The History Woman's Blog

Chasing Algernon Sidney in Kent

Posted in Early Modern, History, Political Thought, Republicanism, Seventeenth Century by thehistorywoman on April 14, 2013

‘That sounds like a film’, a friend of mine responded when I told her I was off to the archive again, ‘chasing Sidney in Kent’. That’s true. In fact, I am surprised nobody ever did make a film about Algernon Sidney – or at least I am not aware of one. He clearly is the sexiest of the English Civil War republicans I have been studying for the past few years, and this is not just down to his long wavy hair and striking profile.

Algernon Sidney, republican fireband (1623-83).

Algernon Sidney, republican fireband (1623-83).

As both John Carswell and Jonathan Scott have shown in their biographical works, Sidney was a republican firebrand, a hard-done-by younger son of proud and powerful gentry origin and a conviction politician with a hatred of tyrants and a very short fuse. This short fuse left bridges burnt, while an uneasy mixture of pride and financial hardship, especially during his exile period, meant Sidney was ‘never a man to leave a feeding hand unbitten’ (Worden).

Born in London in January 1623 as the second son of Robert, earl of Leicester, and his wife Dorothy Percy and raised at Penshurst Place in Kent, Sidney never quite forgave his older brother Philip for his prime position in the family; and historians dabbling in a bit of popular psychology have been eager to suggest that his rejection of hereditary monarchy and in particular primogeniture, so eloquently immortalised in his Discourses Concerning Government, were not just a refutation of Sir Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha (1680), but much more personal indeed.

This lack of place and position in a hierarchical world ruled by monarchs might also have been one reason why Sidney did not return to England after the Restoration of the Stuarts in 1660, but, after a diplomatic mission to Sweden and Denmark, kept erring around on the Continent, attempting to raise an army to invade England and restore the republic. All his life Sidney fought for a world in which merit counted, not birth. (more…)

Academic Tourism

Posted in Academia, History by thehistorywoman on April 6, 2013

We’re all tourists in academia. With short-term contracts being so common, it’s more or less natural to slide from PhD into hourly-paid teaching, into a Post-Doc, a fellowship, or a maternity/ research leave cover. Many of us are well into our thirties before we get the first full-time permanent job, if we haven’t succumbed to malnutrition or done a law conversion course in the meantime.

Before the job of our dreams materialises – and for some it never will – we might have worked in more different places than most people over a lifetime. This might be annoying with all the moving, living out of suitcases and never having an office to leave our books, but we also get to see the world, or at least the tiny fraction of it that is academia. So look on the bright side.

Yet, this is only one part of the academic’s nomadic existence. The other part is research travel. If, like me, you are a historian, you often have to go to archives and libraries up and down the country, and ever so often you get to go abroad. If, like me, you have chosen to study exiles, this is even more likely. So far, since starting on my project on the English republican exiles in Europe post 1660, I’ve been to Oxford and London as well as Bern, Paris, Florence, Geneva, Berlin and Weimar, tracking either the steps or the ideas and publications of my research subjects. I yet have to make further trips to Maidstone, Rome and possibly Montpellier or Agen in the south of France before I’ve spent the first lot of my research funding. (more…)

On the economic power of God’s invisible Church

Posted in Early Modern, History, Religion, Reviews, Seventeenth Century, Sixteenth Century by thehistorywoman on March 12, 2013

Brethren in Christ‘Brethren in Christ’ was the common form of address in correspondences among Calvinist elites in early modern Europe as they asked for each other’s support and solidarity, in particular in times of displacement and hardship caused by bouts of intolerance sparked by the Counter-Reformation. Among those forced into exile for their faith during the sixteenth century were four families from Lucca: the Calandrinis, Burlamachis, Diodatis and Turrettinis. Uprooted and displaced multiple times from Italy, France, the Netherlands and Germany by such key events as the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre or the Thirty Years War they travelled around Europe like the Israelites escaping Babylon and more often than not found at least a spiritual home in their ‘new Jerusalem’, the Swiss city of Geneva.

Ole Peter Grell’s most recent book Brethren in Christ: A Calvinist Network in Reformation Europe is not a work about Calvinist rhetoric, as the first half of its title might suggest. It is a work of social history dealing with networks and collective biography, or rather lots of short biographies that add up to one bigger story, showing that the aim for a grand(er) narrative does not have to go at the expense of detail, or rather that a certain amount of detail is sufficient to make a bigger point.

Thus, as we follow different generations of Calandrinis, Burlamachis, Diodatis and Turrettinis across Reformation Europe we get a sense of how things hang together, how the Counter-Reformation in Tuscany led to an exodus of wealthy merchant-bankers to Lyon and Paris, how the St Bartholomew Day Massacre in France subsequently made them move on to the United Provinces, England and Germany, and how Frederick V’s acceptance of the Bohemian crown did not just trigger the Thirty Years War, but also caused a refugee crisis in the Imperial city of Nuremberg, which was overrun by exiles from the Palatinate, and finally how Calvinist elites managed the relief effort by appealing for money and triggering collections in the stranger churches of London and elsewhere. (more…)

The homeless man in the library

Posted in Academia, Comment, News by thehistorywoman on February 27, 2013

I’m intrigued by the story of a homeless man slipping into St John’s College Library at Cambridge for several weeks. Good on him, is the only thing I can say. There are certainly worse places to while away a cold winter’s day. His assortment of supermarket bags aside, he was probably not so different from many of the other students present with his ‘vague claims of doing a doctorate on religion and a habit of dozing off’, as The Guardian describes him. The only thing I fail to understand is why he was asked to leave and where he was supposed to go instead.

But the real reason why this story jumped at me is that I have been spending the last couple of days doing research in Geneva, and when the archive closes or I feel I am done there for the day, I tend to go into the university library to do some more reading, browsing the catalogue and scanning the shelves for interesting stuff. Nobody has ever asked me what I am doing there, nor has anybody ever tried to evict me. You do not need a library card as long as you are not planning to take any books out, and the security gates make sure you don’t.

As tax payers’ money is invested in these institutions, why not make them more freely accessible to all (within reason)? A bit of free education has never done anyone any harm.

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Continental Connections: Anglo-European Intellectual Networks, c1500-1800

Posted in Conferences, Early Modern, Eighteenth Century, History, Seventeenth Century, Sixteenth Century by thehistorywoman on February 9, 2013

A Day Workshop at Northumbria University

2 May 2013

Lipman Building, Room 121

Early modern England was more European in outlook than much of the (anglocentric) historiography suggests, and nowhere was this more obvious than in the Republic of Letters, which crossed both territorial and linguistic boundaries. However, this community of scholars and literary figures was not the only network available. Grand tourists, political exiles, printers and publishers, and even religious orders contributed to a variety of continental connections that shaped the way early modern men and women interpreted their environment and saw themselves as part of a wider European context. This one-day workshop looks at a range of different, though sometimes overlapping, Anglo-European intellectual networks in the early modern period in an attempt to understand the many ways in which the English connected and shared their ideas with men and women on the Continent.

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Provisional Programme

10.00                               Arrival & Coffee

10.15                                Welcome (Gaby Mahlberg)

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10.30-12.00                  Panel 1, chair: Monika Smialkowska (Northumbria University)

Glyn Parry (Northumbria University): ‘The Magical Republic of Letters and Its Opponents’

Fred Schurink (Northumbria University): ‘How the classical tradition came to renaissance England: The continental source editions of Tudor translations of Plutarch’

Andrea Knox (Northumbria University): ‘Her Book-Lined Cell’: Irish Nuns and the Development of Texts, Translation and Literacy in late medieval Spain’

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12.00-13.00                  Lunch

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13.00-14.30                  Panel 2, chair: Claudine van Hensbergen (Northumbria University)

Jane Everson (RHUL): ‘England and the English in the Italian Academies (16th and 17th centuries).’

Alasdair Raffe (Northumbria University): ‘George Sinclair, Petrus van Mastricht and Anti-Cartesianism in late seventeenth-century Scotland’

Thomas Biskup (Hull University): ‘A special relationship? Situating scholarly links between the University of Göttingen and England in the Republic of Letters, 1737-1806′

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14.30-15.00                  Coffee

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15.00-16.30                  Panel 3, chair: Neil Murphy (Northumbria University)

Rachel Hammersley (Newcastle University), ‘The Huguenot Network, the Enlightenment Republic of Letters and the Transmission of English Republican Ideas’

Delphine Doucet (Sunderland University), ‘Translating republicanism and clandestine circulation: Toland’s Pantheisticon’

Gaby Mahlberg (Northumbria University), ‘Les Juges Jugez ses Justifians: Republicanism meets the Republic of Letters’

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16.30-17.00                  Concluding Discussion (chaired by Gaby Mahlberg & Alasdair Raffe)

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If you would like to attend, please contact gaby.mahlberg@northumbria.ac.uk .

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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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