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Victoria M. Muñoz, Spanish Romance in the Battle for Global Supremacy: Tudor and Stuart Black Legends
by Timothy Crowley

Victoria M. Muñoz. Spanish Romance in the Battle for Global Supremacy: Tudor and Stuart Black Legends. London: Anthem Press, 2021. ISBN: 9781785273308. x + 231 pp. £80 hardback.


This book steers questions of literary source connection towards an idea of cultural psychology involving English anxiety and aspiration in competition with Spain’s transatlantic empire. Among the English works read alongside English translations of Spanish romance fiction and accounts of conquest in New Spain, Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene recurs in multiple chapters. On Spanish chivalric romances from the early sixteenth century, Muñoz emphasises their appearance in print from 1578 onward. She foregrounds in multiple chapters the multi-volume and multi-author series Espejo de Príncipes y Caballeros [Mirror of Princes and Knights], which was rendered only partially in English translation as the Mirror of Princely Deeds and Knighthood (or just Mirror of Knighthood). She also addresses the famous Amadís de Gaula, a single work that constituted Books One through Four in the Amadís cycle of stories and was translated by Anthony Munday via French versions in which each book had been published separately. Muñoz’s association of selected material from those works with portions of The Faerie Queene presumes for Spenser and other English readers of the late sixteenth century an adverse impression of King Philip II, put in terms of a lustful desire for conquest that Muñoz theorises as ‘matrimonial imperialism’: a phrase appropriated and reinterpreted from its use by historian Geoffrey Parker (67, also 75, 77, 91). Muñoz contrasts that concept of collective English perception with an idea of English discourse as something that desired a potential superiority in colonial ventures based on ideals of chastity and moral temperance. The book as a whole addresses that concept of English cultural psychology as rooted in the cult of Elizabethan virginity and then extended to a Jacobean ‘virtue ethic of England’s supreme civility’ involving ‘a paternal model of colonial rule’ (58).

The book’s prologue establishes its operative premises and methodology. Muñoz presumes within sixteenth-century Europe a ‘common humanist antipathy toward Habsburg Spain’ and a scenario wherein ‘humanists all but disowned the writers of romance’, such that English authors of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries felt ‘often compelled to define their romances and romance translations against Spanish versions, or otherwise to pillage Spanish romances without attribution’ (3). Here Muñoz builds upon the notion of literary appropriation as cultural psychology found in Barbara Fuchs’s The Poetics of Piracy: Emulating Spain in English Literature (2013). ‘English narrativizing of the Spanish problem’, Muñoz argues, entailed ‘an emerging sense of England and of Englishness’ wherein ‘the fiction of British exceptionalism first took root as a poetic-ethnographic episteme of civilization’ (6, 7 [Muñoz’s italics]). On ‘romance’ as a matter of narrative strategy and ideological tension, Muñoz takes a broad approach to ‘tales of love and arms’ that theorises within them an essential ‘struggle between eros and adventure’:  that is, a fluid but oppositional intersection of love interest and epic quest, narrative dilation (‘erotic delay’) and prophetic or symbolic teleology (7, also 14). Therein, this study builds upon the influential theory of ‘romance’ as a mode of narrative dilation in Patricia Parker’s Inescapable Romance: Studies in the poetics of a Mode (1979), and its extensions in direct critical legacy, especially Barbara Fuchs’s Romance (2004). Muñoz’s version of the premise asserts that ‘the primary works analyzed in this book’, an array of different fictional and nonfictional texts, ‘idealize conquest as romantic’, whether or not they address amorous dramatic scenarios (7–8). Thus, a gamut of ‘transmissive practices’ combine as ‘cultural ideology’ to reflect, Muñoz argues, ‘England’s piratic self-fashioning as a world savior, divinely mandated to rescue the world from the thrall of Spanish tyranny’ (9). Texts addressed do range considerably, as does the chronology of examples within and between chapters.    

The first chapter introduces the English translations of segments from El Espejo de Príncipes y Caballeros (as The Mirror of Princely Deeds and Knighthood), first printed in the late 1570s and early 1580s, within a much broader perspective on ‘lust as antithetical to Christian community’ (12), alongside diverse earlier and later allusions to Amadís de Gaula (both English and Spanish or French in English translation). Muñoz reads solar symbolism in that chivalric romance of the mid-sixteenth century, which features a protagonist dubbed Knight of the Sun (Caballero del Febo [Knight of Phoebus]), in tandem with the royal iconography of the Habsburg emperor Charles V, then projects that association forward onto his son Philip II of Spain within a collective English consciousness of the late sixteenth century. There, Muñoz recognises but downplays the Catholic affinities of the first English translator Margaret Tyler and does not note either Catholic connections or questions of intentional agency by the second translator, one ‘R. P.’ (usually presumed to be Robert Parry, who wrote a chivalric romance of his own, it should be recognised), nor for the printer Thomas East beyond an assumed market demand (30–31). The focus claims instead a cultural transferal and transmutation of ‘allegory for the pagan world’s desire to be conquered and converted to Christianity in accordance with natural, patriarchal law’ (29): a notion she applies generally to the ‘contradictory ethos of the Elizabethan privateer’ (35) and specifically to one moment of language used by Falstaff within Shakespeare’s Henry the Fourth, Part One, plus the fact that he drinks sack (implicitly Spanish sherry).

Chapter Two foregrounds early accounts of Hernán Cortez’s conquest of the Aztec capital city, Tenochtitlán: accounts found in the manuscript history commissioned and preserved by the Mendoza family, in Cortez’s personal correspondence, and in the often-creative historiography of soldier and first-hand witness Bernal Díaz del Castillo, which contains a well-known comparison of the city’s architecture to wonders such as those recounted in Amadís de Gaula. Muñoz collates the attention to those narratives of the early sixteenth century with renewed attention to William Shakespeare’s The Tempest in relation to one of its long-neglected possible source analogues, a tale within the fourth chapter of Antonio de Eslava’s Noches de Invierno [Winter Nights] (1609).  There Muñoz argues, ‘Though punctuated by threatened violence, Prospero’s (constructed) care for Caliban reflects the Christian European view of pagans as spiritual children, for which a paternal model of colonial rule forms the crux of natural law’; thus, Shakespeare’s play ‘transforms the tragedy of Spanish conquest into a comedy of English salvation’ (58, 59). The chapter then extends those comparisons to a play by John Dryden, The Indian Emperor, or the Conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards (1665), which Muñoz reads as adapting historical figures in a manner that suggests for Cortez a greater ‘civility’ than for his sons, the two women vying for his amorous attention, or a priest who tortures Moctezuma. From such contrasts, Muñoz suggests, the English audience could infer the need for more peaceful methods of English colonisation as a tacit ‘logic of translatio imperii’ (63, 65).

The first of the two Spenser chapters that follow builds upon Chapter One’s attention to Amadís allusions and The Mirror of Princely Deeds and Knighthood. Here Muñoz coins her aforementioned theory of ‘matrimonial imperialism’ and theorises a binary opposition between ‘Spanish lust’ and ‘Elizabethan chastity as an imperial antidote’; from this, she builds the argument that Spenser’s Faerie Queene ‘transformed Oriana [from Amadís] into Gloriana, and Claridiana [from Mirror] into Belphoebe and Britomart, glorious harbingers of England’s destined supremacy in the project of global conquest’ (67). In this view, Spenserian allegory constitutes a discursive ‘strategy designed to deprive Spain of its symbolic nodes of power, specifically the Spanish romance heroine who had been repeatedly called upon to serve as an idealized object to Philip [II of Spain]’s imperialist designs’ (70). The chapter touches very briefly upon realms of direct comparison between literary texts but focuses primarily on the broader idea of contrasting chastity with ‘married love as naturally constrained by lust’ (77). Sir Walter Raleigh’s ethos as an anti-Spanish adventurer and a courtier who married against his queen’s will becomes a site for reading plot lines involving Timias, Amoret, and Belphoebe as an allegory of ‘masculine weakness’ (82). Raleigh’s marriage, Muñoz claims, not only provoked the queen’s ‘personal displeasure’ but ‘also put the fledging colonial project in jeopardy’, and thus necessarily required correction ‘by forceful example’ of the monarch’s ‘chastity’ (86, 82). Amid the trajectory of combining chastity with justice in the dynastic union of Britomart and Artegall, ‘Britomart must overcome Radigund’, Muñoz emphasises, ‘not because Radigund is female, but because she is the wrong kind of female’, governed by powerful ‘lust’ rather than powerful ‘chastity’ (93).

Chapter Four also addresses Spenser’s fiction, in this case by first tracing a reference to Tiphys and Thule in Seneca’s Medea. The trail leads across adaptation and commentary by Christopher and Ferdinand Columbus to Habsburg royal iconography and then to Andronica’s prophecy to Astolfo in Canto 15 of Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, which notes westward oceanic expansion in a manner that ‘connects Charlemagne’s Christian empire with that of Charles V’ (102). Therein, Ariosto’s full revision first printed in 1532 adds an explicit reference to Cortez (15.19.1–4). After noting that datum and Sir John Harington’s gloss on Sir Francis Drake, which accompanied his own liberal translation of the Italian text, Muñoz connects Contemplation’s hilltop vision for Redcross Knight (I.x.53–56), figuring forth a New Jerusalem, with Tenochtitlán’s chief temple and ‘Europe’s deep fascination with precolonial México’; indeed, as she claims, ‘The Faerie Queene anachronistically anticipated the arrival of the English – especially their Reformed religion – long before they had actually made contact upon western shores’ (107). Then, the chapter claims extra significance for Spenser’s association of the Redcross Knight with Saint George and England, based on two chief points of emphasis. On historical context, she notes the fact that Aragón’s Real Maestranza de Zaragoza (Royal Order of Chivalry of Zaragoza) celebrated Saint George as a patron saint. That emphasis supplements her attention to the circumstance in Book One of The Faerie Queene that first identifies Redcross Knight with Saint George amid the pseudo-Redcross posture of Archimago: Spenser’s arch-magus, Muñoz claims, ‘recalls Philip II as an oppositional foil to Elizabeth/Gloriana’ and, more generally, ‘represents Catholicism obscuring Christian truth, and the Habsburgs falsely bearing witness to a “signe” that England associated with the Tudors’ (112). The remainder of this chapter notes references to Thule and Britain in the seventeenth century.

The fifth chapter extends these paradigms of interpretation to Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and to Peter Heylyn’s Cosmography in Four Books (1652). In Shakespeare’s comedy, according to Muñoz, Oberon resonates allegorically with Philip II of Spain, Bottom with Raleigh, and Titania with Elizabeth I, such that this fairy queen’s ‘childlessness corresponds with the failed conquests of the 1590s’ (149), and Bottom’s dream evokes ‘Raleigh in pursuit of El Dorado’ (151). That reading involves brief attention to the proem for Book Two in Spenser’s Faerie Queene. Heylyn’s work refers to El Dorado, Amazons, and California, the author characterising himself as a seasoned reader of chivalric-romance fictions while promoting English expansion toward Australia.

Chapter Six and the Epilogue characterise broad reading patterns in the period. The latter surveys and reaffirms scholarship emphasising readership of Spanish romance fiction in the period, complemented by an Appendix with graphs charting Anglo-Spanish reading chronologically and by subject category. The sixth chapter that precedes those concluding summaries focuses more specifically on seventeenth-century English allusions to Amadís and to The Mirrour of Knighthood, which appeared repeatedly in plays by Ben Jonson and others of his theatrical milieu, for instance. There, Muñoz emphasises gendered perspectives on the readership of romance fiction, including both a general association with women and ‘an ethic of guilty reading [that] emerged as a self-conscious masculine response to the genre’s continued attraction’ (165).  This particular lens on that matter interprets it, too, as a product of a pervasive cultural psychology of anti-Spanish bias in late-Tudor and early-Stuart England.


Timothy Crowley

Northern Illinois University




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    This particular lens on that matter interprets it, too, as a product of a pervasive cultural psychology of anti-Spanish bias in late-Tudor and early-Stuart England.

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    The book’s prologue establishes its operative premises and methodology.

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    She uncovers the complex dynamics of power, desire, and identity in works ranging from Spanish romances to English adaptations. Overall, it provides a rich perspective on the cultural politics of early modern Europe.

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  • hamilton 3 weeks, 4 days ago

    Muñoz draws a distinction between the notion of the collective English vision and the English speech, which aimed to establish a potential superiority in colonial endeavors through the principles of moral temperance and chastity.

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Cite as:

Timothy Crowley, "Victoria M. Muñoz, Spanish Romance in the Battle for Global Supremacy: Tudor and Stuart Black Legends," Spenser Review (Fall 2022). Accessed April 20th, 2024.
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