A disclaimer: this is not a 'blog' in the standard sense of the word. Instead, it's a place for me to post things that just don't fit on Twitter. Things posted here could include transcriptions; my thoughts on the tertiary education sector; or random posts that prove my academic motto, #FemalesAreStrongAsHell.

Get in touch with me via Twitter, or through the contact page.

Index of posts:
Duke of Richmond Letter
Mrs Ruth Young Letter
Desert Island Discs
Musical Cameos
Book Review: James I: The Phoenix King
Book Review: Anna of Denmark and Henrietta Maria: Virgins, Witches, and Catholic Queens
Eurovision Favourites

Duke of Richmond Letter

I have owned this letter for a while, but have only just now decided to do something with it. Below is a transcription (and images) of an autograph letter to Lord Cadogan (probably Charles Cadogan, 2nd Baron Cadogan [1685 – 24 September 1776]) from Charles Lennox, the 3rd Duke of Richmond, 3rd Duke of Lennox, and 3rd Duke of Aubigny. Styled Earl of March until 1750, Richmond was a British politician (who served as Master-General of the Ordnance between 1782-1783 and 1784-1795), Field Marshal, and Ambassador to France 1765-1766. In the American War of Independence, Richmond was a firm supporter of the colonists, and he initiated a debate in 1778 calling for the removal of British troops from America.

The letter asks Lord Cadogan to confirm the year of Richmond's christening (and birth) as a requirement to settle some business in France.


       August the 29th. 1775.
My lord,   ans.dA note added by Lord Cadogan
   I find it is necefsary for some of
my affairs in France that I should send thither
a certificate of my age and Christening. A copy
of the entry of my Christening in the Parish Register
is the most usual & easy method, but after a strict
search in the Registers of the most likely Parishes
no such entry is to be found. I have always been
told that I was born on the 22.d of February 1734-5
old style, & that your Lordship with the late Duke
of Grafton & the late Princefs Caroline did me
the honor of being my Sponsors; I also believe
the Christening was in Arlington Street. House where the Duke was born
 If your Lordship is able to recollect these
circumstances or only the year in which you
stood Godfather for me, a certificate thereof
from your Lordship will as I understand be
sufficient, but it must be taken before a
notary publick. M.r Crawford my agent will
R.t Hon.ble Lord Cadogan.     have
 Page Break
have the honor of waiting on your Lordship,
if You are in Town, with this Letter, and take
the proper steps: or will wait on Your Lordship
whenever you do go to London
 I trust Your Lordship will excuse my
troubling You with the application, as it
is on real Businefs, & **Complete crossing out. Possibly "It's" or "This" I have no other method
of doing it. It is with the most sincere Respect
     that I have the Honor to be
     My Lord  Your Lordship's most
      obedient and most
      humble Servant
       Richmond. ge: A symbol that appears to be the Duke's monogram.

Photos of Letter:
Page 1  |  Pages 2-3  |  Page 4

Posted February 2017  [ Top ]

Mrs Ruth Young Letter

This small letter—it's 20cm long by 12.6cm wide, and was folded to fit in an envelope 11.6cm wide by 6.7cm high—was sent by Arlette of Riverhead, NY, to her mother Ruth Young, of Quogue, Long Island, NY, on 31 January 1868. The letter is full of little spelling mistakes demonstrative of someone with a basic education, and who might also spell phonetically. My transcription reproduces the letter as it is written.

What is most fascinating about the letter is Arlette's casual mentioning that her son, Zachie, goes to school with "38 schollars 6 negroes" (although it's not clear whether the 6 are included in the 38 or are additional).

New York had finally abolished slavery on 4 July 1827, but despite a protracted battle from the time of abolition, African Americans were not given equal voting rights until the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on 30 March 1870.


    Jan 31st 1868
Dear Mother I hav taken
my pen in hand to answer
your kind letter I was verry
glad to hear from you I was
affraid you was sick it was
so long since you had written
I intendid to have written
before but you must forgive
me for I have to work prety
hard for my strength and then
I have time to write thier
is some one here or I dont
feel like writing My health
is rather better than it was
when Mother was here but I
am not as well as I was
before I was sick an I dont
think I ever shall be again
The rest are in usual health
I was up to Wilsons week
before last they were well then
 Page Break
he has since cut his foot
quite bad but it is getting
along verry well I believe
I have been to Riverhead to day
and I saw Sarah Luee she soud
he had rode to their house to
day Henry was married new
years evening his wife is here
most of the time she has been
visiting to day and this evening
also The boys have both gone to
Farmers meting and she will
come back when they do
Zachie gets along with his set=
=out verry well he haves quite
a full school 38 schollars 6 negroes
Their is to be an exhibition in
the Church next week to raise
money to purchase a library
I dont know but I wrote about
Aunt Jerushus Reves death in my
last letter she went to Patchogue
visiting & died there from your
        daughter Arlette

Photos of Letter:
Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Envelope

Posted February 2017  [ Top ]

Desert Island Discs

A confession. One of my dearest wishes in life is to become famous enough to be invited onto the BBC Radio 4 program Desert Island Discs. It's an unusual life-goal, I'll grant you, but there's just something about the show that makes me want to be on it. If you've never listened to it before, I suggest you listen to the episodes that feature either Nicola Sturgeon ( <3 ), Sandi Toksvig, or Judi Dench.

Because I have devoted an excessive amount of time to thinking about my choices for the show, and because I'm sick of all the serious and horrible news we've been dealing with recently, I thought I would do something a little more fun with this blog post.

So, as of February 2017, this is what my eight Desert Island discs would be, as well as my book and luxury item choices. Tweet me if any of them would appear in your list!

Song #1: Popular Song, by Mika
This is my favourite song in the whole world. According to iTunes, as of 24 February 2017, I have listened to the song 3632 times—and that doesn't include all the times I've watched the film clip, or listened to the song on Spotify. As someone who had a fairly crap high school experience, this song really speaks to me. And besides, Mika is amazing—I just love his work generally. P.S. I prefer the original version of the song as released on the album Origin of Love, rather than the remixed version that features Ariana Grande.

Song #2: Only You (Love Theme from The Young Victoria), Sinead O'Connor
This is one of Robert and mine's songs. The Young Victoria is my favourite movie, and it was one of the first movies we watched together. I still get teary almost every time I listen to it, but it does make me happy. It's such a beautiful song, both with Sinead O'Connor's singing, and Ilan Eshkeri's arrangement.

Song #3: All I Ask of You, Phantom of the Opera Cast Recording feat. Cliff Richard and Sarah Brightman
The Phantom of the Opera is one of my favourite musicals. This is probably my favourite song from the musical, and I adore this version. Nothing like the incredible Sarah Brightman to make me feel better while I'm marooned on a Desert Island!

Song #4: Mamma Mia, ABBA
ABBA is my favourite band. I absolutely love them, and the number of ABBA songs I don't love can be counted on one hand (with fingers left over). It was so hard to choose one ABBA song—for the record, my favourite ABBA song is Under Attack—but Mamma Mia is just so uplifting, and it makes me think of the musical (which I also love), so the choice ended up being made for me.

Song #5: One Way or Another (Teenage Kicks), One Direction
I have no shame in admitting that I love One Direction. Their music makes me happy, and this song in particular does. Plus, I love the Blondie original, so it's like I get two songs for the price of one.

Song #6: Supermassive Black Hole, Muse
On initial glance, this song might look out of place. I often joke that if the music on my iPhone got any gayer, my phone would explode in a puff of glitter. This song, however, is my go-to song when I'm stressed. I don't know why, but there's just something about listening to it that makes me feel better about whatever situation is frustrating me. Plus, it always makes me feel more kickarse.

Song #7: Heroes, Mans Zelmerlow
I love the Eurovision Song Contest more than is healthy, probably. So there was no doubt that a song from Eurovision would appear on this list. But which one? The 2015 Contest was my favourite contest thus far, and not only can Mans sing, but he's also very easy on the eye. I love the song, and unlike a lot of Eurovision hits, I have yet to tire of listening to it. FWIW, Jedward's Waterline (from 2012) is my most played Eurovision song, followed closely by Conchita's Rise Like a Phoenix (from 2014).

Song #8: Tectonic, Brendan Maclean
I love Brendan Maclean, so there's no doubt that he'd feature in my list. He has so many great songs, but Tectonic is always my standout favourite. There's literally nothing not to love about the song. How often do you listen to songs about natural geological processes?

My favourite song: Popular Song, by Mika.
Book Choice: The complete Discworld series by Terry Pratchett.
Luxury Item: A coffee machine that will let me enjoy lactose free mochas for the rest of my life.

A final note. My appearance on the show would also be rather controversial, as in addition to the items listed above, the show gives you the Bible (or equivalent religious text), and the Complete Works of Shakespeare. I don't want either of these things. As a non-religious person who has read the Bible cover to cover twice, I don't want to be stuck with it on a Desert Island. Instead, I'd rather the Complete Works of Jane Austen. Who could pass up the opportunity of being stuck on a Desert Island with Mr Darcy?

Concerning Shakespeare. I have a Master's degree in Early Modern English Literature: I have no need to be trapped on a Desert Island with the Bard (sorry Lyn!). While I do love Macbeth, and Love's Labour's Lost, I don't need any more Shakespeare in my life. Instead, I'd much rather the complete Harry Potter series. They were foundational to my childhood, and every time I re-read them, I discover something new.

I wonder what my feelings on these choices will be in a few years' time.

Posted February 2017  [ Top ]

Musical Cameos

It's no secret that I love musical theatre. It just makes me happy: the music, the singing, the dancing, and the costumes. For those of you who have had the misfortune to be around me when break out into song, however, know that I am not vocally blessed. In my high school production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, I was cast as Potiphar—the only main role that doesn't involve singing.

Nevertheless, I do sometimes think about how much I would love to cameo in a musical. Inspired by the way that Hamilton shares around the role of King George III—"You'll Be Back" is without a doubt one of the best musical songs ever—I've decided to combine by need to update this blog, and my desire to avoid working, by detailing the top five minor musical roles I would one day love to play.

#1: King Herod from Jesus Christ Superstar
This is my all-time dream role. Hands down. Not only do I love Superstar generally, the role of King Herod—and indeed his one song—is just fantastic. It's fun, catchy, and can be super camp. What's not to love?!
(FWIW, the Australian Cast Version from 1992, with Angry Anderson as Herod, still remains my favourite version)

#2: Father Alexandrios from Mamma Mia!
Mamma Mia! is my favourite musical of all time. ABBA <3.And if we're being honest about my singing ability, Father Alexandrios is about my limit.
(It's not the best video I know, but it's all I can find)

#3: Pharaoh from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat
Joseph is definitely in my top 3 favourite musicals. I actually wanted to play Pharaoh in my high school production, but there was a competition for it, and no one else wanted Potiphar—so they gave me it. Pharaoh is just a fun role—I think "The Song of the King" is one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's best songs.

#4: Moroni from The Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon is an incredible musical: so clever, so well written, and with an amazing soundtrack. I love the song, "All-American Prophet"—and I'd love to be in it! And I'm totally an angel, right? ;)

#5: The Old Gumbie Cat from Cats
Cats was the first musical I ever saw professionally staged. I love the soundtrack of Cats—the actual show, however, I find quite boring. I do love T.S. Eliot though, which is why the role wins out, I guess.

I wonder if I'll ever actually get to perform any of these roles...

Posted August 2017  [ Top ]

Book Review: James I: The Phoenix King, by Thomas Cogswell

James I: The Phoenix King. By Thomas Cogswell. London: Allen Lane, 2017. ISBN 978-0-141-98041-6. xiii + 109 pp. £12.99.

Thomas Cogswell's new biography of the first Stuart monarch of England is a refreshing assessment of one of the more polarising and potentially maligned monarchs of the early modern period. The biography is—in a stroke of authorial genius—centred on eight beautiful coloured plates, each depicting James at a different life-stage. Cogswell has arranged each chapter in the book around one of these images, with each chapter beginning with a short discussion of the relevant painting. It gives the points Cogswell makes a much more tangible feel, particularly as the portraits include both well-known and obscure depictions of James.

Cogswell's prologue announces: "my own opinion of the first Stuart monarch softened on better acquaintance, and this new sympathy for him informs this book" (ix). While this sympathy is not omnipresent, it does perhaps explain the book's most obvious flaw: James's life pre-March 1603 is concluded by page 28. While the Penguin Monarchs series is ostensibly focused on 'English' monarchs—despite featuring a biography of Oliver Cromwell, and leaving out monarchs including Alfred the Great, Edmund I, and Harold Godwinson—this cursory study of James's early life is problematic, and has allowed Cogswell to focus on James's reign in England, where the greatest need for rehabilitation lies. Little is said of James's marriage to Anne of Denmark, and while his interest in witchcraft, and his writing of Daemonologie, is discussed, any mention of the witchcraft that James believed had caused the terrible storms that forced Anne to land on the coast of Norway as she attempted to sail to Scotland, is omitted. Likewise, a series of characters—primarily earls—are named in rapid succession without any background context. For a book aimed at a general audience, this feels like a poor authorial decision. It is highly pleasing, however, that the biography barely discusses either James's mother, Mary, Queen of Scots, or his cousin, Elizabeth I, except in relevant contextual moments. This is, without a doubt, a biography with James at its centre.

Cogswell is relatively even-handed in his treatment of James, noting both the financial pressure his extravagances imposed on the exchequer, and the way he neutralised Spain and Ireland by playing the role of peacemaker (although, one might think that such an important policy might have received a little more in-depth treatment). James's softening stance on witchcraft, his struggles with the English parliament, his desire to unite England and Scotland, and his need to balance the Church of Scotland and the Church of England, are all treated fairly, if a little superficially. Perhaps James does not easily lend himself to such a short-form biography. At the same time, however, the events of the Gunpowder Plot are hardly obscure to the non-academic public, and it would seem an unproductive waste to expand on specific conflicts with parliament. Nevertheless, one could argue that the pervasive mentions of James's love of hunting could have been reduced in order that these important aspects of James's reign be expanded on.

Cogswell's treatment of James's religious activities—"In short, he took the title of Defender of the Faith seriously" (41)—will be of interest to all readers, as will the contextualisation of James's An Apology for the Oath of Allegiance. Financial matters concern a large portion of the middle of the book. Under James, England expanded its trade networks and established many new and (in)famous colonies. Cogswell provides a good discussion of The Great Contract and its eventual failure, elucidating both the practical and private concerns James harboured. Nevertheless, while Cogswell does mention the difference between the material needs of the childless and unmarried Elizabeth with James, who was married and had four children, he does not fully unpack the difference, nor does he overtly consider the fiscal position James inherited—a position parliament seemed unlikely to rectify. At Elizabeth's death, the Crown was £400,000 in debt: so while James's extravagance certainly exacerbated matters, the debt was not his own making. Thus, the image of the frugal Elizabeth being succeeded by the extravagant James is at best oversimplified, and at worst, xenophobic.

Family matters—including the deaths of a number of James's children—are brushed over far too quickly, as are his interventions in European geo-politics, and his role as peacemaker. His daughter Elizabeth's marriage to Frederick V, Count Palatine of the Rhine, and the death of Henry, the Prince of Wales, barely receive more than a fleeting mention—despite their indisputable importance—and instead Cogswell devotes considerable space to the scandal surrounding the poisoning of Sir Thomas Overbury at the hands of the Earl and Countess of Somerset, and the Earl of Northampton: an episode that is largely unknown outside academic circles, and is arguably of less importance than James's depression caused by Henry's death, and his plans to be the Rex Pacificus after Elizabeth's marriage. Nevertheless, the crisis caused by Frederick and Elizabeth accepting the crown of Bohemia is treated fairly, with James being unavoidably trapped, as they say, between a rock and a hard place. The potential marriage of Charles to the Spanish infanta, Maria Anna, is handled well, although Charles's eventual marriage to Henrietta Maria barely secures a mention. However, Cogswell does well to dismiss the idea that James had ceded power to Charles and the Duke of Buckingham in his declining years: a notion that, despite the credence some historians once gave it, "would have elicited bitter laughter from the prince and the duke" (75).

It is refreshing that Cogswell has avoided focusing on James's sexuality—whatever it might have been—and simply mentions gossip or claims matter-of-factly in the relevant place. He does, however, discuss one of James's most overt displays near the end of his life that indicates he was likely queer. In 1624, he wrote a letter to Buckingham, in which he prayed that "we may make at this Christmas a new marriage ever to be kept hereafter." He concluded the letter by claiming he would "rather live banished to any part of the earth with you than live a sorrowful widow's life without you." The letter, initially signed "your dad and master," was amended to read "your dad and husband" (78). As Cogswell notes, widow was not necessarily gendered feminine as it is today, and husband could denote a male head of a household (whether married or not). Nevertheless, in addition to reinforcing the deep affection James had for Buckingham, this letter is potentially evidence of a same-sex marriage being countenanced almost 400 years before it was legislated for in England, Wales, and Scotland.

Cogswell should also be lauded for his equal focus on James's public and private lives: both the fantastically educated monarch, and the man obsessed with hunting, emerge from the pages. The book is well endnoted, with references to a variety of good works, and like the other books in this series, it includes four pages devoted to suggesting further reading on different aspects of James's life and reign. It is somewhat disappointing, however, that James's hand in the production of the King James Bible—arguably one of the king's most famous achievements—is largely overlooked. It is also worth noting again that Cogswell's constant inclusion of, and references to, James's proclivity for hunting are rather repetitive, and seem to be included at the expense of more context to several, important events in James's life. Nevertheless, the articulate and highly readable combination of the full James—both private and public—with limited undue focus on his sexuality and his favourites, is a fine addition to the scholarship on Great Britain's Solomon. While potentially assuming too high a familiarity with early modern Scottish and English history, this biography will be of interest to scholars and general readers alike for many years to come.

As Cogswell notes in his conclusion, the more negative and divisive aspects of James's reign have come to dominate his legacy, leaving a somewhat unfair assessment of his life and reign in both the scholarship and the popular conscious. England and Scotland enjoyed the prosperity that accompanied peace, and he was the first English monarch in almost a century to not overhaul the Church of England. The Phoenix King descriptor Cogswell invokes is certainly apt, if not largely unexplained. James, even more so than Elizabeth, was able to vacillate, compromise, and delay whenever it suited him, which meant he was able to balance various factions against each other, and weather virtually any storm that he encountered. While the phoenix is reborn from its own ashes, perhaps a more fitting epithet for James would be the chameleon: a man who changed his colours to suit his own purposes, and who had a powerful and lethal tongue. I am, however, prepared to admit that the image of a phoenix is far more visually appealing than that of a chameleon.

Posted December 2017  [ Top ]

Book Review: Anna of Denmark and Henrietta Maria: Virgins, Witches, and Catholic Queens, by Susan Dunn-Hensley

Anna of Denmark and Henrietta Maria: Virgins, Witches, and Catholic Queens, by Susan Dunn-Hensley. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. ISBN 978-3-319-63225-1. ix + 230 pp. £67.99.

As uncomfortable as it is for historians to admit, we cannot deny the veracity of the old adage, 'history is written by the victors'. Before the advent of gender and feminist histories in the latter part of the last century, victors were almost all invariably men. History's discussion of the women on the edge was often restricted to queens and queans: the latter because they usually revolved around a titillating sexual exploit, and the former because 'silly' queens consort were often depicted as foils for their sensible, and altogether competent, husbands.

Excepting perhaps Marie Antoinette, Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I of England, is one of the most maligned queens consort in the popular consciousness. While the same cannot be said for Anne of Denmark, wife of James VI & I, this lack of malice is probably because her name barely stirs any form of recognition. The mother of Charles I is usually eclipsed by her son's execution, and is generally relegated in relation to her husband—even though it is James and Anne's daughter, Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia, that the present Queen traces her descent through.

That Anne and Henrietta Maria have been sidelined is indisputable. As Dunn-Hensley ably demonstrates in her excellent new study, generations of historians are responsible for this negative press. It is not unusual for biographies of James VI & I and Charles I to gloss over the king's wife, or to only mention them in relation to a scandal of their making, or indeed their role as mother to the kings' children. The significance of the book is quickly demonstrated: Anne has been variously described in the scholarship as 'a stupid wife', 'a stupid woman', and is accused of having 'strong prejudices, no scruples, and very little intelligence', which meant that 'the more remote she was kept from politics the better', because her 'love for gaiety and dancing, for games, masques and pageants, was childish rather than courtly'. These descriptions must certainly bring great discomfort to contemporary gender historians. Henrietta Maria has of course been the subject of closer study—primarily because she was the wife of the only English monarch to be publically executed—but she fares no better than her mother-in-law. She is routinely seen as, at best, performing no actions of real importance, and at worst, being directly responsible for the downfall of the monarchy. Her negative legacy is blamed on her religion—had she 'been a Protestant and a woman of profound sagacity, she might have saved her husband'—and indeed her own intelligence and agency: 'to examine traditional scholarship of Henrietta Maria is to see the representation of incompetent and disorderly female rule mapped onto the life of the queen'. Dunn-Hensley does discuss scholars who have attempted to redress this glaring imbalance—I would add the excellent, recent, work of Erin Griffey, Catriona Murray, and Carolyn Harris to the list—but the weight of bad press will not be shifted easily.

As readers are deftly reminded, while 'early twentieth-century scholars might have found it easy to dismiss queens Anna of Denmark and Henrietta Maria as frivolous and superficial, those living in the early modern period would hardly have shared this view'. Queens consort played important roles—both symbolic and political—in early modern England. The king's wife would normally be appointed regent in her husband's absence: Catherine of Aragon served as regent for six months in 1513 while Henry VIII was in France; likewise, Catherine Parr was regent of England between July and September 1544 while Henry was on campaign in France—and even more importantly, should Henry have died while absent, she was designated regent of Edward until he reached his majority. Aside from their (potential) political roles, queens consort also often served as the 'human' face of the English monarchy: they often distributed alms to the poor, entertained foreign dignitaries and ambassadors, and as Dunn-Hensley ably demonstrates, they commissioned and patronised literary endeavours both at court, and in the wider literary sphere. Perhaps most importantly—which underscores the potential danger in having a Catholic queen who was subservient to the pope in Rome—they had the ear of their husband, the king. Their importance to the monarchy is best demonstrated by the fact that they are crowned and anointed at their husband's coronation—or, in the case of consorts such as Elizabeth of York and Anne Boleyn, crowned at their own coronation.


Dunn-Hensley makes the bold decision to refer to James's queen as Anna. This decision is based primarily on the fact that 'the name "Anna" was used in the oath of office when she became queen of Scotland'. The takeaway point, however, is that we don't even know the correct spelling (and presumably pronunciation) of Anne's name. Anne is of course not the only consort to suffer this problem: Henry VIII's first, fifth, and sixth wives are spelled variously as Catherine, Katherine, Katheryn, or Katharine, depending on the authors' preference. Even my reference to James's wife as Anne here, which I feel comfortable doing based on the weight of scholarly practice, demonstrates the limited attention the not-undeserving woman has garnered.


The assumption that Anne was a Catholic was one of the more interesting, if not curious, aspects of the book. While the Catholicism of Henrietta Maria, Catherine of Braganza (wife of Charles II) and Mary of Modena (James II's second wife) is well attested, Anne's confessional identity is certainly debated, which Dunn-Hensley acknowledges when she notes the 'scholarly disagreement about the details of Anna's conversion and about her confessional identity'. Anne arrived in Scotland a practicing Lutheran: indeed, James's desire to marry into a Protestant royal house was a major factor in his decision to court Anne. As the thousands of Protestant denominations that exist today demonstrate, the 'brand' of Protestantism one adheres to can differ greatly, and Anne certainly felt out of place in Calvinist Scotland. The two most convincing pieces of evidence that Anne did convert to Catholicism are that she sent letters to Pope Clement VIII expressing her Catholicism, and asking for papal protection for her family, and for papal support for her husband's claim to the English throne. We know of no response from Clement. The second piece of evidence is that she refused communion at her coronation as queen consort of England: despite several attempts by the Archbishop of Canterbury to make her acquiesce, Anne was resolute in her 'no'. Dunn-Hensley asks her readers to consider that if the sources she mentions are to be believed—in addition to Anne herself, Robert Abercromby, a Scottish Jesuit (although Dunn-Hensley is inconsistent in the spelling of his name), and Giovanni Carlo Scaramelli, Venetian Ambassador in England, who wrote on 28 May 1603 (not the 18 May Dunn-Hensley writes) that Anne had 'became a Catholic'—'we might ask why Anna's faith did not cause more of a ripple during her time period, and why scholars so often either debate the nature of her faith or completely ignore it'. My response is that the evidence is, at best, inconclusive. Indeed, I find her claim that 'Scottish observers may have confused Anna's practice of Catholicism with Lutheranism' highly improbable, given both the recentness of the Reformation in Scotland, as well as the familiar polemic uses of Catholicism.

That Dunn-Hensley is 'willing to dispense with rigid definitions of what being Catholic means in favor of a fluid reading of religious identity' is somewhat problematic, but given that she is right in pointing out that reconstructing the religious beliefs of a person who lived 400 years ago is nigh on impossible, one might be inclined to let this less-rigid part of her argument slide. It cannot be missed that should Anne have retained her Lutheranism, a not-insignificant part of Dunn-Hensley's argument would be rendered somewhat moot. However, her 'lax' definition of Catholicism does mean that accusations of her conversion Catholicism—which were so widespread that Elizabeth sent her ambassador to Scotland, Robert Bowes, to question Anne on reports of her conversion, who replied that she was not a member of a church hostile to England—would certainly have tainted Anne's image, and indeed may even be partially responsible for her negative press in the scholarship to date.


The 'foreignness' of the two queens is something that the study does well to bring to the fore. Both queens brought 'foreign' courtly traditions with them, to say nothing of the difficulties of having to learn English, and become acquainted with English courtly and social customs. As is well established, Henrietta Maria was French—the longstanding enemy of England—and her Catholicism meant her loyalty was split between her husband and England, and the 'foreign' pope. But it seems both Anne and Henrietta Maria were a victim of particularly xenophobic times. It's impossible to ignore the fact that in March 1603, a Scottish man ascended the throne of England. The English were not entirely happy with a 'foreigner' on the throne—much of the polemic against Mary I had focused on her 'foreignness', evident in her Spanish mother, and her marriage to Philip II of Spain—and unfortunately for James, anti-Scottish sentiment flourished during his English reign, something that he could do little to stop. Indeed, whenever he opened his mouth, he reminded his audience—whatever it was—that he was a foreigner. In public, people gawked at, and whispered about, the 'Scottish elf', and 'Jockies'. It is little wonder then that he worked so hard to ensure that his sons—including the eventual Charles I—were thoroughly anglicised in their upbringing. Both Anne and Henrietta Maria suffered from the same xenophobia, although it is less overtly recounted in the contemporary accounts.

One of the events James has become most synonymous with—the Gunpowder Plot—perhaps explains both Anne's uncertain confession identity, and the public angst over Henrietta Maria's Catholicism (it being a symbol of her 'foreignness'). While ostensibly about returning England to the Catholic fold, Guy Fawkes revealed his own xenophobia. During an initial interrogation, Fawkes declared that he intended 'to blow you scotch beggars back to your native mountains'. Ignoring the collateral damage that would be the death of the English members of parliament, Fawkes revelled in the king and queen's foreignness: even to the point where he could use it as a justification for mass-murder. As Dunn-Hensley notes, the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot was not a safe environment for Anne to openly practice her Catholicism—if indeed she was a Catholic—and the anti-Catholic, and anti-foreign, sentiment explains James's reluctance for Charles's marriage to the Spanish infanta, Maria Anna.

For all the rhetoric of the dangers of 'foreigners' that was publicised in Jacobean and Caroline England, the practical realities of monarchy demonstrate the importance of realising otherwise. The majority of English kings since the Norman Conquest had chosen wives from foreign royal courts; and indeed, daughters of English kings had been married off to foreign rulers—as James was keen to emphasise by his descent from Henry VII. Dunn-Hensley forces us to consider that 'although essential for the creation of dynasty, the royal bed, when occupied by a foreign princess, could be a frightening reminder of the nation's vulnerability to the whims of their own king'. While it was the king who invited to foreigner into the royal bed, for largely misogynistic reasons, it is the foreign queen who is the target of the negative press.


Witchcraft is present from the very beginning of Anne's association with the British Isles. Anne is partially responsible for the onset of James's witch-mania, epitomised in his treatise, Daemonologie. James blamed witchcraft for the terrible storms that forced he and Anne to land on the coast of Norway as they attempted to sail to Scotland. James's obsession led to the North Berwick witch trials—the women confessing to their 'role' in the storms under torture. Dunn-Hensley, however, broadens the scope of witchcraft in an enlightening manner, reminding her readers that the 'darker narrative of female disorder' was often figured, discussed, or conceptualised, in terms of witchcraft.

Despite the association of this darker narrative with feminine desires or activities, we are rightly reminded that 'while anti-Catholic rhetoric likened the practices of the Roman church to witchcraft, that fact does not necessarily mean that people conflated witchcraft and Catholicism in a simplistic way'. The label of witchcraft is thus more reflective of the two queens' confessional identities—real or imagined—and their position as foreign-born wives of English kings, rather than anything supernatural. As recent scholarship on witchcraft in early modern Europe has demonstrated, witchcraft was as much a tool of political and social control as it was of religious orthodoxy.

Dunn-Hensley's credentials as a literary scholar really do bring a new depth to the study of the two queens, as literary sources justifiably make up large portions of the evidence she analyses. I was particularly impressed, however, by the way she ably analysed Macbeth within the complex and shifting contexts that link the Scottish witch-hunts, the Gunpowder Plot, and the popular conceptions of Anne. Macbeth, which plays into 'larger Jacobean narratives about queenship, sexuality and power', has long been associated with James: and it is fitting that Anne's figuring in the content is foregrounded so convincingly.


One of the things that struck me most about Dunn-Hensley's study was her discussion of Elizabeth I. Elizabeth looms large in the book: both as James's predecessor, and the architect of many of the religious and political situations both James and Charles had to navigate. This is not entirely unexpected. What Dunn-Hensley cleverly does, however, is demonstrate that the half-century of female kingship England had lived through under both Mary I and Elizabeth I turned out to be a hindrance for the two queens consort's agency, rather than a boon. Put simply, the 'images of power that had been effective for Elizabeth proved problematic in the hands of the consort, for they suggest a dangerous overreach'. The picture that Dunn-Hensley paints—quite perceptively, I think—is that the vision John Knox expounded in the First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women had come true, and that by the end of Elizabeth's reign, courtiers, poets, and the like began to 'envision a social structure that once again placed the male in a position of dominance'. As a scholar of Elizabeth I, I am painfully reminded that the image of 'Good Queen Bess' that lingers in both the popular imagination and the more Whiggish histories that are still written really does disintegrate when her final decade is placed under the spotlight. From the 1590s on, England was at war in both Ireland and the Low Countries, the exchequer was in the red, Essex rebelled, and Elizabeth's granting of monopolies and her open favouritism was deeply unpopular. 'Gloriana' was more than fraying at the edges, and as Dunn-Hensley ably demonstrates, it was Anne and Henrietta Maria who suffered in the aftermath. This sentiment is best summed up in the book's conclusion, which is likely the most succinct summary of Elizabeth's memory in seventeenth-century England of late: 'During the last decade of her reign, many of Elizabeth I's subjects longed for a new king, but many of their descendants would want nothing more than the return of their Virgin Queen. The Elizabeth that they desired, however, was not the flesh and blood woman, but Gloriana, a version of the queen that they had created, a product of nostalgia for a golden age, which is always at least a generation prior'. Memory is a funny thing.


Curiously, not all of the children of the two queens are discussed: indeed, Elizabeth, Charles and Henrietta Maria's second daughter, isn't mentioned at all. If these women were so regarded for their roles as mothers, why aren't their children—and their relationship with their children—more fully developed? There are also some perplexing textual inconsistencies (names are spelt inconsistently, and even abbreviations are not used uniformly), and the referencing sometimes feels like an afterthought—indeed, the two footnote references that accompany one sentence in chapter two are a perfect demonstration of the drop in editorial standards Palgrave Macmillan has suffered since its merger with Springer.


As historians, we attempt to write histories that are both reflective of the evidence, and convey as much of the context of the life and times of the person or event under discussion as possible. As Dunn-Hensley more than ably demonstrates, this desire for truth and impartiality has generally not been afforded to either Anne of Denmark or Henrietta Maria, although this is slowly changing. As distant as we are from the lives of the people being studied, we owe it to them to be fair and impartial: their lives 'become historical accounts, and those accounts form the basis of the legends and myths that come to define individuals and eras for posterity'. What did Anne of Denmark ever do to deserve to be repeatedly described as a 'stupid woman'? Even more paradoxically, both queens performed the primary role of a queen consort: they gave birth not only to a 'heir and a spare', but also daughters who could be married off in support of their father's dynastic or geo-political ambitions. Certainly, the disruption of the Interregnum is partially to blame for the poor reception the queens have received, but as wives of the king, neither can be blamed for their husbands' obstinate belief in their divine right to rule, nor are they responsible for their husbands' decision to dissolve parliament for long periods and embark on a personal rule.

In the last sentence of the book, Dunn-Hensley somewhat timidly asks her readers—by prefacing the point with 'As I have tried to show in this book'—to consider that in tracing 'representations of queenship from the Jacobean period through the Caroline period, we find that negative representations of queenship and female authority can have serious material consequences, in this case ultimately contributing to the English civil war and the fall of the Stuart monarchy'. This is a bold and well-supported observation, which should be made with increasing confidence thanks to this fine addition to the scholarship. Certainly, no male royal in early modern England—king or otherwise—has been subjected to the continued literary denigration that marks both Anne and Henrietta Maria's posthumous memory.

While neither Anne or Henrietta Maria have the equivalent of a 'let them eat cake' anecdote attached to them, the mother and wife of the king executed as part of the Civil Wars in 1649 have certainly suffered in the popular, and indeed scholarly, consciousness. Dunn-Hensley provides an interesting, if sometimes simplistic, reconsideration of these two queens. The biography's simplicity, however, is not Dunn-Hensley's fault: one can hardly re-evaluate people when they suffer from a distinct dearth of considered and thoughtful evaluations, and this book goes a long way in redressing this almost shameful gap in the scholarly conversation.

Posted February 2018  [ Top ]

Eurovision Favourites

I’m a Eurovision tragic. Anyone who knows me knows this, and can attest to my ability to work Eurovision into the most unsuspecting of conversations.

As a pop music fan, however, I generally don’t support one single country: instead, I choose my favourite each year based on the songs submitted. Given my tastes, however, it’s perhaps not a surprise that Sweden (they gave us ABBA, so duh) and Australia (the home of Kylie) are often my favourites.

In the past five years, my favourite has won in 2014, 2015, and 2018 (I still maintain that Dami was robbed in 2016, although I do like 1944 very much). These aren’t bad odds, really. In light of that, I sat down and ranked the songs of the past five years (or four years in the case of Australia) from my favourite countries: Sweden, Austria, Denmark, Israel, and Australia. I think it gives a pretty good insight into my musical tastes, and indeed what I like in a Eurovision performance.

1. Heroes (2015)
2. I Can’t Go On (2017)
=3. Dance You Off (2018) and Undo (2014)
5. If I Were Sorry (2016)

1. Rise Like A Phoenix (2014)
2. Loin d’ici (2016)
3. Running on Air (2017)
4. I Am Yours (2015)
5. Nobody But You (2018)

1. Soldiers of Love (2016)
2. Cliché Love Song (2014)
3. The Way You Are (2015)
4. Where I Am (2017)
5. Higher Ground (2018)

1. Toy (2018)
2. Made of Stars (2016)
3. Golden Boy (2015)
4. Same Heart (2014)
5. I Feel Alive (2017)

1. Sound of Silence (2016)
2. We Got Love (2018)
3. Tonight Again (2015)
4. Don’t Come Easy (2017)

Do you agree? Disagree? It is probably worth mentioning that I do also generally enjoy Russia’s entries (A Million Voices in particular), but I am aware of the, um, political reasons for not voting for Russia... I also think the Baltic States often enter some shamefully underappreciated songs (including Heartbeat and I’ve Been Waiting for this Night), and the Ukrainian entries are often dark horses.

Anywho, bring on Eurovision 2019!

Posted August 2018  [ Top ]

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