04 February 2022
A Dutch Poet on ‘Tortured Majesties’: Reactions to the Executions of Mary Stuart and Charles Stuart.
Our current exhibition ‘Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens’, gives a thrilling and moving insight into the relationship between two women who were relatives as well as queens, through letters, books, paintings and objects. Many of the letters on display reveal their feelings towards each other and the political shenanigans around them and, it must be said, by them. There are letters written in code, with the key alongside and in one instance a screen that shows you how to decipher these codes. Fascinating stuff.
The exhibition ends with a moving display of the last letter Mary wrote, in French, in which she laments her fate. She would die on the scaffold the following day: 8 February 1587.
Ten months later, in the city of Cologne, a baby boy was born who would become the greatest Dutch playwright and poet of the Dutch Golden Age: Joost van den Vondel. (The Vondelpark in Amsterdam is named after him).
Portrait of Joost van den Vondel by Philip de Koninck, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. Public Domain
Joost was born into a family of Mennonites, or Anabaptists. At one point the city expelled all those belonging to these religious movements, including the Vondels. They eventually settled in Amsterdam where Vondel lived and worked for the rest of his long life. He converted to Catholicism and became a staunch defender of that faith. He satirised Protestantism, and was especially harsh on his old faith, Anabaptism, as we shall see.
Vondel was a prolific playwright and poet, who didn’t mince his words when it came to commenting on political events in the Dutch Republic and abroad, although he did not always do so openly.
Take for instance an anonymous play, published in Cologne in 1646, entitled: Maria Stuart: of Gemartelde Majesteit (‘Mary Stuart: or Tortured Majesty’). It is suspected that the imprint is false and that the work was actually published in Amsterdam, but we can’t be sure. However, the disguise is pretty transparent. The style and the tone of the text make it pretty clear who the author is. Vondel may well have thought it prudent not to put his name on it, considering events in England at the time. The Dutch government was not exactly against the Parliamentarian cause in the English Civil War, but they did not support it wholeheartedly either. Why would Vondel write a play about Mary Stuart who died after 19 years of imprisonment by the English, if not to make a point about her grandson Charles I who had just been defeated in the First English Civil War? That to me sounds like too much of a coincidence.
Title page of Maria Stuart, of Gemartelde Majesteit. (Cologne, 1646), 11755.e.60.(13.)
Other editions were published in 1661, one of which we also hold (1478.aa.13.(7.))
The subtitle ‘tortured majesty’ gives you a clue whose side the author is on. In summary, Vondel praises Mary to high heaven and excoriates Elizabeth for her treachery and cruelty. He sees the conflict between Elizabeth and Mary as a religious issue, rather than a political one, so as a catholic he is firmly on Mary’s side. To hammer the point home he adds a number of poems to the play. In the first poem he lets Mary herself speak about her plight. (I must say I prefer her real own words, mentioned above). Vondel then introduces ‘an eyewitness’, none other than the historian of Elizabeth’s reign, William Camden, a protestant (!). If Vondel tried to use a protestant historian to present an ‘unbiased’ viewpoint he failed, because Camden, writing in the reign of Mary’s son James I, appears to lament Mary’s fate just as strongly as the catholic Vondel does in his play. Maybe he tried to make it look as if everyone, catholic and protestant were appalled by the execution of Mary.
Vondel concludes with a ‘Complaint about the Rebels in Great Britain’. In this last poem he tears into the Puritans, blaming them alone for causing the Civil War, and for beheading the Earl of Strafford.
The play was more or less boycotted by theatres at the time, because of its catholic stance, but it was revived in a performance by Theatre group Kwast in 2015. This group specialises in Dutch 17th-Century plays which they rehearse in one day and perform in the evening; text in hand.
In the year 1649 another ‘anonymous’ work appeared about the execution of Charles I, with the same subtitle as ‘Maria Stuart’ and initials instead of an author: I.v.V. ‘Bloedsmet’ (‘Bloodsmear’) for author. Well, who could that possibly be, I wonder?
Title page of Karel Stvarts, of gemartelde Maiesteyt: in Whithal den 10 van Sprokkel, des Jaers 1649 (S.l. , 1649). 11556.dd.27.
The title translates as: ‘Charles Stuart, Tortured Majesty, in Whitehall the 10th of February, in the year 1649’. (‘Sprokkel’ means ‘gathering of firewood’, which was the commonly-used name for February.) It uses the old Gregorian calendar which converts in the Julian calendar to the 30th of January. The imprint reads: ‘Printed in the Murder-Year of the King of England, 1649’.
In the poem Vondel introduces Henrietta Maria, Charles’ wife. She dreams that straight after the execution Charles’ head springs back onto his shoulders and he rises up again, like a phoenix, to slay his enemies (the Parliamentary General Thomas Fairfax is mentioned). And then she wakes up to reality.
In the second poem Vondel is all despair. Charles’ ghost cones to him in a dream and asks how it was possible that London dared to ‘prune his thistle’. Was Strafford’s death not enough to quell the bloodlust of the King’s enemies? But then he composes himself and says that the blow of the axe sounded like thunder and rocked France, Denmark, Spain and Holland, who will all surely come to the rescue. They will stock London Bridge full of heads and thus the land will be cleared from the ‘pestilence’. Then the Son (i.e. Charles II) will return for his bloody revenge.
The work concludes with a scathing attack on the regicides. Vondel lashes out at the Puritans: He asks indignantly: ‘Is this the pure religion? Is this ‘independence’? No!, this is a Rubicon!’ Again he attacks the Anabaptists by comparing the regicide Major General Thomas Harrison to Jan van Leyden, one of the leaders of the Anabaptists who briefly established an Anabaptist theocracy in the city of Munster in 1536. He calls ‘Master Peters’ (Hugh Peters, a Puritan preacher) the ‘Ape of Knipperdolling’ (i.e. Bernhard Knipperdolling, a partner of Jan van Leyden).
Last page of Karel Stuarts, of Gemartelde Majesteyt.
Vondel penned a third ‘anonymous’ pamphlet against the regicide: Testament om Fairfax vtersten Crom Will recht te maecken. In it he aims his arrows at Cromwell and Fairfax as leaders in the rebellion, with a pun on Cromwell’s name. ‘Crom Will’ means ‘crooked will’, so then the title becomes: ‘Fairfax’s Testament to make right a Last Crooked Will.’ It was signed: ‘The Devil Take the Rogues’.
Testament om Fairfax vtersten Crom Will recht te maecken. ([The Hague?, 1649?]) 8122.ee.3
Vondel was well informed about events in Britain. He must have read the many newspapers and pamphlets on these events, published in the Netherlands, some written in Dutch, some translated from English, many kept in our collections.
But that’s for another time.
Marja Kingma, Curator Dutch Language Collections
20 December 2021
Stefan Zweig (1881-1942), the prolific Austrian author whose collection of autograph manuscripts is at the British Library, was fascinated by artistic creativity, and with it the drafts, scores, sketches and proofs that allow us a glimpse of a work of art coming into being. At once evidence of both sheer artistic labour and a kind of otherworldly genius, manuscripts had for him the potential to insert us into decisive moments, what he would call Sternstunden, whether they were creative breakthroughs or political turning points. He turns his attention to one such Sternstunde in a discussion on ‘The World of Autograph Manuscripts’ (1923):
The most powerful and harrowing must of course always be those autographs, where the moment of putting pen to paper was itself a historic, cultural, universally significant one. Elizabeth I’s signature underneath Mary Stuart’s death warrant – all of us have seen the scene in Schiller’s tragedy and now it suddenly lies before us, the original fateful page, the live stroke of the quill which brought a heroic life to its end.
Digitised copy of Mary Stuart’s death warrant. Add MS 48027, ff. 448r-450r
The British Library’s current exhibition Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens, expands on Zweig’s quintessential example of the most powerful of manuscripts and brings to life the epic history through its personal and political documents. The signed death warrant – now in Lambeth Palace Library – does not appear in the current exhibition, but the act is represented by ‘A true Copie of the Proclamation lately published by the Queenes maiestie, under the great Seale of England, for the declaring of the Sentence, lately given against the Queene of Scottes, Richmond, 4 Dec 1586’ (Add MS 48027, ff. 448r-450r).
Title page of Stefan Zweig, Maria Stuart (Vienna, 1935), W14/4184
Zweig wrote a hugely popular biography of Mary Queen of Scots in 1935, adding to an already weighty Mary-bibliography. Of course, German-language interest in Mary was already longstanding and is most commonly associated with Friedrich Schiller’s play Maria Stuart (1800). While Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach wrote the drama Maria Stuart in Schottland (1860) as a kind of response to Schiller’s portrayal, interrogating her predecessor’s notion that femininity (Weiblichkeit) and political authority were incompatible qualities. Zweig returns somewhat to that theme in that he pits a hyper-feminised Mary against an unwomanly Elizabeth, a passionate martyr against a cold-hearted Queen. Although, as Ulrike Tanzer writes, Zweig’s dichotomising tendencies are not absolute, as he depicts both queens as political agents and victims, as leaders and subjects of manipulation, thrown into the political and religious power structures of the time.
Zweig moved to London in 1934 while in the process of finishing his biography of Erasmus von Rotterdam. He had had the idea to move his focus to the rival queens the previous year, his new Portland Place flat allowing him to consult the “enormous amount” of material at the British Museum. Despite the many accounts of the history already available, Zweig felt the book [‘das entscheidende Buch’] on Mary did not yet exist, hence his compulsion to write it. His interest was however already established, given the mention of the signed death sentence in our first quotation from 1923. A trip to New York in January 1935 brought Zweig, now an expert in his subject, face to face with Elizabeth at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “A remarkable portrait of Elizabeth I by Lucas de Heere, which shows her more nervous with a quite frightened expression, always an indecisiveness suppressed behind her pomp.” (Doubt was later cast on the identity of both sitter and painter, and the Met now describes the picture simply as a ‘Portrait of a Woman’ by a ‘British Artist’.)
‘Portrait of a Woman’ by a ‘British Artist’. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art
Zweig’s Maria Stuart devotes most of its pages to just the two or so years covering the murder of David Rizzio until Mary’s imprisonment in England, when “passion flamed up in her with elemental force, and what might have seemed an average destiny assumed the lineaments of a Greek tragedy as formidable as that of Orestes.” It is typical of Zweig’s biographies to draw attention to a central scene, a decisive moment, or in this case the decisive two years during which “Mary underwent the supreme experiences which led in the end to her destruction, and thanks to which, likewise, her memory has become so noteworthy.” Subsequent interpretation, the BL exhibition included, has no doubt nuanced Mary’s legacy to show her “noteworthiness” beyond the intrigue of those years.
On the famous casket letter debate, Antonia Fraser’s 1969 biography (London, 1969; X.700/3754), among others, attests to their forgery, whereas Zweig is convinced of their authenticity: “We, who know that Mary in times of stress always poured her heart out in verse, can have no doubt that she composed both letters and poems.” Zweig the biographer always takes a position, asserting the causes, intentions and consequences of events, even if that required some serious speculation, which was often the case for his psychological portraits.
Cover of Stefan Zweig, The Queen of Scots (London, 1950), W.P.8077/2.
The biography was incredibly successful and, as with pretty much all of Zweig’s work, was immediately translated into numerous languages, with the English edition, translated by long-time Zweig-collaborators Eden and Cedar Paul, appearing the same year. While Zweig’s legacy waned in the middle of the century, that same English translation was reissued by Pushkin Press in 2018, along with a raft of Zweig’s work, showing that there is a place for Zweig’s take on this much churned history. Its place is surely secured more as an example of Zweig’s hugely popular and gripping style, rather than an example of sober, historical analysis. It is of its time, a deeply psychological insight into a fascinating period, which complements the personal letters between the rival queens currently on display at the Library.
Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections
Stefan Zweig, Maria Stuart (Vienna, 1935), W14/4184
Stefan Zweig, The Queen of Scots (London, 1950), W.P.8077/2.
Rüdiger Görner and Klemens Renoldner (eds.), Zweigs England (Würzburg, 2014), YF.2015.a.10030
Ulrike Tanzer, ‘11.4 Maria Stuart (1935)’, in Stefan-Zweig-Handbuch, edited by Arturo Larcati, Klemens Renoldner and Martina Wörgötter (Berlin, 2018), YF.2018.a.13186, pp. 415-424
Oliver Matuschek, Ich kenne den Zauber der Schrift : Katalog und Geschichte der Autographensammlung Stefan Zweig ; mit kommentiertem Abdruck von Stefan Zweigs Aufsätzen über das Sammeln von Handschriften (Vienna, 2005), YF.2006.a.13265
17 November 2021
The Tudors were a formidably educated family, though Giovanni Carlo Scaramelli, Venetian Secretary in England, was doubtless laying it on thick:
[Elizabeth] possessed nine languages so thoroughly that each appeared to be her native tongue; five of these were the languages of peoples governed by her, English, Welsh, Cornish, Scottish, for that part of her possessions where they are still savage, and Irish. All of them are so different, that it is impossible for those who spealk the one to understand any of the others. Besides this, she spoke perfectly Latin, French, and Italian extremely well. (Calendar of State Papers relating to English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, April 1603, pp. 562-70)
The catalogue of the current British Library exhibition Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens says she studied French, Italian, Latin and Greek, and ‘knew some Spanish too’ (p. 29).
As part of her education Roger Ascham taught her Greek; Battista Castiglione Italian. The same Ascham paid credit to ‘her perfit readines in ... Spanish’ (Randall, 231n).
Portrait of Elizabeth holding a book, from Lucas de Heere, Corte Beschryvinghe van Engheland, Schotland, ende Irland, 1573-5, Add MS 28330, f.4r
Her reading knowledge of languages is clear from the translations she made. From French: Marguerite de Navarre, Miroir de l’âme pécheresse (for Katherine Parr); Calvin, Institution de la religion chrestienne (ch. 1); from Italian: Ochino, Che cosa è Christo and possibly Petrarch; from Latin: Seneca, (Epistle CVII), Cicero (two epistles), Boethius (De consolatione philosophiae) Horace, and Plutarch (De curiositate, via the Latin of Erasmus). (Unless otherwise stated sources are Mueller and Scodel and their reviewers.)
She also had writing skills in various languages. She wrote a letter in Italian to Katharine Parr (aged ten), wrote 27 stanzas in French, and translated Katherine Parr’s Prayers or Meditations into French, Latin and Italian as a new year’s gift to her father. Mueller and Marcus say the Latin is closer to the original than are the French and Italian.
Elizabeth’s French translation of Catherine Parr’s Prayers or meditations BL. Royal MS. 7.D.X. f.39r
Her translation of Erasmus’s Dialogus fidei into French for Henry is lost. She also wrote letters in Latin to her brother Edward VI and letters in French, including one to Mary Queen of Scots. And prayers in Spanish (Autograph Compositions, 141-43).
A halfway house between reading and writing is the collection of Latin tags she gathered in Sententiae.
A page from Elizabeth’s collection of Sententiae, in Precationes priuatę Regiæ E. R. ([London], 1563). Huth 139.
As regards speaking, she addressed the University of Oxford in Latin. She spoke in Latin to the Polish ambassador. On her first meeting with Guzman de Silva, the Spanish Ambassador, she spoke in Italian, ‘diciendo que no sabia en que lengua hablarme’ [‘saying that she did not know in which language to speak to me’]; he in Latin. But when the two rode together to Lord Burghley’s residence on July 26th, 1564, she, being mounted on a Spanish jennet, spoke to him in Spanish, ‘mostrandole gran contentamiento del caballo y de las lenguas’ [‘showing great content [perhaps ‘fluency’] with the horse and the languages’] (Ungerer 44). Mueller and Marcus say Elizabeth ‘had learned [Spanish] but deliberately avoided [it] later in her reign for political reasons’ (141).
Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections
Gustav Ungerer, Anglo-Spanish Relations in Tudor Literature (Madrid, 1956) 11872.w.20
Janel Mueller and Joshua Scodel (ed.), Elizabeth I: Translations, 1544-1589 [-- 1592-98] (Chicago, 2009)
YC.2009.a.8501; YC.2009.a.15444; reviewed by Retha Warnicke, Journal of Modern History, 82:4 (Dec. 2010), 923-27; Ac.2691.d/43.p
Roger Ellis, Translation and Literature, 19: 2 (Autumn 2010), 225-32. ZC.9.a.3123
Janel Mueller and Leah S. Marcus (ed.), Elizabeth I: Autograph Compositions and Foreign Language Originals (Chicago, 2003) YC.2004.a.5929
Dale B. J. Randall, The Golden Tapestry: a Critical Survey of Non-chivalric Spanish Fiction in English Translation (1543-1657) (Durham NC 1963) 011881.d.7