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September 24 archive newsletter

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

We start this edition with information about some forthcoming art exhibitions. A new free exhibition at the V&A in London from October 5 to April 13, 2014, is British drawings: 1600 to the Present Day, which includes works by Van Dyck, Constable, Gainsborough, Blake and Rossetti, through to Freud and Hockney.

The Telegraph reported on an exhibition opening at the British Museum on October 3 featuring seventeenth century Japanese erotic art called shunga which has a minimum age limit of 16 for visitors. This article looked at the history of these woodblock prints.

The Prado in Madrid is hoping an exhibition of Diego Velázquez’s works will help turn around its fortunes which have been hit by the Spanish recession. Velázquez and the Family of Philip IV opens on October 8, and it will be the first time many of his most important works as portrait artist to the king’s court have been shown together.

A new art show already open at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich brings together 270 objects to reflect the region’s history, including paintings by the region’s best-known artists Gainsborough and Constable, as well as portraits of its heroes including Lord Nelson, on loan from the National Portrait Gallery. The show runs until February 24, 2014.


In the Observer, Ian Thomson reviewed The Rainborowes : Pirates, Puritans and a Family’s Quest for the Promised Land by Adrian Tinniswood, which he described as an engrossing study of two brothers’ ferocious commitment to Cromwell and the Puritan mission to colonise the New World. The Rainborowes, Thomas and William, were among the most industrious colonists who in 1640 joined an expedition to Providence island off Nicaragua, and oversaw the creation of other Puritan outposts. He says this is a well-researched history, told with “snap and brio”, though there are many cliches and odd anachronisms.

In the Independent , Lesley McDowell reviewed the paperback of Titian – His Life and the Golden Age of Venice, by Sheila Hale, and said the author made a “splendid case for the artist and his context intertwined, displaying a backdrop every bit as flashy and colourful as his most celebrated paintings”.

Tudor : The Family Story by Leanda de Lisle was reviewed by Helen Castor in the Telegraph who said it brought the Tudor family tree vividly to life and is an enthralling history. She said de Lisle made it a deeply human tale, and added in information about the least familiar family members to add a fresh perspective.

In the TLS Helen Hackett, Professor of English at University College, London, reviewed Elizabeth’s Bedfellows, An Intimate History of the Queen’s Court, by Anna Whitelock, reporting on the women who shared a bed with the Queen for warmth, comfort and to keep her safe. The reviewer said the author demonstrated that the ladies of the bedchamber exercised considerable power and influence in their abilities both to make suggestions to the Queen and to report on her private thoughts, and were cultivated by courtiers and ambassadors. Elizabeth also sometimes used the ladies as pawns. Hackett wrote that if the idea was to produce an intimate biography of Elizabeth it was a shame little use was made of her own writings, and there are errors in editing, but it is enriched with Whitelock’s eye for curious and engaging detail.

Redrawing the Map of Early Modern English Catholicism edited by Lowell Gallagher was reviewed by Emilie Murphy of the University of York on the website, who said it would soon become clear that although there was an editorial claim the book is interdisciplinary, it will have more use for literary critics than for historians. She wrote that the failure to mention or even reference the debates in the field for almost 40 years was troubling, and other omissions included reference to the leading historians in the field of post-Reformation English Catholocism. Several of the contributors engaged with the leading issues of the field, and a few made invaluable contributions to understanding of post-Reformation English Caholocism but there were critical gaps in the narrative.

Choosing Terror : Virtue, Friendship and Authenticity in the French Revolution by Marisa Linton was reviewed by Dr Dave Andress of the University of Portsmouth, who found it in the best traditions of “careful, detailed, biographically-conscious evaluation”. It provided an exhaustive guide to the relevant historiography but readers unfamiliar with the course of the revolution might find themselves lost. However the reviewer said that if Marisa Linton has not written the definitive text of the wider situation, she had taken us closer to recapturing the elusive human experience of her central characters.

Saltpeter : The Mother of Gunpowder by David Cressy was reviewed by Dan Spencer of the University of Southampton, who said the author acknolwledged the chronological scope of the book is a departure from his previous research, but his underlying themes were bringing the stories of obscure individuals to life, and the relationships between governors and governed, and in chapters three to six the clash between saltpetermen and local communities was brought vividly to life. The reviewer said that in extensive archival research and bringing together social, military and administrative history he is able to make a significant contribution to the historical field.


In the Guardian Michael Billington reviewed Edward II, Marlowe’s 1590s tragedy, at the Olivier in London until October 26. He said it left him with mixed feelings, admiring the “visual bravura with which it occupied the Oliver stage combined with irritation at the way it smothered the lyrical beauty of Marlowe’s verse”. In the Independent , Holly Williams said director Joe Hill-Gibbins could not seem to decide quite what, or when, he wanted the production to be. In the Telegraph Tim Walker felt he had never seen a “bigger load of indigestible old tosh”. He said it was big, unwieldy and utterly bewildering, made with no budget pressures and with “at best a nodding acquaintance to Christopher Marlowe’s original work”. He described John Heffernan’s King as a cross between Liberace and Blackadder.

In the Independent , Paul Taylor made Candide at the Swan Theatre in Stratford his play of the week, saying that Mark Ravenhill’s witty response to the 1759 novella by Voltaire was directed by Lyndsey Turner with “mordant verve”. It is on until October 26. Charles Spencer in the Telegraph said Candide was an intriguing and imaginative show but you might be better off staying at home and reading Voltaire’s book.

The Independent also reported that the Royal Shakespeare Company is to put on three Jacobean plays which include “some of the greatest parts ever written for women”, to raise the question of gender inequality on the stage and in wider society. The plays are The Roaring Girl by Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker, Arden of Faversham, published anonymously in 1592,which contains the largest role for a woman in all Elizabethan drama and is believed to contain some writing by Shakespeare, and The White Devil by John Webster. The RSC also announced that Antony Sher would play Falstaff in Henry IV parts I and II, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona will be staged at the theatre for the first time in 45 years.

*We would also welcome news of your recently-published journal articles or books, and forthcoming conferences. You can email Newsletter Author Julie Chamberlain at with details.