A Boye’s death

August 18, 2011 § 1 Comment

A bit of a follow up to the last entry. A while back, over at Mercurius Politicus, Nick Poyntz analyzed a particular image of Boye–a woodcut depicting the scene of the dog’s death at Marston Moor. See “From bullets to stones“. The image appears on the title page of  “A dog’s elegy, or, Rupert’s tears” (1644), a pamphlet-poem John Taylor wrote to poke fun at the credulity of folks (non-royalists, natch) who believed Boye was a demon in dog’s clothing.  Taylor deliberately draws the readers’/listeners’ attention to the apparently tailor-made (sorry) woodcut  in the closing lines — “how this Curr came by his fatall blow, / Look on the Title page, and there behold, / The Emblem will all this to you unfold”. By taking a close look at the oddly out-of-proportion figure of the musketeer who’s just put  an end to Boye’s life, Nick’s post reminds us just how much the analysis of woodcuts, ornaments, and engravings can reveal about the material conditions of printing. And also how many new questions that such examinations can raise.

Like why the woodcut Boye is black, when the dog who died at the Battle of Marston Moor was white? I learned from the review of Stoyle’s new book, The Black Legend of Prince Rupert’s Dog (see previous post),  that Rupert apparently had two “war” dogs, one white, one black (a salt and pepper shaker set) and that the black dog had met its end earlier in the war.  Perhaps the book sheds some light on this small printing mystery–looking forward to reading it.


A Boye’s life

July 31, 2011 § 4 Comments

At last someone–early modern historian Mark Stoyle–has written about Boye, Prince Rupert’s poodle. The book, just out, is The Black Legend of Prince Rupert’s Dog: Witchcraft and Propaganda During the English Civil War.  (Here’s a review in the Times Higher Education Supplement.) The necessity of a whole book about  a dog that’s been dead for  350 years might not seem, well, obvious. But the function of Boye in the print, politics, and imagination of the 1640s is very much worth investigating. Why was he (or possibly she, according to Stoyle’s book)  a lightning rod in the first civil war, a four-legged figure that polarized public opinion, a sure sign of evil or a symbol of the superior courage of the royal line? Stoyle’s book promises to help us understand.

Downton Abbey and Stuart iconography?

January 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

The second episode of Downton Abbey aired last night on Masterpiece here in the United States–the one where the Turk dies of a heart attack in Lady Mary’s bedroom. In one of the dining room scenes, did I imagine seeing one of the Van Dyck (I think) portraits of Charles I on horseback hanging on the wall? Thought I spied it in a shot of the Earl of Grantham that’s arranged like a kind of portrait itself. The earl’s sitting at the head of table, facing the camera. Behind him, a dark and weighty painting whose subject looks a lot like Charles  seems to press down on his head.

At a minimum, the mise-en-scene is suggestive of the earl’s relationship to the past. If the subject of the painting really is Charles I, seems to be a deliberate comment on similarities between the earl and the king. But then again, the painting may depict some duke of something or other . We see what we want to see…

Mercurius rising

September 26, 2010 § 3 Comments

Two cheers for Nick Poyntz! First, Paul Lay, editor of History Today, gave Nick’s blog, Mercurius Politicus, a sparkling (and dead-on) review in the June 2010 issue, noting its “hugely addictive” quality for “anyone interested in the publishing revolution that accompanied the remarkable war of ideas” in mid-17th-century England. “Erudite, original and dryly humorous,” wrote Lay, “Mercurius Politicus should be among every historian’s ‘Favourites’.”

A second cheer for Nick’s relatively new gig as a regular contributor to History Today. His column, Digital History, considers how technology is revolutionizing who does history and how they do it.

History Today is pretty addictive itself. It’s less well known in the United States than in the United Kingdom, where it’s published, no doubt  because the history in HT is more often than not British history. Though its articles span the ages, the early modern era gets a particularly good shake. You may not be able to find a copy at your local Barnes and Noble and a personal subscription is pricey for US readers (about $95 per year), but most college and university libraries have print subscriptions.

The (musical) afterlife of the civil wars

July 15, 2010 § 4 Comments

Over at A Bit British, Lena’s recent post, The Language of Revolution, which is a lowdown on the seventh chapter of A Cultural History of the English Language by Gerry Knowles, is really fascinating. (Great find, Lena!) One item in particular caught my fancy, the one about the political context of Handel’s Messiah of 1741. When I was in high school donkey’s years ago, our chorus got together with other high school choruses in mid-Missouri to perform a handful of songs, the only one of which I remember is the Hallelujah Chorus, the last piece in the program.

I remember two things about that experience. The first is strictly personal. I got tapped to accompany on the piano, which was a relief, because that meant I didn’t have to struggle to find the alto line amid the din of the sopranos. Half of those sopranos really ought to have been altos, but in high school it was a lot cooler to be soprano than an alto. In the universe of the high school chorus, the soprano was not only higher up the musical scale than the alto, but also trumped her in social status, for some weird reason. We must have unconsciously believed that sopranos were far more feminine–i.e., desirable–than altos, with their dusky voices. We altos wore makeup and deodorant just like the sopranos, but  somehow we were an embarrassment to the sex, at least in the chorus classroom. Sorry for the digression. The alto thing still rankles. « Read the rest of this entry »

Stamping the civil war

June 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

Just a postscript on the last entry. Besides the Battle of Naseby stamp the Royal Mail released earlier this week to accompany the House of Stuart issues, there are at least four other UK stamps commemorating the civil wars.

Issued in June 1992, these stamps marked the 350th anniversary of the first major armed conflict of the civil wars: the Battle of Edgehill, Warwickshire, October 23, 1642, which posterity has reckoned a victory for the Royalists. These stamps honor the common soldier, represented in terms of what he carried into battle: pike, musket, standard, or drum.

Why the pike, not the sword, in the pointy category? My uninformed guess: the pike’s association with stouthearted fellows whose social rank was presumably lower than that of sword wielders. Like Newcastle’s Lambs (or White Coats) at the bloody Battle of Marston Moor, Yorkshire, on July 2, 1664.

In one the most affecting episodes in the history of the civil wars, the Lambs refused to quit fighting (probably in an effort to cover the retreat of fellow infantrymen) after it was clear that Cromwell had extinguished any Royalist hope of victory. Only thirty seem to have survived. The rest of the Lambs–some say as many as 3,000–knowingly sacrificed themselves to slaughter.

For more about the Battle of Marston Moor, click here.

Stamping out Cromwell

June 17, 2010 § 8 Comments

A couple of days ago, I was scrolling through Guardian headlines when this one stopped me cold, a piece by staff writer Stephen Moss: We cut off the head of Charles I – so why are we putting it back on a stamp? Even if you’re not into civil war history or stamps, that tart headline is hard to resist. The subtitle’s even more deliciously mean: “He was a hopeless monarch. The stamp should be second-class only…or relegated to heir mail.”

Moss was reacting to Tuesday’s issue of seven stamps commemorating the House of Stuart, one for each sovereign, issued in a set that arranges them chronologically. (See below.) But look at the stamp prices.  At the top of the hierarchy you have the first-class  James I and Charles I.  Then there’s the 88p Queen Anne, the 67p-each William and Mary, and at the bottom of price scale Charles II and James II, who rank 60p. It’s amusing and perhaps instructive to read the decreasing stamp values as a contemporary assessment of monarchical worth, in which the second round of Stuart political management is trumped by the wisdom of William, Mary, and Anne.

But Moss’s real objection is commemorating rulers–especially bad ones–at all. Paying them tribute just perpetuates the conception of history as a sequence of piquant or harrowing narratives about the rich and famous. The Stuart stamps are the fourth in a series representing the British dynasties of the Yorks and Lancasters, the Tudors, and the Stewarts of Scotland. Next up: the Hanovers and Windsors.

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