Thomas Howells (Oxford), The Face of a Queen and the Mind of a King: The Personification of England 1586–1625

I propose a paper that examines the contrast between the contemporary use of Elizabeth I and James I’s portraits as tools for the representation and development of political thought at turn of the 17th Century. By exploring the myriad and diverse uses of the image of Elizabeth I, the paper will establish how her portrait was abstracted and utilised as an expressive political tool, not only in England, but also in the Dutch Republic. The discussion will consider the political communities and the conceptual structures that her image was used to represent, and the manner of her representation (whether as her self, or in the guise of a different character). The intention is to demonstrate that during the latter years of her rule, the use of Elizabeth Tudor’s image was wide spread, as was the recognition that the English monarch could represent more than the condition of her self and her own kingdom.

The contrast with the image of James I’s image is marked and intriguing. Where Elizabeth’s face (albeit idealised) adorned everything from Bibles and atlases, to celebratory medals and satirical prints, James’ portrait is comparatively absent. Even on the title page of his collected works (first published in 1616) the King is not depicted, choosing instead the personified figures of Peace and Piety surrounded by the symbols of both the English and Scottish monarchies. The paper will ask why this contrast exists, and how James’ method of personal and political representation differed from those of his predecessor.

It will explore the role of the King’s own thought in the development of English political understanding during his reign. By looking at the differing models of monarchic representation, and the alternative tools utilised by James in lieu of his own image, the paper will ultimately aim to establish the key conceptual differences between Elizabethan and Jacobean kingship.

Howells FotoThomas Howells was awarded his BA (Ancient History and Archaeology) by the University of Liverpool in 2011; his MA (History of Political Thought & Intellectual History) by the University of London in 2013.Since October 2014, he has been reading for a DPhil in History at the St Cross College, Oxford, under the joint supervision of Dr Jon Parkin and Dr Alex Gajda. He aims to complete his DPhil by early 2018. The working title of his thesis is: »Gloriana to Britannia: The abstract personification of English Political Structures, 1563–1667«. The intention of the project is to demonstrate the development of the representative person of the English polity from that of the corporeal monarch during the late 16th Century, to that of an abstract figure by the latter third of the 17th. The intention is to demonstrate the breadth of media used to develop the image of the personified polity, and the political imperatives served in creating such an abstracted image. The conference paper is derived from this research. It will discuss the approaches and models applied to the personification allegories used to characterise English political structures by the successive administrations of Elizabeth I and James VI & I. The argument will demonstrate that, though by the end of Elizabeth’s reign the image of the Queen’s natural body had become abstracted from her natural self so as to become an established icon in its own right, under James, the visual personification of England – whether as Elizabeth or otherwise – ceased almost immediately.

Silver shilling of James I &VI, 1604-1608, on the obverse, the English Rose, and on the reverse the Scottish Thistle (held by the British Museum).

Howells Abb. 2

De Waarheid en de Tijd onthullen het broedsel van de Paus (1584), by Pieter van der Heyden (Rijksmuseum Amsterdam). The print shows Elizabeth I of England as Diana, revealing the sins of the Pope (here playing the part of Callisto), and enjoying the support of the Dutch Provinces (the female figures around her).


To the program.

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