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Alterations of State

Alterations of State: Sacred Kingship in the English Reformation

Richard C. McCoy
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Alterations of State
    Book Description:

    Traditional notions of sacred kingship became both more grandiose and more problematic during England's turbulent sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The reformation launched by Henry VIII and his claims for royal supremacy and divine right rule led to the suppression of the Mass, as the host and crucifix were overshadowed by royal iconography and pageantry. These changes began a religious controversy in England that would lead to civil war, regicide, restoration, and ultimately revolution.

    Richard McCoy shows that, amid these sometimes cataclysmic Alterations of State, writers like John Skelton, Shakespeare, John Milton, and Andrew Marvell grappled with the idea of kingship and its symbolic and substantive power. Their artistic representations of the crown reveal the passion and ambivalence with which the English viewed their royal leaders. While these writers differed on the fundamental questions of the day -- Skelton was a staunch defender of the English monarchy and traditional religion, Milton was a radical opponent of both, and Shakespeare and Marvell were more equivocal -- they shared an abiding fascination with the royal presence or, sometimes more tellingly, the royal absence.

    Ranging from regicides real and imagined -- with the very real specter of the slain King Charles I haunting the country like a revenant of the king's ghost in Shakespeare's Hamlet -- from the royal sepulcher at Westminster Abbey to Peter Paul Reubens's Apotheosis of King James at Whitehall, and from the Elizabethan compromise to the Glorious Revolution, McCoy plumbs the depths of English attitudes toward the king, the state, and the very idea of holiness. He reveals how older notions of sacred kingship expanded during the political and religious crises that transformed the English nation, and helps us understand why the conflicting emotions engendered by this expansion have proven so persistent.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50107-1
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xx)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  5. Illustrations
    (pp. xxiii-xxvi)
  6. 1 Real Presence to Royal Presence
    (pp. 1-22)

    The Reformation began with a determination to eradicate old ideas of sacred space—what Calvin derided as papist fantasies of God’s “local presence.”¹ Early Tudor reformer Thomas Becon fairly spits out his disgust at the snares and delusions of traditional Catholicism: “How ran we from post to pillar, from stock to stone, from idol to idol, from place to place, to seek remission of our sins, and to make God amends for our sinful living! How called we upon dead mawmets [puppets] for relief and succour! How gilded we images, painted their tabernacles, and set up candles before them!”² The...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Sacred Space: John Skelton and Westminster’s Royal Sepulcher
    (pp. 23-54)

    In building Westminster Chapel, Henry VII, the founder of the Tudor regime, created its most enduring and magnificent dynastic monument. Tudor roses, Beaufort portcullises, fleur-de-lys, and other heraldic and regal devices adorn this soaring, fan-vaulted structure, “the last great ecclesiastical work of the Gothic middle ages in England” (figure 10).¹ Rows of saints encircle the chapel, and Christ stands at their center, a book in his hand and his foot placed atop the world, prepared to preside at the Last Judgment.² The centerpiece is a marble sarcophagus supporting beautiful bronze effigies of Henry and his queen carved by Pietro Torrigiano...

  8. 3 Rites of Memory: Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Compromise
    (pp. 55-86)

    Mary Tudor came to the throne in 1553 determined to reverse the Protestant reformations of her predecessors. One of her first steps was the restoration of Westminster Abbey and its most venerable shrine to sacred kingship. Whatever she may have done to the grave of Henry VIII, she was eager to repair the damage done to the tomb of Edward the Confessor during her father’s reign, so she ordered John Feckenham, the new abbot of Westminster’s revived Benedictine community, to rebury the royal saint and to rebuild the monument. Edward’s reburial was conducted with a solemn gravity duly recorded by...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Idolizing Kings: John Milton and Stuart Rule
    (pp. 87-122)

    The first Stuart monarch was initially greeted, as we have seen, with great enthusiasm and relief. According to one contemporary, “the contentment of the people is unspeakable, seeing all things proceed so quietly, whereas they expected in the interim their houses should have been spoiled and sacked.”¹ Another reported that “the people both in citie and counties fynding the iust feare of 40 yeres, for want of a known successor, dissolved in a minute, did so reioyce, as few wished the gracious Quene alive again: but as the world is [they too] were inclined to alteracion of government.”² Once safely...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Sacramental to Sentimental: Andrew Marvell and the Restoration
    (pp. 123-156)

    John Milton died in 1674, a few years after the publication of Paradise Regained and shortly after the second edition of Paradise Lost. Despite his best efforts in poetry and prose, civil idolatry seemed to be making a comeback. Early the next year, a statue of Charles I was erected at Charing Cross, and Edmund Waller, Milton’s longtime rival, wrote a poem in praise of this equestrian image:

    That the First Charles does here in triumph ride,

    See his son reign where he a martyr died,

    And people pay that reverence as they pass

    (Which then he wanted!) to the...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 157-204)
  12. Index
    (pp. 205-218)