Charles I was said to be the only king of England ever to have been crowned in white. To opponents he was the White King of the prophesies of Merlin, a tyrant destined for a violent end. His supporters later declared that the white robes were the vestments of a future martyr. Yet the White King sobriquet is unfamiliar today.

In popular memory Charles is recalled as a failed monarch, executed at the hands of his own subjects. This ultimate defeat is read back across his life, to the moment he was born a frail infant marked out by disability. In Shakespeare’s Richard III, the king’s twisted spine was an outward sign of a deformed soul. Similarly, the weak legs and lingual incapacity of Charles’ childhood have been depicted almost as physical manifestations of weakness of character and stupidity.

We are told he was outshone by his brilliant elder siblings: his sister Elizabeth, the future ‘Winter Queen’ of Bohemia (whose depressive husband, Frederick V, lost his patrimony and his kingdom); and brother Henry (who died aged 18, having raised great hopes without having had the chance to disappoint them). Yet contemporaries who glorified Charles’ siblings were the heirs to men who had used the memory of Elizabeth I as a stick with which to beat his father, James I. Nor had they been universally loyal to Elizabeth in her lifetime. Many had been followers of her final favourite, the 2nd Earl of Essex, who had led a court revolt against her in 1601.

Dedication Is What You Need

Dedicated: portrait of a lady identified as Catherine Howard, Holbein the YoungerIt is not often that actual history and Showtime’s TV series The Tudors are in agreement. Yet one scene depicts a very small event that may have actually happened, as part of a much larger 16th-century tradition of patronage and gift giving. In it, Thomas Culpepper presents Catherine Howard with a folio-sized book as part of the New Year’s celebrations. The book – the first book on midwifery to be written in English – was the work of Richard Jonas, a man who came to England in the train of Anne of Cleves. Jonas meant to dedicate the book to Anne, but would now like to dedicate it to Catherine instead.

More articles by Valerie Schutte
Published in
Volume 68 Issue 2 February 2018

Sanitising the Suffragettes

Not to be ignored: Kitty Marion, Criminal Record Office, c.1913.
Not to be ignored: Kitty Marion, Criminal Record Office, c.1913.

Historians have a unique opportunity in 2018 – the centenary of British women gaining the right to vote – to re-examine a pervasive silence at the heart of the story: that of the nationwide bombing and arson campaign carried out by the Pankhursts’ Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).

More articles by Fern Riddell
Published in
By Fern Riddell | Published in

While best known as the author of The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli played an important if unlikely role in the history of music. 

Renaissance romantic: Machiavelli, from a drawing by Antonio Viviani, 1828.

On 13 January 1525, Jacopo di Filippo Falconetti threw a sumptuous party at his villa just outside Florence to celebrate his return from exile. Everyone who was anyone was there. As the playwright Donato Giannotti recorded, all the city’s leading men were present. Even Florence’s de facto ruler, Ippolito de’ Medici, put in an appearance.

Despite the myth of a lone genius toiling away into the night, history is a collective endeavour.

Formed by the scholarship of others: Portrait of a Librarian by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, c.1566.

Every so often, a familiar type of story goes around the press about a new ‘discovery’ in the humanities. Novelty is the aspect of academic research that the media finds newsworthy. The framing of such stories often describes ‘lost documents in the archives, brought to light for the very first time’ or ‘new data which no one had thought to collect before’.

On closer examination it frequently turns out that what is supposedly new about the research is not quite as novel as the headlines make it sound; sometimes the trumpeted discovery turns out to have a rather hazy relationship to the research which inspired the story.

By Erica Fudge | Published in Miscellanies

An English translation of the essay De esu carnium, written by the first-century Greek philosopher Plutarch, was published in 1603. Translated by Philemon Holland, the text was given the title ‘Whether it be lawfull to eate flesh or no’ and opens with a bang:

But you demand of mee, for what cause Pythagoras abstained from eating flesh? And I againe doe marvell ... what motive and reason had that man, who first approached with his mouth unto a slaine creature … How could his eies endure to behold such murder and slaughter, whiles the poore beasts were either sticked or had the throats cut, were slaied and dismembered? How could his nose abide the smell and sent that came from them? How came it that his taste was not cleane marred and overthrowen with horrour, when he came to handle those uncouth sores and ulcers; or receive the bloud and humours, issuing out of the deadly wounds.

In his introduction, Holland was careful to deny that Plutarch’s work was a polemic in favour of animal rights. It was rather, he argued, an exercise in rhetoric by the young philosopher, intended as a display of his debating skill. If there is a moral intent, Holland wrote, the ‘principall scope that he shooteth at, seemeth to be a cutting off and abridging of the great excesse and superfluitie in purveying, buying, and spending of viands [foods], which in his time began to grow out of all measure’. Plutarch, Holland says, argues not for a meat-free diet, but against over-indulgence.