Laura Lunger Knoppers. Politicizing Domesticity from Henrietta Maria to Milton's Eve. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 223 pp. + 40 illus. $95.00. Review by NANCY MOHRLOCK BUNKER, MIDDLE GEORGIA STATE COLLEGE.
Politicizing Domesticity from Henrietta Maria to Milton's Eve, by Laura Lunger Knoppers, identifies the Caroline royal family's great interest to the Victorian "cult of domesticity," a period in which "imagining the British past as a prototype of an idealized present" (1) was commonplace. Her investigation, grounded in Frederick Goodall's painting An Episode in the Happier Days of Charles 1(1853), interprets the leisurely outing of King Charles and his family as similar to portraits of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and their children. The Introduction outlines the ways in which visual materials, literary texts, cookery books, and political writings are used as political propaganda in representations of Charles I and Henrietta Maria, Oliver and Elizabeth Cromwell, and in the characterizations of Adam and Eve in John Milton's Paradise Lost. In recouping the seventeenth-century royal representation and the discourses that contested and opposed it, she interrogates the liminal space between domestic and monarchial images.
Chapter 1, "The scepter and the distaff: mapping the domestic in Caroline family portraiture," explores images of the royal family including the George Marcelline Epithalamium Gallo-Britannicum (1525), Van Dyck portraits of Charles I and Henrietta Maria with their two eldest children (1632), and Van Dyck portraits of the children alone (1632 and 1637). Newly wedded Charles I and Henrietta Maria are represented in the Epithalamium with right hands joined, in fashionable attire, and with allegorical figures of war and peace. Speech bubbles proffer the unity of marriage and glorify the Queen's virtue; the scene's message declares a public kingship and anticipates the dynastic expectations for this couple's offspring. Portraits show the vitality of "children as children, not simply as miniature adults" (26) attending to each other and positioned with the family dogs. The rich indoor scenes displaying family comfort, spousal affection, and parents in close proximity to their children exemplify the domestic ideal. These accessible representations make visible an intimacy British subjects relished and "mapped a gendered domesticity on to the royal couple" (27), one that later backfired as critique of the King's uxorious marriage.
The Frontispiece to The Sussex Picture, or, An Answer to the Sea-Gull (1644) carries an "allegedly incriminating portrait" that received Parliamentary comment (38). Controversy revolved around the King appearing to offer his scepter to his queen, but she refuses, and directs him to give it to the Pope. In addition to the religious and political ramifications of the image, the cleft staff, used for flax or wool and typical of women's work, symbolizes female authority. This image foregrounds the "assimilation" of Henrietta Maria as a wife who has "inverted household order by dominating her husband" (40) while destabilizing the representation of the male dynasty.
Chapter 2 "'Deare heart': framing the royal couple in The Kings Cabinet Opened" exposes the responses to The Kings Cabinet Opened (1645). Editing and selecting thirty-nine of the minimum of fifty-seven letters captured after the battle of Naseby, Parliament published the letters to "shape public opinion against the king" by intimating disorder in his household and government (43). Presented as the intimate communication between the king and queen, the linguistic decision to use "cabinet" in the title heightens secrecy and elevates the intrigue of their exchanges. Deliberate printing decisions contributed to textual emphasis upon revelation and discovery of secrets, language that is part of parliamentary propaganda (43). The results of Parliament's strategic efforts to select, translate, and edit the original letters debilitated the king's effectiveness. …