Sign up for Our Newsletter

August 2011: The Jacobites at Urbino: An Exiled Court in Transition

Review by:  Micah Alpaugh, University of California at Irvine

Edward Corp.  New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.  211 pp.  $75 (hardcover).

A sequel to his A Court in Exile: The Stuarts in France, 1689-1718, Edward Corp’s The Jacobites at Urbino follows James III and his retinue across the Alps to their subsequent exile in provincial Italy in 1717-9. Attempting to chronicle this lesser-known period between the exiled court’s better-known stops at Saint-Germain (outside Paris) and Rome, Corp sees the period as one of transition, particularly in the social composition of James’ companions, and the assumption of greater personal power by the pretender himself.

Examining “royal courts as sociological groups [6],” the book’s introduction fascinatingly highlights the divides, rivalries and common difficulties among James’ followers. James’ older, Catholic followers jostled for position with the Scottish Protestant exiles newly arrived from the failed Jacobite uprising of 1716. James, then in his late twenties, furthered the contestation by progressively replacing older advisors with ones of his own choosing. The author underlines gender rivalries as further heightening tensions: with James not taking a wife himself until the end of the period examined, none of his courtiers were allowed to bring theirs, leading to an almost exclusively male presence at court. Exile in cramped quarters at tiny Urbino further exacerbated emotions, with his retinue generally seeing the location as a “remote and inconvenient place” far away from the centers of European power.

Additionally, Corp locates the court within broader patterns of Early Modern cultural diffusion, attempting to bridge the “artificial barriers” between “political, music and art history [6].” The Jacobites, the first British community of its size established in Italy, are presented as helping to lay foundations for the rise of the Grand Tour over the course of the eighteenth century. The court commissioned Italian art, and acquired a liking for Italian opera. Though apparently resisting the Italianization of court ritual, the Jacobites regularly interacted and dialogued with Italian elites.

The author adeptly places the Jacobite movement within its challenging international diplomatic context. James and his followers, international actors without fixed residence, were forced to maneuver for position between the ambitions of other powers. Having had to leave France after the death of their protector Louis XIV, the Jacobites attempted to return to power with a planned Spanish invasion of Great Britain. Spain, in turn, wanted eventual backing of the Jacobites to retake the French throne should the young French King Louis XV have died without an heir. Concurrently, the book chronicles James’ attempts to win favor with the papacy, particularly canvassing support among the College of Cardinals, succeeding by the end of the period in winning the Jacobites the permission to reside in Rome.

The book ends with James’ Catholic marriage, with Protestant courtiers accompanying him to the Italian town of Montefiascone for the ceremony. Corp sees the event a fitting conclusion to the trends of the previous two years, with the event showing the rise of religious toleration in the movement, alongside the wider creation of a “consolidated and streamlined court,” ready again to contend for power.

In spite of a well-sketched introduction, however, the book does not fully follow through on its planned dissection of the Jacobite court. With the work relying largely on the official Stuart Papers and other state correspondence, the interior machinations of the James’ retinue – particularly those of lower social standing – are often not highly fleshed out over the book’s brief 146 pages of text. Individuals receive short treatment: even James himself remains a poorly defined figure. The planned “sociological” treatment of court culture often takes second priority to the narration of the period’s big diplomatic and political events. While the book appears to be laying the groundwork for a third installment on the Jacobites’ residence in Rome, the brevity of the period covered may have added to the seeming paucity of sources.

The work’s wider import is somewhat difficult to gauge due to its non-interaction with secondary texts, aside from a few points of small detail. In terms of emphasis, one wonders why correspondence with the Jacobite movement in the British Isles is only alluded to alongside the book’s extensive treatment of high diplomacy with France, Spain and the Papacy. This lacunae appears particularly glaring due to the growing secondary literature on domestic Jacobitism, which in the last decade has gained Eamonn O’Ciardha’s 2002 Ireland and the Jacobite Cause, 1685-1766 and Doron Zimmerman’s 2003 work on the subsequent period, The Jacobite Movement in Scotland and Exile, 1746-1759. Without developing such connections to the Jacobite court and their importance to the cause, much of the reason for the integration of the Protestant Scots whom Corp does discuss remains obscure.

In spite of such limitations, however, The Jacobites at Urbino offers a significant contribution to the study of many interior workings of the James’ court. It helps open several vectors for the study of Early Modern international networks, and the myriad connections Jacobites developed as they attempted to build the power-base necessary to retake to the British throne.

This entry was posted in Book of the Month, News. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.