John E. Curran, Jr., Roman Invasions: The British History, Protestant Anti-Romanism, and the Historical Imagination in England, 1530-1660. Newark: U of Delaware P, 2002.

Lisa Hopkins
Sheffield Hallam University

Hopkins, Lisa. "John E. Curran, Jr., Roman Invasions: The British History, Protestant Anti-Romanism, and the Historical Imagination in England, 1530-1660". Early Modern Literary Studies 10.2 (September, 2004) 9.1-2 <URL:>.

  1. This is a fine, insightful, extremely well-informed, and exceptionally useful book. Its central argument is that in the early modern consciousness, Rome was essentially equated with Roman Catholicism, and that this radically conditions the meaning of the period's various re-tellings and re-stagings of the 'British history', the legendary story of Brut and his descendants told most famously by Geoffrey of Monmouth. Curran's principal authors are Drayton, Spenser, Shakespeare (specifically Cymbeline, which he sees as unusual in the period in being willing to forgo a Galfridian perspective) and Milton, though he is also very interesting on works which were not ultimately written, such as Milton's proposed Arthurian epic and the absence of a Brutiad, and he traces early modern uses of this Galfridian material through what he sees as six distinct phases. The first is accounts of the early ecclesiastical history of Britain. This originally struck me as a rather unpromising and tangential field of enquiry; in fact, however, it turns out to be quite fascinating, and absolutely central to the ideological contest between Rome and Britain, as well as extremely illuminating for the understanding of plays such as Rowley's A Shoemaker, a Gentleman. It also casts invaluable light on Spenser and Shakespeare, whose Arviragus is read as figuring Augustine, the villain of the Galfridian-inspired view of the early English church.

  2. The second chapter focuses on retellings of the story of Brutus and the translatio imperii, and very interestingly charts the contest for cultural authority between Brutus and Romulus, who was generally considered much more likely to have been a real historical figure. I was particularly pleased to be introduced to the Samotheans, who surely deserve to be more widely known. The two subsequent chapters focus on the alleged laws of Molmutius Dunwallo and on the figure of Caesar, perhaps the single most important Roman of them all in his dual capacities as invader and historian, and who was often understood as a type of the papacy. The penultimate chapter is on Tacitus, and the last one on King Arthur. This final chapter contains the one section of the book which struck me as unconvincing and unduly speculative, which is Curran's attempt to read 'The Phoenix and Turtle' in Arthurian terms, relating the idea of leaving no posterity to the death of Galfridianism. In general, however, this is an exceptionally solid and interesting account which should be essential reading for anyone interested in either the British History in general or in any of the authors Curran discusses.

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