Visualising Protestant Monarchy

Julie Farguson is College Lecturer in History at St Hilda’s College, Oxford. Here she tells us about her new book, a discussion of how, at a crucial point in British history, the monarchy chose to present itself.

The years following the so-called Glorious Revolution (1688-9) were some of the most significant in British political history. The Revolution began on 5 November 1688 when William of Orange, backed by a 21,000-strong army, took the unusual step of invading England; the last successful foreign invasion. Uprisings in the north soon followed, and by the end of 1688 Catholic James II had fled to France where Louis XIV offered the Stuart king-in-exile his protection. In the months following James’s departure from England, established royal practices were overturned. A Convention Parliament decided that James had effectively abdicated, William and his wife Mary, James II’s elder daughter, were declared joint monarchs, and a minor foreign prince became King of England. The extraordinary events of 1688–9 were followed by a volte-face in foreign policy that quickly led to British involvement in continental warfare for twenty-four of the next twenty-eight years. A fledgling Protestant monarchy had to establish itself, while at the same time distancing itself, from James II’s Catholic, Stuart court-in-exile in France. Its survival largely depended on the efforts of the royal family: two English queens, Mary and her younger sister Anne, a Dutch king and a Danish prince. Queen Mary II was married to William of Orange (King William III) while Anne, who succeeded as Queen in 1702, was wedded to Prince George of Denmark.

I wanted to find out how these monarchs presented themselves to a wider public. How William, Mary, Anne and George dealt with the shift from a traditional style of kingship, centred on ideas of divinely-appointed rule and hereditary right to one rooted in Protestantism and a firm commitment to Parliament. The artistic reaction to political events also interested me. Were the same old images produced or did court painters and provincial artists; engravers and print publishers based in England create fresh representations? How far did depictions of William produced in England differ from images of him created in the Dutch Republic? And what was going on in the realm of royal ceremony: did these monarchs and their partners perform in the same way as their predecessors or did they do anything differently? This was especially pertinent to William as he continued to hold high political office in the Dutch Republic and was on display in the European arena every summer and autumn. I also wanted to explore the perspective of contemporary audiences. What did the public make of William and Mary; Anne and George? How did audiences respond?

Image Credit: Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021
Image Credit: Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

To answer these questions, I used a method in Visualising Protestant Monarchy rooted in the interdisciplinary field of visual culture that takes into account vision and visuality. Visuality relates to the social and cultural aspects of human visual experiences, a perspective that focuses attention on the communicative nature of seeing and looking, and the non-verbal systems of communication that come to the fore in social practices such as ceremonies and ritual. These convey meaning through the physical bodies of the main protagonists: by looks, glances and gestures, the way royal persons are positioned in relation to others, and via materiality. Material items such as dress, jewellery, military regalia and other personal adornments can make an impression on viewers depending on their significance at the time. We may not notice in the twenty first century whether or not Knights of the Garter wear their insignia, but observers in my period noted those sorts of details and at times they recorded what they saw. For instance, we know that William III wore his ‘Starr and Garter’ during the Battle of the Boyne (1690) when he fought against James II. When John Evelyn met the ‘Victorious Duke of Marlborough’ a few months after his success at the Battle of Blenheim (13 August 1704), he recorded in his diary that Marlborough dressed plainly aside from his ‘rich George’ – a jewelled Lesser George – and he described the object in considerable detail. The regalia of the Order of the Garter symbolised military prowess, and when the monarch wore them, were also powerful emblems of English Kingship. Queen Anne was the first female monarch to wear the Garter Star and the Garter. When Anne attended Parliament and the frequent state thanksgivings at St Paul’s Cathedral to give thanks for military victory, she wore the Great George, often sported an embroidered Garter star on her dress as well as a diamond studded Garter tied around her left arm. On other occasions she wore the Lesser George. The Garter regalia had a strong association with men in this period and for Anne to wear these objects in public during wartime was an assertion of military queenship that led to her being characterised as ‘masculinely brave’. Queen Mary developed different ceremonial means of presenting military queenship and she was viewed in a similar light. Visualising Protestant Monarchy reveals that British involvement in international warfare had a profound effect on the way male and female monarchs presented themselves to audiences and on the visual culture of monarchy more broadly. Both royal couples engaged in a style of monarchy that was rooted in the past but also innovatory, something rarely seen prior to this period.

Image Credit: The Battle of Blenheim, 1704, by Romeyn de Hooghe. From the collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Public domain

This guest post was written by Julie Farguson, College Lecturer in History at St Hilda’s College, Oxford.

Visualising Protestant Monarchy
by Julie Farguson
9781783275441, Hardcover, £48.75 or $64.35