On This Day
1490 – Anne of Brittany announces that all those who would ally with the King of France will be considered guilty of the crime of lèse-majesté.
Lèse-majesté (/ˌlɛzˌmæʒɛsˈteɪ/ or /ˌliːz ˈmædʒɪsti/; also lese-majesty, lese majesty or leze majesty) is the crime of violating majesty, an offence against the dignity of a reigning sovereign or against a state.
This behaviour was first classified as a criminal offence against the dignity of the Roman Republic of Ancient Rome. In the Dominate, or Late Empire period, the emperors eliminated the Republican trappings of their predecessors and began to identify the state with their person. Although legally the princeps civitatis (his official title, meaning, roughly, ‘first citizen’) could never become a sovereign because the republic was never officially abolished, emperors were deified as divus, first posthumously but by the Dominate period while reigning. Deified emperors enjoyed the same legal protection that was accorded to the divinities of the state cult; by the time it was replaced by Christianity, what was in all but name a monarchical tradition had already become well-established.
Narrower conceptions of offences against Majesty as offences against the crown predominated in the European kingdoms that emerged in the early medieval period. In feudal Europe, some crimes were classified as lèse-majesté even if they were not intentionally directed against the crown. An example is counterfeiting, so classified because coins bore the monarch’s effigy and/or coat of arms.
With the disappearance of absolute monarchy in Europe, lèse-majesté came to be viewed as less of a crime. However, certain malicious acts that would have once been classified as the crime of lèse-majesté could still be prosecuted as treason. Future republics that emerged as great powers generally still classified as a crime any offence against the highest representatives of the state. These laws are still applied as well in monarchies outside of Europe, such as modern Thailand.
Born On This Day
1804 – Charlotte Lennox, English author and poet (b. 1730)
Charlotte Lennox, née Ramsay (c. 1730 – 4 January 1804) was a Scottish author and poet. She is most remembered now as the author of The Female Quixote and for her association with Samuel Johnson, Joshua Reynolds, and Samuel Richardson, but she had a long career and wrote poetry, prose, and drama.
Charlotte Lennox was born in Gibraltar. Her father, James Ramsay of Dalhousie, was a Scottish captain in the Royal Navy, and her mother Catherine, née Tisdall (d. 1765), was Scottish and Irish. She was baptised Barbara Charlotte Ramsay. Very little direct information on her pre-public life is available, and biographers have extrapolated from her first novel elements that seem semi-autobiographical. Charlotte and her family moved to New York in 1738; where her father was lieutenant-governor – he died in 1742, but she and her mother remained in New York for a few years. At the age of fifteen she accepted a position as companion to the widow Mary Luckyn in London, but upon her arrival she discovered that her future employer had apparently become “deranged” after the death of her son. As the position was no longer available, Charlotte then became companion to Lady Isabella Finch.
Lennox’s first volume of poetry was entitled Poems on Several Occasions, dedicated to Lady Isabella in 1747. She was preparing herself for a position at court, but this was forestalled by her marriage to Alexander Lennox, “an indigenous and shiftless Scot”. His only known employment was in the customs office from 1773 to 1782, and this was reported to be as a benefice of the Duke of Newcastle as a reward for his wife. He also claimed to be the proper heir to the Earl of Lennox in 1768, but the House of Lords rejected his claims on the basis of bastardry, or his “birth misfortunes”, as Charlotte tactfully described them.
After her marriage, Lennox turned her attention to acting, but without much success. Horace Walpole described a performance at Richmond in 1748 as “deplorable”. She did, though, receive a benefit night at the Haymarket Theatre in a production of The Mourning Bride in 1750. That year she also published her most successful poem, “The Art of Coquetry” in Gentleman’s Magazine. She met Samuel Johnson around this time, and he held her in very high regard. When her first novel, The Life of Harriot Stuart, Written by Herself, appeared, Johnson threw a lavish party for Lennox, with a laurel wreath and an apple pie that contained bay leaf. Johnson thought her superior to his other female literary friends, Elizabeth Carter, Hannah More, and Frances Burney. He ensured that Lennox was introduced to important members of the London literary scene.
The women of Johnson’s circle were not fond of Lennox. Hester Thrale, Elizabeth Carter, and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu all faulted her, either for her housekeeping, her unpleasant personality, or her temper. They regarded her specifically as unladylike and incendiary.
However, Samuel Richardson and Samuel Johnson both reviewed and helped out with Lennox’s second and most successful novel, The Female Quixote, or, The Adventures of Arabella, and Henry Fielding praised the novel in his Covent Garden Journal. The Female Quixote was quite popular. It was reprinted and packaged in a series of great novels in 1783, 1799, and 1810. It was translated into German in 1754, French in 1773 and 1801, and Spanish in 1808. The novel formally inverts Don Quixote: as the don mistakes himself for the knightly hero of a Romance, so Arabella mistakes herself for the maiden love of a Romance. While the don thinks it his duty to praise the Platonically pure damsels he meets (such as the farm girl he loves), so Arabella believes it is in her power to kill with a look and it is the duty of her lovers to suffer ordeals on her behalf.
The Female Quixote was officially anonymous and technically unrecognised until after Lennox’s death. The anonymity was an open secret, though, as her other works were advertised as, by “the author of The Female Quixote”, but no published version of The Female Quixote bore her name during her lifetime. The translator/censor of the Spanish version, Lt-Col. Don Bernardo María de Calzada, appropriated the text, stating “written in English by unknown author and in Spanish by D. Bernardo,” even though he was not fluent in English and had only translated into Spanish a previous French translation, which was already censored. In the preface, de Calzada also warns the reader of the questionable quality of the text, as good British texts were only written by “Fyelding” [sic] and Richardson, the two authors with international fame (in contrast to the often mechanical “romances” produced by various names for shops like Edmund Curll’s or the satirical romances appearing under one-off pseudonyms that were not, first and foremost, novels).
Joseph Baretti taught Lennox Italian and several helped her translate The Greek Theatre of Father Brumoy, the most influential French study of Greek tragedy in the mid-18th century. In 1755 she translated Memoirs of Maximilian de Bethune, Duke of Sully, which sold well. Learning several languages, Charlotte Lennox took an interest in the sources for William Shakespeare’s plays. In 1753, the first two volumes of Shakespear Illustrated – the seen by many scholars as the first feminist work of literary criticism – were published by Andrew Millar, and the third volume appeared in 1754. In this work of feminist literary criticism, Lennox discusses Shakespeare’s sources extensively, and she is especially attentive to the romance tradition on which Shakespeare drew. Her central critique is that his plays strip female characters of their original authority, “taking from them the power and the moral independence which the old romances and novels had given them.” Samuel Johnson wrote the dedication for the work, but others criticized its treatment, in David Garrick’s words, of “so great and so Excellent an Author.” Though Johnson’s patronage protected her reputation in print, the literary world took its revenge upon the presentation of her play, The Sister, based on her third novel, Henrietta. Several groups of attendees concerted to boo the play off the stage on its opening night, though it went on to several editions in print.
Her third novel, Henrietta, appeared in 1758 and sold well, but did not bring her any money. From 1760 to 1761 she wrote for the periodical The Lady’s Museum material that would eventually comprise her 1762 novel Sophia. David Garrick produced her Old City Manners at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1775 (an adaptation of Ben Jonson’s Eastward Ho). Finally, in 1790, she published Euphemia, her last novel, with little success, as the public’s interest in novels of romance seemed to have waned. Euphemia is an epistolary novel set in New York State before the American Revolution.
Lennox had two children who survived infancy: Harriot Holles Lennox (1765–1802/4) and George Lewis Lennox (born 1771). She was estranged from her husband for many years, and the couple finally separated in 1793. Charlotte subsequently lived in “solitary penury” for the rest of her life, entirely reliant on the support of the Literary Fund. She died on 4 January 1804 in London and was buried in an unmarked grave at Broad Court Cemetery.
During the 19th century, The Female Quixote remained moderately popular. In the 20th century, feminist scholars such as Janet Todd, Jane Spencer, and Nancy Armstrong have praised Lennox’s skill and inventiveness.
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