Publication Spotlight: Political Advice: Past, Present and Future

Blog written by Prof Colin Kidd and Dr Jacqueline Rose. Their new book Political Advice: Past, Present and Future is now available from Bloomsbury.

‘Could you give me some advice?’ is a question we have all asked at various times in our lives. But whom do we ask? When do we turn to a person that we feel we can trust, a friend we can confide in, somebody with experience and expertise in a particular area, or someone whose job it is to advise on such matters? Such questions are daunting. But how much more fraught for political leaders, who take decisions on crucial matters far beyond their knowledge base, is the selection of appropriate advisers.

Few would dispute the need for political advice, yet it has a remarkable propensity to cause problems. Is the leader listening to enough people? To the right people? Are they listening at all? Do they have to? Can they be made to and, if so, would this be by formally constraining them to hear advice or by changing the way in which that counsel is presented? There are certain functions that advice perennially performs—compensating for a leader’s limited knowledge, time, and (occasionally) abilities; balancing long-term objectives with crises that require immediate attention; resolving conflicts and extracting consent; providing support in the lonely and dauntingly burdensome business of governing. Yet the mechanisms for managing it have varied over time and space. Indeed, what works for one president or prime minister may be disastrous for their successor: some respond well to rigidly structured advice, others thrive in a seemingly undisciplined atmosphere in which they receive multiple pieces of conflicting counsel.

Dr Jacqueline Rose

It was with the aim of reflecting on these themes that we embarked on what became Political Advice: Past, Present and Future. Somewhat embarrassingly for a pair of historians, we can’t pinpoint its precise beginning and causes. But it may have had something to do with conversations about Joan Quigley, the Reagans’ astrologer, an adviser on auspicious dates whose role, originally revealed by a disgruntled former chief of staff, proved to be a revealing way into the politics of counsel in the late-twentieth century White House. The themes of formal vs informal advice, access and influence, and the interplay of personal trust with official constitutional structures, seemed to be ones offering excellent opportunities for dialogue across periods and disciplines.

Assembling a team of interdisciplinary contributors from academia and public life, we began with a day-long workshop in the ‘Public Life’ series at All Souls College, Oxford, settling on a date of 8 June 2017. As it turned out, we were not the only ones for whom 8 June 2017 ended up being an important day, for it was the one that the then-prime minister, Theresa May, chose as the date for a snap general election. The aftermath of that election included the high-profile removal of May’s joint chiefs of staff, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy. Media attention to the vicissitudes of advice in the Trump White House, the advent of Dominic Cummings as a key adviser to Boris Johnson, and a steady stream of reports about projects to reform Whitehall kept political advice constantly in the news during the period in which our volume took shape.

Prof Colin Kidd

Even as we put the final touches to the introduction in early 2020, conflicts over ministerial control of special advisers and civil service reform were still making headlines. We thought we were up to date in including a mention of Sajid Javid’s resignation letter, which urged the importance of advice. It’s just as well, therefore, that we expressed ‘the characteristic historian’s caution about predicting tomorrow’s headlines’ in the acknowledgements (dated February 2020). For the volume ended up being dispatched on one of the last days before we moved to working from home. In the early weeks of lockdown, it looked like the politics of advice had vanished from view. A year later, less so. At the point of publication, the other forecast in our acknowledgements—that ‘future events will continue to generate stories about political advice’—holds true. Indeed, the still-unfolding story about who gave what advice to whom and when during the pandemic demonstrates the vital and contested role of political advice—past, present, and future.

Publication Spotlight: A Companion to Religious Minorities in Early Modern Rome

Blog written by Dr Emily Michelson. Dr Michelson is a Senior Lecturer in the School of History, and her work focuses on the cultural and religious history of early modern Italy. She worked on the ‘Religious Minorities in Early Modern Rome’ project (2018) with postdoctoral researcher Dr Matthew Coneys Wainwright. His research deals with late medieval and early modern Italian pilgrimage culture, travel writing and the history of the book between manuscript and print. He currently teaches at the University of Oxford and the Warburg Institute.

Dr Emily Michelson

We are really excited about A Companion to Religious Minorities in Early Modern Rome, which is the product of an AHRC early-career leadership grant: Dr Emily Michelson was the grant-holder and Dr Matthew Coneys Wainwright the stellar postdoc. The papers were developed in two workshops, one held at St Andrews and the other at the British School of Rome, with other scholars joining the project later. 

The project itself is exciting because it dismantles the assumption that Papal Rome was Catholic and homogenous in the early modern period.  The essays in our volume look at all of the different religious groups and individuals that passed through or lived in Rome and the many ways they made an impact.  

Dr Matthew Coneys Wainwright

We think this is an especially important project because the city of Rome has more layers of meaning than any other place in Europe. In the period this book covers, the Eternal City had a triple function. It provided Europe’s strongest link to the classical past and was revered as the gateway to antiquity. As the capital of the powerful Papal States, it was also a major political player. Above all, Rome was the religious heart of a growing, newly global Catholicism. Roman institutions and governments put a huge amount of effort into making their city seem pure, holy, and uniform. They wanted it to seem like a perfect model of Catholic piety as they set out to evangelize the entire known world. They would probably have hated what we’ve uncovered. 

One of the things that makes the book meaningful to us is that nobody could have written it alone – it relies on too many different and specific areas of expertise.   It discusses Ethiopian humanists, Eastern Orthodox pilgrims, enslaved Muslim galley workers, Jewish and formerly-Jewish scholars, Japanese and Persian ambassadors, Portuguese conversos, and European Protestants. Another thing we’re really pleased about is the range of scholars who contributed to this work. Our authors live or work in (if we’ve counted right) seven countries on three continents; some are junior scholars and others are very senior. Their approaches are very different: some analyse images, some do close textual readings, some crunch numbers. A few of them have also included valuable primary sources for future use. They were all deeply committed to the volume and we are impressed with their work. We’re especially pleased that almost every group discussed in the volume is the subject of more than one essay. It suggests that none of us has the final word, and that there’s far more left to study. We’ve also tried to allow for blurred boundaries as much as possible. People bore more than one identity and related to their backgrounds in complex ways, just as they do today.  We hope this shows that the volume is intended to start new and lasting conversations about religious encounters in the early modern world.

Publication Spotlight: Riches and Reform by Dr Bess Rhodes

Dr Bess Rhodes is a researcher with the Open Virtual Worlds team at the University of St Andrews. Here she writes about her new monograph Riches and Reform: Ecclesiastical Wealth in St Andrews, c. 1520-1580, available from Brill.

Photo Credit: Smart History

In June 1559 St Andrews witnessed a revolution. Inspired by the preaching of John Knox, discontented local residents joined with armed Protestant activists to purge the city of ‘all monuments of idolatry’. Religious images were burnt, altars smashed, and mass books destroyed. The upheavals were so drastic the ‘doctors’ of the university were shocked into silence, becoming ‘as dumb as their idols who were burnt in their presence’.

With astonishing speed St Andrews was transformed from Scotland’s Catholic religious capital (once praised as the second Rome) into a proudly Protestant community. In 1561 local officials boasted that St Andrews was ‘long’ reformed, and noted the prevalence of ‘sincere preaching’ and the abolition of ‘all public idolatry’. Not long after, in 1564, the St Andrews Kirk Session claimed that ‘a perfect reformed kirk’ had been ‘seen within this city by the space of five years’.

For a brief period it seemed as though St Andrews might become an ideal Protestant city and an example to the rest of Scotland. Yet the dream did not last long. As the elders of the kirk session were boasting of the perfection of their church, the Earl of Moray was already remarking on St Andrews’ ‘poverty and decay’. By 1593 the provost and bailies of St Andrews were regretting ‘the miserable estate and poverty whereunto the said burgh is presently reduced’, and complaining that ‘their whole common works, such as their pier and shore, their ports and causeways’ with which the ‘city of old was decorated, are altogether become ruinous and decayed’.

In St Andrews religious change was accompanied by economic crisis. Before the disturbances of 1559, St Andrews was Scotland’s fifth richest urban centre. Yet unlike other major east coast burghs (such as Dundee or Perth) its wealth was only partly built on trade. Instead, St Andrews profited from its role as the administrative heart of Catholicism in Scotland.

Praised as ‘chief and mother city of the realm’, pre-Reformation St Andrews was home to the kingdom’s most important cathedral and the seat of the country’s first archbishop. Its busy church courts brought a stream of litigants to the city, travelling ‘for to seek law’. Meanwhile scholars old and young came to the university to pursue ‘divine and human learning’.

For much of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries St Andrews seemed to be thriving, and the city saw an expansion in religious foundations. In the 150 years before the Reformation three new university colleges and two new friaries were established in St Andrews. Existing religious organisations also underwent development, with the parish church of Holy Trinity being completely rebuilt and major construction work taking place at the Cathedral (including the heightening and remodelling of the wall which still surrounds the Cathedral precinct).

This ecclesiastical building boom was funded by revenues drawn from across eastern Scotland. St Andrews’ religious institutions had estates spreading from Aberdeenshire down to the border with England. Major foundations such as the Cathedral, the Collegiate Church of St Mary on the Rock, and the university colleges of St Salvator, St Leonard, and St Mary profited from teinds (or tithes) diverted from more than fifty parishes in lowland Scotland. The Cathedral alone received more than 600 tonnes of grain a year, much of which was then processed at the abbey mills, including at a new watermill down by St Andrews Harbour (built by the Cathedral around 1518).

The financial arrangements of Scotland’s pre-Reformation Church have often been criticised. Yet they made a place like St Andrews possible, sustaining not merely major religious foundations, but supporting a wider service economy within the city. The system may have been flawed, but it was functioning, until torn apart by the upheavals of 1559.

When the Reformers embarked on their programme of religious transformation, many hoped that the wealth of the Catholic Church would be directed to worthy causes, ‘to hospitals, schools, and other Godly uses’. The reality proved less satisfactory. In the aftermath of 1559 the crown, local nobles, former churchmen, and the burgh council all carved up religious assets. Robert Pont, who briefly served as minister of St Andrews, later claimed that ‘from the year of our Lord 1560… the greatest study of all men of power of this land… has been… to spoil the kirk of Christ of its patrimony.’ Yet it was not just the powerful who contributed to the collapse of St Andrews’s religious economy. The post-Reformation period saw non-payment of rents and teinds on an unprecedented scale. With the archbishop gone, and the administrative structures of the Catholic Church abolished or disintegrating, even organisations which survived 1559 faced huge problems enforcing payment. Some, like St Salvator’s College, became caught up in litigation lasting decades; others resignedly concluded with the masters of St Leonard’s College that there was no point suing for non-payment as the ‘cost would over-gang the profit’.

The factors which undermined St Andrews’ religious economy were varied, but together they brought about one of the largest redistributions of property in St Andrews’ history. While certain individuals managed to ‘reap some earthly commodity’, as a community St Andrews became significantly poorer. Deprived of the wealth and protection of the Catholic hierarchy the city went into decline. By the seventeenth century visitors no longer marvelled at St Andrews’ splendour, but deemed the burgh ‘proud in the ruins of her former magnificence’.

Publication Spotlight: Marriage in the Tribe of Muhammad: A Statistical Study of Early Arabic Genealogical Literature

Blog written by Dr Majied Robinson

The first problem you face when studying the life of Muhammad is the lack of contemporary evidence. There is the Qur’an, and possibly a political agreement he made with the tribes of Medina, but aside from that no written sources whatsoever. What we do have however are thousands and thousands of stories about his life written centuries later.

The discipline of early Islamic history has (thankfully) moved on from either believing or disbelieving this material in its entirety. These days, academic historians sift through these stories looking for oddities, connections, and patterns, some of which may tell us something about the period in which they were composed.

One such process is undertaken in my book Marriage in the Tribe of Muhammad. The focus here is the Nasab Quraysh (tr: The Genealogy of the Quraysh), a book that stabilised into a written format at some point in the 830s CE. It purports to record the child-bearing marriages of Muhammad’s tribe of the Quraysh, and over the course of some 400 pages details hundreds of these relationships, linking together nearly 3,000 named men, women, and children.

I began my research with the idea that some sort of statistical analysis of these relationships would be useful. At this early stage, my assumption was that the book was of late composition and the pattern of relationships recorded would reveal the author’s context of 9th century Medina. What I found, however, was something startlingly different: the patterns I was uncovering were clearly correlated to events occurring during the life of Muhammad and the first Muslims, and in some instances went against later orthodoxies of Islamic origins. I eventually concluded that these records were not a later imagining of the past – they were the actual marriage records of people living at the time of Muhammad.

Key to this study was the concubine, the nameless, non-Arab slave woman who is referred to only as umm walad (tr: mother of a child) in the text. By structuring the data generationally and tracking the occurrences of slave mothers over time, I was able to show that the concubine was completely absent before the time of Muhammad yet when with the arrival of Islam we find that more and more children are being born of these slave women. This gets to the point in the middle of the 8th century that they eventually account for the majority of children born amongst members of this tribe, and they remained the predominant form of elite marriage right into the 20th century.

On one level this is understandable: the time of Muhammad coincided with the Islamic conquests which brought with them enormous numbers of slaves as booty. We would expect this to change marriage behaviour. But this finding is based on a source that is of late composition using novel statistical methodologies. By proving the early provenance of the data and the efficacy of the methodology we are now able to read not just this source in a new fashion but apply our findings to other Islamic historical sources that use genealogical literary forms. It also allows us to look within the Nasab Quraysh at marriages between men and free Arab women. I discuss some of the directions that this could take us in the later chapters of the book.

Publication Spotlight: Anarchists, Terrorists and Republicans

Blog written by Professor Richard Whatmore

Many years ago I discovered Etienne Clavière, a man notorious in his time and even in his death – he was reputed to have stabbed an ivory dagger into his own heart without uttering a sound in order to avoid being dragged to the guillotine. At the time Clavière was imprisoned in Paris in the early years of the French Revolution. He had served as Louis XVI’s last finance minister and the first of the new French Republic. As a Girondin victim of the ruling Jacobins, however, he was arrested, imprisoned, and prepared for execution. Clavière was accused of being an English agent when he was arrested. Although this was nonsense, it was the case that he was an Irish subject of the British crown, having taken an oath of fealty to George III at Dublin in February 1783. Very few people are aware of Clavière’s back-story, which led him from the independent republic of Geneva to friendships with British ministers during and after the American Revolution, and then involvement in the revolution at Paris, which ultimately killed him.

My book Terrorists, Anarchists and Republicans tells the story of Clavière and his associates, who were involved in a remarkable political experiment before the French Revolution. They aspired to move the republic of Geneva – the centre of European Calvinism – to just outside the city of Waterford in Ireland. They wanted to do this because they felt that Geneva was no longer an independent state. Its manners had been corrupted by French luxury, its people were no longer frugal, and Calvinism itself was deemed to be being destroyed. One of the main figures Genevans like Clavière believed was poisoning Geneva was Voltaire, who lived on the edge of the city and whose mission of spreading enlightenment entailed the abolition of Calvinism. Voltaire thought that the Genevans who had expelled the bishop and gained liberty at the time of the Reformation then placed themselves in a prison erected by Calvin.

After Clavière came to power through a popular rebellion at Geneva in April 1782 he knew that he was risking the wrath of Louis XVI and his chief minister Vergennes – the latter hated republicanism and worried about popular government on France’s borders. Although Clavière and his fellow republicans tried to get the support of other states, the French were determined to crush them. Twelve thousand troops invaded Geneva from France, Bern, and Savoy. When the invaders mounted canons on mounds of earth outside the gates of the city, the people inside were ready for martyrdom. Men, women, and children had worked to repair the city walls and had placed gunpowder in the cathedral of Saint Pierre and in the houses of their enemies in the city, whom they branded aristocrats. Clavière and his fellow leaders at the very last moment took the decision not to die to teach the world how endangered republics were – rather they fled and ended up in Britain. They persuaded the Prime Minister Lord Shelburne to give them £50,000 to build a new city in Ireland. A hundred families travelled and like Clavière became Irish subjects. The French launched a campaign against the exiles, attacking them as terrorists and anarchists, wild fanatics who followed the dangerous philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. For a variety of reasons the city failed. It was turned into a barracks. Then, in a remarkable irony, the place that had started life as a possible utopia for republicans was turned into a prison for Irish republicans, the United Irishmen who rebelled in 1798. So atrocious were the conditions in the prison, called New Geneva Barracks, that it passed into folklore. James Joyce mentions it in Ulysses but the story of the place has not been told until now.

Publication Spotlight: Sixteenth-Century Readers, Fifteenth-Century Books

Blog written by Dr Margaret Connolly

Most of my research has been firmly based in the fifteenth century, and a lot of it has been concerned with Middle English texts and their manuscript contexts. The study of English medieval manuscripts has been dominated in recent years by issues related to book production and by the quest to identify individual scribes, and I have gradually come to realise that considerably less attention has been paid to the readers of manuscripts, and to what happened to books once they passed into general circulation. So, when I came across two fifteenth-century manuscripts that were owned in the sixteenth century by the same family, I was intrigued by the possibility of tracing the story of those readers and their books. The family was the Roberts family of Middlesex, and a total of eight surviving manuscripts can be connected with them. That might not sound like a large number, but to be able to link several medieval manuscripts to the same owners is quite rare, especially if those owners were not royal or noble. It’s the very ordinariness of this English gentry family that makes them interesting, and I’ve enjoyed living with them over the past decade, charting their careers in the public record; working out the details of their family history, marriages, and children; and uncovering their networks of professional and personal associations.

The two men who are at the heart of my study lived through exceptionally turbulent times: Thomas Roberts died in 1542, just a few years after the dissolution of the monasteries, and his son, Edmund, lived through several changes in official religion under Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Mary Tudor, dying in Elizabeth I’s reign in 1585. I was struck by the fact that these sixteenth-century men chose at least some of their reading not from material that was newly produced but from books that were much older than they were. The texts that those books offered were ones that had been written in an age that was wholly and unproblematically Catholic, which prompted the question: Why did my newly reformed readers favour these old medieval books?

A manuscript owned by Edmund Roberts.
Cambridge University Library MS Ii.6.2 f. 109r.
Photo by Dr Margaret Connolly.

One manuscript in particular stood out to me. It’s not the flashiest, because it isn’t one of the illuminated ones. Instead it’s a small and fairly shabby volume that contains a series of devotional prose texts written in English. Edmund Roberts annotated some of these texts by underlining points and phrases, and by repeating key words in the margins; at one point he adds the comment ‘A vere good praier’. The text that prompted that approving remark offers advice on how to pray and then a meditation on Christ’s death on the cross and is drawn from a longer fifteenth-century work, Contemplations of the Dread and Love of God. In his book of hours Edmund signed his name beneath another prayer, adding a comment in which he claimed to use it every day. That prayer is one that promises tangible rewards if the speaker repeats it a certain number of times whilst also performing a particular set of actions. Between them these two short texts cover a spectrum of devotional practice ranging from an unremarkable orthodox engagement with core aspects of the Christian faith to a more superstitious style of worship verging on magical ritual, and this in turn offers some insights into Edmund’s spirituality.

Edmund also wrote the date ‘1553’ in both these manuscripts showing that he was using them in the year that Mary Tudor came to the throne, a point at which the official religion again became Catholicism. Edmund’s splendidly illustrated book of hours was a volume that he had inherited from his father, Thomas, and both men added extra texts to it, including prayers to the Virgin and charms and incantations that offered protection against ill-fortune. Were these men Catholic or Protestant? I spent a good deal of time trying to find an answer to this question, considering not just the evidence of the manuscripts, but also the clues offered by the men’s lives – their occupations, professional networks, and social circles. The Roberts family were not prominent recusants, but they certainly had recusant friends. One of Thomas Roberts’s closest affiliates was John Newdigate, whose son Sebastian was one of the Carthusian martyrs. Edmund did not prosper as much in public life as his father had done and fades out of the public record in Elizabeth’s reign. Amongst the godparents that he chose for his children was Susan Clarence, one of Mary Tudor’s closest attendants, and this and other clues eventually led me to believe that he may have been reformed in name only, preferring the ways of the old religion. But I also realised that in uncertain times discretion was probably the order of the day, and that the reason I couldn’t pin down clear evidence of these Tudor men’s religious affiliations might be because they didn’t want to nail their colours to the mast. This resonated with behaviour that I observed during the modern political events that unfolded whilst I was writing this book (the referendums in 2014 and 2016 on Scottish independence and membership of the European Union), and the way that some people are happy to articulate their voting intentions whilst others prefer to keep their beliefs to themselves.

Publication Spotlight: Early Medieval Hagiography

medhagiography.pngBlog written by Dr James Palmer

“How is your book… your novel going?” Angus inquired politely as he sipped at his coffee. “The one about the Scottish saints?” Antonia sighed. “Not very well, I’m afraid. My saints, I regret to say, are misbehaving”. Love over Scotland, Alexander McCall Smith

And indeed, for Antonia, they are. They get grumpy and might not even really like each other. Saints are, after all, people, and not always particularly pure. They also have to live in the same societies as everyone else, full of petty jealousies, alcohol, greed, and people with bad ideas. Or, Antonia fears, maybe she is projecting her ideas on them.

I wrote Early Medieval Hagiography with these issues firmly in mind. Saints, or at least writings about them, have long been seen as both reflections of the societies that produced them and efforts to shape those societies. Hagiographies can supply wonderful, rich data for studying the early Middle Ages, from Ireland to Byzantium and sometimes beyond. But they can also present minefields for those dealing with them, both because they were not written to tell us about the past in a straightforward manner, and because of the baggage of how we have tried to study them ourselves.

Initially, I was approached by Arc Humanities Press (an imprint of Amsterdam University Press) to write an introduction to these saintly biographies that was, apart from being introductory, provocative, different, and grounded in enough hard research to say things to a hardcore audience. And preferably with a global angle. In short: it was going to be a challenge. We needed a twenty-first century guide to the subject that captured the field and at least attempted to tilt it to an awkward angle. It also need to bring scholarship on different regions – actually, in the end, stretching from Ireland to Japan – into sight to help future comparative studies.

Columba.jpg

Schaffhausen, Stadtbibliothek, MS Gen. 1, f. 1 – a copy of the Life of Columba, made on Iona before 713, image attrib. e-codices, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

My plan was simple: I wanted to write a study that took the reader through the process of writing about saints, from their creation to our efforts to use saints’ Lives. It needed to start with people reading old saints’ Lives, hearing oral legends, remembering and misremembering things, and then trying to make their friends look like saints. There was no process of canonisation in the early Middle Ages, no rules about ‘how to make a saint’. Of course, some saints, like the Englishman St Boniface of Mainz (d. 754), looked like a saint in life because he had read all about them. His enemies were capable of doing so too, which was inconvenient for him and his followers, but which was good (for me) for showing how people negotiate status when there are not really any rules to follow. It also allowed plenty of scope for unusual saints: married-with-children saints, bishop-murdering saints, holy fools hanging out with prostitutes, saints who had performed no miracles whatsoever but who were a bit angsty. Every time one subverts our modern expectations about what a saint should look like, we should be jolted to consider what that says about shifting social norms, then and now.

Once somebody had written an account of their favoured saint, what they did with it was important. Hagiography did not just exist as stories: they were parts of books, of libraries, of sermons and debates, with real institutional contexts and with people engaging with them. Turning to the early manuscript evidence as I did, you can see people attempting to recontextualise saints by juxtaposing the new and the old, women and men, martyrs and confessors – all to give them new meaning. People composed calendars and martyrologies as guidebooks that linked into liturgical cycles (or often, more likely, just to help to decide what stories to read out at dinner time for entertainment). Order controls meaning.

Book Calendar.jpg

St Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, MS 566 – a calendar of saints that tells you in which book you could find the story about them, image attrib. e-codices, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Having built up a sense of how people wrote hagiographies, and then one of how people used them, the third angle was no less important: how do we use them? The modern classic on the subject, Hippolyte Delehaye’s Les légendes hagiographiques (1905), came directly out of efforts to remove dubious saints by applying rigorous source criticism (much of which boils down to entirely reasonable variations on ‘don’t trust anything too much without good reason’). The development of hagiography studies in the century that followed, unsurprisingly, very much mirrored historiographical trends more generally. Ideas from philology, gender studies, anthropology, postmodernism and comparative religious studies came into play, combined, and fell out of fashion again, leaving a varied toolkit for future analysis. But always, it seems, scholars sought ways to get lost pasts to speak to present concerns, however objective and neutral they claimed to be. There is a long history of being polemical about who is right and who is wrong about how, at the end of the day, historians ought to read hagiographies. What we need to do is to be methodologically promiscuous and find questions – not answers! – from different fields. In particular, we need to get away from the surprisingly dogged insistence that we don’t need to think about method or theory if we ‘read with care’.

The final part of Early Medieval Hagiography seeks to apply lessons from the other themes of the book, and to reassess what difference studying hagiographies has made to early medieval studies. Here, I turned to the big issues: How ‘dark’ were the Middle Ages? How important were ethnic and religious identities? Did people really not have any sense of the world beyond the horizon? And, of course, for every example that confirms our worst prejudices about the period, there is at least one saint whose story has unsettled them. In fact, more often than not, hagiography forces us to see the early Middle Ages as a much more complex time than even many working on them like to admit, and forces us to see more of society in action than just a few rich white men at the top. The challenge the book ends with, then, is how we can take these kinds of observations to build new histories that are both methodologically rigorous and which speak to our needs. Antonia could rest easy: we have been projecting our concerns onto saints for two millennia and we are not going to stop now.

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.

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.