Academic journal article Parergon

'Share with Me in My Grief and Affliction': Royal Sorrow and Public Mourning in Early Eighteenth-Century England

Academic journal article Parergon

'Share with Me in My Grief and Affliction': Royal Sorrow and Public Mourning in Early Eighteenth-Century England

Article excerpt

On 5 March 1695, a procession of more than a thousand mourners accompanied the body of Queen Mary II from Whitehall Palace to its final interment in Westminster Abbey. The event would prove to be the last lavish, 'public' funeral for an English monarch for the next two centuries. Two months later, Parliament allowed the Licensing Act, which had ensured crown control over the print industry in England, to lapse. The cessation of these two traditions in England transformed the relationship between the monarchy and the public sphere. During the eighteenth century, courts held ever more 'private' funerals, displacing the locus of public mourning on the occasion of a monarch's death. Simultaneously, the numerous publications that flourished in the early eighteenth century as a result of the revocation of official censorship provided a new arena for public expression and exchange of grief. Examining the published dialogues between the sovereign and the members of Parliament, city officials, and borough representatives in newspapers, such as the London Gazette and London Journal, I show how a proliferating print culture encouraged a rhetoric of grief in expressions of loyalty to the monarchy. First, I trace the growth of the printed dialogue surrounding the death of one monarch and accession of the next. In the first decades of the eighteenth century, as royal funerals became more private, the dialogue between the new monarch and his or her subjects claimed a larger place in the public sphere. At the beginning of Anne's reign in 1702, expressions of grief in this dialogue were subdued. By the accession of George II in 1727, both the king and politicians were more effusive in mourning the deceased king. I argue that, though this dialogue was not intended to take the place of the traditional public funeral, it projected the image of a grieving monarch to an ever-larger audience. I then examine the political functions of this dialogue, the language of which was designed to elicit political support for all participants. Finally, I suggest that because this increasingly emotive dialogue was presented to a broader audience, it was both a reaction to and a proponent of the growing culture of sensibility, both in the political sphere and the wider culture.

I. Royal Death in the Early Eighteenth Century

Over the course of the early eighteenth century, royal deaths were commemorated in different ways. Following a reigning monarch's death, the new monarch was proclaimed and a council was appointed to oversee the removal and interment of the deceased's remains. Within a few days, the new monarch gave a speech to the Privy Council or Parliament and this was printed in newspapers and broadsides, often alongside the news of the royal death. It was important that the throne should never appear to be vacant, so proclamations were made as soon as possible to declare the new monarch to the public. After the publication of the first royal speech in the official London Gazette, the paper's subsequent issues were largely filled with addresses of condolence and congratulations to the monarch from representatives of boroughs, counties, and corporations throughout the realm. The main purpose of these addresses was to exhibit loyalty to the monarchy and the new king or queen, often in hopes of royal or political favour. While these loyal addresses were presented in person at court, a growing number of them were also printed for consumption by a wider audience. They started to appear in the newspapers weeks before the funeral took place. Though loyal addresses were not intended to commemorate or replace the funeral, they became more prominent in print as royal funerals became more private. The death of Mary II in 1695 was a turning point for the public's relationship to royal deaths. It was unusual in its grandeur; the last public funeral had been held not for a member of the royal family, but for a military hero, George Monck, Duke of Albemarle, in 1670. …

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