How Politically Significant was the Jacobean Court?

Aug 3, 2018 in History

Jacobean court is being discussed by various scholars from different perspectives. However, the most interesting discussion is on the role of Queen Anna who played a crucial role in its cultural and political life. This paper is an attempt to explore the political significance of the Jacobean Court from the point of view of human factor, perception of a new culture, and the role of woman leader in those times.

Beginning with a human factor, Coast (2012) explores the rumors’ role in late politics of Jacobean court, arguing that all of disinformation and misinformation were not incidental. By that, Coast means that those rumors were about everything, starting from fighting for power and continuing with the interactions of factions that took place at court that were major political forces. All of that affected the fortunes even of the courtiers that were the most powerful.

The scholar also argues about the role of perception that played an important role at the court. There was a self-fulfilling potential of various rumors regarding the behavior of individual courtiers; the information spread quickly even regarding their job promotions: either they were discussed to be granted offices or falling from their existing powers (Coast 2012).

In his paper, Coast (2012) demonstrates the wishful thinking and speculation of false reports. There were false rumors about court appointments, decisions, and ministers’ disgrace. Coast (2012) claims that all of the above reminds a collective act that was less the prerogative of the king compared to what the historians have realized.

Considering the combination of such notions of Politics, Performance, and Marriage, Curran (2009) presents a full-length study of Jacobean nuptial performance. This is an unexplored branch of modern theater of the early times, which consists of entertainments and masques that were performed for high status weddings.

Those entertainments were organized for some of the most significant political events during the times of James’ English reign. In his book, Curran (2009) analyzes six elite weddings that were celebrated at the Jacobean court.

The author mentions about the presence of entertainments and masques that were headlining them (Curran 2009). Curran (2009) also talks about contemporaneous panegyrics production, sermons, parliamentary speeches, and festival books.

His study demonstrates how wedding entertainments changed the unification idea into an overall political national representation category. Those events offered new modes of imagining, and Jacobean national identity form in particular. 

There is also a lot of evidence that Queen Anna of Denmark played an important and particular t role in culture and politics of the Jacobean Court. The works about the Court are often dismissive regarding Queen’s contributions and influence on the culture of the Jacobean Court during those times. Barroll (2009) claims there was “a strongly entrenched scholarly tradition of Anna as shallow, vain, and addicted to ludicrously frivolous activities.”

Despite such Anna’s image in the past, her recent perception by various scholars started changing. After some time, historians were able to develop certain appreciation of symbolism and ritualism of the masques. Smuts (1999) stated that “the continued separation of seventeenth century culture from politics only impoverished understanding of both” culture and politics.

The court masques gained a new understanding when they were acknowledged of having political ramifications apart from the cultural one. Queen Anna was ridiculed for that before, and later, they appeared as new ways of political expression.

There is a fact that once a person perceives the politics of court entertainments, it is quite hard to deny the fact that Queen played a political role. It is now appreciated by many scholars that the Queen’s court masques played a role of symbolic political conflict resolution and maneuvers than being a delineation of frivolity; and this is the one of the main aspects of Anna’s political role.

The Queen was an important political figure associated with the early Jacobean court development. Apart from being a person, significant to the political and cultural landscape of the Jacobean court, Anna was also a key player and a skilled social performer in the politics of court of that period.

The court masques were a complex artistic form with high potential for making both political and cultural statements. Taking into consideration earlier times, the historians often regarded such court masques as little more than diversions that were crafted by the ruling class with the aim of their personal amusement.

However, the dialogue between social historians has resulted in a deeper understanding of the cultural importance and symbolic performance of the masques. This was also happening in Renaissance monarchies, “where the state theatre was an integral part of the governance of a kingdom that was dominated by the intangibility of royalty and divine right” (Parry 1981, Orgel 1991).

The masques were also a vital expression form of the central value system that was espoused by the representatives of the ruling classes. They served a dual purpose for the Jacobean court as they were both cultural expressions and political statements.

They presented some sort of state theatre described by Geertz (1980) as “meta-physical theatre… to express a view… of reality and… to shape the existing conditions of life to be consonant with that reality; that is, theatre to present ontology and, by presenting it, to make it happen—make it actual.”

Those royal courts that were using Anna’s masques were the place of deployment of the royal language. The Queen, by using and developing those masques, has found a potent vehicle for the articulation of a political agenda and patronage.

For the aforementioned reasons, such Queen’s activities deserve more attention from historians, both in political and cultural context. Anna’s contemporaries consider those Queen’s masques invitations to be necessary; they were viewed by foreign ambassadors as a special favor marks shown to them by the monarchy.

Masques, in this case, can also be viewed as a perfect example of dramatic realization concept, when we deal with essential performances and actions, which strive as a result of symbolic language deployment, making visible things invisible.

Although many historians currently recognize the cultural and political importance of the Jacobean masques, the scholars representing earlier times were dismissing them. As a result, the Queen’s role in the masques was even once cited as an example of her foolishness; and the masquing process was delineated just as Anna’s life passion.

At the same time, such description, however, ignores the fact of her ceasing to be actively involved in the masques after 1612. An interesting fact is when the historians started revising their earlier masques conceptions and finally acknowledged the Queen’s impact that was never done before.

As we see, when the masques were taken as outer objects by some historians, Anna was demonstrated as an evidence of her imprudence and stupidity. Although later, when everybody recognized the political and cultural importance of the masques, they were usually portrayed as the ones that are used because of the other activities that were not connected with Anna.

There was an interesting moment regarding the observers’ critique of the masques: Anna was always criticized as opposed to the authors of those masques that were employed by her. For example, there could be a lot of talks of the mask, which the Queen was wearing at Winchester.

The behavior of Anna and all her ladies in the Jacobean Court was a very scandalous, which is one of the reasons why this place drew such particular attention. The rumors would be mostly about Anna’s former reputation and greatness.

During those times, there was much talk about the style and cloths rather about human character. Thus, for example, the Queen, playing once the role of Athena, had chosen a costume, which some of the audience viewed as being inappropriate to those times; for example, her clothes would not be below the knees compared to other women in those times and places.

Of course, Anna realized all of the intricacies of proper behavior on the part of the Queen, although consciously, she still chose to be engaged in displays that she knew would be offensive to others. Anna was choosing a costume that was quite different from the other female performers; she wanted to look apart from them.

It is essential to admit her strong internal desire to be different from the other ladies by having an image of a wise person. She wanted to stand above all compared to the other ladies surrounding her. That status was much more important to her than the potential disapproval that might be provoked by her revealing costume.

Taking into consideration the Masque of Blackness, it also drew some criticism from others. Anna and her ladies, in this masque, have all covered their faces, arms, and necks in some black pigment with the aim to portray the daughters of the Niger River. The critical thinkers mentioned that the presentation of her mask was too light, and she looked more like a courtesan.

Considering the court masques, Anna was the real driving force ensuring that her vision of their construction should be actualized. She did not care much whether her contemporaries would approve her behavior; the Queen still performed wearing masques in the court being criticized for that.

By demonstrating herself through masques, she managed to draw her image as the sacred monarchy embodiment with the elements of a mythic proportions queen. Anna was able to establish her court being a center of cultural innovation by advertising the court masques.

Moreover, the Queen with her ladies were trying to be the central performers there. Those activities also enabled her to extend her patronage doings and her court surrounding to include a lot of the most culturally sophisticated actors at the Jacobean court.

Despite Anna’s masquing activities that received the most attention, she was involved in other cultural activities. For example, architecture was another mechanism employed with the aim to display her wealth, status, and political capital during that period. However, the masques have to be situated within the larger context of her cultural activities.

Doing various patronage activities, the Queen and the other ladies were able to position themselves as women of power and influence. In addition to more explicit forms of different political engagement, masquing allowed the Queen to be engaged in political discourse and display.

Anna was able to craft particular persona at the English court being a cultural icon through masquing although masquing was not the only way of political expression open to her. She was an active performer in court masques even after 1612 when she chose the role of just a privileged spectator. However, she did not cease acting as a political agent.

As we see, scholars focused mainly on her masquing activities being her only way for political expression. In order to have much deeper understanding of Anna’s role at the Jacobean court, it is essential to recognize the importance of her other cultural and political activities she was involved in.

As all modern elite women, very strict limits were placed upon the Queen regarding her ability to exercise political agency. However, that does not necessarily mean that she was inactive in the society.

Through Anna’s role as a queen consort, she found great opportunities for political engagement. Assessing her political activities enables us to draw a more complete picture of the Queen and her importance within the court.

To conclude, Jacobean court was a very special place, which involved many political and cultural activities. The role of Queen Anna in this case was particularly crucial as she was able to influence politics by using cultural maneuvers.

Despite the fact that her behavior was not accepted by all the society representatives in her times, Anna input a lot into political culture of Jacobean court. Masques as symbolic political conflict resolution helped a lot in maneuvering particular situations, which later were accepted by the critical thinkers to work for the good of the society in general, and for certain parties and cases in particular.

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