Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Archive Newsletter, 22 May 2014

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

We start with news from Early Modern Forum readers. Marcus K.Harmes, lecturer in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Southern Queensland, Australia, has recently had his mongraph Bishops and Power in Early Modern England published by Bloomsbury, exploring the role of bishops at the centre of government and belief in early modern England - you can read more about it here.

For those in the University of Warwick area, Femke Molekamp is running a joint Stvudio, Early Modern Seminar and History of Medicine seminar in H4.54 in the Humanities Building at the University on June 4, 5-7pm, entitled Early Modern Melancholy: Letters, Casebooks, and Playbooks - there is more information here.


There have been a lot of books focusing on the Early Modern period reviewed recently. The first few here are all from

English Catholics and the Supernatural, 1553-1829 by Francis Young was reviewed by Emilie Murphy of the University of York, who said the continuing interest in post-reformation English Catholicism and recent interest in ‘superstition’ and popular religion are brought together here, in this survey of Catholic responses to the supernatural world which is a “wide-ranging, ambitious account”. Ms Murphy said the author’s primary research question was whether English Catholic attitudes were conditioned by their early modern English context, or the specific doctrinal considerations of Counter-Reformation Catholicism, and she goes for the former. She said the book would have benefited from a short concluding chapter, but overall provided “some fascinating insight”.

Approaching the Bible in Medieval England by Eyal Poleg was reviewed by Dr Richard Marsden from the University of Nottingham, who said this volume in the Manchester Medieval Studies series is a single-author work with a clear aim and is scholarly rigorous throughout, exploring predominantly how people in medieval England approached the Bible. Dr Marsden said the book is ambitious, and tackles “with great assurance, a massive range of material, and the ample and often absorbing notes testify to the depth of its author’s scholarship".

Practical Predestinarians in England, c. 1590-1640 by Leif Dixon was reviewed by James Mawdesley of the University of Sheffield. He said the author was keen that the historian leaves their modern assumptions beside, and he believes that predestinarian beliefs rather than creating a generation of spiritually-anxious parishioners actually had a lot of potential for providing spiritual comfort. The reviewer said he found the book “a stimulating read” with much to offer the historian, and dense theological ideas are explained and clarified, but there were also some issues he thought the author should have addressed.

The Price of Emancipation: Slave-Ownership, Compensation and British Society at the End of Slavery by Nicholas Draper and Slavery and the Enlightenment in the British Atlantic, 1750-1807 by Justin Roberts were reviewed by Benjamin Sacks of Princeton University. He said that Robert’s book was “at once a valuable labour history, an analysis of 18th-century business and managerial practices, and an exploration in key societal relationships”. It is an economic history but he said it was not a narrative-driven text. Draper examines the “political and economic minutiae of the compensation process between 1833and c1840”, and his databases are also available on line. The reviewer said Draper does not attempt to examine slaves’ opinions of the compensation process, but recounts the “frequent, vicious, and polemic arguments between abolitionists and slave owners in Parliament, newspapers, and private correspondence. In so doing, he provocatively conveys the money, livelihoods, and prestige at stake”. Both books, he said, “deserve to be recognised as landmark additions to Atlantic history, the history of slavery, Enlightenment analysis, and economic history”.

Artisans and Travel in the Ottoman Empire by Suraiya Faroqhi was reviewed by Gemma Norman of the University of Birmingham who said the author has long been seen as a world expert on Ottoman history and this new book confirms that. She says the book remains true to Professor Faroqhi’s purpose of uncovering the details of the everyday lives of ordinary people within the Empire, adding in the idea of those on the move. The final chapter also features three case studies of eighteenth century Istanbul workers. The reviewer says it is a ground-breaking volume and should be essential reading for students and scholars of Ottoman history.

Evaluating Empire and Confronting Colonialism in Eighteenth-Century Britain by Jack P. Greene was reviewed by Dr Daniel Clinkman of the University of Edinburgh who said the author stands out as one of the leading historians of politics in the late colonial and revolutionary period of American history, and here he shifts his focus to trying to better understand how metropolitans thought about their relationship to their colonies, through an analysis of discourses or languages, and imperial policy. Dr Clinkman said the lack of consistent criteria for selecting primary sources is a significant weakness, and confusion over language categories.

Digging for Richard III by Mike Pitts was reviewed by Will Gore in the Independent. He said the account of the search for Richard III’s grave by Pitts, an archaeologist turned archaeology journalist also has a touch of the novelist in the writing. But he says it is an utterly compelling read, starting from the Shakespearean Richard and the battle for his reputation, to the excitement of the discovery of the alleged body under a Leicester car park. Different views of those involved in the search are also interesting.

Shakespeare and the Countess by Chris Laoutaris was reviewed by Jessie Childs in the Daily Telegraph, who asks if a “busybody noblewoman” changed the course of theatrical history. Elizabeth Russell in 1596 gathered a petition of neighbours in Blackfriars, London, against the opening of a new playhouse, wanted by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, who included Shakespeare. The reviewer says she was formidable and deserved a biography, transcending the sixteenth century gender stereotype. When the playhouse was defeated, the troupe relocated south of the river to the Globe, and Childs questions whether this rougher area influenced Shakespeare’s output.

In the Observer, Vanessa Thorpe looked at the life of Dido Belle, the daughter of an unknown black slave woman who lived in Kenwood House in London. Belle, a film directed by Amma Asante and released in the US, tells the story of the young woman who lived in the household of Lord Mansfield, who as lord chief justice in 1772 ruled that a master could not take a slave out of the country by force. She also writes about Norman Poser’s new book Lord Mansfied, Justice in the Age of Reason, where he argues there is no evidence Dido Belle influenced his view.


In art news, a seventeenth century self-portrait by Sir Anthony Van Dyck has been saved for the nation after a £10 million fundraising drive by the National Portrait Gallery and the Art Fund. More than 10,000 individuals donated to raise £1.4 million, in amounts from £1 to £20,000. The Heritage Lottery Fund donated £6.3 million to make sure the work would remain on display to the British public. The self-portrait will be on display at the gallery until the end of August before it undergoes conservation work. It will go on a nationwide tour to six museums and galleries from January.

In Florence the Uffizi has accepted a donation of 600,000 Euros from luxury good firm Salvatore Ferragamo which will enable it to exhibit 50 more paintings by renovating and reopening its Renaissance art rooms. The eight rooms are likely to be open within a year.

There has been quite a bit of attention paid to female artists, with the Guardian asking in a headline “Why were so many female artists airbrushed from history?”, in an article about Annie Kevans who is painting portraits of women artists who should have been famous. These include Sofonisba Anguissola who painted during the Italian Renaissance, and Angelica Kauffman of Georgian England. Kevans's exhibition, Women and the History of Art, is on show at The Fine Art Society in London until June 6.

Amanda Vickery also wrote an article for the Guardian asking why there were so few paintings by women in public galleries, to tie in with her current TV programme on the subject. She says in the Renaissance period art was a trade, and girls like Marietta Tintoretto worked alongside her father in Venice, and the Bolognese Elizabetta Sirani produced more than 200 pieces in 13 years.

In the Guardian, Oliver Wainwright wrote about Building the Picture: Architecture in Painting, which is on show at the National Gallery in London until September 21, and aims to focus attention on the buildings in the background of so many Renaissance paintings, and their purpose in luring in viewers. In some paintings the people are merely props to offset the architecture.

Maev Kennedy wrote about the House of Hanover, as exhibitions are held in England Germany to celebrate the 300th anniversary of George I’s arrival in London. She argued that many people see the Hanoverians as deadly dull, but uncovers stories of drunken blackouts, murdered lovers, accusations of incest and bitter feuds. Exhibitions will be held at Hampton Court, The Queen’s Gallery, Kensington Palace, Handel House Museum and Kew, as well as the V&A’s current show on the work of William Kent, plus the Landesmuseum in Hanover.

In an article entitled “Forgotten artist of the industrial revolution to be reinvented” in the Independent, Nick Clark wrote about efforts to make Joseph Wright of Derby as well known as his contemporaries Turner or Constable. There is to be an exhibition in the Joseph Wright Institute in Derby Museum and Art Gallery, and then a world tour. Thousands of Wright’s sketches and letters will be available to the public for the first time.


Wolf Hall / Bring Up the Bodies has transferred from Stratford to the Aldwych Theatre, London, and again received good reviews, described in the Guardian as a “familiar tale infused with thrilling originality of storytelling” by Mark Lawson. In the Telegraph, Jane Shilling found the performances do not capture the haunting strangeness of Hilary Mantel’s novels, but are thrilling to watch, witty and exhilarating. They are on until September 6.

Titus Andronicus at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, was reviewed by Lyn Gardner who said it the revival of “this vicious, bloody tragedy is still ingeniously disturbing and much more than just a splatter fest”. It is on until July 13. In the Independent though, it was too much for reviewer Holly Williams who confessed she and some more of the audience fainted at the gory staging, finding Flora Spencer-Longhurst’s performance as the raped and butchered Lavinia astonishing, but unable to watch her fluttering her stumps and drenched in blood.

Arden of Faversham at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, was reviewed by Michael Billington, who said laudable performances and stage design saved the RSC’s contemporary makeover of this sixteenth century true crime drama. He does though say he is puzzled why this “quintessentially Elizabethan domestic tragedy” written anonymously in 1591 has been given a modern makeover. The play is on until October 2.