Next Meeting: Saturday 24th February 2018 – Gregynog Hall
The MEMORI Reading Group is, this month, meeting at Gregynog, as part of the MA in English Literature’s Postgraduate Conference. In this away fixture, we will be reading Martin Parker’s The Most Admirable Historie of That Most Renowned Christian Worthy Arthur King of the Britaines (1660), as well as a short extract from Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, subtitled ‘The Reassurance of Fratricide’. The references for these texts are as follows:
- Martin Parker, The Most Admirable Historie of That Most Renowned Christian Worthy Arthur King of the Britaines (London: Francis Coles, 1660)
- Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1991)
Below is a brief sketch of Martin Parker, largely taken from the May 2017 blog post on the MEMORI Reading Group’s blog entitled ‘Martin Parker: Ballads and Broadsides.
Martin Parker was the most celebrated and famous balladeer of the seventeenth century. His extant corpus contains over eighty ballads, pamphlets, broadsheets, and chapbooks, but it is hard to judge the true size of his canon. His first ballad appeared in 1624, and tells the story of a Cornish murder, while the text we’re reading was a chapbook entitled The Most Admirable Historie of that Most Renowned Christian Worthy Arthur, King of the Britaines, entered into the Stationers’ Register on the 5th April 1660, the last time Parker’s name would appear there. Before 1660 the last entry to bear his name was a chapbook published in 1647. This thirteen-year silence coincided with a clampdown on ballads and balladeers by the Government, led by Captain Bethan; Parker is also believed to have died during this period, probably sometime in the early 1650s. A satirical elegy for Parker appears in 1656, within a book entitled Death in a New Dress, OR Sportive Funeral Elegies and references in the 1653 and 1654 editions of Merlinus Anonymous suggest that Parker had died.
Parker is believed to have been an innkeeper for parts of his life, possibly while active as a writer, and there are also suggestions that he occasionally fell on the wrong side of the law. Parker’s later work contains strong royalist themes, which angered Puritans and earned him the title ‘The Prelates Poet’, not an uncommon insult for the King’s supporters at the time. He is thought to have taken over the running of the royalist newsbook Mercurius Melancholicus after its editor John Hackluyt was arrested and imprisoned.
Parker is chiefly remembered as a balladeer, though he published work in other genres, including journalism, royalist broadsides, romance, and more serious poetry.
The Admirable Historie is a retelling of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Arthurian narrative, contained within Geoffrey’s wide-ranging mythical account of the Kings of Britain, entitled Historia Regum Britanniae (c. 1136). Parker’s text is unusual amongst seventeenth century Arthuriana in that it is, more or less, complete, telling Arthur’s story from his childhood right through to the tragic implosion of the Round Table and Arthur’s death. This is in stark contrast to the Arthurian literary fractures that litter the period – Milton’s abandoned epic, Dryden’s multiple literary attempts, and Blackmore’s frequently ridiculed ‘heroick poems’. Parker’s text also stands out because of its adherence to the established Arthurian narrative, again unusual during the seventeenth century. Like many other Arthurian texts, however, the Admirable Historie was written during a time when authority, in this case royal authority, was under pressure; this pressure came in the form of the Interregnum (1649-60) that followed the English Civil War (1642-51), and which ended with the Restoration in 1660, when Charles II acceded to the throne.
Some Brief Notes on the Restoration
Oliver Cromwell ruled England as Lord Protector from 1653-58, dying on 3rd September 1658, and was succeeded by his son Richard Cromwell, but it soon became apparent that the son did not have the same skills as the father, and would not be able to hold onto power. There were a few small pro-royalist rebellions between 1658 and 1660, but the restoration would not truly get under way until General George Monck made his move. Monck, who commanded the army in Scotland, saw this and did not support Richard Cromwell militarily. Instead he waited and watched as confusion reigned. Charles II had already written to him in 1655, asking for support in an attempted restoration, but Monck had not obliged. This time, however, Monck supported the exiled king. He marched his army south on 2nd January 1660, and entered London on 3rd February 1660, having met little opposition. No one knew exactly what Monck’s intentions were, for he seemed to be playing both sides. Soon it became cleaer that he had taken the side of Charles II. Monck organised the Convention Parliament, which met for the first time on 25 April 1660, and he was elected an MP for both Devon and Cambridge University; he was now master of the situation.
On 4 April 1660, after communications and collaboration with Monck, Charles II signed the Declaration of Breda, in which he made several promises in relation to the reclamation of the crown of England.
On 8 May the Convention Parliament proclaimed that King Charles II had been the lawful monarch since the execution of Charles I on 30 January 1649. Constitutionally, it was as if the last nineteen years had never happened. Charles returned from exile, leaving The Hague on 23 May 1660 and landing at Dover on 25 May 1660. He entered London on 29 May, his birthday. To celebrate his Majesty’s Return to his Parliament, 29 May was made a public holiday, popularly known as Oak Apple Day He was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 23 April 1661, St George’s Day.
Questions for Discussion:
- The literary histories of the Arthurian legend classify this text as a prose romance. Is this text a prose romance or more of a chronicle? What elements does it draw from each form?
- How does the preface work in the The Most Admirable History? Does its insistence of Arthur’s historicity affect the way we read the text?
- Given that Parker’s Admirable Historie was published posthumously, and before the Restoration, how much can this text be described as a restoration fantasy? Is it clear that it was written before the Restoration of Charles II in 1660?
- How does Anderson’s theory of reassuring fratricide help us to read the Admirable History? Look particularly at the tournament scene, how it foreshadows the text’s end, and recalls England’s recent past.
- What is the effect of the presence/absence of usual Arthurian figures in this text? Who is missing? What roles do they play, and why?
- How does Merlin feature in this text?
- What is happening in Chapter X? Why does Parker break with the traditional Galifridian narrative of European conquest in order to send Arthur on crusade? Why does he not complete the narrative laid down in the contents page?
- How is succession treated?
- Is this a well-produced text?
- What do you make of the front cover image, and the image of the Round Table?