Royalist historiography in T. J. Horsley Curties's Ethelwina, or The House of Fitz-Auburne (1799).
Death of Sir Thomas Curteis [sic].--The death of Sir Thomas Isaac Horsley Curteis [sic], K. B., is announced. Sir Thomas was 81 years of age, and was unmarried. He was no less than 34 years a member of the Royal household, as Senior Exon of the Yeomen of the Guard, having entered the services in the reign of George III. Sir Thomas retired in 1839, and was knighted by William IV, in consideration of his lengthened period of service. (1)
Sources indicate that Curties was appointed as an Exon of the Guard, a position within the prestigious office of Body Guards to the British Sovereign that was formed by Henry VII in 1485, in the first half of 1805. Purchased for an amount of approximately 350 [pounds sterling] rather than awarded as a marker of military distinction, the post of Exon was more a performative enactment and expression of Curties's political sensibilities than anything else. For, by the end of the eighteenth century, the Guard had been reduced to little more than a sinecure for wealthy young men of chivalrous, courtly ambitions: despite the attempts made upon the life of George III in August 1786 and May 1800, the last occasion on which the Yeomen had served any real military functions in the sovereign's defence was in Dettingen, Germany, in 1743, when King George II led his army against the French in the War of Austrian succession. In Royal service since at least 1805, Horsley Curties would indeed, as the article claimed, have been present at the coronations of three British monarchs--George IV, William IV and even the young Queen Victoria. Curties was dubbed 'Knight Bachelor' (K.B.) in recognition of his long service to the Hanoverian court at the Coronation of William IV in 1831, eventually retiring from the Guard aged approximately 62, and returning to die in his native Norfolk on 26 December 1858.
For our interests here in Gothic fiction, though, it is the closing of this obituary in the Caledonian Mercury that is the most significant, for as the entry continues, T. J. Horsley Curties was also 'the author of the "Watch Tower," the "Scottish Legend," and several other works'. While repeating much of the familiar details of the deceased's life at Court, the announcement of the death of Sir Thomas Isaac Horsley Curteis [sic] in The Examiner on Saturday 8th January 1859 supplemented this brief reference to Curties's literary pursuits with a fuller list of his published fictions: 'He was the author of the "Watch Tower," the "Scottish Legend," the "Sable Mask," "Monk of Udolpho," "Ethelwina," "St Botolph's Priory," and several other works'. (2) Though best remembered today for his--or, as it turns out, his publisher's--audacious plagiarism of Matthew Lewis and Ann Radcliffe in The Monk of Udolpho (1807), Curties was the author of at least six lengthy, multi-volume Gothic romances published by lower-end publishers (William Lane's Minerva Press; the notorious J. F. Hughes) in London between the years 1799 and 1807: Ethelwina, Or The House of Fitz-Auburne (1799); Ancient Records, Or, The Abbey of Saint Oswythe (1801); The Scottish Legend, Or The Isle of Saint Clothair (1802); The Watch Tower; Or, The Sons of Ulthona (1804); St. Botolph's Priory; Or, The Sable Mask (1806); and The Monk of Udolpho (1807). As Robert Mayo and Edward W. R. Pitcher have both speculated, Curties was also probably the author of the shorter Gothic tale 'The Ruins of the Abbey of Fitz-Martin', which first appeared in the pamphlet anthology Romances and Gothic Tales (1801), and later in the literary journal New Gleaner (1810). (3) Curties seems to have abandoned the Gothic fictional endeavours of his early adulthood with the publication of The Monk of Udolpho in 1807, although his name is associated with a collection of juvenile literature published in 1815. Nonetheless, the years 1805-7 point to a curious overlapping, over a period of at least two years, of what we might be inclined to think of as two mutually exclusive undertakings: a professional commitment to the Hanoverian monarchy, on the one hand, and a semiprofessional dabbling in the subversive, even sometimes Revolutionary ways of Gothic romance, on the other. I have argued elsewhere that Curties's later Gothic romance, The Monk of Udolpho, might be read as an instance of Royalist Gothic (4) --that is, not the 'loyalist' Gothic of James Watt's critical coinage, (5) that Gothic fictional strain which, in the tradition of Clara Reeve in The Old English Baron (1777), expresses a fidelity to the values, institutions and class structures of the British Establishment--but, more specifically, as Royalist Gothic, a fictional mode which, having retrieved the Gothic from its popular associations with radical jacobin politics of the 1790s, puts the form to decidedly conservative, counterrevolutionary and Royalist political use. What I wish to consider in this article is the extent to which Curties's first novel, Ethelwina, Or the House of Fitz-Auburn. A Romance of Former Times, published semi-pseudonymously under the name of T. J. Horsley by Lane's Minerva Press approximately 6 years before what we now know to be the author's accession to the post of Exon of the Guard, constitutes an instance of Royalist historiography in the curious hybrid form of the 'historical romance'. (6) Like Sophia Lee in her earlier Gothic fiction The Recess (1783), Curties in Ethelwina undertakes a generically transgressive intermingling of the seemingly opposed categories of history and romance, fact and fiction, ultimately producing a form of historiography that is marked by the same Royalist agendas that the author would subsequently come to express in his professional dedication to the sovereign for the next thirty-four years of his life.
Ethelwina is set in England during the ascendance of 'the illustrious Edward the Third' (vol. I: 1), the medieval Plantagenet king whose lengthy reign spanned five decades of the fourteenth century. The plot for the most part concerns the life of Godfred, the Earl of Fitz-Auburne, and the travails of his daughter, the eponymous heroine Ethelwina. The early descriptions of Earl Godfred, the paternal authority who sagely presides over the Fitz-Auburne dynasty, make much of his loyalist support for his King: as 'the bosom friend and favourite of his august master' Edward III, Godfred had devoted 'the very youthful part of his life [...] to his Sovereign' (vol. I: 1); the royal Edward, in turn, found in Godfred a 'real friend, and an honest heart--a gem of which no one knew the value better than himself, and which he prized equal to its worth' (vol. I: 1-2). In particular, it is Godfred's proven willingness to sacrifice his own life on the battlefield for the sake of the preservation of the life of his sovereign that commends him to royal favour, and Edward resolves to 'reward the Earl for his valour in the field, in which he had gallantly preserved his master's life, at the imminent hazard of his own, when, surrounded by hosts of foes, he must have sunk a victim, had not his watchful friend flown to his aid, and set his monarch free' (vol. I: 2). With hindsight, it is easy to identify in sentiments such as these the sense of authorial approbation for what, by the time of the installation of the Exons of the Guard in 1485, had become the official office of protecting on the battlefield the physical body of the monarch. Curties projects back onto his sense of the medieval past a nascent form of royal office that, by the time of the text's publication in 1799, had already become a symbolic and highly performative sinecure. Putting his dedication to King Edward before his growing attachment to Lady Ursuline, Godfred Fitz-Auburne accompanies the sovereign on a military expedition to Scotland during King Edward's assault upon Richard Mortimer, the deposer and presumed murderer of Edward's father Edward II and eventual lover of Edward II's wife, Isabella. Mortimer's treachery and disloyalty towards the King stand in stark contrast to the fealty of Godfred, Edward III's 'heroic preserver' (vol. I: 4); while Mortimer's extra-marital relationship with Queen Isabella exists wholly without sovereign sanction, Edward III rewards Godfred with a royally endorsed marriage to his beloved, the Baroness Ursuline. Though their union is blessed with several offspring, all except their first-born, Ethelwina, die in infancy, and in a fantasy-fuelled violation of the patriarchal laws of primogeniture that strongly recalls Emily St Aubert's inheritance of property through the female line in The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), Ethelwina becomes the sole heiress of both her father and her mother, the latter herself already the beneficiary of a strong line of property-owning women. This vision of female empowerment is only slightly counteracted when Godfred and Ursuline are blessed with a son, Arthur, when Ethelwina is five years old. One year later, Godfred and Ursuline become the guardians of the Emma and Augustine, the two orphaned children of the Baron de Mountserville.
The main plot of Ethelwina is interrupted at this point by a narrative which details the personal history of the wards Emma, Augustine and their father, the Baron de Mountserville, a lengthy historical digression which, in its details, is patently designed to illustrate the perils of insubordination to the monarch. Although, as compatriots in Edward II's court, Baron de Mountserville and Godfred Fitz-Auburne had long enjoyed a close friendship, Mountserville could not have been less unlike the noble Godfred in his long-standing contempt for the King. Misled by the wily Mortimer and the treacherous Queen Isabella, Mountserville, 'utterly regardless of his allegiance to his Sovereign', joined the 'unnatural Queen and her colleague, and became the secret enemy of his unfortunate Monarch, who was soon after deposed' (vol. I: 16). Realising, soon after, that he had fallen easy prey to the manipulations of the evil pair, Mountserville eschewed the plans for regicide and withdrew from political life, shamed and embittered, until the accession of Edward III, the son of the deposed and murdered monarch who is utterly bent upon avenging the 'sacrilegious murder' of his father (vol. I: 17). The conceptual conflation of the roles of father and king identifiable in Curties's The Monk of Udolpho is literalised in Ethelwina through Edward III's spirited avenging of the death of his own father/king, Edward II. Predictably, it was not long before the new king's suspicions were cast in Mountserville's direction, and as punishment for as little as the baron's temporary complicity in acts of 'apostacy to his Sovereign' (vol. I: 18), he was sentenced to death by hanging; upon the pleading of Godfred, King Edward III mercifully revoked the order of death, seizing all his property for the crown and sentencing the Baron Mountserville to a permanent banishment from his Kingdom instead. Unwilling, however, to bear the dishonour and infamy heaped upon him by this stern expression of royal displeasure, the baron chose an equally ignominious fate of death by his own hand. The presence of Emma and Augustine at Auburne Castle is explained through the inclusion in the text of Mountserville's suicide note, in which he requested that Godfred assume wardship and paternal responsibility for the two orphaned children.
The political import of the Mountserville sub-plot is made manifest in the return to the narrative that concerns the fate of Ethelwina, an early example of Curties's adoption of a decidedly femininsed romance-plot detailing the travails of a virtuous heroine at the hands of a male oppressor. Lord Leopold St Iver, the nephew of Godfred Fitz-Auburne, comes to stay at the family castle, but it is not long before his uncle and host is called away again, this time in order to attend Edward III in the war against France. Failing to return from the war after several months, it is eventually believed that Godfred has been killed at battle, albeit without the empirical proof of his death in the form of a corpse; the supposed death of Ethelwina's beloved father is shortly followed and compounded by the
mysterious disappearance of her young brother Arthur from the family Castle. As in countless Gothic romances of the 1790s, the absence of the father occasions the eruption of illicit desire, for as the young love between Ethelwina and the ward Augustine gradually develops, so Leopold comes to nurture and express an inappropriate, quasi-incestuous interest in Ethelwina, his first cousin. The chaste mutuality of the Ethelwina/Augustine relationship is starkly juxtaposed with the unwanted passionate advances of Leopold. Keen to eschew and atone for the shameful anti-royalist sentiments of his father Mountserville's past, Augustine, in a marked resistance to the Walpolean visitation of the sins of the father upon his children to the third and fourth generation, is soon dubbed Knight in the service of Edward III:
'Rise, Augustine, and receive this sword, the pledge of my protection;--let it, by thy courage, procure for thee the future favours of a master not slow to reward merit and bravery. Thou shalt accompany me in my present expedition; and in the glorious field of war, establish that valour which, if my judgment deceive me not, shines through thy features, and lives in thy heart;--and, that thou mayst be equal with the Nobles who attend me on the enterprize, receive the order of Knighthood, which I here bestow.' (vol. I: 96)
In the process of narrative denouement, the full extent of Augustine's intrepid defence of his sovereign during the years of his separation from the heroine is disclosed, for in the interim, he has 'fought under the victorious Edward, signalizing himself by feats of heroic atchievements [sic], gloriously fighting by his Monarch's side, and intrepidly sharing in all the dangers of that proud day to England, which raised the fame of the mighty Edward to ages of succeeding martial honour'(vol. III: 180). Later, during the narrative's retrospective account of the English offensive against Scotland, Augustine is described as having valiantly protected Queen Phillipa [sic] upon the battlefield even at the cost of his own personal injury:
In the midst of the engagement a concealed arrow was shot at the illustrious Phillipa, who stood some paces from the scene of action, courageously viewing the battle, and encouraging her heroes to the glory of conquest. Augustine saw the course of the arrow as it winged its way to the breast of the unsuspecting Queen; he flew with the speed of the rushing winds, and covering the Queen with his buckler, preserved her from the threatened, inevitable death. (vol. III: 258)
Again, intimations of the work of the Exon of the Guard are projected back onto Curties's sense of medieval history. More acutely, though, this description recalls that celebrated passage in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) in which Edmund Burke emotively figures the sentinel heroically leaping to the defence of the French Queen outside her bed chamber in October 1789:
History will record, that on the morning of the 6th of October 1789, the king and queen of France, after a day of confusion, alarm, dismay, and slaughter, lay down, to indulge nature in a few hours of respite, and troubled melancholy repose. From this sleep the queen was first startled by the voice of the sentinel at her door, who cried out to her, to save herself by flight--that this was the last proof of fidelity he could give--that they were upon him, and he was dead. Instantly he was cut down. (7) (71)
Throughout the Reflections, in fact, Marie Antoinette is figured by Burke as a monarch utterly worthy of the protective gestures of the Body Guard: 'I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult' (76). Earlier on in Curties's narrative, however, the accession to heroic stature that Augustine's military actions afford him are almost ineffectual when viewed against the passionate excesses of the villainous Leopold. The death of the heroine's mother Ursuline only renders her daughter more vulnerable to the villain's unwanted advances. Leopold will not be thwarted in his designs: the pressure he exerts upon the heroine to accept his loathsome hand in marriage is coupled with his manifold powers of deception. Assisted by the machinations of his right-hand man Ruthmer, Leopold subjects Ethelwina to a drawn-out, highly repetitive drama of duping and drugging, abduction and imprisonment, eventually incarcerating her in his own Castle Iver. Where the business of enforced marriage through dissimulation is concerned, it is only the protection enshrined in Ethelwina's status as a ward of the crown that offers her any protection. When Leopold's assault upon the heroine is at its most extreme, the supernatural events that had threatened in the earlier portions of the narrative reach their full potential. A ghost 'clothed in armour, bearing a bleeding sword in its right-hand, and a flaming brand in its left' (vol. I: 213) appears to apprehend one of Leopold's particularly violent attempts; bearing a strong likeness to the dead Baron Godfred Fitz-Auburne, the spectre of the uncle addresses his guilty nephew as follows: '"Monster, forbear!--Will not Godfred's murder suffice? Must powerless, unprotected innocence be sacrificed?--Beware!--Repent!--the hour of terrible retribution is at hand.--The guardian of virtue still prevails, and thou and all thy power shall be as nothing!--Begone!"' (vol. I: 214). With this, Leopold's dreadful secret is disclosed: he is the slayer of the noble Fitz-Auburne.
In its rendition of strained uncle/nephew relations, Ethelwina reworks the tensions between Claudius and Hamlet in Shakespeare's tragedy; despite the text's historical setting, it is Hamlet more than the apocryphal The Reign of King Edward III that is the primary Shakespearean source in this fiction. The reasons for this are as much a matter of textual history as they are of political affiliation: despite the endeavours of Edward Capell in his edition of Edward III in 1760, as well as the claims expressed in his Prolusions; or, Select Pieces of Ancient Poetry (1760), few eighteenth-century editors of Shakespeare were inclined to include the originally anonymously published Edward III (1596) in the growing list of Bardic apocrypha. Although, as Eric Sams has pointed out, Walter Whiter in A Specimen of a Commentary on Shakspeare [sic] (1794) had argued that Edward III was by the same author as Hamlet and Measure for Measure, (8) the play does not feature alongside such other apocryphal texts as Pericles, Locrine and A Yorkshire Tragedy in Edmond Malone's more authoritative Supplement to Shakspeare [sic] (1780). Consequently, it was only from the mid-nineteenth century onwards that the possibility of the play's Shakespearean provenance came to hold any editorial sway. Instead, and as in an earlier Gothic fiction such as Ann Radcliffe's The Romance of the Forest (1791), the heroine plays the role of Hamlet in Ethelwina, particularly during those moments in which, having discovered the relics and remains of her dead father in the recesses of Leopold's castle, she is visited by her father's ghost. In the Preface to the novel, Horsley Curties, patently in dialogue with the Radcliffean technique of the explained supernatural, justifies his narrative's recourse to a 'real ghost' through acknowledging his debt to Shakespeare's Hamlet:
In one circumstance [the author] has stepped beyond the modern writers of Romance, by introducing a REAL GHOST--to many, such a circumstance will not appear unnatural or improbable; but he neither apologizes, nor justifies on that ground--he only pleads the example of the immortal Bard of Avon, who found a spectre necessary for his purpose to heighten his story, or to "harrow up the soul," but never thought it necessary to account for the "unreal mockery."--Our ancestors did more than allow them in the imagery of their Poets, and this is not a tale of modern times. (ii-iii)
As in Hamlet, then, the paternal ghost discloses to his offspring his actual murderer, while demanding that Ethelwina avenge his untimely death: '"For what--for what, Oh mysterious Power! Am I brought to this scene of horrors?"' she cries out, to which the ghost, in a loud and hollow voice, replies, '"To revenge the murder of thy father, whose spirit now calls upon thee!"' (vol. II: 27-28). Like her tragic prototype, Ethelwina seems particularly undecided as to whether the ghost is of divine or infernal origins. But her gravest source of misgiving is her uncomfortable sense of the ways in which the spectral injunction to avenge her father's death compromises her carefully modelled sense of feminine decorum. As a woman, the role of Hamlet, subject to however extensive a process of regendering, is one that she assumes only with considerable discomfort: 'the delicacy of her truly feminine heart was shocked at the thought of being herself the punisher of her father's destroyer, and her own avowed enemy' (vol. II: 34-5). Nonetheless, Ethelwina resolves to forget 'the weakness and delicacy of [her] sex' (vol. II: 35) and carry out her father's ghostly mandate. Even so, an awareness of the complexities attendant upon the regendering of Shakespeare's tragic script is something that the text refuses to dispense with, and in a move that recalls the ghostly appearance of the heroine's mother in Matthew Lewis's The Castle Spectre (1797), Ethelwina is visited by the courage-dispensing ghost of her mother Ursuline in a series of dream-like visions.
Although the ghostly visitations of the murdered father persist in the text, Ethelwina is eventually restored to her bother Arthur Fitz-Auburne, long-presumed to be dead and himself a prisoner in the vaults of Leopold's castle ever since his abduction by the villain and his accomplice. With the added security that the recovery of her sibling affords her, Ethelwina is gradually led to uncover the truth behind her father's murder and her brother's disappearance: Leopold has attempted to hold both parties hostage to his desire for the heroine--a form of perverse and passionate attachment, that is, that has served as scant disguise for his real financial motives. As in Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho, the real provenance of the villain's unwanted passion in Ethelwina is more financial than it is sexual; in a marked reversal of the programme of child-sacrifice presented in The Monk of Udolpho, it is the father who has suffered in the name of the daughter in Curties's first romance. Deliverance of the siblings ultimately comes at the hands of the Fitz-Auburne army, and the incognito escape from Leopold's Castle Iver that they effect. And as if in answer to Ethelwina's feminine anxieties concerning the appropriateness of female vengeance, it is her brother Arthur who will ultimately see the paternal mandate through to its inevitable conclusion: '"Then witness for me, Heaven," continued Arthur, "when I swear, if guided by thy omnipotent aid, never to know what ease and happiness are, till I have avenged the murder of my sire, and removed his ashes from its den of pollution and slaughter!"' (vol. III: 131). Restored to the truth of his death at the hands of Leopold, and dutifully remembered in deliberate and appropriate acts of mourning, the ghost of the father is content to disappear, passing from the sphere of spectrality to the 'immortal happiness' of the Christian afterlife in the process (vol. III: 238); like numerous Gothic romances of the 1790s, Ethelwina teaches the necessity of mourning the dead if their terrifying spectral return is to be avoided. (9) Although, with the restoration of order back at the seat of the Fitz-Auburne dynasty, Ethelwina, in accordance with the law of primogeniture, cedes her title of Countess of Auburne to her brother, she proudly assumes the title of Baroness of Castle Acre that has run in the maternal line. Consistent with the conventionalised endings of fictional romance, the narrative concludes with the marriage of Augustine to Ethelwina and Arthur to Emma.
Curties's choice of the reign of Edward III as historical setting for Ethelwina is as central to his royalist agenda as the narrative digression concerning the ingominious fate of Mountserville, and the pointed juxtaposition of Mountserville with Augustine throughout. The romance displays a remarkably detailed and, by all accounts, historically accurate understanding of King Edward III's military exploits, narrating the English offensive against Scotland in the early parts of the narrative, and the on-going tensions with France towards the end; historically, of course, Scotland and France had consolidated their opposition to England through the formal establishment of a Franco-Scottish alliance. In the final volume, Queen Phillipa [sic], 'the illustrious Queen of England' (vol. III: 192), leads the English troops to victory against the French in the Battle of Cressy (Crecy), the definitive battle in the Hundred Years War that took place in August 1346. The Gallic monster has been entirely subdued by the time that Augustine and Ethelwina come to celebrate their nuptials: 'On the morning of the ensuing day the Queen and her suite with regret quitted their lovely hostess, and hastened to the shores of France, there to witness the glory of the great Edward in having at last conquered the proud, crest-fallen heart of Gallia, and taken her Sovereign a captive' (vol. III: 260).
In the context of the rather strained political relations between France and England in the late 1790s, the text's account of the English subjugation of the French is, of course, significant. Even more intriguing, however, is the fact that Curties's novel was translated into French by Octave Segur and published in Paris by F. Buisson in 1802. Though familiarly couched as an assertion of the values of fictional romance against the incursions of Enlightenment rationality, the 'Preface du Traducteur D'Ethelwina' that precedes the French translation of the text might also be read as an attempt at passing off the novel's patently anti-French political sentiments as nothing more than innocuous fancy:
Le progres des lumieres opera une grande revolution dans les moeurs, et change tout, jusqu'aux gouts les plus frivoles. On juge les compositions legeres avec autant de rigueur qu'un Oovrage [sic] savant, et on mesure la marche d'un Roman avec autant de precision qu'un livre de Metaphysique. Par-tout on voit la raison cher-cher a detruire les illusions de l'esprit et lui refuser meme les jeux qu'une imagination vive peut lui faire gouter: comme s'il s'agissoit d'instruire lorsqu'on veut amuser! Et pourquoi veut-on resserrer les limites des plaisirs de notre esprit? Pourquoi, lorsqu'on saitgre a l'ingenieux Galland de nous avoir donne les Mille et Une Nuits, veut-on faire un crime a Madame Radcliffe d'exciter la curiosite par le delire de son imagination? (i-ii) [The progress of Enlightenment philosophers operates on the level of a huge revolution in morals, and changes everything, including the most frivolous tastes. We now judge light compositions with as much rigour as we do a work of knowledge, and we measure the plot of a novel with as much precision as a book of metaphysics. Everywhere we see Reason attempting to destroy the illusions of the spirit and refusing to it even the games that a lively imagination can make it enjoy, as if it is meant to instruct, rather than trying to amuse. And why do we wish to circumscribe the limits of the pleasures of our spirit? Why, given that we praise the ingenious Galland for having given us the Thousand and One Nights, do we wish to accuse Mrs Radcliffe of a crime for having excited curiosity by the delirium of her imagination?]
Viewed in this light, the narrative that follows, its xenophobic attitudes towards France notwithstanding, is to be read not as truthful history or 'a work of knowledge' so much as a 'light composition' or fanciful romance; the censures we might bring to bear upon the text as a record of rational truth ought to be overridden by the pleasure one takes in sheer imaginative engagement. Having thus disguised the real historical and political tensions between England and France detailed in Curties's original as merely a frivolous but highly pleasurable imaginative fiction, the French translation foresees no difficulties in providing accurate translations of Curties's account of the English defeat of the French towards the narrative's close: 'L' armee anglaise est victorieuse.--La reine s'avance vers son liberateur, le proclame le vainqueur et le heros de la journee.--Elle demande son nom: l'etoit Alfred' (Vol. II: 243) [The English army was victorious. The queen came towards her liberator, proclaimed him the victor and the hero of the day. She demanded his name: it was Alfred].
Equally pertinent to Curties's royalist politics in Ethelwina is his presentation of the character of Edward III, a monarch who, ever since the reign of the Tudors, had been mythologised in English historiography as one of the nation's greatest rulers. As May McKisack has shown, such early modern historians as Polydore Vergil; Grafton; Stow and Speed had expressed a fervent admiration for Edward III in their respective histories of his reign, a tendency that culminated in Joshua Barnes's over-enthusiastic eulogising of Edward in his folio volume, History of Edward III, published in 1688. (10) Perhaps this was inevitable in the face of what W. M. Ormrod's modern, definitive study of the reign of Edward III has described as the ruler's self-conscious and deliberate equation of his own regime with the richly evocative reign of the legendary King Arthur. (11) In Joshua Barnes's estimation, this king 'had the most virtues and the fewest vices that ever I read of. He was Valiant, Just, Mercifull [sic], Temperate and Wise; the best King, the best Captain, the best Lawgiver, the best Friend, the best Father and the best Husband in his days'. (12) Many of these views persisted into the early eighteenth century. In 1732, J. Adamson published The Reigns of King Edward II. And so far of King Edward III. As relates to the Lives and Actions of Piers Gaveston, Hugh de Spencer, and Roger, Lord Mortimer. With Remarks thereon. Adapted to the present Times. (13) As its title implies, the text was intended as a means of drawing links between the unfortunate influence wielded by Gaveston, the two Spencers and Mortimer at the courts of Edward II and Edward III respectively, and the anti-Royalist sentiments stirred up by Henry Bolingbroke and William Pulteney during the reign of George II in the early 1730s: 'the Characters and Actions of Gaveston, Spencer, and Mortimer, have been so lately reviv'd, and obliquely paralleliz'd, with Persons of the present Government' (52). Taking care to outline the horrid fates that awaited those historical personages who dared to challenge sovereign authority, Adamson's tract is a bland defence of the absolute powers of the monarch and his prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole: 'it is not, nor cannot be in the Power of such wicked, worthless, deservedly disgrac'd Persons, to prevail with any Englishman, to be guilty of Disobedience and Disloyalty to the King, or to abuse or injure or even offend any of his Ministry who deserve, and have, the Esteem and good Will of every Loyal Subject' (Advertisement). Here, as elsewhere, historiographic accounts of the reign of Edward III were put to particular political uses in the eighteenth-century present.
Early in the century, though, there was evidence of a slight shift in perceptions of Edward, particularly with regards to the sceptical attitudes writers came to adopt towards the exaggerated encomiums of Barnes. Thomas Cooke's The Life of King Edward III. Of England [...] (1734), for instance, was of the opinion that the 'Idolatry' of Barnes and other historians lent to their historiographic endeavours 'too much the Air of Romance'; (14) what follows in the text is a much more measured account of Edward III's reign, one which, while rehearsing the familiar tale of the king's military victories against the Scottish and the French, takes care to point out that the ruler was also in some respects a 'gallant and illustious Murderer' responsible for the 'Destruction of Men'. (15) In Sir Anthony Weldon's staunchly Jacobite A Brief History of the Kings of England [...] (1755), Edward II and his son fare poorly, the former being described as 'A Man given to all Sorts of unworthy Vanities, and sinful Delights: The Scourge and Disgrace of this Nation in Scotland' and the latter figuring as a largely feckless and ineffectual ruler who presided over the failure that was The Good Parliament of 1376. (16) But it was David Humes's The History of England, from Julius Caesar to the Accession of Henry VII (1762) that provided the most authoritative account of the reigns of Edward II and III in the latter half of the eighteenth century. Hume's history seems more intent upon the rigorous documentation of empirical historical fact than a subjective assessment of the rulers' flaws and merits. In a passage such as the following, the Scottish Hume demonstrates a poignant awareness of the English tendency to over-emphasise the virtues of King Edward and his regime:
The English are apt to consider with peculiar fondness the history of Edward III. and to esteem his reign, as it was one of the longest, the most glorious also, which occurs in the annals of their nation. The ascendant [sic] which they then began to acquire over France, their rival and national enemy, makes them cast their eyes on this period with great complacency, and sanctifies every measure, which Edward embraced for that end. (17)
More witholding in its praise, Hume's The History of England is a far more measured and objective assessment of the king than those offered in earlier accounts. In 1794, John Holt's The Characters of the Kings of England [...], in accordance with the sentiments expressed in Smollett's A Complete History of England [...] (1757-58) and many earlier renditions of the reign and character of Edward II, described the deposed king as 'innocent' and 'inoffensive', yet wholly unsuited to 'governing that fierce and turbulent people subjected to his authority', largely due to his susceptibility to flattery, sycophancy and favouritism. (18) Holt's account of Edward III is a paraphrase of the objective and restrained appraisal offered by Hume. While commending the sovereign on such endeavours as his unification of the nation 'against a public enemy' (72); his consolidation of the English ascendancy over France; the long and unprecedented period of 'domestic peace and tranquillity' (71) that England enjoyed under his leadership (71); and the personal munificence, generosity and 'affable and obliging behaviour' (71) of the king himself, Holt, following Hume's lead, maintains that 'His foreign wars were, in other respects, neither founded in justice, nor directed to any very salutary purpose' (72). The other account of Edward III's character included in Holt's historical anthology is that offered by Smollett, and here, the unreserved mythologising of the medieval sovereign evident in earlier accounts is prevalent: this king was 'undoubtedly one of the greatest princes that ever swayed the sceptre [sic] of England; whether we respect him as a warrior, a law-giver, a monarch, or a man. He possessed all the romantic spirit of Alexander; the penetration, the fortitude, the polished manners of Julius; the liberality, the munificence, the wisdom of Augustus Caesar' (73). The entry on Edward III in John Aikin et al's General Biography; Or, Lives, Critical and Historical [...] (1802) is equally derivative of Hume. Aikin's rational interrogation of the myth of Edward III results in such seemingly balanced assessments of the monarch as the following:
Few English kings have left behind them a more splendid name than Edward III. He had, indeed, many of the qualities of a great king; valour, prudence, affability, and munificence: and the nature of his exploits was calculated to throw a lustre upon his reign. Yet the pretensions of the sovereigns of England to the crown of France, which he first established, have been the source of infinite mischiefs to both countries; and his own successes in pursuit of them terminated in nothing but disappointment and loss. (19)
As McKisack has pointed out, these mixed views of Edward III in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century would be replaced by the wholly negative perceptions of the sovereign offered up by Whig historiography in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. In the 1820s, for instance, John Lingard would stress the divergence of interest between Edward III and his people, presenting the constitutional progress evidenced in his reign as having happened despite--and not because of--the presence of an over-ambitious ruler. Such negative perceptions persisted across the Whiggish historical endeavour of the nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries, featuring strongly in the work of Longman; Stubbs; Ramsay; and Unwin. (20) Published in 1799, by which time Edward's cult-like, mythological status was already well on the wane, Curties's highly idealised presentation of the monarch in Ethelwina is heavily inflected with royalist ideology. Here, the text demonstrates its political affinities with a number of other conservative, pro-Royalist historiographical endeavours of the 1790s. As James Watt has pointed out, Clara Reeve, in her historical account of the fourteenth century in her Memoirs of Sir Roger De Clarendon [...] (1793), constructed the reign of Edward III as an antidote to the political chaos of England in the post-Revolutionary period. (21) This is no more evident than when Reeve, in the Preface to the text, offers up the reign of Edward III as a bulwark against, and a salutary alternative to, the spread of democracy that was perceived as making its chaotic presence felt throughout Britain and Europe in the early 1790s: 'The new philosophy of the present day avows a levelling principle, and declares that a state of anarchy is more beautiful than that of order and regularity. There is nothing more likely to convince mankind of the errors of these men, than to set before them examples of good government [i.e. the reign of Edward III], and warnings of the mischievous consequences of their own principles'. (22) In line with Reeve and others, Curties's presentation of the reign of Edward III in Ethelwina renders the fiction an exercise in Gothic historiography in its most royalist of forms.
Indeed, so pressing is Curties's need to present this king, a sub-Arthurian metonym for English kingship in general, as utterly beyond reproach that he cautiously omits reference to the less pleasing parts of his reign that had begun to preoccupy several historiographers during the 1790s: his dubious relationship with the politically ambitious Alice Perrers; his ever-increasing financial dependence on subsidies from Parliament; the legitimacy of his military exploits, and the likes. If, as Ormrod has argued, The Good Parliament of 1376 did indeed constitute 'one of the most serious attacks on the English crown in the whole of the later Middle Ages', and if the course of Edward III's reign did indeed see the restriction of a number of the crown's feudal rights and perquisites, these are things that Horsley Curties's royalist Gothic significantly fails to mention. (23) The complex, three-dimensional rendering of the King as, amongst other things, the nurturer of an adulterous passion for the Countess of Salisbury in The Reign of King Edward III undoubtedly provided further political grounds for Curties's refusal of all intertextual reference to this apocryphal Shakespearean text; the apparent support for the institution of legitimate sovereignty offered up by the Bard in Hamlet was far more fitting a Shakespearean model. Indeed, by Curties's reckoning, not even Edward II, uniformly presented as a weak and risible ruler throughout the eighteenth century, is deserving of the disloyalty of Roger Mortimer, and in a splicing of medieval history with the terms of Shakespeare's Hamlet, the deposed and murdered monarch figures as a noble father of Old Hamlet's ilk, utterly deserving of the justice-seeking vengeance of his young son. A far cry from the 'dissolute Prince, whose immoderate love to Pierce [sic] Gaveston and the two Spencers, wrought his downfall' described in the anonymous A Chronological History of the Kings of England [...] (1800), (24) Edward II in Ethelwina is more the wronged ruler than the 'perverse and grossly incapable king' of Ormrod's modern reckoning. (25) For this reason, too, Ethelwina refuses any intertextual engagement with Christopher Marlowe's Edward II, a play in which the King, though avenged by the young Edward III in the final act, is figured as a feckless, ineffectual ruler who is vulnerable to the blandishments of his subjects. More acutely, the emphasis that Marlowe brings to bear on the homoerotic nature of the bond between Edward II and Piers Gaveston--offered, as it is, as the ultimate justification for Isabella's sexual betrayal of her husband in the play--is something with which Curties's text refuses to engage. Instead, Curties focuses the reader's attention on aspects more congenial to his own social aspirations, especially Edward III's renowned patronage of the upper classes through the numerous knighthoods, protectorships and wardships he bestows in the course of the action.
And yet, T. J. Horsley Curties remains, first and foremost, a Gothic romancer, and perhaps his fictional choices in Ethelwina are governed as much by aesthetics as they are by a royalist political agenda. In this regard, his choice of historical setting is no less significant, for as the views expressed in Aikin's roughly contemporary General Biography attest, the reign of Edward III was by 1799 considered to be an historical epoch of great significance for the institutions of chivalry and English letters, the two cornerstones of Gothic romance itself. If, as Aikin's entry continued, 'The year 1349 was distinguished by the institution of the order of the Garter', the reign of Edward III would hold obvious appeal not only for one with chivalric aspirations such as Curties, but for the chivalric plunderings effected by Gothic romance more generally (517). As John Adams's Curious Thoughts on the History of Man [...] (1789) made clear, what was at stake during Edward III's reign was nothing less than the chivalrous spirit of romance itself: 'This was the time when chivalry was at its highest pitch; and many of the successes of England were owing to that romantic spirit, which the king endeavoured to diffuse, and of which he was the most shining example. It was this spirit that, in some measure, served to soften the ferocity of the age; being a mixture of love, generosity, and war'. (26) Here too, historical observations such as these were not without their implications for contemporary, post-Revolutionary England. Prompted by the bloody violence of the mob in the same year, Burke's Reflections had famously recorded with a certain poignancy the passing of the age of chivalry in modern Europe:
But the age of chivalry is gone.--That of sophisters, oeconomists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever. Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom. The unbought grace of life, the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprize is gone! (76)
The extinguishing of chivalry's flame, Burke continued, would be to the detriment of European politics, social existence and the very identity of the continent itself. As F. P. Lock has demonstrated, Burke's lugubrious mourning of the passing of the age of chivalry rapidly became the subject of ridicule in popular publications of the 1790s: Frederic George Byron, in such popular prints as his 'Frontispiece to Reflections on the French Revolution' and 'Don Dismallo,' had caricatured Burke as a Quixotic knight-errant, as the ludicrous, laughing-inducing exponent of an outmoded chivalrous, 'Gothic' past. (27) Curties's professional role as Exon of the Guard, however, would self-consciously have dedicated itself to the correction of precisely such scornful representations of the chivalrous past. For as the sentiments expressed in 1850 by Clerk of the Cheque James Bunce Curling make clear, the very existence of such offices and roles in the court of Queen Victoria were aimed at keeping the flame of chivalry very much alive:
It has often been asserted, that the age of chivalry has passed away--that the old romance of life has vanished before the wonderful progress of material improvement, and that the wild passions and hazardous mode of existence of our ancestors have been replaced by a sounder state of practical morals, more wholesome laws, and a superior organization of society. The greater part of this we willingly admit to be true, but we must protest altogether against the extinction of that chivalrous spirit which has served to illuminate the pages of English history with such glorious scenes; a spirit that we conceive to be essential in inspiring a high sense of honour; a love of renown; devoted loyalty; and to which may be ascribed the elevation of woman to that sphere in which her characteristic virtues have been enabled to rescue society from a state of comparative barbarism. (235-36)
As a newspaper article published in the The Morning Chronicle on Friday 4th May 1838 makes clear, Bunce Curling, in his own courtly capacity, was in attendance of the sovereign alongside the figure of T. J. Horsley Curties during an audience held in Her Majesty's Drawing Room the day before: "Sir Thomas Horsley Curteis [sic], exon in waiting of the yeomen guard; Mr. James Bunce Curling, clerk of the cheque of the gentlemen at arms'. (28) The two men could only have shared the sentiments expressed by Bunce Curling twelve years later. Curties's fictional choices in Ethelwina are governed by the same imperative: a return to the 'Gothic' age of Edward III in an attempt at keeping the flame of chivalry alive. However, this return to medieval origins was not without its complications: Hume's History of England, Aikin's source in his General Biography, had also commended Edward's reign for the invention of gunpower warfare, a technological innovation which, together with gold coinage, was described at length in John Holt's study of 1794. In fact, this assumption permeated most accounts of Edward III's reign during the 1790s. As Holt presented it, the first utilisation of the 'singular invention' (74) that is gunpowder at the Battle of Cressy irrevocably changed the face of warfare, perhaps even to the point of extinguishing chivalry's bright flame: 'This wonderful discovery has changed by degrees the whole art of war, and, by consequence, many circumstances in the political government of Europe' (75). To return to the fourteenth century was thus to encounter both the origin and the end, the zenith and nadir of medieval chivalry, the stuff of Gothic romance from The Castle of Otranto onwards. The doubleness only intensifies Curties's sense of Gothic nostalgia in Ethelwina. And while Shakespeare may self-consciously preside over this romance as the touchstone of real supernatural imagining, Curties, through his choice of historical period, returns through the Bard to encounter the primeval origin of the entire institution of English literature: as Aikin put it, it was during the reign of Edward III that English poetry 'began to raise itself from barbarism, and the age of Edward is that of Chaucer' (518).
I would like to thank Katie Halsey for having translated into English all the French material referenced in this article.
University of Stirling
Address for Correspondence
Dale Townshend, Department of English Studies, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA. Email: email@example.com
(1) 'Death of Sir Thomas Curteis [sic]', Caledonian Mercury, 8 January 1859, issue 21619.
(2) 'Births, Deaths, Marriages and Obituaries,' The Examiner, 8 January 1859, issue 2658.
(3) See E. W. R. Pitcher, Discoveries in Periodicals, 1720-1820: Facts and Fictions, (Lampeter, Edwin Mellen, 2000), p. 408 and R. Mayo, The English Novel in the Magazines, 1740-1815 (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1962).
(4) D. Townshend, 'T. J. Horsley Curties and Royalist Gothic: The Case of The Monk of Udolpho (1807)', Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies, Issue 4 (June 2008), http:// irishgothichorrorjournal.homestead.com/HorsleyCurtiesGothic.html
(5) See J. Watt's argument in Contesting the Gothic: Fiction, Genre and Cultural Conflict, 1764-1832 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999).
(6) T. J. Horsley [Curties], Ethelwina, Or The House of Fitz-Auburne. A Romance of Former Times. In Three Volumes (London: Minerva Press, 1799). All subsequent quotations are taken from this edition. Volume and page numbers will follow in brackets.
(7) E. Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, and on the Proceedings in Certain Societies Relative to that Event, ed. C. Cruise O'Brien (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1969). All subsequent quotations are taken from this edition. Page numbers will follow in brackets.
(8) E. Sams, ed., Shakespeare's Edward III (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1996), p. 153.
(9) See my argument in 'Gothic and the Ghost of Hamlet', in J. Drakakis and D. Townshend (eds.), Gothic Shakespeares (Abingdon, Routledge, 2008), pp. 60-97.
(10) M. McKisack, 'Edward III and the Historians", History: The Journal of the Historical Association, 45 (1960), p. 2.
(11) W. M. Ormrod, The Reign of Edward III: Crown and Political Society in England, 1327-1377 (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1990), 45.
(12) qtd. in McKisack, ibid., 2.
(13) J. Adamson, The reigns of King Edward II. And so far of King Edward III. As Relates to the Lives and Actions of Piers Gaveston, Hugh de Spencer, and Roger, Lord Mortimer. With remarks Thereon. Adapted to the Present Times (London, printed for J. Millan, 1732). All subsequent quotations are taken from this edition. Page numbers will follow in brackets.
(14) T. Cooke, The Life of King Edward III. Of England, With Reflections on his Political and Military Conduct, Containing An Account of the Most Memorable Transactions, and Revolutions, in Great Britain, France, and Other Countries, During Upwards of Fifty Years (London, printed for J. Huggonson, 1734), p.5.
(15) Ibid., 6.
(16) A. Weldon, Sir, A Brief History of the Kings of England, Particularly Those of the Royal House of Stuart, Of Blessed Memory (London, printed for Matthew Hunt, 1755), pp. 6-7.
(17) D. Hume, The History of England, From the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Accession of Henry VII, Vol. II [...] (London, printed for A. Millar, 1762), p. 231.
(18) J. Holt, The Characters of the Kings of England, And a Concise History of the Kingdom, With Historical Notes (London, printed for John Stockdale, 1794), p. 66. All subsequent quotations are taken from this edition. Page numbers will follow in brackets.
(19) J. Aikin, et al, General Biography; Or, Lives, critical and Historical [...], Vol. III (London, printed for J. Johnson, J. Robinson, G. Kearsley; Edinburgh, printed for Bell and Bradfute; Dublin, printed for Colbert, 1802), p. 518. All subsequent quotations are taken from this edition. Page numbers will follow in brackets.
(20) McKisack, ibid., pp. 3-4.
(21) J. Watt, 'Gothic', in T. Keymer and J. Mee (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to English Literature, 1740-1830 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 122.
(22) C. Reeve, Memoirs of Sir Roger De Clarendon, The Natural Prince of Wales, Commonly Called The Black Prince; With Anecdotes of Many Other Eminent Persons of the Fourteenth Century. In Three Volumes (London, printed for Hookham and Carpenter, 1793), p. xvii.
(23) Ibid., 37.
(24) Anon., A Chronological History of the Kings of England From the Norman Conquest Down to the Present Time. To Which is Added An Account of the Natural Curiosities of England (York, printed by J. Kendrew, ), p. 8.
(25) Ibid., xii.
(26) J. Adams, Curious Thoughts on the History of Man [...] (London, printed for G. Kearsley, 1789), p. 89.
(27) F. P. Lock, Edmund Burke, Vol. II: 1784-1797 (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 335.
(28) 'Her Majesty's Drawing Room', Morning Chronicle, 4 May 1838, issue 21364.
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