Posts tagged ‘James II’

25/01/2014

The Court Secret: A Novel (Part 2)

belon2 …in a short time Amurat was told, that the Fleet, and all things necessary for his Expedition, were in a readiness, and ready to set Sail, only they wanted his Person, without which nothing could be done. Thus was Amurat sent away from his Sultana, to countenance Cha-abas Designs on Leridan, and to give more Liberty to his amorous Intrigues. For no sooner was Amurat gone, but that Cha-abas laid close Siege unto the Sultana’s Vertues, and follow’d it so close, that he prevented the Design that she had taken, and which doubtless she had executed, into confining her self into some Society of Religious Women, during Amurat’s Absence, had not Cha-abas Love been very diligent in breaking her measures. He had not yet made any Declaration of Love to her, and all those Services and Demonstrations of Respect which he shew’d her, pas’d but for the effects of his Courtesie and Civility, to a Princess in affliction: He had had some thoughts of declaring his Passion, but he thought it was not to be done in a mean and ordinary method, but in such a manner as should correspond with his Glory, the Greatness of the Sultana, and the Excess of his Passion… He resolv’d upon communicating of his Designs unto Clorineta, wife to Clorinet, who had accompanied the Sultana from Turky into Persia, and all along been Privy to all the Sultana’s Contrivances, Plots and Intrigues, and in whom the Sultana put all her Confidence and Trust…

Probably the most interesting thing—oh, let’s throw caution to the winds, shall we?—the only really interesting thing about Part 2 of Peter Belon’s The Court Secret is the preface. Unlike some of the publications from this era, the two parts of this novel carry only a year printing, not the month or even day the work appeared. Thus, while we know that the parts were published separately – and emanated from two different printers – we have no feel for the gap between them, and nor, more importantly, do we know their chronological relationship to the anonymous The Amours Of Messalina, which was published the same year (1689, despite what I tried to tell you the last time).

The significance of this point becomes clear as soon as the first page of Part 2 is turned, and we are confronted by the following address TO THE READER:

No sooner had the piece call’d, The Amours Of Messalina, appear’d in Publick, but some malicious Persons gave out, that I was the author of it, they having heard under-hand, that I was about some such thing; and though presently after, there came forth another Piece on the same Subject in my Name, Entitled, The Court Secret, in which Crown’d Heads are treated with that Reverence and Respect—

You guys all noticed the reverence and respect, right?

which is due to them: They have still continu’d to misrepresent me to the World, adding, That the severe Rebukes which I had received for my rude Behaviour towards Sovereigns in the first, had made me to compose the last in another strain, by way of Submission. Did those Persons that thus asperse me consider with what Respect I speak of Persons that once have had Dominion over me, they would not find one grain of that ill Nature in all my writings—

You guys noticed the absence of ill-nature, right?

with which the Amours of Messalina have been season’d by it Author, as if designedly writ as a Satyr against the late King and Queen, which has prov’d a Scandal to all moderate and modest Persons.

Who find the rape of an unconscious virgin a suitable basis for a sex farce.

    Certainly those Persons must needs be void of the Charity, which covers a multitude of Defects, that thus delight to impose the worst of Crimes on those that have been their Lords and Sovereigns, unto whom all Honour and Respect is due, from those who were once their subjects, if it were but for the bare Relation they have to our present King and Queen, whom God long preserve.
    It may be alleged (though disingenuously) That I my self am guilty of that which is blamed in others, by speaking too largely of another King, under the Name of Cha-abas Emperor of Persia. But when all is done, that very Person intended, was not my King, and God forbid he should be so; and what do I say of him, nay, what more can I say of him, than has already been declar’d and proclaim’d, not by a few of his own inconsiderable Heretick Subjects (as he is pleased to call those that are Protestants) but also by the Emperour of Germany, the Kings of England, Denmark, Sweden, the States of Holland, and all the Confederate Princes, all which has been confirm’d by his most Holy Father the Pope?

Who was also treated with great reverence and respect in Part 1.

Anyway, a two-page rant against Louis follows, which concludes with the overriding accusation that he is guilty of leading James astray:

If then that King has rendred himself so odious to all Christians…I may very well be excus’d, for what I have said of the same Person, in a Novel, where Hyperbolies are allowed in their largest extent: I having had no other design in the whole Business than to gratifie the Reader with joyning the Pleasant to the Useful—

Pleasant and useful! Those were the words I was trying to think of when I was writing up Part 1!

without the least intention of railing, or so much as making severe Reflexions, or bearing malice against any Person, even my profest Enemies, much less against such as are absolute Strangers to me.

Not to mention those of us who are both an absolute Stranger to him, and his profest Enemie!

It’s hard not to get distracted here by that tantalising reference to “a Novel”, and the fact that at the time, a novel was apparently considered a literary medium where, Hyperbolies are allowed in their largest extent; a fascinating glimpse into the mindset of 1689 and an indication, perhaps, of why Aphra Behn preferred to use the term “history” to describe her own stories. There’s also a certain irony in the fact that for the following 150 years, most English writers would go out of their way to insist upon the strict distinction that existed between the realistic “novel” and the exaggerated and improbable “romance”. Clearly the word “romance” had not yet entered the English literary vocabulary, at least not in that sense; its first usage is something to look out for in the future.

BUT—the real issue here is that despite insisting upon his “reverent” and “respectful” attitude towards his own monarchs, and justifying his handling of Louis with some shameless name-dropping, Peter Belon entirely fails to address his treatment of Mary of Modena. Putting aside (most willingly) its inclusion of the story of Roxana and her various miseries, the one significant difference between The Court Secret and The Amours Of Messalina is that the latter has Mary guilty of various sexual misdeeds; presumably it is this to which Belon refers when accusing his anonymous rival of being someone who, Delight[s] to impose the worst of Crimes on those that have been their Lords and Sovereigns. Conversely, both stories have Mary a willing participant in the conspiracy to impose a Sham Prince upon the English people—an accusation that Belon apparently doesn’t believe might be construed as disrespectful, or require an apology.

So how do we interpret this? Could it be possible—incredible thought!—that Peter Belon was the one person in England who actually BELIEVED that story? – that he thought he was simply reporting the facts, and consequently showing no disrespect towards Mary? Or – and perhaps his own use of the word is a bit of a giveaway – is this simply an outrageous piece of disingenuousness?

Anyway— I wish I could tell you that the continuation of the The Court Secret was anywhere near as interesting and amusing as its preface, but the truth is that this second part of the story, though only half as long as the first, is twice as pointless, expanding the sexual manoeuvring of the back-end of The Amours Of Messalina into almost its entire story. Ultimately, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that Part 2 was written for no other reason but to give Peter Belon somewhere to publish his preface.

The one worthwhile aspect of this second part of The Court Secret is its constraint by real events: early on it dispatches Amurat (James) to Leridan (Ireland), in pursuit of a scheme to reclaim the Ottoman Empire (Britain) by first establishing Halist (Catholic) domination of that land and Clonstad (Scotland). Following his arrival in France in December 1688, James did depart for Ireland in March 1689; the Irish Parliament had refused to recognise William and still considered James the rightful monarch. James tried to sell himself to the Irish people generally by having their Parliament pass an Act granting religious freedom to Catholics and Protestants alike, and having done so set to work building an army. This series of events culminated in the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690, which concluded with the overthrow of James and his permanent exile in France.

All of this is far in the future of The Court Secret, of course, which goes no further than James’ more-or-less successful establishment in Ireland: “more or less”, because the text references the Siege of Derry, which lasted from 18 April to 28 July 1689, and so places the composition of the second part of the text as later than that.

Presumably by way of demonstrating its reverence and respect for its sovereigns, The Court Secret pauses at the outset to explain why it was acceptable conduct on the part of the English people to turn against James; if indeed it was; the text isn’t quite comfortable on this point:

Upon Amurat’s deserting of his Subjects, and abandoning them to the Fury of all their Enemies, which in the Opinion of many of his Subjects, acquitted them of their Oaths of Allegiance to him; for as they said, There were mutual Oaths pass’d betwixt Amurat and his People at his accession to the Crown; He on his part did promise to govern them according to the Established Laws of the Land, and to maintain the Mahometan Religion, and all the Laws that had from time to time been made for its preservation, against all the Assaults and Conspiracies of its sworn Enemies the Halists, and to protect and defend his People from all Forreign Usurpation and Invasion; and his People on their part had promis’d to obey him, as their King and Governour, and pay unto him the same Allegiance and Obedience, which they had done to his Predecessors, on the assurance that he would faithfully keep and observe his Coronation Oath. I say, that many of his Loyal Subjects did believe, and thought in their Consciences, that the Emperour’s Breach of his Oaths had dispenc’d them from those which they had taken to him of their Allegiance. Yet there remain’d some amongst them, who still were of Opinion, That though Amurat had broke his Coronation-Oath, that did not free them from those Oaths of Allegiance to him which they had taken, saying, That his doing ill, or committing an Errour, was no warrant for them to do the same. But when it came to that pass, that the Emperour deserted them and his Kingdoms, and thereby renounc’d to the protecting and defending of them: Nay, that on the contrary, he joyn’d with the Halists against his own People, and applied himself to the greatest declared Enemy of the Ottoman Empire, and of the Mahometan Religion, which he had declar’d over and over, he would root out of the World; then, I say, that help’d to take off all those Scruples which had been left on their tender Consciences…

I find it another bit of authorial disingenuousness that James’ “desertion” is finally held to absolve his people of their oaths, in light of the great pains taken by the Williamites to bring about that very conclusion to the situation; and, after all, no matter what their own positions, no-one wanted another civil war. I can’t help feeling that the slightly squirmy reiteration of justification here echoes the linguistic manoeuvring of Parliament, in their efforts to demonstrate that James had abdicated, and that William and Mary’s assumption of the throne was therefore legal.

Anyway… None of this is really what The Court Secret is “about”, unfortunately; even more than Part 1, Part 2 consigns the affairs of Amurat to an occasional interrupting subplot. Instead, the bulk of Part 2 is given over to Cha-abas’ unsuccessful pursuit of the Sultana, which gets tangled up with his initially inadvertent overtures to Clorineta (Lady Tyrconnel), who is herself torn between her desire for Cha-abas and her ongoing affair with the Mufti Repset (Sir Edward Petre). Meanwhile, another Mufti called Chilase (François de la Chaise, Louis’ confessor) also dares raise his eyes to the Sultana, while the violently jealous Repset works to prevent Cha-abas getting sexual access to either Clorineta or the Sultana. And while all this is going on, Monitenna (Madame de Maintenon), offended and jealous over Cha-abas’ neglect, proves herself a better schemer and manoeuvrer than any of them and, though much less physically attractive that either the Sultana or Clorineta, triumphs over both of them and takes her place as Cha-abas’ official mistress. Along the way, there is (so to speak) hunting, charades, and ever so many delightful romantic misunderstandings.

Did I say delightful? What I meant was tiresome in the extreme. In fact, I see no reason to dwell upon any of this, except perhaps the, um, “climax”, in which Peter Belon gives us yet another sexual-confusion-in-the-dark scene; an infinitely less offensive one than the last, I am happy and relieved to report.

The final phase of The Court Secret is taken up with Monitenna’s plots to vanquish her romantic rivals and punish the presumptuous Muftis. While an extended bit of farce goes on, wherein Clorineta’s first planned assignation with Cha-abas is thwarted by Repset’s insistence on taking her plea of illness seriously and nursing her himself, Monitenna convinces Cha-abas that Clorineta has stood him up in order to have sex with a Mufti instead, which offends the monarch beyond any possibility of forgiveness. After this, Cha-abas becomes paranoid about Muftis generally, and convinces himself (with help from Monitenna) that the Sultana’s ongoing refusal to become his mistress has its basis in her affair with another Mufti, namely Chilase.

Chilase is in fact still pursuing the Sultana, but since he has done so in disguise at a masquerade and via anonymous letters, she has no idea who her presumptuous wooer might be. Repset, although he has given up on the Sultana himself, has no intention of standing by passively and watching Chilase succeed where he failed, and begins to interfere in one direction even as the Sultana and Clorineta conspire together in the other; while Cha-abas looks out for an opportunity to punish Repset for succeeding where he failed with Clorineta. Monitenna takes advantage of all this lust and jealousy and confusion by arranging a false assignation between Chilase and the Sultana, intending that Repset (who is to carry the letter) will read it, keep it to himself, and plot to take Chilase’s place; which he duly does. A second note goes direct to Chilase, setting up the same assignation and warning him not to say a word to Repset. With Cha-abas, the Sultana, Clorineta and Monitenna herself a silent but appreciative audience in the next room, the two Muftis creep through the darkness towards the same bed…

    With what eagerness did those two Mufties pull off their Gowns to step into the Embraces of the languishing Sultana! How were their Souls agitated with the very thoughts of the Enjoyments they were going to surfeit with! How many different violent Passions did at once seize on their Spirits! Love, Fear, Respect, and Ambition were all struggling at once, which should have the Mastery over their Spirit; and the Contention was so equally great, that it was the Cause, neither of those Passions had quite the power to exasperate their Spirits, and transport them beyond their natural bounds.
    They stept into the Bed at the same time, with all the gentleness and reservedness imaginable, and with trembling Hands, and aking Hearts, stretcht forth their Arms to feel out for the Prey, they met one anothers Hand, and at the very first touch pull’d them back, as if each had met with a Viper, not without a strange surprisal, and both lay quiet a while after, which endeavouring to inform themselves better with their Legs, they approach’d them towards the middle of the Bed, with as little satisfaction as they had receiv’d from their Hands, but with much more apprehensions: At last the boldest of the two had so much Courage as to lay his Hand on the others Face and Head, which having fully informed him, that it was a man he had felt, and that having emboldened the other to do the same, as much by way of prevention or defence, as to satisfie any further his Curiosity, they at last through fear of danger, did seize one another so hard, that the smart caus’d them each to offend his Enemy as much as he could, in order to secure themselves: these seising at last came to blows; and they were accompanied by words, and in the bustle and confusion of the Combat, holding still one another very fast with one Hand, while they laid on with the other, they at last came down on the floor together…

Okay…classy and high-brow it ain’t; but I’ll take it over rape jokes any day.

16/01/2014

The Court Secret: A Novel (Part 1)

belon1Thus was Roxana’s Child us’d to substitute an Heir to the Empire, that might be brought up in the Sect of Hali, to the prejudice of Zelinda, who was the true and undoubted Heir apparent, only because she was of the true Mahometan religion… But now that so much of the great work was done; that which remained yet undone, was to be thought of. Roxana remain’d still unconsolable, insomuch that she never made any enquiry after her Child, whether it was dead or alive; neither did she take such care of her self as she ought to do; but that was her Mother’s part, of which she acquitted her self as she ought to do. The Cabinet Council thought fit to have Roxana convey’d out of the way, lest that, having been made privy to the Plot, at some time or other she should in one of her melancholick fits discovery the whole mystery: and the Mufti Repset was appointed to perform that pious piece of work. He undertook the business, but it was not till after he had attempted and try’d all the ways and means imaginable to reclaim Roxana out of her deep melancholy, and to bring her to give an ear to his addresses; but finding all to be labour in vain, he on the sudden converted all his former Love into Hatred…

Well. I was misinformed about the content of The Court Secret; it is not one of the clutch of anti-Louise de Kérouaille publications that appeared in the wake of the departure of James, but yet another roman à clef re-working of the Sham Prince affair.

It is also one of the most vilely infuriating things I’ve ever had the misfortune to read.

Published in two separate parts in 1689, The Court Secret was the work of Peter Belon, the author of The Fatal Beauty Of Agnes de Castro; Taken Out Of The History Of Portugal, one of the two 1688 translations of Agnes de Castro: Nouvelle Portugaise. (A correction: at that time I thought Belon was French, but in the preface to The Court Secret he has much to say about “our Late Generous Liberator…our now most Gracious Lord and King” and “the Freeing of our Distressed Country“.) This first part of his novel is an example of the kind of rudderless writing that was the consequence of the anti-James, pro-William faction actually getting what it wanted; it blends politics, slander, amatory fiction and – something else – in a haphazard melding which never seems to have the emphasis in the right place. In fact, though it goes to the Sham Prince well one more time (one might be tempted to say, and with a cracked pitcher), that by-now stale old tale becomes effectively this novel’s supporting subplot, with most of its attention focused upon the endless travails of a young woman called Roxana.

In this place, as in many others of this Book, I might make divers curious Reflections; as here, for example, jealouisie is the natural effect of Love, &c. But my design being to give you only a bare account of the Court-Secret, according to the faithfulness of my Memoires; besides that, the Subject of this Novel is sufficient enough of it self to furnish me with matter, I shall decline all such kind of superfluous digressions, and stick close to my Subject…

The political content of The Court Secret follows the same old well-worn path, setting its action in “the Ottoman Empire” (England), where “the true Mahometan Religion” (Protestantism) is under threat from “the Sect of Haly” (Catholicism), partly because of the machinations of “Cha-abas, Emperor of Persia” (Louis XIV), partly because “Selim, the second of that name” (Charles II), who is staunchly of the Mahometan faith (!), dies under suspicious circumstances and is succeeded by his brother, “Amurat” (James II), who is no sooner crowned than he announces himself to be a Halist. Amurat starts out insisting that he will maintain all the prevailing laws of the Ottoman Empire and allow the Mahometans free practice of their religion, but the Halists have no intention of allowing this and get to work on him, chiefly through their main instrument, ” the Sultana” (Mary of Modena). Serious efforts are made to exterminate the Mahometan faith, but the Halists know that it will all come to nothing if Amurat does not have a Halist heir; his current heir being his daughter, “Zelinda” (Mary), a Mahometan married to “Prince Soliman” (William of Orange). A plot to arrange an heir is finally put in motion…

Not that any of this is presented in such an orderly fashion in the text itself. The first few pages of The Court Secret are devoted to laying out this schema, but the story gets only so far as the Exclusion Crisis (Selim’s tender Love and Affection to his brother Amurat, would never permit him to give his consent to it, so that it was not done…) before it lurches violently to the left and becomes the story of Roxana, a beautiful young Persian Halist, whose father Aladin (!) is appointed to the court of Selim. Aladin tries to keep Roxana concealed from the world by immuring her in a house with high walls about its gardens and the doors guarded, but his scheming wife dreams of a great marriage for her (or at worst, a position as Royal Mistress), and takes her to “Constantinople” (London) to show her off at court. The least consequence of this is that Ibrahim, a young man occupying the house next door to Aladin, develops an instantaneous passion for the beautiful Roxana and devotes himself to finding some way to declare his feelings to her.

At this point, The Court Secret leaves the affairs of the Ottoman Empire hanging for about 80 pages, while it focuses upon the machinations of Ibrahim who, mostly through the intelligence and devotion of his servant, Moretto, finds various ways of courting Roxana from a distance, including leaving impassioned verses for her to find, and finally meets with her in a little summer house. The affair gets no further than a mutual declaration of love, however, before it comes to a tragic end. While Ibrahim is sneaking into the garden of Aladin’s house, he is spotted, mistaken for an escaped slave, and shot. He dies in Roxana’s arms, Moretto stabs himself in grief, and Roxana has a breakdown.

Another person was plac’d near Roxana, on the account she might administer Comforts to her as well as other Services during her distraction; she was Sister to a Mufti, whose name was Repset, and hers was Zora: This Mufti did also frequently visit Roxana during her sorrow, in order to reduce her to her self again. But enough of that at present; we shall have occasion more than once to speak of this Mufti and his Sister, till then I leave giving you a Character of them: mean time, leaving Roxana to the care of those persons that were appointed by her Father and Mother to attend her, we will now come to the continuance of the Historical part of this Novel, till we have occasion to return to Roxana, and bring her again into play.

Smoothly blended, isn’t it?

Plot B picks up with the death of Selim (poisoned by Cha-abas’s agents, it is implied) and the succession of Amurat. One of the interesting things about The Court Secret (which becomes explicit in Part 2) is its comparatively gentle handling of James and Mary. We have seen before the progressive emasculation of James in the literature of this time, with writers left with the choice of presenting him as either the puppet of the Catholic church or a deluded cuckold – or both. The Court Secret seems genuinely regretful that it has to be critical of James; the newly crowned Amurat is described thus:

Of truth, Amurat of himself had very good inclinations, he was very Just, Pious, Religious, Charitable, and desirous to oblige all persons, that came near him, and had he been left to his own Will and Pleasure, he had doubtless Govern’d the Empire will all Peaceableness, Tranquility and Justice, to the great joy and content of his people. But what will not a blind Zeal do, Which is continually fomented by such as breathe nothing but ruine and destruction! It was now high time for Cha-abbas and all his Creatures, to put the last hand to the great work; to this purpose, all the Priests of Haly’s Sect, which were about the Emperor, were charg’d never to let him rest, till they had brought him to a film resolution, or changing the Religion of the Empire, by totally rooting out and expelling from it, the Ottoman Religion, and establishing in lieu of it, the Sect of Haly…

One of the curious things about the Sham Prince literature, before and after the departure of James, is that the identity of the villain of the piece changes. The 1688 writings invariably cast the Papal Nuncio, Ferdinando d’Adda, in this role, offering him as the prime mover behind the substitution of the baby and/or the baby’s real father. We see this in, for example, The Sham Prince Expos’d. Afterwards, however, there is a shift towards blaming the plot upon Sir Edward Petre, an English Jesuit who was James’ confessor; he was made a privy councillor, and remained to the last one of his main religious advisors. The Amours Of Messalina, published in earlier in 1689, features both d’Adda and Petre, with the latter dreaming up the Sham Prince plot and the former working hard to produce a real baby. By the time The Court Secret appeared, d’Adda was nowhere to be seen, with Petre (in the guise of the Mufti Repset) responsible for the novel’s villainies.

Compare this description of Repset to that of Amurat:

This Creature, of mean, obscure Extraction, of as mean a mercenary Soul, and of vitiated Principles, in the Station he was got, was the Primum mobile, or great Wheel, which set the whole Machine of the Halists to work in the Ottoman Empire; he had access to the Emperour and to the Sultana at all times, at all hours of the day and night, even when they were in their private retirements: He had since his greatness at Court shaken off the Rags of Monasteries, and had lick’d himself from a shapeless Cub, into a spruce Courtier… Those hours which he was to have employed in Private and Publick Prayers, and in other Devotions, he spent in his conversation with the Female Sex; being led thereunto by that most powerful Magnet, his natural inclination: He had not been satisfied with those private Stealths which he had made on particular Persons Wives and Daughters, under the Authority and Power of his Function; but his Ambition and Lust still increasing, as did his Fortune and Credit, he resolved to look higher , and to attempt the highest piece of Villainy, and Impudence, under the Cloak of his Religion, and the design of propagating it, as could be imagined…

In short, he aspires to become the Sultana’s lover. He goes about his initial approaches in a roundabout way, however, attempting to convince her that it is her duty to bear a male child – whether it is her husband’s or not. As with “Amurat”, “the Sultana” is quite gently handled by the text: she is outraged by the suggestion, although not unmoved by the Mufti’s argument that it is her duty to anchor the Halist Sect in the Ottoman Empire  by whatever means necessary. She finally baulks at the thought of bearing a false prince herself, but agrees to the substitution of a baby; chiefly because of a message from “the Grand Mufti” (the Pope) warning her that unless she produces a Halist heir, everything done to that point will be thrown away. But how are they to go about it?

As to the other doubt you have rais’d, Madam, in the first place, long before hand, we shall get several Women that reckon about the time we prefixt, that amongst them we may have a Male-Child to substitute for yours; and as to the ways of conveyance of it into the Bed to you, there are a hundred ways besides warm Clothes, warming-pans, trapp-doors, back-doors, and private Windows at the Bedshead to bring a Child in; pish those things are practis’d every day, especially amongst us of the Clergy, who are not permitted to marry…

And so the substitution plot goes ahead, proving to be the beginning of the end for the Halists. Interestingly (in light of real-life events that bear upon Part 2), The Court Secret follows the lead of The Amours Of Messalina by suggesting that the arrest of the seven bishops had nothing really to do with their rejection of James’ Declaration of Indulgence, but was rather a scheme to get them out of the way until the Sham Prince was safely in evidence. (The baby was born on 10th June; the bishops were then still in the Tower, and stood trial on 29th June.) With a male heir in their armoury, the Halists drop all pretence of toleration for the Mahometans, and so bring about their own downfall in the Ottoman Empire:

    Of truth, it was discover’d that there was an agreement made betwixt Amurat’s Council and Cha-abas to destroy all such as would not become Halists; and to that purpose, Cha-abas was to send a Persian Army into the Ottoman Empire, which was to assist the Halists in their wicked designs, to totally root out the True, Ancient Mahometan Religion, to destroy all the maintainers thereof with Fire and Sword, and to clear the whole Emoire of that Religion.
    The Blow was ready to be given, when that all the Nobility of the Ancient and True Religion of Mahomet, made an association amongst themselves, to stand and fall by one another, for the maintenance of their Religion, and the preservation of the fundamental Laws of the Empire. This they signed, and sent over to Prince Soliman, by a particular Messenger, with letters to humbly intreat him to defer no longer his coming to redeem them from Slavery and Idolatry…

The baby used to stand in for the royal heir in the self-defeating substitution plot is a boy born to the unfortunate Roxana. Having been forced to an extent to confide in the girl and her mother, the Halists decide it’s too dangerous to keep Roxana around; while Repset, still smarting from certain events which we will return to in a moment, decides it’s too dangerous to keep her alive. Roxana is consequently shipped off to a place of confinement in Persia. The captain of the galley that transports her is given a letter to deliver along with her, which suggests that a little poison might be in order…

While it does regurgitate one more time the Sham Prince plot and the subsequent downfall of the royal family, The Court Secret has quite as much interest in how Roxana came to be in a position to donate a baby to the cause in the first place, and what happens to her afterwards. You may recall that after the tragic conclusion of her romance with Ibrahim, Roxana was left in the care of Zora, the sister of the Mufti Repset. Zora becomes infatuated with a young man called Cara, and a supposedly comic subplot develops in which Zora tries to manoeuvre Cara into marriage, and he tries to extort favours such as court appointments from her (or from Repset, at Zora’s request) without marrying her. Likewise, he determines to get her into bed before the ring is on her finger.

However, the main focus of the narrative is on Repset who, thwarted in his attempts to seduce the Sultana, transfers his lusts to Roxana. Court gossip suggests that things went much further between Roxana and Ibrahim than she has admitted – they didn’t – and on this basis Repset assumes that he will have little difficulty making his own way into Roxana’s bed; because, after all, a woman who says ‘yes’ to one man will surely say ‘yes’ to ALL men – right?

But when he makes himself clear to Roxana, she not only rejects his overtures but makes her shock and disgust clear to him. Repset is outraged by what he views as her incredible selfishness in not immediately giving him what he wants, and concludes that if she’s going to be like that, he’ll just have to rape her. And once he has raped her, she will of course become his willing mistress, because what would be the point of her fighting him any longer?

Roxana tries to elude Repset, but the Mufti’s powers are almost limitless, and he finally manages to get Roxana alone in a room with her parents away and the servants at a safe distance:

Then, Madam, replyed the Mufti, seeing that you are so plain, I will be too, and tell you that my Passion being grown to that height and strength, that I can no longer be Master over it, I am now comer to now of you, whether I must obtain by consent or by force, that without I can no longer live… I have provided before hand, against all preventions, you are in my Power. There is not one of your Servants that can so much as hear you, the door is fast, you cannot escape me; therefore, once more, Madam, I humbly beg of you to have compassion on me, and afford me freely, what you see you cannot prevent me from taking by force…

But Repset doesn’t get his way. For reasons that don’t require getting into, Cara is hiding in Roxana’s closet; and although he knows his life will be forfeit if he is caught, he decides that he has to intervene. Disguising himself in some of Roxana’s clothes, Cara attacks Repset from behind. Roxana has fainted, so she doesn’t see him; and Cara then manages to escape before Repset knows what hit him. Literally.

But Repset isn’t a man who gives up easily, and finally he decides to cut to the chase by isolating Roxana once again, and getting Zora to drug her. Meanwhile, Zora has consented to a sexual assignation with Cara, and decides to take advantage of the deserted house by arranging it for the same night. Through complicated circumstances, the two plots cross paths…

Hey, fellas—here’s a pop quiz for you! (Stand aside for the moment, ladies: this one’s just for the boys.)

Q1: You have an assignation with your potential lover. When you creep into the darkened room, you find that the person in the bed is either asleep or drugged. As far as she responds to you at all, she protests and tries to fight you off. Do you:
(a) Stop for a moment and think that something might be wrong?
(b) Proceed regardless?

Q2: Having proceeded, you discover that you are not with the sexually experienced woman you were expecting, but a virgin. Do you:
(a) Stop for a moment and think that something might be wrong?
(b) Proceed regardless?

Bonus question: Assuming that you answered (b) to both questions, how does karma treat you afterwards? Do you:
(a) Find yourself afflicted in perpetuity by suppurating sores, until one day you are attacked by a flock of ravenous seagulls and pecked to death?
(b) Marry your rape victim and live happily ever after?

The degree to which The Court Secret dwells upon attempted and successful rape is bad enough, but that it ultimately treats it as a suitable basis for a kind of sex farce puts it an immeasurable distance beyond the pale. The overriding suggestion here is not that Repset’s attitude to Roxana and his resorting to force is wrong per se, but rather that it is wrong because he is a priest. When Cara eventually realises that it was Roxana that night – with whom, after various bouts of hiding in her closet, he has “fallen in love” –  he does feel rather bad about it, but supposes if he explains how it happened she can’t really stay mad at him…

Cara gets the chance to make his explanation because he happens to be the captain of the galley on which Roxana is being transported. Knowing that he is not the father of Roxana’s baby, Repset finally puts two and two together and gives Cara an appointment which effectively banishes him from the Ottoman Empire. Having him be the person to bring about Roxana’s death is Repset’s little joke.

Via the Sultana, Roxana’s mother gets wind of the plot against her daughter’s life and puts her on her guard, though she cannot prevent her being sent away. When Roxana discovers that the captain knows her, and receives from him all sorts of services and kindnesses, she begins to hope that she can convince him that he will be delivering her to her death. Cara, meanwhile, decides to confess via letter:

Yes, Madam, I here confess that I am the Person, who the Heavens thought more fit than the abominable Mufti, to gather those Fruits which he had design’d and contriv’d for his own Tooth, with contrivances that were hatch’d in Hell. But, Madam, I was innocent all this while; witness the strange surprizal I was in, to find that I had gathered such Fruit as none had ever touch’d before… How [Zora] came not to be in that Chamber, and how I came to light on you there, does still remain a Riddle to me. I must confess, that at the resistance you would have made, and which you endeavour’d to make, as much as the narcotick effects of your Opium would permit, I found my mistake; but who then could abstain and retire? No Flesh and Blood, Madam: I accepted of what Fortune had thus thrown into my arms…

All of which Roxana finds not only perfectly reasonable, but a sign that the two of them were made for each other:

…having seriously weighed all Circumstances, and convinc’d her self that Cara had not been in the least to blame, except he had before-hand known who she was, which he did not: She began to think, that of truth, the Heav’ns had design’d Cara for her, and she for him. Being further confirm’d therein, by that Providence which appointed him to be her deliverer… She therefore resolv’d to comply with the Heav’ns Decree…

I suppose it’s just vaguely possible that, at some point in my life, I’ve read something that made me more burningly angry than The Court Secret; but I can’t offhand think what it might be…

[To be continued…]

Footnote: Contemporary opinions of Sir Edward Petre and his part in the arrival of a royal heir are perhaps best reflected in this painting now found in the National Gallery, attributed to Pieter Schenck and showing Mary of Modena, Petre, and the baby (love the wig on the baby!):

belon3b

06/12/2013

Haw, haw

conway1I’ve been reading Alison Conway’s The Protestant Whore: Courtesan Narrative And Religious Controversy In England, 1680-1750. The book’s title comes, of course, from the famous anecdote about Nell Gwyn, which tells how she placated an angry mob that attacked her coach in mistake for that of Louise de Kéroualle by calling out, “Good people, pray be civil – I am the Protestant whore!” (We were given a version of this incident in The Power And The Passion.)

Conway’s study traces the history of “courtesan narrative” from the Restoration to the second Jacobite Rebellion, showing the many ways in which the word “whore” was employed in political and religious discourse in relation to the Stuarts. Conway believes the Nell Gwyn story to be apocryphal, because while it was widely repeated no-one ever provided (or has since identified) an original source for it. However, she argues, if the story is fictional, the disclaimer “Protestant” carries even greater weight.

The dismay and anger felt in the face of Charles’ perceived neglect of his duties while he dallied with his mistresses, or worse, the possibility of “petticoat government”, provoked an outpouring of writing that was deeply critical of the amorous monarch, and often frankly obscene. Perhaps the most striking feature of this particular form of literature is the almost invariable distinction drawn between Nell Gwyn and the other mistresses: there is full appreciation of the fact that she was the only one who was neither French nor Catholic; not just a whore, but a Protestant whore. As a consequence the criticism of her is rarely worse than unkind, and in fact most of what looks like an attack upon her is in reality an attack upon Charles.

Take, for example, this extract from Robert Lacy’s 1677 poem, Satyr (the contemporary spelling of “satire”, albeit with an entirely appropriate secondary meaning in context), a lengthy diatribe on Charles’ neglect of his duties and his prodigal sexuality, on which Lacy blames his failure to produce a legitimate heir:

    How poorly squander’st thou thy seed away,
    Which should get Kings for nations to obey;
    But thou, poor Prince, so uselessly hast sown it,
    That the Creation is ashamed to own it:
    Witness the Royal Line sprung from the Belly
    Of the Anointed Princess, Madam Nelly…

In sharp contrast, the attacks made upon the other mistresses are direct and deeply hostile – particularly those aimed at Louise de Kéroualle, who was not only French and Catholic, but widely believed to be a spy in the pay of Louis XIV. The following is from The Whore Of Babylon, a (not surprisingly) unattributed work from 1678:

    You treach’rous Whore of France, may Rabble’s rage
    Seize thee, & not till thou’rt destroy’d aswage.
    The People’s Cross, misfortune, constant Pest,
    The Milstone whelm’d upon this Nation’s breast;
    Brittain’s impairer of her honour & Fame,
    The Festring Soar of Majesty, the Shame
    Of English Councils; the Crowns costly load,
    And Prince’s thriving Infamy abroad;
    The Commons hater, & false France’s friend.
    Lord, from this Basilisk Loyalty defend!
    Permit a change, our ruins to confront,
    Let us be govern’d by an English C–t;
    The kingdom can’t by whoring suffer want
    If princes swives concubines that’s Protestant.

Charming. And yet by no means the nastiest of the anti-de Kéroualle works.

One of the strangest aspects of this period was the emergence in the literature of a wildly idealised Nell Gwyn, who was portrayed of standing up for England’s rights and liberties while Charles was falling down on the job, and who became, perversely enough, a symbol of monarchical and religious loyalty. There is a whole subset of writing that has Nell telling off the other mistresses, usually Louise de Kéroualle, sometimes Barbara de Villiers, in conversations that are really between England and France, Protestantism and Catholicism. And beyond that, there is at least one example of Nell telling off Monmouth, berating him for his disloyalty and ingratitude.

Anyway—

It was my original intention to write a full review of The Protestant Whore, but circumstances have intervened: I have a ‘community borrower’ card at an academic library, one of the conditions of which is that if anyone attached to the university wants a book I have on loan, I have to return it regardless of loan date. So perhaps I’ll return to it at a later date, when my journey meets up with the later subject matter of the book, which includes chapters on Love-Letters Between A Nobleman And His Sister (though I don’t think I need to say any more on that subject!), the literature dealing with the relationship between Queen Anne and her “favourites”, Sarah Churchill and Mrs Masham, Defoe’s Roxana, and finally Clarissa and Tom Jones. I may say that it warmed my heart to find Alison Conway including Tom Jones in her list of Protestant whores.

Otherwise, I’m not entirely sure that Conway has done me any favours, inasmuch as she has me reconsidering my intention  to skip over the rest of the romans à clef that appeared in the post-James era. I’ve been puzzled by the fact that this period saw yet another set of attacks on Louise de Kéroualle, who by this time, having had much of the property bestowed upon her by Charles confiscated, had returned to France. However, I’ve found a source (emphasis on found: do think I can find it again?) which contends that, in the wake of the Rye House Plot, the formerly easy-going Charles finally did crack down on the print market, and that a great deal of what was written in 1683 and 1684 consequently went unpublished, finally seeing the light of day across 1689 / 1690, when it sat comfortably amongst the various pro-Williamite writing and served to remind people what England had rid itself of, even if the specifics were no longer so relevant.

So I’m currently resigning myself to taking a look at The Court Secret by Peter Belon (who we have met here before, as one of the translators of Agnes de Castro: Nouvelle Portugaise), and The Amours Of The Sultana Of Barbary, by that most prolific of authors, “Anonymous”, both of which are Louise de Kéroualle-focused romans à clef. The latter, in addition, is suggested to have had some influence upon the writings of Delariviere Manley, so it may assume greater importance going forward.

If  I ever get to go forward.

And indeed, James is still clutching at my skirts with exasperating tenacity. (If only he’d held onto the throne that tightly – !) Recently, for instance, I randomly picked up Alicia Deane, by the Australian writer E. V. Timms, only to discover that it is an historical novel dealing with characters caught up in the consequences of the Monmouth Rebellion. The central romantic conflict is between the eponymous heroine, who is a passionate believer in Monmouth (not too bright, in other words), and her would-be lover, who is anti-James, but anti-Monmouth too, remarking presciently that, “‘Tis not Monmouth Englishmen want—’tis William of Orange who be, with Mary his Queen, the King and Queen for us.”

The novel opens in the immediate aftermath of Charles’ death, when England is adjusting itself to James:

The glittering palace of Whitehall was now a house of gloom; no merry, uncaring, pleasure-loving monarch now filled its halls, rooms, and galleries with the laughter of licence and the flippant freedom of unrestrained sensuality. Charles was dead, and dead also was the love, the life, and the laughter that he and his brilliant court had made synonymous with the name of Whitehall. James was King, and over London the dark clouds of distrust and suspicion  were already casting their sable shadows. James! James the stern, the gloomy, the bigot, the cruel! The man whose heart was stony ground, and whose lips were strangers to laughter.

It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for the guy. Almost.

And in fact, I did once feel sorry for him, not while reading this novel (in which his relationship with George Jeffreys is given full weight), but when I stumbled over the following in my internet wanderings. And since I started this post with a probably-apocryphal anecdote, it seems appropriate to close with another one.

Charles, or so the story goes, was in the habit of going for walks in St James’s Park with what his retinue considered grossly inadequate protection, until James was moved to remonstrate with him for placing himself in danger.

To which Charles responded:

“No man in England will raise a hand to me as long as you are my heir.”

nellgwyn1b

Madam Nelly, by Sir Peter Lely

20/10/2013

Great Cesar’s ghost

mary1One of the most uncomfortable periods in English history was surely the interval between the departure of James in December 1688 and the arrival in England of Mary a few weeks into the New Year – during which time, the convocation that had made use of William but didn’t really want him as their monarch and the bad-tempered, understandably resentful Dutchman were left to glare at one another across the negotiating table.

However, even when Mary did reach England, it wasn’t all beer and skittles. She certainly disappointed the faction who wanted her as sole monarch when she declined to be placed in authority over her husband – although this piece of wifely submission seems to have engendered in William a greater willingness to make concessions.

Mary’s relationship with her soon-to-be subjects likewise got off to a distinctly rocky start. Advised both by her husband and her future Parliament not to show any consciousness of her anomalous position or to display any guilt over her father’s removal, Mary succeeded so well in appearing indifferent that she was branded heartless in many quarters. She certainly convinced her father on that head, receiving from him a flood of angry letters in which she was accused of treachery and selfish disloyalty.

Nevertheless, on the whole Mary’s presence in England was an enormous relief. While there were of course those who held to a hard line with regard to James, the majority either welcomed his deposing or were pragmatic enough to make the best of it. In this respect, Mary was the best possible compromise candidate. She was a Stuart and a Protestant, and had been heir to the English throne for twenty-six years. She was also James’ daughter, so that the proper “line” was maintained, albeit not in the usual way. In short, a case could be made for her.

And a case was made for her. As we have seen, very little fiction was published in England during 1689, with heavily politicised writing full of justification and retconning dominating the marketplace. Enormous efforts went into “selling” and William and Mary to England, often by twisting the usual monarchist stance and positioning them as defenders of the true faith, with the removal of James being, consequently, God’s will.

Meanwhile, though the fiction writers were quiescent, the poets were not; and the political arguments were bolstered by laudatory works celebrating the new monarchy. It is noticeable, however, the William rarely appears in these poems as anything other than a symbol, or a generalised “power”; whereas a whole body of literature eventually built up around Mary.

An entirely representative effort is A Congratulatory Poem To Her Sacred Majesty Queen Mary, Upon Her Arrival In England – by none other than Aphra Behn. To an extent, we find Aphra amongst the pragmatists—but only to an extent. While refusing utterly to so much as acknowledge William’s existence, Aphra shows herself prepared to welcome Mary—not in her own right, but as her father’s daughter.

Although we have seen how far over the top Aphra could go in her royalist poetry, her depression and disappointment over James’ fate makes this a much more muted piece of work, closer in tone to the wry resignation that marked A Pindaric Poem To The Reverend Doctor Burnet, On The Honour He Did Me Of Enquiring After Me And My Muse than to the over-insistence of A Congratulatory Poem To The Kings Most Sacred Majesty On The Happy Birth Of The Prince Of Wales and similar efforts.

It is worth noting in this context that this poem was composed after Aphra rejected the monetary overtures made to her by the Reverend Gilbert Burnet on behalf of the William-ites, who wanted her to join the faction being paid to sell the new monarchy. Aphra’s “Muse”, which she somewhat mockingly accuses Dr Burnet of “enquiring after” in the earlier poem, plays an appropriately prominent role in this one.

Fittingly, the opening of the poem finds Aphra openly mourning the fate of James:

    While my sad Muse the darkest Covert Sought
    To give a loose to Melancholy Thought;
    Opprest, and sighing with the Heavy Weight
    Of an Unhappy dear lov’d Monarch’s Fate…

But even as Aphra (and her Muse) give way to despair, new cause for hope appears:

    While thus She lay resolv’d to tune no more
    Her fruitless Songs on Brittains Faithless Shore,
    All on a suddain thro’ the Woods there Rung,
    Loud Sounds of Joy that Jo Peans Sung.
    Maria! Blest Maria! was the Theam,
    Great Brittains happy Genius, and her Queen…

However, Aphra’s Muse is not to be won over so easily, and resists the lure of this newcomer, this replacement for James:

    The Muses all upon this Theam Divine,
    Tun’d their best Lays, the Muses all, but mine,
    Sullen with Stubborn Loyalty she lay…

But then, Mary is James’s daughter and therefore a “deity” like her father before her – to whom, before bowing down to Mary, the Muse pays homage:

    But Oh! What Human Fortitude can be
    Sufficient to Resist a Deity?
    Even our Allegiance here, too feebly pleads,
    The Change in so Divine a Form perswades;
    Maria with the Sun has equal Force…

    From every thought a New-born Reason came
    Which fortifyed by bright Maria’s Fame,
    Inspir’d My Genious with new Life and Flame,
    And thou, Great Lord, of all my Vows, permit
    My Muse who never fail’d Obedience yet,
    To pay her Tribute at Marias Feet,
    Maria so Divine a part of You,
    Let me be Just — but Just with Honour too…

That done, the floodgates open:

    Maria all Inchanting, Gay, and Young,
    All Hail Illustrious Daughter of a King,
    Shining without, and Glorious all within,
    Whose Eyes beyond your scantier Power give Laws,
    Command the Word, and justifie the Cause;
    Nor to secure your Empire needs more Arms
    Than your resistless, and all Conquering Charms…

    All Natures Charms are open’d in your Face,
    You Look, you Talk, with more than Human Grace;

    All that is Wit, all that is Eloquence.
    Easie and Natural from your Language break,

    And ’tis Eternal Musick when you speak;
    Thro’ all no formal Nicety is seen,
    But Free and Generous your Majestick Meen,
    In every Motion, every Part a Queen…

However, we are not left long without a stern reminder of where Mary derives all these wondrous gifts, nor of the events that have placed her on the throne:

    Yet if with Sighs we View that Lovely Face,
    And all the Lines of your great Father’s Trace,

    Your Vertues should forgive, while we adore
    That Face that Awes, and Charms our Hearts the more;
    But if the Monarch in your Looks we find,
    Behold him yet more glorious in your Mind;
    ‘Tis there His God-like Attributes we see.
    A Gratious Sweetness, Affability,
    A Tender Mercy and True Piety;
    And Vertues even sufficient to Attone
    For all the Ills the Ungrateful World has done…

And as the poem moves towards its climax, the biblical imagery that always marked Aphra’s royalist works comes roaring back:

    The Murmering World till now divided lay,
    Vainly debating whom they shou’d Obey,
    Till You Great Cesar’s Off-spring blest our Isle,
    The differing Multitudes to Reconcile;
    Thus Stiff-neckt Israel in defiance stood,
    Till they beheld the Prophet of their God;

    Who from the Mount with dazling brightness came,
    And Eyes all shining with Celestial Flame;
    Whose Awful Looks, dispel’d each Rebel Thought,
    And to a Just Compliance, the wilde Nations brought…

01/09/2013

Early…English…novels?

Having finally gotten James out of England, I find myself a bit indecisive about how to proceed with the Chronobibliography. Though we have necessarily turned again and again to the political writing of this period, the original idea here was to look at the development of the English novel – fiction, in other words. However, although plenty of novels were being published in England at this time, the vast majority of them were translations of French novels; and in fact, the French were streets ahead of the English at this point in the development of their fiction. English writers, meanwhile, were apparently too intent upon rationalising the events of 1688 by fictionalising them to bother with actual fiction: political writing continued to dominate the scene right through 1689, and the only person I can identify as publishing genuine English novels at this time was Aphra Behn…and she, tragically, was not going to be doing it for very much longer.

So the question becomes, do I skip rather hurriedly through 1689, or do I fill in the gap with some of those translations just to give an idea of the popular fiction of the time? I’m inclining to the former; particularly since that phrase “skip rather hurriedly” does still encompass Aphra’s last works of fiction and, unavoidably, a bit more politics.

Besides—it turns out that at this time, the French too were very much given to writing slanderous versions of the recent political turmoil, and during 1689 produced any number of romans à clef along the lines of The Amours Of Messalina—but much, much longer than the typical English ones. At the moment, I confess, I’m feeling disinclined to tackle any more versions of what went on at the Stuart court than I absolutely have to.

(For some reason I have yet to determine, Louise de Kéroualle, the Duchess of Portsmouth, became a popular target for attack during this period, taking her lumps from both sides of the Channel.)

Anyway—I am able to say definitely that from 1690 onwards, the English people settled down enough to start demanding a supply of light entertainment, and for actual fiction to start appearing on a more regular basis. Though of course, “settled down” is a relative term, since 1690 brought the Battle of the Boyne. (And the Battle of Beachy Head, but that’s another story…)

Having had my focus for so long upon getting James off the throne, I hadn’t actually given much thought until very recently to what happened to him afterwards—beyond being generally aware that there was a Battle of the Boyne and that sooner or later I’d probably have to deal with it. But as so often happens, my off-blog reading conspired to bring me back to the point. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been looking into the roots of detective fiction lately, and so was reading The Purcell Papers by J. Sheridan Le Fanu, chiefly for his story Passages From The Secret History Of An Irish Countess. (Long story short: it turns out Le Fanu, not Poe, invented the “locked room” mystery. However, the former wrote it as a Gothic while the latter made a detective story out of it.) In the same collection of stories is An Adventure Of Hardress Fitzgerald, A Royalist Captain, which is set in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of the Boyne, and offers an intriguingly ambivalent, Irish-Catholic view of the events. Not that it’s ambivalent about James:

Some said that the king still lay in Ireland; others, that he had crossed over to Scotland, to encourage the Highlanders, who, with Dundee at their head, had been stirring in his behoof; others, again, said that he had taken ship for France, leaving his followers to shift for themselves, and regarding his kingdom as wholly lost, which last was the true version, as I afterwards learned…

Later, by then a fugitive, Hardress has the misfortune to encounter a Williamite camp follower intent upon forcing everyone to publicly declare their loyalties:

“Then drink the honest man’s toast,” said he. “Damnation to the pope, and confusion to skulking Jimmy and his runaway crew.”

At the Boyne, James, an inexperienced general (and, moreover, navy not army), failed to anticipate William’s strategy and held back a majority of his troops for what he wrongly assumed would be the main area of assault. He never deployed those troops: when word came that William’s forces were pressing on both Jacobite flanks James saw the possibility of escape slipping away and ordered a hasty retreat that was more about securing his personal safety than the consequences for his followers. James nevertheless tried to put the blame for the outcome of the battle on his Irish troops, saying bitterly to Lady Tyrconnel, “Your countrymen can run well.” “I see Your Majesty has won the race,” she retorted, unimpressed.

The rapidity with which James gathered up his court and fled Ireland for France did not exactly endear him to the men who were left in the field, and who fought on even in the absence of their commanding officer, extending the conflict into 1691 and to the signing of the Treaty of Limerick. Sheridan Le Fanu, via his Captain Fitzgerald, cleaned up the local vernacular when he referred to “skulking Jimmy”: the actual nickname James earned for himself with his flight from the battlefield and the country was Seamus a’ chaca—“James the Shit”.

11/08/2013

The Amours Of Messalina

amoursofmessalina1…early the next Morning she receives the glad Tidings that a Man Child was born, which with all speed was convey’d to the Dormitory adjoining to her Bed-Chamber, in the same reeking Circumstances it was Born in, and having before taken care for the conducting of it to the Queens Bed, the Alarm is given at Alba Regalis that the Queen was in Labour… Now the pretended Prince being Born the Pagans of Albion began their Jubilee, Laroon Governor of Iberia began to double the persecution of the Christians there, Polydorus by a strict Alliance and LEAGUE with Lycogenes, thinks of nothing but a Universal Monarchy, Lycogenes doubles the Oppressions of his Christian Subjects, Messalina boasts of the downfall of Heresie, and a perpetual Regency, during her Life: The poor Christians, especially the Albionites, though something apprehensive of the Consequences of this Intrigue, were yet by their constant Remarques of all Transactions since the Report of Messalina’s Conception sufficiently satisfied of the fallacy and cheat, and resolv’d on measures which they doubted not would in a little time unravel the whole Mystery.

The political writing that had been so sternly suppressed under James II came roaring back with a vengeance following the Glorious Revolution. The public stance was that the removal of James was right and proper, but a need for justification showed itself in an explosion of revisionist histories published early in 1689, as well as in the return of the roman à clef.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this school of writing is how swiftly James became irrelevant once the idea of the “sham prince” had taken hold. Feared as a monarch, in the political writings of mid-1688 onwards he appears variously as a cuckold, a buffoon, and an object of pity. The kinder versions of events present him as tragically misguided, led astray by the wicked machinations of the Pope, Louis XIV and/or his own wife. And as James recedes in these writings, Mary of Modena takes centre-stage.

The virulence of some of the attacks made upon Mary at this time make for uncomfortable reading—particularly in light of the fact that the grounds of those attacks were pure invention, as the people making them were well aware. The invention of the sham prince not only allowed, but demanded, a retconning of events that turned Mary into a dangerous enemy willing to do anything to bring England to its knees under the dual yokes of France and Catholicism. Nevertheless, in these writings her alleged religious and political conspiracies almost invariably take a backseat to lurid imaginings of her sexual misconduct.

Early in 1689 was published a roman à clef that is typical of the kinds of attacks made upon the departed royals at the time, yet different in tone and execution from most of its brethren. As tends to be the case with this branch of writing, the origins of The Amours Of Messalina are somewhat murky. Though presented as by “a Woman of Quality, a late Confident of Queen Messalina”, it is believed to be the work of an Italian, Gregorio Leti, a Milanese historian who converted to Protestantism and became known for his anti-Catholic, and in particular anti-papal, views; his biography of Pope Sixtus V (who was largely responsible for shaping Catholic thinking on contraception and abortion) is considered inaccurate and scurrilous. Leti spent some time at the courts of both France and England, publishing the first biography of Elizabeth I during the latter period. However, in 1680 he managed to offend Charles II with his satirical publication Il Teatro Britannico and fled to Amsterdam, where he spent the rest of his life.

Amsterdam, as we have seen before, was the origin of many notorious publications of this era. It was also the centre for translated works that were from there dispersed across Europe, which made it particularly useful for those wishing to disguise the true origins of a particular work. Thus the English-language version of The Amours Of Messalina asserts that it was translated from the French, while the French-language version has it as translated from English.

(Whichever language it was first written in, the most outstanding feature of The Amours Of Messalina is its run-on sentences, which are as extreme as anything I’ve come across. See, for a typical example, the first quotation below.)

I have mentioned the peculiar tone of The Amours Of Messalina, which is easier to understand once the document’s authorship is considered. While it unblushingly asserts the truth of the “sham prince” accusations, and while it describes in detail the alleged sexual intrigue of Mary of Modena with Ferdinanda d’Adda, the papal nuncio, the whole story is presented from the perspective of Mary and her courtiers. As such, the imposition of a false Prince of Wales is treated as reasonable and, indeed, the only thing to be done under the circumstances. The villain here is not Mary, but the Pope (or “Boanerges the High Priest”, as he is called) and his minions, particularly the “Jebusites”. Mary, being Catholic, simply doesn’t know any better. The text deplores her influence upon James, but does not blame her.

For the most part the disguises worn by the characters in The Amours Of Messalina are exceedingly transparent. Albion (England) is peaceful and prosperous under Brotomandes (Charles II), but trouble starts when he dies and is succeeded by his brother, Lycogenes (James II), who was once a brave and noble prince, but is now nothing more than a tool in the hands of Boanerges and Polydorus, King of Gothland (Louis XIV). His marriage to Messalina is the beginning of the end: she has been sent to England on a mission to re-establish once and for all the Pagan religion (Catholicism), and to extirpate, along with all of its followers if necessary, the Christian faith (Protestantism):

He at last dying, without lawful issue, Lycogenes the Second, his only Brother, succeeded, a Prince who in his Youth and Adversity gave so signal proofs of his Virtue and Gallantry, that he render’d himself the Admiration of Foreign Countries, and the Delight and Love of his own, but (I know not by what unhappy Counsels thereunto incited) after his coming to the Crown of Albion, he committed so many Irregularities against even the Peace and Safety of his own People, that they were obliged to call in Anaximander, Prince of the Low Lands, to their assistance to defend their Lives, which they affirm’d Lycogenes had expos’d and sold to Polydorus King of the Gaules, and to recover their Rights and Liberties which, they say, their King had encroach’d upon and taken from them: Lycogenes had by his first Wife (who was Daughter to a Noble Peer of Albion) two lovely Princesses to his Daughters, the Eldest called Artemisia, Married to Anaximander, the other Philadelphia, Married to Polycrates the Northern Prince. His second Wife was Messalina, Daughter of a Huge Prince in Italy, and nearly related to Boanerges the High-Priest, a Lady sent by Heaven to determine the Fate of Poor Lycogenes, and to ruine the growing greatness of the Pagan Interest in the Kingdom of Albion.

It is, of course, true that the Pope persuaded Mary to accept James’s proposal of marriage. Then a devout fifteen-year-old, Mary wanted only to enter a convent, and recoiled from the thought of marriage in general, and the forty-year-old James in particular, but was finally convinced that her true duty was to assist with the re-establishment of Catholicism in England.

The passage quoted above comes at the outset of The Amours Of Messalina. After presenting this overview, the text then goes on to explain in detail how “Messalina” went about determining the fate of her husband and her religion. Note the use of the expression “Poor Lycogenes”: this is the attitude of the entire document, and indeed almost every reference to Lycogenes comes qualified with a pitying “Poor”.

While, as I say, most of the disguises in The Amours Of Messalina are easily seen through, I confess that I was deeply confused by the identities of two of Messalina’s co-conspirators, “Count Davila” and “Father Pedro”. In this I was somewhat led astray by our previous dip into the murky waters of political propagandising, The Sham Prince Expos’d. As we have discussed before, the attacks on James and Mary at this time were two-pronged, offering up the mutually exclusive yet equally damaging visions of the new Prince of Wales being either the result of Mary’s infidelity, or not actually Mary’s child at all, but a substitute. For those propagandists who favoured the first alternative, the overwhelming favourite for the role of Mary’s lover was – of course – Father d’Adda. However, there was a second favourite I have not been able to identify by name, who figures in The Sham Prince Expos’d simply as “the Italian Count”.

Consequently, when an Italian Count showed up in The Amours Of Messalina, I assumed it was the same person, with Father d’Adda figuring as “Father Pedro”. However, the key to the work (belatedly appended to the fourth part, along with the rather hurtful explanation that, The Bookseller has been Advised to Add the following Key, for the benefit of the meanest Capacity, in understanding the whole History of Messalina) reveals that “Count Davila” is supposed to be Father d’Adda, while “Father Pedro” is the Jesuit Peters—or rather, Sir Edward Petre, an English Jesuit who was appointed privy councillor under James.

 The Amours Of Messalina offers both versions of the baby’s origin. With “Poor Lycogenes” in declining health, syphilitic and impotent, the worried conclave sees its chance of propagating Paganism in Albion slipping away. It is finally agreed that their only hope is for Messalina to bear a son, in conjunction with herself being named Regent in the event of Lycogenes’ death. Since Lycogenes himself is unable to father a child, the conspirators must decide whether it is best for Mary to bear a child fathered by another man, or whether, in order to ensure that the baby is a boy, they should fake a pregnancy and supply a substitute prince. Messalina decides to do both: she will take on the task of falling pregnant, while her conspirators make the arrangements for faking a birth, should it prove necessary.

And having made this decision, Messalina throws herself into her task with great enthusiasm:

The Queen who by the several remonstrances of her three Counsellors had been both press’d and convinc’d of the danger of her Affairs, and being partly overcome by the Solicitations and Endearments of the Count in particular, resolv’d now to give a loose to her natural inclinations, and thereupon turning to the Count, in a soft languishing Tone she reply’d, I must at length, dear Davila, confess my own Frailty and thy Power, my haughty mind I see at last will stoop, and thou art Born to be my Conqueror… Raising the Count, who at every Word was pressing and kissing her fair Hand, she threw her Arms about his Neck, and in Amorous Sighs and Murmurs she Whisper’d her Wishes in his Ears…

But Messalina does not conceive with Davila any more than she did with Lycogenes, and at last it is realised that the substitution must go ahead. Several young pregnant women, all due to give birth around the same time, are kept in seclusion, while Messalina goes through the motions of pregnancy, fretting over the possibility of a miscarriage and giving voice to her hopes and fears, but not letting anyone – particularly not the deeply suspicious Philadelphia – get too close to her or touch her.

The Pagans of Albion are enlisted to lend the strength of their prayers to the task of producing a Catholic Prince of Wales:

…as a Prologue to their intended Villainy, they give out, among their own Party, at least, the necessity of Unity in their Prayers to their Saints and the Deity, to send their Majesty an Heir to succeed him in his Throne and Dominions, and to settle their Holy Religion in this Heretical Land, they cause Processions and Pilgrimages, Offerings and Supplications, to be made… Such are the practices of the Pagan Religion, that the greatest Villainies and Rogueries they intend to commit are still preceded and usher’d in with great appearances of Sanctity…

The confidence expressed beforehand by Catholics and Tories that Mary’s baby would be a boy played right into the hands of their opponents, who made this apparent prior knowledge the basis of their conspiracy theories about the child’s origins. Here, of course, everyone is quite right to be suspicious; the confusion of Mary’s due date, which gave her enemies more ammunition, is also referenced:

Besides, the Confidence of the Pagan Party did strangely startle the People, when like Oracles they would affirm that of necessity it must be a Prince: These and many other material circumstances made the Albionites talk broadly of the business; nor were Lycogenes and Messalina ignorant of their Sentiments; however having the Power absolutely in their hands, they were resolved to cut that knot which they found impossible to untie, and since they had thus far advanced in a business of that importance, they resolv’d to go through and bring it about, though with a thousand absurdities and incoherencies; for besides the alteration of her Reckoning, which proceeded partly from a fear of disappointment if the Woman that came first should have brought forth a Girl, but chiefly to amuse the Nobility and Gentry of the Court and Kingdom, who would doubtless have made it their business in behalf of the Princess Artemesia and the Kingdom, to attend and watch that all things might have been carryed fairly and above board…

In April of 1688, seven bishops including the Archbishop of Canterbury were arrested and charged with seditious libel after publishing their petition against James’ religious policies as a broadsheet; their subsequent acquittal was a huge blow to James and indicative of his increasingly shaky standing. In The Amours Of Messalina, however, the arrest of the bishops is all part of the plot:

Lycogenes was unluckily put in mind that by the Laws of Albion the presence of one or more of the Christian Prelates was to be at the Birth of every Royal Infant indispensably required; to resolve this difficulty a Council is immediately call’d, and after sundry debates it is concluded, that some way or other must be found to bring all or most of the dissenting part into a premunire, and so by aggravation either to endanger their lives, or at least to clap them up and secure them till the Queens Delivery; accordingly a flaw was immediately found and the Prelates forthwith confin’d…

There is indeed a false alarm when the first young woman gives birth to a girl, but with the second a sham prince is at the conspirators’ disposal, and Messalina “goes into labour”. Of this plot, if not the former, Lycogenes is fully cognisant, and plays his part by drawing away many of the courtiers who might otherwise insist on being present at “the birth”. A special, oversized, velvet-lined warming-pan has been devised for the transportation of the infant, which is smuggled into Messalina’s bed and subsequently produced in triumph.

Now feeling secure, Lycogenes begins to grant more and more privileges to the Pagans, even breaking the laws of Albion to do so. Torn between their duty to their country and their religion on one hand, and  to their king on the other, the Christians finally decide to petition Anaximander…

The Amours Of Messalina puts a spin on all the events that led up to the Glorious Revolution, presenting all the unsupported accusations made against James and Mary as based on fact and their removal as therefore right and proper. So intent is it upon its revisionism, it even manages the not inconsiderable task of being unjust to Judge George Jeffreys, then Lord Chancellor. As James pursued his increasingly open pro-Catholic policy, there was a growing fear amongst the English people that he might bring in French troops to enforce his position, particularly in light of the angry response of the army to Catholic military appointments. The Amours Of Messalina raises this particular spectre, but blunders by putting the prospect into the mouth of “Poliorcetes the Chancellor”, who also longs for the chance to assist the spread of Paganism by slaughtering more Christians. In spite of all his dirty work for James, Jeffreys was a staunch Protestant:  amusingly, the text manages to hit upon two things he would not have been guilty of, whatever his other excesses. (Mentions of Poliorcetes’ love of “fire and sword”, and a satirical reference to him as “the chief Judge of Conscience”, hit closer to the mark.)

Also amusing is that Monmouth appears at this point as “Perkin”. As we saw in the context of The Sham Prince Expos’d, Perkin Warbeck was a pretender to the throne of Henry VII. Finally admitting (albeit under torture) that he was an imposter, he was condemned and executed. Subsequently, “Perkin Warbeck”, or simply “Perkin”, became slang for any kind of audacious imposture; understandably, the term swiftly found its way into the armoury of those opposed to James. In particular, it became a favourite word with the future Queen Anne, who bought with great enthusiasm into the “sham prince” fantasy and never allowed that James Francis Edward was any blood relative of hers. Finding the expression put into the mouths of the “Pagans” and applied to Monmouth’s pretensions to the throne gives us a very good idea of Gregorio Leti’s opinion of him.

William of Orange, on the other hand, is everything that is noble and disinterested, desiring only to defend his faith and his wife’s interests:

When they plainly saw, their Own, and the Kingdoms Interest, resolved to be made a Sacrifice to the Ambition, and Covetousness of a small Party, that by the known Laws of the Land, were declared the irreconcileable Enemies of the Christians; they thought it then high time to look about them, and though they paid all the Reverence imaginable to the King, their Father; yet they could not resolve to yield their Rights and Inheritance, and hold precariously their Estates, at the Discretion of an Anti-Christian pack’d Councel… Anaximander, being a Prince of a Vast and Generous Spirit, was easily induc’d to condescend to their Relief; for, besides his proper Interest in the Crown of Albion, which by the common Principles of Nature, he was obliged to Maintain and Defend; he often would resolve on the Glory of the Action, and how Heroick and God-like it would shew, to appear the Great and Glorious Champion of the Christian Religion, which by a Secret League, between Polydorus King of the Gauls, and the King Lycogenes, was resolved to be wholly Extirpated…

In growing panic, the Pagans send their agents out amongst the people to try and win support for Lycogenes and to turn them against Anaximander, but to no avail:

And Father Pedro calling a convocation of his inferior Priests, makes them Dis-robe, and in disguise to mingle among the Christian Assemblies…and there with Confidence to utter false Reports, to lessen the Strength of Anaximander, to cry up the miseries of a Civil War, to Extol the Loyalty of the King’s Christian Subjects, to make comparison between young Perkin’s Expedition and this… Renegade Christian Divines, were ordered to Preach up the necessity of Obedience and Loyalty, to withstand the Prince in his Attempts, and to brand his Expedition with the horrible Title of Invasion. These, and many other Arts were used to take off the Edge of Anaximander’s Sword; sometimes they’d Brand His Royal Person with base and ignominious Names; other times they would think to terrifie the Rebels (as they would call all that would assist him) with the Exemplary Punishments, inflicted by the Chancellor Poliorcetes, in his bloody Western Campaign: But all would not do, the Christians knew the Pagan Punick Faith, as well as Inhumane Cruelty, they saw their Laws, their Liberties, and Lives at Stake; and that now was the only time to assert and recover them…

The Amours Of Messalina sticks briefly with the facts at this point, as Lycogenes vacillates over his response to Anaximander’s approach, trying to gauge how much support the venture is likely to find amongst the Albionites and who, if anyone, he can rely upon; while the narrative becomes openly pitying, lamenting James’ fall, his many mistakes, and ignominious retreat—but placing the blame elsewhere:

And now the Thread of Poor Lycogenes his Fate began to crack, now he could plainly see the errours of his Government, and when it was unhappily too late, might Curse the base designs of his pernicious Counsellors: now he was forc’d to stoop that Glorious Lofty Heart, which dauntless heretofore had braved the mightiest force of Europe. How was he chang’d, alas, from that brave Invincible Lycogenes, that did through Clouds of Smoake and Fire, Charge through the Belgian Fleet, and with fresh Lawrels Crown’d, return’d in Triumph to his joyfull Country: now every little Western breeze that heretofore did serve to blow and kindle up his flaming Courage, like some cold Pestilential air damps his Misgiving Soul; now Poor, forsaken of himself he stands, Conscience alone of Ills past done remains his tiresome guest: Attend ye cursed race of wicked Jebusites, see the Prodigious effects of your Pernicious Councels, ye Cloggs to Crowns, and bane of Power.

But on the back of this the narrative effectively dismisses Lycogenes, instead following Messalina to the court of Polydorus, who no sooner lays eyes upon her than he determines upon making her his mistress. Messalina sees this at once and, for that matter, has every intent of satisfying his desires and her own; although she strings Polydorus along for a time first, making a great show of her honour and chastity. At this point the whole exercise degenerates into a farcical bit of amatory writing, with Polydorus sleeping with the baby’s nurse by mistake before he and Messalina finally begin their affair, and with Messalina simultaneously pursued by the Dauphin. It was a common slander that Mary of Modena was (or became) the mistress of Louis XIV, but even so these ribald sexual manoeuvrings make for a peculiar conclusion.

22/01/2013

It’s just a jump to the left…

So after bringing in the New Year with a viewing of Captain Blood, I got hold of a copy of the novel by Rafael Sabatini, in order to find out how much they had in common. Not too unexpectedly, the film – although a rousing swashbuckler – bears only a general resemblance to the book upon which it is based.

The change that leapt out at me was naturally one of dialogue: much to my surprise, it turns out that neither of the slurs against James II that I so fondly quoted emanate from the novel, but were rather the invention of screenwriter Casey Robinson.

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(On the other hand, one of my other favourite lines from the film – “He’s chivalrous to the point of idiocy” – is a direct lift from the novel.)

However, despite this specific lack, the novel has scattered throughout its pages enough anti-James sentiment to warm the cockles of my resentful heart. It would be fair, I think, to say that the novel Captain Blood has two different villains: Spain as a nation, and James as an individual.

As for the film— Well, put simply, it’s been cleaned up into an emotionally shallow, albeit thoroughly entertaining, adventure story. It is full of bloodless violence, and entirely lacking the novel’s blunt depiction of the brutalities of the age. Its main villains, Colonel Bishop and Levasseur the pirate, though bad enough in context, are shadows of their vicious novel-selves.

Much of the novel’s focus is upon the shifting sands of European politics at this time, the making and breaking of allegiances, and their impact upon the New World; perhaps a third of its story concerns Peter’s escalating, and escalatingly personal, warfare against an admiral in the Spanish navy.

The film discards nearly all of this, maintaining only such references to James and the Monmouth Rebellion as it needs to emphasise the brutality of the existing regime and the injustice of Peter’s conviction. It also manages to completely miss the point of the novel, in which Peter and his men attack only Spanish ships, by having the pirates attack all ships indiscriminatingly.

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Inevitably, in place of politics the film places a much greater emphasis upon the romance between Peter and Arabella Bishop, the beautiful niece of Peter’s deadliest enemy; although it does earn some points in this respect by having Arabella personally buy Peter at the slave-auction rather than just convincing her uncle to do so, thus upping the ante between them. Curiously, the film omits the novel’s single most romantic touch, Peter re-naming his first captured ship the Arabella. (He cries when it sinks; the film omits that, too.)

Conversely, in keeping with Sabatini’s “Boy’s Own” approach to his story, Arabella is present in the novel far less often in the flesh than as an ideal, with the lovesick Peter trying to live up to his image of her and so holding his men to a course of “chivalrous piracy”, which does in fact do them some good in the long run (although not with Arabella herself, who hears a garbled version of Peter’s rescue of Mlle d’Ogeron, the daughter of the Governor of Tortuga, from Levasseur that does him no favours whatsoever).

Likewise, although he never entirely loses the ability to laugh at himself, the novel’s Peter is an older, much more cynical and emotionally damaged individual than the laughing rogue portrayed by Errol Flynn. Although early qualified in medicine, an adventurous spirit saw  the young Peter Blood meddling in Europe’s many wars: learning naval tactics under the famous Admiral de Ruyter for the Dutch against the French; serving the French in the Spanish Netherlands; and spending two years in a Spanish prison – emerging from these experiences with a grasp of both “vile” French and “pure” Castilian,  a deep hatred of the Spanish, and a great desire for a quiet life which is destined to remain unfulfilled.

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The opening of the novel plunges us deeply into precisely the reason I was reading it in the first place. Of all places in the world, Peter Blood has hung up his shingle in Bridgewater, and in July 1865 finds himself a minority of one when the rest of the town’s population is swept up in an enthusiastic fervour over the imminent arrival of the Duke of Monmouth. Peter’s refusal to have anything to do with the matter gets him branded a coward and an outcast, but the issue is simply that he knows too much:

    To him they were fools rushing in wicked frenzy upon their ruin. You see, he knew too much about this fellow Monmouth and the pretty brown slut who had borne him, to be deceived by the legend of legitimacy, on the strength of which this standard of rebellion had been raised. He had read the absurd proclamation posted at the Cross at Bridgewater – as it had been posted also at Taunton and elsewhere – setting forth that “upon the decease of our Sovereign Lord Charles the Second, the right of succession to the Crown of England, Scotland, France, and Ireland, with the dominions and territories thereunto belonging, did legally descend and devolve upon the most illustrious and high-born Prince James, Duke of Monmouth, son and heir apparent to the said King Charles the Second.”
    It had moved him to laughter, as had the further announcement that “James Duke of York did first cause the said late King to be poysoned, and immediately thereupon did usurp and invade the Crown.”
    He knew not which was the greater lie. For Mr. Blood had spent a third of his life in the Netherlands, where this same James Scott – who now proclaimed himself James the Second, by the grace of God, King, et cetera – first saw the light some six-and-thirty years ago, and he was acquainted with the story current there of the fellow’s real paternity. Far from being legitimate – by virtue of a pretended secret marriage between Charles Stuart and Lucy Walter – it was possible that this Monmouth who now proclaimed himself King of England was not even the illegitimate child of the late sovereign. What but ruin and disaster could be the end of this grotesque pretension? How could it be hoped that England would ever swallow such a Perkin? And it was on his behalf, to uphold his fantastic claim, that these West Country clods, led by a few armigerous Whigs, had been seduced into rebellion!

The rebellion, of course, goes exactly as Peter predicts it will, but his intention of staying out of it is shattered when his neighbour, Jeremiah Pitt, drags him out to attend the wounded Lord Gildoy: a rebel, yes, but someone who has been a good friend to Peter and done him many favours, so that as neither a man nor a doctor can Peter honestly refuse to give his assistance. He is, at this point, sufficiently unacquainted with the incumbent monarch to assume that his merely providing medical treatment to a possibly dying man will not be be the cause of any particular trouble. He is soon disabused, and finds himself imprisoned awaiting trial for his life. If this was not enough to alter his political opinions, other events are…

…and you may imagine the evil joy I felt, when I found the finger of scorn being pointed in a third, equally deserving direction:

    Mr. Blood heard that tale with the same indifference with which he had received the news of Monmouth’s death. But one shameful thing he heard in connection with this which left him not quite so unmoved, and served to nourish the contempt he was forming for King James. His Majesty had consented to see Monmouth. To have done so unless he intended to pardon him was a thing execrable and damnable beyond belief; for the only other object in granting that interview could be the evilly mean satisfaction of spurning the abject penitence of his unfortunate nephew.
   Later they heard that Lord Grey, who after the Duke – indeed, perhaps, before him – was the main leader of the rebellion, had purchased his own pardon for forty thousand pounds. Peter Blood found this of a piece with the rest. His contempt for King James blazed out at last. “Why, here’s a filthy mean creature to sit on a throne. If I had known as much of him before as I know to-day, I don’t doubt I should have given cause to be where I am now.”

And that’s before he meets Judge George Jeffreys.

(In another clean-up moment, the film has Jeffreys dying of tuberculosis, rather than the excruciating kidney disease that actually did kill him. Also, the convicted rebels are merely to be hanged, rather than hanged, drawn and quartered, as in reality.)

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The lives of Peter Blood and some of his fellow convicted rebels are saved when James is convinced that transportation and slavery would be a more profitable way of proceeding – and just as fatal in the long run. On the nightmare journey to Jamaica, Peter’s medical skill is called upon, and he arrives in Jamaica with a reputation as a skilled physician. He is bought by the brutal Colonel Bishop – catching the interested eye of Miss Arabella Bishop, the Colonel’s niece and ward, in the process – but is soon worth more to his owner as a doctor than as a slave. His success goes over like a lead balloon with Jamaica’s incumbent doctors, who enter into a conspiracy with Peter to buy a boat in which he and a handful of fellow-slaves can escape. Circumstances both hinder and favour the breakout, with Peter and the others finally making their escape under the cover of an attack upon Port Royal by the Spanish.

From there the book and the film part company for quite some time, with the former concentrating on Peter’s individual war with the Spanish admiral – the older brother of the man in charge of the illegal attack on Port Royal, who is captured by Peter and his men (along with his ship, the soon-to-be Arabella) and dies in their custody, although not really through any fault of theirs.

However, in spite of how busy the pirates are kept, there’s always time to insult James Stuart:

Both Esteban and Blood made haste to agree with him, and then Blood raised his glass, and drank to the glory of Spain and the damnation of the besotted James who occupied the throne of England. The latter part of his toast was at least sincere…

So you may imagine my horror when, in another plot twist omitted from the film, Peter Blood finds himself accepting a commission in the navy of King James…

This nightmare volte-face comes about when Peter rescues from the Spanish Arabella herself and Lord Julian Wade, a relative of the Secretary of State, Lord Sunderland, who has been sent to the West Indies to try and “solve” the pirate situation by offering Peter a pardon and a commission. At first, Peter’s reaction is everything we might expect, and hope:

    “Ye’re my guest aboard this ship,” said he, “and I still have some notion of decent behaviour left me from other days, thief and pirate though I may be. So I’ll not be telling you what I think of you for daring to bring me this offer, or of my Lord Sunderland – since he’s your kinsman – for having the impudence to send it. But it does not surprise me at all that one who is a minister of James Stuart’s should conceive that every man is to be seduced by bribes into betraying those who trust him.” He flung out an arm in the direction of the waist, whence came the half-melancholy chant of the lounging buccaneers.
    “Again you misapprehend me,” cried Lord Julian, between concern and indignation. “That is not intended. Your followers will be included in your commission.”
    “And d’ ye think they’ll go with me to hunt their brethren – the Brethren of the Coast? On my soul, Lord Julian, it is yourself does the misapprehending. Are there not even notions of honour left in England? Oh, and there’s more to it than that, even. D’ye think I could take a commission of King James’s? I tell you I wouldn’t be soiling my hands with it – thief and pirate’s hands though they be. Thief and pirate is what you heard Miss Bishop call me to-day – a thing of scorn, an outcast. And who made me that? Who made me thief and pirate?”

As you will have gathered, Peter and Arabella – who is struggling with her own confused emotions, and still smarting from the story of Mlle d’Ogeron – have already exchanged pleasantries. Between that, and her mere presence, and his growing conviction that Arabella is in love with Lord Julian, as he certainly is with her, Peter completely loses his head, and blunders straight into the British navy and Colonel Bishop. With escape impossible, and the lives of all his men at stake, Peter makes a deal with the devil – but insists that those of his men who do not wish to accept a commission or a pardon (which is most of them) should be given a ship and a head-start.

And afterwards—well, he doesn’t quite go about flagellating himself and howling, “UNCLEAN! UNCLEAN!”, but that’s what it amounts to. It is left to Arabella to put James Stuart in his place:

    “Your resolve delivered me from a horrible danger,” she admitted. And she shivered at the memory of it. “But I do not understand why you should have hesitated when first it was proposed to you. It is an honourable service.”
    “King James’s?” he sneered.
    “England’s,” she corrected him in reproof. “The country is all, sir; the sovereign naught. King James will pass; others will come and pass; England remains, to be honourably served by her sons, whatever rancour they may hold against the man who rules her in their time.”

In spite of this intended comfort, Peter’s service for James goes just as well – and lasts just as long – as you might anticipate, and in short time he is headed back to Tortuga. However, Peter’s self-disgust runs deep; he feels that he can no longer – no longer honourably – be a pirate. He cannot serve England. He will not serve Spain. What is left but to sell his sword and his boats to the French? (They didn’t have a Foreign Legion back then, but the principal is the same.)

To Peter’s horror, he soon finds himself, in the name of honourable warfare, involved in acts of piracy worst than any he committed as an actual pirate. His remonstrances and protests outrage and offend his commanders, who take the first opportunity to sever the connection between themselves and these skilful but tiresome buccaneers. They have, in any case, other fish to fry – now that France and England are at war…

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Those “fish” are nothing less than an attack upon Port Royal: an attack made frighteningly easy by the absence of Colonel Bishop, now Deputy-Governor of Jamaica, who has deserted his post and taken the fleet with him to hunt his personal nemesis, Peter Blood (and in company with Lord Julian Wade, who by this time has his own reasons for hating Peter).

Peter and his men are on their way to French Hispaniola in pursuit of their former colleagues when they hear guns, and see an attack upon a single English ship. Upon rescuing the survivors, Peter finds himself confronted by a choleric Englishman named Lord Willoughby, and the Dutch Admiral van der Kuylen, whose ship was sunk. While the Dutchman seems amused at being rescued by a notorious pirate, Willoughby is furious and aggressive, insulting Peter who responds with a quiet courtesy that the Englishman takes for sarcasm:

    The fierce little gentleman stared at him. “Damme! Do you permit yourself to be ironical?” he disapproved him, and possibly with a view to correcting any such tendency, proceeded to introduce himself. “I am Lord Willoughby, King William’s Governor-General of the West Indies, and this is Admiral van der Kuylen, commander of His Majesty’s West Indian fleet, at present mislaid somewhere in this damned Caribbean Sea.”
    “King William?” quoth Blood, and he was conscious that Pitt and Dyke, who were behind him, now came edging nearer, sharing his own wonder. “And who may be King William, and of what may he be King?”
    “What’s that?” In a wonder greater than his own, Lord Willoughby stared back at him. At last: “I am alluding to His Majesty King William III – William of Orange – who, with Queen Mary, has been ruling England for two months and more.”
    There was a moment’s silence, until Blood realised what he was being told…

And from here, the long-severed book and film finally reunite, with Peter and his men falling upon the superior French forces and defeating them in grim and bloody battle, saving Port Royal and redeeming themselves in the process. Afterwards, Peter is appointed the new Governor of Jamaica and – after finally coming to an understanding with Arabella – is left to deal with his future uncle-in-law…

Though it is undoubtedly a Hollywoodisation of its source novel, the film version of Captain Blood is, as I have indicated, a perfectly entertaining adventure film, with all the usual Warner Bros. benefits: direction by Michael Curtiz, a score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, a clever, frequently funny screenplay by Casey Robinson, the match-made-in-heaven co-casting of Errol Flynn and Olivia de Haviland, and poor Basil Rathbone dying on the point of Flynn’s most undeserving sword, for the first but certainly not the last time.

The novel, however, is an altogether darker and more complex work—while for the James Stuart haters amongst us, well, it’s all good.

CB35-22

31/12/2012

James is kicked out of this blog!

…and with those posts about Inés de Castro (albeit that they ended up being nothing like what I originally envisioned), I have achieved my 2012 ambition of “getting the hell out of 1688” – YES!!

{holds for applause}

Honestly, I’ve been so long in reaching this point that it’s almost a physical shock. I feel slightly disorientated and panicky, but in a good way, if that makes sense. It’s one of those “time is relative” situations, I suppose, but I seem to have spent infinitely longer trapped in the three-year reign of James than I devoted to the twenty-five preceding years during which his brother was on the throne. What’s more, in contrast to the mixture of contempt and vague amusement which seems to be my prevailing attitude towards Charles, I find myself harbouring towards James a smouldering resentment that has little if anything to do with his methods of governance.

This being the case, I’ve decided that the most fitting way for me to see out 2012 is with a repeat viewing of Captain Blood, the film that marked Errol Flynn’s spectacular Hollywood debut.

For the benefit of those of you unfamiliar with the novel by Rafael Sabatini and its 1935 translation to the screen, Captain Blood opens during the Monmouth Rebellion. Peter Blood, a young Irish physician practising in England, unknowingly treats some of the wounded rebels and is arrested with them; he finds himself one of many tried during the Bloody Assizes of Judge George Jeffreys, and is condemned to death. However, his sentence is commuted to transportation and penal servitude for life when James is persuaded that simply hanging all these rebels is a waste of manpower that could be put to better use on the royal plantations in the West Indies. Peter’s fortunes improve when the Governor of Jamaica, a martyr to gout, learns that he is a doctor and engages him as his personal physician. Peter is granted certain privileges as a reward for his services, and uses his new opportunities to arrange the purchase of a ship and a mass breakout by his fellow slaves, who then embark upon a career of piracy.

The specific significance of this film in my present state of mind is not just its historical background, however, but that fact that it is bookended by two extremely rude references to James Stuart.

The first comes when Peter is originally condemned, and retorts upon Judge Jeffreys: “What a creature must sit upon the throne, that let’s a man like you deal out his justice!”

The second comes towards the end when, just as all seems lost, word of the Glorious Revolution reaches the West Indies, along with the welcome news that as a consequence, Peter and his men have been pardoned. Peter’s reaction is to leap up onto the railing of his ship and announce joyously, “James is kicked out of England!”

I know exactly how he feels.

So what lies ahead? I honestly don’t know. I’ve been so focused on getting to this point that I haven’t looked any further. I’m pretty sure that we’re in for some more political writing and romans à clef, though, since many of the people who had bitten their tongue during the three years of the dangerously thin-skinned James put pen to paper during 1689 in celebration of their new freedoms. And of course, sadly, we have the last few works of Aphra Behn, who died in April of that year at the age of only forty-nine. Beyond that, it’s all a mystery.

I’ve neglected the other aspects of this blog during my push to the finish-line, but from here I’ll be trying to get back to Reading Roulette and Authors In Depth, so we can mix it up a bit more. However, I’ve decided not to do anything so foolish again as making a definite statement of intent about where I’d like to get to next year: too much like hard work! Let’s just say that I hope to post more regularly, and leave it at that.

Finally—profound thanks as always to everyone who has visited this blog in 2012, and in particular to those of you who took the time to comment. See you in 2013!

17/11/2012

Oroonoko; or, The Royal Slave (Part 4)

…he no sooner came to the houses of the slaves, which are like a little town by itself, the Negroes all having left work, but they all came forth to behold him…and, from a veneration they pay to great men, especially if they know ’em, and from the surprise and awe they had at the sight of him, they all cast themselves at his feet, crying out in their language: “Live, O King, live long, O King!”, and kissing his feet, paid him even divine homage…

While there is certainly some validity to the long-standing interpretations of Oroonoko  as an anti-slavery tract and as an early example of “noble savage” literature, I have to say that, this time around, the reading that leapt off the page at me was that which places it as an allegory of the Stuarts. While I am hardly the first person to draw this conclusion, it is not, to say the least, the most popular way of “seeing” Oroonoko; nor is it the easiest one to reach, without the kind of immersion in Restoration politics and literature that I have just been through (and which I have inflicted upon you). Yet I think that it is ultimately the correct one. Furthermore, I think that without a proper understanding of when and why Oroonoko was written, the reader cannot grasp its full implications.

As we have touched upon in the previous posts, Aphra Behn published Oroonoko in the second half of 1688. She was ill and in debt; plays were not being commissioned, and her poetry and translations were not paying the bills. Needing money urgently, she understandably turned to the increasingly popular literary form, fiction, to supplement her dangerously slender income. Behn turned out a clutch of short works at this time, but Oroonoko distinguishes itself from the others in several significant ways.

Firstly, over the previous twenty years Aphra Behn apparently told the story, or versions of it, to her friends – suggesting that there was a real incident in Surinam that burned itself on her memory, however little it might have resembled what she finally put on paper. For all the later attempts to conflate Behn’s life with her fiction, this would seem to be the only point at which the two clearly crossed paths. Secondly, and further to that point, this is the only piece of Behn’s fiction to be told in the first person, in which she deliberately inserts a version of herself into her narrative. Behn’s other fictions may have been nothing more to her than an effort to raise some money in a hurry, but it seems clear enough that when it comes to Oroonoko, there was a more complex relationship between author and text.

Oroonoko was, as I say, published in the second half of 1688; we know it was, because it was advertised in the re-release of some of Aphra’s Behn’s Royalist poetry, which we examined in an earlier post. Having written one lengthy poem upon the announcement of Mary of Modena’s pregnancy early in the year, Behn followed up with another after the birth of the Prince of Wales on 10th June 1688; the two works were subsequently bundled together and reissued. Before this happened, however, one of the most significant events in English history had taken place, with the issuing of the invitation to William of Orange by the “Immortal Seven” on 18th June.

(The “seven” were: William Cavendish, then the Earl of Devonshire; Charles Talbot, then the Earl of Shrewsbury; Thomas Osborne, then the Earl of Danby; Richard Lumley, then Viscount and Baron Lumley; Henry Compton, the Bishop of London; Edward Russell; and Henry Sidney. The “thens” foreshadow the honours which the men predictably received under William and Mary, with a generous bestowal of dukedoms. Russell, a former high-ranking naval officer who was stripped of his command after his relative, Lord Russell, was executed in the wake of the Rye House Plot, became First Lord of the Admiralty and the 1st Earl of Orford; while Henry Sidney was created 1st Earl of Romney. It was Sidney who actually wrote the letter to William. Lord Lumley, later created the 1st Earl of Scarborough, was – ironically enough – the man who had captured Monmouth after his disastrous rebellion.)

By the time Aphra Behn put pen to paper to tell the story of her “royal slave”, everyone knew that William was coming; what they did not know was what would happen when he did. Would James, by some miracle (perhaps via Divine intervention), hold onto his throne?—or would he follow his father to the block? That James would simply pack up quietly and leave was not, I imagine, very high on the list of anyone’s guesses, and least of all Aphra Behn’s.

Aphra sat down to write Oroonoko, then, in an atmosphere of tension and uncertainty; at a time when, as a Royalist and one of James’s most loyal adherents, she must have been suffering agonies of fear and doubt. What appeared on her sheets of paper was a story of the betrayal and murder of a royal prince, set against a backdrop of England ceding its territories to the Dutch.

While it is, as I say, quite easy to understand why people prefer the anti-slavery reading of Oroonoko to one that positions it as an allegory mourning the imminent downfall of the Stuarts, if we do accept Oroonoko as a literary stand-in for James, it seems to me that most of the pieces of the puzzle fall fairly easily into place. This a Royalist piece par excellence: much of its first half is devoted to the extolling the superiority of Oroonoko to his fellow slaves and his English captors alike; an innate superiority that shows itself unmistakably in his physical perfections, his mental attainments, and the beauties of his character:

Nor did the perfections of his mind come short of those of his person, for his discourse was admirable upon almost every subject , and whoever had heard him speak would have been convinced of their errors, that all fine wit is confined to the white men, especially to those of Christendom, and would have confessed that Oroonoko was as capable even of reigning well and of governing as wisely, had as great a soul, as politic maxims, and was as sensible of power, as any prince civilised in the most refined schools of humanity and learning, or the most illustrious courts.

James Trefry, who buys Oroonoko as a slave for the plantation belonging to Lord Willoughby, is struck at first glance by a certain  je ne sais quoi, which sets this newcomer apart from his fellow slaves:

He…no sooner came into the boat but he fixed his eyes on him, and finding something so extraordinary in his face, his shape, his mien, a greatness of look and haughtiness in his air, and finding he spoke English, had a great mind to be inquiring into his quality and fortune; which, though Oroonoko endeavoured to hide by only confessing he was above the rank of common slaves, Trefry soon found he was yet something greater than he confessed…

Not even shackles and rags can disguise Oroonoko’s royal blood, and everyone in Surinam who comes into contact with him instinctively pays him the homage due to a prince:

When he found his habit made him liable, as he thought, to be gazed at more, he begged Trefry to give him something more befitting a slave, which he did, and took off his robes. Nevertheless, he shone through all…and he had no less admirers than when he had his dazzling habit on; the royal youth appeared in spite of the slave, and people could not help treating him after a different manner, without designing it. As soon as they approached him, they venerated and esteemed him; his eyes insensibly commanded respect, and his behaviour insinuated it into every soul, so that there was nothing to be talked of but this young and gallant slave, even by those who yet knew not that he was a prince…

Oroonoko’s fame spreads quickly, and the English begin to tussle amongst themselves for the privilege of this unexpected celebrity’s company:

But if the King himself (God bless him) had come ashore, there could not have been greater expectations by all the the plantation…and he was received more like a governor than a slave.

That quick “God bless him” is, by the way, the only direct reference to James to be found in the pages of Oroonoko, although his brother wanders by at certain points, as we shall see.

But Oroonoko’s very perfections breed jealousy and fear—particularly a fear that he might have the power to rouse the other slaves to violent rebellion against their captors. It is at this point that The Narrator begins her Quisling-like interaction with Oroonoko, soothing him with promises about his future liberty, if only he will be patient for just a little longer…

The carrot dangled before the increasingly frustrated prince is the arrival of Surinam’s new governor, who does not in fact arrive within the confines of the story. The previous governor—he who is summarily dismissed by the natives as “a liar”—is, we are told, later “drowned in a hurricane”. This incident prompts the appointment of The Narrator’s father, but he dies on the journey to Surinam, leading to yet another delay as news of his demise is sent back to England and a second replacement governor despatched. During this time, Surinam is necessarily without proper leadership—or, if you prefer, is a country without a king.

The deputy-governor of Surinam is one William Byam, another real historical figure, and one for whom Aphra expresses a loathing that may be personal, or may represent her feelings against those Englishmen who were plotting James’s downfall—or both:

The deputy-governor, of whom I have had no great occasion to speak, and who was the most fawning, fair-tongued fellow in the world, and one that pretended the most friendship to Caesar, was now the only violent man against him, and though he had nothing, and so need fear nothing, yet talked and looked bigger than any man. He was a fellow whose character is not fit to be mentioned with the worst of the slaves…

Ouch. It seems to me that, twenty-five years on, there’s too much venom in this lack-of-character sketch for it to be entirely a portrait of William Byam, although Aphra clearly brought no friendly memories of him back from Surinam. More likely, I think, it is mixed with her views on someone close to James, someone she considered guilty of a particularly personal betrayal.

In any event, it is Byam who is responsible for Oroonoko’s fate. Again and again, he makes promises, which Oroonoko is persuaded by his English “friends” to believe; again and again, he breaks them. The entirely honourable Oroonoko has no defence against a man who can tell such lies, and commit such dishonourable acts:

But Trefry and Byam pleaded and protested together so much, that Trefry, believing the governor to mean what he said, and speaking very cordially himself, generously put himself into Caesar’s hands, and took him aside, and persuaded him, even with tears, to live by surrendering himself, and to name his conditions. Caesar was overcome by his wit and reasons, and in consideration of Imoinda, and demanding what he desired, and that it should be ratified by their hands in writing, because he had perceived that was the common way of contract between man and man amongst the whites. All this was performed, and Tuscan’s pardon was put in, and they surrender to the governor, who walked peaceably down into the plantation with ’em… But they were no sooner arrived at the place where all the slaves receive their punishments of whipping, but they laid hands on Caesar and Tuscan, faint with heat and toil, and, surprising them, bound them to two several stakes, and whipped them in a most deplorable and inhumane manner, rending the very flesh from the bones…

Byam is supported in his governorship of Surinam, such as it is, by a council of Englishmen; and it does not take too much imagination to read into Aphra’s presentation of these “gentlemen” her opinion of the Immortal Seven:

The governor was no sooner recovered and had heard of the menaces of Caesar but he called his council who (not to disgrace them, or burlesque the government there) consisted of such notorious villains as Newgate never transported, and possibly originally were such, who understood neither the laws of God or man, and had no sort of principles to make ’em worthy the name of men…

Oroonoko is, in fact, betrayed on all sides: by Byam and his lies; by his “friends”, Trefry and The Narrator, and their empty promises; and even by his fellow-slaves, who follow him when he offers to lead them to their freedom, only to turn tail and abandon him when it comes to a confrontation with the English—“Yield and live; yield and be pardoned!”

This final betrayal is the most bitter of all for Oroonoko, who responds that:

…he was ashamed of what he had done, in endeavouring to make those free who were by nature slaves, poor, wretched rogues, fit to be used as Christians’ tools, dogs treacherous and cowardly fit for such masters, and they wanted only but to be whipped into the knowledge of the Christian gods to be the vilest of all creeping things…

And here we see the problem with trying to read Oroonoko as a simple anti-slavery pact, namely that all the other slaves – the non-royal slaves, that is – are exactly what the pro-slavery faction so often argued: cowardly, weak and stupid; inferior.

However—this should not to be taken to mean that Aphra was in fact pro-slavery, but rather that she wasn’t thinking here of real slavery, or real slaves, at all. Instead, it was simply a matter of her allegory requiring the slaves of Surinam to stand in for the English people: too stupid to realise what they had in James Stuart; too weak to rise up in his defence, as they should; too cowardly to do anything but hunker down and protect their own skins, even as seven treacherous men almost openly plotted their king’s downfall.

Betrayal is the overriding theme of Oroonoko, from the King of Coramantien’s siezing of Imoinda and his later selling of her into slavery, to the tricking of Oroonoko into slavery by the ship’s captain, to Oroonoko’s treatment at the hands of the English; but it is not the only one. This short tale also functions as a warning to the English people, as to what exactly they will be letting themselves in for should they allow the coming of William. And in pursuit of this particular end, Aphra does something I have not seen in any other of her writings: she openly criticises Charles II.

At the time of Aphra’s visit, Surinam was an English colony. However, in 1667, under the Treaty of Breda, which brought to an end the second Anglo-Dutch War, the colony was given up to the Dutch. This surrender of a land rich in natural resources, including gold, was in Aphra’s opinion a major blunder on Charles’s part, and she says so twice—albeit tempering her complaint by referring to Charles as “his late Majesty of sacred memory”:

Though, in a word, I must say this much of it, that certainly had his late Majesty of sacred memory but seen and known what a vast and charming world he had been master of in that continent, he would never have parted so easily with it to the Dutch…

The loss of gold, discovered in the interior of Surinam not long before Aphra’s departure, was clearly a particular bug-bear:

…but we going off for England before the project was further prosecuted, and the governor being drowned in a hurricance, either the design died, or the Dutch have the advantage of it, and ’tis to be bemoaned what His Majesty lost by losing that part of America...

Of course, Aphra is being just a tad disingenous here. Under the terms of the Treaty of Breda, the English did not simply “give up” Surinam to the Dutch—they received New York in exchange for it. Then again—by the time Aphra wrote Oroonoko she had visited North as well as South America; perhaps she genuinely believed that the Dutch had got the better part of the bargain.

While Oroonoko is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a humourous work, it is hard not to smile at the number of times Aphra manages to drag the Dutch into the story—always as a grim portent of Things To Come. If the English are bad, the Dutch are infinitely worse; and Aphra, in her guise as The Narrator, takes pains to let her readers know just how rapidly Surinam went to hell in hand-basket, once the country had changed ownership:

About this time we were in many mortal fears about some disputes the English had with the Indians, so that we could scarce trust ourselves without great numbers to go to any of the Indian towns or places where they abode, for fear they should fall upon us, as they did immediately after my coming away, and that it was in the possession of the Dutch, who used ’em not so civilly as the English…

It is even the fault of the Dutch that the telling of Oroonoko’s story is left to the feeble powers of a “female pen” (disingenuous again, Aphra!):

But his misfortune was to fall in an obscure world, that afforded only a female pen to celebrate his fame; though I doubt not but it had lived from others’ endeavours, if the Dutch who, immediately after this time, took that country, had not killed, banished and dispersed all those that were capable of giving the world this great man’s life better than I have done…

Mind you—even the Dutch have their uses. After sharing with us her opinion of the council that assisted William Byam in his misdeeds, The Narrator adds parenthetically:

Some of ’em were afterwards hanged when the Dutch took possession of the place…

Be that as it may, the subtext of Oroonoko is clear enough: Pay attention, English people—do you REALLY want the Dutch in charge??

Perhaps because she was speaking allegorically, in Oroonoko Aphra Behn allows herself to be as critical of the Stuarts as she ever was, even apart from those cracks at Charles. Oroonoko’s indecisiveness towards the end of the story, the constant gap between what he says he’s going to do, and what he actually does, is particularly telling. Recognising at last that the English are never going to let them go, Oroonoko makes another escape with Imoinda, carrying out his drastic plan so far as killing his pregnant wife so as to prevent her subsequent “despoiling” and their child being born a slave. Having done so, however, instead of carrying out the next part of his plan, a bloody revenge on William Byam, Oroonoko collapses, remaining passively by Imoinda’s rotting body until he is recaptured by his enemies.

It is suggestive, too, that there is a second layer to this criticism, inasmuch as most of Oroonoko’s problems stem from his interaction with women.  It is the sexual struggle between Oroonoko and his grandfather over possession of Imoinda that starts all the trouble in the first place, after all, while once in Surinam Oroonoko’s feet are set on the road to disaster chiefly because, again and again, he allows himself to be over-persuaded by a woman. Even the slave rebellion fails because, when it comes to the crunch, the male slaves give into the pleading of their wives to save their own lives by surrendering.

Is this Aphra Behn having a dig at the notorious weakness of the Stuart men? Perhaps. She does make a point of excluding Imoinda herself from her criticism, lauding her for the way she stands by her man—as indeed, for all her faults, Mary of Modena did James. That said, Mary’s own talent for making enemies almost matched her husband’s, and in that respect she was no help to him at all.

And if we do follow this line of argument, it begs the tantalising question of who The Narrator, with her disastrous influence upon Oroonoko’s affairs, might be meant to be? I don’t think there is an easy, or even a definite, answer to that, although it’s fun to play with. It’s possible, for instance, to see her as the other Mary in James’s life, his daughter, who would finally replace him on the throne; a treacherous figure, and yet a royal Stuart. However, my own preferred reading sees The Narrator not as any contemporary woman, but as a kind of Henrietta Maria—constantly interfering in Stuart affairs, until she finally helps to get one of them killed.

The shadow of Charles I lies long and dark across Oroonoko; Aphra Behn’s fear that James would go the way of his father is clear throughout the text, which from the start dwells morbidly upon the various physical injuries suffered by Oroonoko, until the story reaches its climax in his grotesque execution:

…so inhumane were the justices, who stood by to see the execution, who after paid dearly enough for their insolence. They cut Caesar in quarters and sent them to several of the chief plantations. One quarter was sent to Colonel Martin, who refused it, and swore he had rather see the quarters of Banister and the governor himself, than those of Caesar, on his plantations, and that he could govern his Negroes without terrifying and grieving them with frightful spectacles of a mangled king.

When The Narrator describes Oroonoko’s re-christening as “Caesar”, she concentrates on the applicability of the name to this brave and glorious warrior (with the Roman nose), who…wanted no part of the personal courage of that Caesar, and acted things as memorable. Not for a second, however, should we forget the ultimate fate of the original Caesar – nor who was responsible for it.

Nor should we overlook the poignant significance of the fact that, at the very last, while his mangled remains are being distributed amongst the “nobility” of Surinam, The Narrator refers to Oroonoko not as he is, as a prince, but as a king. It is not hard to tell that the “frightful spectacle” of a “mangled king” was vividly before the eyes of Aphra Behn’s imagination as she was writing the closing lines of her tragedy.

Nevertheless, in the latter stages of the story there is also an unmistakeable sense of exasperation about Aphra’s handling of her hero, particularly with respect to his helpless vacillation in the aftermath of Imoinda’s death. The impression given by these passages is that Aphra couldn’t understand why James was just sitting there, when everyone knew that William was on his way. Why didn’t he summon the army?—appeal to his people?—draw his sword—anything?

It is easy to imagine that after so many years of loyal service, James’s tame surrender of his throne must have come as a bitter blow to Aphra Behn—yet in Oroonoko, she all but predicts it. Perhaps, with the end of the struggle in sight, and under cover of allegory, Aphra finally allowed herself to admit about the Stuarts everything she had been closing her eyes to for more than twenty years.

12/05/2012

…and the case for the prosecution

Perhaps the most interesting example of the “sham prince” literature of 1688 is a boadsheet issued late in the year bearing the (not particularly grammatical) title, The Sham Prince Expos’d. In A Dialogue Between The Popes Nuncio And Bricklayers Wife. Nurse To The Supposed Prince Of Wales., which in spite of its brevity manages to cover a surprising amount of pertinent ground.

The content of this single sheet consists, as we would expect, of a mock conversation between two of the major players in the faux-drama surrounding the Prince of Wales: the papal nuncio, Ferdinando d’Adda, who everyone was determined to believe was behind the conspiracy in one capacity or another, and the woman who was either simply nurse to the fake prince, or the self-sacrificing Catholic who gave up her baby to play the role of the spurious James Francis Edward, according to which version of events you chose to believe.

The two conspirators have met together to mourn the miscarrying of their scheme (so to speak), and the bad way things are going in England generally for Catholics.

The nuncio remains optimistic – the Catholics have, after all, the Mother of God and a whole battery of saints on their side – but the nurse thinks their moment in the sun has passed:

Nurse:  Well, you may flatter yourself with Restitution, &c. but your satisfaction is likely to be no greater than a Hungry Mans Dream of a plentiful Supper. Your late short Scene of Glory was like the last Blaze of a Candle, spent in the Socket; and the unmannerly Whigs think it has left as bad a stink behind it too.

But Father d’Adda remains convinced that their production of a prince on cue has spiked their enemies’ guns:

Nuncio:  Come, come Children, we have a reserve yet left, what, do you think a Council of Jesuits can be out-witted by a Dutch man. I can but laugh to think what a thorn in their Sides our young Prince Prettyman will prove.
Nurse:  O Lord Sir, Now the whole Kingdom laughs at the Sham; and there’s never a Joyner in Town but has a pattern of the Bed Stead: Nay, next Bartholomew-Fair they intend to have a droll, call’d, The Tragedy of Perkin Warbeck; you have read the Story of that Perkin, Sir, have you not?

While I’m amused by the suggestion that beds modelled on Mary of Modena’s (with or without secret compartments for hiding babies) had become a fashionable collector’s item by late in 1688, the important reference here is of course that to Perkin Warbeck; particularly in the contradictory context of a “tragic droll”.

Perkin Warbeck was a pretender to the throne of Henry VII; his claim was that he was Richard of Shrewsbury, the son of Edward IV and one of the infamous “Princes in the Tower”. His claim was supported by Margaret of York, Edward’s sister, and for some time he gained ground, being received at various courts, using the title the Duke of York, and marrying into the nobility. He found his strongest ally in James IV of Scotland, who (mostly for his own purposes) raised a force and invaded England on Warbeck’s behalf, but retreated when the anticipated support failed to materialise. On his own account, Warbeck raised a force in Cornwall and was declared “Richard IV”, but when he heard that Henry VII’s troops were on the way, he panicked and fled. Warbeck was captured, confessed – under duress – to being an imposter, and was executed in November 1499.

There was, evidently, some resemblance between Edward IV and Warbeck, and some people did believe he was Richard; others that he may have been Edward’s illegitimate son; although in many cases it was undoubtedly a matter of people choosing to believe. The majority opinion has always been that Warbeck was a “pretender” in more ways than one, the word at this time taking on the double meaning. Over time, his name became shorthand not just for a sham, but a sham in high circles.

During the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715, Queen Anne applied the nickname “Perkin Warbeck” repeatedly and scornfully to her half-brother, who would of course go down in history as “the Old Pretender”. In The Sham Prince Expos’d, we see that the association was nothing new, but that the prince had been the target of such references from the time of his birth.

(There is, by the way, a whole body of literature about Perkin Warbeck, some for and some against. We shall probably stumble across it sooner or later.)

“Prince Prettyman”, meanwhile, is an allusion with both literary and political roots (which doubtless would have been a lot easier to dig up if Prince had never recorded a song called “Prettyman”, sigh): Prince Pretty-man is a character in  The Rehearsal, a play written by George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, in 1671. As a work, it is (like Tristram Shandy) “post-modern before there was modern”: it consists of a play within a play, with various bewildering half-scenes being rehearsed while the playwright defends them against criticisms from onlookers. The Rehearsal was aimed specifically at the heroic dramas of John Dryden, mocking both their high-flown morals and sentiments and their over-reliance on hoary devices like the overheard plot; and it was successful enough to put a temporary kink in Dryden’s dramatic career. (He revenged himself on Buckingham by writing him into Absalom And Achitophel, as Zimri.)

The Rehearsal contains any number of self-reflexive allusions, including the characters of “the two kings”, who were clearly meant to be Charles and James. Prince Pretty-man, meanwhile, is a figure of dubious parentage, found abandoned as a baby and raised by a fisherman, who is eventually accused of kidnapping him. Prince Pretty-man stays loyal to the man who raised him – “Bring in my father! Why d’ye keep him from me? Although a fisherman, he is my father” – and declares that he would rather be the son of a fisherman than a bastard.

The combination of a prince of ambiguous parentage and an explictly Stuart setting  must have made a reference to “our Prince Prettyman” irresistible to the anonymous author of The Sham Prince Expos’d. And as with the sneering allusion to “Perkin Warbeck”, “Prince Prettyman” subsequently became a commonly used, shorthand insult.

The nuncio reflects upon how carefully the birth was arranged, and in the face of formidable opposition:

Nuncio:  Did not our Roman Almanacks speak of the Queens being to be with Child, at least half a Year before ’twas said she was conceived? Did we not declare it must be a Prince of Wales? nay we could have told the very time and place too, but that we fear’d the Chamber would have been crowded with Hereticks, and that would have troubled her worse than her Labour: For we had Prognosticated before, that the presence of a Bishop, &c. would be very Obnoxious and Hurtful to the Birth of a Prince of Wales.

The conspirators then analyse what went wrong:

Nurse:  Why they say the Queen lay under such Circumstances at the time of the Report of her Conception, that not all the Stallions in Europe could have got her with Child; nay, they say neither the Irish Champion nor the Italian Count, no nor the strongest Backs in Covent Garden could have done it.
Nuncio:  Nay to speak the Truth between you and I, we chose a bad time, but we thought the very Notion of a Prince of Wales, would make such a noise, as would drown all Probability and Reason; besides, who thought People would have been so uncivil, to peep as it were under the Queens Cloaths, or Question the Word of a King.

I haven’t been able to determine who the “Irish Champion” or the “Italian Count” were, but no doubt (along with Father d’Adda himself) they were favourites in the running for the title of Surrogate Royal Father.

And here again we see one of the most persistent touches in this body of literature, the idea of the witnesses to the prince’s birth (who did in fact stay in the next room) going in for a closer look.

Interestingly, while this broadsheet sits comfortably within the body of anti-Catholic / anti-Stuart literature, it is not uncritical of the other side of the political fence. There is a suggestion here that the author, while in sympathy with the Whigs’ cause, deplored their tactics and how far they were prepared to stoop to achieve their end:

Nurse:  ‘Tis true, these Church of England Whigs are so Inquisitive (forsooth) that the Queen never went to piss, but they’d be casting of her Water.

Although the sheet is dated only “1688” (we note, by the way, that printer’s details are conspicuous by their absence), internal details place it as having been issued quite late in the year, when everyone was aware that William was on his way. The nurse, mourning the loss of the perks that accrued through her participation in the sham prince scheme, wonders if they might not try it on again – there is, we learn, already a rumour current that, The Queen’s big again with a Duke of York – but the nuncio regretfully scotches the idea:

Nuncio:  O Lord, do you think she’d be mad to lye in these troublesome times; besides the very noise of the Dutch Soldiers would spoil her Milk, as Thunder does Ale…
Nurse:  Well Sir, I wish I could see it, but all the Protestant Astrologers fore-tell that she’ll mis-carry: And O my Conscience, I believe they’re a sort of Conjurers, for they Calculate every thing to a Hairs breadth.
Nuncio:  Nay, nay, now you talk of Conjurers I can fit you: I am sure I and my Brethren foretold things so miraculous, that few or none could believe them, till they saw them.
Nurse:  Nor then neither, may be.

James, meanwhile, has ceased to be an object of reverence or fear, and instead has become one of mingled pity and contempt; not a part of the conspiracy, but merely the conspirators’ tool; and, like all Catholics, forced to choose between religion and honour:

Nuncio:  But tell me how the People think of the King in this matter?
Nurse:  Why they that are Moderate amongst them, think he was so very fond of the very Notion of having a Son in his Old Age, that in a little time he might have been (good man) deluded into the belief of it; as some have us’d themselves to tell a Lye so often, that at last they have been perswaded that it was true: Others think the Queen wore the Breeches so long, that His Majesty durst not venture to unbutton them, or try the truth of the Matter: But the more general, and more probable Opinion, is, that being led by a Zeal, inflamed chiefly by you and your Worshipful Society, he thought the merit of the Act, in relation to his Church, would ballance the Stain which the dismal Consequences thereof would certainly imprint on his Memory and Reputation.

The Catholic church, in short, ought to be ashamed of itself, not least for being willing to ruin the honour of a king in pursuit of its ends:

Nurse:  The thoughts of this, if you had any Grain of Conscience, Religion, or Honesty (which is very much dispair’d of in men of your Profession) should touch your Hearts, with either Shame or Repentance, for so black a design of Suppressing the Church, ruining the State, and murthering more honest and conscientious men, than all your boasted Universality can show…