Publication Date



Thomas Carew, Coelum Britannicum


Thomas Carew’s masque Coelum Britannicum, performed at Whitehall on Shrove Tuesday of 1634, deploys an image of conjugal perfection in order to codify a fiction of national union. Not only are Charles I and Henrietta Maria models of moral and political comportment powerful enough to reform the profligate court of Jove, their harmonious marriage also provides the inspiration for reconciliation between England, Scotland, and Ireland. In order to assert this fiction of unification, the masque invokes images of sexual transgression, symbolically enacts their removal, and equates the strength of Britain with the absence of the deviant monarch, James I. Yet by summoning the figure of Ganymede as a source of moral contamination within Jove’s court, Coelum Britannicum invokes the troubling specter of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, whose influence within the royal bedchamber continued to inform representations of manipulative counselors and vulnerable kings long after his death. Although the masque’s treatment of unification demands that figures who reinforce Charles I’s political authority replace those who represent moral and cultural transgression, the text’s apparent substitute, Henrietta Maria of France, functions not as antidote to the sodomitical favorite, but rather as an equally transgressive figure that the masque struggles to contain.