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Paper Bullets

Paper Bullets: Print and Kingship under Charles II

Harold M. Weber
Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Paper Bullets
    Book Description:

    The calculated use of media by those in power is a phenomenon dating back at least to the seventeenth century, as Harold Weber demonstrates in this illuminating study of the relation of print culture to kingship under England's Charles II. Seventeenth-century London witnessed an enormous expansion of the print trade, and with this expansion came a revolutionary change in the relation between political authority -- especially the monarchy -- and the printed word.

    Weber argues that Charles' reign was characterized by a particularly fluid relationship between print and power. The press helped bring about both the deconsecration of divine monarchy and the formation of a new public sphere, but these processes did not result in the progressive decay of royal authority. Charles fashioned his own semiotics of power out of the political transformations that had turned his world upside down.

    By linking diverse and unusual topics -- the escape of Charles from Worcester, the royal ability to heal scrofula, the sexual escapades of the "merry monarch," and the trial and execution of Stephen College -- Weber reveals the means by which Charles took advantage of a print industry instrumental to the creation of a new dispensation of power, one in which the state dominates the individual through the supplementary relationship between signs and violence.

    Weber's study brings into sharp relief the conflicts involving public authority and printed discourse, social hierarchy and print culture, and authorial identity and responsibility -- conflicts that helped shape the modern state.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5667-5
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    For all the variety, even tumultuousness of his life—the years in exile, the execution of his father, the battle of and escape from Worcester, the innumerable mistresses, the twenty-five years of rule—Charles’s Restoration remains the most dramatic event in his biography, the incandescent moment that defines his uniqueness as an English monarch. Whether we restrict his return to simply the instant described by Pepys, when Charles first touched English soil as its “legitimate” sovereign, or extend it to include his triumphant progress to and eventual entrance into London, these three accounts of that “moment” of return suggest its...

  6. Part One. Representations of the King

    • 1. Restoration and Escape: The Incognito King and Providential History
      (pp. 25-49)

      The following references to Charles’s 1651 escape from Worcester—the first the opening stanza from the ballad “The Royall Oak,” probably published in 1660 upon Charles’s return to England, the second adorning the very first triumphal arch that greeted Charles in his passage through London prior to his coronation in 1661 and described by John Ogilby in his book commemorating that great event,The Entertainment of His Most Excellent Majestie Charles II,In His Passage through the City of London To His Coronation—reveal the extraordinary utility of the king’s six weeks in hiding, the diverse ideological purposes it would...

    • 2. The Monarch’s Sacred Body: The King’s Evil and the Politics of Royal Healing
      (pp. 50-87)

      The excitement that propels the escape narratives betrays a primitive fascination with Charles’s body, a naive wonder in finding his royal person amidst a commonplace reality. Normally, of course, that body participates in an awful majesty that protects, dramatizes, and empowers itself through elaborate and costly rituals. The court procedures governing, for instance, the dressing and feeding of the king transform the mortal body—which might have needs or feel pain—into an icon of individual and state power that transcends the merely physical. The pompous rites of majesty possess a very important meaning, for they help define royal identity...

    • 3. The Monarch’s Profane Body: “His scepter and his prick are of a length”
      (pp. 88-128)

      For more than three hundred years these opening lines ofAbsalom and Achitophelhave remained the most famous characterization of Charles’s sexual nature, an important though comic revelation of the masculine assumptions about power that buttressed Stuart ideals of monarchical authority:

      In pious times, e’r Priest-craft did begin,

      BeforePolygamywas made a sin;

      When man, on many, multipli’d his kind,

      E’r one to one was, cursedly, confind:

      When Nature prompted, and no law deny’d

      Promiscuous use of Concubine and Bride;

      Then,Israel’s Monarch, after Heaven’s own heart,

      His vigorous warmth did, variously, impart

      To Wives and Slaves: And, wide...

  7. Part Two. The Language of Censorship

    • 4. “The feminine part of every rebellion”: The Public, Royal Power, and the Mysteries of Printing
      (pp. 131-171)

      Pope’sDunciadhas proven so successful in enforcing its cultural vision, its portrayal of a climactic moment when transformations in the press released the horrors of social chaos, because to a large extent it obfuscates a genuinely historical understanding of the press’s evolution in England: the poem defines a print “crisis” that had actually been under way for more than two centuries:

      Hence Bards, like Proteus long in vain ty’d down,

      Escape in Monsters, and amaze the town.

      Hence Miscellanies spring, the weekly boast

      Of Curl’s chaste press, and Lintot’s rubric post:

      Hence hymning Tyburn’s elegiac lines,

      Hence Journals, Medleys,...

    • 5. “The very Oracles of the Vulgar”: Stephen College and the Author on Trial
      (pp. 172-208)

      Lord Chief Justice Scroggs’s concern for the hungry children of the nation, enunciated at the trial of Henry Care on 2 July 1680 for a libel contained inThe Weekly Pacquet of Advice from Rome, reveals the government’s frustration at its continued inability to curb the press even a year after the lapsing of the Licensing Act:

      [A] public notice to all people, and especially printers and booksellers, that they ought to print no book or pamphlet of news whatsoever, without authority…. But if so be they will undertake to print news foolishly, they ought to be punished, and shall...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 209-213)

    Unlike Stephen College, Algernon Sidney was entitled by birth to participate in the most important political affairs of the kingdom. The second son of Robert Sidney, second earl of Leicester, Algernon, even though an unfortunate younger son, possessed a most illustrious pedigree: Sir Philip Sidney, his great-uncle; Penshurst, his family seat; his mother, Dorothy Percy, daughter of the ninth earl of Northumberland. Almost twenty when the Civil War broke out, Sidney fought briefly against the king before being wounded at Marston Moor, serving afterward as military governor of Chicester before being elected to Commons in 1646. Thereafter he became governor...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 214-259)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 260-283)
  11. Index
    (pp. 284-294)