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James I and VI

After The Favourite, starring Olivia Colman as Queen Anne, cleaned up at the Baftas last night, Professor Paulina Kewes of Oxford's Faculty of English and Jesus College talked to Arts Blog about why the Stuart dynasty remains so fascinating. Professor Kewes' new book, Stuart Succession Literature: Moments and Transformations, was launched last month, published by OUP. 

Why is the Stuart period of such enduring interest?

The Stuart era gave shape to modern Britain. Britain’s political and constitutional foundations were forged between the accession of the first Stuart monarch of England, James I, in 1603 and the death of the last one, Queen Anne, in 1714. The Anglo-Scottish union, the emergence of political parties, and the law which still regulates the order of royal succession today were all products of this period, which also witnessed the only years of republican rule in the nation’s history. By its end, Britain stood as an international force in the world of trade and empire: it was on the way to becoming a superpower, while social and economic change at home had transformed the lives of citizens. The Stuart Age also saw extraordinary cultural achievement: from Shakespeare to Milton, the playhouse to the opera. The ubiquity of print democratised information and culture alike.

Stuart Succession LiteratureStuart Succession Literature: Moments and Transformations (OUP, 2019)

The transition from the Tudors to the Stuarts in 1603, when the Scottish king James VI ascended the English throne as James I, is especially fascinating. Few realise just how fraught the preceding years had been, and how fiercely contested was the Stuart claim. After all, Elizabeth had condemned James’s Catholic mother, Mary Stuart, to the block. Josie Rourke’s recent film Mary Queen of Scots concludes with the shadowy image of King James. How and why did it come to pass that he managed to ascend the English throne unopposed despite the historic rivalry between England and Scotland, and, more to the point, despite the execution of his mother by the English? What did James’s new subjects make of their Scottish king whom virtually none of them had ever seen before, and how did he work to reassure them? Printing presses in London churned out poems of praise, genealogies, sermons, succession tracts, addresses and ballads welcoming the new monarch and counselling him on how to rule. There were numerous engraved likenesses of James. Enterprising publishers hastily issued editions of his own prolific writings on monarchy and governance, religion, poetry and many other topics. For how else would his subjects get to know him?

The first Stuart succession in 1603 appeared to promise dynastic continuity: after all, James arrived in his new capital with an heir and two spares. Yet the Stuarts’ rule came to an end a little over a century later, on the death of James’s great grand-daughter, Queen Anne. Yorgos Lanthimos’ recent award-winning film The Favourite, starring Olivia Colman, may take considerable liberties with the historical record. But it nonetheless gives an imaginative insight into Anne’s queenship. Here is a monarch who, hailed as the new Elizabeth on her accession in 1702, takes the country to victories abroad. Both queens triumphed over Catholic powers: Elizabeth over the Spanish Armada, Anne over France. Yet, also like Elizabeth, Anne left no heir, though not for lack of trying. Following numerous miscarriages, stillbirths, and the death of her young son the Duke of Gloucester, Anne knew that another dynasty would rule after her: the 1701 Act of Settlement, still in force today, excluded Catholics from claiming the crown – and the only Stuarts left at that point were Catholic. Just as the Scottish Stuarts had followed Elizabeth, so the German Hanoverians came after Anne. Neither transition was expected to go smoothly. And yet, both happened without major incident. But the end of the Stuart line spelled the end of royal power: after 1714, sovereignty lay with Parliament, not the monarch.

How did your new book on Stuart succession literature come about?

The volume was inspired by a simple question: what was the public response to regime change in the Stuart era? And, since print publications and material objects such as coins and medals provide the amplest and most readily accessible record of such responses, we decided to commission essays scrutinising them from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.

This was a novel undertaking in several respects. First, because of our broad definition of Stuart succession literature: instead of confining ourselves to strictly literary works such as poems and plays, we decided to look at all sorts of printed matter: sermons, genealogies, ballads, polemical tracts, parliamentary speeches, newsbooks, libels; indeed, in order to get a better sense of the sheer volume of relevant materials, we compiled a database of succession writings printed within two years of each regime change occurring between the first and last Stuart accessions. Second, because of our extensive chronological span: scholars have traditionally focused either on the early or the late Stuart era or else on the revolutionary 1640s and 50s; we decided to trace continuity and change over the ‘Long Seventeenth Century’, from 1603 until 1714. Third, because the volume combines this diachronic approach with a synchronic one, with several chapters examining the public reaction to particular political transitions, for instance the accession of James I, or the installation of Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector, or the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660. This double perspective underpins the structure of the book, which consists of two parts, ‘Moments’ and ‘Transformations’.

'Part I: Moments' explores how imaginative writers, divines and polemicists responded to successive regime changes. Here, alongside poems and sermons by major authors such as Daniel, Jonson and Donne, we encounter previously neglected genres (libellous pamphlet, prose romance) and viewpoints, for instance those of various religious groups or foreign commentators. Individual chapters consider, respectively: the poems which greeted the arrival of the first Stuart king, James I; the scandalous pamphlets surrounding James’s alleged poisoning which overshadowed the succession of his son, Charles I; the ambiguous and ambivalent print reception of the two Protectoral accessions; the ostensibly celebratory writings welcoming Charles II upon his return from prolonged Continental exile in mostly Catholic countries which voiced sharp anxieties about his religion; the Dutch print campaign centring on Charles’s Catholic brother James II; the complex imaginative justifications of the Revolution of 1688-9; and the extraordinary outpouring of print upon the accession of the last Stuart monarch, Queen Anne. It may come as a surprise to many to learn that one could buy a ticket to Westminster Abbey to watch the coronation of James II and his wife Mary of Modena in 1685, or of Queen Anne in 1702. Or that Isaac Newton designed Anne’s coronation medal, smuggling a subtle political message through its iconography.

'Part II: Transformations' deals with changing genres of succession literature (political tracts, royal panegyrics, sermons, prose addresses) and iconography of material forms (medals, coins, triumphant arches erected for coronation entries). The upshot is a signal revision of how those genres and forms were previously understood. For instance, we find that an explosive tract by an Elizabethan Jesuit was repeatedly appropriated by republican and Whig enemies of the Stuarts; that accession panegyrics, especially those aimed at monarchs arriving from elsewhere – James I, Charles II, and William II and Mary II – showed considerable reservations about royal authority; that accession sermons, including that by John Donne, spoke to the anxieties of a nation in transition; that the universities of Cambridge and Oxford issued highly charged volumes of poetry commemorating the deceased ruler and welcoming his or her successor; that Stuart coronations in Scotland, notably Charles I’s in 1633 and Charles II’s in 1651, bred intense anxiety in England; and that royal entries into the City of London, accompanied by elaborate pageantry and vividly described and illustrated in print, provided complex and multifaceted opportunities for exchange between the new monarch and his subjects. (The male pronoun is correct: neither Queen Mary II nor Queen Anne had a ceremonial entry into the capital.)

Overall, Stuart literature and culture emerge from our book as far more diverse, dynamic and engaged with both individual dynastic transitions and longer-term political transformations than has been recognised.

What are some of the most notable works of literature inspired by Stuart successions, and what kinds of features characterise these works?

Stuart successions inspired some of the finest literary works in English. It is often forgotten that Shakespeare was a Stuart author for much of his writing career. While several of his plays composed after the Jacobean succession subtly responded to that event offering complex meditations on kingship and the relations between rulers and ruled, it is Macbeth and King Lear – both in 1606 – that most explicitly address the proprieties of royal succession and the issue of Anglo-Scottish union. Both tragedies drew on remote, often mythic history to tackle concerns about the scope of royal power or the relative stature of the two nations; yet they did so in a way that precludes simple reading of them as tributes to the nascent Stuart monarchy. John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667), published several years after the Restoration, which he had passionately opposed, was an imaginative response to it, even if Milton transposed his political preoccupations on to a cosmic level and, like Shakespeare, avoided making them transparent.

Other canonical authors – as well as a host of lesser lights – produced diverse imaginative and polemical works touching upon one or more Stuart or Protectoral successions. Ben Jonson extolled James I in his elegant panegyric which implicitly criticised Elizabeth pleading for a more tolerant attitude to Catholic dissent; Jonson also contributed to the City’s spectacular ceremonial welcome of the new king. John Donne preached a complex, allusive sermon on the accession of Charles I. Both John Dryden and Andrew Marvell commemorated the death of Oliver Cromwell, Dryden then going on to eulogise the freshly restored Charles II and soon winning the position of Poet Laureate and Historiographer Royal. Aphra Behn, the first professional female playwright, made crystal clear her Tory sympathies in a poem marking the coronation of James II and another celebrating the birth of his son, the Prince of Wales.

Far from being mere ephemeral pieces, such writings demonstrate the challenges of public political engagement. Our book brings to the fore the sophistication and variety of tone, style and expression with which their authors sought to influence both the ruler and the increasingly polarised nation. Whenever the transition to a new monarch occurs in Britain, it will generate an immediate multimedia response both in Britain and globally. The newspaper articles, television and radio programmes, images, films and YouTube videos that will accompany a change of monarch in the 21st century are the modern equivalents of the early modern succession literature examined in this book.

As well as editing the volume, you’ve contributed one of the book’s chapters...

My essay explores the shocking afterlife of a polemical tract by an Elizabethan Jesuit. Printed abroad in 1595 and swiftly smuggled into the country, Robert Persons’ A Conference about the Next Succession to the Crowne of England sought to derail the accession of the Protestant James Stuart. Its argument was deeply subversive. Feigning impartiality and lack of religious bias, the Jesuit made a case for the subjects’ right to resist an unsatisfactory ruler and exclude even the most legitimate successor. He advocated elective monarchy which gave the right of choice to the people. While Persons failed to avert the Jacobean succession, his tract proved immensely attractive to later opponents of the Stuarts. Several of them owned copies of the original edition; there were also surreptitious adaptations and a complete reprint in 1681: John Locke, among others, had it in his library. Both the Commonwealth-men who overthrew the monarchy and executed Charles I and the Whigs who toppled his Catholic son James II are shown to have drawn liberally on Persons’s 'Conference'. It is no exaggeration to say that the ideological underpinnings of the ‘Glorious’ Revolution can be traced back to this scandalous Catholic text.


Professor Sally Shuttleworth, of Oxford's English faculty and St Anne's College, writes for Arts Blog about John Ruskin's role as an environmental campaigner. The Victorian art teacher and social reformer, who had strong views on the environmental impact of industrialisation, is the subject of a conference held in Oxford on Friday (8 February), the bicentenary of his birth.


In 1870, the historian J. R. Green, who had been exiled to the south of France for his health, wrote to a friend about startling events in Oxford:

I hear odd news from Oxford about Ruskin and his lectures. The last was attended by more than 1000 people, and he electrified the Dons by telling them that a chalk-stream did more for the education of the people than their prim “national school with its well-taught doctrine of Baptism and gabbled Catechism.” Also “that God was in the poorest man’s cottage, and that it was advisable He should be well housed.” I think we were ten years too soon for the fun!  

Green’s glee at this ‘electrification’ of the Dons is palpable. The lectures to which he refers were John Ruskin’s, ‘Lectures on Art’ delivered in February and March 1870, by Ruskin in his role as the first Slade Professor of Fine Art. As Green’s summary highlights, the study and practice of art, for Ruskin, could never be separated from care for the natural environment, or concern for the material conditions of the poor. Ruskin raged against the ugliness, pollution and appalling living conditions created by industrialisation, and his argument that cities should have a ‘belt of beautiful garden and orchard round the walls’ so that ‘from any part of the city perfectly fresh air and grass and sight of far horizon might be reachable in a few minutes’ walk’  influenced the Garden Cities movement in the twentieth century, and the establishment of the principles of the Green Belt, which are under such pressure at present.

TreesJohn Ruskin, Chamonix; hill with trees sloping upwards to l. 1850 Pen and brown ink, with brown wash, touched with white, over graphite

Image credit: British Museum CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Ruskin is often treated as a lone prophetic voice, but in the ERC project I run, ‘Diseases of Modern Life: Nineteenth-Century Perspectives’, we are uncovering a hidden history of environmental campaigning, to be found in the neglected records of sanitary reformers. The ‘diseases’ we look at are those of both body and mind produced by the pressures of modernity: stress, overwork, and information overload, but also ‘diseases of impure air’, and all the problems created for health by smoke pollution and insanitary living conditions. Ruskin, together with his friend Henry Acland, who was Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford, form part of this picture, as do all the local ‘citizen scientists’, patiently taking daily readings of sunlight hours for years on end in order to show the effects of smoke pollution, or the vicar who encouraged all his parishioners to acquire gauges so that they could measure air quality.   

Ruskin, it has to be said, had a love-hate relationship with science: he quarrelled violently with John Tyndall over glaciers, and had contempt for Darwin’s materialism, but the close scrutiny of the natural world, upon which all his work was based,  had much in common with the practices of science. To celebrate the bicentenary of his birth, we will be holding a conference on Friday 8 February at the Oxford Museum of Natural History (in partnership with the University of Birmingham Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies), on ‘Ruskin, Science and the Environment’, to be followed at 6pm by a public lecture on ‘Ruskin’s Trees’ by Professor Fiona Stafford, author of The Long, Long Life of Trees. It is fitting that the conference is to be held in the Museum since it was built in the 1850s on principles drawn in part from Ruskin’s writings on nature and architecture, with Ruskin himself taking an active role in its design and decoration, as a tour by Professor John Holmes tour will highlight. The conference will be accompanied by an exhibition giving a rare opportunity to see designs for the museum by Ruskin and others, including the Pre-Raphaelite artists Thomas Woolner, Alexander Munro and John Hungerford Pollen.

To book for the conference click here, and here for the 6pm public lecture. Further information about both events can be found on the project website.


A rare 15th-century French Gothic coffer, believed to have been used for housing and transporting religious texts, has been acquired by the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries. Thousands of manuscripts and printed books survive from medieval Europe but just over 100 book coffers are known to be in existence. This book-box forms the centrepiece of a new display at the Bodleian’s Weston Library, titled Thinking Inside the Box: Carrying Books Across Cultures, which opened on 19 January and continues until 17 February 2019.

The coffer is a small wooden chest complete with a vividly coloured woodcut print depicting ‘God the Father in Majesty’. It was acquired from a dealer with support from Art Fund, the Bodleian’s Kenneth Rose Fund and the Friends of the Bodleian.

The Bodleian Libraries hold one of the largest collections of medieval manuscripts and early printed texts in the world, but boxes and other objects for the storing and transporting of books rarely survive. This is the first coffer of its kind to enter the Libraries’ collections. It is hoped that the coffer will help researchers, curators and visitors understand more about how items were stored, transported or used in the very early days of printing in Europe. 

This acquisition gives us greater insight into the ‘everyday life’ of books and print culture more broadly. The coffer provides a link between books held at the Bodleian and cultural objects which were once united, but now usually live apart in libraries and museums around the world.

CofferThe coffer features a vivid woodcut print.

Dr Christopher Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections at the Bodleian Libraries, said: “The Bodleian collects books and manuscripts but also objects which helps us to understand the history and culture of the book – how they were kept, used, moved and understood. The coffer is a remarkable item which is both utilitarian and devotional and preserves an exceptionally rare woodcut in its original context. Among other things, it shows us that our preoccupation with carrying information around with us in mobile devices – including texts and images – is nothing new.”

The majority of surviving book chests date to the 1500s. The Bodleian’s 500-year-old coffer is made of wood covered in leather, reinforced with iron fittings, hinges and a lock. The inside lid contains a fragile image dated to c.1491 and a prayer, in Latin, used as a chant on special feast days. Only four impressions of this woodprint are known to survive, dating from the very early days of printing in Europe.

What the coffer was designed to hold remains a mystery. It could have held a richly illuminated Book of Hours, alongside other Christian devotional books or materials, such as a rosary. The book would have been protected in the chest by a lining of red canvas, which survives still largely intact. Some surviving coffers contain hidden compartments and straps suggesting that they may have held additional relics and were designed for carrying.

Dr Cristina Dondi, Professor of Early European Book Heritage at the University of Oxford and Oakeshott Senior Research Fellow in the Humanities at Lincoln College, said: “Very few original woodblock prints from this period survive and each is rich in meaning, complex and exceedingly rare. So to be able to study one still attached to a physical object of this nature is truly exceptional.”

“This coffer dates to a time when devotional materials were at the crossing between the medieval and the modern period, between art made by hand and by mechanical means. The new arrival will join the right environment to further its investigation and understand how to place it within a European tradition,” said Professor Dondi, who is also the Principal Investigator of the 15cBOOKTRADE, an ERC-funded project which studies the impact of the printing revolution on early modern European society.

The Bodleian Libraries will make the coffer available to researchers; the Libraries already support programmes of scholarship in early printed books through its Centre for the Study of the Book and its Visiting Scholars programme, and funds academics to delve deeper into the Libraries’ unique manuscript holdings and early printed books.

Members of the public can see the coffer at the free Thinking Inside the Box display, which also features about a dozen fascinating boxes, bags and satchels from around the world that have been used to carry books through the ages. Visitors can see such treasures as Qur’anic manuscripts with specially designed satchels, a palm leaf manuscript from West Java inside a beautifully carved, lacquered and painted box, the Kennicott Bible with a lockable wooden carrying case, and a miniature artist’s book which springs from a faux matchbox to reveal an accordion-fold of 13 wood engravings. For more information, including opening times, visit https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/whatson/whats-on/upcoming-events/2019/jan/thinking-inside-the-box.

There will also be a special Thinking Inside the Box activity day on 2 February, offering visitors of all ages the opportunity to meet expert curators, explore the technology behind creating modern boxes for library and museum objects, watch an artist demonstrate the technique of traditional wood engraving, and create their own miniature matchbox book. For more information, visit https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/whatson/whats-on/upcoming-events/2019/feb/thinking-inside-the-box-activity-day

A 3D model and photos of the coffer are available to view on the University of Oxford’s Cabinet website, which uses digitisation to make museum collections more accessible for teaching and research. View the coffer at https://www.cabinet.ox.ac.uk/gothiccoffer. In addition, Cabinet also includes a 3D model and photos of a deed box, which features in the Thinking Inside the Box display. View the deed box at https://www.cabinet.ox.ac.uk/deedbox.


In the summer of 2015, Peter Frankopan published his book The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, described by Bloomsbury as ‘a major reassessment of world history in light of the economic and political renaissance in the re-emerging east’.

Just three-and-a-half years later, the book has been named one of the 25 most important works translated into Chinese over the past 40 years. The Silk Roads takes its place on the list alongside literary classics including Pride and Prejudice, The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye and One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Professor Frankopan, Professor of Global History at Oxford and Senior Research Fellow at Worcester College, described himself as ‘flabbergasted’ to be chosen for the list, which was compiled by Amazon China on the 40th anniversary of Chinese reform and opening-up.

He said: ‘When I was told about it, I thought it was a wind-up. Many of the books on the list are ones I admire hugely, and to be mentioned in the same breath as The Great Gatsby, One Hundred Years of Solitude, or A Brief History of Time is genuinely astonishing. I realise that tastes come and go, so who knows if it will still be mentioned in 25 years’ time. But it is a great testimony to the importance of the humanities in general, of history, and of the impact that historical writing can have far beyond the Senior Common Rooms of Oxford.’

The Silk Roads challenged Eurocentric views of world history, shifting the focus east of the Mediterranean. It became a bestseller in a host of countries and categories, and was met with widespread acclaim. A follow-up work, The New Silk Roads, was released last year and explores more recent events.    

In Professor Frankopan’s own words, by writing The Silk Roads he was simply ‘trying to explain how the past looks from the perspective of the Eastern Mediterranean, Middle East, Central Asia and beyond’.

He added: ‘I’ve been a Senior Research Fellow at Worcester for nearly 20 years, and Director of the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research since it was founded nearly a decade ago. I simply wanted to explain why the regions, peoples and cultures that I work on are not just interesting, but also important. It was not easy to write at all and I spent many, many late nights at my computer trying to work out if it was possible. I never thought for a moment about whether lots of people would read it. But I did think it was worth trying to write!’

Reflecting on the book’s success, Professor Frankopan – who has just published an illustrated version of The Silk Roads for younger readers – said: ‘It’s been a lovely – if sometimes strange – experience. This week alone, I’ve had tweets or Instagrams from people sending pictures of my book from bookshops in Norway, Indonesia, Nigeria, India and Pakistan, and lots of emails from all over the world, often asking questions about what to read next, or for more information about a specific location, which I always try to answer if I can. But I don’t think it has affected me – we have four children, who do a pretty good job in keeping my feet on the ground. And because, like most academics, I always have deadlines for articles or chapters in books, there’s never a great deal of time to bask in the sunshine as I’ve got too much to be getting on with as it is.’


Dr Toby Young, Gianturco Junior Research Fellow at Linacre College, writes for Arts Blog about the Displaced Voices project. Read the previous blog post on Displaced Voices here.

Displaced Voices is an initiative that brings together school and university students with the professional musicians of the Orchestra of St John’s, community members, refugees and asylum seekers through musical collaboration, and raises awareness about refugee issues in Oxfordshire through the medium of artistic expression. Together with conductor, researcher and activist Dr Cayenna Ponchione, I have been working over the past term with four creative, intelligent and emotionally mature refugee students from the Oxford Spires Academy to help give voice to their lived experiences of forced migration.

Through the creation of live orchestral ‘backing tracks’ to underscore spoken word performance of their own poetry – developed as part of an award-winning poetry programme developed by Kate Clanchy – we have been exploring how music might help magnify the strong emotional content of these unique and moving stories, creating a musical experience somewhere akin to the accompaniment of a rousing or emotional speech in film music. As well as offering technical and aesthetic discussions of the ways in which music can support, enhance or even subvert spoken text, our group sessions have involved a certain amount of discussion about the student’s experiences. Even reflecting on these stories now, months after first hearing their shocking accounts of living in brutally war-torn countries and undergoing distressing journeys to seek protection in the UK, gives me chills.

Displaced VoicesDr Toby Young and Dr Cayenna Ponchione-Bailey with students from Oxford Spires Academy.

As well as a direct collaboration on the students' spoken performances, I have been writing my own setting of one of the student’s poems to be sung by the mezzo-soprano Charlotte Tetley. Compared to my other experiences of working with text (by both historical and living writers) this process has thrown up a lot more challenges: for example, techniques and methods I might have used to engage with to texts in the past – perhaps by trying to empathise with the text through connection to my own lived experiences (in this case my homesickness or experience of injustices), or by trying to think of the poem as a sort of atmospheric backdrop to key words or phrases – feel unethical and unfair. These stories are hugely personal and poignant to the students, with every word being critical for an authentic and unfiltered representation of their stories in specifically the way they need to be told. In contrast to historical texts where adding my own meaning, experience and ownership to a text is taken for granted, my role here is of translator, not re-interpreter.

Running alongside the creative component of Displaced Voices is a research project that seeks to methodically and critically understand the impact of these activities and concerts on not only the students, but also other individuals who might come into contact with the music (for example the orchestral musicians, teachers, audiences and so on). As well as trying to evaluate how effectively students feel that the music has enhanced or detracted from the emotional meaning of their poems, we are interested in understanding how the whole process – both the challenges and rewards – might impact on the students’ lives. Watching the students’ develop into confident and talented young public speakers has been truly inspirational, and seeing how music has afforded them an increased confidence in their stories and identities has been deeply moving. Through this and future projects, it is our hope that we are able to help support the development of these unique young people as future leaders and agents of social change, amplifying their powerful stories to new parts of society so that their experiences might help those in power to better consider how they might support the cultural integration and wellbeing of young migrant children all over the country.

To date no research has been conducted on an orchestral engagement project like this one, and it is our hope that the findings of this study will inspire and inform other orchestras to create similar projects. I cannot emphasise enough how strongly I recommend other organisations consider using the methods we have piloted here to engage with refugee and migrant communities near them. It has been one of the most inspiring, moving and valuable experiences of my life, and I leave the process a transformed musician and human being.

Displaced Voices will be performed in Somerville Chapel, Oxford on 18 January, preceded by a panel discussion exploring the issues facing refugees in the UK and a showcase of poetry on the subject of displacement, migration and home. For further information, and to book, click here.