Early modern satire

Random filler while I’m away in England. Examine the image for a minute or two before reading on.

Louis, Philippe and Maintenon share the globe.

“WHEN Anjou stept into the Spanish Throne,
The mighty Monarchs thought the World their own
They set their Saw to cut the Globe in two,
And share both Worlds the old one and the new.
But tough they find the knotty Work, and flinch,
Before the grating Tool has gain’d an Inch
Old Maintenon, who sees how hard they draw
Steps on the Ball and whets the rusty Saw.
But tho she lets her lower Fountains play,
The Monarchs sweat in vain to saw their Way,
They pay for what they get in either Spain,
And lose a thousand Foot for one they gain.”

From “A Collection of some Satyrical Prints publish’d beyond Sea” in A Poem on Affairs of State…, vol. 4 (1707), 434-435.

Minimum background:
Anjou: Phlippe V King of Spain, (Duke of Anjou), grandson of Louis XIV.
Maintenon: Madame de Maintenon, Louis XIV’s wife.
(Cardinal) Portocarero: Spanish pro-French Archbishop of Toledo. Note the common portrayal of Catholic priests (evident from the cardinal hat, aka galero, with tassels) as demons. Presumably this was a Protestant anti-Bourbon print, rather than, say, an Austrian one.
Barcelona and Turin on the piece of paper held by Maintenon: Both towns had been besieged by Bourbon forces in 1706 but the Gallispans were forced to abandon both of them – Barcelona after an Allied relief fleet arrived, and Turin after Eugene of Savoy routed the Franco-Spanish forces in their siege lines. If the map on the globe is at all intended to be accurate, presumably Maintenon’s “chast stream” (as the English translator put it) is hitting somewhere near the Balearics.

For those needing a visualization of the extent of Allied gains in Spain by the end of 1706, here’s my quick version (which ignores the ephemeral occupation of Madrid in late June):

My immediate reactions to the cartoon above:

  1. I assume the intended contemporary audience was intimately familiar with the difficulties of sawing hard wood, hence the metaphor was more far more physically immediate for them than for most of us moderns. I have no idea whether or not lumberjacks pissed on their saw-blades with any regularity. I will, however, assume that Mel Gibson wasn’t the first to come up with the idea of using urine to cool off gun-barrels (or mortar tubes).
  2. For the uninitiated, it’s surprising how widespread scatological humor was in the early modern period. From Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel to Napoleonic-era portrayals of the bumbardment of France, those Europeans loved their pisse and shite. Makes sense, I guess, since that’s how you know he’s a king.
  3. It’s interesting how old the visual metaphor of rulers trying to divide up the globe is. We probably all remember the textbook cartoon Gillray’s “Plumb-pudding in danger” – how much further back does this metaphor go? Possibly to Philip II of Spain, given his colonial holdings, but I wonder how much further. You wouldn’t necessarily need to have overseas possessions in order to metaphorically split up the globe – all those medieval emperors had their orb-and-sceptre symbols after all. For that matter, I don’t know when satirical prints really began – I can remember seeing a few scatological ‘illuminations’ in a few medieval manuscripts, and certainly by the Reformation. But before then?

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One response to “Early modern satire”

  1. Björn Thegeby says :

    Mapping the situation in Spain is always like painting in water. Salamanca and Avila swore solemn allegiance to King Charles until they didn’t. Occupation of Aragon was easy if there was no field army opposing, but the area was impossible to defend. Cuenca and Requena controlled the two approaches that could be used to separate Valencia from Catalonia. As long as the allies held them, the path to Madrid in 1707 was either direct from Valencia or via Catalayud in Aragon. As the direct route was already plundered out and crossing the rivers with an opposing enemy was difficult to say the least, they chose Calatayud. Then Almansa happened…

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