The Society for Renaissance Studies invites applications for its Postdoctoral Fellowships, which support research in all aspects of Renaissance studies. There will be two Postdoctoral Fellowships awarded in the academic year 2021-22, each worth £15,000.
Our understanding of ‘Renaissance’ is broad: we welcome applications from all disciplinary backgrounds, and across a wide chronological and geographical spectrum; we also prize innovative approaches to undertaking research. SRS supports the principle that academia cannot reach its full potential unless it can benefit from the talents of all, and so is committed to equality, diversity and inclusion.
- Applicants must be graduates of British or Irish universities, and currently engaged in full-time research, part-time teaching or independent scholarship.
- Applicants must either already have been awarded their PhD (from a British or Irish university) no more than five years before 1 October 2021, or have been provisionally awarded their PhD by 31 May 2021, subject to no more than minor corrections. These corrections must be due to be completed and accepted by the awarding university no later than 1 October 2021. It is expected that the applicant's referees will be able to confirm the status of the PhD.
- The SRS Fellowships are not to be held alongside other postdoctoral awards or fellowships or jobs that constitute more than 0.5 of a full-time post.
- The period of tenure is twelve months from 1 October 2021.
- Fellows are required to become members of the SRS and will be invited to attend meetings of the Society’s Council.
- Fellows will be asked to present their findings at the end of the period of award, and to submit a written report for publication in the Society’s Bulletin
- Fellows must name the Society for Renaissance Studies in their affiliation in any publications and conference papers presenting the research.
- There are no specific residence requirements for successful applicants taking up a Fellowship.
Applicants should complete the online application form below by 30 April 2021.
Dr David Rundle
This page was last updated 29 January 2021.
Michael Bennett was awarded his PhD from the University of Sheffield. His postdoctoral research will be on ‘Caribbean Slavery, Sugar Profits, and the Financial Revolution, 1640-1700’.
This project will provide the first comprehensive study of the financial impact of Caribbean slavery on early modern England and her empire between 1640 and 1700. This was an important period in the economic history of England and the American colonies: it spans the decades in which English participation in transatlantic commerce increased markedly and the financial revolution occurred. The first aim of the project is to trace where the capital generated by the sale of slave-grown produce from the Caribbean was reinvested in the English Empire, and to quantify the amounts of money involved. The second major aim is to investigate what role (if any) the profits of sugar and slavery played in funding the establishment of credit institutions in England, in order to establish whether the Caribbean plantation system helped to precipitate the financial revolution.
Kaye McLelland was awarded her PhD by University College London. Her postdoctoral research is on ‘Early Modern Preaching and the Body’.
This project investigates the representation of disability and the body in late Elizabethan and early Jacobean printed sermons. Preachers’ rhetorical and linguistic style on the subject of non-standard bodies, at an historical moment of heightened interest in the interpretation and translation of biblical texts, was often at odds with their pastoral duty towards the disabled people in their communities. Furthermore, the printing of sermons served to codify what would initially have been ephemeral: spoken word choices, translation choices, metaphors, and intertextual stock phrases, in ways that had a long-lasting impact on attitudes to the body and, in particular, to disabled bodies. This research will examine printed sermons on Jacob’s limp (Genesis 32), on ‘lame’ Mephibosheth (2 Samuel), and the theological and cultural implications of preachers’ word choices when discussing the incarnation and the body of Christ. It will include preachers with a variety of theological standpoints. William Perkins, for example, was a cleric who was himself disabled with a maimed hand; he used many metaphors of medicine and the body, in sermons including A Salue for a sick man (1611). Thomas Draxe used similar metaphors in sermons including The Sicke-Man’s Catechisme (1609). Lancelot Andrewes, a highly influential preacher and skilled linguist, preached extensively on the nativity. Thomas Adams, a less well-known and under-researched Calvinist priest, preached extensively on Mephibosheth. The project will ask how the language of preaching influenced or reflected cultural and religious attitudes to disability, and to what extent it continues to influence perceptions of the moral and inspirational status of disabled people.
Aislinn Muller holds her PhD from Cambridge University. Her postdoctoral project is on ‘Object Devotions: Sacred Materials and Political Subversion in England, ca. 1570-1660’.
My project proposes to determine the scope and nature of political participation amongst religious dissenters in post-Reformation England by examining the material cultures of these groups. Its specific aim is to investigate the circulation and political significance of Catholic sacred objects which were outlawed by post-Reformation regimes. From 1570, the government banned Catholic devotional objects and imposed stiff penalties for collecting them, fearing that these objects signalled allegiance to the pope and therefore a threat to the Protestant establishment. Despite the harsh penalties imposed for the possession of Catholic materials, English Catholics continued to circulate them and employ them in devotions. These objects functioned as devotional aids, protective charms, jewellery, and as symbols of religious identity. However, Catholics also began using sacred objects in bolder acts of resistance, as for example when John Somerville wore an agnus dei during his attempt to assassinate the queen in 1583. This project will have two main components. First it will consider the means of production and geographical distribution of sacred objects. Employing case studies of surviving items, I will assess the materials from which sacred objects were crafted, considering the supernatural as well as social significance associated with these materials. I will examine how entities such as the papacy, missionaries, travellers between England and the continent, religious houses, and Catholic laity in England participated in the circulation of sacred objects. The second part will investigate the circulation and use of sacred objects as an act of subversion in post-Reformation political culture. By assessing the political significance of sacred materials, this project will illuminate a dimension of Christian materiality which is crucial to understanding how religion can inform political expression in different contexts.
Valerio Zanetti was awarded his PhD by Cambridge University. His postdoctoral research is on ‘Medical and Pedagogic Conceptions of Female Athleticism in Europe between 1500 and 1700’.
Recent historical approaches to early modern sport emphasise the need to complement studies of specific games and activities with a broader understanding of exercise as a medical practice. According to Galenism, the management of corporeal movement played a crucial role in maintaining physical and emotional balance. Ambiguities inherent to the humoral definition of female anatomy, however, have rendered it difficult to reconcile discrepancies between seemingly conservative prescriptions and the development of more liberal practices. While the debate concerning intellectual equality between the sexes has been the object of much scholarly attention, the study of early modern women’s physical training remained comparatively neglected. Even the influential feminine ideal of the ‘strong woman’ has generally been examined as a moral construct disconnected from contemporary notions of female physical strength. To shed new light on the role of exercise in preserving women’s wellbeing, I will carry out a systematic survey of health regimens, both in Latin and the vernacular, as well as medical tracts dealing with female anatomy and reproductive health. I will then study prescriptive views of female exercise discussed in conduct literature, moral publications and pedagogic treatises dealing with women’s education. Tracking differences alongside significant areas of overlap between male and female physical training, my research questions traditional binary views and proposes a more comprehensive perspective that reveals the interplay between gender and social, racial and geographic factors. By examining theoretical views of female exercise, this project lays a solid foundation for further research into women’s involvement in various athletic activities across early modern Europe.
Dr Helen Newsome holds a PhD from the University of Sheffield. For her postdoctoral research, Helen will be working on a scholarly edition of the holograph letters of Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scots (1489-1541)
As Queen of Scots and Princess of England, Margaret Tudor (1489-1541) was pivotal in Anglo-Scottish relations in the early sixteenth century. Actively involved in Scottish government, she served as regent of Scotland for her son, James V, after the death of her husband James IV at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. Despite being sister to one of the most notorious kings in English history (Henry VIII), Margaret has been largely omitted from historical narratives and little attention has been paid to her epistolary communication (with the exception of Williams 2016). My research to date has identified 110 surviving letters written in Margaret’s own hand (also known as holograph letters); a collection which forms one of the largest archives of holograph correspondence written in English or Scots of any British medieval or early modern queen hitherto discovered. My project will collate this material and produce the first printed edition of Margaret Tudor’s holograph letters. The edition will make this unique archive available to others, as well as providing new insights into the character, letter-writing practices, and diplomatic activities of Margaret Tudor. Such a resource also has the potential to revolutionise our understanding of Anglo-Scots politics, medieval and early modern queenship, epistolary genres, women’s writing, and royal language more widely.
Dr Xiaona Wang holds a PhD from the University of Edinburgh. The title of her postdoctoral research is ‘Francis Bacon on attractio and gravitas: Sources, Context, and Later Influence’.
Francis Bacon was one of the first thinkers in England to suggest that gravity was an attractive force capable of acting at a distance—a notion of gravity that achieved its most influential form in Newton’s Principia Mathematica (1687). In the Medieval scholastic tradition, and in the new mechanical philosophies of the early seventeenth century, gravity was never seen as an attractive force, but Bacon initiated an alternative tradition in English natural philosophy which culminated in Newton’s universal principle of gravitation. Bacon’s important role in the development of the idea of gravity as an attractive force has not previously been recognised and the aim of my project is to provide the first scholarly account of his innovations in this area. Additionally, it will consider likely sources for Bacon’s ideas in Renaissance debates about the nature of matter, and show how these ideas were taken up by subsequent generations of English thinkers.
Dr Eleanor Chan holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge.
Reading in early modern Europe – whether the thing read was composed in words, paint, stitches, warp and weft, etching, engraving, carving, or indeed in musical notation – was a peculiarly patterned exercise. Pattern, and disruptions of pattern captured the imagination across media, evidenced in the popularity of the rhetorical tropes of structure,periodos, parison, epistrophe, antimetabole, in poetry, and in the rise of imitative counterpoint in the music of this period. It allowed for intervention, for creativity: for the reader to adopt the trajectory of their choice, rather than as directed, and to entwine diverse threads of knowledge in performance. The importance of pattern has been explored in single disciplinary contexts, in the work of those such as E.H. Gombrich and Brian Boyd. However, seldom has the cross-media, multisensory nature of pattern’s totalizing influence – and its importance to musical comprehension – been explored. Ellie’s project proposes to do so, at precisely the point at which several of these media collide: in the vocal motets, madrigals and psalm settings of the period, where poetic, verbal, aural and visual patterns were styled side by side.
Dr Amy Lidster completed her PhD in English Literature at King’s College London in 2017. Her thesis offered a reappraisal of the history play as a genre, both on the stage and in print. Amy’s new postdoctoral project is entitled Challenging authorship and authority in early modern playbook paratexts.
Early modern playbook paratexts are sites of transformation and transaction: they position and frame the main text, and affect the ways readers engage with the play as a printed book. Strikingly, a majority of these paratexts – which include dedications, addresses to readers, and commendatory verses – concentrate on issues of authorship, authority, and the transmission of plays from stage to page. In a period where the legal rights to publish a text resided with the publishers, rather than the individual(s) who wrote the text, playbook paratexts reveal a varied and lively discourse concerning who owned, edited, compiled, improved, destroyed, elevated, and ‘authorized’ a text. This project represents the first sustained examination into this group of materials and the ways in which they debate ideas of authorship and authority, featuring playbooks printed between 1584 (when the first professional plays were published) and 1660 (when the theatres were reopened following the Civil War).
One of the project’s main aims is to question key critical concepts such as ‘author’, ‘playwright’, ‘authorization’, and ‘authority’, and evaluate how they are explored (directly or indirectly) in playbook paratexts. Definitions of authorship and authority will not be restricted to the dramatists and ecclesiastical agents who were responsible for allowing a play for publication; instead, this study will examine how a range of individuals, including dramatists, publishers, patrons, censors, and theatrical companies, ‘authorize’ a text through their inclusion in or contribution of paratexts. By analysing the development, function, and impact of these paratextual discourses, this project will have important implications for understanding early modern perspectives on who controls and owns printed plays, and how readers’ experiences may have been shaped by these materials. It will consider how different views of playbook authorization could be used to inform modern critical approaches to authorship.
Dr Simon Egan graduated with a PhD in History from University College Cork in 2016. His doctoral thesis explored the resurgence of Gaelic political power in Ireland and Scotland during the period, c.1300-c.1550.
This current project is entitled ‘The Dynastic World of the Late Medieval and Renaissance Gaeltacht, c.1400-c.1550′. By the year 1500 most of Ireland and western Scotland had fallen under the control of the increasingly powerful and autonomous Gaelic speaking nobility. Power within this Gaelic speaking world, or Gaeltacht, had, by this time, become concentrated within the hands of select number of dynasties. These included the Gaelic Irish O’Neills of Tyrone, O’Donnells of Tyrconnell, O’Briens of Thomond, the ‘Gaelicized’ Anglo-Irish Burkes of Mayo and Clanrickard as well as the Gaelic Scottish MacDonalds of the Hebrides and Campbells of Argyll. By the mid-fifteenth century these dynasties had established themselves as the main players in their respective regions; they were moreover, capable of dominating large areas of the Gaeltacht over successive generations and were courted as allies by both the English and Scottish monarchies. Drawing upon a broad range of sources from within the Gaelic speaking world, as well as English, Scottish, and, where relevant, French and Imperial material, this project explores the dynastic structures of power underpinning the establishment of these dynasties. The project endeavours to locate the rise of these dynasties within the broader context of European Renaissance dynastic culture. For example, as a composite monarchy, the Holy Roman Emperors ruled over a vast multi-ethnic polity including Germans, Czechs, Croats, Italians and Flemings. Though geographically smaller, Ireland and Britain were comprised of multi-ethnic communities and both the English and Scottish monarchies ruled over racially diverse peoples.Historians have however, tended to focus on the English crown’s relations with the Anglo-Irish nobility, rather than investigating how large elements of the Gaelic Irish and Gaelic Scottish nobility often looked to both the English and Scottish monarchies for political support.Exploring the dynastic structures of power within the Gaeltacht thus offers a new approach for uncovering and contextualising English and Scottish interaction with the Gaelic nobility during a formative period of Irish and British history.
Dr. Jonathan Reimer received his Ph.D. in History from the University of Cambridge in 2017. His postdoctoral research project is entitled A Hand in the Fire: Recantation in Early Modern England.
This research project analyses practices of religious recantation in early modern England. It argues that, in the wake of Henry VIII’s break with Rome, the procedure by which the medieval English Church chastised and reintegrated nonconforming members developed into a powerful means of discrediting confessional adversaries – alternatively Catholic or Protestant, depending on who was in power – and imposing doctrinal uniformity. Such recantations targeted leading intellectuals, popular authors, high-ranking clergymen, and prominent courtiers, and took place in influential venues, such as Oxford and Cambridge, Paul’s Cross in London, and the Court. By reconstructing the scale and development of these practices, this project will reveal overlooked parallels between the religious policies of divergent Tudor monarchs, reconsider scholarly accounts of the relationship between persuasion and coercion in early modern England, and show how abjurations were shaped by historical circumstances, currents of theology and political philosophy, and polemical considerations.
Dr Leah Astbury completed her PhD in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge University. Her project is entitled Marriage, Health and Compatibility in Early Modern England.
Leah’s research as a postdoctoral fellow will investigate the relationship between marital harmony and health in early modern England. Spouses promised to care for one another ‘in sickness and in health’, a duty that was further inscribed in conduct literature of the period. Drawing on correspondence, diaries and spiritual meditations of middling and upper sort seventeenth-century families, Leah’s research considers how health was a collective responsibility and experience. Familial discord could have an adverse effect on the emotional and bodily wellbeing of its members. This project builds on Leah’s recently completed PhD, ‘Breeding Women and Lusty Infants in Seventeenth-Century England’ (University of Cambridge, 2015), which examined the experience of pregnancy, childbirth and afterbirth care.
Dr Mark Baker completed his PhD at Cardiff University. His project is entitled Jacques Androuet du Cerceau and Sebastiano Serlio in Wales.
Mark’s project proposes to look at the influence of the pattern books of Jacques Androuet du Cerceau (1510-1584) and Sebastiano Serlio (1475-1554) on Welsh country houses. The sources used by the gentry for house building in Wales still remain obscure. Mark aims to bring together the archaeological record of the Welsh country house and the documentary evidence available through European pattern books. The dissemination of architectural design was primarily through the use of visual exchange, which was passed to and from patrons and artisan craftsmen, and then interpreted in a local setting. This analysis of Welsh domestic architecture provides a new approach to understanding the building stock, and how internationalism become part of the development of gentry housing in Wales.
James Cook completed his doctorate at the University of Nottingham in 2014. His project is entitled The Strange Disappearance of English Music.
Fifteenth-century English music had a profound impact on mainland Europe and several important innovations are credited with being English in origin. However, the turbulent history of the church in England has left few English sources for this repertory. The developing narrative surrounding apparently English technical innovations has therefore often focussed on the recognition of English works in continental manuscripts and their routes of transmission. Until recently, these points of contact have been described primarily as incident based, relating to wars and councils. In reality, contact was frequent, multifarious and reciprocal. There existed many institutions supported by large émigré communities which offer valuable contexts not only for the presence of large amounts of English music in continental sources, but also for a number of works that can be understood only in terms of cultural exchange. Three articles will be published on single-work case studies, taken from my doctoral thesis, which epitomise precisely this cultural exchange.
Róisín Watson submitted her PhD at the University of St Andrews in 2015. Here she studied the Lutheran visual culture of the Duchy of Württemberg from 1534 to c. 1700, exploring the ways in which Lutheran ecclesiastical art was used by dukes, pastors and parishioners to express their spiritual and secular relationships.
As recipient of the Society for Renaissance Studies, Róisín’s new project addresses the relationship between the space of the church, its decoration and the administration of charity in early modern Lutheran Germany. In the first debates about the role of images during the Reformation, reformers in Germany and the Swiss Confederacy criticised the opulent decoration of the Catholic Church because it diverted church funds away from the poor. Charitable provision and the production of ecclesiastical art were viewed from the outset of the Reformation as antithetical. Yet the physical space of the church and its material and visual setting became important in communicating notions of charity: church objects might memorialise individual or collective charitable donations; alms for the poor were frequently distributed by the epitaphs of deceased donors or from the altar following communion; finally, churches might also be decorated with images of giving to encourage parishioners to participate in similar activities. This project considers the relationship between art and charity, as well as the extent to which the donation of objects to the church and financial bequests to the poor were conceived of in similar ways. A study of visual and material culture challenges the Weberian paradigm that the late medieval and early modern periods signalled a transition from forms of charity that were localised and administered through ecclesiastical structures to a modernised efficient, civically administered system of poor relief.
Holly James-Maddocks completed her Ph.D – ‘Collaborative Manuscript Production: Illuminators and their Scribes in Fifteenth-Century London’ – at the University of York in 2013. For this she constructed more than 25 ‘limner profiles’ for the period 1430–1500; identifying regularly collaborating illuminators and scribes. It challenged the widespread application of an ‘ad hoc’ theory of book production for this period. As part of this discussion of trade organisation she was able to localise small groups of illuminators and to examine, by community, the trends for specialisation in certain texts and the differing solutions to the problem of supplying demand. As the SRS Postdoctoral Fellow for 2014–15, she will use the incunabula collections of London and Cambridge libraries to pursue this related project:
‘Medieval’ Illuminators in ‘Early Modern’ Books: The Transitional Book Producers of England, c.1455–1500
She will investigate the extent to which the account of early printed books in England should be an account of the illuminators who decorated these books, currently known only from their work in manuscripts. From the arrival of the first copies of Gutenberg’s Bible after 1455 to the products of the English printing presses after 1476, the presence of border-work in the English style indicates that some illuminators certainly diversified their income through ornamentation of both media. She will explore the identity of these individuals, the continuity in their craft and organisation before and after printing, and the transformations printing made to the manuscript culture that gave it shape. The aims will be 1) to attribute the illumination in English incunables and in imported incunables (undecorated at the point of arrival) to illuminators known from their work in manuscripts; 2) determine if there is a correlation between different geographical locations and trade categories of illuminators (guild/ foreign/ peripatetic) and their decoration of English and/or imported incunables; and 3) assess how continuities and changes in production practice relate to modern narratives of epochal change, including notions of the emergence of modernity. This project will form the ‘coda’ to a larger study which localises illuminators, and the texts they decorated, to different urban centres in England.
Katherine Harvey's project is entitled ‘Medicine and the Bishop in England, c.1350-c.1550.’ Through an examination of the interactions between bishops, medical knowledge and the medical professions, it explores the relationship between religion and medicine during the years between the Black Death and the English Reformation. The project will utilise a wide range of sources, including (but not limited to): biographical works, household accounts, episcopal writings (including tracts, letters and wills), episcopal and papal registers, chronicles and material remains. Key themes to be addressed by this research include the bishop’s position as a beneficiary of medical knowledge and treatment, the extent of episcopal medical knowledge and the ways in which this knowledge was deployed, and the role of medical knowledge in the construction of episcopal reputations. The project will thus shed new light on the links and potential tensions between spiritual and medical understandings of health and well-being as they existed in medieval and early modern England. Previous work on the late medieval and early modern English episcopate has focused on the spiritual, political and administrative functions of the bishop; this study will therefore add a new dimension to our understanding of the pre-Reformation prelate. It will also shed new light on the role of medicine in the lives of medieval and Tudor elites. The findings of this project will ultimately form part of my next book, provisionally entitled ‘Medicine and the Bishop in Pre-Reformation England.’
I completed my Ph.D at Cambridge in 2009 with a thesis entitled ‘Lives of the Virgin Mary by Women writers in Post-Tridentine Italy’. My current research is about the paduan apothecary Camilla Erculiani, a rare example of a woman who wrote about scientific questions in the sixteenth century.
In 1584 the Paduan female apothecary Camilla Erculiani published her Lettere di Philosophia Naturale (Letters on Natural Philosophy), in which she expresses her ideas on the natural cause of the Flood and other scientific theories, defending women’s ability to write about philosophy. According to the lawyer Giacomo Menochio (1532-1607), Erculiani was accused for heresy for the ideas expressed in her book and was involved in a inquisitorial trial, but nothing is known about its circumstances and outcome.
Camilla Erculiani’s Lettere brings together a series of questions concerning the figure of the author, the circumstances of the publication of her book, the role of apothecaries in the circulation of knowledge and the relations between science, theology, inquisition and women during the Counter Reformation. My research aims 1) to provide new documents about Erculiani’s life, her cultural network, the sources she used and her inquisitorial trial 2) to publish a modern critical edition of the ‘Lettere’.in ‘The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe’ series (Toronto: CRRS).
Jennifer Evans completed her doctorate at the University of Exeter. Her project is entitled ‘Men’s Sexual Health and Masculinity in Early Modern England’.
Understandings of the body were a foundation for ideas about gender and sexuality in early modern England. Masculinity and manhood rested upon the male body exhibiting potency, strength, and rationality. This project will be the first in-depth investigation of how sexual and reproductive problems were accommodated in this complex framework. It will explore how early modern society understood diseases associated with the sexual and reproductive functioning of the male body, and will demonstrate how the discussions about these disorders reflected wider concerns about manhood, masculinity and patriarchy. The project will also investigate how men responded to episodes of sexual illness, disorder and debility, and ask whether these responses constituted a uniquely male experience of illness. In particular it will examine the relationships between male sufferers, their medical practitioners, families and contemporaries.
This research will go beyond existing studies that have focused on the print culture of health and gender to incorporate a study of print culture and patient practitioner interactions. This research will culminate in the publication of a monograph that challenges our understandings of male bodies at this time and tests the ways in which we conceptualise early modern masculinity.
Sara Read competed her doctorate at Loughborough University.
My present research is intended to address, in a multi-disciplinary way, the lack of research that has hitherto been carried out into what it meant to be an overweight woman in the Renaissance and Restoration periods. The project will extend approximately from the character of Ursula in Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair (1614) to the death of the famously overweight Queen Anne (1665-1714). One of its key aims is to interrogate the assumption that it was acceptable or even desirable for women to be fat in the period. I will consult a broad range of materials including plays, poetry, medical writings, court records and life-writing from archival sources, and works in galleries such as the National Portrait Gallery.
Despite what is popularly believed, early-modern society shared modern concerns about the health implications of being overweight. There is also evidence that those deemed as ‘fat’ suffered marginalisation or ridicule, both in literary representations and in wider cultural contexts. The history of obesity has attracted some attention recently, both in scholarly accounts and works for the general reader. However, this work often overlooks the very real, and continuing, gendered element to the associations made with obesity, shown in differing attitudes to overweight men and women. This research will therefore add a necessary dimension to the growing field of the historiography of women’s bodies, and will provide an historical context for the topic of women’s bodily ideals which is of constant interest in today’s media.
Following the completion of my doctoral studies at the University of Cambridge in October 2009, I was fortunate to be awarded a Society for Renaissance Studies Postdoctoral Fellowship. The fellowship provided me with crucial support in my transition from graduate student to lecturer, and it allowed me a year to undertake the further research to turn my thesis into a monograph, present my work at conferences and seminars, and publish on areas related to my thesis.
My doctoral thesis was concerned with the large body of prison literature that emerged in England as a result of the particular religious and political pressures of the sixteenth century. It examines what kinds of writings these prisoners produced, from trial narratives to Psalm translations, Pauline epistles, poetry, polemic, devotional treatises and graffiti; and it explores what such texts can tell us about the conditions of early modern gaols, prisoners’ activities in their cells, the nature of prison communities, and how these writings were smuggled out of the prison and disseminated. One of my key concerns when writing the thesis was that the texts I was consulting should be as close to what the prisoners originally wrote as possible, and so, where available, I consulted manuscript copies of prison writings alongside the early modern printed editions. Indeed, in some cases I was lucky enough to have access to autograph copies of works: the presentation copy of Edward Courtenay’s translation of Tratatto utilissimo del beneficio di Giesu Cristo crocifisso verso i Cristiani, which he made for the duchess of Somerset, is now held at Cambridge University Library; and many letters of Protestant prisoners who were martyred under Mary I are now held at the British Library and Emmanuel College Library, Cambridge. But whilst my doctoral research was strongly concerned with fidelity to the handwritten word, the SRS Postdoctoral Fellowship provided me with the opportunity to examine the ways in which the transition of prison writings into print affected how they were read and received, and to explore the impact of such publications on literature more broadly in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries – in other words, the prison writings’ afterlives.
During the period of the fellowship my research followed two main avenues. The first was an analysis of the editorial policies behind the printing of Protestant prison literature up to and including the second (1570) edition of John Foxe’s ‘Book of Martyrs’. The compilation of the massive anthology, which collected prison writings alongside many other documentary witnesses to martyrdom, was undoubtedly a product of its time. In the 1550s and 1560s the anthology had emerged as a new supragenre; everyone wanted to produce the definitive book on a subject, and in these decades we see the emergence of a number of continental martyrologies that take an ambitious and anthological approach to narrating the history of martyrdom in the western world. Foxe’s, though, was by far the biggest and most ambitious of these martyrologies, covering a huge chronological span (from the first century AD up to the end of Mary I’s reign), and collecting together a colossal number of prisoners’ writings (mostly from Mary I’s reign). This, however, was not the inevitable way of publishing prison writings. In the early days of the 1530s publishers had brought prisoners’ writings to press as and when they received them, which usually resulted in the printing of single texts that were minimally edited and had few paratexts. Presumably the reason behind this policy was that the texts might bring immediate comfort and edification to the persecuted Protestant community. This changed somewhat in the 1540s with the emergence of John Bale as an editor of Protestant trial narratives written by prisoners. Unlike his predecessors, Bale had an agenda with these writings: to establish their authors as martyrs that shared a heritage with the early Christian church. And so these texts are accompanied by, sometimes excessive, paratexts (especially The Examinations of Anne Askew) and there is strong evidence that he edited these writings to fit his own doctrinal position on issues such as transubstantiation. Critics agree that Bale’s editorial approach and his friendship with Foxe had a profound impact on the shape of the ‘Book of Martyrs’, the compilation of which began in the 1550s when both men were working for the printer Johann Oporinus. During this time Foxe and his associates – who were collecting prisoners’ writings that had been smuggled over to the Protestant communities on the continent – actively sought to hold these writings from the press in order to protect the writers while they lived, but also to allow time to create a full collection of works, and edit them to eradicate doctrinal schism and hints of controversy. But even at this time the anthological approach to the publication of prison writings was still by no means inevitable: during Mary’s reign the Hill/Ctematius press in Emden sought, like printers in the 1530s, to get texts printed fast and faithfully.
I presented this research in a number of arena during the fellowship. I was invited to give a paper on the posthumous publication of protestant prison writing at the IHR’s seminar series ‘Religious History of Britain, 1500-1800’; I gave a paper on the competing publication policies behind the printing of Nicholas Ridley’s prison writings at Cambridge University’s Centre for Material Text’s inaugural conference and at the RSA in Venice; and I presented a paper entitled ‘Foxe’s forebears’ at the SRS conference in York. Subsequently this work has been shaped into a chapter, which questions the idea that printing texts necessarily ‘liberates’ them. This will form the final chapter of my monograph, provisionally entitled The Rise of Prison Literature in the Sixteenth Century.
The other main avenue of enquiry that I pursued during the fellowship was the ubiquity of prison metaphors and prison scenes in early modern drama. This took the form of an article entitled ‘The Prison in Early Modern Drama’ (Literature Compass, forthcoming in 2011). The prison is hard to escape in early modern drama. It is a setting for numerous comedies, history plays and tragedies, from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure to his Richard III, John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi, Ben Jonson’s Every Man Out of His Humour, and George Chapman, John Marston and Jonson’s Eastward Ho, to name but a small sample. It also appears to have been a metaphorical destination that early modern playwrights were powerless to resist. In Shakespeare’s works, Hamlet famously states that ‘Denmark’s a prison’ (2.2.243); Prince Edward makes the Platonic lament, ‘Now my soul’s palace is become a prison’ (3 Henry VI, 2.1.74); and in Romeo and Juliet the trope of love as imprisonment occurs repeatedly (e.g. 1.2.54-6, 2.2.176-81). This article considers the reason for the early modern obsession with incarceration, providing a survey of the influence of contemporary prison legislation and conditions on city comedies; the use of chronicles and martyrologies in the writing of history plays; and the linguistic traces of prison literature and other literary tropes of imprisonment. In so doing, it demonstrates that many of the recurring features in those plays deemed to be influenced by contemporary London prisons – including the representation of the prison as corrupt and variable in its administration, as unjust or lacking in power – have analogues in earlier literary and historical works.
During the year of the fellowship I also became interested in the concept of literary afterlives more broadly. I was invited to write about one of the literary afterlives of Henry VIII in Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons, which is forthcoming in an edited collection entitled Henry VIII in History, edited by Thomas Betteridge and Thomas S. Freeman (Ashgate, 2012).
In September 2010, at the end of my fellowship, I was made lecturer in Renaissance English Literature at Queen Mary, University of London. I am in no doubt that research undertaken, and the additional experience I gained, during the fellowship contributed to me getting this job. And the fruits of the work undertaken during the fellowship are evident in my teaching: on the second year course, ‘Early Modern Drama and Social Process’, I teach students about representation of imprisonment, martyrdom, and execution on the early modern stage; and in a new course I will be offering from this October, ‘The Court of Henry VIII: Then and Now’, my students will be comparing the representation of Henry produced during his lifetime with the images propagated by literature, popular history, film and TV in the modern era.
Rosa completed her doctoral thesis in 2009 in the Department of History at Queen Mary, University of London, under the supervision of Professor Kate Lowe. Her subject was ‘From Printshop to Piazza: The Diffusion of Cheap Print in Cinquecento Venice’.
Jane completed her doctoral thesis last year, under the supervision of Dr Mary Laven (Cambridge). Her subject was ‘The lazaretti of Venice, Verona and Padua (1520-1580)’ and she now proposes to expand this research to cover Venetian plague hospitals through to the fall of the republic.
Piers Baker-Bates studied Classics and History of Art at the University of Cambridge. He joined the Art History Department at the Open University in October 2008 as a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow and currently remains there as a Research Associate.
His research interests are concerned with art and architecture at Rome during the period traditionally referred to as the ‘High Renaissance’. He is completing a book that will discuss the previously neglected Roman career of Sebastiano del Piombo and in particular the importance to his career of patrons from outside the city; as a result he has now become interested in discovering how Italian works of art were diffused throughout Europe in the sixteenth-century, with particular attention given to patterns of cultural interchange with Spain.
‘The idiosyncratic model of Sebastiano del Piombo’, Bulletin of Renaissance Studies, XXIII, 1, October, 2005, 1-6.
‘A Re-discovered Drawing by Sebastiano del Piombo and the Dating of his Christ carrying the Cross’, Paragone, LVI, 64 (669), November 2005, 63-67.
‘Between Italy and Spain: Cultural Interchange in the Roman Career of Sebastiano del Piombo’, Renaissance Studies, 21, 2, April 2007, 254-65.
‘The Ubeda Pietà: Sebastiano del Piombo and Ferrante Gonzaga between Italy and Spain’, Art Site and Spectacle Studies in Early Modern Visual Culture The Melbourne Art Journal, 9/10, 2007, 34-43.
‘The Bishop and the Artist: the quest for patronage in High Renaissance Rome’, in Art and Identity in Early Modern Rome, ed. Jill Burke and Michael Bury, Ashgate, May 2008.
‘A portrait of Cardinal Pompeo Colonna: the rival and imitator of the Medicean Caesars’, in Papers of the British School at Rome, 76, 2008, 741-42.