Writing the Royal Consort in Stuart England
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Have requested an embargo before the work is published online.
Reason for embargo
Have requested an embargo to avoid any problems over the rights to two forthcoming publications derived from the thesis. I also intend to prepare more publications from the material within the next couple of years.
This dissertation examines the literature of royal consorts in Stuart England. Critics and historians have devoted considerable attention to the creation of the monarch’s image during this tumultuous period, which witnessed two revolutions and the explosion of print. We know that the Stuart monarchs embraced different forms of visual media – including pageantry, portraiture and print – to disseminate their image within the court and to a broader public. However, the extensive literature about the royal consorts remains under-examined. My thesis makes an original contribution to scholarship by exploring what texts were written about the royal consorts, by whom, and how these writers constructed images of the royal consorts that participated in broader debates over the status of the monarchy. The dissertation is divided into two main parts. Part 1 comprises six chapters that analyse succession writing, when a new monarch came to the throne and established their iconography for the new reign. I draw on hundreds of texts that were printed about the Stuart consorts at these moments. These writings span a variety of genres, from poems and plays to sermons and political pamphlets. I investigate the literature of each succession in turn, analysing the main themes and motifs that emerged. This approach enables me to uncover a swathe of anonymous and under-utilised literature, but also re-interpret works by more canonical writers such as Aphra Behn. I ask how the royal consorts themselves, their spouses and members of the public could influence the creation of the royal consorts’ images at these moments. Critically, I also compare the conventions that were used to describe the consorts across the century. Part 2 analyses how writers re-constructed ideals for the royal consorts in Restoration England, as debates about the structure of the monarchy came to be more explicit. Chapter 7 concentrates on images of Henrietta Maria when she returned to England as Queen Mother. Chapter 8 asks how writers adapted former models of representation to praise Catherine, the infertile queen, when it became clear that she would not bear an heir. Finally, Chapter 9 examines the numerous secret histories and romances that were authored about Mary Beatrice’s purported behaviour during her exile in the 1690s. These chapters highlight the continued importance of these women and examines how writers constructed their legacies. As a whole, the literature about the royal consorts reveals a dynamic project as part of which authors engaged with and adapted earlier models of writing. This enabled them to address broader questions about changes in the nature of the Stuart monarchy and political life.
PhD in English