Monarchy and Incest in Renaissance England: Literature, Culture, Kinship, and Kingship

By Bruce Thomas Boehrer | Go to book overview

4. The End of Kingship?

Incest and the English Revolution

I began this study by asking two simple questions: what is incest and how do we recognize it? Unfortunately, despite the authority with which various scholars have explored these questions, I can only supply a series of limited and conditional answers. But for John Milton, defending the execution of King Charles I, the answers are easy: incest is an inevitable consequence of monarchy, which by its nature entails the overrating of one's own image and the jealous love of the self, and we can recognize it whenever a king like Charles expresses contempt and disdain for the subjects who originally empowered him. That is, incest becomes a figural equivalent for the set of political attitudes that includes divine-right proprietarism, royal paternalism, and patriarchal absolutism. As a result, when the Eikon Basilike ( 1649) claims that authoritative laws can only be begotten by the king, with Parliament serving merely as a consenting party, Milton is ready with a furious retort.

So that the Parlament, it seems, is but a Female, and without [ Charles's] procreative reason, the laws which they produce are but wind-eggs....He ought then to have so thought of a Parlament, if he count it not Male, as of his Mother, which, to civil being, created both him, and the royalty he wore. And if it hath been anciently interpreted the presaging sign of a future Tyrant, but to dream of copulation with his Mother, what can it be less then actual Tyranny to affirme waking, that the Parlament, which is his Mother, can neither conceive nor bring forth any autoritative Act without his Masculine coition...: What other notions but these, or such like, could swell up Caligula to think himself a God. ( Eikonoklastes, Prose Works 3:467)

This remark affords a good example of the tonal problem in Milton's antimonarchical tracts; moreover, it clearly illustrates the way in which their dominant sexual metaphors derive from political debate. In countering royalist arguments -- particularly those put into the king's own mouth by the Eikon Basilike -- Milton again and again wanders from the point to

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Monarchy and Incest in Renaissance England: Literature, Culture, Kinship, and Kingship
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Introduction 1
  • I- Henry VIII and the Political Uses Of Incest Theory 19
  • 2. Incest and Tudor Literary Politics 42
  • 3- James I and the Fabrication Of Kinship 86
  • 4. the End of Kingship? 113
  • 5- Conclusions: the Politics of Incest Theory 138
  • Afterword 157
  • Notes 159
  • Bibliography 173
  • Index 185
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