Publication Spotlight: The Politics of Counsel in England and Scotland, 1286–1707

Blog written by Dr Jacqueline Rose

politicsofcounselIs it true that behind every successful ruler there is an exhausted adviser? It has certainly often been the case that ‘evil counsellors’ have been blamed for bad government. But if grumbling about special advisers looks like a distinctly modern phenomenon, think again.  Such figures have often operated in the shadowy world of political manoeuvring, whether characterised as benign mentors or cunning manipulators—or both.

For much of history, the role of the adviser was idealised. This was the case in much of the period covered by the contributors to the recent volume on The Politics of Counsel in England and Scotland, 1286–1707. This was an era in which good counsel was seen as the way to foster good rule; that is, where a monarch governed for the common interest and common good, and not tyrannically, for their own private benefit or wilful pleasure. Counsel evolved to meet the needs of this age of Anglo-Scottish warfare and unions, dynastic and religious upheavals, and developments in local, national, and colonial government—not forgetting the adaptations in advisory practices required to fit each new monarch’s personality.

Using the poetry, drama, government records, and political treatises of the period, contributors to the volume examine ideas about advice and the role it played. Some instances of political failure come up—James III of Scotland, killed during a rebellion in 1488, and Charles I, executed in 1649—are the most prominent. But there are also signs that rulers could be open to advice, at least on some points, some of the time.

Appropriately, contributors to this volume benefited from each other’s counsel through a workshop held in St Andrews in May 2014, which was made possible by the British Academy’s award of a grant from the Browning Fund and a British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant; and by support from the School of History and the Institutes of Scottish Historical Research, Intellectual History, and Reformation Studies. Alongside the editor, the volume features chapters by St Andrews-based authors Michael Brown and Roger Mason, and one by Claire Hawes, at the time a PhD student here and now based in Aberdeen. This reflects how suitable a base St Andrews is for the larger Politics of Counsel research project from which the workshop and volume derived.

While substantial in its own right, the volume aims to create a framework for future research on political advice—past, present, and future. It provocatively suggests ways in which even ‘failed’ advice might actually contribute to political life. So the next time you hear on the news that the power and influence of ‘spads’ has been criticised, don’t assume it’s a symptom of the decline of modern politics. Bad advice may just be an age-old excuse: easy to make, but deserving of sharper analysis.

Publication Spotlight: Royal Heirs and the Uses of Soft Power in Nineteenth-Century Europe

coverBlog 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.

HeirstothethroneMarking, 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.

Postdoc Spotlight: Sarah Greer

 

Sarah Greer joined the School of History at St Andrews in September 2013 as a Marie Skłowdowska-Curie Research Fellow while she completed her PhD on ninth- and tenth-century Saxon female monasteries under the supervision of Professor Simon MacLean. This was not what she expected when she started her tertiary education. After graduating from a high-school history curriculum which focused almost exclusively on twentieth-century history, Sarah was determined to take as wide a range of modules as possible when she arrived at the University of Auckland. Three years followed of courses ranging from Ancient Egyptian religion to modern Australian history, but when she enrolled in a paper on the Later Roman Empire and the ‘barbarian’ kingdoms of Western Europe in her final semester she was hooked. Her Honours dissertation was on the origins of female monasticism in sixth-century Gaul; this was followed by a research masters on the function of double monasteries under the Merovingians and Carolingians in the sixth to eighth centuries and she was lured even closer to the High Middle Ages during her doctoral research. She is now peeking over at the Salian and Capetian dynasties with interest, but still likes to describe herself as an early medieval historian.

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Hrotsvitha presenting her Gesta Ottonis to Otto I, photo attrib. Sarah Greer

Sarah was fortunate enough to be able to come to St Andrews on a fellowship through a research network called Power and Institutions in Medieval Islam and Christendom (PIMIC), which also included Professor John Hudson, Professor Caroline Humfress and Cory Hitt. As PIMIC was an EU-funded Innovative Training Network, this meant that in addition to working on her thesis, Sarah has spent the past three years also taking part in a variety of training workshops across Europe. She was also seconded to work at Brill Publishers in Leiden for three months in 2014; at the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne for three months in 2015; and at the Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales in Madrid for two months in 2016. She also took part in a month-long documentary film school as part of PIMIC, and remains grateful to the PhD students from the Mediaeval department who stood in as various members of the Ottonian imperial family for her documentary on Mathilda of Quedlinburg.

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The city of Quedlinburg, photo attrib. Sarah Greer

Having submitted her doctoral thesis in September 2016, Sarah is delighted to be continuing her connection with both the School of History at St Andrews and the EU. She has been selected as the postdoctoral research fellow under the supervision of Professor MacLean as part of the new HERA-funded research network: ‘After Empire: Using and Not Using the Past in the Tenth Century’, which joins together historians from St Andrews, Exeter, Berlin, Vienna and Barcelona. Sarah will work on how tenth-century people interacted with earlier royal mausolea and used the memories of the past embedded in these sites in the post-Carolingian world. She is very happy to remain in Scotland for another three years on this fellowship, although she does at times miss New Zealand’s summers.

 

Publication Spotlight: The Royal Timeline

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CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0, attrib. Heirs to the Throne Project

The History community at the University of St Andrews will be familiar with the work and output of the Heirs to the Throne project. Under the leadership of Professor Frank Lorenz Müller and Dr Heidi Mehrkens, the personal and public lives of royal heirs in nineteenth century Europe are explored as well as their contribution to the workings of constitutional monarchical systems. In addition to conferences, lectures and books, many of these heirs have been featured in the Heirs of the Month blog posts on the project website. To celebrate the achievements of the project and its team, thirty-one heirs have now been gathered in the Royal Timeline, an interactive webtool that combines the previous Heirs of the Month essays with historical context.

 

The project ‘Heirs to the Throne in the Constitutional Monarchies of Nineteenth-Century Europe (1815-1914)’, funded by the AHRC, commenced in 2012 to investigate the role of monarchs in waiting throughout Europe. The Heir of the Month started in November 2013: its first entry was penned by PI Frank Lorenz Müller. For the past two years, new entries have been added once a month, with all members of the team and visiting researchers contributing. Austrian archdukes are followed by Bavarian princes, with both public policy and private personalities examined thoroughly.

The Heir of the Month essays, as well as the resulting Royal Timeline, aim to show the princes and princesses as human beings with a specific agenda. The nineteenth century saw the rise of the public role of the heir in a changing society. The heirs in this period faced the challenge of combining traditional royal tasks with a new set of roles. The monarchs in waiting would still need to marry advantageously and further the power of the dynasty. However, they were also expected to take on new skills, such as deal with a chosen government, take care of written and photographic communication and be at ease with a more public role. This public image also entailed new responsibilities for heirs: it would help if they were good-looking, smart and charming.

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CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0, attrib. Heirs to the Throne Project

The Heir of the Month essays allow the team to represent their questions, sources, discoveries and research in a more playful manner, and disseminate them to a larger audience. Furthermore, the monthly blog posts give meaning to these figures in history: they are given a narrative, rather than a symbolic meaning. An example is Duke Ferdinand-Philippe of Orléans, who was heir to the throne of the July Monarchy between 1830 and 1848. Ferdinand chose to face an outbreak of cholera in Paris, shaking hands with those afflicted. In doing so, he allied himself explicitly with the plight of his people and highlighted his duties as heir to the throne.

 

In the future, new Heirs of the Month will be added to the Royal Timeline. The webtool will continue to be updated with new and relevant information. The other endeavours of the Heirs to the Throne Project will also continue, bringing the monarchs in waiting of nineteenth century constitutional Europe to a wider audience.

Publication Spotlight: ‘Diverging Paths?: Power and Institutions in Medieval Islam and Christendom’

“Why did certain sorts of institutionalisation and institutional continuity characterise government and society in Christendom by the later Middle Ages, but not the Islamic world, whereas the reverse end-point might have been predicted from the early medieval situation?”
This question lies at the core of Prof. John Hudson’s new publication, co-edited with Ana Rodriguez, Diverging Paths?: Power and Institutions in Medieval Islam and Christendom. In the eighth century, government in the Islamic world featured bureaucracy in a way unimaginable in Christendom, and especially western Christendom, in the same period. By the end of the middle ages, however, the latter region was dominated by a number of highly sophisticated institutions. Diverging Paths takes a number of these institutions in the Byzantine, western and Islamic worlds, and explores their formation, in the hope of answering or revising this question.

This book is the product of a collaborative project on comparative institutionalisation across western Christendom, eastern Christendom and the Islamic world in the period c.750–1350. The collaborations began in the late 1990s, between mediaevalists at St Andrews and at the CSIC in Madrid.  Work began by exploring the legitimisation of political authority. Gradually, over time, the group expanded and started to look at broader issues of power and institutions.  In 2008, the group received a grant from the Spanish government which enabled them to focus on the processes of institutionalisation. The project was based primarily on a series of workshops. These led to a conference, which in turn resulted in Diverging Paths.

The use of a tripartite comparison between Byzantium, western Christendom and the Islamic world is central to this study. It was driven, and indeed made possible, by the strengths of the history department at St Andrews in these three areas. John believes this approach has a number of benefits. Examination of similar themes in a number of societies helps scholars to reconsider their assumptions. Furthermore, the study of a process, such as ‘institutionalisation’, is made more meaningful when it is conducted in a number of contexts and cultures.

It was this comparative approach, however, which led to most of the intellectual challenges the project faced. How broad should the comparisons be? The ‘Islamic World’ or ‘Western Christendom’ are, of course, very large categories and a lot of variety can be noticed within them: as in the present day, Iceland and Sicily were very different places in this period, but both come under the umbrella of ‘Western Christendom’. However, these comparisons needed to be broad enough to allow the group to pose the questions they did, and facilitate meaningful investigation.

More specifically for this study, both institutions and institutional processes need to be defined.  Two potential challenges presented themselves here: to get something which was not too vague, whilst at the same time not creating a definition that was too culturally specific. In response to this, the group created a working list of ten criteria, including ‘institutional memory’, ‘identification with institutions’, ‘normative nature’ and ‘self-replication’. Thus, the networks of Benedictine monasticism which came to dominate western Christendom in this period were definable as institutions. The smaller religious communities of sixth-century Francia, on the other hand, which often died out within a few decades of foundation, were less institutionalised.

PIMIC opening workshop, St Andrews

PIMIC opening workshop, St Andrews, 2013

The publication of Diverging Paths is not the end of the process, but in many ways it is the beginning. John is currently involved in a number of projects that have grown out of this one, and which also make use cross-cultural comparisons in their examination of institutionalisation. The largest of these is the EU funded project ‘Powers and Institutions in Medieval Islam and Christendom’, or PIMIC. Whilst PIMIC does still have an academic thrust, it is primarily a training network which was created to fund PhDs and postdocs. Currently two of these PhD students are working at St Andrews, Cory Hitt and Sarah Greer, and you can read more about some of PIMIC’s activities here and here.
In addition to this, John is currently planning another research project which will consider the development of law in Europe between 1050 and 1250. This project will argue that whilst the divergence between the continental civil law and English common law traditions did originate in that period, there were more similarities between English and Continental law than the traditional narrative of difference would lead us to believe. John will also continue to make use of the broader tripartite comparison between Western Christendom, Eastern Christendom and the Islamic worlds in this project: there are plans for a workshop which will bring together legal scholars working on each of these regions.

Diverging Paths does not answer to the question it poses in its introduction; indeed, unusually, there is no concluding chapter. John is keen to point out that this is deliberate. This study is a starting point: it ought to provoke further debate, rather than presenting a solution, or a final word on this topic.

Publication Spotlight: Rab Houston

The past few months have seen a new blog post series, which focuses on the many and varied publications which have recently come out of this School of History. In this post, Prof Rab Houston explores the thought patterns and connections between his three most recent monographs.

My publications in recent years are linked to an interest I have had since I did my PhD: a fascination with the similarities and differences between the three historic realms that made up early modern Britain, as well as with the significance of regional differences within England, Wales, and Scotland. My other agenda over the last thirty something years has been to realise a version of British history that gives Scotland its proper place. What I have been trying to do is not simply to add Scottish experience to the main line of English history and so create a more comprehensive British perspective, but also to open up new questions and debates within British history, using Scotland as a starting point for comparison.

I published three books about different aspects of this agenda during 2014.

The first book, Bride Ales and Penny Weddings: Recreations, reciprocity, and regions in Britain from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, looks at a single cultural form: contributory weddings.

When I first started my career as an historian I came across Scottish penny weddings in my documents. Lively, open events where guests paid for their own entertainment and gave money to the couple, they evoked a strong sense of community. That provoked my curiosity and they have been in the back of my mind ever since. Then, when researching my last book, I found similar sorts of marriage celebration in both Wales and the north of England.

Penny weddings and their English and Welsh equivalents were occasions of hospitality, sociability, and reciprocity. Good spirits and abundant food and drink often made them boisterous events. Relatives, friends, and neighbours all attended, showing their approval of the couple and helping to establish them in life.

This book asks what a common celebration tells us about shared social values, in what I call Middle Britain – Lowland Scotland, the north of England, and Wales – and how these differed from the social and cultural norms of both the so-called ‘Celtic Fringe’ and the south of England.

Read more of this post

Publication Spotlight: Churchmen and Urban Government in Late Medieval Italy

Prof Frances Andrew’s edited volume, Churchmen and Urban Government in Late Medieval Italy, c.1200–c.1450: Cases and Contexts, is an attempt to understand an intriguing phenomenon. It explores, through a number of case studies, the employment of members of monastic communities in urban government. The focus is, in particular, on paid, fixed service. These men were not involved in council, or high politics. Instead they were engaged in lower level, but equally essential, work: they might be employed in the treasury, for example, oversee building works, or make sure that all the bread sold within a city was edible.

This phenomenon raises interesting questions. How did this relationship between religious communities and urban government work? Why did it work? The answers to these questions have the potential to break down the neat categories between religious and secular spheres which continue to dominate our understanding of the medieval world.

Frances came across this phenomenon in her work on the Humiliati, an order originally dominated by lay people who committed to a religious life. She knew that there was a close relationship between these brothers, the secular clergy (priests, bishops and deacons), and urban government. Indeed, the Humiliati were well known to have been engaged in communal offices. It was during a year-long fellowship in Florence, however, that she noticed that in late medieval Siena and Florence this was also very often the case for other regular clergy (i.e. monks, canons and friars). Bearing in mind the vast number of urban governments in central and northern Italy and the abundance of extant sources, it was at this point that it became clear that on her own it would take decades to get a real sense of how this relationship worked.

The project which arose from this realisation and resulted in Churchmen and Urban Government, began with a conference Frances organised in 2007, funded by the British Academy. This enabled her to bring speakers together from Italy, the US, and closer to home, to discuss relations between regular clergy and public life. This fed directly into the creation of a major research project, ‘Religion and Public Life in Late Medieval Italy’, which was supported by AHRC funding.

The collaborative nature of the work has proved to be especially fruitful. Not only has this approach enabled urban and religious historians to work together and benefit from one another’s approaches, but it has facilitated comparison across northern Italian cities, something which is still relatively unusual. The volume contains an essay on each of a sample of thirteen cities, building on the expertise of each scholar on ‘their’ city. In the second half of the volume experts on religious life then explore the reactions of particular monastic orders, including the Camaldolese and the Cistercians. Thus, Churchmen and Urban Government shows the great variety in the relationship of monks, friars and penitents with urban governments: in Milan, being a Cistercian monk might mean spending some of your time working for the city, in Turin it did not.

So, the big question: why did cities employ monks in this way? The classic interpretation, put forth by Richard Trexler in 1978, places a lot of emphasis on the role of trust. Hypothetically, a religious superior instructed a monk to go and work in the city. The city could therefore trust this monk, because of the bond of obedience which bound the monk and abbot.

Whilst Frances believes that trust and integrity did play a role, there were a number of other reasons why monks were engaged. They possessed technical skills, such as in book keeping and the production of registers. In addition, relationships of patronage between monasteries and certain powerful families seem to have led to the greater deployment of monks in these roles.

Perhaps most importantly, Churchmen and Urban Government highlights the importance of the political context in determining the deployment of regular clergy. It demonstrates that the initial idea of employing people from religious orders or penitential brethren was something associated with the popolo, that is, the anti-magnate group in cities, a factional body closely identified with papal politics. Whilst trust was involved, the illumination of these worldly factors begins to turn Trexler’s model on its head.

What comes next? This work is, in fact, just one part of a larger project, and Frances is currently working on the second volume: a monograph intended to build on the case studies. As well as this, Frances intends to continue looking further afield for other comparisons. Churchmen and Urban Government closed with three colleagues’ case-studies on areas outside Central and Northern Italy, covering Sardinia, the southern Regno under the Hohenstaufen and, in a deeply comparative mode, England. Next year she’ll be in the Netherlands, where she plans to examine Dutch material on urban government. Unlike northern Italy, it doesn’t seem as though regular orders were employed by Dutch cities. Frances will be asking why this was the case, and who was doing these jobs, if not the regular clergy.