Academic journal article Seventeenth-Century News

Kevin Sharpe. Rebranding Rule: The Restoration and Revolution Monarchy, 1660-1714

Academic journal article Seventeenth-Century News

Kevin Sharpe. Rebranding Rule: The Restoration and Revolution Monarchy, 1660-1714

Article excerpt

Kevin Sharpe. Rebranding Rule: The Restoration and Revolution Monarchy, 1660-1714. London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013. xxii + 849 pp.

This hefty volume is the final work in Kevin Sharpe's three-part study of the images of monarchy in early modern England. Sadly, Sharpe succumbed to cancer before its completion. His colleague Mark Knights brought the manuscript to publication, and scholars will be grateful for his efforts. This is a significant and wide-ranging work.

As with the previous two volumes in this trilogy (Selling the Tudor Monarchy [2009] and Image Wars [2010]) Rebranding Rule takes an interdisciplinary approach to the problem of the representation of rule in early modern Britain. It rigorously interrogates a broad range of sources--portraits and poems, political pamphlets and panegyric prose--to analyze how the royal image of the later Stuart kings and queens was shaped and displayed. Organized generally chronologically, the book moves through the successive reigns of Charles II, James II, William and Mary, and Anne, examining the multiple modes of representation for each monarch.

Continuing his theme from his two earlier books in this series, Sharpe argues that the successful fashioning of the royal image was vital to an early modern monarch's grasp on power and authority. For Charles II, this representation of rule was trickier than for his forebears. The events of 1649 and those that followed had profound revolutionary consequences, throwing the very meaning of kingship into question. The genie of republicanism, once released from the bottle, could never be completely put back inside. Powerful images of royal authority flourished after 1660, but they were not uncontested.

Upon his restoration, Charles had to construct his image to be accepted as king and to maintain royal authority despite many challenges. In his own speeches, the king was conciliatory, yet strong. Willingness to exercise mercy formed an important early element of the king's image; except for a modest number of regicides, few of those who opposed the royalist cause during the "troubles" were executed, even outspoken ones like John Milton. Royalist essayists, poets, and preachers emphasized themes of the king's sacredness, naturalness, and power, perhaps even more than the king himself did. Yet the image of the king was not uncomplicated. Sharpe, carefully reading the words of Restoration poets, sees in them both images of sacred power and the ambiguities of a monarchy that was once laid low but now restored. Poetry, pamphlets, histories and sermons became "more topical and more partisan" as the reign progressed (83).

Visual images of the king were likewise powerful, yet restrained. Compared to his forebears, there are far fewer portraits of Charles II in state. And unlike his father, Charles II (for obvious reasons) was not portrayed surrounded by his wife and children. In a seemingly purposeful break from the past, portraits of the king rarely contained the neo-Platonic themes so common in generations past. As with literary images, the visual images of kingship, Sharpe argues, became more politicized as the reign continued. …

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