Jayne Archer - University of Warwick

The Queens’ Arcanum:
Authority and Authorship in The Queens Closet Opened (1655)
On the subject of Queen Henrietta Maria’s contribution to the intellectual
and cultural life of the Caroline Court, historians have long been
dismissive. ‘As far as the bulk of her subjects could judge’, Elizabeth
Hamilton remarks, ‘all her artistic sense seemed to have gone into dress
and decoration’.1 More recently, however, literary historians such as
Martin Butler, Sophie Tomlinson and Erica Veevers have examined
Henrietta Maria’s use of forms such as pastoral drama, French romance
and Christian Neo-Platonism to advance an ‘oppositional’ politics and to
develop what Tomlinson calls a ‘femino-centric court culture’.2 But
Henrietta Maria’s contribution to other intellectual traditions, most
notably natural philosophy, remains largely overlooked.3 Into her
household, Henrietta Maria drew a number of natural
philosophers/scientists, including John Evelyn, Kenelm Digby, the
physician Theodore Turquet de Mayerne, the mathematician John Pell
and the apothecary John Parkinson. Drawing together the work of these
men and other members of the queen’s household, Henrietta Maria’s
name is associated with one of the most successful publications of the
seventeenth century: The Queens Closet Opened (1655). Significantly, it
is a work in which the discourses of natural philosophy, politics,
housewifery and religion intersect to translate household management
into a branch of national government, and in which the authority of the
office of queen is in part shown to be passed down in the form of
accumulated knowledge from woman to woman, queen to queen.4
Elizabeth Hamilton, Henrietta Maria (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1976), p. 76.
Martin Butler, ‘Court Drama: The Queen’s Circle 1632-37’, in Theatre and Crisis:
1632-1642, by Butler (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 25-54; Clare
McManus, ed., The Queen’s Court: Elite Female Cultural Agency and the Cultures of
Early Stuart Courts (Aldershot: Ashgate, forthcoming); Sophie Tomlinson, ‘She That
Plays the King: Henrietta Maria and the Threat of the Actress in Caroline Culture’, in
The Politics of Tragicomedy: Shakespeare and After, ed. Gordon McMullan and
Jonathan Hope (London: Routledge, 1992), 189-207; Erica Veevers, Images of Love
and Religion: Queen Henrietta Maria and Court Entertainments (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1989).
An exception is Lynette Hunter, ‘Women and Domestic Medicine: Lady
Experimenters, 1570-1620’, in Women, Science and Medicine 1500-1700: Mothers
and Sisters of the Royal Society, ed. Lynette Hunter and Sarah Hutton (Stroud: Sutton,
1997), p. 93.
For the purposes of this short article, I will not consider the significant constitutional
differences between the offices of queen and queen consort. On these differences, see
Leeds Barroll, Anna of Denmark, Queen of England: A Cultural Biography
(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), p. 4.
A neat twelvemo pocketbook of household receipts, The Queens
Closet Opened was first published in 1655 and proved an instant success.
With various corrections and additions, it went into at least eighteen
editions in the seventeenth century alone. The title-page of the first
edition promises ‘Incomparable secrets in physick, chirurgery,
preserving, candying, and cookery’, and is divided into two books: ‘The
Pearl of Practice: Accurate, Physical, and Chirurgical Receipts’, a
collection of mostly herbal remedies punctuated with recipes for
cosmetics and pigments; and ‘A Queens delight: or, The art of preserving,
conserving, and candying’, a book of sugarcraft, distilled waters, cordials,
perfumes, wines and cakes. Editors of printed receipt books were eager
to make their publications as comprehensive as possible (to offer, as
Hannah Woolley exclaimed, ‘A little of everything’), and so later editions
boasted a third book, ‘The Compleat Cook’, containing recipes for the
‘Dressing of Flesh and Fish, Ordering of Sauces, or Making of Pastry’,
incorporating national and international cuisine.5 According to the titlepage, Queen Henrietta Maria collected and experimented upon many of
these recipes: ‘they were presented to the Queen by the most experienced
persons of our times, many whereof they were honoured with her own
practice, when she pleased to descend to these more private recreations’.6
A portrait of Henrietta Maria, which provided an illustrated frontispiece
for several of the early editions, reinforced this attribution.
In recent years, however, the ‘authenticity’ of The Queens Closet
Opened has been questioned. John B. Blake, for example, admits ‘some
skepticism about this royal contribution’; while Antonia Fraser assumes it
to have been the work of an opportunistic hack, eager to ‘cash in on a
famous name for commercial purposes’.7 Certainly, by the midseventeenth century it was something of a convention for the editors and
publishers of receipt books to identify the source for their publication as
the manuscript receipt book of a (usually anonymous and recently
deceased) noblewoman.8 That hack writers exploited the popularity of
Hannah Woolley, A Supplement to the Queen-Like Closet, Or A Little of Everything
(London, 1680), A1r.
The Queens Closet Opened (1655), A1r. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations
are taken from this, the first edition.
John B. Blake, ‘The Complete Housewife’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine 49.1
(1975), p. 31; Antonia Fraser, The Weaker Vessel: Woman’s Lot in SeventeenthCentury England (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1984), pp. 45-6. In her recent
biography of Henrietta Maria, Alison Plowden makes no mention of The Queens
Closet Opened: Henrietta Maria: Charles I’s Indomitable Queen (Stoud: Sutton,
John Partridge, for example, claims that his printed receipt book The Widowes
Treasure (1586) was based on a manuscript written out ‘at the earnest request and
sute of a Gentlewoma[n] in the Countrie for her priuate use’ (A2r). Gervase Markham
this genre does not, however, render the attribution implausible. Women
of the nobility and gentry were expected to compile such receipt books so
that they could fulfil their roles as household managers and as caregivers
both within the home and the wider community. The recipes in The
Queens Closet Opened are typical of those found in the manuscript
receipt books compiled by elite women.9 The medical receipts are
predominantly herbal; using simples readily available within the
household (and kitchen garden), occasionally supplemented by minerals
(to be purchased from an apothecary), basic astrological lore and
sympathetic magic. The healing powers of these preparations mostly
come from repeated acts of distillation. The following treatment, ‘A
special water for a Consumption’, is typical:
Take a peck of garden shell snails, wash them in
small Beer, put them into a great Iron dripping
pan, and set them on the hot fire of charcoals, and
keep them constantly stirring till they make no
noise at all, then with a knife and cloth pick them
out, and wipe them clean, then bruise them in a
stone Mortar, shels and all, then take a quart of
Earth worms, rip them up with a knife, and scowr
them with Salt. (p. 22)
The snails and earthworms are then distilled in a large brass pot with
herbs, flowers, spices, berries and powdered ‘Harts horn’ (p. 23) to
produce a strong medicinal water. This recipe, which is by no means the
least palatable of the remedies in The Queens Closet Opened, reminds us
that the value of these recipes lay not simply in their ability to cure, but
for their ability to provoke change in a patient (whether for good or ill),
as a source of entertainment (or ‘delight’) and as a spur to curiosity.
Carola Oman, one of the few historians to accept Henrietta Maria’s
involvement in this publication, assumes that these recipes represent the
work of Theodore Turquet de Mayerne (1573-1655), physician to a
succession of French and British kings and queens, including James and
Anna, Henrietta Maria and Charles: ‘Mayerne’, Oman writes, ‘occupied
his leisure hours with chemical experiments and first won Henrietta’s
favour by giving her the prescriptions that appear in The Queen’s [sic]
claimed that the medical portions of The English House-wife (1631) were taken from
‘a Manuscript given to a great worthy Countesse of this land’ (p. 5).
This observation is based on consultation of over thirty manuscript receipt books,
including, for example, those owned by Joan Barrington, c.1615-1679 (Essex County
Record Office D/Dba F40/1-20); Lady Frances Catchmay, c.1625 (Wellcome Western
MS. 184a); Lady Anne Fanshawe, c.1651-1678 (Wellcome Western MS. 7113); Lady
Tyrrell, c.1647-c.1677 (Guildhall MS. 558); and Sarah Wigges, c.1616 (Royal
College of Physicians MS. 654).
Closet’.10 Mayerne’s experiments with pigments, dyes, cosmetics,
medicines and foodstuffs may well appear among the many unattributed
recipes in The Queens Closet Opened.11 But it is notable that only one
recipe, ‘A purge’, is directly attributed to ‘Dr. Mayherne’ (p. 180).
Indeed, the task of establishing ‘authorship’ of early modern printed
receipt books is anachronistic. The editors and publishers of these books
borrowed heavily from one another, often without acknowledgement,
altering recipes in the light of experience or in order to appeal to the
tastes and means of a new readership. Instead, the notion of ‘authorship’
in these books rests equally upon the ownership of a particular collection
of receipts and upon ‘authorities’, the individuals whose names give
‘proof’ to the value (encompassing the originality as well as the
effectiveness) of a receipt. Typically, therefore, a recipe will be
attributed to a particular individual, possibly with a date, place or a brief
case-history, and with the tag ‘prooved’ or ‘probatum est’. In such
books, the value of a receipt rests entirely in its association with a specific
person and the assertion that it has worked for them. For this reason, later
editions of The Queens Closet Opened boast a list of ‘The Prescribers,
and Approvers of most of these rare Receipts’.12 Of the eighty-three
named sources, thirty are women, of whom three are queens or
princesses, five are countesses, fifteen are titled ‘Lady’ and seven are
titled ‘Mrs.’ These women stand alongside the names of noblemen,
licensed physicians, senior churchmen and politicians. Again, this is a
characteristic feature of women’s manuscript receipt books, in which
recipes are collected (or ‘received’) from a wide circle of friends,
relatives, neighbours and employees, without any apparent attempt to
distinguish between the kinds of authority that their names might
Carola Oman, Henrietta Maria (London: White Lion, 1976), p. 61. Oman’s thesis is
repeated in the DNB entry for Mayerne: ‘His industry in chemistry, shown in his
innumerable notes and experiments, explains his prescriptions of cosmetics for the
queen. Her vanity was pleased by them and his experimental curiosity satisfied’
(DNB vol. 13, p. 152). On Mayerne, see Allen Debus, The English Paracelsians
(New York: F. Watts, 1966), pp. 150-6.
The recipes in The Queens Closet Opened are similar to those published in
Archimagirus Anglo-Gallicus ... Copied from a choice manuscript of Sir Theodore
Mayerne Knight, physician to the late K. Charles ([London]: Printed for G. Bedell
and T. Collins, 1658), a work of ‘Kitchin-physick’ (A2v), containing recipes for
sugar-work and preserves. Further correspondences can be identified with the recipes
in Mayerne’s manuscript receipt books, especially British Library Sloane MSS. 304,
2041 and 2222.
The Queens Closet Opened (1659), 3r.
On the notion of personal authority in establishing the truth-value of receipts and
scientific knowledge in the seventeenth century, see: Michael Hunter, ‘The Reluctant
While the formal features of The Queens Closet Opened confirm
that it is indeed typical of the type of manuscripts compiled by early
modern women, a consideration of some of the contributors indicates that
this publication represents the accumulated knowledge of three queens,
namely Elizabeth, Anna and Henrietta Maria. The missing apostrophe in
the title immediately arouses doubt in the reader as to how many queens
are (so to speak) having their closet opened. This ambiguity is only
heightened by the one recipe that does invoke the name of ‘the Queen’:
‘A Medicine for the Plague that the Lord Mayor had from the Queen’ (pp.
31-2). Implying that ‘the Queen’ was in the habit of giving as well as
receiving recipes, the reader is nevertheless left uncertain as to which
Queen this recipe refers. Indeed, while one recipe is connected with the
name of Queen Elizabeth I (a ‘perfume’, p. 272), the single dated recipe
(‘A drink for the plague or pestilent feaver proved by the Countesse of
Arundel, in the year 1603’ [p. 25]) comes from the year of Elizabeth’s
death. The implication is that manuscript receipts were collected by
Elizabeth and Anna, and passed down to Henrietta Maria. Again, this is a
characteristic feature of women’s manuscript receipt books which, unlike
many other forms of property, tended to be passed down from woman to
woman, usually following the distaff line, but in this instance, perhaps,
being inherited with the office of queen. With housewifery an
accomplishment expected of all early modern women, including the
queen, collecting receipts becomes an important aspect of queenship.14
Identifying some of the authorities for the recipes in The Queens
Closet Opened, the connections with the households of Elizabeth, Anna
and Henrietta Maria are strengthened. The ‘Countess of Arundel’, who is
the source for a ‘drink for the scurvy’ (p. 149), a ‘special remedy for the
stone, back, and to make a woman conceive’ (p. 168) as well as the ‘drink
for the plague or pestilent feaver’ cited above, can probably be identified
with Alathea Howard, née Talbot (d. 1654), an intimate of Anna and
Henrietta Maria, and the supposed author of Natura Exenterata (1655), a
sophisticated compendium of household and chymical receipts.
Alternatively, this Countess of Arundel could be Anne Howard, née
Philanthropist: Robert Boyle and the “Communication of Secrets and Receits in
Physick”’, in Religio Medici: Medicine and Religion in Seventeenth-Century England,
ed. Ole Peter Grell and Andrew Cunningham (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1996), pp.
247-272; and Steven Shapin, A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in
Seventeenth-Century England (London: The University of Chicago Press, 1995).
Housewifery features in the educational curriculum devised by Juan Luis Vives for
Katherine of Aragon’s daughter, Princess Mary. See: Instruction of a Christian
Woman (comp. 1523, pub. c.1540), trans. Richard Hyrde, in Vives and the
Renascence Education of Women, ed. Foster Watson (London: Edward Arnold, 1912),
pp. 46-8. At least one recipe, ‘King Edwards perfume’ (p. 272) would appear to predate Elizabeth’s reign.
Dacre (1557-1630), Alathea’s mother-in-law, an amateur healer and a
prolific collector of manuscript receipts.15 Alathea’s sister, Elizabeth
Grey, Countess of Oxford (1581-1651), also appears as the source for the
famous ‘powder presented by her to the Queen’ (p. 274); like her sister,
Elizabeth’s manuscript collection was cited as the source for a printed
receipt book, A Choice Manuall of Rare and Select Secrets in Physick
and Chyrurgery (1652/3).16 A number of women healers cited in The
Queens Closet Opened also date from the reigns of Elizabeth and Anna.
For example, Lady Grace Mildmay (1552-1620), who maintained a large
medical practice from her home in Northamptonshire, is ascribed a ‘drink
for a cold or cough’ (p. 164).17 “‘Lady Thornborugh’, who is credited
with a ‘syrup of elders’ (p. 267), can probably be identified with
Elizabeth Bayles, the second wife of John Thornborough (1551-1641),
the ‘bishop-alchemist’.18 (Under his title Bishop of Worcester, John
Thornborough is the source for an ‘admirably curing powder’ [p. 19].)
We know that Elizabeth Bayles produced her own remedies, because she
appears in the diary of Lady Margaret Hoby as the source for ‘a
medeson’.19 Lady Hoby (1571-1633), who is cited in The Queens Closet
Opened as the source for a ‘medicine for a dropsie’ (p. 11), used her diary
to record her work in her stillroom (or ‘closet’), where she distilled
medicinal oils and waters.20
A more detailed reconstruction of the named sources in The
Queens Closet Opened and their links to the queens (Elizabeth, Anna and
Henrietta Maria) is, unfortunately, beyond the scope of this short article.
In what remains of this article, I want to advance a hypothesis concerning
the identity of the editor of The Queens Closet Opened, and establish a
link between this mysterious ‘W. M.’ and Henrietta Maria.
On the occasion of Alathea’s marriage to Thomas Howard in 1606, Anne had her
collection of household receipts copied out in a new manuscript volume for her
daughter-in-law: Wellcome Western MS. 213. ‘Lady Dacre’ is named as the source
for a ‘drink’ for ‘the stone & stranguary’ (pp. 168-170).
A Choice Manuall of Rare and Select Secrets in Physick and Chyrurgery; Collected,
and Practised by the Right Honorable, the Countesse of Kent, Late Deceased
(1652/3). On the Countesses of Arundel and Oxford, see Lynette Hunter, ‘Women
and Domestic Medicine: Lady Experimenters, 1570-1620.’
Some of Lady Mildmay’s manuscript receipts have been edited for publication in
With Faith and Physic: The Life of a Tudor Gentlewoman, Lady Grace Mildmay,
1552-1620, ed. Linda A. Pollock (London: Collins & Brown, 1993).
On Thornborough’s alchemical work, see Allen G. Debus, The English
Paracelsians, p. 103.
Margaret Hoby, The Diary of Lady Margaret Hoby, 1599-1605, ed. Dorothy M.
Meads (London: Routledge, 1930), p. 159. This entry is dated Dec. 9th 1600.
Margaret Hoby, The Diary, pp. 134, 180.
Until at least 1664, Nathaniel Brooke was named as the publisher
of The Queens Closet Opened, using a succession of different printers.
But on the various title-pages the editor was consistently identified as ‘W.
M.’: ‘Transcribed from the true copies of her Majesties own receipt
books, by W. M. one of her late servants’. ‘W. M.’ was also the author of
a lengthy dedicatory epistle, in which he identifies himself as Henrietta
Maria’s former secretary, who both transcribed and took possession of
the Queen’s personal papers:
Generous Reader; My particular relation for many
yeares to her Majesties service might easily,
should I write my own history, rid thee of all
scruples touching the truth of this collection, there
being few or none of these receipts presented to
her Majesty, which were not transcribed into her
book by my self, the Original papers being most of
them preserved in my own hands, which I kept as
so many Reliques, and should sooner have parted
with my dearest bloud, then to have suffered them
to be publick. (A3r-A3v)
Holding on to the ‘Reliques’ of his former mistress, just as a Catholic
might treasure a relic of their patron saint, W. M. associates himself with
Henrietta Maria’s religion. These ‘Reliques’, the editor explains, were
accidentally leaked when W. M. leant a transcript of the ‘Original papers’
to an untrustworthy patron (‘a person of Honor’). Rather than suffer the
release of an unauthorised edition of these papers, he has (albeit
reluctantly) agreed to participate in the publication of The Queens Closet
[S]ince my Soveraign Mistresse her banishment, as
also this continued change, being diffident of the
alteration of these times, I could not deny the
importunities of a person of Honour, to whom I
was obliged, who got a transcript of one of the true
copies from me, but by ill fortune either lent it or
lost it; which I had never known from himself, but
that to my no small amazement, I found no lesse
then two other copies abroad, the sad consideration
whereof inforced mee to consult with my friends,
who all of them advised me to dispatch my
Original copy to the Presse to prevent those false
ones; for otherwise I should not have thought it
lesse then Sacriledge, had not the lock been first
pickt, to have opened the Closet of my distressed
Soveraigne Mistresse without her Royall assent;
but since that unfortunate miscarriage, I thought
this publication to stand upon no ordinary tearms
of honour, as it might continue my Soveraign
Ladies remembrance in the brests and loves of
those persons of honour and quality, that presented
most of these rare receipts to her ... (A3v-A4v)
This rhetoric of closets, secrets, keys, locks, the revelation and
occlusion of secrets closely resembles the role of the secretary as set out
by Angel Day in The English Secretary (1599): ‘The Closet in every
house, as it is a reposement of secrets, so it is onelie ... at the owners, and
no others commaundement: The Secretorie, as hee is a keeper and
conserver of secrets, so is hee by his Lord or Maister, and by none other
to bee Directed’ (p. 103).21 As Richard Rambuss has argued, Day draws
a close correspondence between the roles of secretary and spy.22 A
Catholic, an exile, a published author, a loyal servant who ‘fell with the
Court’, a secretary and, perhaps, a spy: for a contemporary reader, ‘W.
M.’ would have been instantly identifiable as Walter Montagu[e] (c.16031677), perhaps the closest and most loyal of Henrietta Maria’s ‘late
servants’. The precise facts of Montagu’s life are sketchy, but it is clear
that he served Henrietta Maria as secretary and spy, a keeper and
discoverer of secrets.23 The second son of the Earl of Manchester and a
protégé of the Duke of Buckingham, Montagu first met Henrietta Maria
in 1624, when he was sent on a secret mission to France to prepare the
way for marriage negotiations. Following Buckingham’s assassination in
1628, Montagu established himself as a leading member of the Queen’s
court at Denmark House. During the 1630s, he influenced the religious,
political, cultural and philosophical life of Henrietta Maria’s household.
Following his conversion to Catholicism in 1635, Montagu encouraged
the Queen to take a more active role in propagating the Catholic faith in
England, and helped shape her cultural persona through the composition
of three works: The Shepheard’s Paradise (London, 1659), a pastoral
drama performed by the Queen and her ladies in January 1633;
Miscellanea Spiritualia (1648), an examination of corruption at court;
On the motif of the closet in early modern culture, see: Patricia Fumerton, Cultural
Aesthetics: Renaissance Literature and the Practice of Social Ornament (London:
The University of Chicago Press, 1991), pp. 1-25, 67-100; and Alan Stewart, ‘The
Early Modern Closet Discovered’, Representations 50 (Spring 1995): 76-100.
Richard Rambuss, Spenser’s Secret Career (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1993), p. 4.
All biographical information relating to Montagu is taken from DNB vol. 13, pp.
717-9. There is a brief biographical sketch of Montagu in the introduction to Sarah
Poynting’s edition of Montagu’s The Shepheard’s Paradise (Oxford: Oxford
University Press for the Malone Society, 1997-8).
and The Accomplish’d Woman (London, 1656), a translation of the first
edition of Jacques du Bosc’s vindication of female virtue and education.24
Another publication, Jeremias Redivivus (London, 1649), is a lamentation
upon the death of King Charles I;
Montagu’s Letter Against
Protestantism was published with Lucius Cary Viscount Falkland’s A
Discourse of Infallibility (London, 1660).25
Henrietta Maria’s secretary during the late 1630s and early 1640s
was Sir John Winter. But throughout this period and beyond, Montagu
served as a different kind of ‘secretary’ to the Queen, acting as an
intermediary between her, King Charles, Marie de Médici and prominent
Royalists in England and on the Continent. Alongside Winter and
Kenelm Digby (the Queen’s Chancellor and another collector of
manuscript receipts), Montagu was commissioned by Henrietta Maria to
collect money from English Catholics towards defraying the costs of the
Royalist army.26 Montagu, Digby and Winter were called to account
before the Commons in 1641, and in August 1649 all three were formally
banished upon pain of death, when Montagu went into exile in France.
During this time, Montagu continued to rely upon the patronage and trust
of Henrietta Maria and her mother, Marie de Médici. Montagu acted as
almoner to Henrietta Maria, and took charge of her son, Henry Duke of
Gloucester. Marie de Médici, who continued to consult Montagu on
affairs of state, had him appointed abbot of the Benedictine monastery of
Nanteuil in the diocese of Metz and subsequently the abbey of St. Martin,
near Pointoise. Despite receiving such lucrative appointments, Montagu
spent these years supervising the publication of his writings (some of
which had previously circulated in manuscripts) in England. A brief scan
of the dates of Montagu’s publications (1648, 1649, 1656 and 1660)
reveals that he was in close and frequent contact with London publishers
during the period when The Queens Closet Opened was first published.
We know that Montagu secretly returned to England towards the end of
the 1660s to visit his brother Edward, Earl of Manchester. Despite the
professed reluctance of ‘W.M.’ to publish, money may have been a
Of particular relevance to The Queens Closet Opened is du Bosc’s defence of
women’s ‘divine’ and virtuous desire to investigate the ‘secrets of nature’.
On Montagu’s religious publications, see Susan Field Senneff, ‘Some Neglected
Writings on Contemplation by Walter Montagu (c.1603-1677), the English Recusant
Chaplain to Queen Henrietta Maria’, in Neglected English Literature: Recusant
Writings of the 16th-17th Centuries, ed. Dorothy L. Latz (Salzburg: Univerität
Salzburg, 1997), 75-97.
Digby features in The Queens Closet Opened as the source for ‘Aqua mirabilis’ (p.
290). Digby’s manuscript receipt collection formed the basis of a number of
publications, including Choice and Experimented Receipts in Physick and Chirurgery
(1668) and The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digby Kt. Opened
(London, 1671).
motive—the Countess of Oxford’s A Choice Manuall (1652/3) had been
sufficiently successful to suggest that a similar publication might prove
profitable. Certainly, towards the end of his life Montagu was wealthy
enough to devote his retirement in Paris to charitable works. But it is also
possible to discern another motive.
Indeed, if Montagu can indeed be identified with ‘W. M.’, then it is
tempting to interpret the publication of The Queens Closet Opened as a
continuation of his work as loyal secretary/spy to Henrietta Maria. An
important aspect of the work of a secretary, as delineated by Angel Day,
was to know when to keep and when to reveal secrets—to know when,
how and to whom the ‘closet’ should be opened. In natural philosophy,
the feminised ‘closet’ was typically the repository for the secrets of
nature.27 But to a contemporary readership, the term ‘closet’ (together
with its synonym ‘cabinet’) also carried potent political connotations.
Hero Chalmers has argued that Royalist women writers (men and
women) often associated themselves with tropes of inwardness,
retirement and secrecy—regions typically identified with femininity, but
invested with political and religious affiliations.28 The Queens Closet
Opened would seem to function within this discourse, but the Queen’s
closet was equally able to function as a locus for the oppositional politics
of Protestantism. Thus John Foxe commemorated the ‘closets and
coffers’ of Queen Katherine Parr and her ladies as repositories for the
forbidden books of the Reformed faith.29 For Foxe, as for ‘W. M.’, the
queens’ closet keeps alive a truth (the Reformed religion; the legitimacy
of Henrietta Maria’s queenship) that is suppressed by the corruption of
the outside world. But Montagu had more immediate precedents. In two
publications from the 1640s, The Kings Cabinet Opened (1645) and The
Lord George Digbys Cabinet (1646), the ‘closets’ of King Charles I and
his supporters, containing their secret correspondence, were opened up
and revealed to the public. Complete with Parliamentarian exegesis,
these publications were used to discredit the King, chiefly through his
perceived reliance on Henrietta Maria, who is denounced as a member of
‘the weaker sexe, borne an Alien, bred up in a contrary Religion’.30 It is
quite appropriate that Montagu, who carried these and similar secret
On this motif, see Evelyn Fox Keller, ‘From Secrets of Life to Secrets of Death’, in
Body/Politics: Women and the Discourses of Science, ed. Mary Jacobus, Evelyn Fox
Keller and Sally Shuttleworth (New York: Routledge, 1990).
Hero Chalmers, ‘Royalist Women Writers and the Literature of Retirement’,
unpublished paper presented at the Renaissance Graduate Seminar, Cambridge
University, 2nd June 1998.
John Foxe, The Acts and Monuments (1563), ed. George Townsend (London:
Seeley, Burnside and Seeley, 1846), vol. 5, p. 557.
The Kings Cabinet Opened (1645), p. 43.
letters between Charles, Henrietta Maria and their supporters, should
have used this motif of the opened closet in order to reassert the
legitimacy of Henrietta Maria’s queenship.31 With the publication of The
Queens Closet Opened, this Parliamentarian rhetoric is used against itself,
and Henrietta Maria, although in exile, returns to Britain in textual form,
in the apparently innocuous guise of housewife. She thus retains what is
arguably one of her most important functions as queen, namely the
production and circulation of the secrets of nature, by which the sick can
be healed, the impoverished nourished and the charitable work of the
nobility and gentry enabled.32 Thus in later editions of The Queens
Closet Opened, ‘W. M.’, no longer feeling it necessary to apologise for
the publication of his former mistress’s secrets, gives emphasis to this
charitable impulse, with the nobility (implicitly, perhaps, Royalists and
Catholics) raised to their former status: ‘what can be more noble then that
which gives the rich such an opportunity of spending upon good works,
while they succour the poor, and give comfort to them in their greatest
distresses’.33 Reinstating Henrietta Maria as head of a vast network
through which the secrets of nature are produced, tested and circulated,
the act of opening the ‘Queens’ closet’ thus becomes one way in which
the Restoration may begin to be realised.
Transposing household management onto national politics, the
receipt books published immediately following the Restoration could
properly claim to be ‘domestic’ in both senses of the word. Thus John
Ponteus could assert that his collection of medical receipts, The Queens
Cabinet Newly-Opened (1662), ‘are Printed for the good and benefit of
the Kingdome’ (B4v), and Hannah Woolley, author of The Queen-Like
Closet: Or, Rich Cabinet (1670), could argue that in revealing her
household ‘Secrets’, she was working ‘for my Countries good’ and not
simply to ‘get fame’ (A2r). In this article I have suggested that the
‘secrets’ or receipts contained in The Queens Closet Opened are
consonant with the particular intellectual circle fostered by Henrietta
Maria, and have identified Walter Montagu as the agent by which these
secrets were published. But I have also suggested that Henrietta Maria’s
queenship, as it is presented in The Queens Closet Opened, is legitimated
In a letter to the Marquis of Newcastle, written from Oxford in 1643, Henrietta
Maria reports on the ‘misfortune’ of Montagu’s capture at Rochester while conveying
letters between her and her husband: Letters of Queen Henrietta Maria, ed. M. A. E.
Green (London, 1856/7).
An interesting parallel to The Queens Closet Opened is provided by Randal Taylor’s
The Court & Kitchin of Elizabeth, Commonly called Joan Cromwell (1664), a printed
receipt book in which the injustices of the Cromwellian regime are attacked and
ridiculed through the restricted diet and chaotic housewifery of Elizabeth Cromwell.
The Queens Closet Opened (1659), 2r.
through the ghostly presence of former queens, whose knowledge and
power is passed down from queen to queen by virtue of their symbolic
role as housewife (healer, cook and carer) for the nation. In later editions,
the portrait of Henrietta Maria was replaced by that of Queen Mary,
refocusing attention not on a particular individual, but on the power of the
office. ‘The Queen’ of The Queens Closet Opened, therefore, reaches out
to encompass the authority of all queens, past, present and future.
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