Thursday, December 17, 2015

Alastair Bellany and Thomas Cogswell's "The Murder of King James I"

Alastair Bellany is associate professor of history at Rutgers University and the author of The Politics of Court Scandal in Early Modern England. Thomas Cogswell is professor of history at UC Riverside. His books include The Blessed Revolution: English Politics and the Coming of War, 1621-1624.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, The Murder of King James I, and reported the following:
The Murder of King James I is essentially a book about a book—a 1626 pamphlet, The Forerunner of Revenge, that alleged that George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham had poisoned King James I of England, an allegation that would play a remarkable role in the tumultuous politics of England’s century of revolution. Unlike most political libels, The Forerunner openly advertised its author, George Eglisham, a Scottish physician. But who was George Eglisham? What drove him to write his dangerous book? And how did he write it so well?

We began with only a handful of clues, but several serendipitous finds and a lot of old fashioned archival legwork eventually allowed us to understand the man and the forces that drove him to write his sensational tract.

Page 99 [inset; click to enlarge] finds Eglisham in 1612, the year his fortunes were made. He is in Holland, having rushed north from Paris to assist James I’s campaign to remove the anti-Calvinist Conrad Vorstius from the chair of theology at Leiden. Eglisham would write two caustic philosophical critiques of Vorstius’s supposed atheism—we reproduce the title-page of one at the foot of page 99—and James rewarded his efforts by granting him the title of royal physician. The Vorstius pamphlets also revealed some of the talents Eglisham would later deploy against Buckingham—linguistic and rhetorical facility, self-confidence bordering on arrogance, a taste for the dramatic, and a passion for the politics of personal destruction.

We also came to realize that his year in Holland was part of a bigger story about Eglisham’s cosmopolitanism. As a Catholic Scotsman, Eglisham was an outsider in his own country, forced to acquire an education in the Spanish Netherlands (modern Belgium) and to work in Rouen and Paris. James’s favor allowed him a comfortable living in London, but when forced to flee England in 1625, Eglisham would find safe haven in Catholic Brussels, where his transnational connections provided the support, opportunity and ideological perspective to write his devastating exposé of the Jacobean court’s murderous poison politics. The lesson was clear: to understand the strange history of The Forerunner of Revenge, we had to explore the complex entanglement of British and European politics.
Learn more about The Murder of King James I at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue