Charles II's "Grand Tour": Restoration Panegyric and the Rhetoric of Travel Literature

By Evans, David R. | Philological Quarterly, Winter 1993 | Go to article overview

Charles II's "Grand Tour": Restoration Panegyric and the Rhetoric of Travel Literature


Evans, David R., Philological Quarterly


1

One of the most prominent, acrid, and in the end probably unresolvable debates prevailing among historians of seventeenth-century England concerns whether the civil wars, and the Commonwealth and Protectorate period constituted a "rebellion" or a "revolution."(1) J. C. D. Clark's work speaks most influentially for those who believe that the 1640s and '50s were a period of "rebellion" which did not, in fact, fundamentally change the conditions of rulership and social hierarchy. On the other side, a large group of historians, led by Christopher Hill, resolutely insists that the events of the middle part of the century were a "revolution," and that "the apparent similarity between the England of 1640 and the England of 1660 is illusory."(2)

In addressing this controversy, a key question seems to me to involve how attitudes towards the kingship in general and Charles II, in particular, were articulated in monarchist responses to the Restoration during the early 1660s. In short, do these responses simply reinvoke the rhetoric which underwrote the reigns of the early Stuarts, or do they provide different formulations for royal power and monarchical government? I want ultimately to argue that the vision of Charles II advanced by numerous authors of Restoration panegyrics revises the monarchy in terms which rely less on the king's mysterious innate superiority to his subjects than on the characteristics he learned during the course of his upbringing. These writers tend to focus particularly on Charles's European exile during the 1640s and '50s, depicting this crucial period as an ironically positive defining moment in the young king's education. Adopting language and concepts clearly associated with the emergent concept of the Grand Tour, many Restoration panegyrics treat Charles's time abroad as an educational experience which is the actual source of his legitimacy and authority as monarch.(3)

The strategy of locating Charles II's kingliness in his experience rather than in his God-given, mystified distinction epitomizes a wider trend away from taking innate hierarchies for granted in English society as a whole. The impetus for this change, I believe, came to a great extent from the events surrounding the civil wars and their aftermath. During the middle half of the seventeenth century, conduct literature, that obvious barometer of social trends, shows a noteworthy movement away from distinguishing people on the basis of their birth (essence) towards valuing more prominently what they do (action). A clear example of this shift appears in the different claims for nobility made in Henry Peacham's 1622 The Compleat Gentleman, and Jean Gailhard's work of the same title published fifty-six years later.(4) Peacham asserts that "it is affirmed, that there are certaine sparkes, and secret seeds of vertue innate in Princes, and the Children of Noble personages" (sig. A3v), and decries the pretension of "Every undeserving and base Peasant ayming at Nobilitie: which miserable ambition hath so furnished both Towne & Country with Coates of a new list; that were Democritus living, hee might be have laughing matter for his life" (pp. 14-15). In contrast, Gailhard is much less convinced that nobility is the result of birth, though he makes ritual gestures in that direction. Describing his project, Gailhard states:

[T]he chief thing I propound herein to myself, is to shew the necessity, benefit, and excellency of a good Breeding, becoming none so much as a Gentleman, who, by his Vertue and Merit, more than by his Extraction, should be raised above the Commonalty; for Vertue first of all made a difference between man and man, there being an equality between all the Children of Adam, as to Birth and Nature; and certainly when the Nobility and Gentry wants merits to Command, and Abilities to Govern, they must change place with the lower sort of People, whom Parts and Virtue, (though not without favour) will raise to the greatest Charges and Dignities in the Land (sigs. …

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