Interview with Catriona Murray, Winner of CCCU Book Prize

Dr Catriona Murray is a historian of early modern British visual and material culture from the University of Edinburgh. Her first monograph, Imaging Stuart Family Politics: Dynastic Crisis and Continuity, focuses on familial propaganda of the royal Stuarts. Her study has recently won the CCCU Book Prize from the Royal Studies Journal.  The team from the Royal Studies Journal Blog got together with her to learn more about this award-winning research, and what is next for Catriona.      

Kristen, Cathleen, and Elena: First of all, congratulations to you! Your first monograph, and already you’re winning prizes for it! We do hope you celebrated accordingly! Could you please tell our readers a bit about the premises of this study on visual and material propaganda under the Stuarts?

Image result for celebration

Catriona: Thank you! It really is an honour and I am very grateful to the book prize committee for their consideration. I think I can also confirm that at least one glass of fizz was consumed!

Imaging Stuart Family Politics grew out of my doctoral research and actually began life in response to a single engraving, which I came across in the National Portrait Gallery’s Heinz Archive in 2008. Printed in 1703, it displays oval portraits of four Protestant Princes, Edward VI; Henry, Prince of Wales; Henry, Duke of Gloucester; and William, Duke of Gloucester, with a banner proclaiming ‘Wee [sic] Reign in Heaven’. I was intrigued by the idea that, despite their premature deaths, these figures continued to hold some allure decades and even centuries after their loss. As I probed further, I discovered a series of reproductive failures and untimely young deaths which blighted the Stuart line. Despite this, I also unearthed a wealth of visual material which indicated the importance attached to these lost dynastic hopes. I have always been interested in history’s ‘what ifs’ and the tensions between representation and reality so part of the drive behind the project was to retrieve the reputations of those forgotten Stuarts.

Kristen, Cathleen, and Elena: As you said, these members of the royal Stuarts were mostly forgotten, and – honestly – we don’t know much about them either. Could you therefore please give some brief background for the uninitiated about Henry (son of James VI/I), Henry of Gloucester (son of Charles I), James of Cambridge (son of James II), and William of Gloucester (son of Princess, later Queen, Anne)? Did the representation of these later-born or early deceased children differ in any way to the heirs apparent?

Catriona: Most importantly, all of the princes you mention were Protestant and the impacts of their deaths often became more pronounced as dissatisfaction with their successors developed. Henry, Duke of Gloucester, for example, died when he was twenty-one, just as the Stuarts were returning to power with the Restoration. Although, he was widely mourned at the time, it was not until several decades later, with increased concerns about the politics and religion of his brothers Charles II and James, Duke of York, that he was re-framed as a lost leader, a figure of vanished hope. Similarly, James, Duke of Cambridge, died when he was only three years old and yet some twenty years later his image still held resonance. Following the succession of his Catholic father, James II, and the failed rebellion of the Duke of Monmouth, Charles II’s illegitimate but Protestant son, a portrait of the long dead prince was commissioned by his sister, the future Mary II. Willem Wissing’s painting of the little Duke (the cover image of Catriona’s book) highlighted the extended absence of a Protestant male heir, presenting Mary as Britain’s next best hope. In life, representations of these princes were designed to encourage loyalty to the crown but, as time passed, they also assumed meanings beyond royal control. Their afterlives would prove controversial.

Adriaen Hanneman, Henry, Duke of Gloucester (1653), oil on canvas, 104.8 x 87cm, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Kristen, Cathleen, and Elena: In the case of James, Duke of Cambridge, it was his sister Mary who used his image. Most of the other heirs were also quite young, and it seems striking that they are not portrayed in the family context. For example, it seems William of Gloucester was often represented without his mother, Princess Anne. During his life, was he “more important” than her?

Catriona: It is a little more complicated than that. Actually, for reasons of gender, it was unusual for English male heirs to be portrayed with their mothers so the images of Anne and William together which do exist actually reflect their combined significance to the Stuart succession. Certainly, William’s birth was a great boost to Anne’s position after the Glorious Revolution and her motherhood became a crucial part of her public image even after her son’s death. In turn, Anne’s part in the Revolution and her self-proclaimed Englishness were important for William’s portrayal. Together they represented a bright future for the Protestant Stuart line.


After Willem van de Passe, The Triumph of King James and his August Progeny (third state, c.1660), engraving, 32 x 38cm. 283000, Biographical History of England, extra-illustrated by Richard Bull, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California

Kristen, Cathleen, and Elena: Following on from this, when it became apparent that the dynasty would pass on through the female line rather than the male line, the Stuart heirs like Mary of Orange or Sophia of Hanover were still pictured in their more traditional roles opposite men – as daughter, as consort or as mother. Are there any depictions of them in a more martial role or have they been associated with more manly and vigorous attributes? If not, why?

Catriona: Not really. There is a lost portrait of the sixteen-year-old Mary as Minerva but, generally, her depiction conforms to tradition, presenting her with reference to the men in her life. Similarly, Sophia is portrayed as a matriarch, the founder of a long line of future kings. The representation of Protestant piety is also central to both women’s public images. Given their rather conventional lives as royal women, this is not really surprising. Both Mary and Sophia were political pawns in the international marriage market and, upon their entry into wedlock, were supposed to secure the line and produce offspring. As heir to the throne, their representations continued to reflect those gendered expectations. This was an age when artists and patrons were predominantly male. Even images of Elizabeth I as heir subscribed to the conventions of female portraiture. Women’s agency and its portrayal had to be negotiated carefully.

Kristen, Cathleen, and Elena: In your book you are saying that “the fine arts have often been viewed in isolation – both from popular and material culture and from contemporary political, religious and intellectual developments.” Yet, they are so interconnected. What do you think is the reason behind that separation?

Catriona: Firstly, study of the art of seventeenth-century Britain remains an emerging field and some of its most important scholarly contributions are now decades old. As a result, reassessments of the material and its literature have stalled. A traditional focus on connoisseurship, form and technique has prevailed until recently. Indeed, it has taken historians, such as Malcolm Smuts and Kevin Sharpe, to forge ahead and re-present the art history of early modern Britain as an interconnected cultural history. We need to value the – sometimes idiosyncratic – art of the seventeenth century as much for the stories it can tell as for its visual qualities. Steadily, historians and art historians are embracing this approach and producing works which demonstrate the pervasiveness of the visual as a complex social and political language during this time.

Kristen, Cathleen, and Elena: So, after already winning a prize for your very first monograph – what can we expect next from you? Are you further working in the interdisciplinary field connecting art history and history?

Catriona: I am just beginning to get my teeth into a new monograph project which will explore the origins and development of public sculpture as an art of political communication in early modern Britain. Under the Stuart dynasty, monuments played a pivotal role in the negotiation of authority. The imposition of a royal sculptural presence, in strategically-selected urban locations, articulated the reach of royal dominion. In turn, though, sculptures became physical sites for public interventions, which both supported and contested Stuart government. Covering portrait busts, public statuary and tomb monuments, as well as temporary festival sculpture and ceremonial effigies, I hope this project will expose the complex processes through which the Stuart monumental image was both fashioned and dismantled, while exploring visual languages of power which are still contested today.


Arnold Quellin, James VI and I, 1686, lead, Glamis Castle, Glamis, Angus

Kristen, Cathleen, and Elena: We wish you the best for this new, exciting research project. Thank you for taking the time to show us this fascinating aspect of the Stuarts!

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