“Oh, yeah?” “Yeah!” “Oh, yeah?” “Yeah!”

Well. I was hoping for a relatively straightforward re-start of my Chronobibliography; I seem to have opened a can of worms instead.

The next work on my existing list is – or wasThe Secret History Of The Reigns Of K. Charles II, And K. James II, one of the numerous pieces of revisionist history to emerge in the wake of the Glorious Revolution. Published anonymously, the item is sometimes listed in library catalogues and other such sources as by John Phillips, but with sufficient doubt about it to prompt me to go looking for more concrete information on the subject.

That may have been a mistake.

My initial research did indeed turn up a suggested alternative author in the form of bookseller, historian and plagiarist, Nathaniel Crouch. It also brought to light a response to the publication: The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d: or, Reflexions On A Late Libel, Entituled, The Secret History Of The Reigns Of K. Charles II. And K. James II.

Okay. Paired opinions. Might be interesting.

So I read The Secret History…noting in its preface a reference to a third work, One of the French King’s most Scandalous Libels, and bitter Invectives against our Present Sovereign; Intitled, The True Portraicture of William Henry of Nassau, &c.

And then I began to glance into The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d…whose own preface references a raft of contemporary literature, before launching into a point-by-point criticism of the its rival publication.

It was quickly apparent that I had inadvertently wandered into the middle of an ongoing brawl. When the dust settled, the landscape looked something like this—

In 1689, the French theologian, philosopher and (as one source put it) “professional controversialist” Antoine Arnauld published Le véritable portrait de Guillaume Henry de Nassau, nouvel Absalon, nouvel Hérode, nouvel Cromwel, nouvel Néron.

(Some impressive name-calling there: I’m amused by the designation of William as “Absalom”, which as we might recall was the term applied by John Dryden to the Duke of Monmouth, Charles’ rebellious illegitimate son; now we find it being applied to William of Orange, a rebellious Stuart nephew.)

The first reaction to this was – curiously, at first glance – also French. The same year saw the publication of Apologie pour leurs Sérénissimes Majestés Britanniques, contre un Infame Libelle intitulé ‘Le vray portrait de Guillaume Henry de Nassau by Pierre Jurieu, a leading French Protestant who understandably spent most of his life outside of France, and who like Antoine Arnaud was a disputatious writer. (He seems to have done more practical good than Arnaud, however, particularly in assisting fellow-Protestants impacted by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.)

In due course, both of these documents were translated into English—the former becoming the aforementioned A True Portraicture Of William Henry, Prince Of Nassau, and the latter appearing as A defence of Their Majesties King William and Queen Mary, against an infamous and Jesuitical libel entituled, A true portraicture of William Henry, Prince of Nassau.

(In fact Arnaud seems to have spent a lot of time butting heads with the Jesuits, but of course “Jesuitical” was just English for “particularly evil Catholic”.)

As we have seen, the first translation prompted the writing of The Secret History, which in turn prompted The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d…which begins with a lengthy rant against the proliferation of revisionist and scandal-histories and the slanderers who write them, and comparing them unfavourably, in respect of their “truth”, with the exaggerated historical “romances” popular in France; in the process mentioning by title:

  • A Letter From Lewis The Great, To James The Less
  • The Royal Wanton; or, The Amours Of Messalina
  • Cassandre (by Gauthier de Costes, seigneur de la Calprenède, 1642-1650, translated into English by Sir Charles Cotterell between 1652-1661)
  • Artamène; ou le Grand Cyrus (1649-1654; originally attributed to Georges de Scudéry, but written by his sister, Madeleine; considered the longest novel ever written)
  • Ibrahim; ou le Ilustrious Basa (1641, also by Madeleine de Scudéry, also originally attributed to Georges; translated into English in 1652 by Henry Cogan and adapted into a play by Elkanah Settle in 1676)
  • The Great Bastard, Protector Of The Little One
  • The Abdicated Prince; or, The Adventures Of Four Years

…the last two of which further brought to my attention:

  • The Royal Cuckold; or, Great Bastard: giving an account of the birth and pedegree of Lewis le Grand, the first French King of that name and race (which seems to have been a German work, not translated into English until 1693; although The Great Bastard is clearly a pseudo-sequel of sorts)
  • The Bloody Duke; or, The Adventures For A Crown
  • A Compleat History Of The Pretended Prince of Wales: from his supposed conception by the late abdicated Qeen, to the fatal exit of his true mother Mrs. Mary Grey

Sigh.

Having sat down feeling good about about getting back to this project, I’m now doing my impression of a deer caught in headlights…with my only definite decision about where to go from here being that I will *not* be tackling the literary efforts of the absurdly fecund Mlle de Scudéry.

The one overarching conclusion we can draw from all this, I think, is that William and Mary were not as secure on their thrones as history may now make it seem. There were still those who supported the Stuarts, or at least held by “the true line”; and there was fear and uncertainty about what James might do, with sufficient backing from Louis XIV: of all these works, only The Royal Cuckold appeared (in English) after the Battle of the Boyne. Clearly it was felt necessary to shore by the new monarchs’ position by reminding everyone of the iniquities and failures of Charles and James, and their sinister connection to Louis.

Although I have previously tagged 1689 as a watershed year in the development of the English novel, in that it was the first year in which prose writing was dominated by fiction rather than politics, we can see from this that it was rather a brief respite in the conflict, while the combatants of 1688 were gathering their forces for another clash.

As for the rest— Clearly my hope that I had seen the last of James was premature and delusive. I can’t say I’m feeling much enthusiasm – to put it mildly – about the prospect of hashing over the Sham Prince saga yet again. Nor about another round of sex-scandal romans à clef: The Royal Wanton, by the way, is Gregory Leti’s follow-up to The Amours Of Messalina, expanding on the putative affair between Louis XIV and Mary of Modina and intended, like so much of this literature, to make James look stupid.  And I already know that The Secret History and The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d are just tiresome exercises in slander and insult.

On the other hand, I don’t honestly feel that I can just skip over this second wave of political writing, which serves to illustrate the emotional and political climate in England leading up to James’ attempt to re-seize his crown.

So what I think I will try to do, is simply give a brief overview of the works in question—unless they seem to deserve a closer look. I have some hopes that one or two of them, A Letter From Lewis The Great, To James The Less, for example, might actually be funny.

Of course, the downside of this schema is that it requires me actually to read these things in the first place…

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3 Comments to ““Oh, yeah?” “Yeah!” “Oh, yeah?” “Yeah!””

  1. What you need to do is have your staff write up condensed summaries.

  2. Those Jesuits! They go being clever and using arguments and stuff! It’s just not fair!

    Also, welcome back.

    • Yeah, I’ll get my minions onto that right away. 😀

      I’ve had to infer Antoine Arnauld’s argument from what Pierre Jurieu says in return (or at least, what his English translator says he said), but allowing for that, it doesn’t seem particularly clever (and therefore *not* Jesuitical?).

      Thank you! I can’t say this is how I wanted it to go, but at least I’ve got something started.

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