The History Woman's Blog

On Research Leave

Posted in Academia by thehistorywoman on January 20, 2013

As of tomorrow, I will be on research leave. I will not have to teach again until the end of September. Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching. But the idea of not having to write any lectures or do any lesson prep this semester fills me with an enormous feeling of freedom.

I can structure my own time around my own research projects, do some archival trips and just get on with my writing. Hang on, that is minus the PG supervision I still have to do, and organising that workshop at the beginning of May, a few meetings here and there, giving that paper in France, editing that book, and finishing the two books I am still editing at the moment. Oh, and then I have to apply for external funding to make sure I can still do the necessary research trips next year. There’s also the planning for the next academic year to think about, the reading group and the staff seminar – and all the conferences I meant to go to.

Well, ok, so research leave means doing the usual without the official teaching load. That’s still a good deal, isn’t it? (more…)

The Holbein Stare and Other Works of Art

Posted in Art, Early Modern, News, Reviews, Sixteenth Century by thehistorywoman on November 3, 2012

Derich Born, 23-year-old merchant of Cologne, by Hans Holbein the Younger (1533).

Be prepared for the Holbein stare. His sitters will look right at you, or through you – like Derich Born. Serious beyond his years, wealthy and confident, the 23-year-old merchant of Cologne was the youngest member of the London Hanseatic League and seems remarkably lifelike as his dark brown eyes look out from underneath his black cap. Hans Holbein the Younger (c1497-1543) painted him in 1533, and as with most of Holbein’s portraits, it is the eyes that hold the viewer’s attention, be it in the sketch of Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor Thomas More (c 1526-27) or in the painting of ‘Hans of Antwerp’ (1532).

While most of the attention is usually on the paintings, I often prefer the chalk, pen and ink drawings. They are like shadows or ghosts of people who once lived and have all but faded out. I was particularly taken by the ethereal looks of a beautiful, young Lady Parker (c1540-3), possibly one of Jane Seymour’s attendants who gazes out from the white background with her big round eyes. There is also a drawing of a young ‘Lady’ Mary (c. 1536), demoted from her position as ‘Princess’ after the birth of her younger brother Edward, Prince of Wales, in a frame alongside hers, aged one (c 1538).

More often than not, these drawings were studies for paintings; and it is particularly interesting to see one next to the other, as in the case of the portrait of Sir Henry Guildford (1527), who was one of Henry VIII’s closest friends and Comptroller of the Royal Household. As a court painter, meanwhile, Holbein was not beyond the art of flattery. The exhibition blurb informs us that Guildford’s slightly chubby-drawn face was lengthened on the painting for ‘a more flattering expression’. (more…)

Men and Women in the English Revolution

Posted in Early Modern, History, Politics, Reviews, Seventeenth Century by thehistorywoman on October 28, 2012

Elizabeth Cromwell, née Bourchier (1598-1665)

Over the summer I agreed to review two books on the English civil wars. One Blair Worden’s God’s Instruments (2012), the other Ann Hughes’s Gender and the English Revolution (2012). The first, aside from a few fleeting references to Lucy Hutchinson, deals almost exclusively with Oliver Cromwell and other men who fought in the Civil War and determined the politics of the country in its aftermath. The second focuses mainly on women, though never studying them separately from the men they supported and challenged.

What I conclude from this is, that nearly half a century after the emergence of women’s history, it is still possible to write history books that largely ignore women, while it is virtually impossible to write anything at all that ignores men. I.e. as far as high political history is concerned, gender is only a ‘relational concept’ with regards to women.

I do not blame Blair Worden. In fact, I admire his work and frequently cite it in my own. Besides, I am no less guilty of having written entire book chapters or journal articles without mentioning a single woman. Political correctness and indeed the contribution of women to politics and political decision making easily slip our mind when the evidence is so much focused on a male political sphere – especially for students of the early modern period. But I still think we should try and change our practice and ask ourselves every time we look at a political issue: and what was the contribution of women? (more…)

On statistics and league tables

Posted in Education, News by thehistorywoman on September 30, 2012

The results of the National Student Survey (NSS) and the Times University Guide 2013, both published within in the last couple of days, have made one thing clear. The best universities for research are not always the best universities for teaching quality. While Oxford and Cambridge with their student-friendly tutorial system still did well in terms of student satisfaction, Edinburgh University, one of the highest-ranking institutions research-wise, was ‘ranked bottom in the country for teaching quality’, with students complaining about ‘lack of prompt feedback or detailed comments’ and more generally ‘insufficient advice and support’, The Sunday Times reported.

‘Despite their world-class reputations for research and high entrance requirements, more than a third of the 24-strong Russell Group find themselves in the bottom 40 of 125 institutions for teaching’, Liz Lightfoot writes in The Sunday Times. Of course, as with all statistical evidence, there is more than one way of reading the results.

It might just be that Russell Group students have a stronger sense of entitlement and therefore are more likely to criticise the quality of teaching they receive, as History Professor and TV presenter Amanda Vickery (@Amanda_Vickery) suggested on Twitter. But it might also be that academic departments ‘hire on ability to attract research funding’ with the candidates’ ability to teach as ‘an afterthought’ only, as the journalist and Associate Lecturer at Brunel University Mark Shanahan (@Leapfrog Mark) commented. So students are bound to ‘lose out’. (more…)

An English republican exile in Florence

Posted in Early Modern, History, Political Thought, Republicanism, Seventeenth Century by thehistorywoman on September 23, 2012
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View over Florence from the Boboli Gardens behind the Palazzo Pitti.

Why would a protestant English republican take refuge at the Tuscan court? The answer does not seem obvious. Ferdinando II, Grand Duke of Tuscany when Henry Neville made his way to Italy in 1664, was a staunch Catholic as well as a prince. The Civil War republican Neville (1619-94) was known for his unorthodox views and libertine leanings and accused of ‘atheism and blasphemy’ in Richard Cromwell’s Parliament of 1659. He had to leave England after a period in the Tower for his alleged involvement in the Yorkshire Plot of 1663, and Tuscany and the Florentine court in particular seemed like an ideal place for him to withdraw to.

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Palazzo Pitti in Florence – residence of the Medici Dukes from the 16th century onwards.

Neville had been to Florence before. He had travelled to Italy on his Grand Tour between 1641 and 1645 and acquired friends that would serve him well during his second stay in the country. He was fluent in Italian, as his correspondence reveals, and he was an admirer of Machiavelli and of the Italian city states – notably Venice, which he also visited during the 1660s. And, as he wrote to his brother Richard from Florence in 1665, he found ‘a sensible difference between being civilly treated, … valew’d and esteem’d by princes abroad, and not only hatted but persecuted at home’. If persecution in England was his hell, Italy was his ‘paradise’.

Besides, as I have argued elsewhere, neither the hostility between republicans and princely rule, nor the enmity between Protestants and Catholics were as strong as much secondary literature implies. Neville seems to have moved in Italian high society, he had contacts to the Accademia del Cimento, and – like his cousin and fellow republican Algernon Sidney – he was also well connected among the cardinals in Rome.

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The Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence (just because it’s prettier than the Archivio di Stato).

Rome was a city Neville liked to refer to as ‘Babylon’. It was certainly not holy. He thought it made up in entertainment what it lacked in ‘devotion’, and for him it seems to have been a place for various amorous adventures as well as the hub of Catholic politics.

It would be naïve to say that European Catholics and English republicans could not be allies. After all, they had a shared a common enemy in Charles II, and my enemy’s enemies are my friends. This is certainly an area I will further inquire into as I look more at the English republican exiles in Europe.

In the meantime, having spent a week in Florentine archives and libraries as well as wandering around the city, the palazzi, squares and gardens, I also have an alternative explanation for Neville’s choice of exile: Florence is just a beautiful place.

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On research in Paris

Posted in Early Modern, History by thehistorywoman on July 28, 2012

One of the perks of studying the English republican exiles in Europe is that I get to travel a lot. This is nice, not just because it gets me out of the daily grind of university life but also because I get to see how other people in other countries do things. One of the interesting things I learnt on my last trip to Paris is how the French ‘do’ archives and libraries, and the Bibliothèque Nationale (BnF) is an outstanding example of good service and a relaxed working atmosphere.

A relaxed working atmosphere.

By way of explanation, I should say that the BnF has several sites around Paris. The main one for those of us studying early modern history is the site Richelieu in rue Vivienne round the corner from the Louvre, in particular its oval search room, which looks a bit like the old British Museum reading room, and its Manuscripts Reading Room upstairs, where items are still ordered on slips of paper and the staff keep a close eye on how you handle the documents.

There is also the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal on rue Sully with its wonderful collection of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century printed works, including those of English and French republicans, where you can work quietly alongside another handful of historians surrounded by wood-panelled walls and well-stocked shelves. You’re also never far from a colleague sharing your enthusiasm for republican thought. Waiting on the bench outside in the sun for the library to open in the morning, I drifted into a surreal conversation with a specialist on the French Revolution who knew all about the ‘Skinner and Pocock’ stuff I was interested in. (more…)

The Archive Closes for Lunch

Posted in Early Modern, Eighteenth Century, History, literature, Seventeenth Century by thehistorywoman on April 5, 2012

If you want to do research in Switzerland, you better learn to get up early. I always thought I was an early riser, but compared to the average Swiss person I’m clearly a sleepy head. Arriving at the Berne State Archive just after 8am on a Tuesday morning, I found that most of the other readers were already there. Like me, they probably wanted to make the most of their working day as the archive closes again at 5pm, and of course for lunch. Between 11.45 and 11.50am a bell announces that you should leave the reading room, which feels a bit like an emergency evacuation every time, not least because you are always in the middle of something or other. You’re not allowed back in before 1pm. Healthy meal times and breaks for weary academics are enforced with Swiss precision.

Apart from that, the Swiss are pretty relaxed, it seems. At the Berne State Archive, most readers seem to know each other. You can leave your laptop and digital camera in the reading room over lunch, and nobody is going to take them. The archivists bring the material you order to your desk. They know who you are, and if not, it’s easy to work out. On most days I’m the only female in the reading room, I’m one of their younger readers too, and one of the few interested in Anglo-Swiss links in the seventeenth century. (more…)

Elizabeth Ludlow: The Exile’s Wife

Posted in Early Modern, History, Seventeenth Century by thehistorywoman on January 27, 2012

As I am doing my research on the English republican exiles in Europe, I notice more and more what an important role was played by their wives. In particular the regicide Edmund Ludlow (1617-92), who fled to Switzerland after the Restoration of Charles II, on many occasions relied on the help of his wife Elizabeth (c 1630-1702). Throughout his flight and exile she remained his close companion, trusted advisor and friend, as might be expected from a good Puritan wife. But she was also much more than that. Elizabeth Ludlow was well-connected in political circles in her own right and served as a mediator, messenger and organiser behind the scenes.

Elizabeth's husband, the regicide Edmund Ludlow

When Charles Stuart issued his proclamation calling on all the King’s judges to surrender themselves to him, Edmund records in his memoirs that his ‘deare wife’ went ‘to informe herself, from knowing friends, what they would advise me to doe in this case.’ Among other things, Elizabeth went to see the Speaker of the Convention, Sir Harbottle Grimstone, to discuss Edmund’s case with him and to obtain a pass for her husband, so he would not be seized on the way to his surrender.

The wives of contemporary political figures also formed their own networks, discussing political issues in the absence of their husbands. Edmund Ludlow recorded, for instance, that he had little hope of a pardon from the King because the wife of his fellow republican Sir Henry Vane had informed Elizabeth ‘that she was assured [General George] Monke’s wife had sayd she would seeke to the King, upon her knees, that Sir Henry Vane, Major Generall [John] Lambert and myself should be hanged.’

When Ludlow has to hide from the authorities, Elizabeth goes to live with him at a friend’s house, and when he finally decides to go abroad to escape from the claws of the government, they settle the affairs of his estate together, before she accompanies him from his hiding place to Southwark, where a horse for his flight is waiting for him.

While Ludlow managed to escape via France to Geneva, Lausanne and finally Vevey in Switzerland, it was Elizabeth who looked after his affairs in England and provided him with money and news from home, before joining him in exile in 1663. Edmund’s memoirs are full of love and praise for his ‘deare wife’, and their marriage was one of mutual respect. They stayed together until Edmund’s death in 1692.

Quotes from: Edmund Ludlow, A Voyce from the Watch Tower. Part Five: 1660-1662, ed. A. B. Worden, Camden Fourth Series, 21 (London: Royal Historical Society, 1978).

The First Actresses and some of Charles II’s mistresses

Posted in Art, Early Modern, Eighteenth Century, Reviews, Seventeenth Century by thehistorywoman on December 13, 2011

I finally managed to see the First Actresses exhibition on a late Friday evening trip to the National Portrait Gallery after a hard day’s work at the British Library. It was entirely worth it.

The NPG has a number of beautiful pictures of Nell Gwyn, Moll Davis, Hester Booth, Lavinia Fenton, Sarah Siddons, Mary Robinson and others together with the women’s intriguing stories.

Eleanor Gwyn (1650-87) and Mary Davis (1648-1708) of course were actresses as well as mistresses to Charles II. Nell, who was probably the most famous Restoration actress and a great celebrity on and off the stage, gave the King two sons, Charles and James Beauclerk. Ironically, they were given the first names that should have been given to the legitimate sons and heirs to the throne the barren marriage of Charles II and Catherine of Braganza never produced. (Who knows, the Glorious Revolution of 1688-9 might never have happened!) The actress, singer and comedian Moll bore the King a daughter, Lady Mary Tudor, whose two sons (another James and Charles) both became Jacobites and were later executed for treason.

Up until the Restoration period, boys had played all female parts in the theatre, as acting was not seen as a respectable occupation for a woman. Any young girl associated with the theatre would immediately come under suspicion of being a prostitute or as easily available to much wealthier and much older men. They often were. Yet, despite their libertine lifestyles, the women were never exclusively defined by the men they were associated with.

Mary Robinson as Perdita by John Hopper

Mary Robinson as Perdita by John Hopper

Mary Robinson (1757-1800), who became mistress of the Prince of Wales (later George IV) after enchanting him with her role as Perdita in Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale, would later become a successful poet, novelist and playwright, while also defending female intellectual capacities in A Letter to the Women of England (1799). The Welsh actress Sarah Siddons (1755-1831), née Kemble, was the wife of fellow actor William Siddons. But their marriage ended soon in an informal separation, while Sarah became celebrated in her own right as a Shakespearean actress, most notably for her role as Lady Macbeth. It was women like her who made the profession respectable.

The actresses’ portraits by leading artists of the period, including Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, John Hopper and James Gillray, are impressive and beautiful. More importantly, however, the women depicted ooze elegance, talent, and self-confidence.

In the end I was a bit disappointed that the exhibition was so small. I managed to get through all the pictures (while also conscientiously reading all the labels) in less than an hour. But maybe back then there weren’t quite as many independent women – widely known in their own right – as one might have wished.

The exhibition is still on until 8 January 2012.

The First Actresses: Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons at the National Portrait Gallery, Wolfson Gallery, Tickets £11/£10/£9

The Fascination of The Isle of Pines (1668)

Posted in Early Modern, History, literature, Political Thought, Seventeenth Century by thehistorywoman on November 28, 2011

Henry Neville’s utopian travel narrative The Isle of Pines (1668) is one of my favourite pieces of literature. It tells the story of the shipwreck of an English trading vessel during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and  of the subsequent survival of one man and four women on a lonely island near terra Australis incognita. The five survivors settle together on the island and create a new society from scratch like Adam and Eve after God’s creation of the earth, or Noah and his family after the Flood, except they keep some of their English ways and make a few new laws to maintain order in their ever-growing society. Several generations later, in 1667, the English Pines are discovered by the crew of a Dutch ship, whose captain publishes an account of the savaged English society he found stranded on a tiny island in the middle of nowhere.

There is no reason why The Isle of Pines should stand out as a literary work. The prose is basic, the story is simple, and the description of the relations of George Pines and the four women worthy of the Bad Sex in Fiction Award. But there are most of all two things that make The Isle of Pines such a fascinating work. First, it has so many layers that generations of scholars have not been able to agree whether the work is a utopia, a hoax, a work on polygamy, a coded political pamphlet, Restoration satire, or all of the above. And secondly, The Isle has a complex and highly successful publishing history, including numerous re-issues and translations in several European languages to make it truly one of the international bestsellers of the seventeenth century.

With large parts of the world still unmapped and the story appearing in the news sheets and gazettes, many contemporaries might have believed Neville’s account of the mysterious island was true, while his friends in the coffeehouses of London and Oxford soon smelt a rat and recognised it as the work of a disgruntled republican, who blamed Charles II and his corrupted court for the decline of English fortunes after the defeat in the second Anglo-Dutch war (1665-67). The story had a mixed reception in the seventeenth century, both at home and abroad, as contemporaries tried to work out what they were dealing with. The number of modern editions as well as scholarly works on the piece published in recent years shows that the mystery of The Isle remains unresolved.

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