The Literature of the Personal Rule: March 1629 to April 1640
The Making of the Caroline Court
Surprisingly for institutions that apparently embody in extreme form tradition and continuity, English royal courts, even into our own age, have proved singularly responsive to the preferences and priorities of reigning monarchs. Kevin Sharpe’s magisterial study, on which this section substantially depends, has demonstrated the immediacy of Charles I’s transformation of the conduct of the court he inherited from James. Even before his father’s funeral, the Venetian ambassador reported:
[T]he king observes a rule of great decorum. The nobles do not enter his apartments in confusion as heretofore, but each rank has its appointed place.… The king has also drawn up rules for himself, dividing the day from his very early rising, for prayers, exercises, audiences, business, eating and sleeping. It is said that he will set apart a day for public audience and he does not wish anyone to be introduced to him unless sent for. (Quoted in Sharpe 1992: 210—11)
The relative ease of entrée that characterized his father’s court gave way to careful regulation of admission from the entrance gate through to the royal bedchamber. Charles’s own sexual conduct, over the whole reign and indeed before his succession, occasioned relatively little adverse comment, even from parliamentarian and regicide apologists in the 1640s and 1650s. In his Defensio pro populo Anglicano (1651), John Milton, viewing sceptically the cultural agenda of the court, asserted that ’even in the theatre [Charles] kisses women wantonly, enfolds their waists and… plays with the breasts of maids and mothers’ (IV.i; Milton 1953—82:408). Probably he was alluding to the eroticizing of court entertainments, to which we turn shortly. But in sharp contrast, Lucy Hutchinson, another republican and the spouse of a regicide and Cromwellian officer, praised Charles’s transformation of his court explicitly in terms of his correction of the sexual mores of the Jacobean period: ’The face of the court was much changed in the king, for King Charles was temperate and chaste and serious, so that the fools and bawds, mimics and catamites of the former court grew out of fashion’ (Hutchinson 1995: 67).
Such changes could be effected without significant expenditure and with the household members already in post. Yet while Buckingham lived, he retained his obvious control of a complex system of patronage, which flowed ultimately from the throne, though its origins were occluded by the mighty presence of the duke. Buckingham also kept out of the king’s immediate circle some significant figures of the personal rule. The Earl of Arundel, for example, avoided the court till after Buckingham’s death, when his enormous influence on the king’s artistic taste and enthusiasms developed fully. Most accounts attribute to Buckingham some role in the relative estrangement between Charles and Henrietta Maria in the early years of their marriage. Three months after his death, the poet Thomas Carew, whose duties as a gentleman of the bedchamber included lighting the king’s way on nocturnal visits to the queen’s bedchamber, noted that ’we find their master and mistress at such a degree of kindness as he would imagine him a wooer again and her gladder to receive his caresses than he to make them’ (quoted in Sharpe 1992: 170—1).
The most tangible manifestation of this new affection was their abundant fertility: four sons and five daughters, born in 1629, 1630, 1631, 1633, 1636, 1637, 1639, 1640 and 1644. Throughout the personal rule, Henrietta Maria was ’almost constantly gravid or recovering from childbirth’; ’the paradigm at the centre of Caroline culture’, pervasively, obtrusively and inescapably, was ’highly sexual, prolific marriage’ (Coiro 1999: 26—7). The ’royal pair’ were celebrated as a couple and as consorts in monarchy in ways that wholly eluded James I and Anne of Denmark. Politically, the phenomenon adjusted the balance of power; the queen shaped the careers of courtiers. She influenced foreign policy to a limited degree: her first pregnancy in January 1629 was said to have made the king ’very forward to have a peace’ with France (Wilcher 2001: 9). She established her own networks of patronage, and secured some freedom of worship for her Catholic co-religionists. In terms of cultural ideology, the celebration of the royal couple set the agenda for masque-writers and court poets.
By the mid-1630s, Charles had overseen the development of the most vibrant and coherent court culture in the post-medieval history of England. The process was eased by the political breathing space he won through the cessation of hostilities with Spain and France. Richard Weston, Earl of Portland, steered the Treasury from the bankruptcy of the late 1620s to a position where the king could live comfortably within his means without recourse to calling parliaments with their concomitant disputes. As long as Charles eschewed resort to arms he could survive without engagement in popular politics, though he remained concerned with the Palatinate question and closely observant of the shifting fortunes in the Thirty Years War. Once France entered in 1635, an active alliance seemed for a while quite likely (Sharpe 1992: 598), though in the event England never became embroiled in a conflict that would continue till 1648. That England was a country privileged among nations by its peace became the second theme of court ideology.
Charles was an aesthete rather than an intellectual, though his interests were varied — indeed, almost comprehensive — and some predated his accession by a considerable time. He dropped from the repertoire of kingship its vestigial machismo. Unlike his late and lamented brother, Charles as a young man had found martial display rather challenging. At the age of 16, at the tilt to commemorate his creation as Prince of Wales, he ’was not strong enough to put on an impressive display, so his opponents had to hold back lest they outshone him’ (Carlton 1995: 17). Though he trained hard and appeared to great acclaim in the tilts of 1620, these neo-medieval jousts, traditionally though not exclusively held to mark the anniversary of royal accessions, were gradually discontinued in the last years of James’s reign, and no further accession-day tilts were held after the accession of Charles I. In J. S. A. Adamson’s phrase, ’The tournament knight had had his day’ (1994: 165). In its place, Charles developed a rather different image of chivalry, one that placed the monarch more centrally. Of course, in the tiltyard, the king or his sons were supposed to look good, though the illusion (or reality) was hard won.
Charles, however, radically reformed another medieval legacy, the Garter Festival held on St George’s Day, removing it from London to Windsor and in the process rendering it less a public spectacle and more a closed caste-ritual with the figure of the monarch surrounded by the most senior of his loyal subjects. In the process, he invested it with a new piety and ceremonialism (Strong 1972: 59—63; see also Corns 1992: 74). Thus, it became a bonding exercise with the king as its focus. The Garter cult and the celebration of the ’royal pair’ intersect ingeniously in the Landscape with St George and the Dragon, a product of Peter Paul Rubens’s first visit to England and painted circa 1630 (and variously well discussed by Howarth 1997: 72—4; Strong 1972; 60—1; and Veevers 1989: 189—90). At the centre of a sombre landscape of devastation and suffering, brilliantly illuminated and attended by putti, stand Charles in the figure of St George and Henrietta Maria as the maiden newly delivered from the dragon that lies slain at his feet. The Caroline inflection of chivalry has generated an island of love, light and peace in a world manifesting horrors akin to those contemporaneously suffered in much of continental Europe. Strong calls it ’a fairy-tale picture’, but within the symbolic mode it represents honestly enough the irenic aspirations realized at the height of the personal rule: an England at peace could indeed be distinguished by a stable court culture centred on the royal couple.
Painting, however, was Charles’s second artistic enthusiasm. Music was his first. He was a skilled performer on the bass viol. (This account rests on the summary in Wainwright 1999; see also Holman 1993; Spink 1986; and Walls 1996). After he was created Prince of Wales, he established an ensemble of seventeen musicians within his household and employed four of the most eminent composers of consort music: Alfonso Ferrabosco the younger, John Coprario, Orlando Gibbons and Thomas Lupo. In 1622 he formed a violin and viol ensemble. Within his household there developed innovations in instrumental music, of which Jonathan Wainwright concludes: ’The importance of these court consort pieces cannot be overestimated, for they stand at the head of a tradition that was to culminate in the trio sonatas of Purcell, and, as such, perhaps herald the beginnings of the English musical Baroque’ (1999: 163). James, too, had kept a relatively large musical ensemble, which Charles merged with his own on his accession, retaining all but a handful of his own musicians. Though the composers he had first patronized died in the late 1620s, the retention of Nicholas Lanier, Robert Johnson and William Lawes and the emergence and development of Henry Lawes safeguarded the place of the King’s Music at the leading edge of English performance and composition. Charles also invested liberally in the music of the Chapel Royal. Its prestige and attractive rates of pay ensured the retention of excellent singers served by fine composers and provided in both repertoire and performance standards ’a model for cathedrals and collegiate establishments to follow’ (Wainwright 1999: 167).
Music was at the heart of the cultural life of Charles’s court, part of the daily experience of the king, his consort and their courtiers. Choral work was performed on a limited scale in the ceremonies of morning and evening worship and on a grander scale on Sundays and major festivals. Secular music provided intimate song for private chambers, more complex pieces for larger occasions and a regular supply of instrumental music, not least for dance. Of course, the royal composers, musicians and singers, supplemented with performers from the London waits and theatres, played a central part in masques. In terms of cultural production, the King’s Music was distinctive because it was a permanent part of the royal household; these were paid retainers, recipients, not just of fitful rewards and intermittent patronage, but of a regular and reliable salary.
Charles’s interest in the visual arts was complex and developed more slowly. The English elite came late to connoisseurship and art collecting. While Italian and princely courts, and thereafter the several courts of the Habsburg dynasty, had acquired large collections by the late sixteenth century, Protestant English aristocrats found continental travel, and especially visiting Rome, too vexed and thus could not enjoy exposure to the genius of elsewhere much-prized artists, especially of the cinquecento (see Brown 1995: esp. chs 1 and 2). English connoisseurship begins no earlier than the 1610s with Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, a Catholic whose continental travels and immense wealth, brought to him by a lucrative marriage, stimulated the accumulation of large numbers of major works:
According to the 1655 inventory — which of course reflects a mid-seventeenth-century view of attributions, many of which would now be considered excessively optimistic — there were some thirty-six paintings by Titian, nineteen Tintorettos, seventeen Veroneses, sixteen paintings attributed to Giorgione, a dozen or so Raphaels, eleven Correggios, and a remarkable twenty-five pieces by Parmigianino, five Leonardos … and forty-three paintings by Holbein. (Parry 1981: 117)
The Duke of Buckingham, perhaps unsurprisingly, entered the market in a competitive vein, assembling a network of agents to put together a major collection with extraordinary alacrity. Jonathan Brown surmises, ’Unlike Arundel, who was steeped in knowledge and imbued with the love of art, Buckingham seems, at least initially, to have regarded collecting as one among other attributes of noble status’ (Brown 1995: 24; Howarth 1997: esp. ch. 7).
Charles developed, I think, something of Arundel’s connoisseurship, his genuine enthusiasm if not his depth of knowledge, combined with Buckingham’s ambition and organizational awareness. Moreover, in pursuit of the Spanish Match, he had visited with Buckingham the greatest collection of them all at the court of Philip IV of Spain, where ’they had arranged for a team of experts to join them’ (Brown 1995: 35). That group included the principal agents used by both Buckingham and Charles. In 1627 Charles seized the opportunity to overtake both rivals through the purchase, for about £16,000, of a sizeable part of the collection of the Gonzaga family, Dukes of Mantua, both quantitatively and qualitatively a turning point in the management of his collection. Through the 1630s, the rate of acquisition slowed markedly, though Charles continued to purchase particularly sixteenth-century art selectively. By 1649, when the republican government of the Rump Parliament in its ignorant venality dumped the now confiscated collection on the art market, the inventory totalled 1,570 pictures.
That number also included new works of art commissioned by the king. He understood well the role of celebrity painters at the Habsburg courts and their importance in establishing an appropriate royal image. Indeed, Titian’s imposing full-length portrait, Charles V with a Hound, was among the gifts he brought home with him from Madrid (Brown 1995: 37). As John Peacock puts it, ’It was important to secure the services of artists whose portrayal of the ruler would be powerful and persuasive, who could command a visual language which would be intelligible on a European scale. In early seventeenth-century England this meant employing foreigners’ (1999: 220). The accomplished Dutch portraitist, Daniel Mytens, had worked in London since 1618, in part under the patronage of Arundel, and had been taken up by Charles while still Prince of Wales. James had awarded him a pension, and in all Charles spent almost £1,800 on his services (Peacock 1999: 221; Smuts 1996b: 104), mainly for portraits of himself and his queen. He was nudged aside early in the personal rule by Anthony Van Dyck, a pupil of Rubens whose ’prodigious talent had been enhanced by his cosmopolitan experience’ (Peacock 1999: 226); Mytens had been in England too long. Van Dyck definitively fixed the image of Charles and his family in all its complexity. Thus, Charles I riding through a triumphal arch and Charles I on horseback show an imperious figure, controlling a mighty horse much as he controlled his people, at once in armour but poised and restrained, capable of striking but aloof and loath to do so, while a more relaxed figure, poised but at ease, appears in Charles I à la chasse. The royal pair are celebrated in Charles I and Henrietta Maria, where, in a motif first used by Mytens, she hands him the victor’s laurels while herself holding the olive of peace (Strong 1972: 72—3). Group portraits, like Charles I and family or Children of Charles I, record their fecundity. In all, Charles spent about £2,500 on Van Dyck, whom he also knighted (Smuts 1996b: 104).
The largest single purchase from a living artist was the set of panels for the third Banqueting House at Whitehall, still arguably the finest painted surface in England, for which Rubens received £3,000. The commission, which may have been to a plan drawn up by Inigo Jones, the architect of the building, was placed while Rubens was in England in 1629—30. The ideological implications of the ceiling are sometimes misunderstood: though the central panel depicts James hymned to his celestial rest, these pictures are, for the most part, depictions of struggle, not triumph. The union of England and Scotland, the subject of the panel nearest the staircase and an objective that had been high on James’s agenda, remained unaccomplished at the level of governance and constitution (though, of course, one monarch ruled both countries and claimed the title of King of Britain). It appears as an aspiration and a challenge to subsequent Stuart monarchs who pass beneath it. Again, the depiction of the benefits of peace acknowledges that James as rex pacificus, was right (and, by implication, Buckingham and Charles in their aggressive foreign policy had been wrong), that blessings do flow from peace and fill the national cornucopia. But once more, it is a scene of struggle. James casts down the forces of discord but they are not destroyed, a theme repeated in the allegorical depictions in the corner paintings. The state art of the personal rule depicts struggle, not triumph; adversarial forces must be met with eternal vigilance.
It is a mark of the relative importance of the visual arts in Charles’s value system that the rich vein of masquing which he and the queen engaged in during the early 1630s came abruptly to a halt during 1636—7 explicitly to protect the panels from smoke and condensation during the performances, though Jones’s wooden masquing house, ready by 1638, was a mighty structure and itself cost £2,500 (Orrell 1985: 149—59).
Charles’s patronage of the visual arts shows a competitive edge, a desire to outshine the aristocratic collectors, whose efforts stimulated his own enthusiasm. It shows, too, the international element within Caroline court culture. Organized, systematic and utterly elitist, these activities involved a very few participants, though of the highest calibre. The agents he employed had an expertise rare in England; sometimes they were diplomats, who were also art historians and critics; sometimes they were art historians and critics, who also functioned on occasion as diplomats. He employed only the finest living artists he could engage, recognizing that the journeymen who had worked in the early Jacobean court served ill the establishment and celebration of the royal image, and he rewarded them handsomely. But the services of the agents and artists he chose were competed for in a highly lucrative international market.
Most probably in an attempt to second Henrietta Maria’s efforts on behalf of English Roman Catholics, Pope Urban VIII allowed her to commission from Gian Lorenzo Bernini, by some way the greatest living sculptor and exclusively contracted to the Pope, a bust of Charles I, which he modelled from Van Dyck’s Triple Portrait of Charles I, painted for the purpose. Significantly, when eventually it arrived in 1637, Inigo Jones was on hand as it was unpacked, exclaiming, accurately enough, that it was ’a miracle’ (Parry 1981: 223—4; Peacock 1999: 217). Jones held a unique place within the complex structure of Caroline court culture, and actually lived in Somerset House, a royal palace.
Since the second decade of James I’s rule, he had been the favoured architect of the royal family and, as Surveyor-General of the Works, a salaried servant of the king. For long, to the virtual exclusion of all others, he had designed the sets and costumes of court masques and had evidently played a part in their conception; ’his ’’personal rule’’ over the masque productions began after the displacement of Ben Jonson in 1631’ (Peacock 1995: 325; and see below). John Peacock has latterly vindicated him from the customary charge of plagiarizing continental models, effectively demonstrating how his vigorous synthesis of the high culture, particularly of Italy and France, educated the Caroline court in new ways of representation and interpretation in the visual arts. He was astonishingly accomplished, perhaps most enduringly as an architect. The exterior of his late Jacobean triumph, the third (and still extant) Banqueting House at Whitehall seems diminished by the ministerial buildings that now surround it, though the carefully proportioned ’double cube’ of its interior perfectly complements the Rubens ceiling. His best work of the personal rule is the Queen’s House at Greenwich, restrained, with a striking unity of design and, in its own day, an obvious utility; so many accounts labour the pomp of the Caroline court, but this is a building on a human scale. In both projects his claims as the major influence in the development of English Palladianism are amply substantiated. In Graham Parry’s phrase, he contributed ’a serene dignity’ to the early Stuart monarchy (1981: 163). Extraordinarily, Ben Jonson apparently thought that Charles, constrained to choose for retention between himself and Jones, would choose him, for the latter’s role was pivotal to the king’s cultural agenda.
Writers relate rather differently to the economy of cultural production in court circles. Jonson had been salaried by James, a pension of almost £67, which Charles increased to £100 in 1630, and he succeeded Middleton as City Chronologer, the remuneration for which was paid only fitfully. In the years before his death (in 1637) he looked increasingly to the patronage of the Earl of Newcastle. Among the later generation of court writers, none was directly salaried for work in that role, though Thomas Carew became a gentleman of the king’s privy chamber in 1628 and subsequently Sewer in Ordinary, a member of staff responsible for overseeing the ceremonies and protocols when the king dined. Charles, apparently, quite liked his company, holding ’a high opinion of his wit and abilities’ (DNB 1975). Robert Herrick had accompanied Buckingham as chaplain on the Isle of Re expedition, and the living he held from 1629 at Dean Prior, Devon, and on which he depended, was in the gift of the king (Moorman 1910: 87). William Davenant, who wrote for the professional theatre, seems to have secured no court office during the personal rule, despite being ’a hanger about court’ and the intimate of such prominent court officials as Henry Jermyn, the queen’s vice-chamberlain (DNB 1975). Aurelian Townsend (or Townshend) may perhaps have been a gentleman of the privy chamber (DNB 1975) though he seems mostly to have depended on the patronage of the Earl of Bridgewater, with whose household he was connected (Townsend 1983: 13). Sir John Suckling’s father had assembled a fortune, which he inherited in 1627, and Edmund Waller not only inherited a considerable fortune but also in 1630 made a highly lucrative marriage (DNB 1975).
The production of literature was not funded and institutionalized like other aspects of Caroline court culture. Rather, it originated within a social grouping probably unique within English literary history, a cluster of poets who either looked to the court for preferment or associated themselves with the court as the fit setting for youngish men of extravagant means. They shared the values of the king. They perceived his role as central to their view of the world, and they viewed their own status as dependent on their proximity to the monarch. Theirs, however, was a second-rank cultural activity, less pervasive than music, less evidently valued and promoted by the king and queen. Certainly, they knew each other, wrote to and against each other and were sometimes, evidently, friends, but they belonged to a more than literary cultural system in which they were generally the junior partners. Masque and song, those essentially collaborative and interdisciplinary forms, were their finest achievements, and much of their other writing, at its best, was occasional, social or dialogic.
Masques of the Personal Rule
At least nine royal masques were staged during the personal rule, four danced by each of the royal pair and a final masque danced by them both: in 1631 Love’s Triumph through Callipolis (the king’s masque) and Chloridia (the queen’s masque), both scripted by Jonson; in 1632 Albion’s Triumph (the king’s masque) and Tempe Restored (the queen’s masque), both scripted by Townsend; in 1634 Coelum Britannicum (the king’s masque), scripted by Carew; in 1635 The Temple of Love (the queen’s masque); in 1638 Britannia Triumphans (the king’s masque) and Luminalia (the queen’s masque); and in 1640 Salmacida Spolia (danced by both the king and the queen). Of these, Davenant scripted the last four.
Innovation within an established format characterized this series. There are three pairs of responding masques, in 1631, 1632 and 1638. The king’s and queen’s masques are subtly gendered, differentiating the manly heroism of Charles, who variously ’triumphs’, from the gentler manifestation of Henrietta Maria. Erica Veevers analyses the contrast perceptively:
In the King’s masques, the discovery of the masquers is associated with images of civic order, or with the rugged ’earthy’ aspects of nature: the ’stately temple’ in Albion’s Triumph, a cave in the Mountain of the Three Kingdoms in Coelum Britannicum, the Palace of Fame in Britannia Triumphans, and the throne in Salmacida Spolia, which is placed in a setting of ’craggy rocks and inaccessible mountains’ representing ’the difficult way which heroes are to pass ere they come to the Throne of Honour’…. In the Queen’s masques the discovery is associated with pleasant aspects of nature or with ’heavenly’ scenes…. Jones’s complementary sets of stage images reinforced visually the basic dualities of Neoplatonism, of masculine and feminine, body and spirit, earth and heaven. The uniting of these complementary qualities at the end of each masque represented an ideal unity, which was reinforced by the harmonious union of King and Queen. (Veevers 1989: 119)
Jones and his series of collaborators work with a different palette for each royal masquer. The pairing of masques occasioned changes in scheduling: the king danced on Twelfth Night, the favoured masquing day for earlier Stuart masques, whereas the queen danced at Shrovetide, a feast recognized in English custom but no doubt familiar to her as Carnival. (In 1634 when there was only one masque, the king danced at Shrovetide; in 1640 they danced together on Twelfth Night.) The schedule of nine masques may have been shaped in part by the queen’s eight confinements during the personal rule; only in two calendar years did she both masque and give birth, and on both occasions at least six months intervened. This is a new kind of masquing ethos, one of studied and affectionate reciprocity between the king and queen and their respective households.
Technical innovations abounded as Jones ceaselessly refreshed the genre. In Albion’s Triumph, instead of retiring with his company at the end of the masque, Charles joined Henrietta Maria on a double throne (Orgel and Strong 1973: I, 457). In Tempe Restored, women singers appeared on the English stage apparently for the first time (ibid.: II, 479). For Britannia Triumphans and the masques that followed, the new purpose-built masquing house was used, which ’gave scope for the development of scenic machines more elaborate than any that had been used in London’ (Orrell 1985: 150). In Luminalia the range of nonprofessionals involved in the performance was extended to include non-aristocratic members of the queen’s household: Jeffrey Hudson, her dwarf and various ’gentlemen of quality’ presented some of the antimasques (Orgel and Strong 1973: II, 707). Salmacida Spolia was the only Stuart masque danced by both king and consort.
Thematically, one concept dominates: the celebration of the profoundly and explicitly eroticized version of married chastity which is at the centre of Caroline court culture. Chloridia, the queen’s first masque, ends with Chloris-Henrietta Maria commended to Charles in a song acclaiming her as,
the queen of flowers,
The sweetness of all showers,
The ornament of bowers,
The top of paramours.
(ll.269—72; Orgel and Strong 1973: II, 422)
’Paramour’ had long since developed its rather dubious connotations, and the OED cites this as its last occurrence in the sense of ’the object of chivalric admiration and attachment’ (s.v. ’Paramour’ sb. 2.c. and 3; Corns 1998: 61). Jonson no doubt knew exactly how he was redefining sexual love in Caroline terms.
But most masques of the personal rule close in the same way, with a final song ushering the royal pair to their fecund bed. The ’last general chorus’ blesses
Mary-Charles, whose minds within
And bodies make but Hymen’s twin,
Long live they so, and breast to breast,
May angels sing them to their rest.
(ll.443—8; Orgel and Strong 1973: II, 458)
’Breast to breast’ invited the audience to imagine the royal couple in an intimate embrace. Townsend’s presumably inadvertent but still ominous echo of Horatio’s farewell to the dead Hamlet (V.ii.374) perhaps passed unremarked. The closing exchange of Coelum Britannicum dwells on ’the ripe fruits of your chaste bed, / Those sacred seeds of love’ (ll.1128—9; Orgel and Strong 1973: II, 580). The final song of Britannia Triumphans beds not only king and queen, but the whole court in a paroxysm of conjugal coupling:
Wise Nature, that the dew of sleep prepares
To intermit our joys and ease our cares,
Invites you from these triumphs to your rest.
May every whisper that is made be chaste,
Each lady slowly yield, yet yield at last,
Her heart a prisoner to her lover’s breast!
To wish our royal lover more
Of youthful blessings than he had before
Were but to tempt old Nature ’bove her might,
Since all the odour, music, beauteous fire
We in the spring, the spheres, the stars admire
Is his renewed, and bettered every night!
To bed, to bed, may every lady dream
From that chief beauty she hath stolen a beam
Which will amaze her lover’s curious eyes!
Each lawful lover to advance his youth
Dream he hath stol’n his vigour, love and truth,
Then all will haste to bed, but none to rise!
(ll.627—44; Orgel and Strong 1973: II, 667)
King and queen function as an aphrodisiac paradigm for other couples, who may revive themselves by ’stealing’ some of the youthful vigour of the royal pair. (Charles by now was approaching 40!)
Jonson’s quarrel with Jones, probably an area of tension since their earliest collaborations, had at its source the relative precedence of spectacle and script, though the immediate casus belli was Jones’s protest at his name appearing second on the title page of Love’s Triumph through Callipolis and the subsequent omission of his name altogether from the title page of Chloridia (Jonson 1985: 721). Jonson wrote three verse satires, which, though unprinted in his lifetime, presumably enjoyed a manuscript circulation in influential circles where both were familiar. They mix an argument about content over performance with a personal vindictiveness:
O Showes! Showes! Mighty Showes!
The Eloquence of Masques! What need of prose
Or Verse, or Sense t’expresse Immortal you?
You are ye Spectacles of State!
(’An Expostulac[i]on w[it]h Inigo Jones’, ll.39—42; Jonson 1925—52: VIII, 403)
But spectacle is at the core of masque, which shares some of its key characteristics with those other essentially symbolic and visual genres, the triumph, the pageant, the entry and the show. After Jonson, Jones increased the pyrotechnics, elaborating the scene design and the stage machinery. In the new masquing house, for example, in Britannia Triumphans the actor in the role of the mythological hero Bellerophon rode Pegasus ’with large white wings’ into the middle of the room, while hell disappeared, a forest with a castle appeared, a palace was disclosed and then sank, to be replaced with a seascape (Orgel and Strong 1973: II, 664—7). There was considerable justice in Davenant’s prefatory comment on Luminalia:
the Queen commanded Inigo Jones, surveyor of her majesty’s works, to make a new subject of a masque for herself, that with high and hearty invention might give occasion for variety of scenes, strange apparitions, songs, music, and dancing of several kinds, from whence doth result the true pleasure peculiar to our English masques, which by strangers and travelers of judgement are held to be as noble and ingenious as those of any other nations. (ll.1—9; Orgel and Strong 1973: II, 706).
In spectacle inhered the principal pleasure for spectators and much of the pleasure for royal and aristocratic participants. Modern responses to Stuart masques have concentrated on wringing from them their ideological significance. Yes, of course, masque was a celebration of power, it proclaimed the centrality of the monarch, it showed his wealth to his subjects and impressed foreign ambassadors. Its political content and values were certainly not trivial. But primarily it functioned as part of a festive season. It afforded the king or queen the opportunity to bond with a close circle of aristocratic courtiers, not least in the time-consuming rehearsal of their dance routines. Charles and Henrietta Maria masqued because they enjoyed it.
Caroline masque differed little from Jacobean in terms of its political thesis: the regal and heroic virtue of the masquers dismisses, but does not destroy, the riotous threat usually posed by the antimasque. The point is both optimistic — goodness wins with little struggle, in a sense just by turning up — and realistic — the forces of evil are always there to be engaged with and neutralized; we see a principal theme of the Rubens ceiling given a dramatic expression. Jonson’s antimasques sometimes veered towards low mimesis or political satire, and his last script showed him at his most wordy. In the scripts of his successors, the antimasquers usually pose a vaguer sort of threat, as when, in Salmacida Spolia, ’Discord, a malicious fury, appears in a storm and by the invocation of malignant spirits, proper to her evil use, having already put most of the world into disorder, endeavours to disturb these parts, envying the blessings and tranquillity we have long enjoyed’ (ll.1—5; Orgel and Strong 1973: II, 730). The theme restates the Caroline appropriation of Jacobean irenicism, though, appropriately in an England already in conflict with the king’s Scottish subjects, it does so in a rather beleaguered way. Charles and his aristocratic companions well knew by then that regal virtue, to prevail, needed to do rather more than merely disclose itself.
Did masquing shape the course of Caroline politics? Almost certainly not. To the enemies of the court and especially to some of a Puritan disposition it could be represented as conspicuous and wasteful consumption and as indecorous or scandalous. As late as 1660, John Milton, whose own masque we shall turn to shortly, was frightening Puritan backsliders with a nightmare vision of a restored Stuart court, ’a dissolute and haughtie court … , of vast expence and luxurie, masks and revels, to the debaushing of our prime gentry both male and female’ (Milton 1953—82: VII; rev. edn: 425). But the morality and aesthetics of early Stuart court entertainments probably outraged nobody who had not already taken a hostile view of more pivotal issues like religious policy or foreign affairs or the raising of revenue without recourse to parliament. I doubt that anyone took up arms in 1642 because they disliked the queen’s décolletage. Nor should the impact of masquing on the royal budget be overstated. Demonstrating that Caroline masques typically cost in the range of £900—1,200, Stephen Orgel and Sir Roy Strong sternly remark, ’After the gaiety and revelry, the dancing and feasting, came the reckoning’ (1973: 46—7). But latterly Kevin Sharpe and Malcolm Smuts have set the cost of the Caroline cultural agenda in a rather different perspective. By the mid-1630s, the king’s costs totalled annually about £600,000, with £135,000 going on the royal households, £130,000 on pensions and even £26,000 on the royal wardrobe. As Sharpe notes, ’In the big picture of Caroline finance, the annual sums spent on the allegedly profligate expense of masques … cannot be said to loom large’ (1992: 127—8). The cost of masques pale into insignificance in comparison with other kinds of regal display: the funeral of James I, for example, cost about £40,000. But the most unbearable cost for a Stuart king was the cost of going to war. The Spanish conflict cost about £1,000,000 in 1625 (Smuts 1996b: 94, 103). Putting an expeditionary force into the field or launching the fleet cost a thousand times more than putting on a masque (though, in the interests of balance, we should reflect that an agricultural day-labourer would have had to work about 130 years of six-day weeks to recoup the cost of a single masque).
Four other entertainments, not strictly royal masques, require some comment: A Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle (1634), considered below in the section ’Early Milton’; The Triumph of Peace (1634) by Inigo Jones and James Shirley; and Ben Jonson’s two entertainments written for the Earl of Newcastle, The Kings Entertainment at Welbeck (1633) and Loves Welcome at Bolsover (1634).
Jonson’s texts formed part of the hospitality offered by the earl to the king on his way to Scotland and on a second occasion when he was entertained with the queen. Both strongly reflect the regionality of the production at major country estates of a very significant magnate. According to the Earl of Clarendon, writing in the Restoration, Newcastle spent £20,000 on the two events (DNB 1975), though it is difficult to believe that the entertainments themselves accounted for much of that, insofar as we may judge from the extant texts. Together, they show the flexibility of the courtly entertainment. In the former, Charles is entertained by a sung ’Dialogue betweene the Passions, Doubt and Love’, before being waylaid by a sort of antimasque en route to his horse. In the latter, the king and queen are entertained at a banquet by a three-part song; they then retire to watch an antimasque, and are served a ’second Banquet set downe before them from the Cloudes by two Loves’, who entertain them with a dialogue that is finally interrupted by a long prose speech from Philalethes (’love of truth’ or ’lover of truth’).
Both texts are true to Jonson’s late Jacobean style of masque-writing: there are sweet lyrics, a great deal of long prose speeches and both low mimesis and satire in the antimasques. Spectacle would seem to have been in fairly short supply, though there are fantastic costumes and wild dancing. Jonson remains unrestrained in the demonstration of learning. The Welbeck script has as an inkhorn character, a Mansfield schoolmaster called Mr Accidence. We have a sense of the road not taken in Caroline court masque, of what the later masques of the personal rule might have been like if Jonson, not Jones, had emerged as the favourite of the king and queen for making masques. In most respects, however, the writer remained as scrupulous as ever in respecting the values and aspirations of the monarch. The king, on his way to his very belated Scottish coronation, is represented as reviving, in some sense, the old Jacobean design for union:
O Sister Scotland! what hast thou deserv’d
Of joyfull England, giving us this King!
What Union (if thou lik’st) hast though not made
In knitting for great Britaine such a Garland?
And letting him, to weare it?
(ll.314—18; Jonson 1925—52: VII, 802)
Love’s Welcome at Bolsover has Eros and Anteros celebrate love as central to the style of the royal couple:
EROS It is the place, sure breeds it, where wee are,
ANTEROS The King, and Queenes Court, which is circular,
EROS The pure schoole that we live in,
And is of purer Love, the Discipline
(ll.135—8; Jonson 1925—52: VII, 812)
Yet Jonson was unforgiving of Inigo Jones, and the antimasque at Bolsover is led by the figure of ’Iniquo Vitruvius’, ’a Surveyour’, ’An Overseer’, ’A busie man! And yet I must seeme busier than I am’ (Jonson 1925—52: VII, 809). Under the protection of Newcastle, whose own partiality for the poet over the designer was evident, Jonson plainly felt licensed to question at least one decision of the king.
The Triumph of Peace, the most expensively staged masque of the period, was given by the four Inns of Court to the king and queen, nominally to celebrate the birth, in October 1633, of James, Duke of York. Early accounts link it to the recent scandal occasioned by Histriomastix (1633) by the Puritan and lawyer William Prynne, an attack on theatrical performance which was deemed to have slandered the queen. Possibly the masque functioned as a sort of lesson to the Inns in subservience, as an expensive gift required by the court that acknowledged the transcendent power of the monarch. But for the leaders of the legal profession there were plain advantages in making a declaration of loyalty and distancing themselves from their disgraced colleague. At the same time, the obvious and conspicuous wealth of the Inns of Court made a memorable display. Cooperation between the court and the Inns is evident in the use freely made of Inigo Jones and royal retainers from the King’s Music and the Queen’s Chapel (Orgel and Strong 1973: II, 537—45), though the choice of James Shirley to write the script shows some independence in their thinking. Shirley was a professional dramatist, not a courtier, and he had launched his career while resident in Gray’s Inn (DNB 1975). The antimasque represents, satirically, patent holders, the subject of complaint since the Jacobean period (see chapter 3), but the principal theme of the masque is wholly in accord with that of Caroline court masques. At the climax of the performance, ’the whole train of musicians’ approach the royal thrones and sing:
To you great King and Queen, whose smile
Doth scatter blessings through this isle,
To make it best
And wonder of the rest,
We pay the duty of our birth,
Proud to wait upon that earth
Whereon you move,
Which shall be named,
And by your chaste embraces famed,
The paradise of love.
(ll.609—18; Orgel and Strong 1973: II, 551—2)
Charles liked the masque so much that he ordered it to be played again to a predominately civic audience in Merchant Taylors’ Hall.
Music and Literature at the Caroline Court
Masques posed the most stimulating challenge to the King’s Music and the composers who wrote for it. But the 1630s was also the golden age of early modern English song, and Henry Lawes was its finest exponent. More than 430 of Lawes’s songs survive, and he set more than 40 poems by Carew and at least 14 by Herrick, as well as poems by Suckling, Waller and Lovelace (Spink 1986: 76, 94). With Nicholas Lanier, Lawes consolidated a transformation of English song, characterized by less obtrusive instrumentalism and a more declamatory singing style, approaching recitative. Thus, they completed a process Thomas Campion and others had begun earlier in the century. That renegotiation of the relationship of song to the rhythms of ordinary speech permitted the setting of poems while retaining the directness and clarity which characterize the verse of the Caroline court (ibid.: 76; see also Corns 1998: 58). As Milton claimed in his sonnet to Lawes, he ’taught our English music how to span / Words with just note and accent’ (’Sonnet XIII. To Mr H. Lawes, on his Airs’, ll.2—3; Milton 1997: 294—5).
After the exhilarating challenge posed by the love poetry of Shakespeare or Donne, Caroline verse can seem insipid and a little pedestrian, but poems that are to be set to music require metrical regularity and a straightforward comprehensibility. They need to be understandable when sung. They lend themselves to simulating a small number of familiar speech acts: the lover appeals to his mistress, the lover laments, the lover leaves his mistress, the lover recalls an erotic episode, the lover rehearses his mistress’s merits. Often the singer, in effect, assumes dramatically the role of the lover. A regular stanzaic form of no great complexity may facilitate the setting. ’The Night-piece, to Julia’ (Herrick 1956: 217) may seem a trivial little poem, but in performance its latent drama and genuine charm are readily apparent (Lawes 1993).
Similarly, on the printed page, Carew’s ’A Pastorall Dialogue’ appears at best a dull manifestation of the influence of French pastoralism and at worst aimless and confusing:
NY[MPH] Aye me stay!
SHEP For ever.
NY No, arise,
Wee must be gone.
SHEP My nest of spice.
NY My soule.
SHEP My Paradise.
CHO[RUS] Neither could say farewell, but through their eyes
Greife, interrupted speach with teares supplyes.
(Carew 1964: 46)
The poem was set by Henry Lawes (1669: 114—17; for a transcription, see Corns 1998: 68—71) and it has in recent times been plangently and affectingly recorded (Lawes 1988). In performance, the considerable structural ingenuity of the poem is apparent (Corns 1998: 59—60). It begins as if in medias res, as Nymph and Shepherd visit the scene of a lovers’ tryst. Singing together, they frame a dialogue within the dialogue, in which they act out the roles of the unknown lovers whose lives they parallel and whose sensibility they assume. The narrative component of the embedded scene is carried by a choric section where they sing together, and the framing is concluded by a final choric section, which offers a musical closure to match the dramatic closure. Lawes and Carew presumably worked together, and the composer’s contribution to the success of the piece is at least as great at the poet’s.
Themes, Occasions and Conversations
Poems of complement, directed to the king or queen, and presented variously as New Year gifts, commemorations of births and birthdays, or greetings on specific events, conform to the panegyric agenda of Caroline masque. Thus, references to the marriage bed and childbirth recur as the poets focus on the royal pair, their fertility and on the ’chastity’ of their union. Waller’s ’Puerperium’ (’childbed’) hails Henrietta Maria as ’Great Gloriana; fair Gloriana, / Bright as high Heaven is, and fertile as Earth’ (1645: 70). In Carew’s ’To the Queene’, she
shewes us the path
Of Modestie, and constant faith,
Which makes the rude Male satisfied
With one faire Female by his side;
Doth either sex to each unite,
And forme loves pure Hermophradite [sic].
(ll.13—18; Carew 1964: 90—1)
The symbolic economy of the court postulates a polarity between monogamous regal sexuality and sexual anarchy. Where a libertine note is struck, it is unsustained. Herrick’s ’A Vine’ on the unlikely topic of matutinal tumescence records a transient reverie: ’with the fancie I awok’ (l.21; Herrick 1956: 17). Many of his more erotic poems rehearse a voyeuristic sensibility of looking but not touching. Carew’s most extensive libertine exercise, ’A Rapture’, is again, explicitly, a fantasy set in ’Loves Elizium’, remote from ’the world’ as he and his readers know it (ll.2, 165; Carew 1964: 49—53; see Corns 1993b: 210—11), and it is balanced by poems moralizing on the importance of sexual continence among women, warning against ’Snaring Poems … spred, / All to catch thy maidenhead’ (’Good counsel to a young Maid’, ll.11—12; Carew 1964: 13).
In terms of international politics, the prevailing tendency is an endorsement of the king’s irenic policy. Davenant, in ’Madagascar’, while praising the military exuberance of Charles’s nephew, Prince Rupert, sought also to emphasize Charles’s own restraint: ’I saw thy Uncles anger in thy brow: / Which, like Heavens fire, doth seldom force assume’ (ll.244—5; Davenant 1972: 16). In a remarkable exchange of poems, Townsend’s ’Elegy on the death of the King of Sweden: sent to Thomas Carew’, urges him to join in lamenting the recent death of the King of Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus, in effect the leader in arms of continental Protestantism. It suggests, somewhat obliquely, that the role he leaves vacant is an appropriate one for a Protestant prince, like Charles, to assume:
Princes ambitious of renowne shall still
Strive for his spurres to helpe them up the hill;
His glorious gauntlets shall unquestioned lie
Till hands are found fit for a Monarchie …
(ll.33—6; Townsend 1983: 48)
The death of Gustavus was widely mourned among many of the English people who were trying to follow the course of the war, and it certainly exposed further the territories of Charles’s brother-in-law. But to those in the inner circles of government it was not without its compensations. Charles had permitted levies to be raised to aid him. Yet the Swedish king’s intransigence raised the suspicion that, if once he liberated the Palatinate, he would be reluctant to hand it over. As Sharpe summarizes the position, ’When Gustavus Adolphus met his end at the battle of Lutzen in November 1632, his death may have been mourned by the populace as that of a Protestant saint; for others it ended the threat of uncontrolled Swedish ambitions’ (Sharpe 1992: 82).
Carew responded with ’In answer of an Elegiacall Letter upon the death of the King of Sweden from Aurelian Townsend, inviting me to write on that subject’, the definitive poetic account of the blessings of peace during the personal rule (1964: 74—7). So vivid and comprehensive is the reply that Townsend’s statement seems rather like a ball tossed up for Carew to hit — or like an antimasque to be dismissed by the disclosure of the masquers. He reviews Gustavus’s victories but both reflects on the cost in human suffering — ’all her [’’the whole German continents’’] Cities doe but make his Tombe’ (ll.33—34) — and ponders that God’s providential working in the war is proving difficult to understand and is more powerful than any human agency — ’Let us to the supreame providence commit / The fate of Monarchs’ (ll.35—6). Meanwhile, in England,
let us that in myrtle bowers sit
Vnder secure shades, use the benefit
Of peace and plenty, which the blessed hand
Of our good King gives his obdurate Land
Tourneyes, Masques, Theaters, better become
Our Halcyon dayes; what though the German Drum
Bellow for freedome and revenge, the noyse
Concernes not us, nor should divert our joyes.
That resonant phrase, ’Our Halcyon days’, and its allusion to days so calm that the halycon could brood upon the sea, had a wider currency (’Puerperium’, Waller 1645: 70; see also Sharpe 1992: 610). Behind it lies James I’s favoured apophthegm, borrowed from Erasmus, ’Dulce bellum inexpertis’, ’war is sweet to those who haven’t tried it’.
That Carew should have written so important a poem as part of an apparent dialogue or exchange is wholly typical of court poetry in the 1630s, where there are numerous exchanges of various degrees of seriousness between poets within the coterie (Corns 1998: 56—7). Scores of other poems assume the form of speech acts directed to brother poets, sometimes in a spirit of literary rough play. Suckling’s effort among the prefatory poems to Madagascar: with Other Poems congratulates Davenant on the curious achievement of celebrating a victory in a context where the expedition has not yet been launched:
Thou (Will) do’st not stay
So much as for a Wind, but go’st away,
Land’st, View’st the Country, fight’st, put’st all to rout,
Before another cou’d be putting out!
(Davenant 1972: 7)
Suckling is the master of this idiom, scoring his most telling points against the rather sober and restrained figure of Carew, a reformed rogue. ’Upon T[homas] C[arew] having the P[ox]’ is an intimate, though scarcely friendly poem: ’Troth, Tom, I must confess I much admire / Thy water should find passage through the fire’ (ll.1—2; Suckling 1971a: 32). The amusing aspects of what sounds like gonococcal urethritis perhaps eluded the sufferer. Suckling’s most sustained sally against Carew, ’Upon my Lady Carliles walking in Hampton-Court garden’ (ibid.: 30—2), simulates a dialogue between the poets. Carew had addressed two lyrics to Lucy Hay, Countess of Carlisle, in an elevated idiom: ’Gums nor spice bring from the East, / For the Phenix in Her brest / Builds his funerall pile, and nest’ (’To the New-yeare, for the Countesse of Carlile’, ll.4—6; Carew 1964: 91; see also p. 32; also Suckling 1971a: 238). In his poem, Suckling has ’T. C.’ speak in a similar idiom, while ’J. S.’ cuts him down with a brutal simplicity: ’I must confesse those perfumes (Tom) / I did not smell’ (ll.10—11). In the process he interrogates both Carew’s idealizing sensibility and his poetic idiom.
Many occasional poems were written to or about aristocrats and courtiers who were not poets, often with great felicity. Carew’s well-judged epitaph for Maria Wentworth was adapted and inscribed on her tomb (1964: 56, 243). Slighter occasions also found commemoration, as in Suckling’s epigram ’Upon Sir John Laurence’s bringing Water over the hills to my Lord Middlesex his House at Wiston’ (1971a: 28). Jonson, of course, had written many poems to patrons, and continued to do so through the 1630s; Caroline court poets, however, eschewed the mixture of resentment and hungry edginess that sometimes characterized Jonson’s work. The point is eloquently made in a comparison of Carew’s ’To Saxham’ (1964: 27—9) and Jonson’s ’To Penshurst’, considered above (chapter 2). Both owe much to the Latin epigrammatist Martial, and particularly to poem lviii in his second book of epigrams, although Carew also knew Jonson’s poem (Carew 1964: 225). What is most significant, socially, is that Jonson adds to Martial’s genial poem of praise for an evident friend a sardonic account of how badly Jonson has been snubbed elsewhere, unlike at Penshurst, where the servants don’t mind what he eats and drinks. Carew, younger son of a knight, staying at the family home of an old friend John Crofts, also the younger son of a knight, like Martial simply writes like someone comfortable with his role; of course, the servants don’t treat him rudely.
From Manuscript to Print
Performance plainly had a central role in the delivery of the literary culture of the Caroline court. Song and masque remained its defining genres. As in the Jacobean period, the latter quickly found its way into print in the production of booklets, typically in quarto, that include the words sung and spoken, a list of the aristocratic participants, and a description of costumes, sets, machinery and actions. Those who succeeded Jonson as script writers usually continued his practice of taking responsibility for the printed text. No doubt these publications both gave to the elite participants and their audience a record of the event and allowed those outside that circle, courtiers not at court, country gentlemen, citizens, a window into that privileged world.
The court poetry we have been considering remained almost exclusively in manuscript circulation during the personal rule. Even when set to music, it remained within the performance repertoire of court musicians. Only William Davenant’s Madagascar: with Other Poems, was printed before 1640, probably both to praise publicly the recently arrived Prince Rupert and to talk up the planned colonial adventure to the island, in which he wished to play a leading part, and which was anticipated in the heroic title-poem (see Davenant 1972: 342—5 on the circumstances of its composition and publication). Caroline court poetry was writing by a coterie, for a coterie, and often about a coterie, though the works of Carew and Herrick, for example, leaked out into manuscript anthologies kept by outsiders (Love and Marotti 2002: 72—3).
Carew died in 1640 or thereabouts, and Suckling in 1641 or 1642. Waller was banished in 1643, though by then the king had long since left Whitehall, the war had begun and the court was itinerant and partially dispersed. In the context of this diaspora, poetry migrated from performance and manuscript circulation to the more portable medium of print. In the process, poems written in and about the personal rule, celebrations of those halcyon days, became incorporated in a new construct: Cavalier culture. Herrick, who remained in England and who continued to write, eschewed print until the publication of his mighty collection, Hesperides (1648), in which the verse of the personal rule was purposefully juxtaposed with later work suffused with the royalist experiences of the 1640s. But Carew, Suckling and even Waller had lost editorial control; as bookseller Humphrey Moseley, who published much of the best poetry to appear in print in the mid-century, observed of his edition of Waller, ’like the present condition of the Author himselfe, [his poems] are expos’d to the wide world, to travell, and try their fortunes’ (Waller 1645: sig. A4v).
The title page of Suckling’s collected works (1646), published by Moseley, shows how the cultural life of the 1630s was reassessed and repositioned in the following decades: Fragmenta Aurea. A collection of all the Incomparable Peeces, Written by Sir John Suckling. And published by a Friend to perpetuate His Memory. Printed by his owne Copies. ’Fragmenta Aurea’, that is, ’Golden Pieces’, are the broken, discontinuous remains both of a writer and of a culture which to its participants and admirers by the mid-1640s must have seemed lost for ever. ’Published by a Friend’ rehearses a topos of contemporary royalist ideology, the celebration of friendship and generosity towards those whose personal sacrifice mean they can never repay. Moseley’s edition of Waller (1645) recalls his place in court culture: the title page reminds browsers, ’all the Lyrick Poems in this Booke were set by Mr. HENRY LAWES Gent. of the Kings Chappell, and one of his Majesties Private Musick’. The title page of his ’third edition revised and enlarged’ of Carew (1651) — the first was in 1640 — notes he was ’Sewer in Ordinary to His late Majesty’ and that ’The Songs were set… by Mr. Henry Lawes Gent: of the Kings Chappell, and one of his late Majesties Private Musick’, thus recalling the dead king twice. In the 1640s and 1650s buying and reading these works was a political action, a defiant resistance to the domination of parliamentarian and republican ideologies and a perfectly safe way to manifest one’s loyalty. Moseley seems to have published the works of his list without censorship or prosecution. The critical task is to resist that tendency, which bundles the court poetry of the personal rule with the works of Lovelace and the later poems of Herrick into the ’movement’ or ’school’ of ’Cavalier poets’, separating them off from the vivid, singing world of the 1630s, the world of Jones, Lawes, Rubens and Van Dyck (Corns 1993b: 200—2; 1998: 51—4, 64—5).
But other verse was printed in the 1630s. Donne’s poetry had circulated in manuscript since the Elizabethan period and had been avidly collected over his long writing career. After his death, in 1631, a collected edition was prepared and published in 1633, with seven further editions by 1669. As a posthumous edition, the 1633 Donne volume continued a tradition which can be traced from John Skelton (died 1529; published 1568), through Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare and Daniel, in an age when collected editions of living authors were ’the exception rather than the rule’ (Marotti 1993: 70). Donne’s influence had been widely felt over the first quarter of the century, and he remained a formidable shaping presence in devotional poetry, both directly and more mutedly through his influence on Herbert (see below). Carew’s ’An Elegie upon the death of the Deane of Pauls, Dr. Iohn Donne’ (Carew 1964: 71—4) is as shrewd a critical essay as the seventeenth century produced on an English poet, but while Carew and his colleagues took from his secular verse attitudes, values and numerous topoi, theirs was a less challenging poetic idiom. Herbert’s poetry is considered below.
Plays and Players
The theatre history of the 1630s in part mirrored that of the 1620s. The King’s Men retained their pre-eminence and a major visitation of the plague closed theatres for a substantial period, after which some significant changes occurred among their rivals.
The King’s Men had, besides the patronage of the king, another material advantage. They alone had two venues. Mainly in the winter months, they used the smaller, ’private’ indoor theatre, the second Blackfriars, which they had occupied since the first decade of the century. It emerged as a place of fashionable (if sometimes rather disorderly) resort, and Henrietta Maria attended at least four performances there between 1634 and 1638 (Wickham et al. 2000: 527—8). In the summer, they favoured the second Globe, the larger ’public’ open-air theatre on the South Bank. The Queen’s Men remained at the Phoenix (or Cockpit, as it is sometimes called) in Drury Lane, a house owned and run until his death in 1638 by Christopher Beeston, a redoubtable entrepreneur who evidently secured his own position and probably continuing royal patronage through ’gift after gift’ to Sir Henry Herbert, the Master of the Revels. During the plague of 1636—7, when London theatres were closed, he displaced the Queen’s Men and replaced them with the King and Queen’s Young Company, again securing royal patronage. Unlike the earlier companies of boy actors, this was a regular adult company with a large number of boys, and ’part of its purpose was to train the boys as players’ (ibid.: 625). A third private playhouse, Salisbury Court, somewhat smaller than the other two indoor houses, opened in 1630 in an expensively converted barn. Significantly, this was the first and only playhouse substantially owned by court officers and courtiers: William Blagrave, deputy to Sir Henry Herbert, part owned the house, and, it has been surmised, Herbert himself may have had a share. The Queen’s Chamberlain was its landlord. Before the interruption for the plague, it was occupied in turn by ’the King’s Revels’, then the Prince of Wales’s Men, and then again the Revels. After the plague, the theatre was home to the reformed Queen Henrietta Maria’s Men, merging actors displaced from the Phoenix with some from the Revels (ibid.: 649—51).
These four theatres staged all of the new drama of the personal rule that attained critical acclaim in its own age or in ours. A fifth should be added: the Cockpit-at-Court, often the venue for command performances. Of outdoor, ’public’ theatres, other than the Globe, only the second Fortune and Red Bull seem to have functioned exclusively as playhouses through the 1630s, though the latter ’was increasingly seen as in an unfashionable part of the City and lacking the refinement of the private playhouses’ and the former ’housed a series of ’’shadowy’’ and undistinguished companies’ (ibid.: 566—7, 639).
The creative theatre certainly drew closer to the court in the 1630s. At its simplest, the royal pair enjoyed theatrical performance. Neither shrank, as James I had done, from the theatricality of performing in court masques, and the queen staged and acted in three amateur pastoral dramas to the sorts of audience that would have attended those masques. Their patronage of the major companies and the energetic efforts of their Master of the Revels ensured a frequency of court performances high enough to justify building their own — literally ’private’ — theatre in the burgeoning leisure complex that the palace at Whitehall became. Performance in the companies’ regular playhouses remained their core business, and the audiences there no doubt included very many from social classes that had patronized the King’s Men and the private theatres in the late Jacobean period. There is no evidence that Inns of Court men or prosperous citizens or visiting gentry changed their pattern of entertainment in the personal rule, and I see no evidence to counter Martin Butler’s influential argument that elements which, by 1640, proved opponents of the king or indeed, by 1642, enemies in arms against the king, may well have been in the audience of the Blackfriars or Salisbury Court or the Phoenix in the 1630s (Butler 1987, especially Appendix II). Nevertheless, the critical edge, the thirst for news, the anxieties and insecurities that were so characteristic of the drama of the 1620s (see above, chapter 3) were generally absent.
Thomas Middleton, who best exemplified those traits, had died in 1627. Jonson’s last two plays, The Magnetic Lady (1632) and a Tale of a Tub (1633), though currently subject to a revaluation that recognizes a continuing innovation remarkable under the tragic circumstances of their composition, did little to rehabilitate the author with contemporary audiences as an active and creative force in the Caroline theatre, though the early 1630s witnessed a renewed interest in some of his Jacobean plays, revived by the King’ s Men (van den Berg 2000: 10). Of Jonson’s generation of dramatists, Philip Massinger lived on till 1640 and remained successful. His best-known play from the 1630s, The City-Madam, premiered by the King’s Men in 1632, invites comparison with A New Way to Pay Old Debts (1626; considered above, chapter 3). The earlier play constructs a country ethic of reciprocal loyalties that is opposed to the appetitive immorality of the prosperous citizen, whose lust for social advancement is explicitly associated with the scandals surrounding Sir Giles Mompesson. In the later play, good men from the country aristocracy and gentry and from the prosperous merchant class combine to teach salutary lessons to rogues like Luke Frugal, a merchant who has squandered his own resource, and to spendthrift, snobbish social climbers like Lady Frugal and her daughters. Sir John Frugal concludes the play by admonishing his wife to know her place and to exemplify that moral:
Make you good
Your promis’d reformation, and instruct
Our city dames, whom wealth makes proud, to move
In their own spheres, and willingly to confess
In their habits, manners, and their highest port,
A distance twixt the city, and the court.
(5.3.150—5; Massinger 1964b: 88)
The distance between court and city may be confirmed, but that between country and city is eroded as Frugal’s daughters, with a new humility, accept marriage to a country gentleman and an aristocrat’s relatively impoverished son, leaving an altogether less tendentious social construct at the heart of the play than that posed in A New Way to Pay Old Debts.
The most striking newcomers to writing for the stage were indeed courtiers themselves, most significantly William Davenant, the royal pair’s favourite masque-writer, and Sir John Suckling. Suckling had started and abandoned a tragedy, The Sad One (published posthumously in 1659), and, though expensively staged, his first complete play, Aglaura (1638), retained a highly experimental quality. Indeed, though it first appeared as a tragedy, Suckling later supplied a radically different final act to turn it into a rather erotic tragi-comedy (’A bed put out: THERSAMES and AGLAURA on it’, s.d., Suckling 1971b: 108). Unlike other dramatists, Suckling evidently expected to lose, rather than make, money by his endeavours. The play, which was staged at court, no doubt in the Cockpit-at-Court, as well as at Blackfriars, was distinguished by its sumptuous costumes and — most unusually — by its scenery, perhaps designed by Inigo Jones, at a time when plays in the public and private theatres characteristically used a stage no more adorned than that which Shakespeare had known (Suckling 1971b: 261). Richard Brome, a professional writer to whom we turn shortly, hunted out the extravagance, which, of course, made little sense in terms of the usual economics of theatrical presentation, and in the prologue to his The Antipodes (1638) censured Suckling’s prodigality in subventing the production of his play:
Opinion, which our author cannot court
For the dear daintines of it, has of late
From the old way of plays possessed a sort
Only to run to those that carry state
In scene magnificent and language high,
And clothes worth all the rest, except the action.
(’The Prologue’, ll.1—5; Parr 1995: 221)
Suckling’s text was sought after among courtiers and their wider circle (Suckling 1971b: 253), and soon saw print, not as a typical playbook in densely printed quarto, but as an elegant presentation folio (Suckling 1638); again, I suspect Suckling may have subvented the printing. The play itself is sometimes regarded as a precursor to the heroic dramas of the Restoration. Atopical and ahistorical, it mixes an admirable paciness with extremes of implausibility, a deficiency Suckling probably recognizes and attempts to excuse:
THERSAMES That Ziriff was thy brother, brave Zorannes
Preserv’d by miracle in that sad day
Thy father fell, and since thus in disguise,
Waiting his just revenge.
AGLAURA You doe amaze me, Sir.
THERSAMES And must doe more, when I tell all the Storie.
The King …
(III.ii.27—32; Suckling 1971b: 64—5)
John Dryden credited Suckling with one significant dramatic innovation, and surprisingly it is a very technical one: ’almost every scene begins in the midst of a discourse, as if talk had been going on for some time before the actors walked on stage’ (Suckling 1971b: 256).
Davenant’s theatrical credentials were altogether more secure, and his later career carried him into a theatrical management before the Civil Wars, in the late 1650s, and after the Restoration (see below, chapters 5 and 6). Though his social aspirations were unremittingly towards the court, he had sometimes written plays through the late 1620s and 1630s. The Wits (1634) shows his considerable strengths. The play, a city comedy, endorses a major concern of early Stuart monarchs, and one that currently exercised Charles considerably, the drift of the heads of gentry and aristocratic families away from their provincial responsibilities and towards London abode:
To one proclamation Charles attached especial importance as a measure central to his quest for reform of local society by a reinvigoration of traditional modes of government. The proclamation, first published in 1626 and reissued in 1627 and 1632, commanded the nobility and gentry to leave London within forty days … It referred to the waste of gentry estates in the capital … , to the desirability of their maintaining wealth and power in the localities, most of all to the need for resident gentry governors in the counties. (Sharpe 1992: 414—15)
James had issued at least six such proclamations; the concern was of long standing. In The Wits, two heads of families, Palatine the Elder and Sir Morglay Thwack, who should be at home securing the wealth and governance of the nation, come up to London; as the former puts it:
O to live here, i’th fair Metropolis
Of our great Isle, a free Inheritor
Of ev’ry modest, or voluptuous wish,
Thy young desires can breathe; and not oblig’d
To ’ th Plough-mans toyls, or lazie Reapers swet …
(IV.i; Davenant 1665: 51)
Palatine’s younger brother, with the help of a mixed crew of heiresses, soldiers and watchmen, reduces them to their senses through a series of well-contrived practical jokes that produce salutary humiliations. But the play, more obliquely, endorses another concern of Caroline court ideology in its casual and dismissive perspective on the continental wars, developed in the dialogue between Young Palatine and Pert and Meager, two soldiers ’newly come from Holland’:
YO[UNG] PALLAT[INE] … Could …
A stiffe Iron Doublet …
Tempt thee from Cambrick sheets, fine active Thighs … ?
PERT Faith, we have been to kill, we know not whom,
Nor why: Led on to break a Commandement,
With the consent of Custom and the Laws.
It was Sir, nor Geographical fancie
(Cause in our Maps, I lik’d this Regioun here
More than that Country lying there) made me
Partial which to fight for.
YO. PALLAT True, sage Pert.
What is’t to thee whether one Don Diego
A Prince, or Hans van Holm, Fritter-seller
Of Bombel, do conquer that Parapet,
Redout, or Town, which thou nere saw’ st before?
PERT Not a brass Thimble to me …
(I.i; Davenant 1665: 1—2)
English troops had served with various Protestant armies throughout the period of the Thirty Years War, amid intermittent enthusiasm for committing the country to all-out war. Pert and Young Palatine echo in a satiric idiom some of the values and concerns of Carew’s response to Townsend: this is not England’s war, and who wins or loses doesn’t have a direct impact on English national interests. It is not mere pusillanimity (and Davenant in the 1640s was to have the most active war of any Caroline writer); a moral horror at the profession of killing strangers lurks beneath the tough façade of the dialogue.
In terms of theatre history, The Wits shows more strongly than Aglaura an anticipation of key elements of Restoration theatre, most particularly in the tone and idiom of youthful wits, who speak a tough, unsentimental but vivid language. Young Palatine tells his mates that his mistress, Lucy, is so chaste that she declines to sleep with him until he marries her: ’This baggage sleeps / Cross-legg’d, and the Devil has no more power / O’r that charm, then dead men ore their lewd Heirs’ (I.i; Davenant 1665: 7). Even in the decorous court of Charles and Henrietta Maria, the attitude, if not the world view, of Aphra Behn or Sir George Etherege was in the making.
James Shirley and Richard Brome wrote the most successful plays of the 1630s. Both were closely connected with particular playhouses and companies. Their plays, both in themes and in terms of their high dramaturgical competence, show considerable similarities. Both writers had evidently thought hard about the staging of multiple plots, about fine-grained engagement with contemporary events, and about refreshing the depiction of London life with a new attention to topographical detail. Typically, their principal characters are drawn from the leisured classes of an emerging beau monde, though Brome ranges more widely. Both had evidently studied vintage Jonson to considerable advantage.
Shirley had worked for the Phoenix in Drury Lane since the mid-1620s and remained associated with the Queen’s Men till the theatres closed in 1636 when he moved to Dublin where the Werbergh Street theatre had recently opened, returning to London to join the King’s Men in 1640 (Shirley 1987: xii—xiii). Hyde Park (1632) is wonderfully structured. Like The Alchemist, it keeps multiple plots ingeniously intertwined, and like Bartholomew Fair it brings them together at a scene of social resort for a wide mix of people, in this case the Hyde Park race course where the beau monde could meet the demi-monde. In a coup de théâtre, a horse race is represented as taking place just off stage, while characters exit to place bets, to watch it, to return with reports and to respond to the result. Pepys saw a Restoration revival in which horses were actually brought on stage (Shirley 1987: xii). It is a play of courtship, the wooing of Mistress Carol and the testing of Julietta, to which he adds an old theme, the return of the long-lost husband in disguise, refreshed by a new social poise. Bonavent, the Odysseus figure, reappears just as his wife is about to marry the inoffensive Lacy, but far from killing him, he joins him in amicable reconciliation: ’BONAVENT: … Master Lacy, / Droop not’; ’LACY: I was not ripe for such a blessing; take her, / And with an honest heart I wish you joys’ (Shirley 1987: 45). Shirley was supremely the dramatist of urbane restraint. The Master of the Revels particularly commended him for his avoidance of ’oaths, profaneness or obsceneness’ (quoted in Butler 2002: 593).
The Lady of Pleasure (1635), sometimes claimed as his best play (Shirley 1973: Introductory Note), offers a matched pair of eloquent and strong-willed women of property, Aretina and Celestina. The former, the wife of a knight of the shires newly come to London, is on a path of increasing depravity, from which she is saved by her husband’s ingenious demonstration of how they and their family would be ruined if he were to behave as extravagantly as she does. Duly chastened, she concludes, ’Already / I feele a cure upon my soule, and promises / My after life to vertue’ (Shirley 1637: sig. H4r). Meanwhile, Celestina, a young and attractive widow, has resisted the attempts of an unnamed lord to debauch her, in the process reforming him and winning his love. As Celestina tells him, it should be relatively easy to find the way to the life of truth and innocence, ’which shine / So bright in the two royal luminaries / At Court, you cannot lose your way to chastitie’ (ibid.: sig. K2v).
Brome had been a servant to Ben Jonson, though it is unclear in what capacity; the title page of the 1658 edition of The Weeding of the Covent-Garden still styles him ’an Ingenious Servant, and Imitator of his Master’ Jonson. Jonson wrote a prefatory poem for his first significant work, The Northern Lasse, though it sounds more of a protest at the displacement of honest professional dramatists (like himself): ’Now each court-Hobby-horse will wince in rime; / Both learned, and unlearned, all write Playes’ (Brome 1980a: 6). Like Shirley, Brome refined Jonson’s strong sense of location and mastered the multiple plot, though his plays depict in some detail a wider social range. Their resolutions remain soberly moral. The Weeding of the Covent-Garden has prostitutes and roaring boys among its dramatis personae, as well as Gabriel Crosswill, a stage Puritan, whose depiction owes something to Jonson’s early plays, though the satire is gentler and he is eventually redeemed from his folly. The Sparagus Garden (1635), an astounding success in its own day, for the most part depicts a familiar Jonsonian cast of citizens and country gentry of two generations, together with rogues and aggressive servants. Asparagus was regarded as an aphrodisiac, and the Asparagus Garden, which is thought to have been over the river from Whitehall, not only sold cooked asparagus but also provided a place of resort and assignation, where one may ’take a room, call for a feast and satisfy your wife’ (or lover) (III.vii.7—8; Brome 1980b: 292). Curiously, Brome interposes an episode to praise the chaste morals of the court (III.vi.; ibid.: 289). In The Antipodes (1638) Brome attempted an exceptionally ambitious plot, in which Peregrine, a young man so distempered by his obsession with travel that he ignores his wife, is brought to his senses through a complex stratagem in which he is induced to thinking he has been transported to the Antipodes, where the institutions and manners that characterize contemporary England are reversed, in Butler’s judicious phrase, ’teasingly and ambiguously revers[ing] the order of home’ (2002: 597). Quite what we are to make of the loutish Antipodean courtiers and the courtly Antipodean waterman, carman and sedanman remains elusive (IV.iv.166—257; Parr 1995: 291—6).
Brome enjoyed a singularly secure career among professional writers. He had migrated from the King’ s Men, who staged his earliest plays, including The Northern Lasse and probably The Weeding of the Covent-Garden, to the Salisbury Court in 1635, where he contracted over the next three years to provide three new plays a year for 15s. a week and the profits of the first day. The arrangement broke down during the closure for plague, and when plays resumed he migrated once more, this time to the Phoenix, which had recently lost Shirley to Dublin. A subsequent lawsuit included the accusation that he had been ’tampered withal’, presumably poached, by William Beeston. Brome’s defence included the remarkable claim that the Salisbury Court had made £1,000 out of The Spargus Garden (the story is frequently narrated, for example in Brome 1980b: 7; for the documents, see Wickham et al. 2000: 657—64). Literary production for the elite professional theatre had plainly moved some way from the days of Henry Chettle, languishing for debt in the Marshalsea (see chapter 1).
Shirley and Brome have rightly attracted interest over recent decades not only from academic critics, but also from the professional theatre, and revivals of their plays are relatively frequent. John Ford’s critical and theatrical standing has been higher and for longer. ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore, no doubt aided by the catch-penny title, is played quite frequently and has even been filmed (Ford 1975: lix—lxii). The Broken Heart and Perkin Warbeck have some critical currency. Dating is problematic, but Butler, for example, provisionally assigns all three to the period 1631—4 (Butler 2002: 595). Ford seems not to have been retained by a particular playhouse. He was a lawyer by training, and, as Arthur Bullen observed, ’He was not dependent on the stage for his livelihood and his plays show few signs of haste in composition’ (DNB 1975). Peter Ure tentatively suggests that the pattern of his career may have been that, once he devoted himself to non-collaborative composition, he had a period of writing for the King’s Men before going over to their rivals (Ford 1968: xxix). The title pages of their quarto editions associate Perkin Warbeck and ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore with the Queen’s Men at the Phoenix and The Broken Heart with the King’s Men at Blackfriars.
Those circumstances may be significant in that Ford shows, along with a formidable level of dramatic competence and some poetic flair, a remarkable independence from the fashions driving new drama in the years of the personal rule, as he brings to the private theatres and their presumably genteel audiences some of the rawer obsessions of Elizabethan and early Jacobean theatre.
Ford was certainly conscious of his creative atavism. The Prologue to Perkin Warbeck observes, ’Studies have of this nature been of late / So out of fashion, so unfollowed’ (ll.1—2; Ford 1968: 11), and indeed it is sometimes called the last English history play, a genre thoroughly out of fashion in the Caroline age. Yet the play itself, like Shakespeare’s paradigmatic chronicle plays, does speak to the age of its composition, in effect counselling acceptance of wise government and showing the disruptions of civil wars. It depicts events relating to the attempt to install, in place of Henry VII, Perkin Warbeck, an imposter claiming to be ’Richard the Fourth’, one of the princes supposedly killed in the Tower by Richard III, but miraculously escaped to lead the Yorkist cause. Events depict a Scottish invasion and two Cornish uprisings, the first of those in protest against the sudden levying of taxation, an issue of some contemporary resonance, given Charles’s dubious fiscal innovations. But the rebels come off badly. The first Cornish uprising ends with its aristocratic leader dragged on a hurdle to decollation and its other prominent figures, a lawyer and a blacksmith, ’hanged, / Quartered, their quarters into Cornwall sent, / Examples to the rest’ (III.i.99—101, Ford 1968: 66). In the final scene, the captured Warbeck is humiliated in the stocks before being led off to execution while his supporters are paraded wearing the halters with which they are to be hanged (V.iii; Ford 1968: 130—40). Thus, the play rehearses those familiar early Stuart themes of the blessings of peace and of the necessity of controlling those forces, ever present, that would threaten it.
In the other two plays, a Websterian, rather than Shakespearean, aesthetic predominates. Both depict numerous deaths, most of them painful, violent, prolonged and curiously loquacious, though sometimes sudden and inexplicable. The Broken Heart is set in classical Sparta, though no classical text informs the play nor is antiquarian verisimilitude a priority. This is a land of fantasy, where English common law has no place. Orgilus, outraged that his beloved Penthea has been compelled to marry Bassanes, resists the marriage of his sister Euphranea to Prophilus while resenting that Ithocles had sanctioned the marriage of his sister, Penthea. Meanwhile Calantha, the king’s daughter, is to marry Nearchus, prince of Argos. Orgilus’s vengeful actions occasion the death of most of the principals. He himself traps Ithocles in a trick chair and then kills him fairly slowly by stabbing; in punishment, he is required to bleed himself to death, a process that allows him to engage in 35 lines of surprisingly animated conversation (Ford 1965: 83—4). Inexplicably, but unsurprisingly, Calantha drops dead: ’Her heart is broke indeed’ (V.ii.95; Ford 1965: 88).
Of course, the plot is as sensational and as implausible as Aglaura, but Ford carries it off with great elan, as he does the steamier tale of sibling incest in ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore. Giovanni and Annabella are siblings and lovers; she becomes pregnant; she marries Soranzo to cover it up; Soranzo, who has abandoned his promise to marry his former mistress Hippolita, despite the apparent death of her husband, intends their brutal murder, but is forestalled by Giovanni, who kills Annabella, cuts out her heart, presents it to Soranzo on a dagger and then kills him with that dagger, before being stabbed to death by Soranzo’s hired ’banditti’; Florio, father to Giovanni and Annabella, inexplicably, but unsurprisingly, drops dead. In a nasty little coda, Putana, Annabella’s ’tutress’, who has already been kidnapped and blinded by the banditti, is carried off to be burnt. Along the way, Hippolita inadvertently poisons herself while trying to kill Soranzo at his wedding feast and a simpleton courting Annabella is stabbed through mistaken identity. We are in the landscape and the moral universe of The Duchess of Malfi and The White Devil. Indeed, Vasques, who has been Soranzo’s agent throughout, exits to his banishment with ’I rejoice that a / Spaniard outwent an Italian in revenge’ (V.vi.145—6; Ford 1975: 122). Yet again, though the play feels as if it were written 20 years earlier, Ford gets away with it, largely through the felicity of his verse. Certainly there are ripping rants, but at key moments he masters a different tone, as in the final exchanges of Annabella and Giovanni:
GIO … yet look
What see you in mine eyes?
ANN Methinks you weep.
GIO I do indeed: these are the funeral tears
Shed on your grave; these furrowed up my cheeks
When first I loved and knew not how to woo.
(V.V.47—51; Ford 1975: 112—13)
Just occasionally, his verse seems redolent of Dante’s tender account of Paolo and Francesca, doomed lovers in the second circle of hell, a tone which Webster never achieved and probably never aspired to.
Literature and Laudianism
At least since the publication of Nicholas Tyacke’s seminal essay (1973), Caroline ecclesiastical history has been among the most active fields of early modern historiography. (See, particularly, Davies 1992; Fincham 1993; A. Milton 1995; Sharpe 1992: esp. ch. 6; and Tyacke 1987.) The relationship between Charles and his archbishop, the nature of doctrinal change and the significance of such change in the origins of the conflicts of the 1640s remain controversial. This account largely rests on the work of Peter Lake and Kenneth Fincham and to other contributors to Fincham’s influential collection of essays (Fincham 1993).
The Jacobean church, though certainly not so free from dissent and disharmony as was once assumed (Fielding 1993), reflected the king’ s careful attempts to steer clear of avoidable conflict. Theologians critical of Calvinist theories of salvation were constrained in the dissemination of their views. Indeed, some continuities of policy characterize the opening years of Charles’s rule, especially when parliament was sitting; in the personal rule the situation changed very rapidly (Fincham and Lake 1993: 38—9). The Church of England in the 1630s was dominated by ’Laudianism’, a word I use much as Peter Lake defines it, as a ’handy shorthand term for the policies and religious temper of the personal rule’ and ’a coherent, distinctive and polemically aggressive vision of the Church, the divine presence in the world and the appropriate ritual response to that presence’ (Lake 1993: 162).
Laud was both an agent and a symptom of those changes. From the accession of Charles I, his ecclesiastical (and political) career developed rapidly. He migrated from the see of St David’s to Bath and Wells in 1626, joined the Privy Council in 1627, migrated to London and became Chancellor of the University of Oxford in 1628, and was promoted to the archepiscopacy of Canterbury in 1633, a preferment postponed by the longevity of the previous incumbent. By the time the Long Parliament assembled in 1640, he had become a focus of hatred among the godly of anti-ceremonial, Calvinist and Puritan inclinations, and his career ended in impeachment, incarceration and, in 1645, trial and execution.
What were the characteristics of Laudianism? At the level of doctrine, most significant was its theology of grace, which rejected the Calvinist notion of predestined salvation of the elect, particularly in its extremer form of double predestination, which posited the predestined damnation of the reprobate. Laudianism tolerated and promoted a peculiarly Anglican inflection of Arminianism. Early in the century Jacobus Arminius had shattered the Calvinist consensus of the Dutch reformed church with an alternative soteriology that attributed to fallen humankind a role in their own salvation, though one that depends on an active and widely merciful exercise of divine grace:
In this [fallen] state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatsoever except such as are excited by divine grace. For Christ has said, ’Without me ye can do nothing’. (Arminius; quoted in Bangs 1971: 341)
To fallen humankind, grace actively extends the invitation to align their impaired but residual free will in a synergy that leads to spiritual regeneration.
Arminianism is a psychologically liberating theology, repositioning the process of salvation on the human scale and contextualizing it in personal struggle, rather than leaving it in the unfathomable process of divine determination. Mid-century, it was incorporated into the theology of some of the most radical sectaries, and it was central to Milton’s mature theology. In Caroline Anglicanism a significantly different emphasis evolved which attributed a vital function to the church itself in promoting the spiritual well-being of the individual by acting as a catalyst in the synergy of grace and free will.
To this end, the clergy had a role that distinguished them from the laity in a way closer to Catholicism than previous English practice. Indeed, ’priest’ was Charles’s preferred term for the ministers of his church (Fincham and Lake 1993: 42).
Numerous measures converged in this project to make the priesthood special and to separate them off from the laity. The location, orientation and protection of the communion table became Laudian obsessions. Sacerdotalism combined with a mystic valorizing of the place and instruments of worship in an extraordinary cultural transformation that edged the Church of England further still from the reformed churches of continental Europe. The priesthood were marked off by their distinctive vestments, the adoption and elaboration of which accompanied their increased incorporation into the rituals — the blessings and crossings — of the church. This was a movement that demanded uniformity of implementation. Liturgy was deemed holy because it served the end of carrying each believer towards potential salvation, but it also provided a framework to control variation and ensure the quality of priestly practice. We have noted how the royal court increasingly developed a detailed ceremonialism; here Charles found a spiritual echo of that programme, sharing the same discipline, decorum and precision.
Laudianism required careful conformity with the Book of Common Prayer, which emphasized the liturgical year as the template for the spiritual life. Laud’s critics generally devalued the cycle of holy days and Christian festivals which make up that year because of twin impulses, towards sabbatarianism and the weekly holiness of the Sabbath, and towards a pervasiveness of religious consciousness. In contrast, for Laudians:
[T]he great festivals of the Christian year both figured and extended to all believers the benefits conferred on fallen humanity by Christ’s life, passion and resurrection. ’They which come to God’s house upon the day of Christ’s nativity (coming in faith and love as they ought) are’, argued Robert Shelford [a Cambridge-educated anti-Calvinist divine], ’partakers of Christ’s birth; they which come upon the day of circumcision are with him circumcised from the dominion of the flesh …’. (Lake 1993: 175)
Such a concern aimed at an orderly meditation stimulated by the sequence of festivals, rather than devotional spontaneity. This was not primarily a preaching ministry, though its concern with religious drill was not with ceremony for its own sake but as a stimulus to regeneration, the principal vehicle for which was prayer.
The religious writers of the 1630s experienced Christianity through a church dominated by the cultural, doctrinal and spiritual agenda of Laudianism, and it shaped, too, the perceptions and expectations of those who in the 1640s either triumphed over or lamented its demise. To understand George Herbert or Herrick’s religious verse or Henry Vaughan or the Caroline verse of Quarles or Wither or, indeed, both the early and rather ceremonious verse of Milton and his later anti-prelatical polemic we must set them against this most sustained transformation of the Church of England since the Elizabethan settlement. We begin with Herbert.
Except perhaps for Sir Philip Sidney, no major creative writer of the early modern period was better connected than George Herbert. His family was a cadet line of a mighty aristocratic clan headed by the Earls of Pembroke (for this and other biographical information, see Charles 1977). His eldest brother Edward, first Baron Herbert of Cherbury, was a distinguished diplomat and minor poet, and another brother, Sir Henry, was the energetic Master of the Revels, whose efforts we have noted above. His mother’ s social circle included John Donne and Francis Bacon, whom George had known since his youth; Bacon dedicated his translation of Certaine Psalmes (1625) to him. He sat in a parliament for a constituency under family control and held the high-profile office of Orator over the final years of a Cambridge career that had extended unfashionably long for one of his social class. His transition to an ecclesiastical career was under the patronage of John Williams, Bishop of Lincoln and Lord Keeper of the Seal, a major figure in church and secular politics in the mid-1620s. The living of Bemerton was in the gift of the Earls of Pembroke, though his presentation may have fallen to King Charles himself. Though Bemerton is sometimes sentimentalized as a modest backwater, a retreat from the ecclesiastical rat-race, its previous incumbent had been appointed Bishop of Bath and Wells in succession to Laud himself; Herbert’s career thus far certainly did not preclude considerable advancement within the church, had he lived into middle age. As Michael Schoenfeldt astringently notes:
Bemerton is … located midway between the ecclesiastical splendors of Salisbury Cathedral, where Herbert was ordained, and the aristocratic magnificance of Wilton House, inhabited by Herbert’s powerful kinsman, Philip Herbert, the fourth earl of Pembroke; it is, furthermore, in walking distance to both…. Bemerton was geographically on the diagonal connecting political and religious power in the period. (Schoenfeldt 1991: 37)
His rectory at Bemerton had six servants (Charles 1977: 156).
Like his elder contemporary and acquaintance, John Donne, Herbert vouchsafed almost no poetry to the press in his lifetime; unlike Donne, he would seem to have circulated little in manuscript, since few manuscripts survive and the life records make no early reference to his vernacular compositions. His greatest work, The Temple (1633), was posthumously published by Nicholas Ferrar, a devout lay Anglican and leader of an informal reclusive and meditative religious group, with whom Herbert had collaborated in his lifetime (Valdes 1638: sig. ****4r-v). Its success was immediate and considerable. There were six editions, all printed by the printers at the Cambridge University Press, by 1641, and his earliest biographer reported that it sold more than 20,000 copies during the 40 years to 1675 (Patrides 1983: 127). Moreover, in recent decades, only Shakespeare and Milton, among seventeenth-century writers, have stimulated more critical activity and controversy and a richer scholarly response. (See, especially, the classic studies by Doerksen 1997; Fish 1978; Nuttall 1980; Schoen-feldt 1991; Strier 1983; and Vendler 1975).
Herbert’s piety recommended him to his earliest readers: ’scarcely any surviving opinion values [the] poetry [of The Temple] as poetry’. Moreover, that piety evidently appealed across a wide range of Protestant denominations (Patrides 1983: 1, 2—14). We shall return to Herbert’s relationship to popular piety shortly. His broad appeal runs curiously counter to recent critical endeavour, which has laboured definitively to place Herbert, as Ilona Bell observes, ’at every point along the spectrum of English Protestantism, from ceremonial Anglo-Catholicism to radical Puritanism’, and indeed Bell’s own thesis relates his theological outlook to that of the somewhat heterodox Catholic meditational writer Juan de Valdes, whose work he had commented on at Ferrar’s request (1987: 304). Finally fixing Herbert in contemporary terms proves elusive for at least three powerful reasons. As Bell notes, he died before Laudianism had reached its defining moments in the suppression of dissenting voices and the enforcement of its agenda. We do not know how Herbert would have lined up on issues like the placement of the altar. Secondly, a complex and extensive collection of lyric expostulations, each articulated as if at a discrete moment of heightened spirituality, poses an interpretative problem to its readers, who must tentatively and speculatively attempt a synthesis: as we shall see, the experience of reading The Temple is a challenging one. Finally, Herbert left no systematic theology of his own. The nearest he came are the notes on Valdes, fragmentary comments on a work that is itself ruminative and unsystematic. His notes on Christian ministry, A Priest to the Temple, or, The Country Parson, also published posthumously as part of Herberts Remains or, Sundry Pieces (Herbert 1652), are practical in orientation, though of course indicative of his value system and of his thoughts about ministry.
Yet Herbert’s poetry certainly demonstrates a cluster of characteristics that chime with Laudianism. It stresses the value of ritual:
When once thy foot enters the church, be bare.
God is more there, then thou: for thou art there
Onely by his permission. Then beware,
And make thy self all reverence and fear.
Kneeling ne’re spoil’d silk stocking: quit thy state.
All equall are within the churches gate.
(’The Church-porch’, ll.403—8; Herbert 1941: 22)
The poem urges the erosion of distinctions among the laity in the place of worship and in the sight of God. Meanwhile, in ways that Laud would have approved, the specialness of the clergy is rehearsed in terms which tie the ministers of the Caroline church to Aaron, the founding Levite consecrated by Moses to the service of the temple (Leviticus 8):
Holinesse on the head,
Light and perfections on the breast,
Harmonious bells below, raising the dead
To leade them unto life and rest:
Thus are true Aarons drest.
Profanesse in my head,
Defects and darknesse in my breast,
A noise of passions ring me for dead
Unto a place where is no rest:
Poore priest thus am I drest.
So holy in my head,
Perfect and light in my deare breast,
My doctrine tun’d by Christ, (who is not dead,
But lives in me while I do rest)
Come people; Aaron’s drest.
(’Aaron’, ll.1—10, 21—5; ibid.: 174)
Priests — Herbert’s word as well as Charles’s — as agents promoting the operation of grace and divinely ordained for that purpose can lead believers to a salvation which may not otherwise be theirs. Moreover, the power to do so comes not from the personal merit of the individual priest but through his induction into the ancient sacerdotal order. Vestments, so prized and insisted upon by Laud, are at once the metaphor for the assumption of that power and its external and distinguishing mark.
Herbert drew on his own resources to refurbish his parish church (Charles 1977: 154), and in a rare autobiographical detail the poet speaks of ’all my wealth and familie’ combining ’To set [God’s] honour up’ (’The Crosse’, ll.5—6; Herbert 1941: 164). The division of the volume into ’The Church-porch’ and ’The Church’, in adopting those architectural distinctions as the shaping metaphor of the book, asserts the centrality of the church itself as a physical location for Christian worship. He observes in A Priest to the Temple:
The Countrey Parson hath a speciall care of his Church, that all things there be decent, and benefitting his Name by which it is called. Therefore first he takes order, that all things be in good repair; as walls plaistered, windows glazed, floore paved, seats whole, firm, and uniform, especially that the Pulpit, and Deck, and Communion Table, and Font be as they ought, for those great duties that are performed in them. (1652: 57)
These things are rendered holy and thus to be treated reverently by association with the service they perform.
The liturgical year figures very prominently in The Temple. Poems commemorate Good Friday, Easter, Whitsunday, Trinity Sunday, Christmas, and Lent (Herbert 1941: 39, 41, 43, 60, 68, 81, 87), as, too, the great weekly rituals of the church. While both in his poetry and prose Herbert speaks positively about a preaching ministry, in both the object of preaching is prayer, and the best prayer is not private but a communal and public witness: ’Though private prayer be a brave designe, / Yet publicke hath more promises, more love’; ’Resort to sermons, but to prayers most: / Praying’s the end of preaching’ (’The Church-porch’, ll.397—8, 409—10; ibid.: 22, 23). Though Laud’s deep scepticism about the role of preaching was not shared by Herbert, the liturgical emphasis and the style of worship would have seemed to him acceptable and appropriate.
The soteriology of The Temple, its doctrine of salvation, takes some teasing out. Predestinate reprobation has no place in it. Christ’s Atonement was for all humankind, and salvation, and holy communion, as celebration of that sacrifice, stands open to all, no matter how evidently sinful:
Lord I have invited all [to communion],
And I shall
Still invite, still call to thee:
For it seems but just and right
In my sight,
Where is All, there All should be.
(’The Invitation’, ll.31—6; ibid.: 180)
Strier (1983) argues for the centrality in Herbert’s thought of the Lutheran doctrine of the irresistibility of grace, the notion that those to whom grace is extended may not resist or avoid the salvation it brings. Indeed, in poems like ’A Parodie’, or the climactic poem ’Love (III)’, the poet’s apparent resistance to accepting his worthiness for salvation are swept aside: ’but while I grieve, / Thou com’st and dost relieve’ (’A Parodie’, ll.29—30; ibid.: 184). The godly’s sense of his or her own unworthiness shows a humble acknowledgement of universal and personal sinfulness, and may be broken by the accession of grace, while that same grace, though available to all, may indeed be rejected by those who decline the invitation: ’all may certainly conclude, that God loves them, till either they despise that Love, or despaire of his Mercy: not any sin else, but is within his Love; but the despising of Love must needs be without it. The thrusting away of his arme makes us onely not embraced’ (A Priest to the Temple, Herbert 1652: 156). To despise love is to commit the blasphemy against the holy ghost which shall not be forgiven (Matthew 12:31). In contrast, those whose damaged and imperfect freedom of choice, through God’s aid, aligns them with proffered grace are led onwards: ’Enrich my heart, mouth, hands in me, / With faith, with hope, with charitie; / That I may runne, rise, rest with thee’ (’Trinitie Sunday’, ll.7—9; Herbert 1941: 68).
The author of The Temple and A Priest to the Temple was a child of his times, sharing the Laudians’ reservations about Calvinist soteriology and recognizing the place of the priesthood and the liturgy and the beauty of holiness in steering all who share the inherited sin of Adam towards an acceptance of God’s love and sacrifice and the grace extended to them. But Herbert’s text is neither doctrinaire nor overtly controversial. When The Temple moves into potentially divisive areas, as in the somewhat enigmatic ’Church-rents and schismes’, an anticipation of ’The Church Militant’, rather more is said about Christianity abroad than about the problems within the Church of England (Herbert 1941: 140). Moreover, his writing advocates a kind of interiority, of meditation and reflection on personal sinfulness, that evidently appealed across the Protestant spectrum: ’Tumble thy breast, and turn thy book…. / Then once more pray’ (’The Method’, ll.9, 29; ibid.: 133—4): no wonder Richard Baxter, a prominent, mid-century Presbyterian, valued him so highly (Patrides 1983: 137).
The modern experience of reading Herbert differs sharply from that of his contemporaries. Typically he is first encountered in anthologies which, wholly reasonably, select his most distinctive, technically astonishing and emotionally intense lyrics: neither Fowler (1991) nor Cummings (2000) nor Abrams et al. (2000) draws from ’The Church-porch’ or ’The Church Militant’. Quite probably, the discerning among his early readers also valued the frequently anthologized favourites the most. But the preaching, catechizing, didactic Herbert, the plain speaker (rather than the faux-naïf speaker of some of the anthology pieces) is rarely heard. We lose, too, the sense of quite how much The Temple demands of its readers. Izaak Walton’s phrase, ’this little book’, often repeated, may reflect the small format, duodecimo, in which it appeared. Yet its 164 poems, including one of more than 400 lines and another of nearly 300 lines, constitute a volume that is almost as challenging to read through as Paradise Lost; indeed, more challenging in some ways, since it has no narrative structure. Like Paradise Lost, taking it on calls for hours of close attention, and it leads the reader through an emotional and physical experience that is both exhausting and rewarding. Like Milton’ s closing image of Adam and Eve, reconciled to God and each other, taking their leave of Eden, the final poem of ’The Church’ offers an assurance, a confirmation of faith, and a sense of peace that have been hard won:
Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guiltie of dust and sinne.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack’d any thing.
A guest, I answer’d worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkinde, ungratefull? Ah my deare,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?
My deare, then I will serve.
You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat. (1—18)
(’Love (III)’ ; Herbert 1941: 188—9)
The metaphor is of an arrival after a journey, which reader and poet have made together, and of an undeserved but desired reward extended by ’Love’, a figure to be identified as the atoning Christ. The meal is at once a feast and a communion.
Getting there has been difficult. ’The Church-porch’ through which the reader enters the volume is — altogether without irony — explicitly and unrelievedly didactic:
Hearken unto a Verser, who may chance
Ryme thee to good, and make a bait of pleasure.
A verse may finde him, who a sermon flies,
And turn delight into a sacrifice.
(’The Church-porch’, ll.3—6; ibid.: 6)
What follows, pace the poet, offers less delight and pleasure and more the kind of hectoring that would have met and satisfied the appetite of readers accustomed to works of popular piety. The poem carries a subtitle, ’Perirrhanterium’, the Greek term for the instrument for sprinkling holy water (ibid.: 477): what the preacher sprinkles is sound advice about moral conduct, much of it couched in the imperative mood, and it often has a proverbial resonance:
’Drink not the third glass … ’
’Flie idlenesse … ’
’Never exceed thy income.’
’Play not for gain, but sport.’
’Pitch thy behaviour low, thy projects high;
So shalt thou humble and magnanimous be … ’
’Restore to God his due in tithe and time … ’
(’The Church-porch’,ll.25, 79, 156, 193, 331—2,385; ibid.: 7, 9, 13, 14, 19, 22)
Thus cajoled into Christian neighbourliness, ’sprinkled and taught’ by ’the former precepts’ (’Superliminare’, ll.1—2; ibid.: 25), the reader crosses the threshold into ’The Church’. His or her gaze is immediately arrested by the two most obvious objects in a well-kept Caroline church, the altar and the crucifix. The former, however, is ’[a] broken ALTAR… Made of a heart, and cemented with teares’ (’The Altar, ll.10—12; ibid.: 26), a site for penitence and, potentially, redemption. ’The Sacrifice’, the only poem in the collection spoken throughout in the voice of Christ, functions as both cross and platform from which to address ’all ye, who passe by’ for some 250 lines: ’Was ever grief like mine?’ (’The Sacrifice’, ll.1 and passim; ibid.: 26—34). The topos is an ancient one, in the English tradition particularly favoured in the poetry of late medieval devotionalism, as in lyrics like ’Woefully Arrayed’:
My blode, man, ffor the[e] ran
Thus nakid am I nailed, O man, for thi sake.
I love the[e], thenne love me. Why slepist thu? awake!
(Anon., ’Woefully Arrayed’, ll.1—2, 10—11; Brown 1939: 156—7)
Indeed, the classic anthology of fifteenth-century religious lyrics has a whole section of ’appeals to man from the cross’ (Brown 1939: 151—62). Softened up by the encounter with a time-honoured devotional practice, and, more significantly, aligned to a spirituality of the most profound and unswerving Christocentricity, Herbert’s reader overhears the poet in a range of speech acts that simulate prayer, meditation, penitial reflection, praise and celebration.
Herbert s robust didactic practices, so like those of works of popular and practical piety, may well have led into reading lyric poetry a non-traditional readership, drawn much wider than the ranks of connoisseurs who dabbled themselves or made their own manuscript anthologies; hence, surely, the extraordinary early publishing history of The Temple. Here, finally, are delight and pleasure, in poems of an extraordinary accomplishment, some of which challenge interpretation and even understanding in the manner of Donne’s denser poetry. Yet, though these poems simulate overheard devotional exercises, Herbert retains a clear sense of readership. His hardest poems end in at least an apparent transparency. Thus, the sonnet ’Prayer (I)’ (Herbert 1941: 51) offers a list of fanciful and provocative synonyms for prayer: ’the Churches banquet’ — how so?; ’Engine against th’Almightie’?; ’The milkie way’? The competent reader takes up the challenge: milky way, presumably, because that celestial configuration was thought of as a glittering pathway leading to heaven. For the bewildered, the poem resolves itself in a final phrase of apparent simplicity: prayer is ’something understood’ (though the more knowing reader will recognize that phrase as in some ways the most enigmatic of them all). Often, the resolution comes in a phrase of biblical resonance. Thus, ’The Collar’ ends with an echo of God calling Samuel (1 Sam. 3): ’Me thoughts I heard one calling, Child! / And I reply’d, My Lord’ (ll.35—6; Herbert 1941: 154). ’Love (III)’, the climactic poem of the collection, ends with an allusion to the Last Supper (Matt. 26:20) and the sacrament of Holy Communion. The most demanding poems, perhaps the most demanding literary experience some of Herbert’s readers would ever encounter, end in what is familiar and reassuring.
After ’The Church’ comes the curious extended coda of ’the Church Militant’, almost 300 lines in couplets describing the progress of Christianity on a global scale, from east to west. Successively, the glory of each church is overwhelmed by ’sin’ in the form of Catholicism and the real enough challenge of Islam: only in the final years of the century were Ottoman ambitions on the Holy Roman Empire finally defeated. It is a poem that has few modern admirers, nor do I fully understand quite how it relates to the rest of the volume. I suppose it sends the reader, now spiritually exercised and justified in faith, back into an external reality of conflict and threat which requires a militant support for the godly cause. The poem contains lines that evidently caught the licenser’s eye — ’Religion stands on tip-toe in our land, / Readie to passe to the American strand’ (ll.235—6; Herbert 1941: 196 and 547n.) — though Herbert, I suspect, writes as the stepson of an enthusiastic investor in the American colonies, rather than as a supporter of the Pilgrim Fathers. Yet the new American church will be as susceptible to decline as its predecessors (ll.260—2). The poem returns the reader to the world of popular piety through its anti-Catholic sentiment and plain-spoken prejudice. The Orthodox church and the church of Rome are ’hells land-marks, Satans double crest: / They are Sinnes nipples, feeding th’east and west’ (ll. 219—20). Herbert can do much better than this, but he chooses not to. Laud, too, saw the advantages of distancing his version of Christianity from the Pope’s.
The Emblem Books of Quarles and Wither
Though the culture of the Caroline court, like that of its aristocratic imitators, was rich in visual as well as musical stimulation and its finest achievements often synthesized the arts, outside elite circles the English experience of painting and sculpture was arguably among the most impoverished of the major European states. In Florence, the citizens’ daily round took them past some of Michelangelo’s greatest civic sculptures to churches replete with paintings and murals of a century of astonishing accomplishment. In Rome, the citizen could step into churches and see the new and challenging art of Caravaggio, depicting the lives of Christ, of the Virgin and of saints, or into St Peter’s to be astounded by sacred art from Michelangelo to Bernini. In Antwerp, Madrid and Seville, the devout knelt before altarpieces by Rubens, Murillo and Zurbarán. Nor was the experience denominationally determined in a simple way. The Dutch School, glittering with the varied talents of Rembrandt and Hals, and in mid-century Vermeer, Hobbema and Cuyp, served a complex marketplace that was in part aristocratic, in part civic and corporate, in part ecclesiastical, and in part bourgeois and fairly broadly based, for which it produced not only individual portraits and devotional works, but also seascapes, landscapes, townscapes, genre paintings, still lives, battle scenes and group portraits of militias, merchant guilds and the like. There were great paintings and great sculptures, particularly from classical antiquity, in Caroline England. The Earl of Arundel and the Duke of Buckingham collected assiduously from the late Jacobean period, and Charles as king made major investments, as we have noted earlier in this chapter, and work of the highest order was produced under royal and aristocratic patronage, most significantly by Van Dyck and Rubens. But these were the work of foreign artists and hung in private collections, though those collections were sometimes open to visitors (Brown 1995: ch. 1). Milton spent much of his early life within strolling distance of the king’s galleries at Whitehall or Buckingham’s at York House, but Graham Parry is probably right in his surmise that ’there was virtually no baroque painting in England that [he] could have seen’ (Parry 2001: 60).
High art relates intricately to minor forms like engraving. Quite possibly, the limited English achievement in this field in the early modern period reflects the lack of a vibrant tradition of working painters seeking out a larger audience. Moreover, in England that potential audience was limited by the visual under-stimulation in its broader cultural life. Although the immensely talented Bohemian, Wenceslas Hollar, worked in England from the mid-1630s, partly under the patronage of the Earl of Arundel, the dominant illustrator in the London book trade throughout the ’30s and ’40s was William Marshall. Milton ridiculed his inability to capture his likeness in the portrait frontispiece Marshall made for his first collection of poetry (Milton 1645: poem appended to the frontispiece). Wither was scathing about his inability to follow instructions for the illuminated title page to his emblem book (Wither 1635: poem facing the title page). He couldn’t draw, his texturing was crude, his sense of design limited; despite the availability of better engravers, he was Caroline England’s most prolific source of visual images, a symptom and a cause of cultural impoverishment in the visual arts, outside the royal and aristocratic elite.
Emblem books originated in cinquecento Italy, and spread rapidly across continental Europe, appearing most frequently, I suggest, in those countries with a developed indigenous tradition in the visual arts. The first, Andrea Alciato’s Latin Emblematum liber (1531), frequently translated and annotated, went into 90 editions in the sixteenth century and its popularity ’in no measure decreased in the seventeenth century’ (Freeman 1948: 42). Alciato established the first paradigm for the genre: a visual image often of an allegorical sort is labelled by a tag line or proverb and glossed, usually by a poem, most frequently an epigram. Emblem books are exercises in the symbolic mode and share much common ground with the kinds of allegorical expression favoured in high culture across Europe. We see an obvious analogue, in terms of semiotic structure, in early Stuart masque.
The first printed emblem book by an English author dates from 1586, rather late in the history of the genre, and, in the judgement of Rosemary Freeman, the pioneer historian of the English emblem book, ’The work of the English emblem writers is not in itself of any great bulk or merit. Compared with that of Continental authors their output was small and, if judged by absolute standards, rarely of any permanent value’; few English examples went even into a second edition (Freeman 1948: 1, 43). By 1600, there were ’only half a dozen’ English-produced emblem books, including manuscripts with drawings by hand (Bath 1994: 57). Yet in one year, 1635, presumably by coincidence, two works of considerable impact and abiding importance appeared: Francis Quarles’s Emblemes and George Wither’s Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne. They differ greatly, vividly demonstrating the range and variety that the genre achieved in its mature phase.
Quarles’s is a modest little book printed in octavo. It is deeply derivative of two Jesuit works of morality and devotion, Herman Hugo’s Pia Desideria (1624) and the anonymous Typus Mundi (1627) (see Freeman 1948: 117). Like Ferrar’s and Herbert’s engagement with Valdes, it shows an openness to take what seemed devotionally useful and doctrinally inoffensive from the Catholic tradition. Quarles evidently had William Marshall and associated engravers, some of them distinctly more able than Marshall, copy the plates of those texts, though ’he felt free to go his own poetic way’ (Manning 2002: 179). The illustrations, though technically clumsy, are ingeniously conceived, and no doubt contributed much to the immense popularity of the work. The pictures illustrate a moment from a story of allegorical significance. Quarles stresses the narrative component when, in the epistle to the reader, he observes, ’An Embleme is but a silent Parable’ (Quarles 1635: sig. A3r). Each section has a biblical text in lieu of a proverbial tag, and in some sections the engraving closely follows that text, almost like a plate from an illustrated bible. Thus emblem 3.12, which has the text ’O that thou wouldst hide me in the grave, and thou wouldst keepe me secret untill thy wrath be past’(Job 14:13), depicts a cowering figure sheltering in a cave or perhaps a sepulchre from lightning flashes that emanate from a large black cloud and a minatory flying angel. Quarles’s poem on the scene is more moralizing than allegorical (ibid.: 168—71). In other sections, the action is unequivocally allegorical. Emblem 1.10 depicts a puzzling scene that challenges understanding and interpretation. On a pleasant bowling green, a male figure, distinctive only in that a purse hangs from his belt, bends to bowl, while Cupid stands by waiting his turn (see plate 5). In the middistance, a diabolic figure is pointing out the line he should take, while by the jack a female figure extends a cap and bells. The biblical text relates only tangentially to the scene: ’Yee are of your father the Devill, and the lusts of your father yee will doe’ (John 8:44), but the poem explicates the allegory:
The world’s the Iack; The Gamsters that contend,
Are Cupid, Mammon: That judicious Friend,
That gives the ground, is Sathan; and the Boules
Are sinfull Thoughts: The Prize, a Crowne for Fooles.
Yet the moralizing imperative is rarely still. His opening lines reflect a general disapproval of playing bowls: ’Brave pastime, Readers, to consume that day’; while the allegory receives an immediate application for his readers: ’Who breathes that boules not? what bold tongue can say / Without a blush, he hath not bould to day?’ (ibid.: 40—3).
Quarles followed the success of Emblemes with Hieroglyphikes of the life of Man (1638), which retains a similar structure in each section, though it achieves a higher coherence in that each plate depicts ’life’s taper’, a candle variously blown out or burnt down. The engravings, in my view, represent the best product of Marshall’s limited talent. The volume was subsequently reprinted and reissued with Emblemes ten times between 1639 and 1700.
Wither positioned his own emblem book rather differently within the book market. This was a luxury volume in folio, distributed in four early issues, each by a different bookseller. Wither acquired a set of Crispijn van de Passe’s plates, first used to illustrate Gabriel Rollenhagen’s Nucleus Emblematum Selectissimorum more than 20 years earlier. These were exceptional examples of Dutch engraving, that gave to the book ’the rare distinction [in England] of illustrations by a highly skilled professional engraver…. the pictures are uniformly excellent’ (Freeman 1948: 142). Indeed, they offered a rare treat to the vast majority of educated English people who did not have access to masterpieces like Titian’s Pardo Venus or Veronese’s Mars and Venus, both hanging in the king’s collections (Brown 1995: 36—8). I suspect that the lissom figure of Occasion was the first well-executed study of the female nude many of them had encountered (Wither 1635: 4; see plate 6).
Plate 5 Francis Quarles, Emblemes (1635), Emblem X. Reproduced by permission of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California 69010.
Plate 6 George Wither, A Collection of Emblemes (1635), pp. 4—5. Reproduced by permission of the British Library G. 11603 ORC.70.h.5.
Wither’s approach to his source material was uninhibited. The plates were cut to remove Rollenhagen’s text. In its place, in letterpress he produced for each plate a 30-line poem of allegorical explication. Sometimes he seems bewildered by his task. Emblem 2.49 shows three crescents intertwined, crowned and hovering over a rural scene, within a motto that reads (in Latin) ’may he [or she or it] fill the whole world’. He begins his commentary:
What in the Emblem, that mans meanings were,
Who made it first, I neither know nor care;
For, whatsoere, he purposed, or thought,
To serve my purpose, now it shall be taught.
(Wither 1635: 111)
Once more, his persistent impulse is to moralize, sometimes lapsing into a satirical mode (discussed above, chapter 3). Thus, emblem 1.5, with the tag ’Virtue is contrived by labour, glory by virtue’, has a 25-line attack on ’Drabbs and Playes … sleeping, drinking, and Tobacco-fuming’, before, in the concluding line he deigns to explicate the impresa (ibid.: 5). Wither deals uneasily with abstractions, and intends his book should have a direct relevance to his intended readership. It includes at the back a curious little gadget made out of printed cardboard, and consisting of two dials, each with a pointer, by which the user may by chance select an emblem — and a moral — to meet any urgent occasion. Spin one pointer to pick a book within the volume; spin the other to find the number of an emblem. The accompanying instructions piously observe that thus a choice may be made by lot without the use of dice, the sight of which could tempt the user into ’worse Gaming’.
Together, the emblem books of Quarles and Wither mark the greatest English achievements in the genre. They show the potency of the allegorical mode in early modern ways of thinking about and representing the world, and bridge the gap between high literary culture and popular piety.
John Milton’s first collection of poetry, The Poems of Mr John Milton, Both English and Latin, was published by Humphrey Moseley (see below, chapter 5) in 1645 (see plate 7). It contained little written after 1639. Why he chose the mid-1640s to deliver it to the press remains the subject of speculation. It has been argued that its appearance after his prose pamphlets had won for him a radical notoriety may have been intended to correct hostile stereotyping that was certainly produced by his political enemies (Corns 1982). But its publication could also reflect the influence of Moseley on the development of a print culture for creative writing in verse. Some poems had already been printed.
Plate 7 John Milton, Poems (1645), portrait frontispiece and title page. Reproduced by permission of the British Library C.12.d.20.
Henry Lawes, who had composed the music for A Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle (also known as Comus), took responsibility for having it printed in 1637. His prefatory epistle suggests the text had circulated widely in manuscript: ’the often copying of it hath tired my pen to give my several friends satisfaction’ (Milton 1997: 174). ’On Shakespeare’ appeared in the front matter of the 1632 folio. Part of one of his comic poems on the university carrier appeared in a jest book of 1640. ’Lycidas’ was the concluding poem of a commemorative volume for Edward King, composed by Cambridge contemporaries and published by the University Press, Justa Edouardo King naufrago, ab Amicis moerentibus (1638).
Milton’s early verse is marked by its extraordinary diversity. Most obviously, it is written in an array of languages: English, Italian, Latin and Greek. It has, at its most recondite, a translation from Hebrew into Greek (’Psalm cxiv’). The 1645 volume, like the volume for Edward King, is a double volume, separating the poems in classical languages from those in contemporary vernaculars. We considered above J. W. Binns’s argument that neo-Latin literary culture in early modern Europe allowed its enthusiasts to be effectively independent of vernacular traditions (see above, chapter 1). That may need some qualification in the context of English poetry of the early Stuart period. Certainly in both these collections a relationship of complementarity and equality seems to exist between the two parts.
But there is diversity, too, of genre. Just among the English poems, we find elegies for the dead, two aristocratic entertainments, a pair of poems responding to each other and drawing on the character-writing tradition, comic verse in the form of spoof elegies, and three poems linked to the liturgical calendar, among others. Several of the best poems, among them ’Lycidas’ and A Masque, are occasional pieces, written to celebrate or commemorate particular moments. Remarkable, too, is the range of poetic and cultural idiom. Humphrey Moseley, in his preface to the 1645 volume, identified Milton as a neo-Spenserian. Certainly, some of his poems have a Spenserian texture, drawn particularly from his pastoral verse. In ’L’Allegro’ his descriptions of the English rural landscape fits within the tradition of Spenser and his later imitators; so, too, does the list of flowers invoked to strew the hearse of Lydicas. The ’rathe primrose’ even takes its epithet, a dialect word, from The Shepheardes Calender (l.142; Milton 1997: 253 and note). But other poems draw on different poetic movements. Critics often note that ’An Epitaph on the Marchioness of Winchester’ approaches Ben Jonson’s lapidary style. The three divine poems share some common ground with the incipient culture of Laudianism, which harboured an enthusiasm for commemorating the great events of the liturgical year. The dialogue set up between ’L’Allegro’ and ’Il Penseroso’ suggests the sort of games played among Caroline court poets (see above). The implied cultural milieus range from priestly devotionalism, through the witty playfulness of contemporary Cambridge, to service to the lofty gentility of an aristocratic household. William R. Parker (1968, 1996) and Barbara Lewalski (2000) offer detailed accounts of the years from Milton’s matriculation at Cambridge to his emergence as an assailant of episcopacy in 1641. Both accounts trace his vacillations of the time: should he accept holy orders? Was he attempting and failing to launch an academic career? or to find a patron and perhaps an employer among the ranks of the aristocracy? The sorts of poetry he was writing suggest a similar kind of casting around, without fixed engagement.
Yet he produced some of the most extraordinary poetry of his age, excelling over an astonishing range: the finest aristocratic entertainment, better than Carew or Davenant wrote; the best funeral elegy, better even than Jonson (see above, chapter 2); and the finest poem commemorating a Christian festival, better even than Herbert (see above) or Donne (see above, chapter 2). In a sense, his 1645 collection presents a summation of English poetry in the first four decades of the Stuart age. Robert Cummings perceptively observes: ’The 1645 volume parades difficulty and excess of manner over a remarkable range of minor genres, as if its author’s originality consisted in going over what had already been done. Familiarity has rendered charming what was once only nearly so’ (Cummings 2000: 253). Milton, in a sense, is taking on those ’minor’ genres as practised by eminent Stuart poets and extending their range in challenging ways that would have been more apparent to his early readers than to those whose principal encounter with those genres is through the Milton oeuvre. Milton’s masque, for example, is certainly the masque modern readers are likeliest to read first (and perhaps the only masque most ever read).
’On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity’ probably surprises the modern reader for the wrong reasons. In celebrating the nativity, it engages primarily with the incarnation, and it anticipates the crucifixion. It looks back to the creation and anticipates Christ’s second coming. But such connections are familiar in other nativity poems in the early modern period (Corns 2001b: 221). Moreover, as Diane McColley notes, ’The readings for the communion service on Christmas Day, Hebrews 1 and John 1, concern the identity, exaltation, and kingship of the Son as creating Word and Redeemer’ (1997: 186). While the making of connections between these events is commonplace, Milton perhaps uniquely brings them all together in one poem. He does so with extraordinary elan. As H. Neville Davies has demonstrated (Davies 1975), the poem has a quite complex numerological structure, in effect with two central points (depending on whether the proem of four stanzas is included in the calculation). Between these two centres, at a symbolically doubly potent middle, fall the most remarkable stanzas of the whole work, stanzas XII—XIV. A declarative voice cries out to the crystal spheres which sounded at the creation of the world. That voice is Milton’s own, crying out in his own age, and invoking the time the music of the spheres will again ring out, at the creation and at the second coming. The beginning and end of the world are brought forcefully together in the middle of his poem.
Two other motifs familiar from contemporary treatments are pushed a little further. The idea of the poem as gift was a common topos. Milton gives it a new vigour. His poem is not simply handed over. The poet does not join the queue behind the Magi and the shepherds presenting their more humble gifts. His muse is urged to barge her way through; to beat the others to the manger of the Christchild: ’O run, prevent them with thy humble ode, / … / Have thou the honour first, thy Lord to greet’ (ll.24, 26; Milton 1645: 105). The competitive edge is obvious. Again, it was widely believed that the oracles of the ancient world were silenced on the incarnation of the true and living God, whose disclosure finally discredited the deities of the pagan world. As I have noted elsewhere (Corns 2001b: 228—9), Milton develops the expulsion of the gods into a protracted ceremony of power based on spectacular punishment (stanzas XVIII—XXV). Nymphs are turned off from the locations they haunt like camp-followers and collaborators stripped and shorn in the rough justice of liberation. The zoomorphic deities of the Middle East are blinded, humbled and symbolically castrated. Christ’s potency appears inexorable and irresistible, anticipating the depiction of the Son, mounted in the Father’s chariot, which appears at the very centre of Paradise Lost. Of course, in the epic fallen angels assume the guise and names of pagan gods.
Thus, the Nativity Ode transcends the scope, vision and power of contemporary analogues. The Masque negotiates a curious relationship with the masque tradition. This is a provincial and aristocratic entertainment, performed at Ludlow for the celebration of the Earl of Bridgewater’s installation as President of the Council of Wales and Lord Lieutenant of Wales and the marches. While the event originated in a royal decree, the masque is not courtly, and the king was not present. Our expectation is that it should be relatively modest, compared, for example, with the court masques of the 1630s, and no doubt staging was fairly unambitious, though the incidental music and song-settings were the work of Henry Lawes. Certainly, the aristocratic masquers are limited in number and the opportunities for formal choreography are limited. But Milton more than compensates for what is lacking in spectacle with his innovations in the dialogue, in which he adds elements from pastoral drama and, indeed, from the professional theatre.
The aristocratic or royal masquers in court masque are wholly silent, leaving the speaking and the singing to hired professionals, and concentrating on processing and dancing. In Milton’s drama, the two brothers and the Lady, played by children of the earl, speak, and the Lady even sings. Moreover, the antimasque, led by Comus, interacts directly with the masquers in situations of some dramatic tension. The brothers keenly debate with each other. They take on an aggressive and heroic role, routing Comus’s crew. But the dramatic centre of the work is the exchange between Comus and the Lady, a scene of failed seduction and physical threat that perhaps stimulates recollection of the analogous exchange in Volpone between Celia and Volpone himself, a scene interrupted by the sudden arrival of Bonario, her liberator, who bursts in much as the brothers do. The Lady’s plight matches that of many Jacobean or Caroline dramatic heroines, abandoned, unprotected and the object of a plainly sexual threat. The dialogue has a richness of a kind rarely found in Carew and Davenant, in its felicity of phrasing and its imaginative power, showing a poet who has absorbed the achievements of Shakespeare:
[Wherefore did Nature] set to work millions of spinning worms,
That in their green shops weave the smooth-haired silk
To deck her sons, and that no corner might
Be vacant of her plenty, in her own loins
She hutched the all-worshipped ore …
(ll.714—18; Milton 1645: 217)
Detailed, vividly imagined, lexically brilliant, playful in its metaphoric transformation of the silk-worms: this is a different voice from that usually found in aristocratic and courtly entertainments.
The masque serves its obvious functions. It entertains, it compliments the earl through the compliment to the heroism of his sons and the bold chastity of his daughter, and it leads into some kind of dancing. But Milton gives it a larger perspective. It begins and ends with speeches from the Attendant Spirit, whose description of his mission, couched in Neoplatonic terms, invites a more allegorical interpretation of the action. He saves the Lady, but his mission is a more general one, to save all godly souls, who, though incapable of making their own way there, can do so aided by the intercession of some external agency.
’Lycidas’ is the concluding poem of the Justa, where it appears without its headnote, which was added in the 1645 volume: ’In this monody the author bewails a learned friend, unfortunately drowned in his passage from Chester on the Irish Seas, 1637. And by occasion foretells the ruin of our corrupted clergy then in their height’ (Milton 1645: 243). With the headnote, and with the recognition of Milton’s anti-prelatical activities in the 1640s, the poem can be read unambiguously as an assault on the Laudian Church. It reflects creditably on Moseley’s own tolerance that he allowed its inclusion. In 1638, the issues would have seemed less clear. Certainly there is a passage on ecclesiastical malpractice, albeit couched in heavily metaphorical language. But all points on the religious spectrum in the early modern period thought of themselves as engaged in a process of church reform. Laud believed he himself was a reformer, as in some ways he was. So, too, did the likes of John Cosin or even Richard Crashaw (see below, chapter 5). Moreover, the others who appear with Milton in the collaborative volume include several in holy orders or in academic posts from which they would, in the 1640s, be expelled. For example, Michael Honywood, a Fellow of Christ’s College, Milton’s own and Edward King’s, may well have been a key figure in promoting the project. He spent the late 1640s and ’50s in exile in Utrecht before returning to be Dean of Lincoln (DNB 2004). It seems inherently improbable that men looking to patrons among the Laudian ascendancy for preferment would welcome at the key point of their prestigious project an expression of opposition so explicit as to forfeit their good will.
The political component is a relatively small part of the whole. Certainly, there is a minatory millenarianism implied in the dread voice of St Peter, who warns that ’that two-handed engine at the door, / Stands ready to smite once, and smite no more’ (ll.131—2; Milton 1645: 252). Yet quite what he is referring to has provoked endless critical speculation, which at the least points to a studied evasiveness. From the perspective of 1645 it may seem prophetic of the fall of the bishops; but in 1638 it probably seemed unclear.
The rest of the poem brings together topoi of lamentation and Christian consolation that figured in other poems in the collection. This is an old, rich tradition. Milton, however, gathers a surprising number of them together in one poem, and he organizes them in a logical and emotionally effective way. Thus, for example, the bewildered lament, ’What boots it with uncessant care / To tend the homely slighted shepherd’s trade’ (ll.64—5; ibid.: 247) is met by the Christian consolation that ’all-judging Jove’ notes meritorious conduct and rewards it in heaven (ll.82—84; ibid.: 249). The poem drives on to the final consolation of the penultimate verse paragraph, which shows Lycidas resurrected to a heaven where ’the saints above … wipe the tears for ever from his eyes’ (ll.178, 181; ibid.: 256). There is an obvious echo of the biblical phrase, ’God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes’ (Revelation 7:17 and 21:4). Where first it occurs, it is the consolation extended to people who ’came out of great tribulation’ (verse 14), as, I suppose, in the context of the Justa, Milton and his colleagues may be said to have done. Its second occurrence offers a broader promise, of a resurrection of the dead in which ’there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying’ (verse 4). Milton’s poem works to free his readers from the grief and bewilderment of King’s undeserved and untimely death by leading them all, and his fellow-elegists, into the security of the longer, Christian perspective. The final paragraph offers a structural surprise: evidently we have not been listening to Milton in pastoral guise, but to an overheard ’uncouth swain’, who twitches his ’mantle blue’, a symbol of hope, before departing: ’Tomorrow to fresh woods, and pastures new’ (ll.192—3; 1645: 256). These lines close both the poem and the volume, and they bring a sense of emotional closure to the Justa contributors; the swain becomes a representative of them all. The maimed ritual of mourning, frustrated because as many including Milton noted no body was found to be buried, is made complete.
Milton’s early verse, in its diversity, demonstrates what could be achieved within the literary culture of Caroline England. But it pushes the conventions of that culture to an extreme. His major work of the Restoration (see below, chapter 6) marks a shift to and the triumph of a new cultural agenda.