Spotlight on Guy Rowlands
December 1, 2014 Leave a comment
Guy Rowlands came to academia rather unexpectedly. In his youth he had been expecting to become an officer in the British army, but by the end of his undergraduate career he was beginning to realise he was more interested in studying armies than serving in them, so he didn’t last more than a few days at Sandhurst. He then worked for a year in Westminster, where he spent some of the time as Defence and Northern Ireland desk officer of the Conservative Research Department, while during the 1992 general election campaign he was by far the most junior member of a small team (including one David Cameron and Andrew Lansley) briefing and sorting press releases for the prime minister John Major and various cabinet ministers. Later that year he returned to Oxford, decidedly jaded by politics, to study for a DPhil on Louis XIV’s France under David Parrott. Just when he thought he’d wriggled out of spending his life in a barracks, he found himself in the French war archives at the military base of Vincennes just to the east of Paris, carrying out research on the French army in the second half of the seventeenth century, and he has returned to this magnificent château in most years since his postgraduate days to unearth more material on the war efforts of the principal superpower of 17th and 18th century Europe. Out of this work came his first book, The Dynastic State and the Army under Louis XIV. Royal Service and Private Interest, 1661-1701 (Cambridge University Press, 2002), which was co-winner of the Royal Historical Society’s Gladstone Prize in 2003. In the meantime Guy had held a junior lectureship and then a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship at Exeter College, Oxford between 1995 and 2000, before migrating to Cambridge, where he was a college and faculty lecturer in early modern history. One of the few men on the staff of Newnham College, he was lucky enough to meet there a colleague who subsequently became his wife, Bridget Heal, who has herself been in the St Andrews School of History since 2002. They now have a seven-year-old son, Thomas, who seems worryingly enthusiastic about history (mainly the ancient sort)….
After three years at Cambridge, Guy moved north to a job at Durham before joining Bridget in St Andrews in 2005. He quickly established and entrenched the Centre for French History and Culture, setting up its seminar series and founding its “midigraph” series of Open Access books, known as “St Andrews Studies in French History and Culture”, which was launched in 2010. By this time the western world had suffered financial meltdown, but it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good. After years of researching on French power – with a year working on 17th-18th century Germany as an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at Freiburg in 2007-08 – Guy’s next project had some modern resonance: he launched into another book on the collapse of French finances during the final two decades of Louis XIV’s reign, and received a British Academy Senior Research Fellowship in 2010-11 to produce it. Like Voltaire two-and-a half centuries earlier he spent that year writing about Louis XIV’s France in Berlin, attached to the Centre Marc Bloch, but unlike Voltaire he did not eventually flee the country pursued by the German secret service. This book was published as The Financial Decline of a Great Power. War, Influence, and Money in Louis XIV’s France (Oxford University Press, 2012). Following this up, in November 2014 Guy published his third book, entitled Dangerous and Dishonest Men: the International Bankers of Louis XIV’s France (Palgrave, 2014), in Palgrave’s new “Studies in the History of Finance” series. In both these recent books Guy has aimed to shine a light on disasters in financial history in as accessible a way as possible, and to reveal the deeper complexities of what is considered – even by many professional historians – to be a daunting field. Indeed, preparing these two books has been the most eye-watering work Guy has ever done, but he feels that he’s now broken through this particular pain barrier.
Being of a masochistic tendency intellectually, Guy is now involved with several international groups of historians working on the state and finance, notably the Contractor State Group and the Money, Power and Print association, while he is planning a bid to funding councils for a major project, with postdoctoral researchers, on the subject of the emerging western European state and the civilian contractors who serviced and supplied its armed forces in the period 1660-1730. In recent decades the defence establishments of the NATO powers have employed civilian contractors on a very large scale once again, including to run recruitment, but there seems to be a real lack of appreciation that so many of these arrangements have been tried before, and particularly so once the state started to emerge in a recognisably modern form from the mid-seventeenth century. Guy therefore hopes to engage with living people, corporations, think-tanks and ministries which have an interest in acquiring a stronger historical understanding of the origins of the modern state’s engagement with civilian contractors. Related to this he is the School of History’s lead figure in working with the School of International Relations to create a new Institute for the Study of War and Strategy, to be launched in 2015. But Guy remains committed to his own chosen field, France in her age of greatness, and he is particularly looking forward to 2015, the 300th anniversary of the death of Louis XIV. He will be enjoying at least one junket to Paris for a conference on the Sun King in the Foreign Affairs Ministry, while he and Julia Prest (Department of French) will be co-editing a volume with the provocative title “The Third Reign of Louis XIV”, to be published in 2016/17. Guy has always been a sun lover since childhood holidays in Mallorca, and he hopes to continue to bask in the Sun King’s rays for some time to come.