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The Mental World of the Jacobean Court.

Linda Levy Peck, ed. New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. 33 pls + xiv + 363 pp. $69.95.

This book of essays derives from a brilliantly successful conference at the Folger Library which brought together experts in history, literature and art history to address issues of mentalite, at the Jacobean court. The challenge faced by the new king is emphasized in Wallace MacCaffrey's introductory essay on politics and patronage under the Tudors. As the editor makes clear in her fine introduction, these essays do not attempt or achieve a new, coherent "model," but suggest other avenues of inquiry. The Jacobean court was different from Elizabeth's in that it was a mixed court of Scots and English, it saw an explosion of print under a king who was himself a litterateur, and it had a novel imperial iconography. Essays on individual courtiers further illustrate the theme of the noble "house" -- the family or lineage and its property -- but can only suggest the rich possibilities available and still under exploited for the study of material culture, informal power structures, and the semiotics of court rituals in the early Stuart era. The editor is to be congratulated for including several dozen excellent plates. The fourteen essays cannot all be individually reviewed here; some of the important motifs will be sketched.

The court, as Malcolm Smuts's "Cultural Diversity and Cultural Change" points out, was not a single place or a set of concentric circles emanating from the king's person, but polycentric, less cohesive than the Elizabethan court, less dominated by royal taste or a royal cultural program than the Caroline or contemporary French regimes. Cultural innovation came from many directions; for one thing, there were several courts. Leeds Barroll's essay on Anne effectively establishes the importance of women as court patrons. Pauline Croft gives a brisk account of Robert Cecil's influence and patronage, rebutting recent efforts to downplay his role in the years 1610-1612. The range of tastes and views, the tension and conflict visible within the court and individual courtiers, all reflect the difficult balancing act performed by the ruler. Prestige did not always bring power. Lancelot Andrewes, the subject of a sensitive portrait by Peter Lake, was a major court preacher without ever dominating the ecclesiastical policy of this reign, though he foreshadowed the policies of the next. John Donne, whose engagement with political issues was, Annabel Patterson argues, both lengthier and more ambivalent than has generally been recognized, was a figure who exemplified the complex interplay of principle and self-interest in the lives of many courtiers.

The king's own political views are examined in three essays: those by Jenny Wormald and Johann Sommerville come to conflicting conclusions, even as they both emphasize the cosmopolitan context in which his ideas developed; Wormald ingeniously explores the practice and theory of politics in Scotland, and argues that the king's main interest in England was not in erecting absolutism in that country, but achieving union of England and Scotland. Somerville, more convinced by James's absolutist rhetoric, argues (against Paul Christenson's essay) that the king was uninfluenced by common law tradition and that there was little ideological unity in pre-civil war England. The neo-Stoic sources of contemporary political discourse are elucidated by J.H.M. Salmon.

Two essays on individual courtiers deserve special mention because of the surprising light they shed on courtier careers and the source material available to reconstruct them. Braunmiller on the earl of Somerset's lengthy post-disgrace career as patron of art and literature is a fascinating exercise in exhumation and rehabilitation. Twenty years after his fall, Somerset still had a superb art collection and was the object of literary dedications. Linda Peck's own essay on another "grandee," Northampton, distills years of reflection on this figure, a survivor of the Elizabethan age whose cosmopolitanism, erudition and complex political-religious perspectives are perhaps less unusual within the Tudor-Stuart high nobility than they still seem. These studies of Carr -- not "just another pretty face" -- and Howard -- not just another corrupt courtier -- together with the other excellent essays in this volume, challenge us to reassess this world.
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Author:Hibbard, Caroline
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1996
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