December 5, 2016 Leave a comment
Blog written by Professor Frank Lorenz Müller
In 1877 Archduke Rudolf, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, reached his majority. To mark this happy day, Field Marshall Archduke Albrecht, the stern Éminence grise of the Habsburg family, sent the young man a set of “aphorisms”, which contained a whole list of strict injunctions and dire warnings. Above all, Rudolf should make sure to eschew the “softening” (Verweichlichung) Albrecht was observing at other courts. For that way lay dishonour and loss of prestige. For the old field marshal, the princely profession was all about the splendour of majesty, about sticking rigidly to court and dynastic rules and about distance from the banal normality of human life.
For Albrecht, our new volume Royal Heirs and the Uses of Soft Power in Nineteenth-Century Europe would probably have been as unedifying a choice of bedtime reading as his austere aphorisms were for the wayward Rudolf. For the historians contributing first to our conference in 2015 and then to the volume which grew out of it, however, the phenomenon of royal power “going soft” – or at least adding a “soft” string to the bow of monarchical power – in the nineteenth century is not a cause for despair.
Rather than seeing the increasing attempts made by Europe’s dynasties to win over politically relevant audiences, to attract, cajole and persuade instead of forcing or coercing them, was a central component of monarchical survival. That these old dynastic dogs learned a whole bag of new tricks as they journeyed from commanding hard power to exercising influence is a sign of their resourcefulness and astuteness and not, as Archduke Albrecht would have argued, a symptom of a flaccid loss or moral fibre.
Organising our case studies round the famous concept of “soft power” – as coined by the American political scientist Joseph S. Nye – we invited historians specialising in many different European monarchies to explore how their dynasties sought to acquire this new skills set, to consider the different means they used and to assess the success of these efforts. Both our conference and now the volume have ranged from Spain to Norway, from Greece to the UK by way of Austria, the Netherlands, Prussia and Sweden. Our authors have analysed sports and public diplomacy, good looks and sartorial style, news management and the political market – while not neglecting love and marriage, dynastic virtues and the power of the visual in imperial settings.
Marking, as it did, the high-point of the AHRC-funded project Heirs to the Throne, the volume showcases the work of three St Andrews PhD students: Maria-Christina Marchi, Richard Meyer-Forsting and Miriam Schneider. It also adds to the list of volumes already published within the “Palgrave Studies in Modern Monarchy”, a series founded alongside the project and co-edited by Heidi Mehrkens and Frank Lorenz Müller in co-operation with Axel Körner (UCL) and Heather Jones (LSE), who both contributed to last year’s conference volume “Sons and Heirs”.
As the project is drawing to its official end, we look forward to more published research and to continuing our co-operation with Palgrave Macmillan. Meanwhile, we invite everyone to get hold of a copy of “Royal Heirs and the Uses of Soft Power” – which, by the way, makes a terrific Christmas present – and to find out for themselves why Archduke Albrecht was wrong and “soft power” was not a bad thing for 19th-century heirs.