King's College London
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'The very age and body of the time': Shakespeare's world

An anti-Spanish propaganda pamphlet

Portrait of the Count of Gondomar, in the likeness of MatchiauellPortrait of the Count of Gondomar, in the likeness of MatchiauellIssues of royal succession had been bound up with religion since Henry VIII’s Reformation of the Church in the 1540s. Years of persecution of both Catholics and Protestants in turn had resolved into Protestant hegemony with Elizabeth I’s Act of Settlement of 1559, and anti-Catholic paranoia continued well beyond the turn of the century, having increased substantially when it became clear that the Queen would not produce an heir.

The great Catholic power of Europe was Spain, with which England was vying for colonial supremacy and which posed a threat of invasion, most clearly embodied in the failed Armada of 1588. Catholic plots against both Elizabeth and James, including the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, were easily translated in the public mind into anti-Spanish sentiments.

Succession again became an issue a few years later, with the proposed marriage of Charles, Prince of Wales to the Infanta Anna Maria, daughter of Philip III of Spain, the so-called ‘Spanish Match’, financially advantageous to both monarchies but unpopular with the English parliament and public. The pamphlet Vox populi was an anonymously published fabrication designed to whip up anti-Spanish, and therefore anti-Catholic, feeling by purporting to recount the underhand dealings of the Spanish ambassador, the Count of Gondomar.

The pamphlet’s author, the radical Protestant preacher Thomas Scott, insinuated that the Spanish Match was purely a subterfuge for the Spanish domination of England, and Vox populi was widely believed at the time. Despite an audacious embassy to Spain by Prince Charles himself, travelling incognito, the Spanish Match foundered on mutual mistrust and parliamentary opposition.

The page reproduced here, from the second part of the pamphlet, portrays Gondomar ‘in the likenes of Matchiauell’ – a Machiavellian figure embodying his supposed cynicism and political expediency in the matter of the Spanish Match. Note also the derisive depiction of the mule-litter and Gondomar’s ‘chair-at-ease’. 

In this exhibition

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