Around three years before his death, King James VI/I was reportedly visited in his sleep by his late tutor, the renowned Scottish intellectual and resistance theorist George Buchanan, come to deliver a prophetic message to his erstwhile pupil from beyond the grave. This alleged nocturnal incident was documented on 21 September 1622 by Girolamo Lando, Venetian Ambassador in England, in a diplomatic despatch that has attracted the attention of modern scholars including David Norbrook and Roger Mason.1 Printed in the Calendar of State Papers, Venice, Lando’s account describes widespread popular discussion of the king’s advancing age and seemingly declining health. It goes on to mention a rumour that the king’s dreams were troubled some months previously by an apparition of Buchanan, which ‘predicted [James’s] fate in verse, that soon afterwards he would fall into ice, and then into fire, that he would endure frequent pain, and die after two years’. Reported by the king only to the most trusted gentlemen of his chamber, this dream-prophecy had since been partially fulfilled, according to the Venetian Ambassador, via ‘accidents of water and fire’.2 Several variant accounts of the king’s ghostly dream and its aftermath survive in manuscripts of the 1620 s. Their numbers attest to the breadth of popular interest in political prophecies at a time when the pacific foreign policy of the king incurred the disapproval of those militantly Protestant Jacobean subjects who advocated British intervention in the European religious conflict now known as the Thirty Years’ War.3 The differences among these accounts, meanwhile, evince the frangibility of early modern gossip and illuminate the heterogeneous priorities and interpretive practices of the compilers of early Stuart manuscript miscellanies. Not only vulnerable to inaccurate reportage, the prophecy attributed to the late George Buchanan also invited deliberate acts of adaptation and rhetorical manipulation that extended the period of its political relevance up to the establishment of the English Republic. On 30 March 1622, some six months before Girolamo Lando made his record of the king’s alleged dream vision, the Cambridge divine Joseph Mede mentioned ‘those verses [that] were deliuered to the King in a dreame by his master Buchanan’ in a letter to his regular correspondent Martin Stuteville.4 The portion of Mede’s letter concerning the prophecy of Buchanan is copied in an appendix to the present essay. Preserved in Harley MS 389, a volume of Mede’s correspondence kept at the British Library, this letter to Stuteville reports that the king’s dream of Buchanan took place ‘3 years agone or more’, which would place its occurrence around the start of the year 1619. The account by Mede here differs from that of Lando, which dates the dream to the early part of 1622. Mede did not supply a text of the prophecy itself in his letter of 30 March, but was apparently confident that Stuteville knew its contents. It is possible that Mede had included the words of the prophecy in a previous communication, the uncertain whereabouts of which were cause for present concern: the 30 March epistle begins with a reference to an earlier letter that Mede had instructed Stuteville to burn after reading and frets that this letter might have ‘miscarried’, or fallen into the wrong hands. The version of the prophecy known to Mede seems to have been the same as the one later recorded by Lando. According to rumour, wrote Mede on 30 March, the king had lately had fresh cause to dwell on the prophecy that had disturbed his dreams some three years ago, as he had recently fallen into a fire and subsequently suffered ‘sorenes of his arme’. It appears that Mede, like the Venetian Ambassador, had heard or seen reports to this effect: that the spectre of Buchanan had regaled a dreaming King James with a prophecy that the royal death would be portended by falls into ice and then fire, followed by a bout of pain. If the king had lately become preoccupied with this prophecy, it was perhaps because the second and third events it predicted appeared to have come to pass in his recent brushes with fire and pain, which made him fearful of the sequel. Unlike Lando, however, Mede downplayed the prophetic credentials of Buchanan’s ghost and insisted on the mundane causes of James’s recent discomfort. The soreness in the arm, claimed Mede, was connected not to the fall in the fire but to the return of an illness for which the king had been successfully treated two or three years since and from which, mercifully, he had now again recovered. Other versions of ‘Buchanan’s prophecy’ circulated in manuscript in the early 1620 s. The Suffolk clergyman John Rous made the following entry in his miscellany, now preserved as Additional MS 28640 in the British Library: In the beginning of the yeere 1622, a reporte came from London that King James some way thereunto occasioned could not rest vntill he had found in his study these verses (giuen him long since by his scholemaister Bucchanan,) which he gaue to be copied. Sexte verere deum, tunc est tibi terminus æui Cum tuus ardenti flagrat carbunculus igne Englished since Thou James the sixte feare God Then is thy lifes good night When thy Carbuncle doth in burning fier flame bright.5 One feature of note in this account is the absence of any reference to an uncanny dream: Rous claims that the prophecy was given to King James by his schoolmaster ‘long since’, presumably when Buchanan was still alive. The text of the prophecy itself here contains no mention of accidents by ice or of ordeals by pain, but declares that the king will die when his ‘carbuncle’ burns brightly in the fire. Rous lent his miscellany to an unidentified acquaintance, who on 23 July 1623 copied the Latin and English versions of the prophecy attributed to Buchanan into a sixteen-page manuscript anthology of political prophecies, now preserved in Cambridge University Library as MS Ee.5.36.6 In the miscellany of Matthew Day (d.1661), MS V.a.160 in the Folger Shakespeare Library, a two-line Latin text simply headed ‘King James’ corresponds closely to the version of ‘Buchanan’s prophecy’ recorded by Rous: Sexte verere deum properat tibi terminus æui Cum tuus ardenti flagrat Carbunculus igne.7 The enigmatic reference to a ‘carbuncle’ in these lines is elucidated in another extant manuscript account of the king’s prophetic dream. This account survives in the ‘Jackson manuscript’, a miscellany compiled in the 1620 s by one Richard Jackson and gifted by James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps in the 1870 s to Edinburgh University Library, where it is now catalogued as MS H.-P.Coll.401.8 Written some time after the death of King James, the entry in the Jackson manuscript reports, as Lando and Mede did in 1622, that Buchanan was long dead when he uttered his prophecy to James as an apparition in the king’s dream. According to this account, James apparently understood the prophecy to mean that his own death would occur soon after the carbuncle stone he habitually wore in his hat fell out and landed in the fire. Richard Jackson’s record of the prophecy of Buchanan was printed in 1873, in Frederick Furnivall’s Ballads from Manuscripts.9 Furnivall chose not to reproduce the deletions and corrections made by the seventeenth-century scribe. These changes are recorded in the following transcript, taken directly from the Jackson manuscript: <A fortnight> 2 yeares before the king died, a carbuncle being in his hat and he by the fire sleeping, by chance it fell into the fire and was burnt, immedeatly after the king called to mind 2 propheticall verses that his scoolemaster Buchanan the night before in his dreame, appeared to him and and [sic] repeated to him. the verses being these sexte <verende> verere deum iam te tua properat ætas cum tuus ardenti carbunculus vritur igni. soe he died \the/ 2 yeares after.10 Originally written as ‘A fortnight’, the length of the interval between James’s dream of Buchanan (followed the next day by the mishap with the carbuncle stone) and the date of his death was immediately corrected by the scribe to ‘2 yeares’. This initial overstatement of the temporal proximity between the prophecy’s utterance and the actual occurrence of the royal death it predicted was disregarded by Furnivall. The deleted text is significant, however, insofar as it potentially indicates that the copyist was predisposed to portray the prophetic insight of Buchanan’s ghost as both real and timely but was checked when a re-examination of sources revealed a consensus as to the passage of considerable time between the damage to the carbuncle and the death that event was supposed to precede. Mid-seventeenth-century commentators were not so scrupulous as the scribe of the Jackson manuscript in the 1620 s. The following text concerning King James appears in Monarchy or No Monarchy in England (1651), a prophetical anthology edited by the astrologer and republican propagandist William Lilly: He was admonished of his Death by a Dreame. He Dreamed that his Master Buchanan appeared unto him in his sleep, and gave him these two Verses: I thought good for the rarity ther[of] to repeat. Sexte verere Deum, tibi vitæ terminus instat, Cum tua candenti flagrat Carbunculus igne. English whereof is: Thou Iames the sixt of that name King of Scots, fear God, the terme of thy life is neer or at hand, when thy Carbuncle stone burnes in the hot fire. The King told his Bed-chamber men and some other Lords of these Verses next morning, relating them really, and avered he made not the Verses, nor could his Master Buchanan ever almost get him to make a Latin Verse; the successe was thus. The King had a very large and faire Carbuncle stone usually set in his Hat, and we have seene him Pictured many times with such a Carbuncle fixed to his Hat: But thus it happened, Sitting by the fire, not long after, this great Carbuncle fell out of his Hat and into the fire; a Scotish Lord tooke it up, and observed the King sickned and also dyed very shortly after.11 Printed beside the prose account that follows the text of the prophecy is a marginal comment by Lilly: ‘King James dream prooved true.’12The Lord Merlins Prophecy concerning the King of Scots (1651), an anonymous republican anthology composed entirely of prophecies extracted without acknowledgement from Monarchy or No Monarchy, begins with the story of James’s dream of Buchanan.13 As told in Monarchy or No Monarchy and The Lord Merlins Prophecy, this story exaggerates the claims of the late Buchanan to genuine prophetic powers. Lilly’s marginalia assert that the prediction made by the ghost of Buchanan to the dreaming King James was ‘prooved true’, while the account of the dream’s aftermath claims that the carbuncle fell into the fire ‘not long after’ the dream and that James died ‘very shortly after’ the accident of the carbuncle. As shown in the foregoing survey, the manuscript accounts from the 1620 s describe no such rapid succession of events. Lilly did not scruple to adapt some of the medieval, sixteenth-century, and Jacobean political prophecies he anthologized in the middle of the seventeenth century so as to enhance their seeming applicability to events of the English Civil War and Interregnum.14 The same practice is perhaps in evidence here. Taken together, contemporary and near-contemporary accounts of the prophetic dream of King James date that nocturnal episode to some time between 1619 and 1623. Lilly eschews fidelity to such accounts and instead effectively compresses the intervals between the dream, the accident by fire, and the death of the king in 1625, apparently to encourage the view that James’s death constituted the fulfilment of the prophecy and to forestall alternative interpretations that might attribute the relationship between the three events to mere coincidence. Soon after the execution of King Charles I and the abolition of the monarchy, the republican pamphleteer Lilly made propagandist capital from the notion that, some three decades previously, the spirit of Buchanan had delivered a genuinely prophetic message from beyond the grave. Credited thus with the authority of a prophet, the sixteenth-century Scottish resistance theorist, though long dead, could be rendered a buttress to the propaganda campaign for the English Republic. The attribution of preternatural authority to an apologist for regicide served an obvious rhetorical purpose for republican commentators post-1649. Earlier in the century, when a serious ideological rift opened between King James and his most militantly Protestant subjects over the issue of British intervention in the Thirty Years’ War, the idea that Buchanan had been a prophet would likewise have been amenable to rhetorical manipulation by proponents of resistance theory. Among the manuscript accounts of Buchanan’s prophecy that survive from the 1620 s, however, we find no firm evidence that Jacobean readers or editors exploited this propagandist potential. Both Joseph Mede and John Rous followed the fortunes of the Protestant cause on the Continent keenly, yet they avoided radical exegeses of this prophecy and its associated ghost story. Mede expressed scepticism over the prophetic credentials of King James’s late tutor, and Rous disdained to copy or to disseminate the detail that Buchanan had allegedly uttered his prophecy posthumously as an apparition in a dream. Meanwhile, it was the Venetian Ambassador who appeared to attribute genuine prophetic insight to the ghost of the late Scottish intellectual. Unlike Mede, Rous, and Lando, Richard Jackson and Matthew Day copied the prophecy into their miscellanies some years after it first began to circulate, when both King James and the emotive topic of late Jacobean foreign policy were dead and buried. When that topic was present and urgent in the early 1620 s, Mede and Rous were voracious collectors of poems and prose texts on contemporary political themes, including other prophecies.15 In 1623, the compiler of MS Ee.5.36 in Cambridge University Library filled sixteen pages with prophecies that had been written, adapted, or re-interpreted as militantly Protestant, coded expressions of dissatisfaction with the religio-political status quo in Britain at the outset of the Thirty Years’ War.16 These late Jacobean collectors did not reveal their own political sympathies through any tendentious glosses on the prophecy attributed to Buchanan; nonetheless, their wider interests and habits as readers, compilers, and letter-writers in the early 1620 s perhaps indicate that they understood the text to belong to a corpus of writing that criticized the political stance recently adopted by King James. Here traced for the first time, the manuscript and print career of ‘Buchanan’s prophecy’ will interest scholars who study either the organizational and interpretive processes associated with the early modern manuscript miscellany or the re-interpretation and re-use of Jacobean political texts in the Civil War and Interregnum.17 Debates over the traceability of the roots of civil war to tensions between the irenic King James and militant, self-styled ‘patriots’ in the early 1620 s might also find food for thought in the reception history of this prophecy. A transcription of Joseph Mede’s Letter to Martin Stuteville, 22 March 1622 Sir, I hope my lettre miscarried not, if it did, I am in a sweet pickle. I desired to heare from you of the receipt and extinction of it, but I haue not yet receiued any thing. Master Downham was with me on munday new come from London. He told me that it was 3 yeares agone \or more/ since those verses were deliuered to the King in a dreame by his master Buchanan, who seemed to check him seuerely as he vsed to do, and his Maiestie in his dreame < s> seemed desirus to pacify him but \he/ turning away with a frowning countenance should vtter those verses, which his Maiestee perfectly remembring repeated the next day. and many tooke notice of them. Now by occasion of the \late/ sorenes of his arme and the doubtfullnes what <..> it would proue especially hauing by mischance fallen into the fire with that arme etc the remembrance of the verses began to trouble him etc (But they say it was but a former issue which had beene some 2 or 3 yeare stopped by the aduice of physicians, and now being to break out againe, did somewhat panic and distempure his body. but now God be thanked, he is well and cheerfull).18 Transcription conventions All scribal contractions (e.g. ‘Mr’, ‘Mtie’) are expanded, with raised letters lowered and supplied letters underlined (e.g. ‘Master’, ‘Maiestie’) Ampersand silently changed to ‘and’ or ‘et’ as appropriate Original spelling and punctuation retained; original lineation not retained Scribal deletions given in angular brackets, <xxx >; illegible deletions indicated by dots, where one dot represents one letter, <…> \xxx/ = text inserted by the scribe between the lines, or in the margins Scribal use of italics indicated by italic typeface, xxx Footnotes 1 David Norbrook, ‘Macbeth and the Politics of Historiography’, in Kevin Sharpe and Steven N. Zwicker (eds), Politics of Discourse: The Literature and History of Seventeenth-Century England (Berkeley, CA, 1987), 78–116, at 92; Roger A. Mason, ‘George Buchanan, James VI and the Presbyterians’, in Roger A. Mason (ed.), Scots and Britons: Scottish Political Thought and the Union of 1603 (Cambridge, 1994), 112–37, at 114. 2 Relation of England of Girolamo Lando, Venetian Ambassador, 21 September 1622, in Calendar of State Papers and Manuscripts, Relating to English Affairs, Existing in the Archives and Collections of Venice, ed. Rawdon Brown, George Bentinck, Horatio F. Brown, and A. B. Hinds, 38 vols (London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green, 1864–1947), xvii: 1621–1623 (1911), 423–59, at 444–5. 3 See Noah Millstone, ‘The Rector of Santon Downham and the Hieroglyphical Watch of Prague’, in Joshua Eckhardt and Daniel Starza Smith (eds), Manuscript Miscellanies in Early Modern England (Farnham, 2014), 73–89; Emily Jennings, ‘Prophetic Rhetoric in the Early Stuart Period’ (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Oxford, 2015), 155–211. 4 Harley MS 389, fo. 164r, British Library, London. 5 Additional MS 28640, fo. 16v, British Library, London. 6 MS Ee.5.36, fo. 8v, University Library, Cambridge. 7 Commonplace book of Matthew Day, ca.1650, Folger MS V.a.160, p. 86, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. 8 The contents of the Jackson manuscript and the circumstances of its presentation to Edinburgh University Library are described in The Athenæum, mmcccxiv (2 March 1872), 273. The history of the manuscript’s ownership is further described in Arthur Freeman and Janet Ing Freeman, John Payne Collier: Scholarship and Forgery in the Nineteenth Century, 2 vols (New Haven, CT, 2004), II, 1101. 9 Ballads from Manuscripts, ed. by F. J. Furnivall, 2 vols (London: Taylor, 1868–73), II (1873), 289. 10 MS H.-P.Coll.401, fo. 62v, University of Edinburgh Special Collections. 11 William Lilly, Monarchy or No Monarchy in England (London: Humphrey Blunden, 1651), sigs F3v–4r. 12 Ibid., sig. 4r. 13 The Lord Merlins Prophecy concerning the King of Scots (London: J. C. for G. Horton, 1651), sig. [A]2r. 14 See Jennings, ‘Prophetic Rhetoric in the Early Stuart Period’, 212–81. 15 For these other prophecies, see Harley MS 389, fos 247rv, 335r–v, British Library, London; and Additional MS 28640, fos 17r, 22v–28v, British Library, London. 16 MS Ee.5.36, fos 1r–8v, University Library, Cambridge. 17 Recent publications on these topics include Eckhardt and Smith (eds), Manuscript Miscellanies in Early Modern England (2014); Adam Smyth, ‘ “Reade in one age and understood i’th’next”: Recycling Satire in the Mid-Seventeenth Century’, Huntington Library Quarterly, lxix (2006), 67–82. 18 Harley MS 389, fo. 164r, British Library, London. © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Notes and Queries – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 10, 2018
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