Sunday, April 1, 2012

Celebrity Merchandising: An Engraved Memorial to King William III, 1702

by E.M. Sanchez-Saavedra

Celebrity merchandising is nothing new – it merely assumes different forms, depending on the cultural norms and level of technology current in a particular time and place. It could be a clay oil lamp, commemorating a Roman gladiator, or a terra cotta plaque with the likeness of a statesman or poet. Roman emperors distributed their features and various propaganda messages on their coins, which circulated throughout their empire and beyond.

After the invention of printing, millions of popular woodcuts and copperplate engravings brought the portraits of celebrities into households of most classes in Europe and the Americas. And thanks to transfer printing techniques, ceramics of all sorts could adorn one’s home, decorated with images of rulers, actors or even national enemies. (Napoleon Bonaparte gazed balefully out of the bottoms of many British chamber pots.)

Following the Roman lead, most European princes commissioned commemorative medallions for distribution at coronations, military triumphs or the deaths of their predecessors. Hawkers vended cheap prints, gotten up quickly for such an occasion, providing inexpensive souvenirs.

Such a print is this one, published by the “merchant bookseller” Nicholas Chevalier in Utrecht in 1702, to memorialize the late King of England, Dutch-born William III. Nicholas Chevalier (died 1720) was a French medalist and publisher born in Sedan. A Huguenot protestant minister, he was obliged to take refuge in Holland on the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. He lived at first in Amsterdam, and then settled in Utrecht, where he was granted the privilege of producing medals in his own house. In 1677, he had struck a fine commemorative medallion of the marriage of William, Prince of Orange, and Mary Stuart, daughter of James, Duke of York.

Although the portrait of William is indifferent, the print’s salient feature is the elaborate wreath encircling the late monarch’s face. On each leaf is minutely engraved a statement of some event in his life, from his birth in 1650, at top left, to his death in 1702, at top right, reading counterclockwise. At each corner is an image of a medallion commemorating his death. At top center is a coronation medal of his sister-in-law Anne. The royal arms, flanked by lion and unicorn, appear at bottom. All inscriptions are in French, except for the medallions, which are in Latin.

William III by Pieter Stevens van Gunst
For comparison, a heroic likeness from the 1690s, engraved by Pieter Stevens van Gunst (1659 - 1731) of Amsterdam & London, shows the same beaky nose in a more determined face. The armored martial pose is apt, since most of William’s reign was occupied with the Nine Years’ War against France, also known as the “War of the League of Augsburg,” or the “War of the Grand Alliance” (1688-1697). John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, won distinction in this struggle, although he fell from favor and was briefly imprisoned for suspected Jacobite sympathies. In the New World the conflict was remembered as “King William’s War,” a vicious conflict centered around Quebec and Port Royal in Acadia. English regulars, New England militia and rangers, and Iroquois allies battled French regulars, colonial militia and their Wabenaki allies in New York, New Hampshire and the Maine wilderness. English Trading posts at Hudson’s Bay were repeatedly attacked by raiding parties from New France. Five years after hostilities ended with the Treaty of Ryswick, the colonial troubles broke out again during Queen Anne’s War, which lasted until 1713.

Seventeenth Century Siege
William’s path to the throne of England was a strange one. The son of William of Nassau and Mary Stuart, daughter of England’s Charles I, William of Orange married his cousin, also named Mary Stuart. During the conservative “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, Whigs and Tories had united against the headstrong and foolish James II, who saved Parliament the trouble of a civil war by fleeing the country. After long debate, the politicians offered the crown to James’ eldest daughter and her husband-consort William, to reign as Mary II and William III. When Mary died in 1694, under the Bill of Rights William was permitted to reign during the remainder of his lifetime, with the throne passing to Mary’s younger sister Anne at his death. A “foreigner” who lacked the charisma of Charles II, William was only grudgingly accepted by most English subjects as a slightly better alternative to the reckless Stuarts.
London Gazette, October 28, 1695
As Stadtholder of the Netherlands, William’s chief priority was continuing the protestant struggle against France’s megalomaniac Louis XIV. Although not a great strategist or warrior, William was a skilled diplomat. His “Grand Alliance” against Louis included Sweden, Spain, Savoy, the Holy Roman Empire, Bavaria, Saxony, the Palatinate, the Netherlands and Great Britain. This first installment in the “Second Hundred Years’ War” which would drag on episodically until 1814, ended in 1697, but William was soon embroiled in the War of the Spanish Succession of 1700. For the first time, Louis’ territorial expansion had been checked, and he recognized William as a formidable opponent. These wars produced two positive results: the creation of a strong Royal Navy, and the formation of the Bank of England to finance the kingdom’s expenses. William’s reign also marked the beginning of toleration of some religious dissent and strengthened the constitutional relationship between crown and parliament. In the U.S., he is chiefly remembered in the city of Williamsburg, Virginia’s colonial capital, and its College of William and Mary.

Marlborough by Jacobus Houbraken, 1745

After James II fled to France and became a pensioner of Louis XIV, he was an automatic enemy of the state and his supporters placed themselves in mortal peril. Both Scotland, home of the Stuarts, and Catholic Ireland would suffer the consequences of Jacobitism for the next half century. The civil war, which England had narrowly avoided, broke out in Scotland and Ireland with unchecked savagery. Atrocities such as the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 and the Glencoe Massacre of 1692 solidified hatred against Dutch William and led to a suicidal adherence to the “Old” and “Young” Stuart pretenders, who much preferred life at the French court. At Culloden in 1746, dreams of a Stuart restoration died forever, along with hundreds of Highlanders fighting for “bonnie Prince Charlie.”

Seventeenth Century Netherlands Map

Parents of William III

Drill Manual, 1688

William III, 1700

Highlanders, French Print, 1817

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