Teaching and Learning Guide for: ‘Representing the Duke of Buckingham: Libel, Counter-Libel and the Example of The Emperor’s Favourite’



This guide accompanies the following article: Keenan, Siobhan. ‘Representing the Duke of Buckingham: Libel, Counter-Libel and the Example of The Emperor’s Favourite’. Literature Compass 9 (4): 292–305. DOI: 10.1111/j.1741-4113.2012.00880.x

1. Further Reading

Recent years have seen rich new work in the fields of early modern libel and the literature of court favouritism. This has included important studies of early modern libels about powerful individuals, such as Robert Cecil, first Earl of Salisbury (see, for example, Pauline Croft. ‘The Reputation of Robert Cecil: Libels, Political Opinion and Popular Awareness in the Early Seventeenth Century.’Transactions of the Royal Historical Society [1991], Part I: 43–69), and scandalous events, such as the trial of Robert Carr, first Earl of Southampton and Lady Frances Howard for the alleged murder of Sir Thomas Overbury (see Alastair Bellany. The Politics of Court Scandal in Early Modern England: News Culture and the Overbury Affair, 1603–1660. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002). There have also been broader studies of what the culture of early modern libelling reveals about Stuart habits of thought and the perceived relationship between the personal and the political in early 17th-century English culture, such as Alastair Bellany’s ‘ “Rayling Rymes and Vaunting Verse”: Libellous Politics in Early Stuart England, 1603–1628.’Culture and Politics in Early Stuart England. Eds. Kevin Sharpe and Peter Lake. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1994. 285–309; Pauline Croft’s ‘Libels, Popular Literacy and Public Opinion in Early Modern England.’Historical Research 68 (1995): 266–85; Thomas Cogswell’s ‘Underground Verse and the Transformation of Early Stuart Political Culture.’Political Culture and Cultural Politics in Early Modern England. Eds. Susan D. Amussen and Mark A. Kishlansky. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1995. 277–300; Adam Fox’s ‘Ballads, Libels and Popular Ridicule in Jacobean England.’Past and Present 145 (1995): 47–83; and Andrew McRae’s Literature, Satire and the Early Stuart State. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004.

Such studies have contributed to renewed interest in the phenomenon of the court favourite in early modern England and Europe, an interest embodied in the collection of essays on The World of the Favourite, edited by J. H. Elliott and L. W. B. Brockliss (New Haven: Yale UP, 1999). As well as exploring the cultural and political conditions which fostered the emergence of such figures in the early modern era and the individual careers of figures such as the Duke of Buckingham, recent scholars of court favouritism have explored the literary and artistic representation of court favourites in the early modern period. Curtis Perry’s Literature and Favouritism in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006) is the key published study relating to English literature. As his research shows, court favourites were frequently stereotyped in similar ways, regardless of their individual characters or careers, and the discourse of court favouritism was often a vehicle for the exploration of contemporary political anxieties as much as a way of voicing concerns about individual royal favourites. More specialised studies have focused on the representation of court favourites in specific genres such as drama, revealing the favourite to be a recurrent character on the early seventeenth-century English stage, for example: see Mario DiGangi. ‘A Beast So Blurred: The Monstrous Favourite in Caroline Drama.’Localizing Caroline Drama: Politics and Economics of the Early Modern Stage, 1625–42. Eds. Adam Zucker and Alan B. Farmer. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. 157–81; and Blair Worden. ‘Favourites on the English Stage.’The World of the Favourite. Eds. J. H. Elliott and L. W. B. Brockliss. New Haven: Yale UP, 1999. 159–83.

The Duke of Buckingham has also been the source of much scholarly interest in recent years, with some of the most fascinating research concerning his contemporary reputation and representation. For the best overview of Buckingham’s career and the controversies surrounding him, see Roger Lockyer’s pioneering biography, Buckingham: The Life and Political Career of George Villiers, First Duke of Buckingham 1592–1628. London: Longman, 1981; and for a fascinating insight into Buckingham’s attempts to shape his public image, see Thomas Cogswell’s ‘The People’s Love: The Duke of Buckingham and Popularity.’Politics, Religion and Popularity: Early Stuart Essays in Honour of Conrad Russell. Eds. Thomas Cogswell, Richard Cust, and Peter Lake. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002. 211–34, and his ‘ “Published by Authoritie”: Newsbooks and the Duke of Buckingham’s Expedition to the Île de Ré.’Huntington Library Quarterly 67.1 (2004): 1–25. Alastair Bellany explores Buckingham’s representation in early modern art in ‘ “Naught But Illusion”? Buckingham’s Painted Selves.’Writing Lives: Biography and Textuality, Identity and Representation in Early Modern England. Eds. Kevin Sharpe and Steven N. Zwicker. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. 127–60; and Curtis Perry’s Literature and Favouritism in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006) offers the first extended discussion of Buckingham’s representation in early modern literature. Contemporary responses to Buckingham’s assassination and his assassin, John Felton, have also been the subject of much recent discussion in works such as Thomas Cogswell’s ‘John Felton, Popular Political Culture, and the Assassination of the Duke of Buckingham.’Historical Journal 49.2 (2006): 357–85; and James Holstun’s ‘ “God Bless Thee, Little David!”: John Felton and His Allies.’ELH 59.3 (1992): 513–52; and the assassination and assassin are to be the focus of Alastair Bellany’s and Thomas Cogwell’s forthcoming cultural-history of the event, England’s Assassin: John Felton and the Killing of the Duke of Buckingham. New Haven: Yale UP.

2. Useful Links

For an invaluable on-line archive of manuscript libels concerned with early Stuart political culture, court favouritism, and the Duke of Buckingham, see Alastair Bellany and Andrew McRae, eds. ‘Early Stuart Libels: An Edition of Poetry from Manuscript Sources.’Early Modern Literary Studies, Text Series I (2005) <http://purl.oclc.org/emls/texts/libels>.

3. Syllabi

Ideally, this article would be used as a discussion text on a course looking at the representation of court favourites – or the Duke of Buckingham specifically – in early modern literature. Such a course could look at a selection of favourite/Buckingham-related poems from Bellany and McRae’s ‘Early Stuart Libels’ (see above), a selection of the public stage plays concerned with court favouritism, such as Ben Jonson’s Sejanus, the anonymous Tragedy of Nero, Thomas Middleton’s The Mayor of Queenborough, Philip Massinger’s The Roman Actor, and Arthur Wilson’s The Swisser, and, as an example of topical closet drama, the anonymous The Emperor’s Favourite (which I discuss in detail in the article). As well as providing a useful overview of the conventions commonly associated with the representation of favourites in early modern literature, and thus a frame for the discussion of the primary texts on the module (and The Emperor’s Favourite in particular), the article raises important questions about the role of literature – and libel – in shaping political consciousness in the period which could be further explored and tested during such a course, as students debated how and why favouritism is handled in the period’s literature.

For similar reasons, the article could form part of the core critical reading for a course on early modern libel and/or early Stuart culture, providing a way in to debating and thinking about two of the key political issues of the day – court favouritism and royal absolutism – and the role of literature within Stuart political culture.