Posts tagged ‘Mary of Modena’

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.

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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

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.

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…

25/04/2012

The case for the defence…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes—she does mean THAT Lord Grey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

08/04/2012

See you, Jimmy

I am NOT an historian.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   

19/09/2010

Bodies of evidence

“From the wombe comes convulsions, epilepsies, apoplexies, palseyes, hecticke fevers, dropsies, malignant ulcers, and to bee short, there is no disease so ill but may proceed from the evill quality of it.”
—John Sadler (1636)

Women’s bodies are the stuff of history, declares Mary Elizabeth Fissell at the outset of Vernacular Bodies: The Politics Of Reproduction In Early Modern England, her study of the way in which English popular culture, or rather, the vernacular (Fissell prefers the somewhat different connotations of this term), imagined and reimagined the female body, female sexuality, pregancy and childbirth during the political, religious and social upheaval of the Reformation, the Civil War and the Interregnum, the Restoration and the Exclusion Crisis. Fissell sees the female body being used throughout these troubled times as a metaphor for the reshaping of society and its norms, as with increased access to cheap printing came an increased tendency – mostly, though not exclusively, male – to dissect, re-evaluate and reassemble the female form and function via the written word.

Fissell’s work covers a lot of fascinating ground. Her take on the Reformation is particularly interesting, for doing what too many such studies fail to do, namely, to consider the sweeping actions of the monarchy from the point of view of those on the receiving end. For centuries, pregnant women had been encouraged to identify with the Virgin Mary, to view the mysteries of pregnancy and childbirth as a recapitulation in miniature of the miracle of the birth of Christ, to understand their labour pains as linking them directly to Mary’s sufferings, not during the birth, but during the crucifixion.

With the Reformation, all that stopped. Identification, the use of holy relics as supports and even prayer was outlawed; and instead of choosing to identify with Mary, women were ordered to identify with Eve – and to view childbirth not as something sanctified by God, but as a personal punishment from God. The single prayer issued by the new church to be used by women in labour amounted to “I’m a sinner and I deserve this”. Welcome to Protestantism, ladies. The enforcement of these dictums was taken very seriously indeed, with church representatives even  interrogating midwives to discover who women prayed to while giving birth. (Fancy being held accountable for anything you said during labour! I bet the mortality rate went up during this time, too…)

English society prior to the mid-17th century was based upon a series of strict recapitulations – the king as father of the nation, representing God; the husband/father as head of the family, representing the king – but with the execution of Charles I, everything changed. In the face of such an unprecedented act of revolt, it is little wonder that women began to rebel against their “kings”, and the assumption of submission and obedience. During this period, women became visible in English society as never before, preaching, protesting and publishing. The men who had committed the ultimate act of social rebellion had, however, no intention of putting up with being rebelled against. Something resembling a gender war broke out, one inevitably couched in terms of sexual abuse and accusation, where civil disobedience on the part of a woman was declared a clear sign of sexual licentiousness. This was the era, too, of the Adultery Act, wherein adultery ceased to be “a sin” and became instead “a crime” – and a capital crime, at that. Reading the Act, we find adultery defined as, Sexual intercourse between a married woman and a man not her husband. Conversely, a married man who had intercourse with a woman not his wife was guilty only of “fornication” – three months in jail, rather than death.

By examining the medical texts of the time, Fissell is able to demonstrate just how bizarre and extreme the need to control women, and women’s sexuality, became. Although the processes of conception and pregnancy were not understood, earlier texts envisaged the womb as the site of miracles, a warm, gentle environment that first gladly welcomed the man’s seed and then used it to shape and nurture new life. Across the 17th century this view changed, with the womb recast as the site of evil and sickness; something with a mind of its own, quite capable of attacking and even killing the body that contained it if it so desired.

Then we have the midwifery texts, from which we discover that the male impulse to remove women from the process of childbearing as much as possible, as discussed in Angus McLaren’s Reproductive Rituals, was alive and well during this much earlier period. Nicholas Culpeper’s hugely influential A Directory For Midwives began the trend. In spite of its title, the book was all about denigrating midwives, privileging the male written word over the female spoken word. It begins by describing the reproductive physiology of both sexes, but in male terms: the male is declared “the norm”; the female is described only as far as it is different (i.e. inferior). Culpeper insists that women cannot really know or understand their own bodies: if childbirth is to be successful, it must therefore have male guidance. However, Culpeper’s condescending attitude to women pales besides that found in the extraordinary The Compleat Midwifes Practice, written by a team of four doctors, which reconfigures pregnancy and childbirth as a partnership between the father and the foetus, and barely mentions the mother at all – and then in no positive terms. The womb is here nothing more than a passive receptacle for the active male seed; while childbirth is envisaged as a process determined entirely by the foetus, which itself tears open the membranes and fights desperately to free itself from the female “container” that can no longer sustain it.

Over a century later, England was in the grip of another reproductive crisis. We are so accustomed these days to the cultural construct of the sexless Victorian woman that it always comes as a bit of a shock to be reminded that in earlier times, women were held to be the lusty ones, their desires so strong as to be essentially uncontrollable. The second half of the 17th century was awash with dirty jokes and dirtier ballads about insatiable women and pathetic, cuckolded men – men who could never be sure that “their” children were really theirs. In the final section of her book, Mary Fissell ties this obsession with sexual incontinence and paternity to England’s own paternity crisis. The Restoration had not brought to the country the hoped-for stability. While littering England with his bastards, Charles II failed to produced a legitimate heir. Next in line was his brother, James, a situation that carried the threat of a Catholic monarchy. Having just recovered from one civil war, England shuddered at the prospect of another. Agitation began for the exclusion of James from the succession, possibly in favour of the Duke of Monmouth, whom some believed (or chose to believe) to be Charles’s legitimate son. However, James did succeed his brother; but when, after many years of reproductive failure, his wife gave birth to a baby boy, a Catholic heir, England exploded in conspiracy theories.

This was, as we touched upon with respect to Kate Loveman’s Reading Fictions, the time of the “sham prince”. Three theories were prevalent:

  1. That Mary had never been pregnant, and that another woman’s baby had been smuggled into the fake birthing-chamber in a warming-pan, and was being passed off as the Prince of Wales
  2. That Mary had given birth, but the child was stillborn; then as above
  3. That Mary had given birth, but James wasn’t the father – the most popular suspect being the papal nuncio, the unfortunately named Father d’Adda (and you’d better believe the wags had a field-day with that one)

How far anyone actually believed the rumours is moot, but in any event, they served their purpose of undermining the already shaky monarchy: James and Mary were eventually forced into exile, with the throne of England offered to the safely Protestant William of Orange and his wife, James’s daughter, Mary.

The sexually uncontrollable and deceitful woman had, by this time, become a standard metaphor for social upheaval, as Fissell shows; but surely no one woman was ever so branded in this respect as Mary of Modena, nor suffered so much personal humiliation. Every detail of the pregnancy and the birth became fodder for the pamphlet-writers and the balladeers; bloody bedsheets and lactation were topics of coffee-house gossip. In the pursuit of political and religious ends, what had once been a private act of mystery and wonder, a miracle even, had been transformed into something crude, ugly, and very, very public.