British Museum blog

Why was a picture like this made?

Shakespeare’s Restless World is currently being broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Today’s episode Life Without Elizabeth: Portrait of the Tudor Dynasty examines the hot topic of who would be next on the throne.


Susan Doran, University of Oxford

In 1571 or 1572 when this painting was made, the question of Queen Elizabeth’s marriage was still alive. There were negotiations for her to marry in the French Royal House; there were the two young princes so candidates for marriage were possible, even though in many ways marriage was unlikely. Of course, Elizabeth could also have married Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. She was young enough still, despite being in her late thirties, to have children and that would have resolved the question of the succession.

At this time there were considerable problems about the succession because there wasn’t only the danger that Elizabeth might die naturally and Mary Queen of Scots, a Catholic, would gain the throne, but that she would actually be assassinated. There had been a Papal bull that called for her deposition and there had been a plot, the Ridolfi plot, which was an international conspiracy designed to supplant Elizabeth and put Mary Queen of Scots on the throne.

A painting by Lucas de Heere,The Family of Henry VII: Allegory of the Tudor Succession, 1571-2.
© National Museum of Wales

Everyone knew that there was an international conspiracy, that there had been a rebellion in 1569 designed to put Mary Queen of Scots on the throne and that Philip II of Spain was behind the Ridolfi plot, so those people looking at the painting would have been aware of the threat to Elizabeth’s own life and therefore the problem with the succession.

In 1571, the Treasons Act was passed which made it treason to discuss the succession, particularly the title of any potential successors to Elizabeth. Another policy was passed in 1581 which reinforced that need for silence on the succession.

The issue of the succession was evident not just in Shakespeare’s plays but in other plays as well, in masques and entertainments. Questions about what kind of succession there should be, whether it should be an elective or hereditary succession are present in Titus Andronicus. They’re there in chronicles, they’re there in plays and they would have been easily read by audiences of Shakespeare’s plays.

Shakespeare’s Restless World is on BBC Radio 4
from 16 April to 11 May, at 13.45 and 19.45 weekdays.

Listen to today’s programme Life Without Elizabeth: Portrait of the Tudor Dynasty

Find out more:
National Museum of Wales
Allegory of the Tudor Succession

Filed under: Shakespeare's Restless World, What's on, ,

One Response - Comments are closed.

  1. katesanch says:

    Interesting! I’ve seen the other version of this painting that doesn’t involve the RIdolfi plot, but I think I’ve only really passed over this one. I’ll definitely try to tune in to the show today.

    Like

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A Japanese woodblock print of a snow scene from today's #BMAdventCalendar This is the next space in our #MuseumOfTheFuture series looking at all the galleries in the Museum. Rooms 92–94 are the Mitsubishi Corporation Japanese Galleries. Continuity and change have shaped Japanese material culture since ancient times. Through extensive cultural exchange, Japan has become a thriving modern, high-technology society while continuing to celebrate many elements of its traditional culture.
You can explore the art, religion, entertainment and everyday life of emperors, courtiers and townspeople in Rooms 92–94 through objects dating from ancient Japan to the modern period.
Artefacts range from porcelain and Samurai warrior swords, to woodblock prints and 20th-century manga comic books.
Historic tea ceremony wares can also be seen, alongside a reconstruction of a traditional tea house. Today’s #BMAdventCalendar – this struck bronze medal shows a nativity scene Four boys make a snowball in this Japanese woodblock print from today’s #BMAdventCalendar Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, set and filmed here, is now in cinemas across the UK! #NightAtTheMuseum This is Room 91, the next gallery in our #MuseumOfTheFuture series. It's used for temporary exhibitions, usually from the Department of Asia. At the moment you can see the exhibition Pilgrims, healers and wizards: Buddhism and religious practices in Burma and Thailand (until 11 January 2015).
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