James Loxley. Royalism and Poetry in the English Civil Wars. Basingstoke and New York: Macmillan, 1997. xv+251pp. ISBN 0 333 66075 7.
University of Wales, Bangor
Daems, Jim. "Review of Royalism and Poetry in the English Civil Wars." Early Modern Literary Studies 5.1 (May, 1999): 9.1.5 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/05-1/daemrev.html>.
- James Loxley questions the still powerful paradigm of Cavalier verse as a nostalgic celebration of a Caroline Golden Age by reading the cavalier poet as "a figure willing to trade detachment for engagement, to exchange the arts of peace for the tools of war" (1). For Loxley, the "cavalier was first and foremost a royalist partisan" (1). The book traces the rise of politically engaged poetic modes through the reign of Charles I and the immediate aftermath of the regicide, linking poetic representations to a wide array of cultural forms, including Cambridge and Oxford miscellanies, architecture, portraiture, and sculpture, in order to demonstrate a "grand design" which attempted to stamp and preserve a royal presence in Britain.
- Loxley's book is largely successful in demonstrating the relationship between poetry and these various cultural practices in representing the Stuart monarchy through the turmoil of the civil wars. He carefully explores how a festive poetry, which gained its cultural authority from its association with the monarchy, negotiated its socio-political role in the face of defeat. Loxley argues that from 1641 until the end of the civil wars royalist poets increasingly began to depict the king in terms of his limited spatial presence, as, with Charles's foregoing of London, parliament could claim the symbolic authority of the kingdom's capital. Even during the events leading up to Charles's withdrawal from London, Loxley identifies a more militaristic idiom in royalist verse, a mobilisation of poetic forms in the king's cause -- a poetry of praise became envisaged as an act of war. Yet, this mobilisation of poetry in opposition to what Loxley sees as a clearly defined enemy called into question the very rhetorical effectiveness of such partisanship. Loxley's view of a clearly defined enemy in royalist writing may be a bit too easy, but his examination of the poetic forms that were deployed in a rhetorical battle over the right reading of the royal image, one which royalist panegyric and epideictic had itself constructed, leads to some interesting insights.
- In the face of military defeat and the publication of the king's papers in 1645, royalist poets confronted a dilemma. While they still argued that Charles's words and actions were "the very antithesis of rebel doubleness" (134), in order to maintain the king as the anchor of their poetry and polemics, the king's flight from Oxford left royalist writers attempting "to comprehend and defend a King who had so suddenly traduced himself" (138). In the work of Cleveland and Vaughan, for example, the once radiant sign of majesty becomes "a riddling, secret, hieroglyphic King" (145) -- a representation which, while ostensibly arguing that the king had taken refuge from the "interpretive violence" of his detractors, comes dangerously close to parliamentarian portrayals of a duplicitous king.
- Loxley argues that this dilemma led royalist writers to construct the powerful paradigm of Charles as Imago Dei, a devotional poetic idiom which precedes that of the martyr king: "Such precedents ensured that when Charles's trial and execution eventually came, a representational mode was already available to counter the despairing focus on his powerlessness which was elsewhere established" (180). A bit too prescient a conclusion, perhaps; yet, once again, the royalists constructed Charles as a fixed centre which legitimized their poetic authority, a view which Loxley sees also as problematic. Here, in his analysis of royalist elegies, Loxley most convincingly confronts the critical views of Cavalier verse as a poetics of retirement -- the defeat of the cause enacted in the regicide only increased the cultural significance of continuing the Stuart cause for these writers. What others have seen as royalist otium, Loxley sees as "the rhetoric of royalist negotium" (215).
- In conclusion, Loxley himself admits that his book is but a step in viewing how a partisan poetics struggles to find a representational form and authorize its utterance (3). While his analysis may well read Stuart panegyric without realizing the possibility of subversion, an issue that Alan Sinfield wonderfully explores in the courtly context of Sir Philip Sidney's writing, Royalism and Poetry in the English Civil Wars effectively challenges a still prevalent critical construct of Cavalier verse.
- Sinfield, Alan. "Power and Ideology: An Outline Theory and Sidney's Arcadia." Faultlines: Cultural Materialism and the Politics of Dissident Reading. Oxford: Clarendon, 1992. 80-94.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at EMLS@UAlberta.ca.
© 1999-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).