Catholic loyalism, service and careerism: Lewes Lewkenor's quest for favour
This article discusses one of Lewkenor's more obscure works, The Resolved Gentleman (1594 – STC 15139), in the context of Elizabethan court politics in the 1590s, with a particular emphasis on the author's own experience of dissent, exile to Catholic Spain in the 1580s and return to England in the early 1590s. A translation of Hernando de Acuña's El Caballero Determinado, itself a reworking of Olivier de la Marche's Chevalier Délibéré (1483), the Resolved Gentleman bends the conventions of medieval chivalric allegory to articulate Lewkenor's own experience of alienation and dissent in the specific context of the factionalism of the 1590s. Beneath Lewkenor's seemingly self-effacing, ‘humanist’ translation it is in fact possible to discern a complex set of criticisms of Elizabeth's court. The knight's ‘wandering’ and ‘errance’ thus becomes a complex, multivalent figure that reverberates with a number of autobiographical meanings: the knight's exile becomes in Lewkenor's hands a figure of his own forced exile to Catholic Spain, and the account of the knight's quest functions as an oblique allusion to his own efforts to make his way back to Elizabeth's court. More importantly, however, these ‘personal’ meanings acquire a wider, political valence in the context of the allegory, and the narrative as a whole thus becomes a subtle, perceptive but scathing criticism of the Elizabethan court in the 1590's and the ‘contraction’ of royal favour that resulted in particular in the exclusion of capable, experienced but Catholic counsellors like Lewkenor himself. Articulating the frustration of this younger generation of alienated but fundamentally loyalist Catholics, Lewkenor paints a picture of a failed quest for favour, where the questing knight is finally forced to retire from the active life and withdraw to a rustic hermitage that is not only incompatible with his own ideal of the vita activa, but also dangerously smacks of unregenerate, and potentially seditious Catholicism.
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