Postgraduate Spotlight: Jack Abernethy

Blog written by Jack Abernethy


Me on a recent trip to the far north of Scotland. It was in Thurso, near John O’Groats, that several skippers signed an oath of allegiance to the Marquis of Montrose in support of Charles II

My name is Jack, and I am currently a student at St Andrews, studying Scottish History. I was recently awarded the British Commission for Maritime History’s prize for Undergraduate Achievement (a prize given to only six students across Great Britain) for my Honours dissertation, entitled “The Specter at the Feast: The Royalists at Sea in the First Anglo-Dutch War, 1652-1654.” The dissertation aims to correct the long-held notion that Prince Rupert and his privateering fleet of the late 1640s and early 1650s was the only royalist maritime threat to the English Commonwealth after the conclusion of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

To give some background: after the execution of Charles I in 1649, many royalists fled to the continent, especially to the Dutch Republic. At the same time, Prince Rupert, Charles’ nephew and a royalist commander on land and at sea, was leading a privateering fleet from Ireland to Africa and beyond. In Britain, royalist maritime bases supporting Charles were being dismantled by the Commonwealth. Between 1652 and1654, England went to war with the Dutch over religious, political, and economic issues, and the subsequent war heralded in a new era of naval warfare. Despite the attack on the Netherlands, the royalist threat was not yet finished.

Before I began my deeper exploration of the era, I had found it particularly appealing: I have always had an interest in maritime history and after having done some previous work on the First Dutch War, I wanted to continue to pursue this interest. While I was considering ideas for my thesis, I found words such as “royalists,” “privateers,” and “pirates” arising constantly in scattered sources, such as calendars of state papers and personal papers. However, I found no work that connected them within a coherent narrative. As a result, I began to wonder (with governments in the Netherlands and France hostile to the Commonwealth) whether seaborne royalist endeavors had increased during this time, and sought to answer this question for myself.


SRA, Anglica IV, 521. SE/RA/2102/IV/521. The Answer of the CoS, 28 May 1652

Two names in particular began to arise in reference to royalist privateers or pirates: William Balthazar and Richard Beach. The classification of these men has caused confusion. For instance, if they were receiving privateering commissions from a deposed government, were they still valid belligerents, or, as many sources suggest, were they just pirates? Through the collection of sources from both the Commonwealth and royalist exiles, I sought to create a more unbiased and holistic understanding than previously offered. Balthazar and Beach, along with other anonymous privateers, did a shocking amount of damage during the Dutch War. For example, the port of Barnstaple, in Devon was subject to near economic ruin, while captured mariners between England and Brittany were often pressed by royalists or marooned on the French coast. I found this research the most interesting, as it gave me an opportunity to tell the stories of people often ignored, and it was also vastly entertaining because of the swashbuckling characters and sea-battles that were described.

I also began to look for sources farther afield  in both digital and physical archives. My last chapter dealt with British maritime immigration. It was said that during the Dutch War between 5000 and 6000 British sailors were in the Dutch marine. An investigation into Dutch sources became necessary, as well as learning some Dutch language along the way! I did not try to address the contention directly, so instead, I gave several examples of men who definitely served in the Dutch navy. A good example was Robert Callwine, a mariner from Stirling, who along with several Scottish shipmates nearly drowned when he was attacked by the English fleet. Another sailor I encountered was one John Scott, a sailor of local interest, having hailed from our very own St Andrews! I also used my research as an excuse to travel to Edinburgh and to collect as many sources in the NRS as possible, including several I had to transcribe from original Scots language manuscripts. Among other documents of interest I found was one letter I discovered while on a class trip to Sweden: a 1652 letter from the English Commonwealth to Queen Christina in Sweden seeking reassurance that their ships would be mutually entertained in each other’s harbors and protect each other from becoming “infested” by their enemies.

In the future, I hope to publish my dissertation. In the meantime, I will return as a student to St Andrews in January to begin my MRes, continuing my research into Anglo/Scottish-Dutch history, and writing a dissertation on Scottish soldiers in the Dutch Republic between 1600 and 1655. In my free time, I enjoy playing the fiddle, running, and I have also been entering biographies of Scottish immigrants on the Scotland, Scandinavia, and Northern Europe (SSNE) database for Professor Murdoch.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Jonathan Triffit

JonathanTriffitt_SpotlightPhotoJonathan grew up in rural Leicestershire and later in the mediaeval market town of Skipton, nestled on the border of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Skipton is dominated by a Norman castle, famous as northern England’s last Royalist citadel in the Civil War, but Jonathan’s first introduction to history came while exploring other such structures: Edward I’s Welsh fortresses and the fairy-tale palaces of Ludwig II in Bavaria. Looking at his doctoral project, it would seem that a preference for castles with roofs and windows has won out.

Having taken a peculiar mix of science and arts subjects at A-Level, Jonathan chose to read German and history at university. As another small mediaeval town, St Andrews was referred to at school as ‘Skipton-on-Sea’ and seemed like the perfect place to pursue a degree. After sub-honours, Jonathan spent an ERASMUS year at the University of Bonn in Germany. As part of a course on ‘Intellectual Debates in the Weimar Republic,’ he was asked to prepare a presentation on the Nobel Prize-winning author Thomas Mann and his conversion from a monarchist into a staunch defender of the German Republic. Noticing that very little had been written on monarchism in this period or on Thomas Mann’s monarchist peers, Jonathan decided to devote his honours dissertation to addressing this lacuna. Under the supervision of Professor Frank Lorenz Müller, his investigation argued that restorationism in Germany foundered because a return of the monarchy would have been impractical, unpopular and, for many, unnecessary.

Taken in by the allure of academic research, Jonathan knew that he wished to delve more deeply into the consequences of the German Revolution at PhD-level. He therefore decided to use his master’s year to try new things, moving down the coast to the University of Edinburgh. There he studied diplomatic history, intellectual history, and the history of science, completing a thesis on plans to unify the British Empire at the turn of the twentieth century.


Hesse’s former royal family attends a protest against the Treaty of Versailles in Darmstadt (May 1919). Photo attrib. HStA Darmstadt Fonds D 27 A No 65/546.

On his return to St Andrews in September 2017, Jonathan began a PhD project under the supervision of Professor Müller and Professor Riccardo Bavaj. As before, his research examines monarchy and the Weimar Republic, but does so from a new perspective. Concentrating on three of the former royal states – Hesse, Bavaria and Württemberg – it will examine princely, popular and political responses to the German Revolution of November 1918, which swept away centuries of monarchical rule within a matter of days. Uniquely, however, the various German monarchs did not flee abroad, but continued to reside amongst the people, often in their ancestral castles. The upheaval of the Revolution naturally introduced a great deal of novelty, but popular attachment to (and awareness of) the monarchical structures and traditions left behind have been largely ignored. Put simply, what consequences did ‘de-monarchification’ entail for Germany and the Germans? An investigation of this nature relies heavily on ego-sources and other contemporary documents. Armed with a somewhat intimidating map of scattered archives, Jonathan is looking forward to returning to Germany and visiting regions he has yet to see. The fact that dynastic archives are often housed in splendid palaces may have something to do with it…

Outside of academia, Jonathan is a stalwart of the university’s Concert Wind Band and the St Andrews and Fife Community Orchestra, where he regularly does battle with twelve feet of brass tubing and obscure Italian instructions. When not playing the horn, Jonathan is a recent, if still confused convert to the Bundesliga and a keen follower of cricket. Once convinced that, as a future captain of England, he need not attend university, his attitude quickly changed on been informed that his predecessor-to-be did so – and read history no less! Jonathan’s exploits on the cricket field are on something of an extended hiatus, but when not wandering along West Sands or seeking sanctuary in a bookshop, he can be found working to commentary on the latest test match or county game.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Arthur der Weduwen

00A07_Andrew_and_Arthur_AR.jpgIt is not every day that you hear about a PhD student publishing a seminal bibliography and unlocking thousands of primary sources for a wider audience. However, in St Andrews, it just may happen! Arthur der Weduwen, a team member of the Universal Short Title Catalogue project at St Andrews supervised by Professor Andrew Pettegree, will publish a two-volume bibliography of seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish newspapers this May.

Published by Brill as Dutch and Flemish Newspapers of the Seventeenth Century, 1618-1700, the bibliography contains detailed descriptions of 49 newspapers and more than 16,000 surviving issues. Each newspaper is prefaced with an introduction highlighting the publishers, printers, characteristics and lifespan of the paper. The bibliographical sections are preceded by a lengthy essay, ‘The rise of the newspaper’, which presents a chronological analysis of the development of the periodical press and an overview of the production and consumption of newspapers in seventeenth-century society. A major portion of this essay is based on Arthur’s M.Litt dissertation written for the Book History degree at St Andrews in 2015. In November 2016 Arthur received the prestigious Elsevier/Johan de Witt thesis prize for this dissertation at a ceremony in Utrecht.

Arthur started work on his bibliography during his M.Litt studies in Book History at St Andrews. Interested in the history of media, information and news, Arthur was inspired to start the bibliography after coming across an article by the English scholar G.C. Gibbs, who urged the completion of exactly such a task back in 1971. Some of the first printed newspapers appeared in Amsterdam and Antwerp, and the region would develop into one of the most competitive centres of the newspaper trade in Europe. Netherlandish publishers were true pioneers, responsible for some of the most notable features of newspaper publication, including the adoption of newspaper advertising.
While these papers played a fundamental role in the intellectual and political culture of the early modern Netherlands, no study has ever presented a comprehensive overview of the publication of these early newspapers.

Cover vol 1

Publisher Abraham Casteleyn and his wife Margaretha van Bancken, painting by Jan de Bray, Photo attrib. Rijksmusesum, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

The bibliography took Arthur across dozens of libraries and archives in Europe and the United States. Early newspapers have suffered a high rate of loss: close to two-thirds of all documented issues in Arthur’s bibliography survive only in a single copy. Many of these copies are often to be found outside the Low Countries, in Sweden, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom, where they were collected and read by diplomats poring over the papers to assess public opinion in the Low Countries. Thanks to the development of digital resources and the goodwill of many librarians and friends, Arthur was able to access scans of thousands of issues in foreign institutions; altogether he personally inspected 98% of all surviving issues. While digital initiatives greatly assisted the compilation of the bibliography, Arthur most enjoyed searching through undocumented collections in libraries himself: such quests were particularly rewarding as they turned up four previously unknown titles, including the oldest newspapers published in Utrecht (1623) and Brussels (1621).

Overall, Arthur hopes that his bibliography will encourage other researchers to make as much use as possible of these fascinating documents, and that the study of news and newspapers will continue to evolve and inspire other scholars. He is especially grateful for the continuous support and generosity of the School of History at St Andrews and the Universal Short Title Catalogue project.

On Thursday 11 May, Arthur’s bibliography will be festively presented at the Amsterdam University Library. The presentation will be followed on 12 May by a symposium on the development of the newspaper in the Dutch Golden Age. For details about the event contact Arthur at or Dr Helmer Helmers at

Postgraduate Spotlight: John Condren

John’s addiction to history began around the age of six, when he disappeared while on a family visit to his aunt’s house and was eventually discovered three hours later, blissfully engrossed in Treasure Island under the dining-room table. Shortly afterwards, he struggled to identify his favourite work of historical fiction from among Kidnapped, Lorna Doone, The Last of the Mohicans, The Three Musketeers, and Liam O’Flaherty’s little-known magnum opus, Famine. John’s somewhat precocious reading career ended abruptly when he began an undergraduate degree in law (2005-09) at the University of Limerick, but he quickly decided that the soul-sapping ennui of a legal career was not for him. The inspired choices of history and French as minor subjects kept him sane throughout these four years.

Happier times ensued when John took the sound advice of his Early Modern History tutor at Limerick, St Andrews graduate Dr Alistair Malcolm. He came to the School of History at St Andrews in September 2009, enrolling upon the MLitt in Reformation Studies (2009-10). He was immediately struck by the generosity and supportiveness of staff and fellow students, and the beauty of the town and its environs.

Sala dello Specchio, Palazzo Gonzaga, Mantua

Sala dello Specchio, Palazzo Gonzaga, Mantua

After a year away, to recharge his batteries and to begin learning Italian, he returned in 2011 to commence a PhD under the supervision of Dr Guy Rowlands. John’s research examines the diplomatic, political, and military connections between Louis XIV’s France and the small states of northern Italy, in a period of general peace on the peninsula, 1659 to 1689. This was a state of affairs which Louis ostensibly wished to preserve, but which, in reality, he, his ministers and diplomats managed to undermine. John spent his second year of doctoral study (2012-13) researching in French and Italian archives, enjoying himself immensely outwith the hours of 8am to 6pm every working day, when he was busily reading and photographing stacks of documents for his thesis. During that year, he also had an attachment to the Centre Roland Mousnier at Paris-Sorbonne IV, and filled an ERASMUS exchange from St Andrews to the EUI in Florence in the spring of 2013. He would strongly advise and encourage newer PhD students to avail themselves of this wonderful exchange opportunity, if they possibly can. John also tutored on the sub-honours module MO1007, The Early Modern Western World, in the first semester of his third year (2013-14) and again in the first semester of fourth year.

John’s immaculate sense of timing led him into an Italian archive for the very first time during the same ten days in May 2012 when not one, but two dreadful earthquakes tore through Emilia-Romagna. John describes waking up in his hotel room in Modena at 4am during the first quake as the most terrifying experience of his life, apart from a bungee-jump in Queenstown, New Zealand, when aged 19. The experience fortunately did not deter him from researching in Italy, however.

Letter from the Modenese envoy in Paris, Gaspare Rizzini, on 10 March 1683

Letter from the Modenese envoy in Paris, Gaspare Rizzini, on 10 March 1683

Outside academia, John enjoys playing touch rugby with the St Andrews university club, being unfortunately far too short and slight of build to play proper rugby union. He notes ruefully that March is his most professionally unproductive month of the year, when, like any self-respecting Irishman, he is distracted by the Six Nations (rugby) and the Cheltenham Festival (horse-racing). He is, to his supervisor’s surprise, not a gambler. Indeed, John rather piously wishes that an important figure in his thesis, Ferdinando Carlo Gonzaga (duke of Mantua from 1665 to 1707), could have exercised the same personal restraint, for the good of his state, his soul, and his pocket. John himself has been a keen equestrian in the past, joining his brother and sister in competing in shows, hunter trials, and one-day-events until his mid-teens. He now greatly prefers to occupy a watching brief, having far more of a care for his neck than he had in his rash youth. John can usually be found in the postgraduate office in the basement of St Katharine’s Lodge (the so-called “Black Hole of Calcutta”). If not there, he will probably be ambling along West Sands, or downing an espresso in the Cottage Kitchen café on many a long winter afternoon, and some summer ones, too.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Elisabeth Mincin

Liz is originally from the small town of Jarrettsville in Maryland, where her high school was best known for its annual ‘drive your tractor to school’ day. One day after history class, she noticed a list of British monarchs posted on the back door of her teacher’s office and, seeing the name ‘Athelstan’, became both amused and intrigued about a period of history that was never covered in the American curriculum. Soon after, when she found the University of St Andrews listed in a College guidebook, she decided to apply and has never looked back. Although she first arrived in St Andrews as an undergraduate with the intention of studying early mediaeval Britain, nearly eight years later her interests have moved considerably further east.

During her undergraduate degree, Liz became increasingly interested in the concept of ‘heresy’ – what it meant to be heterodox and how people were stigmatised by their contemporary societies. For her fourth-year dissertation, she chose to focus on the creation mythology promulgated by the Cathars of mediaeval Italy. As dualists, this sect proclaimed a belief in two gods – one good and the other evil. In order to add a comparative element to her study, she chose to also examine the dualist creation myths of the eastern Bogomil movement. This was her first foray into Byzantine history. It was not until her Master’s degree at the University of Oxford that Liz would abandon her western mediaevalist roots and move firmly into the field of Byzantine Studies.

Building from her former work on heresy, Liz’s master’s thesis examined the literary construction of outsiders within monastic communities as demonstrated by the tropes employed when sentencing dissident monks.

This idea of the social rationalisation of the outsider then led on directly to her doctoral research. Having received funding from the Dorothy Miller Fellowship at the School of History here in St Andrews, she returned from her yearlong sojourn in Oxford to start her doctorate under the supervision of Dr Tim Greenwood. Her thesis, entitled “Curing the Common Soul: Rethinking Byzantine Heresy with Particular Focus on Literary Motifs (11th-12th centuries)”, is a study of the popular motif whereby heresy is described in terms of disease. Although this trope has received some (albeit limited) attention in western focused heresy scholarship, it has been completely ignored in Byzantine studies – deemed little more than a useless topos with no relevance to the contemporary world in which it is found. Liz’s thesis re-evaluates this neglectful approach to the motif and examines its use in light of the contemporary socio-political atmosphere of the time. In doing so, she finds that the debasement of heretics as diseased individuals gave rise to the antithetical image of the healing doctor figure. This persona was seen adopted by the emperor in various texts compiled by his close affiliates. It helped an unstable ruler better maintain his own power and authority, making him the embodiment of the doctor and defender of Orthodox Christendom.

In addition to her research, Liz is has also tutored on the MH2002: Introduction to Middle Eastern History course and helped with both the Mediaeval and Middle Eastern Studies seminars. From September 2014, she will be taking up the position of Membership Secretary for the Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies (SPBS), which she urges everyone to join.

Outside of academia, Liz enjoys baking cakes for her officemates in the Osgood Room, seeing musicals and eating exciting food. She would love to say she enjoys reading intellectual texts in her free time, but in truth would always prefer a relaxing evening with a light-hearted film.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Kevin McNamara

Kevin McNamaraKevin McNamara grew up in the small town of Castlebar in the rural and rugged west of Ireland. One of his earliest memories is of hiding at the back of a Maths class in Primary School, re-reading his history book from cover to cover. Unsurprisingly, this interest led to his first adventure into the world of humanities at the University of Limerick in 2006, focusing on a joint honours degree in English Literature and European History. During his final year, he worked on the development of the German ‘Bewegungskrieg’ concept in the interwar period for his dissertation under the supervision of Dr. Ruan O’Donnell. In 2010, Kevin moved to the University of St Andrews to study for a MLitt in Modern History with a specific focus on the rise of Nazism in the Weimar Republic. Following his dissertation, which examined the issue of whether consent or coercion formed the basis of support for the National Socialist regime, Kevin decided that the University of St Andrews offered the ideal launch pad for an academic career and began his PhD under the watchful eye of Professor Conan Fischer in September 2012.

Kevin’s doctoral project focuses on the network of British consular posts in the Third Reich between 1933 and 1939. This project examines consular despatches relating to anti-Semitic persecution in local and regional sectors of the Third Reich and the influence that these despatches had upon Anglo-German diplomacy during the interwar period. The fact that reports generated by the British Embassy in Berlin were in part derived from consular dispatches allows this project to discern how significant Nazi anti-Semitic persecution was to the British Government and what influence this data had upon Anglo-German diplomacy. The project will therefore go beyond local consular despatches relating to anti-Semitic persecution to establish what the interaction was between the network and the Embassy, and consider how the resulting range of viewpoints influenced British policymaking at key junctures.

A despatch from the Frankfurt Consular District in April 1936 highlighting the atmosphere in the region towards war and peace.

A despatch from the Frankfurt Consular District in April 1936 highlighting the atmosphere in the region towards war and peace.

As the project adopts a thematically-based approach, the deficiencies within any one consular district will be offset by evidence from elsewhere in the network, thus facilitating a balanced and objective study. Kevin’s doctoral project will therefore evaluate the reports on anti-Semitic persecution from six consular districts in Nazi Germany, Austria, Bohemia and Moravia which will be subsequently examined in the wider context of the consular network in the Third Reich. In terms of their scope and range, the consular service offers a wealth of uncensored diplomatic material and must be considered as a fundamental instrument of data-gathering in the Third Reich. In examining reports of anti-Semitism from the local consular officials to the Foreign Office via the Embassy in Berlin, the bottom-top approach will give insights into the context and underlying rationale of British external policy with each new phase of Nazi domestic and foreign policy.

Aside from his doctoral project, Kevin is a fellow of the Leo Baeck Institute in London which has provided a platform from which to present research findings and to engage in current trends in German historiography.  Furthermore, as his doctoral project contains a vast quantity of data from the local regions of the Third Reich, the Fellowship programme has allowed for extensive dialogue with eminent scholars to establish a contextual framework in which consular despatches could be gathered and formulated for the British Government.

Outside of his academic life, Kevin has a keen interest in all types of sports, in particular racquetball. He has represented his club, province and country with a national rank of Number 2 throughout his junior career. In 2004, he won his first and only all-Ireland title and, later that year, a gold medal in the Doubles event at the European Junior Championships in Amsterdam, Holland. For less energetic activities, Kevin loves reading, travelling and watching political dramas, and hopes one day to transform the experiences of a local consular official in the hostile world of the Third Reich into a visual project. Currently on the Erasmus exchange programme with the University of Bonn, Germany, Kevin can be found most days at the History Department on the banks of the Rhine River or trying to speak the native language (with an Irish accent), to the puzzlement of his German counterparts.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Róisín Watson

Roisin Watson 1Róisín was born in the shadow of the Arsenal stadium in north London. Her first act of rebellion was her refusal, aged five, to visit the third church of the day whilst on holiday with her family. She quickly learnt her lesson.  Frequent visits to Edward I castles in north Wales and Romanesque churches in France as a child had an unconscious impact on her future trajectory.

She studied for her undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University of Oxford. As an undergraduate, she became interested in the Near East in the age of Justinian and Muhammad, as well as Northern Ireland in the 1960s and 70s.  Her undergraduate dissertation on the Abbess Hildegard of Bingen, however, cemented her curiosity about the relationship between religion and gender.  In her M.St. degree, supervised by Lyndal Roper, she examined the literary dedications of Nuremberg humanists to the Abbess Caritas Pirckheimer (d. 1532), which throw light on how male humanists constructed female identity in the first decades of the sixteenth century and how the Reformation altered the function of the abbess within these intellectual circles.  Following her M.St., Róisín spent a year at the Stiftung Maximilianeum in Munich, studying early modern German history at the Ludwig Maximilian Universität.

Page from a parish donation catalogue.

Page from a parish donation catalogue.

Róisín started at St Andrews in 2011, working under the supervision of Bridget Heal.  Her doctoral research is on the development of Lutheran visual and material culture in Württemberg churches from 1534 to c. 1700. This is a region traditionally overlooked in the literature due to the assumption that iconoclasm in the sixteenth century established an environment hostile towards church art.  However, this was not the case.  Róisín explores the relationships between church decoration, space, ritual, and individual piety in Württemberg through a variety of printed and archival sources, such as church consecration sermons, church ordinances and donation records. The study builds on the sole iconographical analysis of Lutheran art in the duchy by Reinhard Lieske (1973) by analysing the ways in which images and objects were experienced in local churches.  Of particular interest are the broader themes of church patronage after the Reformation and the impact of Luther’s message of salvation by grace alone on patterns of religious giving.  Her doctoral work incorporates her interest in gender and piety in the analysis of image cycles commissioned by Princess Antonia von Württemberg (d. 1679) and Duchess Magdalena Sibylla von Hessen-Darmstadt (d. 1712)

The research is based on ten months study in the Hauptstaatsarchiv and Landeskirchliches Archiv in Stuttgart funded by the Deutsche Akademische Austausch Dienst.  She also visited a series of local church archives and made a survey of over 70 churches.  Róisín has presented her work, both in English and German, at a number of conferences, including the Renaissance Society of America’s annual conference, the Kolloquium Frühe Neuzeit at Tübingen University, and the German History Society annual conference.

An epitaph in the Stiftskirche in Urach.

An epitaph in the Stiftskirche in Urach.

In addition to her PhD research, Róisín co-ordinates the early modern German salon that meets fortnightly in the Reformation Institute and was a tutor for M01007: The Early Modern Western World.  Outside St Andrews, she has worked on a number of curatorial projects, among them the Shakespeare exhibition at the British Museum in 2012, and the display of medieval manuscript cuttings in the Wallace Collection. She is currently involved in a small project presenting objects with supposedly magical properties in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.  When not working, Róisín enjoys running and has completed several half-marathons.  Since the age of 6, she has been playing Irish music on the tin whistle and flute, and takes her instruments with her on research trips to play in local sessions. She can be found most Tuesday evenings at the Whey Pat’s folk session, and, in keeping with her chosen historical period, is a member of the St Andrews Renaissance Singers.