‘The Rare and Excellent Partes of Mr. Walter Montague’: Henrietta
The production of The Shepherds’ Paradise in January 1633 was a high-profile theatrical event: a court performance by the queen in the first English play known to have been acted by women. Walter Montagu was not an obvious choice for its writer. He had been the favourite of the Duke of Buckingham, who had not contributed to the success of the early years of Henrietta Maria’s marriage, and his career so far had been as a diplomatic agent, often of a decidedly clandestine kind. His previous literary connections were minimal. According to Joseph Hunter, he contributed verses on the death of Anna of Denmark to a manuscript collection at Cambridge University, and he was the subject of a dedication in William Cross’ translation of Sallust’s works in 1629, in which he was praised for his ‘Iudgement in the point of Historicall Iudicature’ and his ‘learned and Iuditious censure’ was requested.1 The other two dedications being straightforward pleas for patronage, this tribute to Montagu’s erudition cannot be wholly disregarded, though an alternative view of him as a young man is provided by Clarendon, who remembered him as having ‘enjoyed the Pleasures of the World in a very great Measure and Excess’.2 His own letters reveal ambition, arrogance and a bouncy charm, while his intelligence and wit were recognized even by those who distrusted him, whose views were usefully summarized by the Tuscan resident Amerigo Salvetti (perhaps judging with the benefit of hindsight): ‘E uomo di spirito e bello ingegno, ma fazioso al possibile e da non fidarsene.’3 The origins of Henrietta Maria’s choice of Wat Montagu for this venture lie rather in their relationship and his involvement in French politics than in any demonstrable dramatic ability on his part.