From robe to winding sheet
Funeral elegies on churchmen and scholars
in The daring muse of the early Stuart funeral elegy
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This chapter considers a selection of the many early Stuart funeral elegies on scholars and churchmen. While such might seem to enjoy quiet lives unripe for contentious elegies, a significant number nevertheless provoked daringly intense poetic reflections. Printed university-based collections were especially common, but some poets maligned these for their generic praise and predictable laments of the loss as experienced by the community of church or college. They sought more ambitious and at times contentious elegies. In some cases these deaths prompted lament over the state of the church (a pattern best known in the St Peter section of Milton’s ‘Lycidas’); in others, like those on Sir Henry Savile, the theology or scholarship of the deceased made them notorious or divisive in both life and death; and in some cases the deceased’s memory became contested, as with the 1620 death of John King, Bishop of London, whose elegists were compelled to defend his Protestant orthodoxy against Roman Catholic claims of a deathbed conversion.

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