Tudor Royal Propaganda

‘We must not let in daylight upon magic’

Chapter 4 : 'Beastly Delights'

Elizabeth’s death in March 1603 signalled more than just the end of the Tudor dynasty. It was the end of the most effective propaganda machine in the history of the monarchy. Subsequent dynasties tried to manipulate their public image in the same way but enjoyed at best only fleeting success.

This was particularly true of the Elizabeth’s immediate successor, James VI and I, who failed to appreciate the need for the public displays of monarchy that had so entranced Elizabeth’s subjects. The Venetian ambassador echoed the views of many when he scornfully observed that ‘from his [the King’s] dress he would have been taken for the meanest of courtiers.’ Others agreed that, in sharp contrast to the late queen, James lacked ‘great majesty’ and ‘solemnities’. His wife, Anne of Denmark, made no better impression. In July 1603, the Venetian Secretary to England reported to the Doge that Queen Anne, who lacked Elizabeth’s sense of style, had even plundered the late queen’s wardrobe. For ‘though she declared that she would never wear cast clothes, still it was found that art could not devise anything more costly and gorgeous, and so the Court dressmakers are at work altering these old robes, for nothing new could surpass them’.

The Jacobean court also presented a stark contrast to the dazzling pageantry, culture and refinement that had been the hallmark of the Tudors. Early in the new reign, a disapproving Sir John Harington described the ‘beastly delights’ that the new King and his courtiers ‘wallowed in’. He concluded: ‘I have much marvelled at these strange pageantries, and they do bring to my remembrance what passed of this sort in our Queen’s days…I never did see such lack of good order, discretion, and sobriety, as I have now done.’

It was not long before there was a widespread dissatisfaction with the new Stuart dynasty among everyone except the dwindling number of favourites and sycophants who hung about the court. The fact that James lived so much of his increasingly self-indulgent life on a public stage took away the mystique of monarchy that had been the hallmark of the Tudors. This would prove disastrous for the Stuart regime – which, by the time of James’s death, already looked dangerously unstable. It now became obvious that the Tudors’ skilful crafting of their public image had been the secret of their success.

Tracy Borman’s new book, Crown & Sceptre: A New History of the British Monarchy, William the Conqueror to Elizabeth II, was published by Hodder & Stoughton on 18 November.