Royal Poetrie

Royal Poetrie: Monarchic Verse and the Political Imaginary of Early Modern England

Peter C. Herman
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Royal Poetrie
    Book Description:

    Royal Poetrie is the first book to address the significance of a distinctive body of verse from the English Renaissance-poems produced by the Tudor-Stuart monarchs Henry VIII, Mary, Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, and James VI/I. Not surprisingly, Henry VIII is no John Donne, but the unique political and poetic complications raised by royal endeavors at authorship imbue this literature with special interest.

    Peter C. Herman is particularly intrigued by how the monarchs' poems express and extend their power and control. Monarchs turned to verse especially at moments when they considered their positions insecure or when they were seeking to aggregate more power to themselves. Far from reflecting absolute authority, monarchic verse often reveals the need for authority to defend itself against considerable, effective opposition that was often close at hand.

    In monarchic verse, Herman argues, one can see monarchs asserting their significance and appropriating images of royalty to enhance their power and their position. Sometimes, as in the cases of Henry and Elizabeth, they are successful; sometimes, as for James, they are not. For Mary Stuart, the results were disastrous. Herman devotes a chapter each to the poetic endeavors of Henry VIII, Mary Stuart, Elizabeth I, and James VI/I. His introduction addresses the tradition of monarchic verse in England and on the continent as well as the textual issues presented by these texts. A brief postscript examines the verses that circulated under Charles I's name after his execution. In an argument enhanced by carefully chosen illustrations, Herman places monarchic verse within the visual and other cultural traditions of the day.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5982-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Introduction: The Protocols of Royal Poetrie
    (pp. 1-14)

    This book examines the intersection between a body of verse that has received surprisingly little attention—the poetry produced by the Tudor and Stuart monarchs Henry VIII, Mary Stuart ( better known as Mary, Queen of Scots), Elizabeth I, and James VI/I—and the various fields of cultural meanings surrounding these rulers. To be sure, an investigation of the politics of courtly verse is nothing new, and, indeed, the concept that “love is not love,” but politics, has become something of a cliché, albeit one that has produced many powerful, highly influential studies.¹ Yet for all their insights, including a...

  7. Chapter 1 Henry VIII and the Political Imaginary of Early Tudor England
    (pp. 15-51)

    The standard narrative of Henry VIII’s accession depicts the transition from Henry VII to his son in terms of day and night, youth and old age, virility and decrepitude. Edward Hall, for example, records that that while the late king’s servants mourned wondrously, “the joy that was made for his death, by such as were troubled by rigor of his lawe,” was equally, if not more, impressive. The mourners at Henry VII’s funeral quickly dispelled their sadness by repairing to “the Palaice, where they had a greate and a sumptuous feast.”¹ In contrast to the sour father, the son, records...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Mary, Queen of Scots and the Poetics of Monarchy
    (pp. 52-98)

    Like Henry VIII, Mary Stuart wrote verses that combined the public and the private, and, again like Henry, Mary’s verse almost always draws on her status as a monarch, but there the similarities end. As we saw in chapter 1, Henry VIII’s verse harmonized with the political imaginary of early Tudor England, even as Henry shaped the imaginary to his own ends, and Mary’s early verse, written during her brief reign as queen of France, harmonized with French ideas. But there was no such harmony once Mary returned to Scotland; indeed, her assumptions about religion and politics were fundamentally at...

  9. Chapter 3 Elizabeth I, Privacy, and the Performance of Monarchic Verse
    (pp. 99-156)

    There is a fascinating disconnect between the lavish praise heaped on Elizabeth’s verse by her contemporaries and its subsequent near neglect by literary critics and historians. The dedicatory epistle to Jan Van der Noot’s Theatre for Worldlings (1569), for instance, proclaims that Elizabeth, instructed by “Apollo and his nine sisters . . . in the divine Arte of Poetrie . . . may woorthily be called the second Sappho”¹ and George Puttenham, in The Arte of English Poesie (1589) extravagantly praised Elizabeth’s “learned, delicate, noble Muse [which] easily surmounteth all the rest that have written before her time or since,”²...

  10. Chapter 4 King James VI/I and the Scene of Monarchic Verse
    (pp. 157-195)

    Like Henry VIII, Mary Stuart, and Elizabeth I, James Stuart had a penchant for writing verse, and like his royal cousins, he knew how to use manuscript circulation for both entertainment and political advantage (mainly, as we shall see, to help his quest to be named Elizabeth’s successor).¹ But unlike the other royal poets we have examined so far, James wrote in a much wider variety of genres,² and he actively sought out print publication, bringing out two books of poetry while king of Scotland, reprinting his short epic, the Lepanto, upon his accession to the English throne, and sponsoring...

  11. Chapter 5 Charles I and the End(s) of Monarchic Verse
    (pp. 196-208)

    When John Milton published Eikonoklastes (1649), his point-for-point refutation of the Eikon Basilike (Image of a King),¹ he condemned the king’s book as a piece of mere fiction, noting that it had recently been turned into verse:

    The Simily wherewith he begins I was about to have found fault with, as in a garb more Poetical then for a Statist: but meeting with many straines of like dress in other his Essaies, and hearing him reported a more diligent reader of Poets, then of Politicians, I began to think the whole Book might perhaps be intended a peece of Poetrie....

  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 209-224)
  13. Index
    (pp. 225-230)