Selling the Tudor Monarchy


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Authority and Image in Sixteenth-Century England

Kevin Sharpe

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The management of image in the service of power is a familiar tool of twenty-first- century politics. Yet as long ago as the sixteenth century, British monarchs deployed what we might now describe as “spin.” In this book a leading historian reveals how Tudor kings and queens sought to enhance their authority by presenting themselves to best advantage. Kevin Sharpe offers the first full analysis of the verbal and visual representations of Tudor power, embracing disciplines as diverse as art history, literary studies, and the history of consumption and material culture.


The author finds that those rulers who maintained the delicate balance between mystification and popularization in the art of royal representation—notably Henry VIII and Elizabeth I—enjoyed the longest reigns and often the widest support. But by the end of the sixteenth century, the perception of royalty shifted, becoming less sacred and more familiar and leaving Stuart successors to the crown to deal with a difficult legacy.

Kevin Sharpe is professor of Renaissance studies and director of the Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies, Queen Mary, University of London. He is author of The Personal Rule of Charles I and Reading Revolutions, both published by Yale University Press.

“A landmark project, of abiding interest to both scholars and more general readers. . . . a very major piece of scholarship.”—Peter Lake, Princeton University

“. . . ambitious. Selling the Tudor Monarchy, a major synthesis of the scholarship on the period, is the first volume of a near-completed trilogy covering representations of the English monarchy, from Henry VIII’s break with Rome to the Revolution of 1688. The range of material is encyclopaedic … experts … will regard it as an essential reference work …”—John Guy, Literary Review

"Sharpe's writing is vigorous and his overall picture convincing and informative. He is judiciously skeptical where he needs to be . . . and his keen eye ranges over a rich variety of sources, both visual and literary."—Diarmaid MacCulloch, London Review of Books

"The book will stand as the first point of reference on its subject . . . [Sharpe's] achievement demands attention and respect." — Anthony Fletcher, Times Literary Supplement

"Deeply researched . . . I certainly learnt a lot." — Peter Gwyn, Times Higher Education Supplement

"[A] convincing argument . . . allows us to look anew at the Tudor period
and . . . so provides plenty to ruminate on." — Richard Woulfe, Tribune

"[A] magisterial study of Tudor image-making . . . hugely ambitious . . . [and]
full of brilliant insights and suggestions." — Greg Walker, Art Newspaper

“This is a bold undertaking, but this first volume suggests that it is one very much suited to Kevin Sharpe’s strengths. The prose is fluent and accessible, the ideas striking, the argument assertive and wide-ranging, based on a vast array of different sources . . . this book is immensely valuable. . . . a huge achievement. . . an important, thought-provoking and richly rewarding book which should be required reading for every early modern scholar.”--Lucy Wooding, Reviews in History

“Sharpe captures the multi-layered magnificence of Tudor monarchy and its audiences….Written by a scholar who has worked at the forefront of historical enquiry for almost three decades, the book establishes an agenda for the next generation. . .with a contagious enthusiasm that will engage general and specialist readers alike.”--Janet Dickinson, History Today

“Convincing and important.”

--Philological Quarterly

"This is an ambitious and original attempt to survey the field of Tudor royal display and representation."—Richard Rex, Renaissance Quarterly

"This is a significant and powerful book, as well as a large and comprehensive one . . . . It is an account of representations of the English crown—whether verbal, written, performative, or visual—throughout the Tudor century, and it is committed to the thesis that the sixteenth century saw the origins of a modern culture of consumer politics. . . . The book's thesis . . . is that by courting and achieving 'popularity' the Tudors both reached the apogee of English monarchical power and paradoxically planted the seeds of its demise by gradually putting the monarchy 'in thrall to a (potentially capricious) public opinion' (481)."—Ethan Sagan, Journal of British Studies

“A big and serious book . . . Sharpe shows with great fluency and skill that the Tudor monarchs understood the effectiveness of image.”

--Stephen Alford, Huntington Library Quarterly

"A wonderful book about the 'media folk' of Tudor England--artists and writers employed by a succession of monarchs to propagate an image of the sovereign. Breathtaking in its scope and a real revelation about Tudor 'spin.'"--Derek Wilson, "Writers Read" blog

"Sharpe's reading of select contemporary texts is often fresh and often brilliantly insightful. Methodologically, he has written a ground-breaking study of the Tudor monarchy, one likely to be consulted for many years to come."--Dale Hoak, Literature & History

"Sharpe's new volume is a masterful work . . . [and] an ideal book for teachers and researchers to reference in and out of the classroom."—Kristen Post Walton, American Historical Review

“A compelling and wide-ranging account of the importance of image and representation to the Tudor monarchs . . . [this book] will be of value to scholars across the disciplines who are interested in the political culture of early modern England.”—Karl Gunther, Journal of Modern History

"This trilogy is a cornucopia of contexts, details, and sharply debated correctives to easy assumption about high-culture England in the early modern period. Historically informed criticism is only as good as the historiography on which it depends, and here, most surely, there is wealth of scholarship on which we should freely draw."—Thomas N. Corns, Milton Quarterly

Winner of the 2011 Historians of British Art Book Prize in the British Art Pre-1800 category sponsored by the Historians of British Art
ISBN: 9780300236781
Publication Date: December 12, 2017
588 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
66 illus
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