Archive for April, 2012

25/04/2012

The case for the defence…

There seems little doubt that Aphra Behn’s first love was poetry and that, had it been possible, she would have confined herself to this acceptably dignified form of literary expression. However, it was no easier in the 1670s and 1680s to support yourself by writing poetry alone than it is in 2012, and in order to earn a living Behn was compelled to write plays and, eventually, fiction. Though they paid much better, these “lower” forms of writing also laid their author open to vicious personal attacks.

But Behn never stopped writing poetry, gradually producing an impressive body of work that, at its best, is notable for its wit, its deft command of language and imagery, and its daring sexuality – as we have already seen. There is, however, a subset of Behn’s poetry that can make even her most devoted admirers squirm: the frankly political poems through which she declared her ongoing allegiance to the Stuart cause and (unavailingly, it need hardly be said) tried to win royal notice and, more importantly, patronage.

Although political themes became more common in Behn’s writing from the time of the Popish Plot onwards, the death of Charles II in February 1685 prompted Behn to write the first of a series of royalist poems that continued through – and past – the reign of James. Completely without subtlety in their imagery and politically embarrassing, the only redeeming feature of these lengthy odes and “pindaricks” is a sense that Behn herself did not take them entirely seriously—or at least, had accepted that if she was to have any hope of being recognised for her work, it would be necessary to shout. Lurking in most of these poems is a moment of self-portraiture, in which we glimpse Behn jumping up and down, waving her arms and calling out, “HELL-OOO, LOYAL STARVING ARTIST OVER HERE!!”

Behn’s first royalist poem was A Pindarick On Death Of Our Late Sovereign; With An Ancient Prophecy On His Present Majesty; and if, in Love Letters Between A Nobleman And His Sister, we winced at her references to Charles as “…this god-like King…”, we can only cringe at her recasting of him, in the wake of his death, as nothing less than Jesus on the cross:

    Again I heard, and yet I thought it Dream;
              Impossible! (I raving cry)
    That such a Monarch! such a God should die!…

    They did the Deity, and Man adore;
    What must they pay, when He confirm’d the God;
    Who having finisht all His wonders here,
              And full Instructions given,
    To make His Bright Divinity more Clear;
    Transfigur’d all to Glory, Mounts to Heav’n!

    So fell our Earthy God! so Lov’d, so Mourn’d,
              So like a God again return’d…

Behn then goes on to give us her version of, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” – before taking consolation (as did Charles, we gather) in the fact that this “Earthly God” will be immediately succeeded by another:

    And blest His Stars that in an Age so Vain,
    Where Zealous Mischiefs, Frauds, Rebellions, Reign:
    Like Moses, he had led the Murm’ring Crowd,
Beneath the Peaceful Rule of his Almighty Wand;
    Pull’d down the Golden Calf to which they bow’d,
    And left ’em safe, entr’ing the Promised Land;
    And to good JOSHUA, now resigns his sway;
JOSHUA, by Heaven and Nature pointed out to lead the way.

    Full of the Wisdom and the Pow’r of God;
    The Royal PROPHET now before him stood
    On whom his Hands the Dying MONARCH laid
   And wept with tender Joy and Blest…

This poem was accompanied by another addressed to Catherine of Braganza, A Poem Humbly Dedicated To The Great Pattern Of Piety And Virtue Catherine Queen Dowager. On The Death Of Her Dear Lord And Husband King Charles II, which, although paying due tribute to Catherine’s loyalty and steadfastness through the accusations and humiliations of the Popish Plot and the Exclusion Crisis, unfortunately does so by a continuance of the uncomfortable religious imagery:

    Witness the Steddy Graces of your Soul
    When charg’d by Perjuries so black and foul,
    As did all Laws, both Humane and Divine controul.
    When Heaven (to make the Heroin understood;
    And Hell it self permitted loose abroad)
    Gave you the Patience of a Suffering God.
    So our blest Saviour his Reproaches bore
    When Piercing Thorns His Sacred Temples wore;
    And stripes compell’d the Rich Redeeming Gore.
   
Your precious Life alone the fiends disdain’d
    To murder home; your Vertue they prophan’d;
    By Plots so rude; so Hellish a Pretence
    As ev’n would call in question Providence…

Although Catherine does indeed seem to have grieved more for Charles than we might feel he deserved, Behn’s casting of her as the Virgin Mary at the foot of the cross does seem just a tad over the top:

    Princes we more than Humane do allow,
    You must have been above an Angel too;
    Had You resisted this sad Scene of Woe;
    So the Blest Virgin at the Worlds great loss,
    Came, and beheld, then Fainted at the Cross…

    So She bewail’d Her God! so sigh’d, so Mourn’d;
    So His blest Image in Her Heart remain’d,
    So His blest Memory o’re Her Soul still Reign’d!…

(It is perhaps worth mentioning that the actual parting between Charles and Catherine was much more dignified and, I think, much more touching than this. Although she did not enter his death chamber, Catherine sent her husband a final message begging for his pardon if she had ever offended him, to which he responded: “Alas, poor woman! She asks for my pardon? I beg hers with all my heart; take her back that answer.”)

But Behn was only getting warmed up. Although her loyalty to Charles and the Stuart cause was real and profound, her deepest devotion, as we have seen, was to James; and she greeted his accession with A Pindarick Poem On The Happy Coronation Of His Most Sacred Majesty King James II. And His Illustrious Consort Queen Mary, a work of almost 1000 lines in length.

The gap between theory and reality in this poem is, if anything, even wider than that in its predecessors:

    So on Olympus top the GOD appears,
          When of his Thunder he disarms,
    And all his attributes of mercy wears
    The sweetness of Divine forgiving Charms.
    With Smiles he casts His Gracious Eyes around,
    Inspiring FAITH from ev’ry look and Grace,
           No Soul so dull to humane sense was found
    As not to read its safety in His Face.
           Where FORTITUDE and BRAVERY sate
          In solemn Triumph over Fate,
    Where TRUTH in all her honest Glory shin’d,
    That darling vertue of His Godlike mind…

We eventually get all sorts of James-es in this poem – an earthly god, a military hero, a stern but just ruler, a passionate lover and a thoroughly domesticated husband and father – along with an amusingly unrecognisable Mary of Modena:

    And no soft Venus could his Soul subdue;
    All bent for nobler spoil than Beauties Charms,
    And loos’d a while from Sacred LAURA’S Arms.
    LAURA! the Chast! the Pious! and the Fair!
    Glorious, and kind as Guardian-Angels are,
    Earths darling Goddess! and Heav’ns tend’rest care!

James’ rise to the throne is seen as the decisive blow to the traitorous Whigs and their collaborators:

    None bow beneath the Pressure of a thought,
    Unless where ENVY has her vipers hurl’d,
    And raging MALICE even to MADNESS wrought,
    They hate the Light that guides the work Divine;
And how’l and gnash their Teeth, and suffer Hell before their time.
    The Brave are glad, and gay, the young rejoyce,
    The old in Prayers and Blessings lift the Voice…

The second half of the poem describes the coronation processions, and pays tribute by name to those men who stayed loyal to James and the Stuart line through the upheavals of Charles’ reign:

    And now the ravisht People shout a new!
    Their KING! their dear-lov’d MONARCH is in view;
    The constant AYLESBURY and the Loyal GRAY,
          Prepare the mighy Way.

Yes—she does mean THAT Lord Grey.

Aphra herself is more visible in this poem than the earlier ones, openly mourning the unkind fate that has excluded her from the privileged circle of her beloved royals:

    Oh Blest are they that may at distance gaze,
    And Inspirations from Your looks may take,
    But how much more their happier Stars they Praise,
          Who wait, and listen when you speak!
    Mine for no scanted bliss so much I blame,
    (Though they the humblest Portion destin’d me)
          As when they stint my noblest Aim,
          And by a silent dull obscurity
          Set me at distance, much too far
The Deity to view, or Divine Oracle to hear!

It is uncomfortably clear in this poem that Aphra had real hope that James might finally recognise her efforts for the cause in a concrete way—but she was, as always, doomed to disappointment. Her loyalty remained unshaken, nevertheless; although possibly it would have been better for almost all concerned if at this point she had given up on the Stuarts in disgust.

When Mary of Modena’s pregnancy was publicly announced in January 1688 there was, as we have seen, a rush on the part of the loyalists to voice their belief that the child would be a boy, a mark of Divine favour, a sign that God was on James’ side. One of those who prepared to put their faith on paper was Aphra Behn, who early in the year published A Congratulatory Poem To Her Most Sacred Majesty, On The Universal Hopes Of All Loyal Persons For A Prince Of Wales; and while the poem’s title spoke of “hopes” that the baby would be a boy, the text declared it to be a certainty—a godlike son born to godlike parents, whose coming would defeat James’ enemies once and for all, and bring about a unified Britain:

    Like the first sacred Infant, this will come
    With Promise laden from the Blessed Womb,
    To call the wand’ring, scatter’d Nations home.
    Adoring PRINCES shall arrive from far,
    Inform’d by ANGELS, guided by his Star,
    The new-born Wonder to behold, and greet;
    And Kings shall offer Incense at his Feet.
          Hail, Royal BOY!…

    O Happy KING! to whom a Son is born!
    What more can Fortune, Heaven, and You perform?

    Behold, with Joy three prostrate Nations come:
    ALBION, HIBERNIA and old CALEDON
    Now join their Int’rests, and no more dispute
    With sawcy Murmurs, who is Absolute;
    Since, from the wonders of your Life, ’tis plain,
   You will, you shall, you must for ever reign.

The lady protesting too much? It’s hard to know how seriously we are to take these effusions. Certainly, at a time when James’ grip on his throne was already shaky, those “universal hopes” of the poem’s title look like irony; although perhaps the operative word is “loyal”.

And while you may think that after this outpouring there was nothing left for Aphra to say on the subject, when the child in question did turn out to be a boy, she took up her pen once more, with A Congratulatory Poem To The Kings Most Sacred Majesty On The Happy Birth Of The Prince Of Wales, which goes even further over the top in its religious imagery, being peppered with biblical allusions, and then dwells with unabashed Schadenfreude on the disappointment of William of Orange:

    No MONARCH’s birth was ever Usher’d in
    With Signs so Fortunate as this has been.
    The Holy Trinity his BIRTH-DAY claims,
    Who to the World their best Lov’d Blessing sends.
    Guarded he comes, in Triumph over FATE,
    And all the Shining HOST around him wait.
    Angels and Saints, that do his Train Adorn,
    In Hallelujahs Sing, A KING IS BORN!…

    Methinks I hear the Belgick LION Roar,
    And Lash his Angry Tail against the Shoar.
    Inrag’d to hear A PRINCE OF WALES is Born:
    Whose BROWS his Boasted Laurels shall Adorn.
    Whose Angel FACE already does express
    His Foreign CONQUESTS , and Domestick PEACE.
    While in his Awful little EYES we Fin’d
    He’s of the Brave, and the Forgiving KIND.

Or not.

Originally released separately, these two poems were bundled together and reissued quite late in 1688; during the time, as it happened, that William of Orange was waiting for a break in the weather; and, well, we all know how that story ended…

While these poems hardly represent Aphra Behn at her best, the painful mix of devotion and desperation that they express is terribly moving, particularly when we reflect that they were written at a time of great personal hardship and failing health. Although, also in 1688, James overcame his previous scorn of the literary support that Charles had encouraged and began commissioning plays in support of his cause, he never did deign to notice the efforts of one of the few people in England whose loyalty to him was unwavering.

And don’t think that Aphra’s writing didn’t have an impact at the time, or that efforts weren’t made to shake her loyalty. On the contrary: almost at the last, an open effort to buy her services was made on behalf of the pro-Williamites by the Reverend Gilbert Burnet.

Famous as an historian and a linguist as well as a theologian, Burnet managed to stay in favour with Charles II in spite of his association with the Whigs. He earned notoriety in 1680 by attending the deathbed of the Earl of Rochester at his mother’s request, and later publishing an account of Rochester’s last-minute denunciation of libertinism and religious conversion: an account vigorously disputed by those who knew the Earl best, although certain of his papers seem to confirm his conversion, at least.

After the death of her close friend, Aphra Behn published On The Death Of The Late Earl Of Rochester, which caught the attention of Anne Lee Wharton, Rochester’s niece and a member of his household. Wharton had herself gained some fame as a writer of verse-dramas and poetry, and she expressed her gratitude to Behn in a poem entitled To Mrs A. Behn, On What She Writ Of The Earl Of Rochester.  Behn, who genuinely admired Wharton’s writing, was pleased and touched, and responded in turn with To Mrs W., On Her Excellent Verses. A real friendship began to grow between the two women, one doubly important to Aphra because she had so few female friends, and none who were conventionally respectable. However, before it could blossom, the friendship died—or rather, was killed off by Doctor Burnet. 

Behn and Burnet had already crossed paths, and swords, Burnet denouncing Behn publicly for the “bawdiness” of her writing. When he got wind of Anne Wharton’s friendly reception of Behn’s overtures Burnet immediately intervened, writing her a letter in which he warned her that associating with Behn would damage her reputation, and insisting that she sever the connection at once:

“…She is so abominably vile a woman, that I am as heartily sorry she has writ any thing in your commendation as I am glad, (I had almost said proud) that you have honoured me as you have done…”

Albeit reluctantly, Wharton obeyed. It was a blow Behn never forgot or forgave.

By the end of 1688, Aphra Behn was in debt and seriously ill, and no-one could have blamed her if, in this extremity, she had allowed pragmatism to override loyalty and sold her pen to the faction trying to build up support for William and excusing the removal of James. If nothing else, the Whigs always paid well for the services they bought—unlike the Tories, who considered that the honour of serving ought to be enough. And perhaps, at the last, Behn might have given in and served her enemies for the money, if only their agent had not been Gilbert Burnet, who courted her with praise of the very literary powers which before he had reviled and condemned. As it was, Behn rejected the Whigs’ overtures and set her pen to paper one last time, publishing early in 1689 A Pindaric Poem To The Reverend Doctor Burnet, On The Honour He Did Me Of Enquiring After Me And My Muse.

Much superior to the royalist poems that preceded it, this work is one of many moods. There is a great deal of sadness, as well as understandable regret for what its author is passing up; an acknowledgement that she would be personally better off if she did sell out, as many others had done, mixed with condemnation of the rats that had deserted the sinking ship; while towards Gilbert Burnet himself we detect more than a little sarcasm. It was, in any event, her parting shot: within weeks of its publication, William and Mary had been crowned, and Aphra was dead.

        But oh! if from your Praise I feel
        A Joy that has no Parallel!
    What must I suffer when I cannot pay
        Your Goodness, your own generous way?
And make my stubborn Muse your Just Commands obey.
        My Muse that would endeavour fain to glide
With the fair prosperous Gale, and the full driving Tide.
But Loyalty Commands with Pious Force,
        That stops me in the thriving Course,
The Brieze that wafts the Crowding Nations o’re,
        Leaves me unpity’d far behind
        On the forsaken barren shore,
To sigh with Echo, and the Murmuring Wind,
While all the Inviting Prospect I survey,
With melancholy eyes I view the Plains,
Where all I see is Ravishing and Gay,
And all I hear is Mirth in loudest Strains;
Thus while the Chosen Seed possess the Promis’d Land
        I like the Excluded Prophet stand,
        The Fruitful Happy Soil can only see,
        But am forbid by Fates Decree
To share the Triumph of the joyful Victory…


 

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08/04/2012

See you, Jimmy

I am NOT an historian.

Probably no-one who visits this blog regularly needs to be told that, but since I’m about to attempt a fairly straightforward piece of historical writing, I thought I’d just reiterate it at the outset, by way of apologising for the flubs, misinterpretations, omissions and over-simplifications in the following piece.

This post represents the return, after far too long spent dwelling on the sociopathic ramblings of Richard Head and Francis Kirkman, to my Chronobibliography. When we left off, we were in the middle of a stretch of fiction writing most notable for its thematic distance from the political writing that had flourished under Charles II, but which had become just too dangerous under James II. In 1688, however, the literary world was again a political battleground, as England became enmeshed in the upheaval which would pave the way for the “Glorious Revolution”. The aim of this piece is to outline the main events of James’ reign, highlighting those which had an impact upon the literature of the time – and vice-versa.

Through the writings of the Restoration, we’ve already witnessed the political and religious conflicts that marked the reign of Charles, most of them in fact aimed at his brother and heir. James’ first marriage to Anne Hyde, the daughter of Sir Edward Hyde, the Earl of Clarendon, produced two daughters, Anne and Mary – both of whom were raised as Protestants at Charles’ insistence. However, James himself had secretly converted to Catholicism in 1669; a fact which was not made public until the introduction of the Test Act in 1673 when, as Lord High Admiral, he was required to take an oath repudiating certain Catholic doctrines and practices, and to take Protestant communion. James refused, resigning his commission instead. Later the same year, to the alarm and dismay of everyone at court (and many outside it), he married Mary of Modena, also a Catholic. It was this that brought on the Exclusion Crisis, and the horrors of the Popish Plot.

After their efforts to have James removed from the royal succession failed, the Exclusionists were left in tatters. Their leader, the Earl of Shaftesbury, fled the country and, after one more failed attempt to raise a rebellion, died in January 1683. Subsequently, the exposure of the Rye House Plot in June of that same year (whatever the truth of the matter) gave Charles and James an excuse to rid themselves of what remained of the opposing faction. The remainder of Charles’ reign was without serious incident, and when he died in February 1685, there was barely a voice raised in opposition to James’ succession; while ultimately, the disastrous Monmouth Rebellion of July 1685 served only to entrench his position – and mark him as a dangerously vindictive enemy. In spite of the horrified public outcry against the “Bloody Assizes”, an unmoved James rewarded Judge George Jeffreys by raising him to the peerage, and later made him Lord Chancellor.

The litany of the Exclusionists during the years of the Crisis was a warning about what James – as a Catholic king – would do once he got to the throne, and as it turned out for the most part they were proved right. James was a staunch believer in the Divine Right, and had no intention of sharing his power with Parliament – or even tolerating opposition. He consolidated his power by significantly enlarging the standing army, entirely against long-standing English tradition, and by placing Catholic officers in charge of the regiments in violation of the Test Act. When Parliament objected, James prorogued it for the duration of his reign, and tried to secure a common-law ruling that he had the power as king to overturn Acts of Parliament. It took a series of dismissed judges and the removal of his Solicitor General until he found a legal panel that would give him the ruling he wanted, but he got there in the end.

James interference with the army was prompted by his fear that he could not depend upon the loyalty of the rank and file (and as it turned out, he was quite right). It was this “Catholicisation” of the armed forces that raised the spectre that was to haunt England all throughout James’ reign: the possibility of French troops being brought into the country to quell an English revolt.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to give a correct weight to these days is James’ doctrine of religious tolerance and his Declaration of Indulgence, which suspended the laws that enforced conformity with the Anglican church, allowed people (some people) to worship in their own way, and removed the requirement for swearing loyalty to the Church of England and rejecting Catholicism before attaining government office. It is hard today not to view this simply as a good and right thing; even as it is impossible to view the opposition to it as anything but bigotry. It is true enough that James thought only of lifting the social and legal restrictions upon the practice of Catholicism, but in order to achieve this end he was forced to offer similar liberties to the Dissenters, and even to roll back his persecution of the Presbyterians.

However, James’ insistence upon his doctrines being announced from the pulpit – which was, to be fair, one of the main ways of broadcasting news at the time, when much of the population was still illiterate – was viewed by the Protestant clergy as an intolerable insult; and was, as transpired, a significant factor in James’ ultimate fate.

Meanwhile, James continued to fill court positions with his Catholic supporters, and likewise replaced many high-ranking officials in other civil offices – including in the strictly Anglican colleges of the University of Oxford. He also received at court the papal nuncio, Ferdinando d’Adda; the first English monarch to do so since Bloody Mary.

Then, in 1688, two critical things happened almost simultaneously. 

In April of that year, James reissued his Declaration of Indulgence and ordered it to be read out in all churches. A panel of seven bishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, reacted to this dictum by submitting to James a petition requesting that he reconsider his religious policies. They also had the petition published and distributed in the form of a broadsheet. In response, a furious James fatally overplayed his hand: he had all seven arrested and tried for seditious libel. They were held in the Tower of London for a month before their trial, which took place on the 29th June, and ended in a verdict of not guilty. This outcome was a serious blow to James, the second he had suffered in that month; although the first was undoubtedly not recognised as such at the time, but would, on the contrary, have been viewed as the ultimate consolidation of the king’s position: the birth, on 10th June, of James Francis Edward Stuart, Prince of Wales.

One of the most bewildering aspects of this period in history, one which more than any other shaped its events, is the inability of the Stuarts to reproduce themselves – legitimately, that is. Most of Charles’ own woes stemmed from his childless marriage, although he had at least twelve children by women other than his wife; while James had at least five. In the next generation, neither Mary nor Anne would produce an heir (Anne therefore succeeding her sister and brother-in-law), with the former losing three babies in their infancy and the latter suffering through eighteen pregnancies that ended in miscarriage, stillbirth or early death. A generation back, James and Anne Hyde had had six children who did not survive childhood; while in the first fourteen years of her marriage, Mary of Modena suffered eight miscarriages, and bore and lost five children.

The ongoing failure of Mary to produce an heir was the major preventative of an open rebellion against James, since there was always the reassurance that his daughters, his heirs, were both Protestant, and so whatever James did would be undone in due course. Over time, people even stopped worrying about that aspect of the situation—not least because in 1687, James Stuart was fifty-four years old and (like all good Stuart men) syphilitic. And even when Mary’s pregnancy became public knowledge early in 1688, there was no particular concern. It was simply assumed that things would go wrong this time as they always had before—only they didn’t. Suddenly, England was confronted with the genuine threat of a Catholic dynasty, and those who had stayed their hands while waiting and hoping for the death of a childless James realised that they could sit still no longer. James had to go.

Although the removal of James from the throne in what would be become known as “the Glorious Revolution” (its history being written, as always, by the victors) occurred in November 1688, the fight began many months before that—as soon as Mary’s pregnancy began to be seen as a genuine threat—and ironically, it was the actions of James’ supporters that put the ultimate weapon into his enemies’ hands. In spite of what we have said here, James did have many supporters other than the Catholics, and the Dissenters who sided with them. The old Tory faction that believed in the Divine Right and loyalty to the monarch no matter what, and which had clung to its theory and looked away from reality all through Charles’ reign, did precisely the same thing through James’. To their minds, the birth of an heir to James and Mary was a sign of God’s approval of the incumbent—even if he was a Catholic. The ever-present prospect of civil war would surely be quelled by this proof of Divine favour.

However—in their zeal to place this interpretation upon the situation, many of the Tories jumped the gun, publishing pamphlets throughout the early months of 1688 in which they declared their absolute conviction that Mary’s baby would be a boy. In this they were joined by the Catholics, who saw their own vindication in Mary’s pregnancy, and likewise took the view that the birth of a son and heir was inevitable. This over-eagerness gave the opposing faction the opening it was looking for, and it began a literary campaign of its own, demanding to know how the Tories and Catholics could be so very sure that the baby would be a boy?—unless they had already arranged for it to be a boy.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the war of words that followed is that it appears to have been financed and at least partly orchestrated by William of Orange himself. While the official invitation to invade was not issued until October 1688, various interested parties had been in communication with William all throughout James’ reign, keeping him well-informed of the situation, and all of them waiting their chance. The signing of a naval pact between England and France in April 1688 seems to have been viewed by William as the beginning of James’ end, as he began planning for his eventual invasion of England from that date; although at the same time, he made it clear to those in England that he would take no action without being formally invited to do so.

Meanwhile, the opportunity offered by the presumption of the James-ites was recognised and swiftly seized upon by the conspirators, who initiated a spiralling campaign of slander and mockery that did incalculable damage to James, and left him open to a decisive attack, and in which James’ own thin skin played a significant part.

Instead of rising above the situation and ignoring what a bunch of scurrilous pamphlets might have to say, as (in an act of either unusual wisdom or, more likely, laziness) Charles had done, James made the fatal mistake of reacting to what was being said, thereby giving it credibility. The first rumour to take hold was that Mary was not really pregnant at all; that there was a plot afoot to simply “produce” a male baby on cue. In response, James insisted upon his unfortunate wife giving birth with a large gathering of witnesses in the next room, there to confirm that the labour was genuine; while later, the bloody bed-sheets were displayed to interested parties. James then gathered the witnesses’ testimony and published it, solemnly affirming his paternity at the same time – which only increased the scorn and laughter of the population, and provoked an outbreak of obscene ballads containing vivid descriptions of the gathered nobles peering solemnly between Mary’s legs.

By this time, indeed, the idea of the “sham prince”, as he became known, had taken too strong a hold on the imagination of the English people to be easily shaken loose – although whether anyone actually believed it, or merely chose to believe it, is moot. The pamphleteers kept busy circulating the most delicious stories, until there were two main scenarios from which the snickering crowds in the coffee-houses could take their choice.

The first option was that of a substituted child, in which the baby boy of a loyal Catholic woman was given up in order to pose as the Prince of Wales. This story began circulating almost as soon as Mary’s pregnancy was known, and took on a life of its own when the baby was born, and the infamous “warming-pan” was added to the mix – the means taken by one of Mary’s midwives to warm her bed being reinterpreted as the means by which the sham prince was smuggled into the birth chamber. This version of events was greatly bolstered by the fact that Mary went into labour prematurely, before the birth chamber could be officially searched for secret passages (really). That she did not nurse the baby herself – she may, of course, have been unable to do so – was considered the clinching bit of evidence.

The alternative, still more malicious tale, was that Mary had had a baby – but that James was not the father. Opinions varied on whether Mary had given up on her impotent husband and taken her own steps to pregnancy, or James had pimped his wife out to an appropriate (i.e. Catholic) substitute. Many and varied were the men offered up as the baby’s real father, but without question the overwhelming popular favourite was the papal nuncio, the unfortunately named Father d’Adda. Jokes aside (and really, how can you blame them for latching onto that?), this twist to the tale allowed the sham prince to be woven into the fabric of the long-running saga of the “popish plot”.

Astonishing as it is to contemplate, this smear campaign actually did more to weaken James’ position than any of the serious attacks made upon him over the preceding twenty years—simply because, whereas the Popish Plot had sought to demonise him, this made him ridiculous. Indeed, it was a common saying in the wake of James’ eventual flight to France that he had been laughed off the throne.

And by the way—don’t ever let anyone try to tell you that the pen is not mightier than the sword.

Anyway—while the general population rocked with laughter, and those in high places put on very shocked and solemn faces and pretended to take the matter seriously, behind the scenes the men who would earn themselves the collective title of the “Immortal Seven” waited only until the 18th June to issue the invitation that William had been waiting for. This fatal letter did not stoop to mentioning the sham prince, but stated England’s grievances in general terms, asserting that “nineteen parts out of twenty” of England’s population were in favour of William’s intervention and that “much the greatest part of the nobility and gentry” would rally behind him. Simultaneously, a second and considerably more serious pamphleteering campaign began, presenting William to the people as the desirable option of a Stuart free of the traditional Stuart vices…including Catholicism.

James was late taking the threat of William seriously, and when he finally did, he overestimated the size of his forces—which might explain his later behaviour. William finally landed in Torbay, in Devon, early in November 1688. He chose to maintain a defensive posture, hoping that the monarchy would collapse without the need for serious warfare. Meanwhile, knowing that it would only turn England against him the more passionately, James reluctantly declined an offer of French assistance and tried to drum up support amongst the Tories; but his refusal even at this late date to give up any of his pro-Catholic policies cost him the majority of his remaining followers. Across the country, anti-Catholic rioting broke out, and in the aftermath of this James saw for himself that he would not be able to depend upon his army beyond its officers. The navy had already defected.

Early in December, James sent Mary and his infant son to France. No attempt was made to hinder their departure. However, when James himself fled the next day – dropping the Great Seal in the Thames on his way, without which Parliament could not technically be summoned – he was embarrassingly captured by a group of fishermen and compelled to return to London. There he was met with an unexpected show of support, and began to contemplate ways and means of holding onto his throne—much to William’s exasperation, which grew when James tried to open negotiations with him. Desperate to avoid both an open conflict and the necessity of dealing with James were he to be forcibly deposed – the last thing anyone wanted being another martyred Stuart – William tried a bluff, sending back an ominously worded warning about his inability to guarantee James’ personal safety. It worked. James agreed to withdraw, and in return was placed under Dutch protection, which escorted him into Kent—from where he subsequently “escaped” to France on the 23rd December, while his guards were busy looking the other way.

Of course—the overriding irony of this situation is that England didn’t really want William any more than it had ever wanted Monmouth. It was true that as an alternative to James, William was a much more justifiable option: he was half-Stuart, he was Protestant, and he was married to James’ daughter. On the other hand, while Monmouth had been weak and indecisive, and easy to manipulate, William was pig-headed, hot-tempered—and Dutch. All along there had been an unspoken intention, particularly on the part of the Tory conspirators, still clinging to “the true line”, to use William to get rid of James and then offer the crown to Mary. Surprisingly, although he insisted on being crowned, William agreed both to Mary being the monarch, and to Anne’s heirs being in line for the throne in preference to his own. (Not that, as it turned out, anyone had anything to worry about in that respect.) However, whether she genuinely didn’t want it, or whether she thought it would be an ungrateful return for her father being allowed to slip quietly and safely away, Mary played the submissive wife and refused to be elevated over her husband. Finally a compromise was reached, and William and Mary were jointly crowned in February 1689, although the coronation did not take place until April.

In between those two events, one of even greater historical significance – one, indeed, whose significance can hardly be estimated – had taken place. In December 1688, Parliament reassembled (although it called itself a “Convention”, since only a monarch could assemble a Parliament) and immediately began working on “An Act declareing the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Setleing the Succession of the Crowne” – better known as the Bill of Rights. Amongst its many provisions were laws making it illegal for the monarch of England to be a Catholic, or for the monarch or the heir to the throne to marry a Catholic—laws that were not repealed until 2011!! Also included in this Act were sweeping reforms that markedly restricted the power of the monarchy, for example, removing the king or queen’s right to suspend laws, levy taxes, make royal appointments, or maintain a standing army during peacetime without Parliament’s permission. At the same time, Parliament’s own powers were greatly increased. The requirement for regular elections was introduced, and freedom of speech within Parliament guaranteed. The Act also re-emphasised the long-ignored necessity for the Crown, in certain situations, “to seek the consent of the people, as represented in Parliament”.

In March 1689, William and Mary put their signatures to this remarkable document. It was the beginning of Constitutional Monarchy, and the end of the Divine Right of Kings.

   

06/04/2012

Ubinam gentium sumus? Quonam eamus abhinc?

Well.

One little detail I forgot to mention while reviewing The English Novel, perhaps the only thing I could have said but didn’t (I really need to work on that logorrhoea), is that upon posting that review, I was officially all caught up.

I don’t know why I feel I have to review something, just because I read it. It’s a particularly noxious form of OCD, which I have tried and failed to overcome. The only possible solution I can come up with is to be rather more selective in my reading.

By way of which, I think I’ll be giving the non-fiction a rest for a while – it slows me down far too much; although that said, I’m certainly not sorry to have tackled either The History Of The Pre-Romantic Novel In England or The Mary Carleton Narratives.

On the other hand,  I will – finally – be getting back on track with my Chronobibliography, from which The English Rogue so painfully derailed me last year. To facilitate this, I’ll be doing a background post to remind us all where we were up to when we were so rudely interrupted, and highlighting the salient points of the historical period we’re about to enter. We’re going to be back in the realm of the roman à clef, and it’s important that we have a good grasp on what was really going on.

As part of being all caught up, I also allowed myself a game of Random Roulette – although not without some trepidation, after the horrors of Bartholomew Sapskull. This time the Reading Gods decided to treat me gently, and I landed upon:

  • Lady Patty: A Sketch by Margaret Wolfe Hungerford (1892)

Hungerford was a prolific and popular novelist, who in America published under the sobriquet “the Duchess”. She was twice married and had eight children, but managed to juggle her domestic obligations with a lengthy and successful writing career. Hungerford’s novels are best known for their witty dialogue, and have a reputation for being light and entertaining without rocking the moral boat. Lady Patty is that seeming contradiction, a one-volume Victorian novel; a reminder that towards the end of the 19th century, the power of the circulating libraries was on the wane. Hopefully I can imitate Hungerford’s restraint, and refrain from writing a review longer than the novel itself.

Another long-neglected project is Authors In Depth. This time around we’ll be back with E.D.E.N. Southworth, and her second novel, The Deserted Wife.

(Hmm… So in her first novel, a young wife is betrayed by her husband and her best friend, and her second is called “The Deserted Wife“? Call me crazy, but I think I’m sensing a theme here…)

And finally—although goodness knows I need another reading thread like a hole in the head—lately I’ve been introducing some friends to the delights of the Gothic novel. (The usual thing: Northanger Abbey –> The Castle Of Otranto –> ????) This in turn has led me to re-read Devendra P. Varma’s The Gothic Flame and Montague Summers’ The Gothic Quest (which, nota bene, I WILL NOT be reviewing here), and to ponder the fact that it’s been a good twenty years since I really indulged my taste for Gothics…