Thursday, April 02, 2015

Can't get enough of those late medieval kings? Henry VII's bed

Jonathan Foyle with his royal bed

After the hoopla about Richard III's putative bones (hmm, he was a blue-eyed blonde, was he, and his DNA also indicates a break in the male Plantagenet line? - but surely there's another possible explanation for those awkward details) comes another instance of our insatiable need for relics (but as we have been a Protestant nation, royal relics rather than saintly ones).

Making a stir today is Jonathan Foyle, with his highly authentic looking Tudor bed, and the pamphlet presenting his research and iconographic deductions generously posted at:

And the press adores it, with the Daily Mail, always keen on anything royal with a procreative aspect to it, giving one of the more substantial accounts.

The pdf is slightly difficult to read (not as a fault of Foyle's prose, I mean that it doesn't display well, and on my PC it's slow to scroll through). This is a snip of the page that I find most worrying:

Now what I would like him to be clearer about is how that banderole that folds across Adam and Eve's genitals acquired its inscription. It is clearly part of the original design to have the scroll there for text. These are among the best images, from Foyle and others:

Now, I haven't seen the bed at all, I am passing judgement from photographs: such is the dubious wonder of the internet. Foyle argues that this bed design is from 1486, and in it, Adam and Eve are meant to be somehow both recognisable as a younger Henry VII and Elizabeth of York and, at another level of symbolism, be understood as Christ and his mother trampling on sin. 

Foyle apparently wants one to believe that the scroll had been left un-incised in 1486, and the later Protestant owner took advantage of that: "the carved band on the headboard was inscribed with the 1537-49 Bible text he [Stanley] used: "The Stinge of Death is Sinne; the Strengthe of Sinne is the Lawe (I Corinthians 15: 56)". I suppose this could have been done, if the bed were taken apart and this section laid flat, for carving into such a lattice unsupported would have been risky.

*** To update, I have just found this further image on Jonathan Foyle's Twitter account: it gives his argument about the text:

As Foyle perhaps knows, but opts not to mention, that seems to be a text from Tyndale's 1534 translation (no point, of course, in looking for an earlier vernacular version). Now, that's making it very Protestant indeed, from such a classic passage in his New Testament that it seems amazing that the banderole accommodated it so nicely - almost as if it had been designed to do so. Foyle merely remarks that this later addition of text "simplified the subject as Adam and Eve sinning, as acceptable to Protestants".

But is it 'simplifying' to quote from this passage: "When this corruptible hath put on incorruptibilite & this mortall hath put on immortalite: then shalbe brought to passe the sayinge that is written. Deeth is consumed in to victory. Deeth where is thy stynge? Hell where is thy victory? The stynge of deeth is synne: and the strength of synne is the lawe. But thanks be unto God which hath geven us victory thorow oure Lorde Jesus Christ"?

The message on the bed head recollects in its universally familiar iconography that the first marriage led to original sin. Such disobedience should not be repeated. This, with Tyndale's knotty verse makes for some bracing sentiments for a matrimonial bed. The passage cited went from Tyndale into Coverdale's Bible, and thence into the Book of Common Prayer, in the service for the Burial of the Dead. I take it to mean something along the lines of 'sin makes us know the sting of death; what is strong over death is observance of God's law' - so far, so very Protestant, and then the redemption itself mentioned in the next sentence.

In short, there's one major objection to Foyle's interesting and elaborate interpretation that "Henry and Elizabeth are shown as Christ and the Virgin, saviours who rescued mankind from evil", and that's the text incised on the banderole. Foyle notes the similarity to Speed's frontispiece in his Genealogies of Holy Scriptures, 1611. Protestants just loved Adam and Eve. The design seems made to incorporate the inscription and to give it central importance, and so it's hard to imagine the banderole was ever blank.

[A SECOND UPDATE: Jonathan Foyle, vigilant about his splendid find, has visited this now rather intermittent and obscure blog, and posted the explanatory comment below - the banderole would have had a painted text. I simply hadn't thought of that. I leave my final paragraph below, which imputed too much eagerness to believe, but I should say that I too am now ready to believe.]

It's a wonderful object, convincingly Tudor. But I think it looks more Protestant Tudor than Catholic, and that Foyle has used great scholarly skill to over-interpret the bed design as proving it was made for Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. The Daily Mail is delighted with it, Hever Castle has a new royal attraction, and every newspaper account I have read about it so far accepts Foyle's scholarship as proof of something we perhaps want to believe too much.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

At the Harry Price Library again

A reading cushion full of witchcraft sceptics:
A first edition Weyer, Scot from 1584 and 1651, John Webster, Francis Hutchinson
A visit yesterday to Senate House to look at a selection of items from the Harry Price Library. This year, the curator, Karen Attar, had the 20 or so books I had suggested arranged by topics: Demonologists, Sceptics, Victims, Astrology, the last English witchcraft conviction, and some miscellaneous.

What a collection it is! I had been in Toby English's Antiquarian bookshop over in Wallingford two weekends ago, and had casually asked him what he thought a 1520 edition of the Malleus Maleficarum might fetch on the open market. His first guess was for prices that might start at £10,000. Karen indicated that the collection preferred not to think in such terms. I wanted, I admit in rather a crude-minded way, to stress to my students just what treasures they were handling.
Karen Attar explains who Harry Price was.
A briefing before beginning
Rose and Rebecca look at sceptics
 I had never seen a copy of Webster's 1677 book, The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft, and was interested to see that it was so handsome a volume. But Webster was a bibliophile who assembled a very large library of his own (where did he get the money for those atlases he bought?), so one might have expected that he would not have cheap job done when he finally achieved permission for the work.
Jane, one of our visitors from Shanghai, and Priyanka look at the collection's pristine copy of Scot, 1584

How to use your magic powers to make one dance naked (suborn a poor boy to do it, stop him before the company take offence)

Some of Scott's exposures of juggler's tricks: the decollation of John Baptist.

An early owner added a motto in Greek. I didn't make a transcript, and have no idea. I will find a classicist.
Gemma, Taneth and Christine are looking at Lilly's defiant 'Christian Astrology', 1647.

Gemma is looking at one of my 'must get round to reading' texts, Addison's 'The Drummer'. Rebecca has pencil and paper out to take notes, in the proper research collection fashion. Bottom left is a copy of 'Monsieur Oufle' in the English translation: one of my 'well, I tried to read it' texts.
More or less everyone in view
Karen gave us generous and up close access to these wonderful books, and whole-heartedly encouraged student readers to come and use the collection.

After this, I briefly showed a smaller group of the students the English Literature open shelves, after that, we strolled up the road to ULU, the University of London student union, with me pointing out that for a complete mind-and-body day, it has a swimming pool in the basement. There seemed to be some thought that a young male reader who had escaped my attention, but who was in the library in a suit, might make a worthwhile tertium quid. I left my students as they headed for the ULU cafe, and thought that at the very least, they'd feel a bit more members of this huge university, and might even seek out another experience of research.

My thanks again to Karen Attar - a favourite moment for me was one of the students asking about printers using the long s - and finding out that one of Karen's publications was an entry on the duration of long s type in British printing.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Henry Holland's 'Treatise of Witchcraft' 1590: "I may speake truely as another doeth"

Henry Holland is the most comprehensible of the English demonologists. His methodology is clearly apparent, his continental sources consistent and thoroughly cited. There is no specific case that has set him off, so his discussion is general, without those typical plunges into unaccountable allegations about the behaviour of accused witches or reporting of bizarre court evidence. His initial position, Calvinism, is obvious, a starting place that makes sense of what follows. But above all else, Holland is interesting because he mixes together utter conviction (witchcraft and worship of the devil follows quite logically from his Calvinistic thinking about the corrupt human state) with a use of dialogic form. This risky combination, while not extending to pro et contra argument about the very existence of witchcraft, allows his own doubts plenty of room. While, in the end, an ideology speaks loudest in his Treatise against Witchcraft, he has confronted problems that other writers avoided, and evidently believes that he has banished them.

I am interested in the use of dialogue in demonological works: Daneau, King James, George Gifford, Samuel Willard come to mind as other examples, Matthew Hopkins risked a question and answer format for his rabid convictions. Gifford, Willard and Holland use the format more honestly than King James (for instance). Though it may aim at producing augmented conviction, a demonstration of how misguided doubts about the veracity of witchcraft are, there is at least the chance of reverse conviction. These are the passages of dialogue that the dramatists of the period could only glance at, in those rare moments when a gentleman expresses scepticism.

A Treatise against Witchcraft is a dialogue between ‘Theophilus’, the god-loving, and ‘Mysodaemon’, the devil-hating. One could not expect – at least from 1590 - a dialogue between a demonologist and an outright sceptic about witchcraft, but Holland gives us the next best thing. Mysodaemon is obviously named to suggest that his basic opinions are sound: but he has been reading Scot’s Discovery of Witchcraft, published six years before. To refute Scot’s scepticism, Holland has to read him carefully. Allowing two voices in his work gives scepticism a near-convert in Mysodaemon, who is at times simply voicing confrontational passages from the Discovery. Dialogic form means that Holland isn’t just arguing or haranguing his way through Scot, giving authorial refutation of what he considered to be Scot’s errors: as a separate character in the dialogue, Mysodaemon means that scepticism gets a decent airing.

Holland must have been confident of success. He was committed to catechising as his basic method, using a question and answer format in other works: in the catechistic model, an instructor elicits the right answers from the instructee. This should be the effect here: Mysodaemon’s wobblings straightened out by the firm assurance of Theophilus.

What emerges, though, always tends to suggest that Holland is in dialogue with himself, for Theophilus is an authority under pressure, who resorts to hectoring and bullying. Nor does Holland seem to have anticipated that Mysodaemon, voicing Scot’s compassionate scepticism, simply appears more sympathetic than Theophilus, who is too obviously keen for Christian magistrates to be punishing sins, and continuously resorts to a set of bible texts that, try as he might, do not in fact stretch to cover this new crimen exceptum of witchcraft, with its dogma of sabbat, transvection, shape-shifting, and diabolic pact. As such things are not in the bible’s otherwise comprehensive listing of anathema, Theophilus keeps producing continental demonologists as his authorities, which reduces him to proving the existence of something by reference to those who asserted its existence.

No doubt Holland considered that he had won this argument with himself: Mysodaemon’s citations from Scot dwindle away and finally cease. The eagerly orthodox Theophilus forces the debate on to new areas, however: it shifts from the reality of witchcraft to the depravity of those who consult witches and sorcerers (this was a common development in such texts, and Mysodaemon is simply too indoctrinated, too elite, to make a general defence of the lower classes in their unaccountable failure to follow the pious example of Job and suffer in silence). Finally, the zealous minister in Theophilus embarks on detailing the preservatives (Holland was fond of expounding ‘preservatives’, against plague in Spirituall Preservatives Against the Pestilence and here against witchcraft), sketching out a household of such formidable godliness and obedience that witchcraft can gain no purchase, and the assaults of Satan, if they come, are accepted as trials ordained and permitted by God. 

Mysodaemon does express some incredulity about these prescriptions, but Theophilus huffily says that he knows some local households that sustain such godly ideals.

Because he sees the world as a battleground between faith and Satan, the local effect of Holland’s writing is of frightening moral precariousness. It is best caught in a snatch of dialogue from his History of Adam:
“Next, for the manner of Sathans working in men. As the holy Ghost works invisibly and spiritually … even so the operation of wicked spirits in unbelievers is by an invisible and secret breathing and suggestion…”
~ Here, an authoritative voice coolly describes a peril that seems irresistible. The supposed interlocutor then blurts out:  “Quest. 29. I feel often many strong motions within me, which cause me to tremble, and I know not whence they come, for I strive against them & I fear even to name them.

The question isn’t really a question at all, but a confession. To what extent are we diabolically impelled? The comfort offered is thin: “Ans. All Gods people are so troubled in like manner, much or little.” Such motions and thoughts are not the product of original sin, nor are they from God (because they are evil), but “such strange and sodaine motions must come into us by the secret working of Sathan. Let us then rejoice that we do not entertain them but pray and strive ever against them.”
You would think that if he saw Christians as exposed to such impossibly demanding conditions, witchcraft might erode away in the face of a moral relativism. But of course not: those who by witchcraft take advantage of the circumstances God is pleased to permit (of Satan being busy everywhere) simply must be punished.

The first part of Holland’s short witchcraft treatise consists of Theophilus doing his best to make the Bible sound to be full of eight distinct types of witchcraft: “If there were no such sin, wherefore then are there so many kinds named and distinguished?” It is very learned, but beside the point: none of the cases match up to witchcraft in its recent definition. This is the basic challenge Holland (as Mysodaemon) sets himself (as Theophilus):

“There are many things which are said to be in the witches of our time, which were never heard of in these old witches, mentioned in Scripture, as namely these points: their transportations, their bargain with the Devil, their Sathanical sabaoths, their ointments of the fat of young children, their transformations, and such like miracles or wonders (as you say, Theophilus.) now prove all these, or any of these points true in our witches, by Scripture, or any good reason, or authoritie, and I will believe that we have also in our time right diabolical witches indeed.”

Theophilus cannot answer these particulars with particulars: he has to explain away, or generalise away from the point. He wants the devil to be allowed formidable power by God, but, despite that large divine permission, only capable of delusions, supernatural in power, but not miraculous:
I will not denie, Mysodaemon, but the devil may delude his witches many ways in these transportations, & that many fabulous pamphlets [Note: Faustus. Drunken Dunstan. art. & in p. 156. Drunken Dunstan seems to be a lost work about the magic-practising saint] are published, which give little light and less proof unto this point in controversie. This first understand, that whatsoever is said of transportations, contrarie to the nature of our bodies, as to ride on the moon to meet Herodias, &c. all such things are indeed but mere delusions.”

But the delusiveness of witches’ ‘experience’ is no excuse for the witch: Theophilus finds that there are always other grounds for the punishment they deserve: “true it is, manie of the common sort (I believe well) are not right witches indeed, notwithstanding they are guiltie of other most vile sins, and most worthie of death.”

As Mysodaemon pushes his instructor hard for authority, Theophilus keeps wriggling away to prove witchcraft out of those who described witchcraft. He tries to open up a space in which those incredible acts and implausible delusions may in fact be truths – flying ointment and transvection:
“we must not imagine that all are but fables … Neither must we reject all the late Inquisitors, which by the accusations, confessions, condemnations and executions of innumerable magitians, have learned and gotten some credible experience of the truth of transportations. Bodin and Danaeus have also sundrie late examples, when thou hast opportunity, Mysodaemon, thou mayest read them.”
But Mysodaemon very properly rejects this: But I cannot so like, Theophilus, of all these, as of one probable argument of Scripture.”

Holland evidently thought that Scot had to be taken seriously, and formally repudiated with convincing arguments. This was the service he thought he was giving. But Mysodaemon, invented to be persuaded, starts to deliver Scot in Scot’s own voice:

I will not hear, I tell you, neither of Bodins* [Dis. in the praeface. ] bables, nor Sprengeus fables: I pray you shew me one example out of some credible Author, if you can.”

Mysodaemon-as-Scot makes Theophilus tie himself in knots to come up with answers to challenges: “But you have not one syllable in all the Scriptures of God, to prove any such league or covenant between Sathan and witches.”

Theophilus concedes: “We have not indeed any such words or phrases, and yet may we truly conclude, that there are such things, by Scripture; for the Scripture shewing us the great readiness and acquaintance of Sathan, with the enchanters of Egypt, the Pythonist of Endor and Philippi: do therein significantly give us to understand, that there was some precontract and confederacie between them: for Sathan will never work in such manner, but with whom he hath some league and acquaintance.”

The assertion that Satan will only operate with those with whom he has a contract is derived from contemporary positions: it is then read back into scripture as something we must infer was happening, and this provides a scriptural basis for the truth of it happening now.

Holland is making the best of it, and he is at least being honest in the outright concessions Theophilus has to keep making:

(Mysodaemon) “[Disco. epist. to the Reader.] Our witches, strigae, lamiae, our witches are not once mentioned in Scripture: our old woman, &c. you shall not reade in the Bible of any such Witches.
(Theophilus) “Albeit the Scripture giveth us no such historical relations of the witches of our time: yet are they mentioned there both in general and special manner: in general, where all the sins of idolatrie … and blasphemie are condemned; in special, where the like sins are named.”

Theophilus needs the authority of scripture, but puts strain on the divine text to get it, making analogies and resorting to category shifts: “And had not Sathan also a real communication with Eve & many others? To be short, I cannot see, but he that can do the greater, may do the less”.

As one recourse, Theophilus has intimidation: the arguments of Scot (or Holland’s argument with himself) constitute a slighting of the divine word:
“If any man consent not to the wholesome words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is puffed up and knoweth nothing, but doteth about questions and strife of words.”

To contradict demonology is a step on the slippery slope to disregard of the bible’s teachings:
“You are over bold now Mysodaemon with good writers, and I could somewhat bear with this boldness, but take heed lest you be found insolent also against God in the abuse of his blessed word, for that kind of pride is most dangerous.”

In the end, even though he is losing this particular argument with himself, Henry Holland /Theophilus’ Calvinism has just too much need of evil, it relies on the existence of a powerful devil: to subtract witchcraft threatens the system. Mysodaemon cites Scot on the cessation of miracles and of oracles: “Oracles (as you know) are ceased, and no doubt whatsoever hath affinitie with such miraculous actions, as witchcraft, conjuration, &c. it is knocked on the head, and nailed on the cross with Christ, who hath broken the power of the devils. What say you to this, Theophilus?”

Theophilus is brought entirely into the open by this challenge. To make such a deduction is in his mind ‘black divinity’: for in his system, the redemption was never meant to be universal. The elect are secure in their election; for the rest, the power of devils continues unchecked: “Surely I can but wonder, Mysodaemon, that any should teach you by speech or by writing, such black divinity in this bright shining light of the Gospel. For babes in Christianitie, understand that Christ on his cross, hath so far forth broken the power of sin, as that it shall never have strength to the condemnation … of his elect. But he never meant so to take away sin, as that it should have no being in the world, much less to knock in the head (as thine Author saith) the sins of Sathan & reprobates”.

Theophilus goes on to denounce this reasoning in Scot as “impious & Anabaptisticall”, which is either just broad abuse or a more specific insight into Reginald Scot, who was some way along the route towards an allegorical rather than literal understanding of the devil.

Mysodaemon also tries out Scot’s legal argument, the view (famously cited by Sir Robert Filmer in his Advertisement to the jurymen of England touching witches) that in law accessories cannot be convicted if the principal in a case has neither been convicted nor outlawed:
“I pray you give me leave to speak what I can for our old women, for I am greatly aggrieved to see the rude multitude so cruel against them, and some Judges so merciless, as to put these poor innocents to death. I reason thus by law against this unjust crueltie: I say she is injuriouslie dealt withall if she be the devils [Dis. in epist. ] instrument, in practising his will, my reasons are. 1. She is put to death for anothers offence. 2. Actions are not judged by instrumental causes: and therefore I conclude these old women may not dye for Witchcraft. This is Lawyers Logic I tell you … Theophilus, what can you say to this?”

Theophilus has none of it: “as for thine argument, if it be lawyers inventions, I tell thee truelie, they be bad advocates in an evil cause. They reason as if they would have the Honourable Judges to hang the devil, and to suffer the witches to escape. The same reason may serve anabaptisticallie applied for a libertie unto all sin …” His general point seems fair, though I don’t understand why he uses ‘anabaptistically’ to characterise blaming all sins on the devil.

The next argument taken from Scot’s series of trenchant challenges is that in our judgements, we should imitate the example given by Christ of forgiveness:
“Christ did [Dis. p. 39. A gross error. ] clearly remit Peter, though his offence were committed both against his divine and humane [Divine and humane nature he would have said. ] person: yet afterwards he did put him in trust to feed his sheep, &c. and therefore we see not but we may shew compassion upon these poor souls, if they show themselves sorrowful for their misconceits and wicked imaginations.”

Theophilus refutes this by generalising it into an absurdity:
“This reason is unsufficient and very anabaptistical, for it wrings out of the civil Magistrate’s hand all his power and jurisdiction. Shall every penitent malefactor be delivered from a temporal punishment, farewell then all execution of justice.” Of course extraordinary forgiveness does not mean universal forgiveness – but Theophilus especially seems to want ‘execution of justice’, there’s a relish for punishment. He continues with the assertion that the civil Magistrate cannot be “remiss in bodily punishment and justice, except he have an extraordinary warrant and revelation from God, for his direction. The law is, Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live: unless the judge have warrant to repeal this law from Jesus Christ (as Peter had) all witches lawfully convicted must have their punishments answerable to their demerits. Again, thou dost not well to call our witchcraft misconceit & wicked imagination, for I tell thee, it is more.”

The precise meaning of the notorious Exodus 22: 18 had been debated between the two earlier, with Mysodaemon citing, after Scot, the translation of mĕkaššēpâ as a ‘poisoner’ rather than ‘witch’. Theophilus had blandly smoothed this over by asserting that as witches most commonly killed by poison, as instructed by Satan, both senses applied to the word in the text. Here, he just uses the sense he wants, without his earlier admission of a wider meaning. A disputed law from the Old Testament should be carried out in the Christian world without worrying about any unhelpful example of Christ’s own forgiveness. A witch is, in essence, a chance for the Christian magistrate to show that he is never “remiss in bodily punishment and justice”. Until Jesus himself issues a repeal, a message delivered - god knows how - of ‘Thou shalt suffer a mĕkaššēpâ to live’, all the saved can do is carry on executing.

In the end, Theophilus’ best answer to Scot’s Discovery of Witchcraft is to burn it. In the final stages of their discussion, Mysodaemon has simply become a stooge to Theophilus, obtuse enough to cite Scot’s exposure of conjuring tricks as ‘profane’, ‘wicked’, ‘blasphemous’:

“First, I would know what your judgement is of some big volumes of witchcraft, which (as far as I can see) contain sundrie intolerable prophane and wicked Treatises and forms of idle and vain jugglings and blasphemous conjurations.”

Theophilus is pleased to be asked, and says that a certain type of reader will only go to Scot for the wrong reasons, he then produces a piece of Roman Law 
(co-opted in the early Christian era against heresies of all kinds, see ): 
“Surely this I think, Mysodaemon, all the godly learned men, who tenderly regard the good state of the Saints of God, are no doubt aggrieved in heart to see such horrible impieties suffered to be broached in the open face of the Church of God: for young wits are more apt to practise these wares of Sathan which are thus put to sale, then to search for any good purpose in them, which is most hard to be found. Again, this in a word I add, that the Lawyers tell us such authors are overtaken by Law: for the Law saith: Libros magicae artis apudse nemini habere licet, [The Dis. must be commended to Vulcan.] et si penes quoscunque reperti sunt, bonis ademptis, ambustis{que} ijs publice, in insulam deportantur, humiliores capite puniuntur. It is lawful for no man to have the books of Magic, and with whomsoever they are found, their goods confiscate, and their books openly burnt, they are banished, and the poorer sort are punished with death. Avoid therefore, Mysodaemon, such dreadful impieties, I warn thee.”

It might be said against Holland that there is a tacit admission of failure in this: if you can’t answer the book, and say, ‘let it be printed, but printed only when bound up with my answer’, you have to ‘commend [The Discovery of Witchcraft] to Vulcan’, as he rather coyly puts it (did he not want to spell it out directly?).

Holland’s book is a tribute to Reginald Scot’s effectiveness. He did not de-convince himself (if you have swallowed double predestination, you are not going to worry about a few reprobates getting rough justice). But an objective reader – if such a person did exist in late 16th century England – might well have been more struck by the case against the veracity of witchcraft than the elasticised, self-referential and hectoring case for belief.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Was John King the person addressed in Donne’s ‘The Anniversary’?

John King, Bishop of London, c.1559-1621

‘The Anniversary’ (text after Robin Robbins)
All kings and all their favourites,
         All glory of honours, beauties, wits,
    The sun itself, which makes times, as they pass,
    Is elder by a year now than it was
    When thou and I first one another saw.
    All other things to their destruction draw:
         Only our love hath no decay.
    This, no tomorrow hath, nor yesterday;
    Running, it never runs from us away,
But truly keeps his first, last, everlasting day.

         Two graves must hide thine and my corse:
         If one might, death were no divorce.
    Alas, as well as other princes, we
    (Who prince enough in one another be)
    Must leave at last in death these eyes and ears
    Oft fed with true oaths, and with sweet-salt tears;
         But souls where nothing dwells but love
    (All other thoughts being inmates) then shall prove
    This, or a love increasèd there above,
When bodies to their graves, souls from their graves remove.

         And then we shall be throughly blessed,
         But we no more than all the rest.
    Here upon earth we’re kings, and none but we
    Can be such kings, nor of such subjects be:
    Who is so safe as we? where none can do
    Treason to us, except one of us two.
         True and false fears let us refrain:
    Let us love nobly and live, and add again
    Years and years unto years, till we attain
To write threescore. This is the second of our reign.

Well, there they all were at York House. Sir Thomas Egerton has a new domestic chaplain in John King, and John Donne is installed as a private secretary (Egerton, beside his hard work and personal probity, could certainly pick talent). The niece of Egerton’s wife is also present, Ann More, a young woman of 17.

According to the story promoted by E. E. Duncan-Jones and Robin Robbins after her, that emotionally labile man John Donne then falls into a state of deep and lasting personal attachment not just to Ann More (which we know about), but also to John King. Being able to give your heart more or less at once to a girl twelve years your junior and a man twelve, or maybe thirteen years your senior takes some crediting, but love is broad, and perhaps it truly was especially broad in the early modern period.

This is Robbins’ summary of the case for ‘The Anniversary’ being about Donne’s friendship with King: “The parity of the partners in Anniversary, contrasting with the inequality affirmed in the same analogy in [‘The Sun Rising’], where “kings … all here in one bed” lie but it is the man alone who is “all princes”, suggests an exclusively male relationship. E. E. Duncan-Jones … argues persuasively that, since the gender of the addressee is not specified, Donne may in the thrice-repeated “kings” be punning on the surname … of John King (1559?-1621), a lifelong friend, with whom his relationship was termed by Walton “a marriage of souls”.

But how persuasive was E. E. Duncan-Jones? In her letter to the LRB (October 1993), we see every sign of wishful thinking, as she promotes once more an idea that she just can’t let go (despite, as she admits, having been brusquely told by her colleague and friend Helen Gardner to “Forget it”): “When Walton calls this friendship ‘a marriage of souls’ in his life of Donne it is so apt a description of the subject of this poem that Walton might be covertly alluding to it.” Her phrasing, “in his life of Donne” seems to me to bend the facts ever so slightly: that striking phrase about the marriage of souls, seized upon by Robbins, appears only in a letter of dedication to the second edition of Walton’s Life of Donne. In the 1640 version, Donne, acceding to the king’s wish that the author of Pseudo-Martyr become a churchman, is described as “declaring his intentions to his deare friend D. King the then worthy Bishop of London”.

By 1658, dedicating the second edition of his Life of Donne to Sir Robert Holt, Walton improves on ‘deare friend’:  “For, Sir, Dr. Donne was so much a part of your self, as to be incorporated into your Family, by so noble a friendship, that I may say there was a marriage of souls betwixt him and your reverend Grandfather, who in his life was an Angel of our once glorious Church, and now no common Star in heaven. And Dr. Donne’s love died not with him, but was doubled upon his Heire, your beloved Uncle the Bishop of Chichester, that lives in this froward generation, to be an ornament to his Calling. And this affection to him was by Dr. D. so testified in his life, that he then trusted him with the very secrets of his soul; & at his death, with what was dearest to him, even his fame, estate, & children.”

Walton is reminding his dedicatee of close relationships between Donne and both the Kings, father (John) and son (Henry). He reaches rather self-consciously (“that I may say”) to the florid affirmation, which seems likely to have slipped into his memory from Jeremy Taylor’s high-flown discourse on friendship to that great oracle of Friendship, Orinda, Katherine Philips:
“There are two things which a friend can never pardon, a treacherous blow and the revealing of a secret, because these are against the Nature of friendship; they are the adulteries of it, and dissolve the Union; and in the matters of friendship which is the marriage of souls; these are the proper causes of divorce…” (Jeremy Taylor, A discourse of the nature, offices, and measures of friendship with rules of conducting it written in answer to a letter from the most ingenious and vertuous M.K.P. by J.T. 1657). 
So, the “marriage of souls” phrase was Walton’s later hyperbole, when talking up the Donne/John King relationship in a dedicatory epistle, and taken from the typical discourse of Katherine Philips’ precieux circle.

Gauging the depth of that dear friendship is hard: in certain aspects of character, one would not think John King to be Donne’s type, for King was fiercely anti-Catholic. (That might initially have been the point: Donne, the former Catholic, associating himself with a man whose opinions made him a good guarantor that Donne really had switched persuasions.) Their long-continued acquaintance became a professional one: it would be John King, as Bishop of London, who ordained Donne.

So anti-Catholic was John King that he was victim of a very successful posthumous libel by a Catholic writer, who interjects as a truth a story that King renounced the Protestant faith and his own ministry as false in the last days before his death. Richard Broughton (The English protestants plea, and petition, for English preists and papists to the present court of Parlament, 1621) might have believed what he wrote, a victim of misinformation or wishful thinking, or might have deliberately concocted the lie and placed it in his book. But it was noticed, and there was clearly an urgent inquiry into this scandalous allegation, to the result that John King’s eldest clergyman son gave a funeral sermon that goes into a very detailed account of his father’s departure from this world, and makes candid appeals to a sense of likelihood. This was printed along with a denial of the imputed apostasy that had been obtained from a Catholic.

I find John Donne oddly absent from this sensational business. He isn’t mentioned, and as far as I know he doesn’t mention it. E. E. Duncan-Jones ended her letter with a fact and, coupled to that fact, a passing remark from a later sermon that she thinks shows Donne being conscious of his dearest friend being in a grave close at hand:  “King died in 1621 and was buried in St Paul’s. On Easter Day 1630, preaching in St Paul’s, Donne speaks of ‘a love … that will melt one’s bowels if he do but passe over or passe by the grave of his dead friend’.” This is striking, but in context, Donne is reaching out as he often did to wider experiences in his congregation, rather than delivering a personal note that isolating the sentiment produces: “There is a love that will make one kisse the case of a picture, though it be shut; There is a love that will melt ones bowels, if he do but passe over, or passe by the grave of his dead friend.” 
To sum up, the relationship between John Donne and John King is not something R. C. Bald makes much of, while Donne’s more racy biographer John Stubbs tells the story of the posthumous slander of King for its own sake without adducing anything to show Donne was personally concerned.
King was an anti-catholic to the extent that the Catholics mounted a posthumous propaganda coup exploiting his reputation. Donne, apparently silent on this matter concerning his friend, does himself have bad things to say about ‘papists’, but that simply went with the territory of being in the 17th century English pulpit. Donne is more himself when saying things to bring his congregation up short, as when he told his listeners that he was a papist himself (and a puritan too!):
therefore, if when I study this holinesse of life, and fast, and pray, and submit my selfe to discreet, and medicinall mortifications, for the subduing of my body, any man will say, this is Papisticall, Papists doe this, it is a blessed Protestation, and no man is the lesse a Protestant, nor the worse a Protestant for making it, Men and brethren, I am a Papist, that is, I will fast and pray as much as any Papist, and enable my selfe for the service of my God, as seriously, as sedulously, as laboriously as any Papist. So, if when I startle and am affected at a blasphemous oath, as at a wound upon my Saviour, if when I avoyd the conversation of those men, that prophane the Lords day, any other will say to me, This is Puritanicall, Puritans do this, It is a blessed Protestation, and no man is the lesse a Protestant, nor the worse a Protestant for making it, Men and Brethren, I am a Puritan, that is, I wil endeavour to be pure, as my Father in heaven is pure, as far as any Puritan.
Donne prefers to place himself between Catholic and Calvinist-Protestant extremes.
Is ‘The Anniversary’ about Donne’s feelings for John King? Even E. E. Duncan-Jones has difficulties with:
And then we shall be throughly blessed,
         But we no more than all the rest.

“The rather unregenerate hint that in heaven the two will not be quite so happy because others will be as happy as they are at least marks the poet’s total content and zest for living.” I don’t get the impression that Dr. John King was someone to whom you sounded unregenerate notes of any kind.
The “content and zest for living” is just too radically anti-Calvinist to imagine Dr. King indulging: Donne promotes the exclusive joy of human love against the democracy of shared delight in heaven. Duncan-Jones also tries this argument: “The part played by ‘bodies’ in this relationship is strikingly small. What will be lost in death will be ‘eyes’ and ‘eares’, the sight and speech of the loved one: ‘Oft fed with true oathes, and with sweet salt teares’.” Here, the critic conveniently forgets that Donne doesn’t itemise body parts or properties in the Songs and Sonnets: breast, skin, red, white, soft, neck, leg, foot don’t feature – this was, after all, the love poet of ‘lovely glorious nothing’, and body parts beyond the face are usually his (‘The Fever’ is an exception, but there the purported illness makes him write about the body, the ‘beauty, and all parts, which are thee’ of the beloved.)
Duncan-Jones’ comment was about:
    (Who prince enough in one another be)
    Must leave at last in death these eyes and ears
    Oft fed with true oaths, and with sweet-salt tears …

This language of tears and oaths does not strike me as different enough from the other (male to female) Songs and Sonnets.

But the clincher is meant to be in:

    Here upon earth we’re kings, and none but we
    Can be such kings, nor of such subjects be

This parity between the lovers has to make them, at least so Robin Robbins seems eager to conclude, both men. He distinguishes this poem from ‘The Sun Rising’ on that basis. To remind the reader, the male speaker there addressed the sun:
Look, and tomorrow late, tell me, 
Whether both th' Indias of spice and mine 
Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with me. 
Ask for those kings whom thou saw'st yesterday, 
And thou shalt hear, All here in one bed lay.

She's all states, and all princes, I, 
Nothing else is. 
The argument goes that in these lines the male speaker entertains a fantasy of himself as ‘All [kings]’ because she is ‘all states’, especially she is the inexhaustible source of wealth of both the Indies, he being the doubly fortunate ruler of both east and west. Yet the poem possibly just wavers towards the notion of their parity: all the world’s kings now compacted into the two of them in bed together. This might be taken as a preliminary to the stronger statement of equality in ‘The Anniversary’. As ‘The Sun Rising’ ends, the speaker joins in the new geography of the world that is now contracted into this bedroom. The ageing sun’s duty is to warm the world, and happily, ‘that’s done in warming us’. The (male) speaker seems to have forgotten the notion that he is world ruler, but joins his beloved as a new world. He promoted her, for a moment, to kingship with him, he now moves himself down to worldship with her.
It is worth questioning as well whether it is likely that Donne would have made an argument for equality if the relationship with John King were his subject. Donne regularly exploited a distinction between love’s adepts and the general ‘laity’. Real clergymen, when they are his subject, prompt him to ingenious assertions of their superiority – God’s ambassadors on earth, and all that other stuff, as seen in his poem to Mr Tilman. To celebrate his friendship with Dr John King in ‘The Anniversary’ in terms of equality would have been a solecism.
There is another angle on all this. By a coincidence, it fell to Bishop King to give the sermon when Princess Elizabeth was married to Frederick, Count Palatine, in 1614. Donne wrote his best epithalamion for the event. Bishop King was placed in circumstances in which he had, as a matter of politics, to make the bride equal with the groom. It would not have been possible to read to the Stuart Princess a sermon of woman’s subordination: to do so would have been to slight the Stuarts, who had just lost their Prince Henry and so unlikely to be receptive to further diminution of the dynasty. Frederick, Count Palatine, was not the prime prince of Europe. King rose to the requirements of the occasion, with a marriage sermon about the worthiness of women, equality of partners as essential to a godly marriage, and the superiority of marriage to friendship.
As I indicate, it was a contingent discourse, but King puts all his theological weight behind it, he could not sound as though he is advancing a paradox or problem case:
A woman is, he said:
“the gate of entrance into liuing. Hence began the world; God buildeth the woman (aedificat costam, finxit hominem: man was figmentum, woman aedificium, an artificiall building) and from the rafter or planke of this rib is the world built. Therfore was Heva called mater viventium, the mother of the living; quia mortali generei immortalitatem parit, she is the meanes to continue a kind of immortalitie amongst the mortall sonnes of men. No sooner was man made, but presently also a woman; (not animal occasionatum, a creature upon occasion, nor mas laesus, a male with maime and imperfection, (philosophy speaketh too dully:) but out of the counsel and skill and workemanship of almighty God; aedificat, a goodly frame:) and no sooner a woman, but presently a wife. So that man, and woman, and wife are simul tempore, of the same standing; and the first vocation of man was maritari, to be an husband. Mulier propter virum, The woman was made for the man to be his wife: so that, according to the Hebrew prouerb, Cui non est vxor, is non est vir, A man without a wife is not a man. Vir and vxor, man and wife, are primum par, fundamentum parium, the first originall match of all others. All other couples and paires, as father and sonne, maister and seruant, king and subject come out of this paire.
Happy, thrice happy these that keepe this bond without breach. Amicus & socius commodè conueniunt, sed utrum{que} antecessit vxor iuncta viro. A freind and a companion come together at an opportunitie, but above them both is a wife with her husband. And the whole infelicity of marriage for the most part, that Iliade of evils which accompanieth some matches, is when this sicut is wanting; when men choose not similes their likes, when matches are made of such as match not…”
The writer of the ODNB life of John King represents these as his general opinions, understands this as sincerely said. It might have been. This raises the possibility, then, that in talking to his dear friend John King, John Donne had previously heard something similar: that the fleeting moment of parity between the lovers in ‘The Anniversary’ – who are a man and a woman – might have owed something after all to John King, from whom John Donne might have heard an ameliorative discourse, a possibility that he could entertain.