In Part Two of this series of three posts about the above-titled topic….
….I began to answer the question posed to me by the highly skeptical Nancy Mayer, as to how in the world the 15 year old Jane Austen could plausibly have read about those “scandalous” rumors about James the first which seem to be satirized in Jane Austen’s Sharade in her irreverent History of England?
A quick search on Google Books led me first to essays by Prof. David Bergeron, a very thorough scholar who compiled a comprehensive list of historical sources for the meme of James I's homosexual relationships with his male courtiers, in which Bergeron had led me first to a 1753 Life of James I (i.e., published only a few years after Fanny Hill!) written by William Harris, which included the following passage about James I:
“And from his known love of masculine beauty, his excessive favour to such as were possessed of it,
and unseemly Caresses of them, one would be tempted to think, that he was not wholly free from a vice most unnatural.”
Would Jane Austen have had access to a copy of Harris’s Life of James I, 40 years later? Perhaps, but also perhaps not, I don’t believe Harris was a famous historian whose books would have been commonly held in private English libraries such as Reverend Austen’s at Steventon.
But then Bergeron led me to another source, whose name made my eyes widen in amazement and delight: Catharine Sawbridge Macaulay’s History of England, published in sequential volumes during the 1760’s.
Now, why exactly did Macaulay’s History of England give me such amazement and delight? Here’s why:
Because just over a year ago, I wrote a series of posts which detailed the ways that Jane Austen, in her own satirical History of England, specifically alluded to Macaulay’s famous and serious multivolume history (the first ever written by an English woman), and I also detailed the many close family connections between Macaulay and Jane Austen, with only one degree of separation:
So, I was amazed and delighted the other day to learn from Bergeron’s excellent historical scholarship that Macaulay’s History covered, in a thinly veiled manner, the sexual proclivities of James the First! Already knowing that Jane Austen’s History of England had alluded to Macaulay’s in other ways, it struck me as beyond coincidence that I should, by an entirely different train of textual evidence, once again find myself staring at another allusion to Macaulay’s History in JA’s irreverent parodic History!
I have collected all the relevant excerpts I could find in Macaulay’s History, not having been able to view the entire entry for James I in Macaulay’s first volume, where perhaps there are still more. You be the judge as to whether they provided sufficient background on James’s relationships with his male court favourites, so as to induce Jane Austen to learn more about Robert Carr.
Here first are the two most telling excerpts:
"The unrivalled Villiers now shone forth in all the gaudy plumage of royal favour. James found in the disposition of the youth an unbounded levity, and a ductile licentiousness, which promised as glorious a harvest as vice and folly could desire."
A “ductile licentious” and “harvest as vice” leave little to the reader’s imagination as to what Macaulay is hinting at so strongly.
“All his [James’s] letters to his favourite Villiers are written in a style fulsomely familiar, many of them indecent, with very unusual expressions of love and fondness”
And here a canny 15-year old would need no decoder book to infer from “indecent” and “very unusual” that the “love and fondness” was hardly platonic!
And here is another passage in Macaulay that pointed toward a personal relationship beyond friendship:
“His familiar conversation, both in writing and in speaking, was fluffed with vulgar and indecent phrases. Though proud and arrogant to his temper, and full of the importance of his station, he descended to buffoonry, and suffered his favourite to address him in the most disrespectful terms of gross familiarity.”
Macaulay (who clearly really did not like James the First!) also made the following, more general negative comments about James’s character and behavior:
“In March 1615, the king [James I] going to Newmarket, according to his usual custom, to take the diversion of hunting, the students of Cambridge invited him to see a comedy called Ignoramus. At this play it was contrived that Villiers should appear with all the advantages which his mother could set him off with; and the king no sooner cast his eyes upon him, than he became confounded with admiration”
“His character, from the variety of grotesque qualities that compose it, is not easily to be delineated. The virtues he possessed were so loaded with a greater proportion of their neighbouring vices, that they exhibit no light to set off the dark shades; his principles of generosity were tainted by such a childish profusion, that they left him without means of paying his just obligations, and subjected him to the necessity of attempting irregular, illegal, and unjust methods of acquiring money. His friendship, not to give it the name of vice, was directed by so puerile a fancy, and so absurd a caprice, that the objects of it were ever contemptible, and its consequence attended with such an unmerited profusion of favours, that it was, perhaps, the most exceptionable quality of any he possessed.”
Now, even though Macaulay did not specifically mention Carr in these passages, Jane Austen, having read the above, would have been strongly motivated to find out more about James’s favourites from other readily available historical sources, and to also perhaps draw upon the most valuable resource of all, all within the confines of her Steventon rectory home, i.e., her elder brothers and all the older boys who were being tutored by the Austens at that time. PLUS….perhaps most of all, cousin Eliza Hancock de Feuillide, who, being a model for Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park, would perhaps have been all too eager to initiate her precocious young cousin into English history, told from the point of view of well informed women!
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