Edward T. Corp. The Stuarts in Italy, 1719-1766: A Royal Court in Permanent Exile. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. xi + 416 pp. $99.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-521-51327-2.
Reviewed by Paul Monod (Middlebury College)
Published on H-Albion (January, 2012)
Commissioned by Jeffrey R. Wigelsworth
Edward Corp, a British scholar at the University of Toulouse, might be called the maggiordomo of Jacobite court history. Since the early 1990s, he has painstakingly reconstructed the administrative structures, spatial organization, and cultural activities, first of King James II’s court at St. Germain-en-laye outside Paris, then of his son James III’s court at Urbino, and now of the courts of James III’s “permanent exile” at Rome and Bologna. Packed with information from Italian archives, this book will become the standard reference for any scholar who is interested in the operations of the Stuart court in Italy after 1719.
The question for those who are not already captivated by the subject is: why does it matter? After all, the court of “the Old Pretender” at Rome has often been imagined as impoverished, dreary, politically irrelevant, and pathetic in its efforts to retain the image of majesty in exile. Corp has little difficulty in dispelling these fallacies, but he does so from an Italian rather than a British perspective. This makes sense, because the Stuart court became a fixture of Roman society, and its impact has to be judged through Roman as well as British eyes. The Stuart claimant lived in an unspectacular but dignified residence provided by the papacy, known as the Palazzo del Re or Royal Palace, which Corp has identified as the former Palazzo Muti on the Piazza dei Santi Apostoli, not the new Palazzo Muti on the Piazza della Pilota, as previous historians believed. There and at the country house in Albano that was loaned to him by the pope, James III spent his free time mingling with Roman aristocrats, to many of whom he was related. He sponsored Italian operas, and was given the unique privilege of occupying a triple box at the main Roman operatic theatres. As decades passed, his court became more and more rooted in Italy, as its members gradually accepted the idea of permanent exile. After 1729, James III was apparently resigned to spending the rest of his days at Rome, and after 1746, he lost hope in the restoration of his son, Charles Edward, to the English throne. When he died twenty years later, at the age of 77, most of James’s remaining advisors and household servants were Italians.
Corp’s emphasis on the Roman background to the Stuart court pays dividends. The staunchly supportive papal attitude toward the exiled monarch, for example, is carefully examined in its local context. The sense of frustration and betrayal that was often felt at the Stuart court in relation to French policy was not duplicated with regard to the papacy. On the contrary, six successive popes, from Clement XI to Clement XIII, were extraordinarily generous and accommodating toward their royal guests. In a religious sense, the results of this benevolence were astonishing. Fifty years before James III’s arrival, it would have been unthinkable that a supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church would have allowed Protestants to live openly in the Holy City, to bury their dead in ground consecrated to the reformed faith, and even to hold their own Anglican religious services. Yet this was what the popes granted to the Jacobites. The beginnings of a crack in the official papal wall of resistance to the Reformation might be detected here. While the Stuart court existed, there was as much official toleration of Protestantism at Rome as there was of Catholicism in England (where the Mass could only be heard at diplomatic chapels).
The Stuarts participated fully in Roman festive and cultural life, and were significant patrons of music, above all of the opera. They encouraged the spread of the novel galant style of operatic writing that emerged from Naples in the 1720s, sponsored Antonio Vivaldi’s initial operatic incursion into Rome, and gave the famous castrato Farinelli his first big career boost. They also employed a lot of famous contemporary painters--Giovanni Paolo Panini, Anton Raphael Mengs, Jean-Etienne Liotard, Rosalba Carriera--although they rarely commissioned anything other than portraits, and tended to rely on less well-known artists like Louis-Gabriel Blanchet or Giorgio Domenico Dupra. While their cultural efforts did not match those of their exiled precursor at Rome, Queen Christina of Sweden, who founded the Arcadian Academy at her home in the Palazzo Farnese in 1656, the Stuarts kept up royal patronage of the arts down to the 1760s. Although not among the wealthiest inhabitants of the city, they were never short of money, and as the only royal family residing in the papal capital, they enjoyed a status that went far beyond financial considerations.
Corp also clears up a number of Stuart family matters in this book. He gives a coherent explanation of the dispute over household appointments that led James’s wife Clementina Sobieska to quit the Palazzo del Rey for a convent in 1725--she returned five years later, to take up a hard life of charitable work, in which duties she wore the habit of a Dominican nun. Corp also reveals that James III intended his younger son, Prince Henry, for a career in the Catholic Church as early as 1742; he did not reach this decision after the failure of the ’45 rebellion, as has often been claimed. The book contains occasional surprises. Was anybody previously aware, for example, that James III was given lessons in Mandarin by Bishop François Fouquet, who had lived in China, and that he and Fouquet sometimes spoke the language together at dinner? Who knew about the scandal caused to the cardinal in charge of the fabric of St. Peter’s by the “indecent” mosaic portrait of Queen Clementina on her monument within the Basilica? He wanted her to be portrayed as a penitent, but the pope overruled him, which is why Clementina’s regal image, with its elaborate hairstyle and modest décolleté, can still be admired in the left aisle of Catholicism’s leading church.
Due to its Roman focus, Corp’s study is less thorough in evoking the significance of the Stuart court from English, Scottish, or Irish viewpoints. The presence of the “Old Pretender” at Rome was a gift to anti-Catholic polemicists in Great Britain and Ireland, and it could be an embarrassment to Protestant Jacobites. The Jacobite court’s reputation within the British Isles might make a subject for future study. Corp does note, however, that James III became an informal protector for all British visitors to Rome, regardless of their religious or political persuasions. This would prove significant for British collectors of antique works of art. The exiled king himself was not much interested in antiquities, but the Jacobite community at Rome included many prominent connoisseurs and dealers in ancient art, such as the Abbé Grant or the painter Gavin Hamilton. James III’s last undersecretary, the Scot Andrew Lumisden, an intriguing figure about whom too little is said in this book, later published an influential study of Roman antiquities. It would be interesting to know what role the Stuart court may have played in the accumulation of Charles Towneley’s famous collection.
Corp refers to the subject of antique art only in passing, but he does devote some attention to Jacobite clubs and societies, such as the Order of Toboso and the lodge of Freemasons that met in Rome from 1734-46. He describes the first of these clubs in terms of Stuart court politics, clashing with Steve Murdoch’s view that the order represented the abandonment of Jacobite hopes for a restoration. As the Tobosans were a loosely structured companionship of prominent exiles with different interests, both interpretations may be partly correct. As to freemasonry, Corp points out that James III himself requested its suppression, but he also makes the controversial suggestion that the 1738 papal bull In Eminenti, which called on Catholics to “stay completely clear” of freemasonry on pain of excommunication, was aimed solely at “Hanoverian Freemasons,” not at their Jacobite counterparts (p. 332). In fact, the bull condemned all such societies, mainly on the grounds of their “inviolable silence about all that they do in secret together” (see http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Clem12/c15inemengl.htm). Despite the myth that the Stuarts were hereditary grand masters of freemasonry, a fiction promulgated by their supporters throughout Europe, they did nothing to assist the fraternity in its moment of crisis and in fact worked actively to destroy it.
This is a minor point. Edward Corp’s well-written and cogently organized book has more important things to say about the significance of the Stuarts in Roman society and culture. For almost fifty years, in spite of the failure of Jacobite conspiracies and rebellions in the British Isles, James III’s court maintained a regal presence in the papal city, which did not fade until the dawning of the age of revolutions. This alone makes it worthy of Corp’s finely detailed study.
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Paul Monod. Review of Corp, Edward T., The Stuarts in Italy, 1719-1766: A Royal Court in Permanent Exile.
H-Albion, H-Net Reviews.
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