sister’s death:

O God thy Judgments unto sinfull eye
Were greate, when I did see my Sister dye,
Her last look was to heaven, from whence she came,
And thither going, she was still the same,
No Discomposure in her life or Death,
She lived to pray, prayer was her last Breath:
And when Deaths heavy hand had closed her eyes,
We thought the World gave up its Ghost in Cryes:
What ere relations choice, or nature made
Lost their best light, and being in that shade;
For none can give Example like her life,
To Friendship, Kindred, Family, or wife.
A greater Saint the Earth did never beare,
She lived to love, and her last thought was care;
Her new borne Child she asked for, which n’ere cryed,
Fearing to know its end she Bowed, and Dyed:
And her last Vale to heaven appeared to all,
How much she knew her Glory in the call.         (Hunt. MS EL 8353)

Jane’s description of Elizabeth’s death presents a resolutely eulogistic version. To begin, she lays claim to the role of witness, ‘I did see my Sister dye,’ before enumerating Elizabeth’s virtues: she was devout (‘Her last look was to heaven’ and ‘She lived to pray’); she was constant and forbearing (showing ‘No Discomposure’); loved, and was loved by her family (they have ‘Lost their best light’ and ‘She lived to love’); and her life serves as an exemplar to others. Following Houlbrooke’s definition, there can be no question that Elizabeth had a good death and that her spirit has ascended into heaven, becoming, in Bronfen’s terms, a good corpse. Moreover, the post-Reformation secularisation of a religious subtext claimed by Sherlock may be identified in the claim that Elizabeth was ‘A greater Saint.’ However, while Jane’s poem entertains conventions, she undercuts any sense of the formulaic with the eye-witness account of her sister’s death. The poem recalls Elizabeth’s last request to see her child since she could not hear the expected cries and concludes with the surrender that the knowledge of the baby’s death brings. This poignant image is linked to the absence of answering words to the mother’s final question and, as such, opens up the reality of wordless grief, not only for the bereaved mother within the poem, but for those left behind. The silence of the text cannot but suggest the inadequacy of language in the face of mortality. There are no uncertainties in Jane’s elegy, only a dark recognition of the finality of death.

[8]  The elegy written by John to Elizabeth at first follows a similar pattern of praise: she is pious, ‘her devotion constant was and true;’ virtuous, ‘A chaster person never was then she;’ a good mother, ‘With Joy she Crown’d …their worth;’ as well as being forbearing, full of ‘patience’ and like a ‘souldier’ or a ‘saint’ (Hunt. MS EL 8354). At the same time, the grief expressed in this poem exceeds accepted boundaries, beginning with a direct address to the reader:

Did you not heare that gale of sighes, that tore
The upper Elements when iust before
A tyde of Teares had overflow’d the Earth,
And mad’t as ‘twas before it’s second byrth.     (Hunt. MS EL 8354)

The words demand a complicit response from the reader in which extreme grief is presented as Biblical experience: sighing is likened to gales, tears to the Flood and Elizabeth’s death to Christ’s crucifixion, which will bring redemption or ‘a second byrth.’ The spiritual nature of this revelation continues as the poem demands that the reader acknowledges Elizabeth as a ‘Bless’d Saynt’ who sits ‘next to [her] redeemer.’ Not only is the mourning extreme, but the vocabulary evokes the image of a Christ-like figure who is both resurrected and able to offer salvation to those mortals who remain on earth. Indeed, the poem goes on to describe these bereaved figures as they join Elizabeth’s funeral procession and watch as her body is interred. The ‘Hundreds’ of followers are described as ‘Speechlesse with griefe,’ yet are simultaneously able to ‘Cry…out, she’s gone! She’s gone,’ and

Had you but then the lamentations heard,
One would have thought her Spirit back would come,
But that Heaven yet did never Saint that wrong.          (Hunt. MS EL 8354)

The poem demands a doubled outcome in which grief both silences and demands speech; the vocal memorials bring the spirit back to earth even while its presence in heaven is acknowledged. In a stark transformation of the funeral procession described in the official death certificate, which was located in a discourse of wealth and status, John’s personal depiction of the event presents a mystical experience in which the absent silence of the grave may – perhaps – be escaped through an excess of vocal and inscribed grief which – might – make Elizabeth’s ‘Spirit’ return to earth. Moreover, this conceit is immediately complicated by the assertion that Saints ‘never’ return to earth, allowing a tortured identification of the idealised Elizabeth as saint in heaven and the adored wife who must remain on earth. The poem continually recalls such liminality: Elizabeth’s body is as not ‘Flesh and bloud,’ but ‘christall’ so that ‘Noe Fleshly eye can then her Image see, | ’Tis the Soules eye that spyes Divinitie’ (Hunt. MS EL 8354). The elegy written by John Egerton for his wife memorialises her as both mortal and immortal, as eliciting both silence and speech, and as secure in heaven and yet having power on earth. Unlike Jane’s abject recognition of mortality, John represents his wife as occupying an uncanny space in which she must be simultaneously absent and present. As such, when he claims in the poem, ‘With such a Wife ’tis heaven on earth to dwell,’ the idealised vision bifurcates into a ‘disturbing double:’ the memorial of a real man living with an adored wife whom he perceives as perfect; and the present of a widower whose spouse’s spirit may return from heaven in order to bring him comfort in the mortal world. Of course, excessive grief does produce texts, images and memorials that defy the boundaries of life and death, trying to bring loved ones back to life precisely because they are loved so much. But in an almost pre-Gothic formulation, John used his memorials of Elizabeth as a way of inscribing her liminality. Llewellyn discusses the ‘tension between continuity and separation,’ drawing our attention to ‘the liminal or transitional power of “dying”,’ and argues that the monument was constructed at this moment of liminality (2000: 42-3). But rather than enacting a moment of closure, the memorial texts inscribed by John Egerton seek to perpetuate Elizabeth’s existence into a realm that is neither mortal nor spiritual.

[9]  The construction of Elizabeth Brackley’s tomb was a long and complex process. While there are several records of the transactions as well as historical and critical accounts of the tomb, one of the most revelatory documents is the account John wrote for his son, explaining why he was in debt:

I come noe to another [debt] occasion’d by the greatest of sorrowes that sorrow which is unexpressable, & under which I have groaned, ever since that sad & dolefull time, in which (by the death of my deare, & never to be forgotten Wife) it fell upon me; & shall groane as long as it pleaseth God to permit me to draw out my miserable dayes upon the Earth; I meane the Monument, which I have erected in little Gaddesden Church, to the Memory of my Father, & my Mother, & that most invaluable, & unpriseable Jewell, with which God once blessed me, my entirely beloved, & truly loving Wife; of whose excellent goodnesse, & of that great happinesse which I enjoyed by it, whilst it pleased God to continue her Life, I should have thought myselfe totally unworthy, if I should not (in some measure) have endeavoured to perpetuate the remembrance of so admirable a person, so neerely related to me, & who had beene so many yeares my whole felicity; I cannot therefore conceive that this Expence whatsoever it was (& that it was considerable, I believe whosoever lookes upon it cannot doubt) can fall under any hard censure.  (Hunt. MS EL 8117)

This is a long and seemingly repetitive quotation, but worth transcribing because it demonstrates the almost rambling excess of John’s grief and concurs with his comments about ‘Charges’ in the letter quoted above (HRO MS 1075). Taken in more detail, the account focuses on several expected elements: Elizabeth’s superlative worth (‘invaluable, & unpriseable Jewell;’ ‘excellent goodnesse;’ ‘admirable’); John’s love (‘my entirely beloved, & truly loving Wife;’ ‘great happinesse;’ ‘my whole felicity’); his grief (‘greatest of sorrowes;’ ‘miserable’); and that uncanny doubleness of silence and voice (‘unexpressable;’ ‘groane’). The sharp contrast with the brief allusion to the monument for his parents (‘the Memory of my Father, & my Mother’) serves to underscore the depth of his feeling for Elizabeth. What is particularly interesting about this self-defence is that personal grief is closely integrated with the necessity for public expenditure. The reason for the ‘considerable’ ‘Expence’ of erecting a ‘Monument’ that has led John into ‘debt’ is his desire to create a memorial that will impress ‘whosoever lookes upon it,’ which seems at first to equate with the archetypical Early Modern ostentatious memorials. However, if read in conjunction with other references to financial worth within the passage, it becomes clear that  the  money  has  not  been spent to prove his own family’s wealth and status, but rather to provide a fitting tomb for a woman too precious to be categorised in economic terms (‘invaluable’ and ‘unpriseable’). Indeed, rather than expecting praise for his lavish outlay, John defends himself against ‘hard censure’ precisely on the grounds that Elizabeth’s superlative worth, together with his poignant grief, necessitated a grand and expensive monument. It comes, therefore, as somewhat of a shock when visiting Little Gaddesden church to find that Elizabeth’s tomb is sombre and distinctly unprepossessing.

Fig. 1. The tomb of Elizabeth Countess of Bridgewater in the Church of St Peter and St Paul in Little Gaddesden

[10]  There can be no question of the monument’s importance within its setting since, at just over four metres high; it dominates the whole of the church’s interior, while status is resolutely represented with three large square heraldic plaques (Fig. 1). Although the tomb is framed with two white columns and carries figures of two grieving cherubs and a central skull, the central – and largest – part of the monument is taken up with a copious amount of text inscribed onto black marble in very small letters. The main memorials are those of John’s parents, ‘Sir John Egerton’ and ‘Lady Frances,’ and his wife, ‘the late transcendently virtuous Lady, now glorious Saint, the Right Honourable Elizabeth Countesse of Bridgewater.’  There is a final, smaller, plain tablet dedicated to John himself. Overall, the funeral monument enacts memorial in words rather than images, and eschews ostentation for sombre simplicity. The fashion for text ran parallel with –  although it was never as popular as –  that for ornate sculptures, so that John’s choice of plain inscription could certainly represent the austere Protestant faith that he and Elizabeth practiced during their marriage (Kemp 1980: 110-11; Jupp and Gittings 1999: 195). However, the words chosen suggest that the absence of material representation was also embedded in personal grief.

[11]  Elizabeth’s virtues are, inevitably, enumerated: she is ‘the glory of the present;’ her beauty was ‘unparallelled;’ her behaviour was ‘winning;’ her discourse ‘charming;’ her soul was ‘noble and generous;’ her disposition ‘meeke and humble;’ and her devotion ‘exemplary, if not inimitable.’ Yet, while constructing the image of a good soul, the memorial also undercuts the certainties necessary for a good death and, consequently, a good corpse. First, although Elizabeth’s beauty is praised, ‘it is as much beyond the art of the most elegant pen, as it surpassed the skill of several the most exquisite pencils (that attempted it) to describe, and not to disparage it.’ Second, while her own writing is extolled – ‘her divine meditations upon every particular Chapter in the Bible, written with her owne hand’ – the public act of ‘composition’ is set against the act of concealment – ‘never (till since her death), seene by any eye but her owne, and her then dear but now sorrowful husband.’ Finally, like the inadequacy of image, text cannot describe her: ‘in a word, she was so superlatively good, that language is too narrow to expresse her deserved character.’ Elizabeth is caught in a liminal state wherein words (‘pen’ and ‘language’) are materially present on the monument, describing her beauty and worth while simultaneously they are denied the ability to do so. This contradiction is emphasised by the allusion to her work, which also must be both presented and concealed. The combination of absence and presence and of inscribed text and silence constructs Elizabeth Egerton as liminal, a being who exists at the juncture of continuity and separation, called back into that ‘uncanny’ site through the overpowering grief of her bereaved spouse. There can be no simple interpretation of John’s profound mourning and the repeated memorials he prepared. Rather, deep grief and excessive sorrow co-exist in perpetual tension throughout the texts that memorialise Elizabeth. These disparate yet entangled emotions become recognisable when interpreted through the lens of a further discourse, that of love. Foucault in Madness and Civilisation describes how ‘Love disappointed in its excess, and especially love deceived by the fatality of death, has no other recourse but madness’ (1961: 30). While John did not succumb to the conventional Early Modern understanding of madness, the intense quality of his memorialisations locates his grief at a point of intercession between irrationality/sanity and excessive anguish/profound mourning, forging an identity for himself that is as liminal as that of Elizabeth.

[12]  The care John Egerton took over his wife’s tomb inscription was echoed in the instructions he left for his own monument, although the short and simple text differs from the extreme embellishments devoted to Elizabeth. In his will John asks  ‘to remaine in hopes of a Joyfull Resurrection amongst my deare Relations, and as neere to the body of my deare Wife as may be,’ with the engraved words noting:

Here lyes interred John Earle of Bridgewater…who desired no other memorial of him but only this: That having (in the 19th year of his age) married the Lady Cavendysh…he did enjoy (almost 22 years) all the happiness that a man could receive in the sweet society of the best of wives, till it pleased God, in the 41st year of his age, to change his great felicity into as great misery, by depriving him of his truly loving and intirely beloved wife, who was all his worldly bliss. (Hunt. MS EL 8164)

John Egerton never remarried, surviving his wife, as is recorded faithfully on his tomb, ‘23 years, four months, and twelve days’.

3. Jane Cavendish (d. 1668 aged 49)
[13]  As a writer Jane Cavendish was more prolific and experimental than Elizabeth; she composed the poems that are appended to their two plays, as well as a number of other pieces, only some of which appear to be extant. Examining her writing and the way others wrote about her suggests that she was the more intellectual and independent of the two sisters. In the manuscript versions of the plays Jane is allocated (and probably authored) sharp, witty dialogue and her Week Book (accounts book) proves her to be, at times, equally caustic, pointing out that although ‘Mr Cheyne lent mee [a sum of money] at one time…uppon this account there is 15 shillings due to mee’ (Hunt. MS EL 11 143). Even on her deathbed Jane was capable of sharp and direct observations: in his published version of her funeral sermon, Adam Littlejohn recounts how, when her husband prayed at the bedside for her recovery so that she might ‘Live and Glorifie him [God]’ Jane tartly ‘stopt Him in his Prayer, and with a comfortable Look and strong Voice […] said, She would Glorifie God, whether she lived or dyed’ (1669: 53). Littlejohn’s witness hardly concurs with the humble and stoical death characterised as good by Houlbrooke and used by Jane to describe her sister’s death. Rather than the silent and patient relinquishment of life, the sermon describes how she complained about the ‘Agony’ of the seizures: ‘Nor after the Fits, at the return of Spirits, sufficient to give Her liberty of Speech, did She ever (except two of her four last days) complain of Pain’ (1669: 50-1). The parenthesis is telling, for although Littlejohn is fully conversant with the discourse of a good death, trying to emphasise Jane’s fortitude, his honesty ensures that he records the reality of Jane’s voluble ‘complain[t]’. In fact, Jane seems not only to have complained about dying, but about living too, as Littlejohn reports:

When there were very good hopes of her Recovery, She used often to say, That though she resigned up Her self wholly to the wise disposal of a good God, yet She being in expectation of being call’d away in her first Fits, look’d upon her Recovery as a gracious kind of Disappointment (they were Her own Words) by God Almighty. This she did (She said) not out of Discontent at her Sickness, which she thankfully acknowledged tolerable Easie, but (as having conquered this World, and being now in her Passage to a Better) out of her intuition of a glorious Crown, that, She trusted, awaited her in Heaven. (1669: 51-2)

Again, the disturbing element in Jane’s deathbed behaviour is flagged up by the parenthesis; Littlejohn cannot bring himself to suggest in any way that he is responsible for words that suggest a ‘Disappointment’ in God and so insists that ‘they were Her own Words.’ Of course, the humour, which undercuts any sense of a conventional demise, reveals a courageous, irreverent and witty woman who deflates her husband’s piety, humorously appears to reprove God (to the dismay of her minister) and who, while challenging all the behavioural requirements of a good death, simultaneously lays claim to a place in heaven where she will be adorned with ‘a glorious Crown.’ It is hard not to admire Jane Cavendish; she even employs self-irony in the allusion to her spiritual elevation to a ‘Better’ place, since the ‘glorious Crown’ also refers to her right to wear a coronet as the daughter of a Marquess in ‘this World.’ Intriguingly, the debate about Jane’s right to wear a glorious crown was to become an issue in the construction of her tomb.

[14]  Before considering the complicated narrative of the monument’s creation, however, it is important to contextualise Jane’s memorial via other textual documentation, in particular, elegies and the remainder of Littlejohn’s sermon. Unlike the considerable number of manuscripts retained by John at Elizabeth’s death, only two published poems commemorating Jane remain extant: Richard Flecknoe’s ‘On the death of the Lady Jean Cheynee’ and Thomas Lawrence’s ‘An Elegy on the Death of the Thrice Noble And Vertuous Lady The Lady Jane Cheyne’ (the latter is appended to Littlejohn’s sermon). Given the tenor of Jane’s own writing and recorded speech, it seems likely that Flecknoe’s poem was one aimed at gaining Charles Cheyne’s patronage, rather than offering a personal account. The elegy describes her as ‘All sweetness, gentleness, and dovelike…Who scarce had any passion of her own,’ and depicts her as a good corpse having ‘now…gone where only Saints abide’ (Flecknoe 1670: 6). Lawrence’s poem is much more familiar with Jane’s life and work. It begins with traditional praise, ‘now a blessed Saint,’ but quickly goes on to refer to Jane’s ‘Poetick Spirit,’ her ‘Art’ and her ‘concealing…Fancies,’ demonstrating a clear knowledge of her play (Littlejohn 1669: no pag.; cf. Smith 2006). At the same time, Jane’s character is acutely observed, referring to her ‘Wit’ and noting,

Where Female sweetness manly strength did meet,
At once (like Samsons riddle) strong and sweet.              (Littlejohn 1669: no pag.)

The sermon also offers the usual commendations of ‘Sweetness’ and ‘Piety,’ but it shows a closer knowledge of the individual, explaining how Jane was ‘lively,’ ‘Valiant,’ and ‘the Absolute Governess of Her Own Mind’ (Littlejohn 1669: 42, 46, and 43). Interestingly, the sermon also refers to Pious Meditations…that she hath fill’d some Volumes with,’ suggesting that the sisters composed companionate texts, although only Elizabeth’s now appears to be extant (1669: 45). Indeed, while John retained Elizabeth’s writing and expended considerable time and effort on his own words memorialising her, there is no evidence that Charles did likewise, his comments on her death being confined to a brief note to Littlejohn explaining what he wants written on the monument:

Of ye Truly Right Honble Pious & Vertuous Lady ye Lady Jane Cheyne Eldest daughter to his Grace William Duke of New=Castle Wife to C.C.Esq: present Lord of this Mannor of Cheyney with whom Shee Here lived but few months above 14 yeares by whom she had Issue Elizabeth William & Katherine This last deceased few months after her mother who a little before her death gave to this church ye Roofe erected since; As shee lived so shee depar-ted this life & patiently and piously ye 8th day of Octobr 1669 in ye 49th yeare of her Age & is interred wth her daughter Ka in ye Middle Vault of ye Chancell of this church under ye Altar Table

This is the substance I wish rendered as you shall thinke best att yt…and leave to yr selfe ye whole & every part as to its plaine appearance or dresse whereto I covet not Embroidery, but rather a few words of such value as you think suitable.  (Hunt. MS EL 11 141)

The main passage adheres to formal requirements, describing Jane as being honourable, pious and virtuous in life and having expressed the patient and humble behaviour necessary to ensure a good death. In addition, it specifically invokes status through the reference to William Cavendish and by referring to Charles as lord of the manor, as well as depicting Jane in the appropriate female roles of mother and benefactress. Grief and any sense of personalised mourning are noticeably absent, a fact underscored by Charles’ casual treatment of the memorial text as he defers authorship to Littlejohn – ‘as you shall thinke best…leave it to yr selfe…as you think suitable.’ It comes as a surprise, therefore, that, when it came to the tomb sculpture, he became embroiled in prolonged negotiations and spent a considerable sum in acquiring a monument from Italy.

Fig. 2. The tomb of Lady Jane Cheyne in All Saints Church in Chelsea

[15]  On entering Chelsea old church, the tomb (Fig. 2) is immediately apparent; it faces the south entrance in the form of a six metre high marble temple, in which the life-size statue of Jane Cheyne reclines on a black sarcophagus, raising herself upon her left arm and extending her right hand over her heart. A small portion of the window is visible above the main structure and this allows light to filter down onto the figure below. The statue is dressed in contemporary fashion, with the hair styled in crisp ringlets, and is adorned with the suitable emblems of a book in her left hand (referring to her scholarship) and a coronet at her feet (denoting she was the daughter of a marquess). The impact of the monument was such that histories of, and guidebooks to, Chelsea consistently refer to it; for example, Thomas Faulkner in An Historical and Topographical Description of Chelsea and its Environs (1829) makes a detailed description of the tomb, including a transcription of the text, summing up, ‘This monument was executed by the celebrated Bernini and cost five hundred pounds’ (1829: 223). Charles Cheyne, it seems, had undertaken to memorialise his wife by commissioning a statue by one of the most famous and successful sculptors of the seventeenth century. The only problem being, that it is not by Bernini.

[16]  A comprehensive account of the negotiations concerning Jane’s monument is given by Linda Levy Peck in Consuming Splendour. Society and Culture in Seventeenth-Century England in a chapter subtitled ‘a Bernini in Chelsea’, where she points out that

The importance of the funeral monument lies not in its mistaken ascription to the great Bernini but in the aspirations and cosmopolitan taste that shaped Cheyne’s decision to commission and import a Roman baroque sculpture and make it fit an Anglican parish church. (Peck 2005: 277)

Such a commission was highly unusual and Peck pertinently questions why Charles Cheyne chose ‘to import this lavish funeral monument from Rome?’ Peck’s suggestion that Charles wished to ‘commemorate…his devotion to Lady Jane’ might be overly generous, but her identification of his desire to ‘demonstrate…his own piety and taste,’ as well as ‘to develop the fashionable suburb’ in which he lived seems very likely, and her final assessment of him as a ‘luxury consumer and London real estate developer’ is particularly fitting (2005: 279). And, rather like his twentieth-century counterparts, Charles Cheyne was more interested in show than quality, in cutting costs, and endeavouring to deal with an artist as he would have done an artisan or local workman. Peck’s chapter is so comprehensive that only a brief account of the dealings is necessary here, but it is worth quoting portions of the letters in order to illuminate the processes involved in this act of memorialisation.

[17]  None of Charles’ letters have survived, but he kept all correspondence relating to his expensive purchase (unlike his wife’s writings). The process began with Charles asking his young relative, Edward Chaloner, who was going to Rome in order to work for the English ambassador, to begin negotiations. From this point on the project appears as a series of debacles. First, Chaloner did not seem particularly eager to get involved, instead asking Charles for credit so that he could travel on to Venice via Vienna and then to the Loire where he hoped to spend the whole of the summer. However, Edward Altham, an English Catholic residing in Rome, was procured as the agent and work once more progressed, although in his first letter to Charles, Altham draws attention to Chaloner’s lack of interest (‘hee stayed here (which was but a short time)’ (Hunt. MS EL 11 124). The subsequent missives narrate a catalogue of complications in which Altham is clearly replying to Charles’ complaints about cost and construction. To be fair to Altham, he had secured a contract with the finest studio at the time and, while he did not manage to obtain Bernini, the architect was most probably the master’s son, Paolo Valentino, and the sculptor, his favourite assistant, Antonio Raggi (Montagu 1990: 277). Of course, costs soared despite Altham ‘striue[ing] to have it done by the best master and at the best price as can be possible’ (Hunt. MS EL 11 124), but problems also emerged about the design. Raggi, as an artist, proved to be as much a governor of his own mind as was Jane Cheyne and he was determined ‘to follow the style of this country in the habiliments of the figure’ making it as ‘like as may bee’ (Hunt. MS EL 11 125). Accordingly, Charles was required to send a drawing of Jane’s face. Simultaneously, Raggi altered the original intention of showing her ‘reposing…on the Urne’ to the more realistic, ‘upon the bed…languishing’ (Hunt. MS EL 11 125). There were also considerable problems about the size of the monument, since the architect had mistakenly designed a 20-foot structure when the intended position in the church’s chancel was only 14 feet. It is difficult to discover who was to blame for the major miscalculation, although it is clear that Altham was the one expected to sort it out, appeasing the renowned members of Bernini’s studio and asking Charles to send a piece of string or thread so that they could be sure of the dimensions (the tomb now covers a considerable part of the window). In addition, there was little room left on the monument for the smaller figure of Jane’s daughter, who had died shortly after her mother; this requisite was abandoned altogether, ‘the smalle Figure cannot bee annexed as was proposed’ (Hunt. MS EL 11 127). Then there was the crown: Charles was adamant that, being the daughter of a duke, Jane’s statue should wear the coronet she was entitled to and which was an essential part of the monument’s function within his own self-fashioning. However, there was no way that Raggi or any member of the Bernini studio would place a crown on the statue’s head, since

the sense here of the Artiste (that understand things of this quality) is that the custome of this Church is not to crowne any of the saints though canonized and haue lamps at their shrines, It being an honour onely aboue the rest due to the Regina Sanctorum Omnia as Mother of God and Queene of and Heauen, yet because the Lady was the eldest daughter of a Duke It tis uery requisite that there should bee some signe or token of that Honour and worth to accompany the monument and therefore the Artiste haue thaught fitt to place a Crowne at her feete as neglected and not esteemed in her life time; which if I mistake not is part of your designe mentioned in your letter and may proue conformeable to your conception if not altogether yet in some nature. (Hunt. MS EL 11 126)

The status and ‘quality’ of the ‘Artiste,’ together with the ‘custome of this Church’ (Catholic) is given clear precedence over Charles’ ‘conception’; Altham explains that only the Virgin Mary is allowed to be crowned, although he has persuaded Raggi to ‘place a Crowne at her [Jane’s] feete’ instead. Finally, the monument was shipped to England and erected, the sums were settled and Altham, still in Rome, wrote to Charles for feedback, clearly hoping to use a good recommendation to procure more work: ‘my request therefore is at present that you would be so free as to tell me ingeniously not so much what likes you as what dislikes you in the monument’ (Hunt. MS EL 11 134). There was, however, one final error that becomes apparent in Altham’s tetchy response to Charles’ final complaint that the ‘figure [lies] with the feete to the west’ and therefore looks away from the altar. Altogether, Charles Cheyne’s plan for a grandiose monument that publicised his own faith and social standing had gone badly awry. Instead of a 14-foot-high tomb in the chancel, with a statue representing his wife leaning in dignified form upon an urn looking towards the altar, with a coronet on her head and the figure of her dead child beside her, he got a 20-foot monument in the nave, so large that it obscured the window, with the statue of his wife reclining in naturalistic fashion, looking to the back of the church, with a book rather than a child, and with a coronet, seemingly discarded, at her feet. Although Charles’ use of memorialisation to promote himself in terms of both economic and social position accords perfectly with scholarly readings of Early Modern monuments, it also demonstrates how such grand plans could become derailed when colliding with alternative, but equally powerful, discourses.

[18]  At this point, it is useful to return to the most perceptive of all critics on Early Modern tombs, Erwin Panofsky. In his discussion of Bernini, Panofsky alludes to the liminal quality of the sculptor’s grave designs, commenting that he ‘abolished the borderline between life and death’ (1964: 93). Recalling one of Bernini’s most famous sculptures, The Ecstasy of St Theresa, this powerful evocation of transformation – from the material to the spiritual – is easy to understand. Examining Bernini’s tomb figures, this liminal moment is even more apparent; for example, his Beata Ludovica Albertoni lies prone, her hand to her heart, her face caught in a moment of dream-like ecstasy, while his Dr Gabriele Fonesca, as Panofsky notes, with his hand ‘placed on his heart […] belongs to this world as well as the next.’ (1964: 93). Close associates with Bernini, like Valentino and Raggi, would have been determined to offer what was undoubtedly to them the most beautiful and moving memorial. Working with, as Altham notes, ‘the best master,’ and confident in their ‘understand[ing of] things of this quality,’ they too strove to present a life-like figure of Jane Cheyne captured forever on that ‘borderline between life and death.’ It is even possible to understand why Altham was so defensive of his choice, since in his self-portrait, he stands, hand on heart, with a look of soulful meditation (Montagu 1990: 281-2; and see Fig. 3). Moreover, the description of Jane’s statue Altham provided Charles in advance of delivery could as easily describe Ludovica Albertoni or Gabriele Fonesca:

The right hand and arme bent towarde the breaste in a pious posture.

The Uisage looking upwarde, from whence the devoute soule may bee considared (by the spectators) was full of expectation and highly  concerned in the thaughts of another life. (Hunt. MS EL 11 127)

The tomb of Jane Cheyne thus represents a clash of two Early Modern discourses: the desire for individual status and wealth as identified in those ‘grandiose’ tombs described by Llewellyn, and exemplified by Charles Cheyne’s commission, with, on the other hand, the recognition of the power of art to transcend material limits as effected by Bernini, noted as such by Panofsky, and embodied in the tombs of Albertoni and Fonesca. Given its history, therefore, it comes as somewhat of a shock when visiting Chelsea Old Church to find that Jane’s tomb is sombre and unprepossessing. While an elegant hand is placed over her heart, Jane’s face is static, almost bored, as it gazes, not ‘upwarde’ in ecstasy, but across the nave south towards the church door. The liminal power of Bernini’s grave monuments is altogether absent.

[19]  The memorials to Elizabeth Brackley and Jane Cheyne, in some ways, could not be more different: the church settings of country versus city, the use of text set against image, and their intended purposes, with the repository of grief a contrast to the statement of status and wealth. Moreover, while the words inscribed onto Elizabeth’s monument construct her as liminal, Jane’s statue remains resolutely within the material and mortal frame. If there is any distinctiveness to be identified in the memorials to Jane, it comes not from her expensive tomb, but from her own words as transcribed by Littlejohn in the funeral sermon. Jane’s description of her ‘Disappointment’ at not dying functions only if we acknowledge her to have  ‘conquered’ or left the mortal world ‘ and being now in her Passage to a Better’ where, of course, she will wear ‘a glorious Crown’ (Littlejohn 1669: 51-2). The sense of absent presence so essential to the liminality of memorials is thus engendered, not by her bereaved husband, but through her own self-irony and, one suspects, she would have found Charles’ failure to devise a tomb that fully enhanced his status equally amusing.

[20]  The memorials of two of the earliest Englishwomen dramatists cannot be confined by the conventions of Early Modern memorialisation, each evading the prescriptions devised to ensure the conventionality of having good deaths translating into good corpses. Both women are constructed as transversing the boundaries of the mortal and spiritual worlds, one because of the overwhelming grief of her husband and the other through her own deathbed speech. Yet the texts and monuments do engage with the driving discourses of the age; Jane’s grave in particular demonstrates the importance of status and wealth to the deceased’s family, as well as the shift from artisan to artist in the design of tomb statuary. Perhaps, however, it is Elizabeth’s tomb that has the most enduring impact, for it discloses another powerful Early Modern discourse, the growing importance of mutual affection within marriage. The beginning of this essay refers to ghosts, pointing out that neither Elizabeth Brackley nor Jane Cavendish slumber in the quiet earth. This, of course, is an allusion to the final sentence of Wuthering Heights, where Lockwood wonders, ‘how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers, for the sleepers in that quiet earth’ (Bronte 1975: 367). To conclude, I wish to invoke those two famous literary revenants, Cathy and Heathcliff, and suggest that graves provide scholars not only with critical insight, but with an understanding of the human and artistic practices that inspired them. Because, for all the ostentatious self-fashioning of Early Modern memorials, they are sometimes not about power, status, wealth and patriarchal privilege but, quite simply, about love.

University of Surrey


[1]I wish to thank the Huntington Library for their generosity in awarding me a Fellowship, without which much of the primary research on this article could not have occurred.[back to text]




Bodleian Library Rawlinson MS Poet 16

Hertfordshire Record Office MSS AH 1074 and 1075

Huntington MS EL 8117 – 8377

Huntington MS EL 11 121 – 143

Printed matter

Bronfen, Elizabeth. 1992. Over Her Dead Body. Death, femininity and the aesthetic (Manchester: Manchester University Press)

Bronte, Emily. 1975 [1847]. Wuthering Heights (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books)

Cerasano, S.P. and Marion Wynne-Davies (eds.). 1996. Renaissance Drama by Women: Texts and Documents (London: Routledge)

Coleman, Janet. 1992. Ancient and Medieval Memories: Studies in the Reconstruction of the Past (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)

Faulkner, Thomas. 1829.  An Historical and Topographical Description of Chelsea and its Environs (Chelsea: Nichols and Son)

Flecknoe, Richard. 1670. Epigrams of All Sorts, Made at Divers Times on Several Occasions (London)

Foucault, Michel. 1961. Madness and Civilisation, trans. by Richard Howard (London: Tavistock Publications)

Greer, Germaine (ed.). 1988. Kissing the Rod: An Anthology of Seventeenth-Century Women’s Verse (London: Virago)

Houlbrooke, Ralph. 1998.  Death, religion and the family in England, 1480-1750 (Oxford: Clarendon Press)

Hutton, Patrick. 1993. History as an Art of Memory (Hanover: University Press of New England)

Jupp, Peter C. and Clare Gittings (eds.). 1999. Death in England: an illustrated history (Manchester: Manchester University Press)

Kemp, Brian.1980. English Church Monuments (London: Batsford)

Littlejohn, Adam. 1669. A Sermon at the Funeral of the Right Honourable the Lady Jane Eldest Daughter to his Grace William, Duke of Newcastle, and Wife to the Honourable Charles Cheyne (London: John Macock)

Llewellyn, Nigel. 2000. Funeral Monuments in post-Reformation England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)

___. 1991. The Art of Death. Visual Culture in the English Death Ritual c.1500-c.1800 (London: Reaktion Books)

Marshall, Peter. 2002. Beliefs and the dead in Reformation England (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Montagu, Jennifer. 1990. ‘Edward Altham as Hermit’, in England and the Continental Renaissance. Essays in Honour of J.B.Trapp, ed. by Edward Chaney and Peter Mack (Woodbridge: Boydell Press)

Panofsky, Erwin. 1964. Tomb sculpture: four lectures on its changing aspects from ancient to Bernini (New York: Harry N. Abrams)

Peck, Linda Levy. 2005. Consuming Splendour. Society and Culture in Seventeenth-Century England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)

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Review Article: The New Globalism’s Bubble

Review Article: The New Globalism’s Bubble

Douglas Bruster

A Companion to the Global Renaissance: English Literature and Culture in the Era of Expansion, ed. Jyotsna G. Singh. Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture 60 (Malden, MA and Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, 2009). 400 pp. + xvii. $149.95 cloth.

[1]  ‘Global’ appears in this large collection’s title where we have become accustomed to seeing the word ‘postcolonial’. Less judgmental than ‘postcolonial,’ ‘global’ has the advantage of seeming a paradigm that, being more spatial than political, neither excludes nor judges. To follow out the full title, though, is to note a pragmatic focus here: the twenty-one essays’ insights about what editor Jyotsna Singh calls ‘the Global Renaissance’ are filtered through the tiny island nation of England. Still, a wide scope and a sensitivity to England’s engagement with the world can be discerned in the locations explored. Africa, America, Bermuda, the Canary Isles, China, France, Holland, Iceland, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Java, Malta, Portugal, Russia, Scotland, Spain, Turkey, Venice, and Virginia all make an appearance in this Companion. It is divided into four parts — ‘Mapping the Global’; “‘Contact Zones’”; ‘Networks of Exchange: Traveling Objects’; and ‘The Globe Staged’ — with the majority of its essays distributed in the middle two sections.

[2]  As much as the title’s adjective catches our attention here, the word ‘Renaissance’ begs for comment. Scarce in the critical lexicon since around 1988 — when the term ‘early modern’ usurped its place — ‘renaissance’ has returned to the field without much fanfare. Readers will notice it, for instance, not only in the anthology under review but also in the name of this journal. Sent down for sins of omission, the ‘Renaissance’ has rejoined us as a penitent. Less elitist and courtly than before, it offers something that ‘the early modern era’ does not: a compact way of expressing two centuries and more of cultural history.

[3]  As a brand name, why else might ‘The Global Renaissance’ work where, say, ‘Global Culture in the Early Modern Era’ does not? One could argue that the expansiveness which ‘the early modern’ carried with it has been translated from its chronological orientation — its suggestion, that is, that the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries functioned as a prelude to our own, modern, era. Now taken for granted, that diachronic extension has been supplemented with a spatial reach, and ‘Renaissance’ allowed back into the mix owing to the associations of value it has always carried with it. In this way, chronology has been supplemented with geography. In the 1990s it was important to say that English books from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were full of things that were, or were almost, modern, and that they were chauvinistically English. Now it seems important to say that these English books were full of things international in scope and cosmopolitan in nature. ‘Global’ facilitates this. It is also worth offering, finally, that while one can just make the case that early seventeenth-century London, Paris, and Venice had developed, or were developing into ‘early modern’ cities, modernity did not emerge in some of their eastern counterparts to the same degree.

[4]  By now, critical discourse on the early modern era’s international scope is well established. Published in 1937, Samuel C. Chew’s foundational study, The Crescent and the Rose: Islam and England During the Renaissance, is almost seventy-five years old. More recent work by such scholars as Emily Bartels and Michael Neill, to name only these, has helped define a thriving critical subgenre. Today most scholars in the field know that, when opening a journal or monograph, they are more likely to read about trading ships and foreign encounters than stanzas and boroughs. Whether called cultural studies with an international emphasis, global historicism, or ‘new globalism’ (Daniel Vitkus’s useful phrase), investigation of the ‘Global Renaissance’ has not only arrived but matured. As the conclusion to this review will suggest, it may also have reached, and passed, its peak.

[5]  The growth of conversation within this critical subgenre means at the very least that more can be expected of it. From such an anthology as this we could be justified in seeking at least three things:

1. Substantial use of foreign archives and languages.
[6]  It is not unreasonable to think that research devoted to ‘the global’ should be based on multiple languages, and on investigation conducted in various national archives. However passionately pursued, arguments about ‘the idea of X’ in English-language materials can seem overly conventional, even insufficient when not contextualized with materials from other languages and places.

2. A compelling answer to the question: ‘Why Literature?’
[7]  Why focus on literature when what is sought seems closer to the province of history? This query can be answered a number of ways, but the gap between many literary critics’ training and a largely historiographic endeavor needs to be accounted for. Similarly, anyone familiar with patterns of hiring and pedagogy in the field knows that the realm of the literary enables research like this. A larger cultural investment in the works of Shakespeare, Donne, and Milton, for example, makes it possible to publish a $150 volume that examines England’s international engagements during these figures’ lifetimes.

3. Analysis that transcends cliché.
[8]  ‘Global Renaissance,’ as we have seen, works in part as a brand name advertising an area of investigation. In this way, it is not unlike a store sign reading ‘World Electronics’ or ‘International Dry Cleaning.’ Owing to largely unfamiliar terrain, critics writing in a post-disciplinary environment can rely heavily on words and thoughts that seem compelling, but ultimately remind us of New Criticism’s tendency to make every poem sound the same. Things are ‘complex,’ ‘multiple,’ ‘pluralistic,’ and ‘diverse’; entities ‘contact,’ ‘engage,’ or ‘intersect’; responses to other cultures are ‘anxious,’ ‘complicated’ and ‘ambivalent.’ Everywhere there is pervasive ‘intermingling and amalgamation’ (355). Owing to the collection’s topic, ‘difference’ is of course to be expected. Yet it should not be advanced as the be-all or end-all of inquiry.

[9]  How well does A Companion to the Global Renaissance (hereafter The Global Renaissance) satisfy these desiderata? After a summary of the anthology’s contents, we will return to this question and address some other implications of the volume as well.

[10]  Singh is herself a new historicist, and not surprisingly her introduction bears all the rhetorical maneuvers we have come to admire in that genre of writing. Beginning with Elizabeth’s hand on a globe in the famous Armada portrait (which decorates the jacket of the hardcover), Singh compares it with another globe in a roughly contemporaneous Mughal court painting. These terrestrial images suggest, ‘perhaps in an uncanny way, that they were part of a gradually emerging “global cultural economy”’ (4). This emerging dynamic, she offers, asks us to reconsider the dominance of a largely European paradigm when we think about English texts and agents from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The key to this reconsideration is an emphasis on the cosmopolitan culture that both depends on and feeds travel. Singh sees the flipside of cosmopolitanism as being xenophobia (6, 8), though it is not clear, even from the essays that follow her introduction, that English interest in the larger world was ever as sophisticated as our more modern definition of ‘cosmopolitan’ would imply.

[11]  Part One of The Global Renaissance, titled ‘Mapping the Global,’ begins with Daniel Vitkus’s ‘The New Globalism: Transcultural Commerce, Global Systems Theory, and Spenser’s Mammon.’ Vitkus discusses the limitations of small-ball criticism—in which he includes book history and ‘other forms of micro-material historicism’ (33)—over and against what he feels are the advantages of the ‘global turn’ available in global systems theory (35). An unexpected focus on Book Two of The Faerie Queene allows Vitkus to suggest ways in which this global turn might underpin a canonical text, though his analogy of the Cave of Mammon to El Dorado seems somewhat forced. While Vitkus’s reading of this episode opens up provocative questions about Spenser’s portrayal of money and desire, it is not clear that when these questions are translated into ‘global’ discourse they do not float a little above the actual language of the text. Critical globalism, as Vitkus calls it, therefore runs the risk that exegetical paradigms of all kinds do, from the Robertsonian to the Wallersteinian: a flattening of texts’ specificity in the service of arguments which seem, at the time, a greater good.

[12]  Appropriately, though, the exegetical approach of Vitkus’s essay prepares us for the appearance of Augustine in Crystal Bartolovich’s ‘“Travailing” Theory: Global Flows of Labor and the Enclosure of the Subject.’ In the course of rediscovering Puritanism, Bartolovich contrasts the particularized autobiography of Richard Norwood (1590-1675), the early surveyor of Bermuda, with Augustine’s more open life study. The money quote for Bartolovich comes when Norwood associates the protection of his soul with the enclosure of common spaces: ‘the Lord was pleased to…keep out Satan as it were with a pale or hedge from making that common inroad into my heart as he had so long used to do’ (quoted 61-2). Bartolovich dislikes private property, admires the Diggers, and, with Gonzalo in The Tempest, fantasizes what places like Bermuda could have been were things to have been held in common. Her research, which depends heavily on theories of the 1970s and 80s, could have benefited from more familiarity with the work of Americanists—who have explored similar questions of faith, property, and community in some detail owing to the voyage of a leaky hull called the Mayflower. And if we pause over an endnote reading ‘I have used the Sheed translation of Augustine because I like it’ (65, n.11), we may well feel that the pleasure in individualism it betrays is both ironic and uncommon.

[13]  In his essay ‘Islam and Tamburlaine’s World-picture,’ John Michael Archer extends Robert Weimann’s remarks about the applicability of Heidegger’s ‘world-picture’ to early modern English literature. Weimann has asserted the role of the world picture in such studies as, among others, Authority and Representation in Early Modern Discourse (1996), Author’s Pen and Actor’s Voice (2000), and Prologues to Shakespeare’s Theatre (2004). Although he does not cite Weimann, that scholar’s treatment of Heidegger would seem to undergird Archer’s deployment of the concept in this essay. Archer approaches Islam in 1 and 2 Tamburlaine through the twin dynamics of cartography and ethnography. Pushing hard to find Islam in Marlowe’s plays, he winds up admitting that there’s less there than meets the eye. Archer’s concluding realization that nothing very complicated (such as, for instance, a religion or society) can ever be well represented, perhaps represented at all, stands as a monitory insight for a collection otherwise invested in a certain level of representational transparency.

[14]  The final essay in this ‘mapping’ section, Chloë Houston’s ‘Traveling Nowhere: Global Utopias in the Early Modern Period,’ dovetails so closely with the following chapter, Andrew Hadfield’s ‘The Benefits of a Warm Study: The Resistance to Travel Before Empire,’ that they deserve to be discussed together. Houston examines three utopian texts and their relation to travel writing: More’s Utopia, Bacon’s New Atlantis, and Johann Valentin Andreae’s Christianopolis (a Latin-language work published in 1619). She generates some compelling insights by setting Utopia in the wake of Lucian’s Vera Historia—a text that deserves to be better known than it is—and asserts the participation of these utopias in ‘global discourse’ owing to their ‘interest in the processes and imaginative potential of global travel’ and their belief that ‘the world held some undiscovered corners that might hold the secret to the ideal human way of life’ (95). Houston’s uneasiness about the idea and practice of travel vis-à-vis these utopias is actually confirmed by Hadfield’s essay, which starts the ‘Contact Zones’ section of The Global Renaissance. Building on previously published ideas, Hadfield reminds us of the vexed reputation of travel in the early modern period. For every endorsement of journeys to distant places, he shows, other writers were prone to see travel ‘as a profligate undertaking, wasteful and dangerous, and more likely to corrupt than educate the traveler’ (102). From Ascham and Montaigne to Spenser and Nashe, authors understood travel not as a good in and of itself, but rather as a potentially dangerous way to make observations and produce knowledge that might be more safely generated through reflection.

[15]  Between these divergent responses to travel—the utopian fantasy of journeying to a secret place, and the cynical fear that, wherever one goes, humanity will be the same—lies another position that attends to the give-and-take between visitor and host. Such is the subject of Nandini Das’s ‘“Apes of Imitation”: Imitation and Identity in Sir Thomas Roe’s Embassy to India.’ Roe, England’s first official ambassador to India, was involved in a well-known episode that Das uses to open and close her essay. Vaunting the inimitability of English miniature painting, Roe was forced by the Mughal emperor to accept a wager: a court artist would imitate a painting that the ambassador had brought with him and Roe would be asked to discern the English original from among multiple Indian copies. That Roe was challenged by this exercise (or, according to another account, stymied by it) provides Das with the occasion to explore the role of imitation in the encounters between travelers and their hosts. Das draws on the work of Hadfield, and of Jonathan Sell, to tease out the way travel can produce self-reflexive thinking—a reconsideration of one’s own land and culture in relation to the new society one is encountering. If Das’s emphasis on the mutual interpretation of manners ultimately leads her to some of poststructuralism’s more familiar cul-de-sacs, her essay nevertheless presents an entertaining account of two different individuals, and cultures, thrown together by history.

[16]  Richmond Barbour tells fascinating stories about England’s international trading group in ‘A Multinational Corporation: Foreign Labor in the London East India Company,’ which deals with material the author treats at more length in his informative Palgrave book from the same year, The Third Voyage Journals: Writing and Performance in the London East India Company, 1607-10. Beginning, almost obligatorily, with Barabas and Antonio, two world traders from the early modern theater, Barbour proceeds to narrate the ambitious—and seemingly reckless—trading activities of the English in the East. Barbour’s easy style helps him write fluent history for literary critics, though he displays a disabling naiveté about the economic when he castigates those London Company shareholders who ‘profited despite the terrible mortality among their agents and workers’ (145). Surely Barbour must realize that the size of these profits, and the attractiveness of the trading goods themselves, were not only not in conflict with but indeed directly proportional to the difficulties overcome in attaining them. This is an uncomfortable fact, but to ignore it is to misunderstand the most basic relations among value, price, and effort during this and every other historical period.

[17]  Sometimes storytelling leaves one more impressed with the teller than the tale. Such is the case with Mary C. Fuller and her contribution to this volume, ‘Where was Iceland in 1600?’ Fuller takes her brief from a seldom read portion of Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations, Arngrímur Jónsson’s Commentary of Island, and notes that ‘Iceland was tightly connected with England through the cod fishery, whose economic centrality has been appreciated by historians even while its narrative poverty has served as a barrier to engagement by textual scholars’ (160, emphasis in original). It is not clear, reading Fuller’s essay, that scholars of any kind have been greatly harmed by their ignorance of Iceland. She may be right to say that ‘Looking at the place of Iceland in Hakluyt’s anthology reanimates a corpus of documents’ (161), but surely not all reanimation is rewarding. Finally, if it is true that ‘these documents might also provoke a re-examination of some fairly fundamental categories’ (161), Fuller owes it to her readers to complete that re-examination rather than gesture toward it.

[18]  More important than Iceland, Russia makes an appearance here in Gerald MacLean’s ‘East by North-east: The English among the Russians, 1553-1603.’ MacLean concentrates on England’s sixteenth-century encounters with the Russian court and people, noting the disgusted superiority that English visitors betrayed in their accounts of Russian society. MacLean contrasts this response with English characterizations of the Ottomans: ‘Although both were regarded as tyrannical, the empire of the Ottomans was greatly admired and envied, while that of the Russians was largely scorned and imagined to represent an imperial order that the English could consider themselves already to have surpassed’ (175). This last sentence flags the role that ‘empire’ plays in MacLean’s narrative, which continually emphasizes the imperial aspects of encounters and situations which appear to have had stakes of a considerably lower nature. The figures whose stories he tells seem to have considered themselves fortunate merely to have stayed warm, fed, and alive in a place that made England seem, in comparison, the height of civilization.

[19]  When Catherine Ryu begins ‘The Politics of Identity: William Adams, John Saris, and the English East India Company’s Failure in Japan’ with a declaration of her ethnographic neutrality—she will proceed, she informs us, ‘without privileging the modern assumption of the superiority of the West to the East’ (179)—we guess that we’re in for a lecture of sorts. No surprise, then, when, far from remaining neutral on the relative positions of the West and East, she plumps strongly for the sway of the East, scolding us in her conclusion to recalibrate our fantasies of Western modernity in relation to China’s empire of silk. If, in re-telling the familiar story of the English Factory at Hirado, and of its failure, Ryu has a chance to take a position midway between the West and the East, her disciplinary chauvinism for China and Japan leads her to lose this battle of midway. Oddly, though, what’s most perplexing about Ryu’s essay isn’t her partisanship but rather the complete lack of evidence for her central topic: notions of ‘English’ and ‘un-English’ identity and behavior. Ryu quotes documents that nowhere mention England in the nationalistic way she wants them to, and then goes on to discuss them as though they had. The result is frustrating, for it makes the early modern strangely Victorian in nature.

[20]  The last essay in this section, Ian Smith’s ‘The Queer Moor: Bodies, Borders, and Barbary Inns,’ asserts, largely on the basis of weak etymological relations, that ‘The inn, by definition, is a queer place’ (191), and uses English fantasies of sodomy as a way to connect such figures and issues as Othello, Islam, Leo Africanus, and race. Smith’s remarks hop from theme to theme in the manner of an indulgent jazz solo. When we are finished with the essay, we have been informed that inns, hotels, travel, and translation are all ‘queer,’ thus emptying that word of specificity. When everything meaningful is queer, we could ask, how can the term convey anything?

[21]  The third part of The Global Renaissance, ‘Networks of Exchange: Traveling Objects,’ extends the field’s recent interest in material culture with its focus on things. Matthew Dimmock’s ‘Guns and Gawds: Elizabethan England’s Infidel Trade’ draws on contrasting references in the Dutch Church Libel of 1593, which mentions foreign merchants who bring in ‘gawds’ and take out ‘Our Leade’ and ‘our Ordenance’ (207-208; quotation at 208). Dimmock surveys the longstanding animus against the triviality of luxury goods (whose importation was even more longstanding) and examines it alongside England’s growing reputation as an ‘infidel’ trader—a nation only too willing to trade its metals and weapons with anyone willing to buy them. The English ‘were fast becoming the arms dealers of the early modern world’ (217). A particular irony arose when English merchants sold metal that had been stripped from Catholic buildings and statuary following the Reformation: made an ‘infidel’ nation by Rome, England colluded with the more traditional infidels against Catholic domination of the West. One of the rare missteps in Dimmock’s otherwise excellent essay is his eagerness—like Ryu in the ‘Japan’ essay—to adduce ‘Englishness’ where it’s not explicit. The Dutch Church Libel mentions (ancient) Egypt, France, Belgium, Spain, and the Low Countries (‘the country nation’), and alludes to the ‘paris massacre,’ but never mentions England by name. Instead, it alludes to the author’s country only by implication: ‘this land,’ ‘their Countries brest.’ Clearly we don’t need the words ‘England’ or ‘English’ to understand reference to a national identity. At the same time, however, it means something that these words do not appear in the Libel.

[22]  Mathematics lies at the heart of Patricia Parker’s ‘Cassio, Cash, and the ‘Infidel 0’: Arithmetic, Double-entry Bookkeeping, and Othello’s Unfaithful Accounts.’ Parker gives us a fascinating introduction to the Arabic basis of early modern mathematics as a prelude to teasing out the implications of Iago’s infamous description of Michael Cassio as a ‘great arithmetician,’ a ‘Florentine’ and ‘counter-caster’ (Othello, 1.1.19, 20, 31). Othello, in her reading, is deeply concerned with—even, at times, obsessed by—the new culture of mathematics and representation that came with England’s commercial and intellectual expansion during the Renaissance. The figure of ‘0’ (here ‘zero,’ but also, of course, a capital ‘O’) proves instrumental to the nothing that Iago—an ‘“accountant”’ who, in Parker’s description, ‘manipulates the credit market of the play, until it is too late’ (238)—makes into something. Perfused with mathematics and other varieties of commercial language, Othello, Parker shows us, functions as something like a Shakespearean city comedy with a tremendously uncomic ending. A final note here. Parker’s essay is unusually packed with quotations and citations; a footnote helps account for this, perhaps, in explaining that it draws on material from a book-in-progress. From the rich insights this piece offers on Othello, we are in store for a worthy follow-up to Shakespeare from the Margins. At the very least, the information she provides as context to Othello will be essential reading for anyone interested in the play.

[23]  Where Daniel Vitkus’s reading aligns Spenser’s Cave of Mamon with the myth of El Dorado, in ‘Seeds of Sacrifice: Amaranth, the Gardens of Tenochtitlan and Spenser’s Faerie Queene’ Edward Test uses Book Three’s reference to ‘Sad Amaranthus’ to argue that, like European gardens newly blooming with New World plants, The Faerie Queene functioned as a site of ‘transatlantic acculturation where peripheral knowledge and material from Mesoamerica invigorates local London with a new mythic register of the natural world from the Americas’ (257). Test knows more about the genus Amarantus than almost anyone you would be likely to meet, and he labors not only to make the Mexica people relevant to the literary and botanical spheres of early modern Europe, but to foreground that relevance as a kind of cultural superiority. Somberly informing us that he wants to ‘reverse the traditional Eurocentric template’ (242), he proceeds to downplay human sacrifice in Mesoamerica by pointing out that Europeans were capable of extreme cruelty as well. Test’s quotation, as proof, of Nashe’s Unfortunate Traveller (252) alongside Cortés’s non-fictional account of Mexican sacrifice is sufficiently bizarre without being told that, while European punishment ‘seeks to end a cycle of revenge,’ sacrifice in the New World ‘serves to prevent violence from erupting in the community’ (253). It is somewhat difficult to imagine that those about to be sacrificed felt especially pleased to be donating their still-beating hearts to urban planning this way, just as it is difficult to believe the author is right when he claims ‘I do not mean to romanticize the Mexica’ (252). The essay absolutely romanticizes the New World. If its argument about a Mesoamerican source for The Faerie Queene is too partisan to be accepted, however, it nonetheless sheds useful light on the importation of plants into Europe following the voyages of discovery.

[24]  We move next from flowers to coins. In ‘“So Pale, So Lame, So Lean, So Ruinous”: The Circulation of Foreign Coins in Early Modern England,’ Stephen Deng surveys the presence, status, and role of foreign coins in England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. His essay necessarily rehearses a substantial amount of monetary history, including Henry VIII’s disastrous debasement of English currency and Elizabeth’s noteworthy re-establishment of the same, although at times it relies too much on a few historians (including Carlo Cipolla and Nicholas Mayhew). Deng is good on the different groups of characters and their differentiated currency in The Shoemakers’ Holiday: he shows that the richer characters have and value distinctive foreign coins in contrast to the lower-rank characters, who have less remarkable English currency. Deng’s second claim—that ‘xenophobic attitudes toward foreign coins’ may reveal ‘a critique of [the] English state’ (273)—seems profoundly counterintuitive. It is not surprising that he provides no evidence for it.

[25]  The next essay, Barbara Sebek’s ‘Canary, Bristoles, Londres, Ingleses: English Traders in the Canaries in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries,’ offers a solid introduction to England’s involvement with the Canary Isles. This well-constructed and informative piece tells its story mainly through the life and career of the businessman Marmaduke Rawdon (who shares with Praisegod Barebone one of the more memorable names of the century). The Canary Isles famously provided England and other countries with the songbird named after them, but even more importantly the sweet wine called ‘canary’ and ‘sack.’ Sebek’s essay follows Rawdon from England to the Canaries and back again, and the story of his life reads like a rough draft for a Defoe novel. Oddly, Sebek’s interest in detail rarely extends to English political or military history; she seems puzzled, for instance, when the story of Rawdon’s life ‘suddenly jumps ahead three years in three sentences, from 1640 to 1643, the only occasion in the entire narrative that time is thus compressed’ (288). The unwillingness to invoke Edgehill or other events early in the first English Civil War perhaps appropriately tracks Rawdon’s own seeming diffidence about political obligation. But surely there is a distinction between not caring deeply about an obligation and not recognizing it?

[26]  For some reason Adam Smyth starts ‘“The Whole Globe of the Earth”: Almanacs and Their Readers’ with the Elizabethan penchant for small things before turning to his real topic—almanacs, what was in them, and how they were used. He is interested in defining almanacs in relation to life writing. Though Smyth concedes that almanacs are not quite diaries, various marginalia and other marks of readerly use suggest, in his interpretation, that they were precursor to the kind of life writing that one encounters in diaries. In their chronological ordering of events and issues both large and small, they provided, in Smyth’s account, the template for the day-by-day recording of existence that would be associated with diaries and personal journals. This is not exactly a ‘global’ essay, but perhaps such is a good point to make. The majority of English subjects were interested in the world immediately around them, as well as the afterlife, and even when almanacs featured information useful to travelers they seem to have been purchased in great numbers by those who stayed at home.

[27]  Were a comic novelist enjoined to imitate the modern academic’s foray into historiography, it might wind up sounding like Ann Rosalind Jones’s ‘Cesare Vecellio, Venetian Writer and Art-book Cosmopolitan.’ The parodic aspect comes not from the scholarship itself—for the research here is sound—but rather from the earnestness with which Jones enlists her facts in the service of an idealized vision. Jones likes Vecellio a great deal, and winks at his faults in order to praise his open-mindedness in having compiled information about and portraits of the costumes of sundry lands. Vecellio is praised for representing female merchants, though he just happens to share the ‘Venetian belief that high-ranking women should lead their lives enclosed within their fathers’ or husbands’ walls’ (310). Elsewhere Jones compliments him for treating ‘veiling and polygamy in a non-judgmental way’ (318). Jones finds herself unable to do the same when it comes to the rest of the West, however, for she offers up Vecellio’s biography as a kind of ideal against which ‘colonizing’ impulses look tawdry and backward. In Jones’s portrait, Vecellio is a delightful cosmopolitan happily engaged with the sunny culture of the Ottoman Turks’ Mediterranean (there is no mention whether he reads The New Yorker). To those who labored with their bodies, he must have seemed to enjoy a life of rare privilege. In this, he looks suspiciously like a modern-day academic traveler blissfully above the details of power, judgment, or violence. That such may not be the reality of Vecellio’s world or our own seems lost on Jones. Perhaps this is her point, but to ignore the harsh realities that enable and protect privilege seems willful rather than smart.

[28]  In ‘Bettrice’s Monkey: Staging Exotica in Early Modern London Comedy,’ Jean E. Howard follows up on points made in this writer’s own Drama and the Market in the Age of Shakespeare some years ago. This is particularly apparent in her exploration of the early modern playhouses’ strategies of linking the near and the far, and the collocation of social relations via stage properties. ‘Bettrice’s Monkey’ comes from a stage direction in Jonson, Marston, and Chapman’s Eastward Ho, wherein we are told that Bettrice enters, ‘leading a monkey after her’ (quoted at 325). By the end of the essay the monkey is still a monkey but is no longer Bettrice’s. Howard argues that the monkey is properly the living toy of Gertrude, and was responsible for high jinks on the Blackfriars stage. This may be true, but it comes as a supposition in an essay that does not live up to Howard’s best work. Its page-long ‘Coda’ (a riff on Massinger’s The City Madam) is so inexplicable, in fact, that it almost seems to have been written to take up space.

[29]  Earlier essays have explored Japan, Iceland, Russia, and the Canary Isles, among other places, and Virginia Mason Vaughan takes us to Malta in ‘The Maltese Factor: The Poetics of Place in The Jew of Malta and The Knight of Malta.’ She faithfully narrates the history of the 1565 siege, and explores its literary representation in both Marlowe’s play and The Knight of Malta by Field, Fletcher, and Massinger. ‘Neither fully European nor African,’ we are informed, ‘to early modern English readers Malta was an international amalgam of sailors, pirates, merchants, and slaves’ (341). Vaughan repeats a move we have seen in other essays when she remains oddly neutral about something that must have had pressing implications for the individual involved. For instance, when she tells us that Jean de la Valette, the Maltese commander, ‘had extensive experience with military operations against Turkish forces,’ she mentions that this included ‘service as a galley slave on a Turkish ship’ (343). Considered even dispassionately, this sounds like a horrific ordeal for Valette, though in Vaughan’s account it comes off like a line on a job applicant’s resumé. Vaughan’s main point is how different Marlowe’s representation was from the historical record. She implies that Marlowe did this in order to stage, through Barabas, Elizabeth’s realpolitik, though this is never really demonstrated.

[30]  The collection comes to a close with a sermon of sorts. In contrast to Jones’s essay, David Morrow’s ‘Local/Global Pericles: International Storytelling, Domestic Social Relations, Capitalism’ likes its moral judgments strong and neat. Morrow participates in the contemporary rejuvenation of Marx by reading Pericles as a socially conscious romance. He extends Walter Cohen’s excellent essay ‘The Undiscovered Country: Shakespeare and Mercantile Geography’ (from 2001’s Marxist Shakespeares) by taking seriously the play’s interest in place, commerce, and commodification, and by grounding such interest in the genre of romance. Because seeing Pericles as a progressive document is difficult with George Wilkins in the picture, Morrow leaves him out. This is a shame, for doing so not only erases an important laborer from the conjunction of hands that produced Pericles, but misses an opportunity to consider how Wilkins’s predatory life, no less than Shakespeare’s own, may have shaped in a compensatory way what went into this strange and wonderful drama. Readers interested in Wilkins, Shakespeare, and Pericles will benefit from consulting Suzanne Gossett’s Arden 3 edition (2004) as well as Charles Nicholl’s The Lodger Shakespeare: His Life on Silver Street (2008).

[31]  To return to the three desiderata laid out at the beginning of this review: how well does this book live up to the desire for substantial use of foreign archives and languages; an answer to the literary conundrum; and analysis that transcends cliché? Although some of the essays here give us one or more of these things, on the whole the collection’s value comes not through any cohesiveness of direction but rather through its conglomeration of testimony to England’s collective restlessness during this era. As we have seen, this sometimes involves insights dropped casually in the midst of an argument that does not devote itself entirely, or even very carefully, to their value. Although many of the essays could have profited from acquaintance with foreign archives and materials in other languages, the collection is generally focused on English-language sources.

[32]  Taken as a whole, then, what does The Global Renaissance suggest about the field of inquiry it represents? Some concluding observations:

1. We are most interested in stories about people.
[33]  Absent from The Global Renaissance is any map of the world. (The only map, Ortelius’s map of Iceland, seems included mainly as decoration.) This is inconvenient, as readers searching for Tenochtitlan or the Canary Isles or Hirado or Malta need to look elsewhere to confirm their locations. The anthology’s illustrations typically represent individuals: Jahangir, Will Adams, a Turkish woman. This inconvenience is worth pointing out mainly because it confirms a truth suggested by the essays themselves: despite a declared interest in systems, history, culture, geography, or beliefs, what the writers return to again and again is biography—the story of people living their lives with friends, family, and strangers, on ships and land, at home and abroad.

2. Making moral judgments about these people is uncomfortable unless they are English.
[34]  The master narrative of the new globalism is largely melodramatic, relying as it does upon single-minded, predatory explorers and preternaturally cultured indigenous peoples. When the sub-narratives are told, though, we invariably sense that things are more complicated than this template suggests. England itself was a crossroad for invading powers, and its culture—if such a thing exists in the singular—was the product of too many influences to count. Despite such truths, we find it hard to resist idealizing those whom the English and Western Europeans came in contact with. ‘Global’ criticism would be more compelling if it started with an admission that no nation or people is uniquely corrupt (or, alternately, that all of them are).

3. We have largely forgotten what poststructuralism has taught us (though we often reinvent it at the drop of a hat)
[35]  Over and over the critics here rediscover the legacy of deconstruction, though not through any direct engagement with poststructuralist theory itself. Derrida is never mentioned, for instance, nor Barthes. Instead, the writers notice with some satisfaction that constructed binaries tend to collapse when any pressure is put on them, that categories have extremely porous boundaries, and that words are invariably slippery. Such is usually implied to be a function and symbol of Western arrogance rather than a property of language itself (every language, in fact). Overall, as with point #2 above, there is too little critical self-consciousness about desire itself: what we want from the past, as well as from our research; what is likely to remain outside of our grasp. Perhaps with its irony poststructuralism is too threatening to the sobriety of this critical genre.

4. The distance between our teaching and research has never been greater.
[36]  The insouciance such criticism is prone to when it comes to desire is matched only by its blindness to another truth: the gulf between our research and teaching has never been wider. This essay started with the desire for attention to the ‘literature question’—that is, discussion of whether, and how, discourse about the global renaissance relates to the poems, plays, and prose works taught in literature departments. It is not clear that scholarship has to serve teaching this way, but if it does not we are left asking ‘Why should this be investigated and written up by a professor of English?’ Like the early modern explorers themselves, we are sailing further and further away from what we know. The advantage is obvious: we put ourselves in a position to gain new knowledge. The disadvantage is less obvious, but real: we take ourselves ever further from what our students, their parents, our colleagues in other departments, and even the general public believe we are teaching.

5. The market for critical discourse regarding the global early modern era has reached its peak.
[37]  Reading the bibliography to this volume alongside its contributors’ list of past and forthcoming publications suggests that the decade following 2001 will be remembered for its explosion of interest in ‘global’ discourse. The majority of contributors to The Global Renaissance have books on Palgrave Macmillan or Ashgate presses. Now, Palgrave and Ashgate clearly know their business, but their many recent and forthcoming publications in this area suggest that a saturation point has been reached. It is hard to imagine that scholarship in this area can continue to grow, particularly at the pace we have witnessed. When research becomes, as it must, ever more specialized, it is difficult to imagine that hiring committees will be able to make arguments for candidates whose strengths lie further and further afield from language and from the material practice of story and song. Even in a climate that has seen interdisciplinarity become the norm, how can English departments justify their existence when remaking themselves as departments of cultural history? This is a real as well as a rhetorical question, and the answers to it will help to determine how, and in what form, global criticism will develop.

[38]  A Companion to the Global Renaissance: English Literature and Culture in the Era of Expansion presents us with a mixed bag. A few of the essays are quite good, but many could have benefited from more editorial oversight. As a collection, it teaches us that, when translated into an interest in coins, spices, flowers, wine, or animals, new historicism’s focus on small things looks the same whether the Thames or the Ganges is in play. It also reminds us that criticism no less than culture itself is an imitative practice, and that all trends ultimately give way to other trends. This Companion thus comes to us, as most in its genre do, as a sign that the field will soon be sailing in a different direction.

University of Texas