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Archive newsletter, 22 September 2014

Welcome to the Forum newsletter for our latest round-up of news and cultural events from the Early Modern period.

There are calls for papers for a conference taking place at Lincoln College, Oxford, from 23-24 March 2015, entitled Reconsidering Donne. Proposals for 20-minute papers on any aspect of John Donne are welcomed, particularly those that reflect upon their own methodologies or engage critically with the roles played by theory, religious history, rhetoric, form, genre, scholarly editions, biography and book history. The deadline is 1 October, with more information here .

In other news, the Independent told how the RSC is to stage little-known play, as a result of a competition between academics to resurrect an obscure work at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan theatre in Stratford. The play is revenge tragedy Love’s Sacrifice, by John Ford, who also wrote Tis Pity She’s a Whore. It was published in 1633, and was chosen out of 16 works proposed by four academics for the theatre’s Scholar’s Pitch programme.

In art news, it was revealed that a forthcoming exhibition focusing on Peter Paul Rubens at the Royal Academy in London will feature a work which had been written off as a fake six decades ago, but is now believed to be a genuine work, after exhibition curator Nico Van Hunt found the panel entitled The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus at the National Museum of Art Architecture and Design in Oslo. It is thought to have been painted in 1610 or 1611.

There was news of the Art Fund launching a public appeal to raise £2.7 million in just three months to save the Wedgwood Collection . The collection, in Staffordshire, includes ceramics, manuscripts and paintings, which had been described by Unesco as “unparalleled in its diversity and breadth”. The price of the collection was £15.7m, and the majority has been raised from the Art Fund, Heritage Lottery Fund and charitable trusts. If the final £2.7 million is not raised by November 30 the collection will be put up for auction and it is likely to be broken up. Josiah Wedgwood set up the company in 1759.

In the Guardian, Kathryn Hughes wrote about the discovery of a letter from the young Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson , found during a house clearance in Derby, which showed the 36-year-old Commodore was a complainer, and did not know what manoeuvre he should be making next.

The Crossrail project in London unveiled some railway foundations laid by Isambard Kingdom Brunel near London Paddington station. They included a 200 metre engine shed and 45ft turntable, dating from the 1850s, and were used for his Great Western Railway which carried its first steam trains in 1838. The foundations show evidence of the move from 7ft wide broad-gauge train tracks to standard gauge under a parliamentary ruling in 1846, which Brunel initially opposed.

In a story and videos, the Telegraph told the story of the death of Richard III in battle at Bosworth, with scientists at the University of Leicester saying he suffered severe injuries to his head and pelvis with forensic analysis showing he died from a brutal blow to his skull.

The Telegraph told the story over several days of the discovery of a lost British expedition which went in search of the Northwest Passage in 1845, with the discovery of one of the missing ships which had had 129 men on board. The boat from Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition was 11 metres below the surface of near freezing waters, and seen on sonar images.

The marriage contract between Napoleon Bonaparte and his ex-wife Joséphine de Beauharnais was due to be auctioned in France this week, and in this article its contents were revealed. It was shown Josephine did not disclose her full inventory, and lied about her age, being six years older than him.


The Ashgate Research Companion to Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe edited by Allyson M Poska, Jane Couchman, Katherine A McIver was reviewed by Alice Ferron of University College London, on the website. She said it promised a “comprehensive and authoritative state-of-the-art review” of historiography about women 1400-1800, but although it is authoritative and features chapters by subject experts, she said it is limited in its geographical and linguistic focus, and “does not make enough connections between gender historiography and other historiographical trends, particularly within the first section on religion and the third section on cultural production”. She said its strength is in the breadth of topics, and articles by different types of scholars, including literary, art historian and musicology as well as historians.

Mastering the Niger: James MacQueen’s African Geography & the Struggle over Atlantic Slavery by David Lambert of the University of Warwick was reviewed by James Poskett of the University of Cambridge, who said it begins by looking at how James MacQueen published A New Map of Africa in 1841 from his Glasgow study, despite never having been to Africa. The reviewer says the book is superb, and represents a significant contribution to the history of slavery in its own right, though its strength is in the weaving together of sources and methodologies to produce an account to appeal to historians of slavery and of science. He says some readers may find the close attention to the technicalities of accounting practices dry. Overall the reviewer says the book is an “accomplished and creative account of the troubling connections between Atlantic slavery and geographical knowledge in the 19th century” and “interdisciplinary in the best way”.

A People's History of the French Revolution by Eric Hazan was reviewed by David A Bell in the Guardian, who said it was a complex story reduced to a simple morality play. He said you can tell interesting things about a book from the cover which in this case is of an engraving of the French revolution of 1848, though the book is about the French revolution of 1789. He says the author has not brought a fresh interpretation to the subject, but is relying on “narrow, highly partisan and largely out-of-date source material” to refight the battles of the revolution in history books. The reviewer says it is also largely a conventional political history with the usual suspects, and hardly any women apart from a five page section.

Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII's Most Faithful Servant by Tracy Borman was reviewed by Diarmaid MacCulloch in the Guardian, who said that although Henry VII’s faithful servant will always remain mysterious this study makes clear his achievements, both the admirable and despicable. He says the author is wrong about Cromwell and his religious views, though spotted the political significance of something missed by other writers. MacCulloch says the author has read an impressive wide range of modern historical literature on Cromwell but “the book contains too many slips or misunderstandings of the period to inspire confidence”.

The Strangest Family: The Private Lives of George III, Queen Charlotte and the Hanoverians by Janice Hadlow was reviewed by Jenny Uglow in the Guardian, who said it was a fascinating story-filled account of a claustrophobic and dysfunctional home life in the palace. She says George III’s aim was to make his family life “ordinary”, probably as a reaction against the emotional dysfunction which came from previous generations, but that went awry. The American war, French Revolution and Napoleonic wars take place in the background of the family life, and the focus is particularly on the lives of the queen and her six daughters. The author has an eye for graphic details and uses the vivid letters, diaries and memoirs of the period well. In the Independent , Roger Clarke found it a racy royal history with plenty of home truths, with the author’s handling of detail top class, though over long by about 100 pages.

Michelangelo: Complete Works by Frank Zöllner was reviewed in the Independent, which said the full-page reproductions and enlarged details helped readers to appreciate the finer points of the artist’s large collection of works. The book explores the life and works of the artist who lived from 1475-1564, and was a sculptor, painter, draughtsman and architect.


In the Guardian, Adrian Searle reviewed the exhibition Constable: The Making of a Master at the V&A, and called it a feast of an exhibition, showing that the artist steeped himself in the old masters, and tried to outdo them. The exhibition places the painter among the landscape artists he admired and drew from, Poussin, Claude, Rubens and Ruisdael, as well as the British painters and draughtsmen he copied and collected in his life. The exhibition is on until January 11.

In the Observer, Peter Conrad reviewed Late Turner: Painting Set Free at Tate Britain, and said it was a glorious exhibition showing painting “returned to its origins and refined to its essence”. He said it shows that even in his last decades his painting still contained myth, biblical fable and political prophecy, but they were boldly interpreted as he painted them. The reviewer found himself dazzled by the exhibition, which is on until January 25. Another Guardian article said the exhibition included nine controversial square paintings which are being hung together for the first time. The exhibition looks at Turner’s art from the age of 60 until his death at 76 in 1851, and shows 180 works.

In the Independent , Karen Wright said the late paintings, which were scorned and misunderstood by critics at the time, celebrated the painter at his “elemental best”. She said the curators have brought his practice to life by including not only watercolour studies but also sketchbooks and even palettes.

In the Telegraph, Alastair Smart wrote about the exhibition Real Tudors: Kings & Queens Rediscovered at the National Portrait Gallery, which uses scientific techniques to show them as they would have been seen in their own time. The whiteness of Elizabeth I from 1575 in the Darnley Portrait made her look haughty, but analysis showed red pigment had faded over time. The reviewer says if the show doesn’t exactly transform our understanding of the Tudors, but it does show portraits becoming an item for public consumption rather than private pleasures. The exhibition continues until March 12.


In a review of an unusual Romeo and Juliet , Alfred Hickling in the Guardian said it was not often a building was a bigger TV personality than anyone in the cast, but that was the case with Manchester’s semi-derelict Victoria Baths which won the first BBC Restoration programme in 2003. The Home theatre company performed the play there, and the reviewer said it provided an “impressive air of genteel if chlorinated decay” for the promenade performance. The audience were in the deep end and the Capulets and Montagues emerged from the changing cubicles along each side, and that it was a “genuinely unforgettable night on the tiles”. The production is on until October 4.

Maxine Peake’s role as Hamlet at the Royal Exchange in Manchester gained some attention, although she is not the first woman in the role. Michael Billington in the Guardian said she stressed character in Sarah Frankcom’s modern-dress production by being “caustic, watchful, spry and filled with a moral disgust at the corruption she sees around her”. He said the performance develops through the course of the evening . In the Independent , Paul Vallely said it was a “powerful and yet curiously domestic production”, with a strong cast, though Ophelia unnecessarily removes her clothes although the text says she drowns weighed down with them. The play is on until October 25.

Lyn Gardner reviewed the Northern Broadsides revival of Oliver Goldsmith’s 1773 comedy of mistaken identity She Stoops to Conquer , at the Viaduct, Halifax, and found it over the top, but “its preposterous humour is delightful”. The play is touring until December 13.

At Shakespeare’s Globe, London, Michael Billington reviewed The Comedy of Errors , and found it a near perfect production, with the farce handled with “delight, humour and a touch of magic”. He said it was exuberantly funny, but still kept in mind it was about impending death and the nature of identity. His only quibble was that two actors playing twins really did look so alike the audience was sometimes baffled as to who was on stage. Paul Taylor in the Independent found it “as enchanting as it is hilarious”, and that Blanche McIntyre was making a formidable debut at the Globe. He said it begins with an added introductory mime which is funny, but also adds to the wider feeling of the play in general. The production is on until October 12.