Genders
 

Genders 33 2001
 

Queen Consorts, the Common
People, and Modern Populism

by MELISSA MOWRY

[1]   Until Diana Spencer's death on August 31, 1997, the conjunction of England's queen consorts and populism was far from obvious. Yet this was exactly the ideological intersection her death foregrounded for those who watched and mourned the former and late princess of Wales. Indeed, so inextricable was Diana's death from "the people," that Prime Minister Tony Blair, only recently elected that spring as the first Labour prime minister in nearly two decades, eulogized Spencer as the "people's princess." Thus this aristocrat, descended from one of England's most ancient noble families, who worked by choice not necessity, appeared to spawn a thoroughly subversive commentary on the British crown and England's national identity. Diana became, in effect, a secular saint whose good works seemed to speak for a multitude of disenfranchised constituencies, "those whom Thatcherism had forgotten or swept aside," and in that role she has been credited with creating a political space for empathy, hitherto absent from Western culture (Braidotti, 2). As Simon Critchley has argued, "Diana's own experiences of pain" "allowed her to reach out to others that she found in a similar situation" (7). The questions raised by the public response to Spencer's death are multiple. But among the most pressing are, why was the culture of feeling so persistently associated with "the people," and how did Diana Spencer's death play out in miniature the politics of abjection now associated with "the people" so palpably that her own class identity and extraordinary privilege were effaced? In short, what narrative so structured the people's grief, Diana was transformed from the wealthy, jet-setting aristocrat she was in practice to a "shy, sweet commoner" (Attwood, 313)? It is my contention here that, far from revealing a new political space for empathy, the identification between the disenfranchised and the former princess so much in evidence at Diana's death was rooted in an historical intersection between anti-populism and misogyny upon which modernity itself rests.

[2]   Most of the recent interest in populism was sparked when Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives were swept into office in Britain, and Ronald Reagan and the ultra-conservative Republicans were elected in the U.S., buoyed on waves of conservative populism. Those of us who embrace a progressive or left politics found ourselves flummoxed at this sea change in working-class politics. It seemed counterintuitive at best, dangerously tragic at worst, that the very constituency on whose behalf the left had always claimed to advocate would turn its back and embrace the political ideology that traditionally had been most hostile to "the people." But, as we know, turn it did and with an electoral vengeance. The reasons for what most of us naively perceived as a betrayal are complicated, though in both Britain and the U.S., the late twentieth-century conservative shift among the working and lower middle classes appeared to be spurred on by a loss of economic stability and privilege. Not only had post-war industrialism collapsed, but also workers in both the U.S. and the U.K. faced increased competition for fewer jobs from an influx of non-European immigrants created by colonialism's correlative dismantling. This much we are all aware of. What we have been less aware of is that inasmuch as the conservative populism we saw in the 1980s rejected collective action as impotent, it recapitulated a conservative ideology of "the people" rooted in the tumultuous politics of mid seventeenth-century England. I want to emphasize at the outset here that I am not arguing that populism is inherently and eternally a conservative construct. Rather, my point is that by examining the historical emergence of populism and its specific intersection with gender, we might come to a better understanding of why populism goes through these symptomatic conservative convulsions as well as why those convulsions are so often coincident with the backlash against women.

[3]   Political theorists on the left conventionally have located populism's origins in the French Revolution. The "barely organized and differentiated masses" that manned the barricades exemplified the scant political agency "the people" were capable of marshalling (Laclau and Mouffe, 149). Consequently, populism has been historicized as an intermediate and often degraded step on the road to the "mature" and "rational" political actions of the mid nineteenth-century unionist movements. The account, of course, owes much to E.P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class as it tacitly equates rationality, or at least logically coherent political self-action, and self-consciousness. But this overdetermined developmental narrative about working-class consciousness and political action falls rather wide of the historical mark, particularly in Britain and arguably in the U.S. as well. For "the people" was a political self-identification as early as the English civil wars and initially came from the most radical factions of Parliament's coalition as The Foundations of Freedom, or an Agreement of the People (1648), one of the more radical documents of the period, suggests. Perhaps most notably, John Milton accorded "the People" great political agency when he argued in Eikonoklastes (1649) that Kings "were first chosen and installed only by consent and suffrage of the People" (51). There was, however, no immediate flowering of this self-identification into successful political action. As David Underdown and other historians have pointed out, the radical populism of the 1640s was short-lived and ultimately doomed to fail (24). None of "the people's" radical advocates were invited to share government power after the monarchy's abolition in 1649.

[4]   The failure of radical populism did little to alleviate the anxieties of the returning Stuarts and their supporters in 1660. For when the monarchy returned, the Stuart regime was brought face to face with what Jonathan Sawday has characterized as a "crisis of representation" (171). Indeed, Tim Harris has pointed out that although radical populism was not a viable threat, Charles II quickly realized that royalist spies had exaggerated the enthusiasm with which Londoners anticipated their king's return. The truth was far closer to the marquis of Newcastle's warning to the king that too many people felt entitled to participate in governmental decisions because "[e]very man is now become a state man" (Pincus, 807) The combined effect of these contingencies was to exacerbate the anxiety among loyalists that they might be forced to confront a revitalized populism that would threaten the crown again. The marketplace, consequently, was inundated by an avalanche of anti-populist fulminations aimed at defusing whatever political legitimacy populism still retained. In every medium from broadsides, to balladsheets, to pamphlets, and even the stage and novel, loyalists developed elaborate, at times shrill fantasies that the civil wars constituted incontrovertible evidence of "the people's" continual plotting against their social and political betters. The claim proved so tenacious that even twenty years after the restoration, Roger L'Estrange one of the crown's chief polemicists argued that the civil wars had aimed to assert the "People's Power" over the crown's (2). Despite the political reality that most Parliamentarians had little desire to destroy the monarchy prior to 1648-49, loyalists insistently characterized the civil wars as an effort to "establish a State Democratical" (Coll. Henry Marten's Familiar Letters, 92).

[5]   One of the most interesting features of the anti-populist campaign was its shrewd inclination to deflate rather than demonize populist politics. Loyalists clearly recognized that painting radical populists as an imposing threat would do little to bolster support for the Stuarts. On the contrary, it might inadvertently throw support back to the radicals, a prospect that would surely unseat the monarchy again. Instead, many loyalist pamphleteers chose to satirize their radical foes. For through satire, loyalists could deflate and denigrate "the people," painting them as incompetent, impertinent and impotent, without ever elevating them to the position of legitimate political rival. But it is the thematic organization of these satires that holds the key to understanding the longevity of this characterization.

[6]   At stake in many late seventeenth-century anti-populist satires is populism's claim on public space. As early as 1648, populist radicals had brazenly submitted their proposals for a new government to "all Persons who are at Liberty" "to give their Reasons for or against" (Foundations of Freedom, title page). Taking note of this and other similar claims, Justice Bridgman, who presided at the regicide trials, admonished the jury that the great sin of the civil wars had been Parliament's execution of Charles I "in the Face of the Sun, and the People" (The Complete Record, 316). Part of the loyalist response to what they perceived as a misappropriation of public space was to flood Restoration consumers with a surfeit of lurid images that lamented the late "martyred" king and represented the populist public sphere as one that was fragmented. As one broadside put it, the Commonwealth had displaced the monarchy, "that Politick simple State, consist[ing] in Unity (inseparate, Pure and entire," with a "Monstrous" "Body" possessed of "more Heads than One" and speaking with multiple voices (A Worthy Panegyrick on Monarchy). This specific characterization of "the people" as polyvocal, widely used throughout the Stuart period, had the effect of making it seem impossible that the multiple voices of "the people" could ever be unified enough to captain the ship of state.

[7]   Arguably, what clinched the royalist portrayals of populism as fractious and disorganized was their increasing inclination to align "the people" with women of the commons. These characterizations' aim, however, was far more complex than simply accusing political radicals of not being "real men." Through this equation, crown partisans claimed to affect the exposé of democratic populism as little more than window-dressing for crass self-interest. Almost coincident with the Restoration itself, loyalist polemics turned their attention to a genre that Cavaliers had used to good effect during the Interregnum: political pornographic satire. The genre is in part defined by the "Parliament of Women" satires (Nussbaum), though these tracts do not exhaust what I have elsewhere characterized as anti-republican pornographic satire (Mowry). To a one, these satires represent women of the commons, citizens' wives, artisans' wives, and women of the working poor -- not women of the gentry or aristocracy.

[8]   Sharon Achinstein has argued that royalist polemicists developed political pornography in part to defend Charles I's consort Henrietta Maria from the "Whore of Babylon imagery" to which she was often subjected (131). Such sexual satires, Achinstein contends, were used primarily as a "means to delgitimate, demonize, and scapegoat 'Others' in the Civil War period" (131). Accordingly, the fixation on women in these diatribes points to generalized anxieties about social upheaval of the sort we might expect during a period of profound civil conflict. In terms of gender, the figure of the parliamentarian whore and the whore of Babylon function as a neat dialectical duo. But Achinstein elides the disjunction in these two images' class valences and in so doing treats as disparate what are really the mutually constitutive categories of class and gender. For although in practice women of the commons designated a wide range of social positions, members of that class were typically satirized as "common women" -- early modern vernacular, as Ruth Mazo Karras has noted, for whores. Indeed, it is precisely the combination of degraded social status and gender that made these women's' errant appropriation of the nation's primary legislative instrument in the Parliament of Women satires such a potent political argument against populism.

[9]   Printed in 1656, Now or Never: or a New Parliament of Women is typical of the loyalist efforts to define "the people's" political authority as ineffectual by using the old misogynist saw that women are incapable of being motivated by anything other than self interest and petty sexual politics. Stuart partisans were shrewd and often precise in their use of this convention. In effect, Now or Never argues that the demands for universal male suffrage are as ludicrous as demands for female suffrage through specific evocations of some of the most radical political statements published during the Interregnum. Thus, readers are presented with an assembly of common women, so designated by their origins in the poor east London suburb of "Moor-fields," appropriating libertarian rhetoric like that found in The Foundations of Freedom. Like the authors of the earlier tract, who described their condition prior to the civil wars as "slavish" (4), the satire's women complain that they have been "deprived" of "Liberties, living in the bonds of servitude, and in the Apprenticeship of slavery (not for term of years, but during life)" (title page). Women of the city, the satire warns, will do as their fellow revolutionaries have done and "throw off the Rein of Government, and rule [them]selves" (4). Also like their revolutionary predecessors who sought a broadly elected legislative body of "Representatives," (Foundations of Freedom, 4-11), the Parliament of Women attempts to appropriate the conventional forms of civil government, to which women were traditionally denied access by issuing "[a] Declaration, Articles, Rules, laws, Orders, and Proposals" (title page). Untutored in the methods and aims of statecraft, however, they use these forms of civil government for frivolous ends, a point Now or Never makes by also pointing out that these grandiose gestures are designed to secure women "a free choice in marriage[,] [t]ogether with the high Injunction, and great Penalty on all men what severer, that shall abuse or prove unkind to their Wives" (title page).

[10]   The entrenchment of cultural stereotypes, of course, is never a simple process. And, although the loyalist case against the feminized and fractious people was creditable from its earliest moments, it did not become truly compelling until the arrival of Charles II's queen consort, Catherine of Braganza. It would not have surprised anyone living during the Restoration that Catherine was to play a symbolic role as well as a political role in the life of her new nation. What might have surprised those living in Restoration England was the fact that their queen consort would become England's symbolic defense against populism.

[11]   Like Diana Spencer's identity, there were troubling aspects of Catherine's life that made her transparent deployment in the service of royalist polemic perhaps more of a challenge than loyalists would have liked. Not only was the Portuguese Infanta foreign, she was Catholic. Charles' own mother, Henrietta Maria, viciously pilloried for political meddling, had not predisposed the English to look kindly upon Catholic queens (Dolan, 45-94). Catherine herself was reputedly shy and never fully mastered English. She apparently learned to endure her husband's notorious philanderings and facilitated Charles II's deathbed conversion to Catholicism. By most accounts, the couple was fond of one another but was never in love. Charles remained politically loyal to Catherine throughout his reign and protected his wife against charges of high treason in 1678 when she was accused of being part of a Catholic conspiracy to poison him. Most significantly, he refused to divorce Catherine in the 1680s when hope had all but vanished that she could ever have children, and Whig parliamentarians were exerting enormous pressure on the king to declare or beget a Protestant successor. Despite the controversy surrounding her infertility and her religion, loyalists never faltered in their idealized representations of their Portuguese queen, primarily because her silent loyalty to Charles offered the perfect foil to populism's fractious politics.

[12]   Despite the less convenient aspects of her biography, Catherine of Braganza epitomized the ideal royalist political subject. Much of the loyalist polemic against "the people" was focused on London. For England's capital had been at the heart of radical politics during the Interregnum. London, of course, had bankrolled Parliament's efforts to overthrow Charles I, supplying both money and men to the New Model Army. Consequently, the city's radical past made the Stuart restoration an occasion for suspicion between the crown and its capital that endured throughout the late Stuart period (Harris, DeKrey). In fact, Charles II would become so incensed by London's foray into radical politics during the Exclusion Crisis (1679-1684) that he revoked the city's charter in the quo warranto proceedings of 1684. From the outset, Charles II and his supporters used the Portuguese princess to emphasize their political domination of the once rebellious country.

[13]   In mid-summer 1662, the king ordered London to stage a pageant on behalf of its new queen. The command came at an awkward time in the crown's relationship to its capital, as London felt overburdened by royal taxes. But the city could not refuse the order, and London's governors recognized that at some level they needed to curry favor with the crown. Interestingly, the city asked John Tatham, whose loyalist credentials were virtually unimpeachable, to design three pageants for them as part of the festivities. Three years earlier Tatham's play The Rump; or, The Mirrour of the Late Times had "played successfully at Dorset Court" in 1659 (Backscheider, 25). The play satirized the Rump parliament that had governed England from 1648-1653 and had been responsible for ordering Charles I's execution. It also satirized the way London had benefited from the monarchy's overthrow (Backscheider, 25). Thus the decision by the "Right Honourable the Lord Mayor and court of Aldermen" to employ Tatham was highly strategic, perhaps designed to suggest to the king how much London's sympathies had changed. Tatham seems to have served the city well in this regard. For among the standard allegorical displays emphasizing England's power and economic might, Tatham included a scene that clearly evoked London's former appetite for populist politics at the same time it suggested the city's willingness to abandon its past practices.

[14]   In a fascinating effort to negotiate the conflict between the country's political past and its current government, Tatham concluded the first of three pageants, with an address from a waterman to the royal couple. Watermen made their livings ferrying people back and forth across the Thames. They were also emblems of London's working poor and, like the women in the Parliament of Women satires, representative of the commons. Reflecting his station, the waterman congratulates Charles and Catherine in extremely familiar terms, complete with bawdy innuendoes as he suggests that the two have "had a merry time on't in the West" (Aqua Triumphalis, 6). But Tatham's character also is aware of the gulf between his own social status and that of his audience. As a result, he makes it a point to put his speech in proper context, lest the king and queen fear they are being addressed by those who supported the rebellion against Charles I. And of behalf of his employers, the city's governors, Tatham makes an effort to distinguish its commoners from the radical sectarians.

[D]on't take it in dudgeon that I am so familiar with Thee, Thou maist rather take it kindly, for I am not alwayes in this good humour; though I Thee Thee, and Thou Thee, I am no Quaker, take notice of that; he that does not love thee in his heart, may he be drawn in a Cart: god blesse me, that Rime has put me in mind of the Old poete my Brother Waterman, have at ye ifaith, if I have any Guts in my Brains, I'le give you a dish of Poetry to stay your Stomack till you get further, a Distick or two does it. (6)

The waterman's reference to Quakers functions as a synecdoche for the radical sectarians who had supported Parliament's cause against the crown. Tatham's strategy here is to suggest that there may be multiple motivations for the commons' familiarity with their king and queen and that such familiarity need not necessarily signify rebellion or impertinence. As the waterman himself points out, his sentiments spring from "good humour" (6). For the commons in their "Hearts do foster no Deceipt,/ [Their hearts] and [their] Tongues in simplicity do meet" (6).

[15]   The epithalamia celebrating the couple's marriage were less willing to exonerate England's populist past. For in different ways, royalist poets made it clear that the union between Charles and Catherine was to mirror the reunification of the nation. Certainly, the panegyrics produced around Catherine emphasized the obvious symbolism of her marriage to the king, but they went beyond that as well to highlight, as did the Parliament of Women satires, the feminized nature of faction and the need for a suitably patriarchal, aristocratic ruling elite. Indeed, nearly all the epithalamia made explicit reference to the civil wars.

After such Dire Scenes this Romantick Age

Acted in England, on her publick stage;

Vicisitudes the Sun nor Moon ere saw,

Moving without the Circle of their Law;

When faith ract on the wheel, and scru'd too high,

Suspected sence, grew jealous of the Eye. (Crouch, Flowers Stroud by the Muses)

Though Crouch's poem does not explicitly embrace the loyalist distaste for "the people," his celebration of Catherine's arrival and marriage to Charles does deploy the transgressive characteristics routinely associated with the "late rebellion." As did the anonymous authors of the Parliament of Women satires, Crouch too finds the errant appropriation of the "publick stage" deeply troubling and "without the Circle of their Law," to the point where he interprets the events of twenty years earlier as a form of self-loathing and self-destruction. Embracing a similar thematic, Samuel Holland viewed the royal marriage as an instrument for the country's affective unification. In his eyes, the civil wars had been caused by "Their Peoples Rage" and it was Catherine's and Charles' job to make "their Loves be a Sacrifice t'attone . . . and make [the people's] hearts but one" (6).

[16]   The fact that many of the epithalamia made explicit reference to the civil wars is startling enough to modern audiences. But what makes these otherwise ephemeral texts truly compelling is their exposure of the ongoing contests over political meaning and agency. For as much as loyalist poets celebrated Catherine's feminine virtues, they often saw those virtues of marital fidelity and demure silence in explicitly martial terms. In a manner scholars have most often associated with Queen Anne (1702-1714), several of the epithalamia also represent Catherine as the restored monarch's protectress, clearly construing her as a foil to the factionalized sectarian women of the commons. Upon Catherine's arrival, one author insists Charles will, at last,

. . . sleep unrid with Presbyterian Hags;

With Dreams of Annabaptists never daunted;

Nor with the Quakers, Ghosts incarnate haunted. (J. D., 8)

At times in the poem, Catherine reaches amazonian stature. She is described as worth "Ten Thousand Men," "Which have their ruder Subjects so subdu'ed/Calm'd the more boisterous Multitude" (J.D., 9) Interestingly, it is Catherine's ability to protect the crown from faction that, in the poet's eyes, merits his intercession on her behalf with the "windy God," who the poet importunes "before his Mistresses approach,/ would let fly al his windes, and Botles broach: That not a Presbyterian Witch , might finde,/ to her disturbance, the least gust of winde:/ For well I know, though they pretend to heaven,/ The Subterranean Goals to them are given" (J. D., 9). The consistency with which loyalist poets characterized Parliament's supporters form the preceding two decades as "boisterous" is remarkable. More remarkable, though, is the fear and anxiety over the ever-present threat that the same "Multitude" might rise up again. In this light, Catherine and the kind of subjectivity she represents become a permanent bulwark against the always-latent threat of rebellion.

[17]   Catherine's quiet decorum increased in polemical significance in direct proportion to her inability to produce an heir. Ironically, the very contingency that should have most weakened her as a symbol of patriarchal monarchy most strengthened the crown's hand against "the people" at a time when the threat of rebellion was more real than it had been since the civil wars. For the end of Charles' reign was marked by the Exclusion Crisis over who would succeed him on the throne. Charles' brother James, at the time duke of York, had declared himself a Catholic in 1673. Shortly thereafter, anti-Catholic hysteria began to swell, and the movement to exclude James from the throne was afoot. Ultimately, Charles managed to stave off these efforts, though the authoritarian methods he used -- proroguing parliament and dissolving London's government -- probably did irreparable damage to his brother's reign by confirming fears of Stuart absolutism. James was not the only the focus of the Exclusion Crisis. Particularly during the furor over the Popish Plot (1678), the anti-Catholic Whig opposition attempted to discredit Catherine by implicating her in a plot to assassinate Charles II. Ironically, these same efforts further entrenched Catherine's identity as the antidote to populism.

[18]   Part of the Whig strategy to secure a Protestant succession consisted of encouraging Charles II to either divorce Catherine and remarry or to declare that he had married Lucy Walters, the mother of his illegitimate but obligingly Protestant son, James Scott, duke of Monmouth. Four times (1678, 1679, 1680, and 1681) Charles II publicly disavowed the rumors of a previous marriage.

We cannot but take notice of the great Industry and Malice wherewith some Men of a Seditious and Restless Spirit, do spread abroad a most false and scandalous Report of a Marriage or Contract of Marriage supposed to be had and made between Us and one Mrs. Walters, alias Barlow, now deceased, Mother of the Present Duke of Monmouth, . . . . I do declare in the presence of Almighty God, That I never was married, nor gave any contract to any woman whatsoever, but to my wife Queen Catherine, to whom I am now married. (His Majesties Declaration to All His Loveing Subjects, June the Second, 1680)

[19]   The conflict between Catherine and Lucy Walters staged in miniature the larger conflict between royalism and populism. And it is clear that Charles understood this dimension of the Exclusion Crisis as he himself interprets Walters as a synecdoche for "Men of a Seditious and Restless Spirit." Indeed, the proclamation was ideologically shrewd. For although Charles' defense of Catherine seemed to forsake primogeniture as the cornerstone of royal power, the King's rejection of Walters and her son as his heir actually insulated the crown as it reinforced the Stuart argument that the monarchy was coextensive with the law. Catherine was Charles II's wife. For that reason, she could not be set aside. Although Charles II was more than willing to take common women as his mistresses, he neither could, nor would ever take one as his wife. On a symbolic level, neither would Charles ever admit "the people" as part of England's body politic. Thus, Charles remained adamant that the rumors of his secret marriage to Lucy Walters were beyond the law. He accused those spreading the scandal of

Aiming thereby to fill the minds of our Loving Subjects with Doubts and Fears, and if possible to divide them into Parties and Factions, and as much as in them lies, to bring into Question the clear undoubted right of our True and Lawful Heirs and Successors to the Crown.

The privilege of epitomizing the law fell to Catherine alone. So central was the conceptualization of Catherine as the emblem of the law and the resolution of faction that it remained a prominent feature of her identity ever after her child-bearing years were over. Even as Catherine's public life in England ended with Charles II's death, Aphra Behn celebrated her as the supreme social balm whose "reflecting Smiles," made "the world . . . gay;/ Faction was fled; and Universal Joy/Made the glad business of the welcome day" (A Poem Humbly Dedicated, 3) Indeed, it is revealing of Catherine's symbolic status that James II's queen consort, Mary of Modena, did not receive the same treatment two years later when Behn wrote in one of her last works that it was the newly born Prince of Wales, not his mother, who "Stints factious Crouds, and keeps the World in awe" (A Congratulatory Poem, 3).

[20]   The events that vainly prompted Charles II to avoid England's political fragmentation during the first age of party, by reiterating his wife's identity as "lawful" also inspired Tory polemicists to return to the rhetoric of the epithalamia form twenty years earlier. Nathaniel Thompson, who published the Tory newspapers The True Domestick Intelligence and The Loyal Protestant and True Domestic Intelligence between 1679 and 1683, also published A Congratulatory Poem to Her Royal Highness: Upon the Arrival of Their Royal Highness's in England, May the 27th. 1682 and An Heroick Poem, Most Humbly Dedicated to the Sacred Majesty of Catharine Queen Dowager, written upon Charles II's death in 1685. Again, Catherine's presence makes the Thames run quietly, "now charme'd by no Rebellious Song."

[21]   Thompson's second poem to Catherine makes certain what a quick glance at mass culture polemic from the Exclusion Crisis period would suggest; despite her flagging cultural capital, England clearly understood their queen consort as serene, soothing, and righteous -- the antithesis of politically raucous common women. Not even allegations of high treason in 1678 had been able to shake that identity. Thompson's poem is in part an elegy for Charles II who he describes as one of the "Mightiest Kings" (An Heroick Poem, 1).

Like Heav'n (by Heav'ns Decree) within His Breast

The Fates of Kingdoms, and of Empires Rest;

And Wisely was He chose for the Great Race

As His own Murmuring People, may guide

With Ease and Pleasure all the World beside. (2)

The echo of Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel (1681), which likewise characterized the English commons as a "headstrong, moody, murmuring race," is unmistakable here (line 44). Interestingly, though, Thompson makes more of this trope than his more famous counterpart. Frances Dolan has pointed out that Catherine's infertility excluded her from Dryden's story, which renders the queen consort silent for the poem's duration (152). Thompson, on the contrary, juxtaposes Catherine's silence to the "Murmuring People" over whom Charles ruled, sustaining the antithetical relationship between the queen's political identity and the raucousness of populist politics. Indeed, for Thompson, what is important about Catherine's grief is that it is private. Unlike "Heccuba . . . fam'd for th'expression of her mighty Woe," and "Indian Widows, whom mistaken fame/ Admires for dying in their Husbands flame," Catherine eschews public professions.

Here no unseemly Clamour seeks Relief,

Her Breast contains the burthen of her Grief;

Which, like Fire, supprest within her Princely mind

Lives and preserves it self by being confin'd.

The Royal Mourner, lay'd in her dark Room,

Receives th'Officious Visits as they come,

Those tedious forms of Ceremony and the State,

Is a hard fine she payes fore being Great. (An Heroick Poem, 3)

Thompson dispels any lingering doubt that Catherine's silence is her most significant political virtue on the following page.

Heav'n sent this Blessing on our English shore,

T'Instruct this Isle, and virtue to restore

From hence long banish'd by misguided heat,

And teach us how to be both Good and Great. (4)

[22]   Catherine of Braganza outlived her husband by nearly twenty years, remaining in England until the Glorious Revolution in 1688. After James II's abdication, she returned to Portugal, eventually ascending the Portuguese throne, where she ruled as regent during the last year of her life from 1704-1705. Her legacy, of course, lasted far longer than her life. For more important even than Catherine's silence, so lionized by Nathaniel Thompson and other loyalist poets, was her availability to loyalist polemic at crucial moments during the late Stuart period. Clearly, her status as queen consort gave her identity as the foil for populist politics a legal authority unavailable to similarly dutiful women. What I hope has also become clear is that the polemical strength of Catherine of Braganza's identity also came at the expense of her common sisters. Sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly, her celebrations became their degradation. The result, as Rachel Weil has pointed out in the case of Mary II, who ruled with her husband William III after her father's abdication in 1688, is that the claim to womanhood had to be filtered through a patriarchal social imaginary that defined women through their ability to heal social faction and discord (105-121). That meant that all women were, as Catherine had been, defined in opposition to dissent.

[23]   The question is did Diana Spencer's public image enable populist action, dispelling "the people's" "barely organized" identity, or did she undermine populist action? Elaine Showalter characterized the outpouring of grief over Spencer's death as "a moment of pure republican spirit" (Braidotti, 3). In fact, she could not have been more mistaken. For Diana's public image, not withstanding Tony Blair's characterizations of her as the "people's princess," came at the expense of "the people." Critics who have scrutinized the public response to Diana's death agree on one thing; it was a spectacular and felicitous opportunity for Blair's New Labour to demonstrate its insistence that it was possible to build a compassionate society. But we ought not to loose sight of the fact that Labor was returned to power in Britain for many of the same reasons the Democrats returned to power under Bill Clinton in the U.S.: they had compromised and disavowed their former populist roots in favor of what we might call a "most of the peoplism." Even before her death, Diana had been the poster-child for a liberal philanthropy that deflated the left's long-standing insistence that inequities could be redressed only on a systematic basis. Diana seemed to confirm that the state and government were at some level obsolete. In the New Labour era, people only need have compassionate hearts.

[24]   Diana's death was finally "a moment to enjoy a repressed sense of solidarity" (Simon, 9). But the sense was guilt-ridden. As Emily Lomax put it, Diana's death became the stage on which "the People [emerged] from the infantilising shadow of an ossified monarchy, articulating their regret at the years of Thatcherism" (90), which they themselves had ushered in. Ultimately, the people's grief spurred no social change. The solidarity, however real it might have felt, remained inchoate, "barely organized" -- populist in the conventional sense. Indeed, it could be little else. For if Diana had felt the people's pain, it was because she had been positioned to do so by both bona fide Conservatives and the now more conservative Labour party. Feeling, after all, is far less politically dangerous than action. But in the end, what is most disturbing about Diana Spencer's death is the way it disciplined "the people." We cannot avoid the incontrovertible fact that Diana's status as a populist icon came to her only in death, despite her years of charitable work and her willingness to reach out to the down trodden and abject. As such, it was Spencer's silence that enabled the wide-scale identifications we witnessed. In the same way that Catherine's silence reinforced a sense of populism's impotence, so too did Diana's. For Tony Blair's New Labour had promised to unite Britain once again, and in Diana's death, the party found just the adhesive to do so. Inasmuch as Spencer's mute body became "the body on which a New England [could] be built," it was still an England unwilling to break with the tradition of constituting "the people" as any thing more than "barely organized" (Lomax, 89).

[25]   Perhaps no more striking or dangerous example exists of the conviction that populist politics is finally a politics of ineffectual "feeling" but not action than the recent round of American elections. Repeatedly on the campaign trail, George W. Bush touted the virtues of the new "compassionate conservatism" while professing that he trusted "the people" rather than the government. But when the election proved far closer than anyone possibly could have imagined, and the balance of power was at stake, Bush turned away from the people, preferring the authority of the law instead. "The people," evidently, are simply supposed to "feel" o.k. about this, because conservatives believe that they can do nothing about it.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: I wish to thank Frances Dolan who organized the panel at which this paper was first presented at the 1999 MLA in Chicago.

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MELISSA MOWRY is an Assistant Professor of English at Minnesota State University Moorhead. Her book, The Bawdy Politic: Political Pornography and Prostitution in England, 1660-1714 is under contract with Johns Hopkins UP.

Copyright ©2001 Ann Kibbey. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
 

Copyright ©2001 Ann Kibbey.
 

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