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Archive, February 5 2015

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

To start, some news about forthcoming conferences.

Visual Print Culture in Europe 1500-1850, a conference to be held in Warwick's palazzo in Venice 5-6 December 2015, aims to draw together scholars with a range of disciplinary skills to discuss the methods, representational forms, and distribution of and audience for visual print media in Europe between 1500 and 1850. It seeks to de-nationalize the study of visual print culture, and to explore the extent to which interactions between engravers and printers, artists and consumers in Europe, and a range of common representational practices produced a genuinely European visual print culture – with local modulations, but nonetheless with a common core. More details and the call for papers (closing date 1 June 2015) can be found at

Registration is open for the 'Reconsidering Donne' conference on March 24-25 at Lincoln College, Oxford. The programme for the event can be found here: There is information about booking places here and any questions can be directed to with any questions about the event.

Christian Communities, Confessional States: Beyond ‘Confessionalization' is being held on March 18 at the University of York, and for more information or to reserve a place email . Another conference, Darkness and Illumination: the Pursuit of Knowledge in the Medieval and Early Modern World, the ninth annual postgraduate conference of the Medieval and Early Modern Student Association at Durham University, takes place on July 15-17. Abstracts are invited by April 17 - see here .

In the national papers, the TV adaptation of Wolf Hall gained a lot of press. In the Guardian, Jonathan Jones wrote about Holbein’s painting of Thomas More and his family, which he used along with More’s work Utopia to try to show that More was a literary wit, funnny, a family man and “a proto-feminist”. The last comment seems to come from the fact that More annotated a plan of Hollbein’s for a now-lost painting to show his wife sitting in a chair, not kneeling like a servant.

In the Telegraph , Professor David Starkey called some of the scenes in Wolf Hall a “deliberate perversion” of history, with many “total fiction”. There was also a story about the “Wolf Hall effect ” on the historical properties where it was filmed, with the National Trust hoping for a rise in the number of visitors, and plans for a downloadable interactive map to help fans of the series. Destinations include Montacute House, in Somerset, acting as Greenwich Palace, and Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire.

By episode 3, the Independent had decided sexual tension was undermining the political goings on, but it was as good as TV got. The Independent found the same episode “better and darker” and proved it a stellar political drama.

The Guardian revealed that the first edition of what it called an early English sex manual with discourse on subjects such as “the use and actions of the genitals” and “monstrous births, and the reasons thereof”, was going on sale at the California International Antiquarian Book Fair in Oakland. The Aristoteles Master-Piece is an anonymous work published in 1684, and the bookseller Jeremy Norton said just three complete first editions were known to survive today. The set price is $65,000.

The Guardian reported how objects associated with the Battle of Waterloo feature on a new website. shows 100 items from the National Army Museum, the Royal Collection and other collections, and 100 more will be added before the anniversary of the battle on June 18. The objects include Napolean’s Arab travelling cloak, Wellington’s boots and a blood-stained amputation saw.

What has been described as the world’s oldest gardening manual is to go on display. The Ruralia Commode, written in Latin between 1304-1309, is thought to have influenced the lost garden of Whitehall Palace, which can be partly seen in a portrait of Henry VIII. It includes the advice to plant squashes in human ashes for quicker fruiting, and the observation that cucumbers tremble with fear at thunder. It will be exhibited by the Royal Collection Trust at Buckingham Palace next year.

Researchers looking for the remains of Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes found part of a casket at a Madrid convent with the initials of the Don Quixote author, during excavations which were trying to solve the mystery of his final resting place. Cervantes was recorded as having been buried at the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians a day after his death on 22 April, 1616. Bones found there will now be examined to look for war injuries suffered by Cervantes.

On the eve of Burns Night in Scotland, scholars from the Centre for Robert Burns Studies at the University of Glasgow and National Library of Scotland published details of his walking tours of Scotland and notes he made as he travelled and met fans in the Borders region, Highlands and Lowland Scotland in 1787. This has led to the conclusion that rather than the simple “heaven-taught ploughman” he is often seen as, he was actually an eighteenth century socialist on a political mission. Professor Nigel Leask, regius chair of English language and literature at the University of Glasgow, said the texts showed him thinking about some of the pressing social and political issues of the day, and feted by some of the most powerful and wealthy people in Scotland.

In the Telegraph , Ivan Hewett wrote about the history of a music manuscript in the British Library which apparently came into the country from the hands of a spy, a gift sent to Henry VIII in 1515 by Petrus Alamire, who as well as being a writer of music ran a workshop in Antwerp which created beautiful manuscripts, was a merchant and mining engineer, and offered to act as a spy for the king.

A previously-unpublished letter written by the captain of HMS Wager in 1744 reveals new details of what was described as one of the Royal Navy’s most barbaric catastrophes, a mutiny of the ship's crew in 1741 after it was shipwrecked on an uninhabited island off what is now Chilean Patagonia. The letter by the captain is included in a book, The Wager Disaster: Mayhem, Mutiny and Murder in the South Seas , by naval historiam Rear Admiral CH Layman. Of the 140 survivors only 36 made it home. Captain Cheap’s letter gives more detail of the months on the island and the mutiny.


Women, Work and Sociability in Early Modern London by Tim Reinke-Williams was reviewed on by Hannah Hogan of the University of York, who said it was the first work dedicated solely to exploring how women from the middling sort and labouring poor constructed identities as honest, hardworking individuals. Sources used include ecclesiastical court records, Bridewell hospital court books, cheap print, and play texts. The author found that the women justified their reputations as honest women through the areas of good motherhood, efficient housewifery and domestic management, diligent retailing and appropriate sociability with their fellows. Ms Hogan found the book to be comprehensive, well written and exciting. Tim Reinke-Williams studied for his BA, MA and PhD at the University of Warwick, and this work is drawn from his PhD, "The negotiation and fashioning of female honour in early modern London", which was supervised by Bernard Capp.

Andrew Melville (1545–1622): Writings, Reception, and Reputation , edited by Steven J Reid and Roger Mason was reviewed by Dr Alasdair Raffe of the University of Edinburgh. Melville was John Knox’s successor in Presbyterian Scotland, who later ended up in the Tower under James I, then French exile. Dr Raffe said this book is devoted to the positive task of revision of Melville’s tarnished reputation, with essays perhaps not in the most appropriate order, but for the most part focusing on Melville’s writings, with 230 poems, 84 letters, an unpublished commentary on the book of Romans, and theological theses. He says there is maybe too much emphasis on Melville as a literary individual, but there is still much to learn from this book.

Status Interaction During the Reign of Louis XIV by Giora Sternberg was reviewed by Dr Linda Kiernan of Trinity College Dublin, who started the review with an account of tense talks of August 31, 1679 at the court of Louis XIV – about the seating arrangements at the marriage of his niece to the king of Spain. Dr Kiernan said Sternberg sought to provide a fuller understanding of the intricacies of court ceremonial and protocol in its most common form, between the members of the court. The book is described as a fascinating read offering new views and sources.

The King’s Bed: Sex, Power and the Court of Charles II by Don Jordan and Michael Walsh was reviewed in the Guardian by John Gallagher who said the account of the “sexual revolution under the merry monarch gorges on salacious gossip”. He said the authors argue that in the time of Charles II there was a sexual revolution as the country emerged from Puritan rule to a Restoration where new ideas about sex and sexuality were put into practice in and around the court. The review concluded the book “abounds in simplistic statements that ignore the richness and complexity of early modern thought and society”, and adds little to the understanding of the kind or the time.

William Dalrymple reviewed The Spirit of Indian Painting by BN Goswamy which he described as “an out-and-out masterpiece”, recovering and celebrating dynasties of forgotten painters. He said most historians of Indian art look at it from the point of view of the patron, but the writer has spent nearly 50 years looking from the other side, going back to eighteenth century artists to look at how they worked and lived.

To Explain the World by Steven Weinberg was reviewed by Peter Forbes in the Independent. He said it was a necessary guide to the discoveries of the seventeenth century, and the author’s lifetime’s experience as a theoretical physicist, and Nobel laureate, gave him a unique perspective. The book includes 100 pages of notes working through the mathematics behind the science, which the reviewer said gave it a “bracing intellectuality challenging for some”, and it was a great book.

The Liberty Tree: The Stirring Story of Thomas Muir and Scotland’s First Fight for Democracy by Murray Armstrong was reviewed in the Guardian by Colin Kidd. Muir (right) and his Friends of the People were persecuted during the anti-reformist clampdown of the 1790s. The reviewer says Armstrong combined industrious archival research with a novelistic approach, resorting to the imagination to fill gaps in the written word. The book also includes surviving speeches and court transcripts.

Heralds and Heraldry in Shakespeare’s England edited by Nigel Ramsay, was written about by David Gelber, treasurer of the Society for Court Studies, in the TLS. The book examines the central place of heraldry in sixteenth century life as a symbol or royal authority, and its importance to the nobles who were able to decorate their homes with their heraldic images.


The National Theatre’s production Dara is the first time the National has adapted a south Asian production for a British audience, and it tells the story of the Mughal emperor who built the Taj Mahal in the seventeenth century. Michael Billington in the Guardian said it was a fascinating story but felt like a “slighty earnest history lesson”. There was also an interview with the playwright, Shahid Nadeem who talked about its importance in reclaiming history. It is on until April 4.

In the Independent , Paul Taylor wrote about theatre company Filter’s 75-minute version of Macbeth, in co-production with Bristol’s Tobacco Factory, at The Vaults, Leake Street, London, and then on tour. He described it as radical, and with an extraordinary sonic score created on laptops, keyboards and custom-built electronic instruments.


The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge showed off what are thought to be the only surviving bronze sculptures by Michelangelo , showing two naked men riding triumphantly on ferocious panthers. The process of attributing them, using experts from different fields, was described as a Renaissance whodunit. The Independent also covered the discovery, saying the artist was thought to have completed them just before painting the Sistine Chapel.

The Royal Academy’s new exhibition, Rubens and His Legacy, has had some mixed reviews. Jonathan Jones in the Guardian said it made crass analogies and had big ideas, but was “sloppy and simplistic”. He also said there wasn’t enough Rubens in it. In the Telegraph however Mark Hudson found it fascinating, showing Rubens's reach into almost every corner of art in the past 400 years.

Unseen is the title of the Courtauld Gallery’s opening exhibition at its new gallery for its drawing collection, and was described in the Guardian as a “beguiling delight full of intimate surprises”, which showed what could be created when someone picked up a pencil. It includes works by Georgian artist George Romney, Renaissance artist Fra Bartolommeo and Giovanni Battista Paggi’s scenes from Dante’s Inferno drawn in 1591. The exhibition is on at the Drawing Gallery until March 29.