School of English and Drama

Professor Kevin Sharpe (1949-2011; at QM 2005-2011)


Kevin Sharpe was one of the pre-eminent historians of early modern history and culture of his generation, and his work continues to have a profound influence on studies of the field.  At every stage of his career, his publications were not simply on, but positively represented, the cutting edge of thinking about the myriad subjects he addressed.  At the heart of the ‘revisionist’ movement in seventeenth-century political history at the beginning of his career (see Faction and Parliament), he questioned a dominant model of the period which regarded the move towards Civil War in the 1640s as the inevitable culmination of a long process.  Already in the monograph based on his Oxford D.Phil. (Sir Robert Cotton), he displayed a commitment to understanding political history not merely through documents and events, but through their representation in literary texts and the active engagement of their readers and collectors.  Increasingly interested in opening up a dialogue between history and literary studies, Sharpe produced a study of Caroline literature and politics in Criticism and Compliment (winner of the Royal Historical Society’s Whitfield Prize).  His massive and revolutionary reconsideration of The Personal Rule of Charles I was published in 1992.  Turning his attention to the ways in which texts were received, and to the history of the book, in Reading Revolutions Sharpe reconstructed the reading habits of a seventeenth-century gentleman, Sir William Drake; he then came to believe that any analysis of early modern culture and politics needed to pay attention to ‘representation’ in its widest sense.  Not only texts, but the visual and plastic arts (paintings, statues, coins, medals, performances), were vital parts of the repertoire on which rulers and their subjects drew in constructing and understanding authority.  Here we could find, he asserted, the origins of political ‘spin’ and its reception.  This conviction led to his final, magnificent trilogy: Selling the Tudor Monarchy, Representing Rule, and Rebranding Rule – a set of books characteristically grounded in the most extensive archival research and written with verve and wit.

Sharpe was educated at Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School, Rochester, Kent, and St Catherine’s College, Oxford.  He was Junior Research Fellow at Oriel College, Oxford from 1974–1978, and then Lecturer and Professor at the University of Southampton.  In 2001 he joined the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick.  He held visiting Professorships at Princeton, Stanford, The California Institute of Technology, The Australian National University and The Max Planck Institute, Göttingen, and Fellowships at the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.  In 2005 he joined the School of English and Drama at Queen Mary as Leverhulme Research Professor, founding and directing the Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies.  Following his Leverhulme Professorship, he taught undergraduate and postgraduate modules in the Department of English, as well as supervising Ph.D. students.  The Kevin Sharpe Prize was established in 2012, following his untimely death in November 2011.

Select Publications (does not include journal articles or books chapters)


Sir Robert Cotton, 1586-1631: History and Politics in Early Modern England (Oxford, 1979)

Criticism and Compliment: The Politics of Literature in the England of Charles I (Cambridge, 1987)

The Personal Rule of Charles I (New Haven, 1992)

Reading Revolutions: The Politics of Reading in Early Modern England (New Haven, 2000)

Selling the Tudor Monarchy: Authority and Image in Sixteenth Century England (New Haven, 2009)

Image Wars: Promoting Kings and Commonwealths in England, 1603-1660 (New Haven, 2010)

Rebranding Rule: The Restoration and Revolution Monarchy, 1660-1714 (New Haven, 2013)


Essay collections

Politics and Ideas in Early Stuart England: Essays and Studies (London, 1989)

Remapping Early Stuart England: The Culture of Seventeenth-Century Politics (Cambridge, 2000)

Reading Authority and Representing Rule in Early Modern England (London, 2013)


Edited collections

Faction and Parliament: Essays on Early Stuart History (Oxford, 1978)

Politics of Discourse: The Literature and Discourse of Seventeenth-Century England, ed. with Steven N. Zwicker (Berkeley, 1987)

Culture and Politics in Early Stuart England, ed. with Peter Lake (London, 1993)

Refiguring Revolutions: Aesthetics and Politics from the English Revolution to the Romantic Revolution, ed. with Steven N. Zwicker (Berkeley, 1998)

Reading, Society and Politics in Early Modern England, ed. with Steven N. Zwicker (Cambridge, 2003)

Writing Lives: Biography and Textuality, Identity and Representation in Early Modern England, ed. with Steven N. Zwicker (Oxford, 2008)