The Cat in the Cradle: Conspiracy Theories and Credible News, 1688 – and Now

By Laura Doak

On 10 June 1688 a new Prince of Wales was born at St. James’s Palace, London, and whispers swept across Europe. Some claimed that the baby, born to King James VII & II and his queen, Mary of Modena, was a fake. Stories circulated that it was a plot to engineer counter-Reformation in the British Isles, and that the boy was a changeling planted to dislodge the King’s Protestant daughters, Mary and Anne, from the line of succession. Coarse ballads and satirical poems sneered that Mary had been unfaithful, and that her son was fathered by either the Jesuit Father Petre or papal nuncio Count d’Adda.[1] Fuelled by latent anti-Catholic sentiment, stories soon grew that the boy had been born to a local miller and smuggled into the Queen’s room using a warming pan.[2] One printed broadside, O Rare Show, even satirically suggested that the new heir in the cradle was – in fact – a cat.[3]

Rumour haunted Mary and her baby bump from the start. Many claimed signs of discrepancy in the medical symptoms of her pregnancy. Even Princess Anne expressed (private) concerns that her stepmother’s “great bely” was “a little suspitious” and that the King and Queen’s inner circle seemed too confident she would deliver a boy, signalling “some cause to fear there may be foul play intended”.[4] Although historians often dispute the direct impact the Prince’s birth had on political events, just weeks later seven English dignitaries addressed a letter to James’s son-in-law William of Orange inviting him to liberate them from “the false imposing” of the prince “upon the princess and the nation”.[5] Then, when answering their call, William issued two Declarations of Reasons, explaining his appearance in the kingdoms of both England and Scotland, which similarly noted “the Queen’s pretended Bigness”.[6]  Even though it remains quite tempting to write off the impact of such improbable anecdotes, they clearly held a relationship to both domestic politics and foreign affairs in ways that – well, you’d think – could never happen today.

Recently, I revisited these outlandish rumours, inspired by a recent twitter thread on swaddled, spoon-fed cats in pre-modern paintings. I guess, like many, I was surprised to learn the extent to which ‘the cat in the cradle’ was a pre-existent trope. I was aware of the phrase’s somewhat rare but relatively current colloquial use (as in the 1974 Harry Chaplin song), but definitely not the extent to which the idea would have been widespread in seventeenth-century Europe. The sheer variety and repetition of cats in baby-like guises shows how the imagery was embedded within contemporary culture. The “indefinable je ne sais quoi about cats”, of course, became an obvious window into this kind of thing following Robert Darnton’s Great Cat Massacre (1984) and “when we cannot get a proverb, or a joke, or a ritual, or a poem,” wrote Darnton, “we know we are on to something.”[7]

Figure 1. A Dutch Proverb – A women feeding a bound cat, surrounded by men.
Haarlem School, date unknown. Available through Creative Commons.

So, maybe, in this case, although we only partially get the joke, we can still re-trace its original purpose? I was also intrigued how, in the mixed-up world of modern social media, these early modern, coddled cats were now placed alongside the conspiracy theories we ourselves have been living with in recent years: that Covid-19 was engineered in a laboratory; Covid-19 is a hoax; there is no vaccine – its only water; the vaccine contains a microchip; the vaccine will – in fact – make you magnetic. I was amused to find an entire feast of implausible claims fed by medical misunderstandings, science fictions, and cultural motifs of our own time. Before I knew it, I had transgressed far away from cats and microchips and found myself confronted by fabricated statistics and ‘scientific’ data – still groundless, yes, but potentially more convincing nonetheless.

There was (perhaps thankfully) no Twitter in 1688. Songs, ballads, letters, newspapers, and gossip shared in public spaces functioned as the social media of the day. It was here that murky tales of cats and cuckoldry would have circulated alongside supposed medical ‘facts’ designed to raise doubts about Mary’s conception and delivery. Dissecting the “warming-pan” myth in detail, John McTague has shown how such details offered “political and discursive opportunities”; the seemingly ludicrous flourishes functioning as conduits for other, more plausible political and religious arguments.[8] This princely cat too, then, would have provoked bigger conversations about monarchy and religion, enabling the exchange and dissemination of more concrete, ideology-based arguments against the monarch or a Catholic heir. Even loyal or disinterested listeners could remember a song or joke detailing such a common yet incredulous, comical detail. They might then be drawn into conversations where deeper persuasion could take place, just as we might find ourselves falling for the ‘clickbait’ of laughable tales about magnetic vaccines and then accidentally digesting far tamer, more suggestible ‘evidence’.

The cat in the St James’s cradle of 1688 was a myth; a satirical animal bred by old jokes and anti-Catholic tropes. But regardless of time or topic, the more scandalous the joke, the funnier and more memorable it becomes. The easier it is to repeat and recycle its punchline elsewhere. And, the more incredulous news becomes, the more likely it renders related, less whacky conspiracies. In a paradox still evident within the tales surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, without the cat in the cradle the other rumours surrounding the prince, capable of real political impact, would have seemed far less credible.

Based at the University of Dundee, Laura Doak is a Research Fellow on the Scottish Privy Council Project, which is funded by the Leverhulme Trust. Her research mainly focuses on political culture and popular politics in late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth century Scotland. Laura served as History’s Editorial intern during 2020-2021 and currently sits on the journal’s ECR Editorial Board.

[1] For examples, see: Pieter Schenk (attrib.) [The unexpected birth of a son] (1688):; Gisling Geneve [Romeyn de Hooghel], Arlequin Deodat (1688):

[2] Thalpolectrum parturiens: or the Wonderfull product of the Court Warming-Pan (c.1719)

[3] O Rare Show: Or, The Fumblers Club (1688)

[4] GB-Lbl Add. MS 75384, fol. 173r quoted in James Anderson Winn, Queen Anne: Patroness of Arts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014) p.130.

[5] Andrew Browning, ed., English Historical Documents, 1660-1714 (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1953), pp.120-122.

[6] The Prince of Orange His Declaration [Scotland] (1688), p.7. See also: The Prince of Orange his declaration shewing the Reasons Why he Invades England (1688), pp.26-27.

[7] Robert Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre(London: Allen Lane, 1984),pp. 5, 89.

[8] John McTague, ‘Anti-Catholicism, Incorrigibility, and Credulity in the Warming Pan Scandal of 1688-1689’, Journal for Eighteenth Century Studies 36:3 (2013) p.435.

Cover Image. Queen Mary of Modena and Prince James. Benedetto Gennari III, 1690s. Available through Wiki Commons at

Figure 1. A Dutch Proverb – A women feeding a bound cat, surrounded by men. Haarlem School, date unknown. Available through Creative Commons at—Una-donna-che-allatta-un-gatto-legato,-circondato-da-uomini,.html.

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Researching (from) a Ducal Residence: the Tower Apartment of Mary of Hamal at the Castle of Heverlee

By Miara Fraikin

Figure 1: A view of the south façade of the castle of Arenberg in Heverlee, today the campus of architectural engineering of the KU Leuven (Source: Miara Fraikin).

In March 2020 – not the best timing to be honest – I started my PhD research within the Horizon 2020 funded European Training Network PALAMUSTO (Palace Museum of Tomorrow). Uniting ten researchers from nine hosting institutions in five European countries, this research project aims to investigate the court residence or palace as a European phenomenon of cultural exchange and interactions beyond the perspectives created in the 19th and 20th century, which were commonly limited to dynastic, national or local areas or religious territories. Divided over ten research themes, all charting key aspects of material culture and architectural expression linked with spatial characteristics of the court residence, our ten Early Career Researchers (ESR’s) aim to redefine the palace-museum’s relevance as cultural heritage for present-day Europe.

Figure 2: Sixteenth-century painted wood panelling
in the third floor room of the west tower of the castle. (Source: Miara Fraikin).

In my research for the project I focus on the development of the state bedroom in royal (and ducal) residences in relation to the chamber. Together with my colleague Frieder Leipold, whose research is devoted to the court’s economical spaces such as kitchens, we work from our ‘own’ castle at KU Leuven (Catholic University Leuven): Arenberg Castle in Heverlee[1]. It is from our third-floor tower room, still exhibiting some original sixteenth-century painted wall panelling that we try to make sense of our source material (see fig. 2).

As Dukes of Aarschot, the Croÿ family were the highest appointed noblemen in the Low Countries. In 1446, Anton of Croÿ (c. 1383-1475) acquired the domain of Heverlee, and replaced the old medieval castle by what is now the current castle of Arenberg.[2] In turn, William II of Croÿ (1458-1521) and his wife Mary of Hamal (?-1540) made important extensions to the castle. When Charles III of Croÿ (1560-1612) inherited the duchy in 1595, most of the properties were severely damaged. Therefore, Charles made plans to restore his properties to their former glory and commissioned, among others, a complete description of the castle at Heverlee by Charles Millet in May 1598. From this description we can carefully, but nevertheless in detail, reconstruct the sixteenth century situation of the castle.[3]

For the purpose of this blog, I will focus on the western tower (fig. 3), in which my current office is located. From the great hall on the first floor of the castle, a partly stone and partly wooden staircase makes way to a vertical sequence of rooms (see fig. 4). In previous research, this entire sequence of rooms belonging to the west tower have been interpreted as the apartments of Mary of Hamal,[4] wife of William II of Croÿ, who in turn was the First Chamberlain of Emperor Charles V.

Figure 3: View of the castle’s south façade and west tower.
(Source: Miara Fraikin).

The first room of the vertical sequence, ‘la chambre en hault a main droitte de ladite montee’ (the chamber above at the right hand side of said stair) was completely panelled with oak wood carvings, displaying the arms of William and Mary. The room itself was furnished with an oak wooden bed decorated with yellow velvet bed hangings, a buffet and a table. The bed’s canopy and backdrop  were also made of yellow velvet and decorated with embroidered figures and the name of Philip of Croÿ – possibly referring to the father of Charles III, Philip III of Croÿ (1526-1595) or even his grandfather Philip II of Croÿ (1496-1549), in silver fabric[5].

The next room, ‘la chambre plus hault apellee la chambre du mytant de ladite thour’ (the highest chamber called the middle chamber of said tower), was similarly decorated with oak wooden wall panelling. Again this room was furnished with a bed, buffet, and table, as well as a leather chair decorated with ‘his Excellence’s’ arms, and a stool. This second bed was decorated with bands of green velvet and yellow damask. The bed’s canopy in turn was made of red and blue damask, making the entire ensemble very colourful.[6]

Figure 4: Staircase of the west-tower looking at the entrance of the second floor tower room. (Source: Miara Fraikin).

The last room, ‘la chambre deseure ladite chambre dy mytant’ (the chamber above said middle chamber) from which I am currently writing this blog, was also entirely decorated with wood panelling[7].

From the remains the room still holds we know that these panels were painted, which was probably also the case for the lower rooms. A wooden border displayed, similarly to the first room, the arms of William II of Croÿ and Mary of Hamal. Again similar to the two previous rooms, this third space was furnished with a wooden bed and table. Additionally we find an old chair and a small chair, the latter of which the backrest was decorated with the arms of William of Croÿ.

As we can learn from the description, the first room of the tower was flanked by a garderobe and a small cabinet. It is based on the description of this cabinet as ‘le cabinet de feu Madame’ that we can assume that at least these first spaces had been used by one of the past ladies of the castle, be it Mary of Hamal or Anne of Croÿ (1501-1539).[8] Since the tower itself does not allow for these spaces to be independent rooms (see fig. 4), it is likely that both the cabinet and garderobe were created in the space of the chamber with the use of wooden partitions. The second chamber was also accompanied by a garderobe, for which we should also assume a location within the tower room of the second floor[9]. The third room did not include a cabinet or garderobe, but from a small wooden staircase access was given to the space directly located under the tower’s roof.[10] 

What is striking is that all three main rooms were furnished with a bed. While we have some information on the use of ceremonial beds at the Burgundian court of Charles the Bold during two specific events – that is the baptism of Mary of Burgundy in 1457 and his marriage to Elizabeth of York in 1468, it is unlikely that we should interpret the different rooms in the west tower of the castle of Heverlee as separate ceremonial bedrooms and sleeping rooms belonging to one apartment. Especially since the other pieces of furniture displayed in the different rooms are also similar, with the main difference between them their splendour, it is very possible that we are not dealing with one vertical apartment devoted to one specific person, but instead multiple smaller apartments. The first and most extensive one is possibly that of Mary of Hamal, and the two others possibly used by courtiers or ladies of the duchess of Aarschot.

Following the excellent work of my colleague Frieder Leipold in organising and interpreting all the source material concerning the castle of Arenberg in a Wikimedia database – also known as De Jonge Wiki-[11], we have good hopes to soon unravel more of the interesting stories our castle holds. In the meantime, I am certain that my office in the tower will give me the welcome inspiration and motivation to endeavour my research into the development of the chamber in the early modern castles of Europe.

Miara Fraikin is an Early Stage Researcher within the H2020 funded European Training Network PALAMUSTO. As part of this research project, Miara’s doctoral research at the KU Leuven is focused on the development of the state bed in relation to the (bed)chamber in the royal and noble residences of Early Modern Europe. In her research, she is particularly interested in understanding how court specific notions about accessibility to the ruler influenced the development of the chamber. Miara, furthermore, is passionate about the possibilities of using digital approaches like Geographic Information Software and Network Analysis for the field of court studies. Do you want to find out more about the PALAMUSTO project? Check out our website and/or Instagram!

[1] A 360° view of the castle and some of its rooms is available at:

[2] For more information on the building history of the castle, see: Other suggestions are: Krista de Jonge, ‘Schloss Heverlee bei Löwen (Leuven) und die Residenzbildung in den südlichen Niederlanden um 1500’, in: Burgen und Schlösser in den Niederlanden und in Nordwestdeutschland, Vol. 8, Deutscher Kunstverlag, 2004, pp. 69-80, and Sanne Maekelberg, The Residential System of the High Nobility in the Habsburg Low Countries. The Croÿ case, unpublished PhD-thesis, 2019

[3] Leuven, University Archives KU Leuven: KUL UA 398, ‘Recueil et registre du château d’Heverlé, c. 1600.

[4] Krista De Jone, ‘Vivre noblement. Les logis des hommes et des femmes dans les résidences de la haute noblesse habsbourgeoise des anciens Pays-Bas (1500-1550) ‘, in …. Le Prince, la princesse et leurs logis. Manière d’habiter dans l’élite aristocratique européenne (1400-1700), p. 109.

[5] KUL UA 398, fol. 207v-214v.

[6] KUL UA 398, fol. 216v-220v.

[7] KUL UA 398, fol. 221v-224r.

[8] KUL UA 398, fol. 216r.

[9] KUL UA 398, fol. 221r : ‘la garderobbe iondant et derrière ladite chambre’. (transcription by Sanne Maekelberg)

[10] KUL UA 398, fol. 225r : ‘la montee allante de la chambre susdite a la place quy est au sommet de la thour’. (transcription by Sanne Maekelberg)

[11] Frieder Leipold, ‘Futuristische software voor een oud kasteel. ‘De Jonge Wiki’: een semantische database over de architectuurgeschiedenis van het Arenbergkasteel’, Geniaal. Tijdschrift van de faculteit ingenieurswetenschappen en alumni ingenieurs KU Leuven, 2022 (1), pp. 24-25.

All images are the author’s own and not to be reproduced without permission.

Cover Image and Figure 1. A view of the south façade of the castle of Arenberg in Heverlee, today the campus of architectural engineering of the KU Leuven. Source: Miara Fraikin.

Figure 2: Sixteenth-century painted wood panelling in the third floor room of the west tower of the castle. Source: Miara Fraikin.

Figure 3: View of the castle’s south façade and west tower. Source: Miara Fraikin.

Figure 4: Staircase of the west-tower looking at the entrance of the second floor tower room. Source: Miara Fraikin.

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Portraits of Female Power in Argentina: Encarnación Ezcurra and Eva Perón

By Rachel Morgan

Encarnación Ezcurra, c.1835. Encarnación Ezcurra paved the way for women in Argentine politics
– such as Eva Perón and Argentina’s most recent female president, Cristina Ferández de Kirchner
– assuming an active role in the political sphere and defying stereotypical gender norms of the nineteenth century.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The last three decades of the twentieth century have witnessed a boom in writings on Latin American women to the left of the political spectrum. When considering the topic of leftist Argentine women in power, the image of Eva Perón is inescapable: she was the impoverished and illegitimate child from Los Toldos who went on to become Argentina’s Primera Dama[1] and was worshipped by millions.

Eva’s character, motives, and historical relevance have been debated by historians and writers: she still remains a polarising figure in Argentina, where she is deemed both a saint who alleviated the lives of the masses, and an ‘avaricious prostitute’ by members of the oligarquía[2], such as the renowned Argentine intellectual, Jorge Luis Borges.[3] But one quality that all seem to agree upon is that she was an immensely powerful and ambitious figure who had a unique affinity with the Argentine proletariat and remains the most influential of cultural icons.

Eva has been the subject of extensive biographical and literary treatment: there are numerous accounts of her personal and political life, the most popular and historically accurate being those of Fraser and Navarro and Dujovne Oritz[4] who incorporate the use of existing historical documentation to support their arguments. However, similar to her husband Juan Perón, there is a dearth of evidence in relation to Eva’s upbringing, childhood, and claim to fame. This has naturally encouraged authors to adopt a creative approach when writing about Eva, thus blurring the line between fact and fiction. The most critically acclaimed fictional account is Tomas Eloy Martínez’s Santa Evita (1995), which tells the story of the 20-year odyssey of Eva’s embalmed body.

It is because of Eva’s rather obscure background that she has received mass attention in the fictional sphere, but in turn, her revolutionary feminist accomplishments have been somewhat overlooked in the historical realm. She is thought of as a mythical saint but her heroine-like status stems from her ground-breaking practical achievements: she passed the bill for women’s right to vote in 1947, as well as enforcing universal health care for the poor.

Although Eva – a left-wing political activist – has been crowned the unofficial queen of the masses, there is very little mention of more conservative women leaders who also exercised great power. Women involved in right-wing political movements and dictatorships have been largely ignored and excluded from the official historical discourse, which has been ‘much to the detriment of a more nuanced understanding of women in politics in Latin America’.[5]

Figure 2. Eva Perón in 1950. Eva Perón is one of Latin America’s most famous political icons.
She is widely celebrated for her efforts to improve the lives of working-class Argentineans –
known as ‘los decamisados’ (the shirtless).
Source: Caras y Caretas No. 2236, Julio 2009, in the public domain.

Notable female political figures on the right have been erased from Argentine history which has arguably hindered ‘our understanding of the development of dictatorship and authoritarianism in Latin America’.[6] One of the most prominent more conservative female political figures was Encarnación Ezcurra de Rosas, the wife of the infamous Federalist dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas. González and Kampwith argue that ‘the stories of both right- and left-wing women challenge the traditional portrayals of men as inherently violent and women as inherently peaceful’.[7]

This is precisely the outcome when considering Encarnación’s important contribution to her husband’s regime: she was partly responsible for organising and managing the mazorca death squad and meeting with army generals in Rosas’s absence, pursuing an active role in the male-dominated political arena.

Both Encarnación and Eva were mocked for their appearance and apparent lack of intellect: Encarnación was the subject of profound contempt among the Unitarian[8] community and was scorned for her fealdad,[9] based on her masculine appearance. Similarly, Eva was scrutinised by the oligarquía for her flamboyant fashion, and dubious former profession as a prostitute and actress. Considering the conflict between women on the left and right forces us to confront the reality that ‘there is no automatic sisterhood between women, even among those of the same class and ethnicity’.[10]

For example, Encarnación helped working class and black women regain their place in the Argentine social hierarchy whereas so-called enlightened Unitarian ‘liberals’ discriminated heavily against ethnic minorities. White Unitarian women openly detested Rosas and Encarnación for their barbaric conduct and unprecedented violence that their government inflicted on the nation. One of Eva’s fierce opponents, Victoria Ocampo, was the grand dame of letters and founder of the celebrated journal Sur who launched herself into writing to expose what she saw as the deleterious effects of Peronism on Argentine society in the 1940s, only to be persecuted subsequently by the Peróns for her status as a member of the elite.

Despite women’s different political affiliations, the renowned writers (Gorriti[11] and Ocampo) and political figures (Encarnación and Eva) have something in common: they blur the socially imposed gender norms and emerge as empowered, independent, and influential women in patriarchal societies, reminding us of their similarities ‘even across immense political divisions’.[12]

Whereas Juan and Eva Perón subscribed to progressive social policies and championed the interests of the working classes, we cannot classify Encarnación and Rosas as out and out right-wingers given that they gave the ethnic minorities political agency and thus challenged racist Unitarian attitudes. Rosas and Perón showed how the working classes could be easily manipulated and used for political gain no matter if the leader was on the political left or right.

By contrast to Eva, Encarnación Ezcurra has received minimal attention in literary and historical spheres. While Perón’s jealous military colleagues, along with the Church, felt threatened by Eva’s efforts as they thought she damaged Perón’s image, Rosas’s comrades were forever grateful to Encarnación. In his letter to Rosas in 1833, the Argentine lawyer and Federalist politician Manuel Maza[13] commends Encarnación by recognising her efforts to sustain the paradigma rosista:‘Your wife is the heroine of the century: disposition, tenacity, courage, energy displayed in all predicaments and on all occasions; her example was enough to galvanise support.[14]

The only account which focuses solely on Encarnación’s importance is Vera Pichel’s Encarnación Ezcurra: La mujer que inventó a Rosas (1990). Despite Encarnación’s prominence, Ana Toscano suggests that in her last days, she was marginalised by her illness.[15] Pichel corroborates this claim by implying that despite Rosas’s hero-worship of his wife, he turned his attention to his adolescent daughter, Manuela, to assume the role of chief political mediator.

Similar to Eva, Encarnación refrained from staying at home to rest and instead remained politically active until her death. Both women inverted the gender norm in society at the time by assuming what was stereotypically thought of as a male profession and made a significant contribution to their husband’s political successes.

Although both Encarnación and Eva attracted female enemies from opposing classes, it is their male counterparts who go to greater lengths to vilify them. They have been demonised by Unitarian/liberal male writers for their lack of education and their vulgarity: Encarnación was heavily and irrationally criticised by the Unitarian neo-classical poet, Tomás de Iriarte for her masculine physiognomy and lack of education: ‘she is a vulgar woman, without morals or customs. She has learnt the ways of barbaric and degraded men’.[16]

Critics ranging from William Harbinson to Jorge Luis Borges have vilified Eva Perón’s meteoric rise to global fame by claiming that her egotism and ruthlessness were the real motives underlying her accomplishments, as she possessed an insatiable thirst for power.[17] Jorge Luis Borges dismisses Eva as esa mujer (that woman). As late as 1980, Borges claimed that she was ‘a common prostitute, who had a brothel near Junín’.[18]

Borges also repeated the anti-Peronist joke that circulated when the legislature of the province of Buenos Aires was debating whether to change the name of the city of La Plata to Eva Perón: ‘Why so much discussion between La Plata and Eva Perón?’ Why don’t they call it La Pluta?’[19] Borges creates a vulgar metaphor, amalgamating La Plata and puta, the Spanish word for prostitute.

Male writers’ efforts to belittle these women conform to the Hispanic concept of Marianismo, which refers to how men, if not able to control women’s ‘powers’, become fearful of the ‘dangerous’ and ‘threatening’ influence that women can have on society. Throughout time, anthropological studies have propagated the conception that powerful women arouse fear in certain societies, particularly those influenced by religion. Julie Taylor identifies the customs that encompass Marianismo, stating that women and female deities present the constant threat of their power spiraling out of control and transforming into a malevolent force. However, their power can be benevolent only when subjected to patriarcal control.[20]

This is relevant to Encarnación and Eva in the sense that, given the Catholic value system that infiltrates all Hispanic cultures, both women were and still are judged against the paradigm of Marianismo and its accompanying ideals and virtues. Taylor argues that the myths surrounding Eva not only correspond to the Argentine standards of womanhood, but to the multicultural perceptions of womanhood, concentrating on the ‘mysterious’ powers often associated with women pertaining to their ability to give birth, and their potentially ‘destructive’ authority if unregulated by a patriarchal social system.

Both Encarnación and Eva can be deemed female political revolutionaries of their time: ‘Each plotted, directed and policed the public’s idolatry. Each walked eagerly where their men feared to tread’.[21] Their real-life accomplishments are often overlooked when they were, in fact, of paramount importance to both their husbands’ lasting political impact, and both championed women’s political empowerment.


Celesia, Ernesto H., Rosas, aportes para su historia. Buenos Aires: Alpe, 1954.

Chávez, Fermín, Eva Perón: Sin Mitos. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Theoría, 1996.

Cowles, Fleur, Bloody Precedent: The Perón Story. London: Fredrick and Muller, 1952.

Dail, Laura, EVITA: In My Own Words (New York: The New Press, 1996)

Díaz, Gwendolyn, Women and Power in Argentine Literature: Stories, Interviews, and Critical Essays. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007.

Dujovne-Ortiz, Alicia, Eva Perón. New York: Saint Martin’s Griffin, 1996.

Fraser, N. & Marissa Navarro, The Real Lives of Eva Perón. London: Deutsch, 1980.

González, Victoria, and Karen Kampwith (eds). Radical Women in Latin America: Left and Right. Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001.

Harbinson, William A., Evita: Saint or Sinner?(London: Boxtree, 1996)

Sáenz-Quesada, María, Mujeres de Rosas 2nd ed. Buenos Aires: Penguin Random House Editorial Argentina, 2012.

Taylor, Julie M., Evita Perón: the Myths of a Woman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979)

Toscano, Ana María, ‘La reescritura de Encarnación Ezcurra en la ficción y la historia argentina de las últimas décadas.’ Ex aequo Revista da Associação portuguesa de Estudos sobre as Mulheres, 17.17 (2008), 107-118.

Dr Rachel Morgan has a PhD in Latin American History and Literature from Swansea University and currently works as a Research Impact Officer for the Humanities and Social Sciences. She has considerable interdisciplinary teaching experience as a Module Convenor and Lecturer across the Humanities, as well as a background in teaching modern languages at secondary school level. Rachel is an Early Career Researcher, specialising in women’s power in Latin America, the Argentine Civil War, as well as the Rosas and Perón governments. Her PhD thesis explores the divergent representations of Argentina’s most famous political icons, Juan Manuel de Rosas, Encarnación Ezcurra, Manuela Rosas, and Juan and Eva Perón. Rachel’s most recent journal article analysing Manuela Rosas as a subject of imaginative reconstruction has been published in the Latin American Literary Review, based in New York. She is currently working on publishing more journal articles and turning her PhD thesis into a book.

Twitter handle: @RachelMorganPhD (name: Dr Rachel Morgan)

Link to journal article:

[1] ‘First Lady’.

[2] The Argentine upper class.

[3] Gwendolyn Díaz, Women and Power in Argentine Literature: Stories, Interviews, and Critical Essays (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007), pp.1-2.

[4] For further reading, please see N Fraser & M. Navarro, The Real Lives of Eva Perón (London: Deutsch, 1980) and Alicia Dujovne-Ortiz, Eva Perón (New York: Saint Martin’s Griffin, 1996).

[5] Victoria González and Karen Kampwith (eds). Radical Women in Latin America: Left and Right (Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001), p.1.

[6] González and Kampwith, p.1.

[7] González and Kampwith, p.1.

[8] Unitarians were the opposing political party to the Federalists in the Argentine Civil War.

[9] Spanish for ‘ugliness’.

[10]  González and Kampwith, p.1.

[11] Juana Manuela Gorriti was the first woman writer to contribute to the Unitarian literary resistance against Rosas, which was initially a male-dominated cohort consisting of established scholars Echeverría, Mármol, Alberdi, and Sarmiento.

[12] González and Kampwith, p.1

[13] Manuel Maza was put to death in 1839 after the discovery of a failed plot to kill Rosas.

[14] R Morgan’s translation from Spanish: ‘Tu esposa es la heroína del siglo: disposición, tesón, valor, energía desplegada en todos los casos y en todas las ocasiones; su ejemplo era bastante para electrizar y decidirse’. A letter from Maza to Rosas (11/11/1833), reprinted in Ernesto H. Celesia, Rosas, aportes para su historia (Buenos Aires: Alpe, 1954), p.442.

[15] ‘Encarnación no supo controlar la soledad y el vacío que le dejó la falta de actividad en los asuntos políticos del gobierno’. Ana-María Toscano, ‘La reescritura de Encarnación Ezcurra en la ficción y la historia argentina en las últimas décadas’, Ex aequo de Revisita de Associacao Portuguesa de Estudos sobre las Mulheres, Vol. 17, (17), (2008), p.31.

[16] R Morgan’s translation from the Spanish: ‘Mujer vulgar, sin educación ni costumbres, se puso en contacto con los hombres oscuros y degradados’. María Sáenz-Quesada, Mujeres de Rosas 2nd ed. (Buenos Aires: Penguin Random House Editorial Argentina, 2012), p.84.

[17] William A. Harbinson, Eva Perón: Saint or Sinner? (London: Boxtree, 1996), p.34.

[18] R Morgan’s translation from the Spanish: ‘una prostituta común. Ella tenía un prostíbulo cerca de Junín’. Fermín Chávez, Eva Perón: Sin Mitos (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Theoría, 1996), p.121.

[19] Laura Dail, Evita: In My Own Words (New York: The New Press, 1996), p.11.

[20] R Morgan’s translation and paraphrasing from the Spanish: ‘La mujer y las deidades femeninas presentan la amenaza constante de que su poder se descontrole y se transforme en una fuerza malévola. Ante la ausencia de una autoridad masculina, con frecuencia la del consorte, se teme que la mujer despliegue destrucción y violencia a su alrededor. Pero su poder puede ser benevolente cuando somete su poder al control masculino’. Julie M. Taylor, Eva Perón: the Myths of a Woman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), p.16.

[21] Fleur Cowles, Bloody Precedent: The Perón Story (London: Fredrick and Muller, 1952). p.10.

Cover Image and Figure 1. Encarnación Ezcurra, c.1835. Encarnación Ezcurra paved the way for women in Argentine politics – such as Eva Perón and Argentina’s most recent female president, Cristina Ferández de Kirchner – assuming an active role in the political sphere and defying stereotypical gender norms of the nineteenth century. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Figure 2. Eva Perón in 1950. Eva Perón is one of Latin America’s most famous political icons. She is widely celebrated for her efforts to improve the lives of working-class Argentineans – known as ‘los decamisados’ (the shirtless). Source: Caras y Caretas No. 2236, Julio 2009, in the public domain.

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Replacing Ireland’s Lost Records: Doing Public History with the Beyond 2022 Project

By Elizabeth Biggs

One hundred years ago, in the spring and early summer of 1922, the Public Record Office of Ireland in the Four Courts complex in Dublin was occupied by anti-Treaty forces, with Rory O’Connor as one of their leaders. They were opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty of the previous year, which they felt gave the British government too much involvement in the new independent Irish state, including the continued presence of British troops and inclusion within the Commonwealth. At the end of June 1922, in the opening engagement of the Irish Civil War, national troops directed by the Irish provisional government attacked the occupiers of the Four Courts and after three days of fighting, the anti-treaty forces were defeated. During this battle, an explosion followed by a fire on 30 June 1922 destroyed the Record Treasury, the part of the Public Record Office where seven centuries of Irish records were stored.

This is an event that is well-known in Ireland – it is why trying to track your family history in Ireland and locating evidence for the Irish diaspora can be particularly hard. Among the records lost were the nineteenth-century census records. Just a few items were successfully pulled from the rubble and brought into the new Public Record Office building, now the National Archives of Ireland. But the story is more hopeful than the way it’s often told. The records stored in the Public Record Office were available and were used by researchers, by members of the public, and by Irish descendants around the world until Easter 1922. Their notes, copies and publications as well as the work of the staff, provide the text of some of the documents lost in 1922. Additionally, a major revenue source was providing certified copies of records, such as deeds, marriage settlements or the results of lawsuits. These copies survive in archives around the world. Finally, as a medievalist, my favourite surviving analogue to the records lost in 1922 are the thousand or so medieval documents written in Dublin for the English government there and brought to London for checking and archiving. These have ended up in the National Archives (UK) at Kew. 

Public record offices, whether national archives or local archives across the UK and in Ireland, are deliberately meant for everyone. Their records belong to everyone and in theory anyone can come look at items that interest them. Of course, they don’t always live up to this ideal. Cuts in funding mean that opening hours may be very short. The short descriptions in their catalogues may make it hard to find what you are looking for. People don’t always know about them. Older documents are hard to read without specialist training. But the principle remains that these records belong to everyone. Often, members of the public come to these archives looking to research their family history, or the history of their local area. In Lincoln, I was thrilled to be able to help a local woman read a twelfth-century charter that described her street. It was in Latin and the handwriting was difficult. The connection between the present and the past in that moment was almost tangible. The street had been there for eight hundred years. But that is a rare, direct, and immediate connection between a medieval document and someone today.

As part of the Beyond 2022 Project at Trinity College Dublin, I’m part of a team gathering together the surviving materials from the Public Record Office of Ireland and putting them back on the virtual shelves of the Record Treasury. My role is to edit those surviving documents in London, translate them from Latin and make them searchable. Instead of having to learn Latin and learn how to untangle the format of the records, you’ll be able to search our translation and look at images of the originals online. You’ll be able to find stories about people and places in medieval Ireland. It’s unlikely that many people will find their ancestors, simply because it is so far back. Although if your surname is Constantine or Constantin, you might just be able to work out if you are related to people whose names are in this photo, where Lucy, the widow of George Constantin pays for a licence, hidden in the margin of an Irish record.

Figure 1. Stitching at the bottom of E 101/232/24 m.1, The National Archives (UK),
face from Autumn 1296, showing an entry hidden in the seam:
Dublin: From Lucy who was the wife of Geoffrey Constantin for licence to
purchase a better writ: ½ mark. Sum: £4 10s”.
Author’s own image.

Instead, public medieval history is often based around artefacts, local history and heritage sites. If you come from Lambey Island, just outside Dublin, you might find it interesting to learn that it was the site of some fairly intensive rabbit farming, not sheep as you might guess.

Heritage sites are one of the best ways to make the links between the medieval past and the present clear. To walk into Westminster Hall is to walk into the quintessential medieval hall on a spectacular scale. People can imagine what it might have been like to come there to see a royal feast, a Parliamentary event or a coronation banquet. Being in the space itself allows for that imaginative leap and a sense of empathy with what happened. In October 1325, Alexander Bicknor, the former treasurer of Ireland, was brought to Westminster to answer charges of forgery and embezzlement. The Irish records brought from Dublin to London were at the heart of the case against him. By telling that story in Westminster at an event recently, my colleagues and I were able to highlight the long and deep links between Dublin and Westminster, as embodied in the records at The National Archives and in the very rooms where they were used against Bicknor. A trial that might seem abstract and distant can be made very real and specific in that particular place, while also drawing together wider connections between neighbouring countries.

Public history is about making the imaginative leap between what we know today and what happened then, and finding methods to give people ways into the past, including the more distant past. Medieval public records are for everyone, but they often need more interpretation or translation. By translating the Irish documents at The National Archives and making them available online, hopefully many more people will be able to find stories that interest them in these sources.

Dr Elizabeth Biggs is one of two Medieval Exchequer Gold Seam Research Fellows working on the Beyond 2022 Project at Trinity College Dublin. She is interested in the reach of medieval English government in England and Ireland as well as the spaces in which government was enacted. Previously, she taught at the University of the West of England, and held a variety of research posts. Her book, St Stephen’s College, Westminster: A Royal Chapel and English Kingship, 1348-1548 was published in 2020 by Boydell and Brewer.

Beyond 2022 | Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland is funded by the Government of Ireland as part of the Decade of Centenaries Programme.

Figure 2. Beyond 2022 Logo. Author’s own image.

Cover Image. Virtual reconstruction of the Public Record Office, Ireland. Reproduced with permission of the Beyond 2022 project.

Figure 1. Stitching at the bottom of E 101/232/24 m.1, The National Archives (UK), face from Autumn 1296, showing an entry hidden in the seam: “Dublin: From Lucy who was the wife of Geoffrey Constantin for licence to purchase a better writ: ½ mark. Sum: £4 10s”. Reproduced with permission of the author.

Figure 2. Beyond 2022 Logo. Reproduced with permission of the author.

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Narratology for Historical Research: Medieval Texts and Crusader Cannibals

By Katy Mortimer

Historians use various methodologies to investigate the past. A particularly prominent feature of recent historiography, for example, is the exploration of social and cultural history, such as questions of gender, religion, power, and material culture. From the mid-twentieth century, moreover, the ‘linguistic turn’ and the development of narrative theory (narratology) led to researchers examining sources as ‘cultural artefacts’ rather than ‘repositories of data’. These methodologies continue to be popular and to yield new and exciting understandings of the past.

This post is dedicated to discussing how narratology can be applied to medieval texts in particular, shedding further light on its potential as a tool for historical research through the example of cannibalism on the First Crusade.

Figure 1. Medieval monks working in a scriptorium. Public Domain through Wiki Commons.

Communicating through narrative is a near-universal human experience, with many forms of storytelling transcending both time and place. This makes narratology a remarkably fruitful toolbox for historians. While a great deal of crossover exists between medieval and modern narrative, including themes and tropes such as story arcs, character ‘types’, heroes, and villains, medieval texts were also created to communicate with contemporary readers and audiences who shared the cultural customs and traditions of the author, meaning that some elements of medieval narrative are trickier for modern readers to untangle.

Crusader Cannibals: A Puzzling Episode

One such example that has garnered a great deal of scholarly attention is the inclusion of crusader cannibals in many medieval accounts of the First Crusade to the Holy Land (c.1095–c.1099). From the earliest histories of the expedition, through to those written years later, numerous texts record that some crusaders, in periods of extreme famine engaged in survival cannibalism on at least one occasion.

Like all medieval histories, these texts are complex windows onto the past, covering multiple themes. These range from the glorification of individual heroes, to recording episodes of great violence and suffering. While these histories commonly represent holy war as an acceptable form of violence carried out in God’s name, many modern scholars have interpreted crusader cannibalism as crossing the line of acceptability for both medieval authors and audiences alike.   

Certainly, cannibalism is represented as an extreme behaviour in many of these sources, and for modern readers – including myself at first – it can read as jarring within a narrative arc framing the expedition as God’s will enacted through the crusading army. Because of this apparent clash of ideas, I wanted to better understand why such abhorrent behaviours, which would have been easy to gloss over, were included in so many accounts.

Narratology as a Toolbox for Research

As a modern theory, researchers will find that some aspects of narratology are more useful than others when applied to pre-modern texts. To better understand my source base, I thus decided to apply two narratological methodologies I knew would be relevant. Firstly, I explored ‘types’ or ‘exemplars’ that medieval authors would most likely have drawn upon, before moving on to examining the story arc within individual texts.

The first place I looked to for literary exemplars was classical and epic literature, but if cannibalism was included it was often represented as monstrous and ‘other’. While to some extent this could be applied to the First Crusade histories, for example the participant account of Fulcher of Chartres, in which it was stated that he ‘shuddered’ to relate these ‘savage’ events, the crusader cannibal as a ‘monstrous other’ character-type did not entirely fit with the broader narrative arc.

The Bible as Exemplar

Figure 2. ‘Israel Triumphant’: King David defeats the Philistines. From the Crusader Bible,
The Morgan Library and Museum, MS. M.368, fol. 39r. Image Credit: ‘The Crusader Bible’ website.

As the Bible was one of the main literary frames of reference for medieval authors, especially those writing the history of the First Crusade, the next logical step was to check for biblical references to cannibalism. While I was familiar with discourse surrounding Holy Communion, this was not a good narrative match either. Beyond this, however, I was surprised to learn that the Old Testament includes several examples of cannibalism which were nearly exclusively represented as divine punishment for sinful behaviour.

Next, I considered the narrative arcs of the relevant biblical books, and found that across many are what can be loosely regarded as a sin-to-redemption framework whereby God’s chosen people commit sin, are punished and suffer accordingly, and then repent and receive redemption. Importantly, this  narrative arc is also found extensively across First Crusade texts, which scholars have shown drew upon the Bible as the exemplar for understanding Christian suffering and salvation.

Primary Source Analysis: Following the Narrative Arc

One example that applies this framework is one of the earliest written accounts of the First Crusade, the so-called Laodicea Letter sent by some of the crusade leaders in 1099 to Pope Paschal II. The letter provides a relatively brief account of the First Crusade and begins by situating the crusaders’ military successes as a part of divine history, recording how at first the Christians lived in abundance, easily defeating their enemies.

As time went on however, and certain crusaders became ‘puffed up’ with pride, God chastised them, before eventually forgiving them. This arc is repeated across the letter, before the crusaders were depicted  capturing the Holy City of Jerusalem and defeating an Egyptian relief army soon after, all of which was framed the ‘desirable retribution of the omnipotent God’. Within this short account, the Laodicea Letter includes two examples of crusader cannibalism, during the sieges of Antioch and Ma‘arrat al-Nu‘mān.

On both occasions, the crusaders suffered greatly through famine, which led to cannibalism. At Antioch, the text records how God ‘looked down upon his people whom he had long chastised and mercifully consoled them’; while after Ma‘arrat al-Nu‘mān the arc develops to record how ‘…finally by divine admonition’ the crusaders were able to move towards Jerusalem, guided by ‘the most bountiful, merciful, and victorious hand of the omnipotent Father’. The clear explanation, therefore, is that crusader cannibalism formed part of the well-established sin-to-redemption framework.

Figure 3. Christ leading crusaders into battle. From British Library Royal MS. 19 B XV, f. 37r.
Image Credit: Susanna Throop, ‘How Was Crusading Justified?’.

Concluding Thoughts

Beyond this discussion, there are many ways crusader cannibalism can be explored and understood, and it should be noted that these vary both within and across texts. Further to this, I am not arguing that contemporary writers and audiences were not horrified by crusader cannibalism – this was certainly likely, as we have seen in the example of Fulcher of Chartres’ history.

Rather, I am suggesting that by utilising narrative theory historians can move the conversation forward in interesting new ways. In the example presented here, this means shifting away from themes focusing on violence to consider the narrative function of crusader cannibalism. This in turn sheds new light on how an event which, on the surface, might seem out of synch with the rest of a text, can in fact underpin its main narrative arc. Approaches such as this are thus fruitful avenues of research, and work well alongside other methodologies to further our understanding of the past.

Further Reading


Thomas Asbridge, The First Crusade: A New History (London, 2004).

Open Access Articles

Geraldine Heng, ‘Cannibalism, the First Crusade, and the Genesis of Medieval Romance’ Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, 10/1 (1998), pp. 98–174.

Jay Rubenstein, ‘Cannibals and Crusaders’, French Historical Studies, 31/4 (2008), pp. 525–522.

Katy Mortimer is a doctoral candidate in the department of History at Royal Holloway, University of London researching representations of crusader-Muslim diplomacy in western medieval texts. Her current research interests include intercultural contact, narratology, and memory.

Twitter Handle: @katydotcom

This blogpost is based on her forthcoming chapter on crusading cannibalism for an edited collection of essays: ‘Digesting Cannibalism: Revisiting Representations of Man-Eating Crusaders in Narrative Sources for the First Crusade’, in Chronicle, Crusade and the Latin East: Essays in Honour of Susan B. Edgington, (eds) T. Smith & A.D. Buck (Brepols, June 2022).

Cover Image and Figure 1. Medieval monks working in a scriptorium. Public Domain through Wiki Commons.

Figure 2. ‘Israel Triumphant’: King David defeats the Philistines. From the Crusader Bible, The Morgan Library and Museum, MS. M.368, fol. 39r. Image Credit: ‘The Crusader Bible’ website.

Figure 3. Christ leading crusaders into battle. From British Library Royal MS. 19 B XV, f. 37r. Image Credit: Susanna Throop, ‘How Was Crusading Justified?’.

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Reaching out to Re-enactors and Vice-Versa

By Jeff Berry

In 2010, I was at conference organised by the Columbia University Medieval Guild (now the Medieval Colloquium) when one of the invited speakers threw up a slide of the Ft. Tryon Medieval Festival, held annually in pre-covid times at the top end of Manhattan. Staring out at me from the picture was my good friend Tom McCann, a fellow re-enactor, in his finest Elizabethan outfit.

Figure 1: A re-enactor cooking over the fire at Tretower Court in Wales. Photo credit: Ellen Rawson.

This was a bit of a shock, since the academic community in the US was not renowned for its appreciation of re-enactors. In fact, some of my other re-enactor friends actively hid their participation from their colleagues in academia, for fear that they would be taken less seriously if it were known that they enjoyed dressing up in medieval clothing and taking part in activities associated with the medieval period.

There was a certain irony in this attitude, since the reason I was at the conference and preparing to present a paper was that my involvement in the re-enactment world had influenced me to enrol at Columbia and pursue a master’s degree in medieval studies. For me, and others I can only assume, an interest in re-enactment, with the attendant social aspects, led to increased interest in history itself, and in my case, to academic engagement and an MA and MPhil.

My sense is that re-enactment as public engagement has followed a different trajectory in the UK than in the US, driven in part by the resources available to re-enactors. The kitchens at Hampton Court Palace have been educating and entertaining members of the public for years, but the re-enactors there have the incredible advantage of the kitchens themselves. If you want a Tudor style kitchen in the US, you have to build one.

There are a wide variety of re-enactment activities, and the terminology itself can be slippery. There are re-enactors who, reductive as it sounds, engage in re-enactments of specific events. For example, in the US, there is a re-enactment every year of the Battle of Gettysburg, along with many other battles. Similarly, in the UK, there is a re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings.

There are also those who characterise their activities as ‘living history,’ and who are not re-enacting specific events, but rather trying to capture something about a particular time. Many of the heritage railways in the UK might be thought of living history, broadly speaking, and often host even more explicitly themed events, such as World War Two Weekends.

Re-creation (as opposed to recreation) is yet another variation, in which participants are simply working to re-create some aspect of the past. Artisans working with historical crafts might fall into this category, as might the activities of groups like the Society for Creative Anachronism which allows members to pursue interests in whichever aspects of classical, medieval, or renaissance history take their fancy. This is the group in which I am an active member, and have been for over thirty years.  Groups such as this one encourage members to focus on their particular interests without enforcing a specific time frame or geographic region.  While the overall look of an event can seem chaotic and ahistorical, individual elements are often well-researched and executed.  In some ways, this approach might be considered analogous to an academic medieval history department or conference, where the unifying interest is ‘things medieval’ rather than, for example, ‘The Battle of Hastings.’

I first heard the term ‘experimental archaeology’ sometime in the 1980s, and always felt that it described what re-enactors/re-creationists can contribute to historical research. Depending on how liberally you want to define it, the practice has been going on for decades. Arguably, Thor Heyerdahl’s 1947 Kon-Tiki expedition was an attempt to prove the practical feasibility of an academic theory.

In the decade since that conference at Columbia, the utility of re-enactment, or perhaps I should say, ‘re-creation’ has been recognised more fully in the academic world. For example, at the Leeds International Medieval Congress  in 2018 there were three sessions on ‘Re-Enactment and Medieval Studies.’  It has also become a subject for research as a social phenomenon itself, as in Michael Cramer’s Medieval Fantasy as Performance: The Society for Creative Anachronism and the Current Middle Ages, and numerous theses many of which are available online. 

There has also been an increased appreciation of the utility of hands-on work as part of the academic experience, often but not always as experimental archeology.

Just a few weeks ago, Ohio State University hosted a conference, Popular Culture and the Deep Past 2022 – The Experimental Archaeology of Medieval and Renaissance Food, and intended to include active historical cookery because as they say, ‘We stand to learn much about these cultures and the lived, embodied experiences of their members by actively preparing and consuming their own food and drink.’

The Chateau Guédelon project in Burgundy is an ongoing example of where academia and re-creation intersect, to the advantage of both.  The scientific committee at the project includes a professor and two senior lecturers, who find the project useful in their own work.

Experimental Archaeology as a discipline has a journal and in 2012 (two years after the New York conference), University College Dublin launched its Centre for Experimental Archaeology and Material Culture.

It is the second part of that centre’s name that really emphasises what re-creation can add to more traditional types of historical investigation. Doing an activity provides context that simply reading about it, or watching it, or examining the result cannot. Historical activities took place within a material environment, and utilised aspects of that environment. Just having a go at something is a learning experience, regardless of the outcome.

Figure 2. A re-enactor preparing a meal at Tretower Court. Photo credit: Ellen Rawson.

At its best, it leads to a greater appreciation and understanding of the past, and how people in the past dealt with the challenges that they faced, whether it was crossing an ocean, building a castle, or cooking a feast for a noble and the court – that’s my field: ask me about medieval cooks and cookery some time. And it all started because I saw some re-enactors and thought, ‘that looks like fun. I’d like to give that a try.’

I would like to suggest that the idea of ‘having a go’ is, in some ways, just another aspect of the interdisciplinary approach which is favoured by some scholars.  When I’m researching a medieval recipe, I can bring to bear not only the recipe itself, references to the recipe in literature, and an understanding of the tools available to a medieval cook, but also the lived experience of creating the food itself. Not to mention, the experience of eating it as well.

Further reading:

Katherine M. Johnson (2015), Rethinking (re)doing: historical re-enactment and/as  historiography Rethinking History19 (2), 193-206.

Jeff Berry has studied medieval cooks and cookery at Columbia University and the University of York, and has been an active re-enactor for over three decades.  He recently completed A Medieval Cookery Primer for the Compleat Anachronist pamphlet series. His omnibus website is An Aspiring Luddite, and he can be found on Twitter as @AspiringLuddite.

Cover Image and Figure 1. A re-enactor cooking over the fire at Tretower Court in Wales. Photo credit: Ellen Rawson, reproduced with permission.

Figure 2. A re-enactor preparing a meal at Tretower Court. Photo credit: Ellen Rawson, reproduced with permission.

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Blurring the lines of the two kingdoms: kirk and council in Scotland, 1689-1708

By Robbie Tree

As the British Cabinet continues to run rough shod over its responsibilities, we hear grumblings over the effectiveness of our leaders and the legitimacy of central government intervention into the daily lives of the populace. These issues were relevant to early modern Scots as well, in terms of the government of both church and state.

The theory of two kingdoms was one of the great threads running through the early modern period. The demarcated distinctions between temporal and spiritual government were advanced by the likes of Andrew Melville (1545-1622) to assert church autonomy and challenge monarchical intervention in religion. But what about the influence and interference of the state, beyond the monarchy, on the church? A close working relationship between the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and the Scottish Parliament has been viewed as central to the maintenance of the Williamite Revolution settlement of 1688-91 and the ultimate agreement to the articles of parliamentary union in 1706-7.1 Less well researched are the religious functions and policies of the Scottish Privy Council, an institution which dealt with everyday government and was made up of officers of state, politicians, noblemen, military officers, and lawyers who advised the monarchy and implemented policy. Prior to the revolution there had been clerical representation on the council, but this was disbanded.

The reintroduction of a Presbyterian kirk in 1690 overturned the Restoration Episcopate which had been established since 1661. Importantly, Presbyterianism was not instituted until 7 June 1690 when the Confession of Faith was also ratified. Thereafter the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland met from mid-October into November, for the first time since 1653.

How could a church with no official governmental structure, finances, or indeed ministers function in this moment? In April and May 1689 (prior to the commission of the Scottish Privy Council and thus its sitting), the Scottish Parliament deprived twenty-one parish ministers of their charges. Between July and November, it was the Privy Council which administered deprivations in the form of libel cases against Episcopalian ministers. I have counted a total of 177 such clerical deprivations between July and November 1689, including ‘helpers’ who held clerical positions and administered divine service in parish kirks.2

Since the Reformation Parliament of 1560, there had been a few concerted campaigns against nonconformist ministers, but 1689 was the most sustained and rapid. A conservative estimate of 49 depositions between 1560 and 1638 has been posited.3 Between the National Covenant of 1638 and Cromwellian occupation in 1651, there were between 222 and 236 ministerial depositions.4 The final period of depositions prior to the revolution of 1688-91 was during the Restoration when, after 1660, there were over 250 ministers removed from their charge due to their refusal to obey the Episcopalian settlement.5

Though these numbers are overall much larger than the 177 depositions in 1689, they occurred over a longer period rather than the space of a few months in 1689. Compounding this further is that between two and three hundred ministers were harassed out of their charges in the southwest of Scotland in the winter of 1688 and the early months of 1689.6 This was largely carried out by a radical Presbyterian sect called the United Societies, who were amongst the most vociferous opponents of the Restoration settlement and its indulgences. Interestingly, in the three south western Synods (Galloway, Dumfries, and Glasgow and Ayr) of the Church of Scotland, only ten ministers were deposed by the Privy Council, with none removed from the Synod of Galloway. Although these ‘rabblings’ were in direct contravention of parliamentary legislation ratified in 1685, the council turned a blind eye and did not investigate any of them.

Figure 1. ‘The petitione of Mr John Webster minister at Fetterose’. NRS PC12/17, box 10 (1706).

Not all of those ministers investigated were ultimately removed from their charges. Twenty-two ministers were absolved upon investigation by the council. Ten of these men (c. 45%) had openly prayed for James VII and II, two of whom drank to the erstwhile king’s health. Six Presbyterian ministers, whom had been removed during the Restoration, were also restored to their charges. All of those investigated by the council were in contravention of a proclamation enacted by the Convention of Estates (later parliament) on 13 April 1689 which forced parish ministers to openly declare for the new king and queen, William and Mary, in their kirks and to pray for their longevity. Numerous other grievances were cited in these libel cases such as failing to collect money for French and Irish Protestants, or not correctly observing fasts and thanksgivings. Only four ministers in total were recorded as drinking to the forfeited king’s health.

What is clear from these libel cases is that there were often many intersecting local, national, religious, and political issues at play. For instance, Robert Young was deposed from his charge in Kippen, Stirlingshire and was accused by parishioners of drunkenness, taking the poor’s money and illicit selling of goods, to the detriment of his congregation. Ultimately however, the council found him guilty purely for failure to adhere to the proclamation of 13 April and he was duly deprived. William Eason, the minister at Auchtergaven in Perthshire was found not only to have prayed for King James but also colluded with the Jacobite commander John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee in addition to failing in his primary duties by closing the kirk doors in time of service, consulting a witch, and slandering another minister by declaring he was lesser than a ‘popish man’!

Other than removing ministers and punishing recusancy, the Scottish Privy Council operated in a similar manner to church courts. For instance, it provided alimentary assistance to late ministers’ families in lieu of stipends and financial investment for the printing of scripture in Gaelic. The council even initiated collections for building a Protestant church in Königsberg (now Kaliningrad) and authorised similar collections in parishes to help prisoners of war held by the Turks in Algiers in the 1690s. Interestingly, the council also provided poor relief to parishioners whose primary means of aid (the parish kirk) had been removed due to the depositions. Also, many church stipends were appropriated for secular means, such as to build bridges or schools (figure 3). Crucially, the council also gave civil sanction to the church’s calls for fasts and thanksgivings, which became a point of contention when the council unilaterally declared a fast in 1707.7

There is a great deal more work to be done on this topic. The Scottish Privy Council Project’s free online database will aid future scholars and will, along with other digital humanities projects such as Mapping the Scottish Reformation, contribute to a greater understanding of both ministerial lives and careers as well as the state’s involvement in ecclesiastical government from parish level upwards. One of the most striking aspects of this work so far is the extensive reach of the Privy Council into people’s daily religious lives, in this case operating as another form of church court outside of the kirk’s administrative structure. Hence, the council’s role in religion was imperative to the kirk and was at times pro-active, suggesting more blurred demarcations than the binary distinctions of temporal and spiritual realms of government which the two kingdoms theory allows for.

Figure 2. ‘Act Anent the vaccand stipend of Leckropt’. NRS PC2/24, f. 379v. 13 March 1694.

Robbie Tree is a double graduate of the University of Glasgow and currently a PhD candidate at the University of Stirling where he is researching politics, religion, and the Scottish Privy Council from 1689-1708 as part of the Leverhulme Trust funded Scottish Privy Council Project at the universities of Stirling and Dundee.

[i] Jeffrey Stephen, Defending the Revolution: The Church of Scotland 1689-1716 (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013); Jeffrey Stephen, Scottish Presbyterians and the Act of Union 1707 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007); Ann Shukman, Bishops and Covenanters: The Church in Scotland, 1688-91 (Edinburgh: John Donald, 2012).

[ii] T. N. Clarke, ‘The Scottish Episcopalians, 1688-1720’, unpublished PhD thesis(University of Edinburgh, 1987). Clarke counts 172 ministerial deprivations in 1689; The Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, ser. 3 vols. 13-16 (1685-91).

[iii] J. K. Hewison, The Covenanters, vol. I (Glasgow, 1913), p. 496.

[iv] Andrew Lind maintains the lower number of depositions (222) to be correct, in ‘Royalism, Resistance and the Scottish Clergy, c. 1638-41’, in Chris R. Langley (ed.), The National Covenant in Scotland, 1638-1689 (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2020), p. 127; David Stevenson believes the number of deposed clergy to be as high as 236 in ‘Deposition of Ministers in the Church of Scotland, 1638-1651’, Church History, 44:3 (Sept. 1975), p. 324.

[v] Alasdair Raffe, The Culture of Controversy: Religious Arguments in Scotland, 1660-1714 (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2012), p. 33.

[vi] Alasdair Raffe, Scotland in Revolution, 1685-1690 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018), p. 116; Tim Harris, Revolution: The Great Crisis of the British Monarchy, 1685-1720 (London: Allen Lane, 2006), p. 378.

[vii] Alasdair Raffe, ‘Presbyterianism, Secularization and Scottish Politics After the Revolution of 1688-1690’, The Historical Journal, 53:2 (June 2010), pp. 317-337.

Cover Image. ‘The Privy Council of a King’ by Thomas Rowlandson (1815) © The Met Museum.

Figure 1. ‘The petitione of Mr John Webster minister at Fetterose’. NRS PC12/17, box 10 (1706). Author’s own image, not to be reproduced without permission.

Figure 2. ‘Act Anent the vaccand stipend of Leckropt’. NRS PC2/24, f. 379v. 13 March 1694. Author’s own image, not to be reproduced without permission.

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Toppling Tyrants: Early Medieval Approaches to Regime Change

By Harry Mawdsley

“[He] had very little sense. He conducted all his affairs without paying the slightest heed, till at length, employing a heavy hand against [his subjects], he was the cause of violent hatred and outrage among them”

Such was the damning description of Childeric II’s reign in Francia by one early medieval chronicler. The king’s arrogance ultimately led to his downfall in 675 when he had one of his nobles beaten contra legem, ‘illegally’ or ‘without due process’. Soon afterwards the aggrieved man gathered supporters and ambushed the king while he was out hunting. Childeric was stabbed to death alongside his pregnant wife Bilichild. The lesson? Kings who rode roughshod over the law might well come to a sticky end.

Worlds apart?

In the wake of ‘partygate’, it’s hard not to be drawn into parallels with Boris Johnson’s (alleged) flagrant disregard for Covid-19 regulations. The British public’s uproar has been considerable. It seems, like the nobles of early medieval Francia, we cannot abide rulers who place themselves above the law. But thankfully for Mr Johnson, the stakes for our leaders are not quite so high. All political careers may end in failure, but dismissal from office is rarely life-threatening in modern Britain. Former prime ministers can find lucrative work in the private sector, or on the after-dinner speaking circuit. They might even retreat to lavish garden sheds to write their memoirs. Early medieval kings could not expect such mercies. Indeed, the cruel fate of rulers like Childeric would seem to confirm our worst assumptions about the so-called “Dark Ages”—life was cheap, violence was endemic, and political conflicts were resolved at the point of a blade, not by letters to parliamentary committees.

A Bloodless Sanction

These assumptions doubtless hold a grain of truth. Early medieval politics was extremely violent (whether uniquely so is much more difficult to say). Yet it is important to add some nuance to the picture. This has been one of the aims of my current research project on exile in the early Middle Ages. During this period, those in power frequently banished their political adversaries—I’ve identified some 300 cases between 400 and 700 AD, a considerable number given the patchiness of the source record. The advantages of exile are clear enough. Unlike more extreme measures, it removed persons from the political sphere without the need for bloodshed. What’s more, it gave rulers direct control over their enemies. In the modern world, we usually define exiles as persons who have been forcibly ejected from their native countries or who have fled to foreign lands to avoid political or religious persecution. Such things also occurred in the early Middle Ages, but most exiles, and especially those considered politically-dangerous, were banished within the boundaries of their kingdom. Islands, frontier cities, and private residences were all used as places of exile, where offenders might be strictly monitored. In this way, exile effectively functioned as a form of custody—a modern equivalent would perhaps be the gulags of Siberia, which similarly blurred the lines between banishment and imprisonment. But while those infamous labour camps have become a byword for Totalitarian brutality, early medieval exile was explicitly framed as an act of clemency. This was important to kings, because contemporary ideas of good rulership, drawing on both classical and Christian traditions, emphasised the positive role of moderation. Exile thus struck a perfect balance between severity and leniency, neutralising threats while upholding kingly virtues.   

Figure 1. Merovingian Francia at its greatest extent. Public domain through Wikimedia.

The Rules of the Game

What does the popularity of exile tell us about the nature of early medieval politics? Above all, it demonstrates that while extreme violence was permissible, there were conventions governing its use. Certain targets were effectively off-limits—bishops, for example, were hardly ever executed despite being some of the most significant political players across early medieval Europe. Royal opponents were fairer game. But even then, there was a sense that such individuals should ideally be spared. This much is apparent from the criticism levelled at those who failed to follow this principle. In the aftermath of regime change, new rulers were therefore presented with a difficult dilemma: how to deal with the deposed king and his family? Murder might be the safer option, yet it was controversial. To put it in modern terms, the “optics” of it were bad, and this could not be ignored by usurpers. They needed to reassure their subjects that their seizure of the throne had been justified, and that they were more fit for royal office than had been their predecessor. Exiling their toppled opponents was a convenient way to achieve this.

Exile and Regime Change

Given the propaganda advantages of exile, it is perhaps not surprising that dozens of ousted royals were sent into banishment during the period. Some were imprisoned in fortresses or palaces where they were closely guarded and prevented from having contact with the outside world. With the development of ecclesiastical institutions across western Europe, it also became increasingly common to confine deposed royals in monasteries or to have them forcibly ordained in clerical orders. These ecclesiastical forms of exile were popular with the authorities as they fulfilled expectations of Christian mercy, while theoretically disbarring the victim from returning to secular life. But monasteries and churches were not prisons, and the success of ecclesiastical exile—like most forms of exile— depended upon the continuing acquiescence of the victim. Despite the threat of execution if they absconded, there are several examples of offenders rejecting their new careers in the church and making renewed bids for political relevance. But effective or not, the exiling of deposed royals demonstrates that regime change did not always have to be bloody. The fate of Childeric II, while by no means exceptional, was not exactly the norm either. Murder was but a single option among many, and not always the most prudent given the controversies that surrounded it. All this is to say that public opinion mattered in the early Middle Ages, and even the strongest rulers could not simply act as they pleased. To ignore such truths was to court with disaster. In this respect, if in no other, early medieval politics was perhaps not so very different from our own.

Harry Mawdsley is a Humboldt Postdoctoral Fellow at the Eberhard Karl University of Tübingen. His research focuses on law, society, and politics after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, and he is currently working on a book on exile in the early middle ages (c.400 – c.700).

Twitter handle: @MawdsleyHarry

Cover Image. Solidus of Childeric II. Public domain through Wikimedia.

Figure 1.  Merovingian Francia at its greatest extent. Public domain through Wikimedia.

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A Sexual Tour of Venice: Mapping a Sixteenth-Century Catalogue of Courtesans

By Hannah Johnston

Sometime around 1565, a price-list of Venice’s cortigiane oneste, or “honest courtesans,” who served the city’s upper echelons, was published in Venice.[1] Titled Il catalogo di tutte le principali et più honorate cortigiane di Venezia (“The Catalogue of All the Principal and Most Honored Courtesans of Venice,” hereafter “the catalogue”), the catalogue was a list of two hundred and twelve courtesans in two hundred and ten entries; they were each identified by name, location, those of their pieza or go-between, and a price in scudi ranging from “dar quello si vol” (give whatever you like) to the whopping sum of 30 scudi.[2]

Figure 1. The first page of the catalogue, as reprinted in Leggi e memorie venete sulla prostituzione fino alla caduta della Republica (Venice, Italy: Published privately by the Count of Orford, 1870-72). Public domain, via Google Books.

At first glance, the catalogue seems almost mundane; scholars have largely only taken notice of it for its inclusion of famed courtesan, poet, and humanist Veronica Franco (#204). However, the catalogue contains a wealth of data that, when analysed more closely, can offer insights into how early modern readers may have viewed and used this document, as well as how the Venetian sex industry functioned in the sixteenth century.

There has been some debate over the exact intentions of the catalogue’s compiler, but, taking it for the moment at face value, its primary purpose was ostensibly to guide its reader in finding and purchasing the services of a courtesan on the list (or all of them, as a note at the end of the catalogue suggests!).[3] However, a curious reader — in the sixteenth century or today — could look at this catalogue in other ways. A vast majority of the locations listed in the catalogue can still be found in Venice today, allowing us to imagine the sex industry spatially, in almost the exact same manner in which a premodern person might have.

This snapshot, “bird’s-eye” view of the catalogue can show us patterns and trends in the Venetian sex industry that the sixteenth-century reader on the ground might have missed, but can also show us how the very real locations and individuals listed in the catalogue would have become a part of a reader’s imagined Venice.[4] Whether or not a reader was familiar himself with its winding streets, canals, and open spaces, viewing this catalogue would allow him to construct a “sexual map” of Venice, adding an additional air of fantasy to his understanding of the already myth-steeped city.

Figure 2. The courtesans of the catalogue, mapped by location. Size of points is relative to the number of courtesans listed at a single location, the largest being thirty and the smallest being one. Three courtesans’ locations could not be pinpointed because they were too vague: Franceschina Zaffetta (#103) at wooden bridge next to a baker in Cannaregio, Lugretia Mortesina (#149) somewhere in Castello, Lugretia (#160) at the head of the hall of the Visentin, and Pasqua Misocca (#194) at the “two bridges.” Rendered by the author with Palladio. An interactive map, also rendered by the author, can be found here.

Two hundred and twelve courtesans (#s 32 and 33 were double entries, advertising the “Baffe Sorelle” (Baffa sisters) and “Betta Facchina et sua Sorella,” her sister, respectively) and one hundred and twenty-eight go-betweens were spread throughout the city, along the canals and bridges, within numerous campi (squares), and around churches big and small. Just under half of the listed courtesans, around one hundred, were situated in Cannaregio, with the remaining sestieri, or districts, each holding between fourteen and twenty-five courtesans.

One woman, Chiara Buratella (#57), seems to have held something of a monopoly on the island of Giudecca. She was the only courtesan on the catalogue located there, and had two piezi, perhaps to ensure her success: a boatman named Anzolo, and Laura Grassa, herself a courtesan (#143) based at the Church of San Luca in San Marco. In stark contrast to this rather solitary worker, one could find a bustling community of over thirty-four courtesans — roughly sixteen percent of the city’s total — and thirteen go-betweens situated at and around the convent church of Santa Catarina in Cannaregio.

Figure 3. 1729 map of Venice by Homannsche Erben showing the city’s six sestieri, or districts. The pink district is Cannaregio, which held more courtesans than any other sestiere at the time of the catalogue’s publication. The orange districts are, from west to east, Santa Croce and San Marco. The yellow districts, from west to east, are San Polo and Castello, and the green district is Dorsoduro. The orange island south of the main part of the city is Giudecca, which was not one of the main sestieri but which was home to a single courtesan, Chiara Buratella (#57). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Beyond these notable outliers, most of the courtesans were situated in groups of two to six within a single location, although they were occasionally alone. These groupings were somewhat evenly spaced, concentrated around the busier, more central areas of the city but with enough space surrounding each group to allow them a “territory” of their own. The locations listed in the catalogue centered these women around easily identifiable landmarks throughout the city, including churches, bridges, and campi, although it is likely that their exact locations would have differed somewhat from the listing.

Observing this map defines our understanding of the “center” and “periphery” of the city with respect to sex work. Even discounting Santa Catarina, Cannaregio still held around two to three times as many courtesans as any other sestiere. These women were mostly concentrated in the central part of the district, with several groups spaced at regular intervals along what is now known as the Strada Nuova and other larger roads. Throughout all of the city, more clusters of courtesans tended to emerge in areas closer to the Canal Grande. In the “center,” one might find a group of courtesans every few blocks. The periphery, on the other hand, which here included the far eastern end of Castello and the western ends of Cannaregio, Santa Croce, and Dorsoduro, as well as Giudecca, might have only one or a few courtesans, and large areas where there would be none at all.

It is possible that this distribution of courtesans reflected the spatial patterns of everyday life for these women’s clientele, that the men who sought their services tended to live and work in the areas where we find concentrated groups of courtesans. It is also possible that the Canal Grande itself allowed for a mobility which shifted the distribution of courtesans towards other factors, such as the availability of open space or lodging as well as distance from their go-betweens. This can also lead us to consider to what extent the courtesans were consciously carving out spaces for themselves within the larger topography of the city and their trade.

A reader of this catalogue, particularly one who was familiar with the city (which could include Venetians as well as frequent visitors or any traveler who could access a detailed map), would have immediately recognised most of the locations listed in it. Even if he could not afford to purchase the services of one of these women, many of whom could out-earn some of the wealthiest men in Venice, reading this list would allow him to overlay an imagined “map” of sex and luxury onto his understanding of the city.[5]

Mapping this catalogue allows us to further visualise early modern Venice’s sex industry in a way the catalogue’s readers could not, and brings forth numerous valuable questions about the structure of these women’s work and daily lives, as well as the connections they might have had to each other and the broader Venetian economy and society.

A custom Google Map of the catalogue, rendered by the author, can be found here. The author’s translation of the catalogue can be found here.

Hannah Johnston is a PhD Student in the Department of History at Stanford University. Her work focuses on the intersections of gender, sexuality, and labour in early modern Italy. Her most recent project, titled “A Catalogue of Courtesans: Labour, Space, and the Sex Industry in Sixteenth-Century Venice,” examines the above-mentioned catalogue and the ways in which it represented Venice’s sex industry from the perspectives of those who worked in it, those who engaged with it, and those who marveled at it from afar.

You can follow Hannah on twitter @norellehan.

[1] The date of the catalogue’s publication has been continually debated, with scholars dating it mostly based on known facts about Veronica Franco’s (#204) life, as well as the date of a heresy trial for a likely printer of the catalogue, Hieronimo Calepino. See Margaret F. Rosenthal, The Honest Courtesan: Veronica Franco, Citizen and Writer in Sixteenth-Century Venice (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 274; Giuseppe Tassini, Veronica Franco: Celebre poetessa e cortigiana nel Secolo XVI (Venice, Italy: Alfieri Venezia, 1969), 9; Alvise Zorzi, Cortigiana Veneziana: Veronica Franco e i suoi poeti (Milan, Italy: Camunia editrice, 1986), 6.

[2] The catalogue has been reprinted numerous times. Works which have reprinted the catalogue include: Antonio Barzaghi, Donne o cortigiane? La prostituzione a Venezia, documenti di costume dal XVI al XVIII secolo (Verona, Italy: Bertani editore, 1980); Rita Casagrande di Villaviera, Le cortigiane Veneziane nel Cinquecento (Milan, Italy: Longanesi & C., 1968); Catalogo di tutte le principal et più honorate cortigiane di Venezia (Venice, Italy: I antichi editori Venezia, 2013); Leggi e memorie Venete sulla prostituzione fino alla caduta della Republica (Venice, Italy: Published privately by the Count of Orford, 1870); Giuseppe Tassini, Veronica Franco; E. Volpi, Storie intime di Venezia Repubblica (Venice, Italy: Fratelli Visentini-Editori, 1893).

[3] Regarding the debate over the catalogue’s purpose, see Rosenthal, The Honest Courtesan, 274; see also Paul F. Grendler, The Roman Inquisition and the Venetian Press, 1540-1605 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977).

[4] I draw here, and in my larger project, upon Filipo de Vivo, “Walking in Sixteenth-Century Venice: Mobilizing the Early Modern City,” I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance 19, no. 1 (2016): 115–41. His work looks at walking as a central part of sixteenth-century Venetian social and economic life and identifies several ways in which walking was portrayed, understood, and performed within the city, viewing Venice from above as well as from the street perspective.

[5]A single scudo had a similar value to one ducat; in the sixteenth century, Venetian patricians in state offices often earned a few hundred ducats per year. See Richard Lachmann, Capitalists in Spite of Themselves: Elite Conflict and Economic Transitions in Early Modern Europe (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2000), 257, n65; Brian Richardson, Printing, Writers, and Readers in Renaissance Italy (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999), xi

Translation of the catalogue and rendered map are copyrighted to Hannah Johnston and not to be reproduced without permission.

Cover Image and Figure 3. 1729 map of Venice by Homannsche Erben. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Figure 1. The first page of the catalogue, as reprinted in Leggi e memorie venete sulla prostituzione fino alla caduta della Republica (Venice, Italy: Published privately by the Count of Orford, 1870-72). Public domain, via Google Books.

Figure 2. The courtesans of the catalogue, mapped by location. Rendered by Hannah Johnston, December 2021.

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Ghanaian Racial Citizenship in the Soviet Union and U.S., 1957-1966

By Nana Osei-Opare

On May 25, 2020, a white American police officer, Derek Chauvin, and two other police officers murdered George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man. Floyd’s murder sparked global outrage and a reckoning on anti-Black racism. Even right-wing television evangelist Pat Robertson, a staunch pro-police supporter, criticised Chauvin’s actions. Floyd’s murder and the global reactions it sparked struck me on a personal and academic level.

First, as a Black man, Floyd’s murder resurfaced haunting racial experiences in apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa, the United States, and global travels in the 1990s and 2000s. I recalled a police officer beating a handcuffed Black suspect across our home. I remembered American police officers stopping me at a grocery store because I fitted “a description” of someone using counterfeit dollars. I also recollected a young child in Moscow, Russia, calling me a “n—-r” as I purchased food.

Second, I thought about the lives of Ghanaians who suffered from violent forms and acts of racism approximately sixty years ago in the Soviet Union, Ghana, and the United States and their protests against such incidents. These events transpired at the height of African decolonisation and Soviet and American attempts to woo these same Africans. This will be the subject of this post.

As I began my archival journey in Russia in 2017, I sought information on Ghana-Soviet relations during the Kwame Nkrumah era, 1957-1966.[1] Yet, as I read through Russian archival documents, the volume of racial incidents and complaints Ghanaians filed against Soviet citizens surprised me and took me in a different direction. Coupled with Donald Trump’s presidential run and presidency, which had explicit overtures to white supremacy, and his reported claim that no country led by a Black person had been successful, those racialised stories of Ghanaians slowly began to consume a larger part of my project. I turn back the clock 64 years.

Figure 1. Kwame Nkrumah is at the podium in the middle of this picture.
Ghana’s Independence Day, March 6, 1957. Public domain though Creative Commons.

On March 6, 1957, Ghana, a small West African country, but also a leading export of Black cultural capital, cocoa, and gold, became the first sub-Saharan African colony to gain independence. Ghana’s charismatic Pan-Africanist and socialist leader, Kwame Nkrumah, insisted that Ghana’s independence would signal to the world that Black people could manage their affairs. Nkrumah and his comrades had big dreams and expectations. Through socialism, Ghana’s early leaders sought to revamp and recreate Ghana’s future away from its colonial umbilical cord with Britain.[2]

To create rapidly the socialist panacea and economic independence that Nkrumah and his comrades envisioned, Ghanaian students were sent abroad to Western and Eastern countries to gain an education.[3] Western and Eastern countries welcomed these students with open arms, hoping to show them the splendors of their educational, social, and political-economic systems.[4] Yet, within these spaces, unintended and unplanned nationalist connections were born and solidified due to virulent anti-Black racism. 

In early September 1963, three Ghanaian college students were driving around Tuscaloosa, Alabama, when a car containing five white men steered into their vehicle. The five white men then drove the Ghanaians to an isolated spot and beat them with an assorted of automobile parts—and even pointed a gun at their feet.

A few months later, in Moscow, the corpse of a young twenty-nine-year-old Ghanaian medical student, Edmond Asare-Addo, was found. The discovery of Asare-Addo’s dead body provoked outrage amongst Ghanaians in the Soviet Union. In the largest demonstration held at the Red Square since 1927, when Leon Trotsky’s supporters protested his expulsion from the Communist Party, Ghanaian students marched to the Red Square with placard signs. One sign read: “‘Moscow, a sec­ond Alabama.'”[5]

Figure 2. Students Protesting in Moscow, USSR, December 18, 1963.
Image from Pittsburgh Courier (1955-1966), City Edition; Pittsburgh, Pa. [Pittsburgh, Pa].
December 28, 1963.

I argue that the Alabama reference was not simply referring to America’s southern state’s anti-Black racism notoriety. Instead, I maintain that it was an intentional reference to the grotesque attack on the three Ghanaian students. Ghanaians in the Soviet Union linked their sufferings, not merely in respect to their race but to their nationality. This suffering cut across the Capitalist and Communist blocs and extended to Ghanaian strangers. The recognition was mutual.[6]

The Ghana Students’ Association of the Americas wrote to the Soviet Ambassador in the United States and the Soviet foreign ministry to “strongly protest the suspicious circumstances that surrounded the death of Mr. Addo, a Ghana medical student, near Moscow….(italics mine).” The letter immediately underscored that Asare-Addo’s death in Moscow was more than a localised racial affair but had global nationalist implications.[7]

As Ghanaians faced numerous acts of violence in the USSR in the 1960s, the Ghanaian Embassy in Moscow wrote scathing letters to the Soviet Foreign Ministry about the racism Ghanaian students faced in the USSR. As fights erupted between the Ghanaian citizens protecting each other and Soviet citizens, the Ghanaian Embassy stood steadfastly behind its citizens. The Embassy noted that it was their duty to “ensure that Ghanaian citizens were not indiscriminately blamed for any breaches of the peace.” Moreover, the Embassy “hoped that the appropriate authorities would take . . . measures to ensure that Ghanaian trainees are not subjected to any provocation or wanton molestation.”[8]

Ghanaians did not simply view these attacks as against a racialised Black body, but against a Ghanaian body and body-politic. While there were larger anti-African and anti-Black solidarity discourses amongst Ghanaians, Ghanaians were also particularly focused on the plight of other Ghanaians. 

These incidents simultaneously reify and undermine Benedict Anderson’s claim that print culture spurred and solidified nationalist sentiment amongst people.[9] While the medium of letters—print culture—facilitated the forging of a global Ghanaian national consciousness, the engraving of visual testimony and knowledge of racial discrimination and violence against their compatriots gave it life.

Nana Osei-Opare is an Assistant Professor of African and Cold War History at Fordham University, New York City. He is also affiliated with Fordham’s African and African Studies Department and Peace and Justice Studies program. He is the author of “Uneasy Comrades: Postcolonial Statecraft, Race, and Citizenship, Ghana-Soviet Relations, 1957-1966,” in the Journal of West African History and “If You Trouble a Hungry Snake, You Will Force It To Bite You: Rethinking Postcolonial African Archival Pessimism, Worker Discontent, and Petition Writing in Ghana, 1957-66” in the Journal of African History. He is currently working on a book manuscript tentatively titled, Socialist De-Colony: Soviet and Black Entanglements in Ghana’s Decolonization and Cold War Projects. You can contact me on Twitter @NanaOseiOpare.

[1] I write more about Ghana-Soviet relations here, Nana Osei-Opare, “Uneasy Comrades: Postcolonial Statecraft, Race, and Citizenship, Ghana-Soviet Relations, 1957-1966,” The Journal of West African History, 5(2) 2019, pp. 85-112.

[2] See Jeffrey S. Ahlman’s book on Nkrumah’s socialist project, Jeffrey S. Ahlman, Living with Nkrumahism: Nation, State, and Pan-Africanism in Ghana (Ohio University Press, 2017).

[3] See Abena Dove Osseo-Asare’s, Atomic Junction: Nuclear Power in Africa after Independence (Cambridge University Press, 2019), 49-76.

[4]  See Eric Burton, “Navigating Global Socialism: Tanzanian Students in and Beyond East Germany, Journal of Cold War History, Volume 19 (1), 2019, 63-83; Sarah Pugach, “Agents of Dissent: African Student Organizations in the German Democratic Republic,” Africa, 89, S1 (2019); Constantin Katsakioris, “Students from Portuguese Africa in the Soviet Union, 1960–74: Anti-colonialism, Education, and the Socialist Alliance,” Journal of Contemporary History (2020), 1-24.

[5] For more information on this incident, see Julie Hessler, “Death of an African Student in Moscow: Race, Politics, and the Cold War,” Cahiers Du Monde Russe, Vol. 47, Issue 1-2, (January 2006), 33-63.

[6] See Osei-Opare, “Uneasy Comrades.”

[7]  See Osei-Opare, “Uneasy Comrades.”

[8]  See Osei-Opare, “Uneasy Comrades.”

[9] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (Verso, 1991), 5.

Cover Image and Figure 2. Students Protesting in Moscow, USSR, December 18, 1963. Image from Pittsburgh Courier (1955-1966), City Edition; Pittsburgh, Pa. [Pittsburgh, Pa]. December 28, 1963.

Figure 1. Kwame Nkrumah is at the podium in the middle of this picture. Ghana’s Independence Day, March 6, 1957. Public domain though Creative Commons.

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Women collectors, Lady Associates and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland

By Julie Holder

When I tell people that I research the nineteenth-century history of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, a very specific idea of an ‘antiquary’ comes to mind: white, male, and middle or upper class. And to a great extent this view is correct. However, that does not mean that women were not engaged in antiquarian activities or wholly excluded from the Society and its museum in Edinburgh.

It was not until 1901 that women could be elected as full members (known as Fellows) of the Society on the same standing as men. However, women contributed to the Society’s development as donors, museum visitors, attendees of the Rhind lectures in archaeology, and Lady Associates.

Lady Associates

Figure 1. Lady Alicia Anne Scott, known as Lady John Scott by
A.E. Chalon, R.A., painted in 1839, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

During the nineteenth century, archaeology was a popular pastime for many women, with some becoming prominent pioneers in the field.[1] They were also increasingly involved in historical and art historical studies.[2] In 1868, the admission of women to the Society was discussed in light of the ‘circumstance that several Archaeological Societies in England admitted Ladies as Members’.[3] This led to the establishment of the Society’s first official membership category for women called Lady Associate. The first two women elected were Lady Alicia Anne Scott (1810-1900) in 1870 and Christian Maclagan (1811-1901) in 1871.

Lady Scott was a writer and collector of Scots songs, collector of Jacobite relics, and had directed archaeological excavations on her estates.[4] Maclagan is credited with being Scotland’s first female archaeologist and was an accomplished artist who developed a new technique for taking rubbings of sculptured stones.[5] Maclagan disputed her membership status, requesting that she should either be elected a full Fellow or have her name removed from the Lady Associate list. Unfortunately, Maclagan died the same year that women were finally permitted to be elected as Fellows of the Society.

Other prominent Lady Associates elected between 1870 and 1901 were the Irish antiquarian and artist Margaret McNair Stokes (1832-1900), Egyptologist Margaret Alice Murray (1863-1963), and English historian and archaeologist Ella Sophia Armitage (1841-1931).

Lady Associates were honorary members, limited to 25 at any time, who did not pay membership fees. Although they could submit communications to be read at meetings by male Fellows, they were not permitted to present them in person. This situation limited women’s opportunities to contribute to in-person discussions of historical objects or shape the development of the museum’s collection. However, the establishment of this new membership group reflected the Society’s recognition of the scholarly work being produced by women involved in antiquarian and archaeological studies at this time, eventually leading to full membership rights for women in 1901.

Figure 2. Christian Maclagan pen and ink drawing of the Keir Hill, Gargunnock,
Stirlingshire by Christian Maclagan, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Women as collectors and donors

Although women were not allowed to attend Society meetings, like other members of the public they could visit the museum, attend the Rhind lectures, and donate objects to the collection. My research looked at how the Scottish historical collection expanded from 1832 to 1891 and women were regular contributors.[6]

Between 1832 and 1891, the number of women donating objects to the Scottish historical collection was generally minimal and fluctuated, from only one woman, Miss Walker, from 1832 to 1841, up to 14 different women from 1862 to 1871. The quantity of objects donated each decade by women also fluctuated, with the lowest being five objects from Miss Walker between 1832 and 1841, and the highest being 187 objects donated between 1882 and 1891. Generally donations by men far outnumbered those by women, often coming from Fellows of the Society. Notably, none of the women donors were Lady Associates.

What I found most interesting was that women were not solely donating what could be called ‘feminine’ items, although these were amply represented. Instead, they donated a broad range of objects reflecting different types of evidence from the Scottish past. Some of these items had clear links to historical events or connections to prominent people, including a ring that was a gift from Prince Charles Edward Stuart, pike-heads used during the disturbances caused by the Society of Friends of the People in 1793, and a spur found on the battlefield of Bannockburn.

Other objects reflected evidence of how Scottish people had lived and worked in the past, which were part of collecting the social and cultural history of Scotland, including household utensils, tools and implements, and ecclesiastical items. Women donated exactly the same spread of historical items as men, as can be seen in the 1892 edition of the Catalogue of the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland in which their names were recorded. In comparison, men donated more ‘feminine’ items than women, including samplers, jewellery, and ladies’ shoes. This suggests that although women were excluded from the Society’s meetings, where the meanings of these objects were discussed, they had similar antiquarian interests to men, and this reflected the broader nineteenth-century middle-class enthusiasm for history and archaeology.[7]

The Sim Collection

Before the Married Women’s Property (Scotland) Act of 1881, married women did not have the legal rights to dispose of their movables in the same manner as single or widowed women. This legal situation materially affected who (and when) women were able to donate objects to the museum. This can be seen in the case of the Sim Collection donated by Mary White of Netherurd House in 1882.

The Sim Collection was the largest donation of Scottish historical objects offered to the museum by a woman between 1832 and 1891 at a total of 156 items, with an accompanying substantial prehistoric collection. The collection had belonged to Mary’s brother, Adam Sim (1805-68), and was inherited by Mary in 1868. But as a married woman her husband had absolute power over her property by virtue of his jus mariti.[8] Mary did not donate the Sim Collection to the museum until 1882 after her husband, Fellow John White, died in 1880.[9] This reflects how Mary could only assume full control of her brother’s property upon widowhood.[10]

We have no indication of Mary’s thoughts on her brother’s collection, which she may have had little interest in and wanted out of her house, or she may have felt it was an important addition to the Scottish national collection. But the fact that it was donated to the museum not long after her husband’s death suggests she had no agency over it while she was married. Mary’s example could explain why I found such limited numbers of donations by other married women during the nineteenth century, who may have wanted to offer items to the museum but were unable to.

This blog post gives a brief snapshot of women’s contributions to the Society’s nineteenth-century history as collectors, donors, and Lady Associates. The most exciting developments in women’s history within the Society no doubt occurred after 1901 and is a subject I look forward to seeing developed by other researchers.

Figure 3. Margaret McNair Stokes, by unknown author. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Dr Julie Holder completed her PhD at the University of Glasgow in collaboration with National Museums Scotland in 2021. Her thesis titled ‘Collecting the Nation: Scottish History, Patriotism and Antiquarianism after Scott (1832-91)’ critically examined the relationships between the expansion of the Scottish historical collection in the museum of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and the development of new ways of understanding Scotland’s material histories. She is currently employed as a part-time tutor at the University of Glasgow.

Twitter: @Julieh80

[1] M. Díaz-Andreu and M. Stig Sørensen, eds, Excavating Women: A History of Women in European Archaeology (London, 1998).

[2] For example, historian and biographer Agnes Strickland (1796-1874).

[3] ‘Anniversary Meeting 30 Nov 1869’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland [PSAS], 8 (1870), 229-30.

[4] M. Warrender, ‘Preface’, in Songs and Verses, Lady J. Scott (Edinburgh, 1904), ix-lxiv.

[5] S. Elsdon, Christian Maclagan: Stirling’s formidable lady antiquary (Balgavies, 2004).

[6] J. Holder, ‘Collecting the Nation: Scottish History, Patriotism and Antiquarianism after Scott (1832-91)’ (unpublished PhD thesis, University of Glasgow, 2021). Historical objects were defined as those dated from the twelfth century onwards and I did not include coins or works of art.

[7] See M. Díaz-Andreu, A World History of Nineteenth-Century Archaeology (Oxford, 2007) and B. Trigger, A History of Archaeological Thought, 2nd edition (Cambridge, 2006) for histories of archaeology.

[8] National Records of Scotland, Scotlands People, 1869 Sim, Adam, Wills and testaments, Reference SC36/48/61, Glasgow Sheriff Court Inventories, pp. 455-63 and Reference SC36/51/55, Glasgow Sheriff Court Wills, pp. 275-82. My thanks to Dr Rebecca Mason who advised me and provided comments on the legal information used in this blog post.

[9] ‘Anniversary Meeting 30 Nov 1880’, PSAS, 15 (1881), 3.

[10] In ‘Notices of a Mortar and Lion-figure of Brass’, 52-4 there is reference to a lion-shaped ewer from Adam Sim’s collection being the property of John White.

Cover Image. Entrance to National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, Queen Street, Edinburgh, where the Society’s museum was located from 1891 to 1998. Photo taken by Julie Holder, not to be reproduced without permission.

Figure 1. Lady Alicia Anne Scott, known as Lady John Scott by A.E. Chalon, R.A., painted in 1839. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Figure 2. Christian Maclagan pen and ink drawing of the Keir Hill, Gargunnock, Stirlingshire by Christian Maclagan. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Figure 3. Margaret McNair Stokes, by unknown author. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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The Palace Museum of Tomorrow

By Esther Griffin – van Orsouw

Stories of royal and noble courts capture the imagination of millions of people all over the world. If we look at the offer on streaming services, we see historical titles such as ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’, ‘Versailles’, ‘The Cook of Castamar’, ‘The Last Czars’, and ‘Downton Abbey’, to name but a few. Palace museums enjoy similar interest, promising the visitor to ‘walk in the footsteps of royalty’ or ‘to feel the royal’s aura as a living experience’.[1] Such fascination is not a big mystery in itself, but court history has more to offer than anecdotes of violence, intrigues, splendour, and scandal.

The PALAMUSTO network

How can we research life at early modern courts in a new way? What are the major similarities and differences between residences across Europe? How can these comparisons be explained? And how do we translate the findings to a museum audience in a responsible way? These are some major questions of the ‘PALace MUSeum of TOmorrow’, or in short ‘PALAMUSTO’; an Innovative Training Network funded by the European Commission as part of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions.[2] The PALAMUSTO network includes European universities, heritage institutions, and palace-museums. Their aim is to train ten early career stage researchers (ESRs) in the specialist field of court history and the palace-museum.

In this blog, I will explain a bit more about the objectives and methods of this training network and I will show that there is more to a palace-museum display than meets the eye.

Academic training and research within the network

The project started in October 2019 with the recruitment of ten ESRs from different academic backgrounds. Each candidate was selected to research a different aspect of courtly life and architecture in the early modern period (roughly 1400-1800), for example the bedroom, cooking and dining, and aspects of gender. Under guidance of an academic supervisor and a mentor from a heritage institution, the ESRs have defined their individual research plans and are now in the process of executing their research which includes visiting palaces and consulting primary sources in archives.

Apart from individual supervision that should help the ESR obtain a PhD, the network also provides five specialised modules – called training weeks – that focus on the palace-museum. These modules include readings, lectures, Q&A’s, and in person site-visits that teach the ESRs about the specific historical conditions at court as well as how to conserve, curate, and manage the palace-museum.

Figure 1. On-site training at Heidelberg Castle, Germany, November 2021. Photo: E. Griffin.

It is easy to get distracted by all the glitter and glamour of the palace or the drama of its occupants and to dismiss the court residence as a subject of serious investigation. However, the architecture, objects, and ceremonies were all part of a system of power that was crucial to the development of our society today. Ever since sociologist Norbert Elias studied social structures at court, other research on the architecture and use of palaces and court residences followed.[3] Key publications are Architecture et Vie Sociale from the collection De Architectura by Chastel and Guillaume, the series Zeremoniell und Raum by Paravicini and more recent publications by the PALATIUM network chaired by De Jonge, to name but a few.[4]

PALAMUSTO takes the next step by using a multi-disciplinary approach and introducing digital humanities to the mix. More specifically, the ESRs will make use of a Geographic Information System (GIS), which is probably best known by the general public for its use in everyday navigation when driving a car or from the maps on a smartphone. Each ESR translates historic data from their individual research, so it can be read and understood by the GIS software and uploaded to an online GIS platform.

By mixing and matching the different topics and data from all over Europe, we hope to discover new connections and new patterns of diffusion of objects and ideas. This leads us to ask questions that can form the basis of new research in the future. We expect our findings to transcend national borders, thus signifying the relevance of the court residence as a place of exchange and an important part of present-day European cultural heritage. Simply put, the PALAMUSTO project tests the use of available GIS software for the study of court history on a continental scale.

Figure 2. GIS experiment by M. Fraikin and M. Wiedemann, October 2021.

A palace-museum is not a palace

Historical research and education are not the only aspects of our training. We also learn how to work together with museum professionals and tell our stories to the public. After all, a palace-museum is not a palace. An academic historian focusses on the past in a more theoretical way and can often spend much time on the study of a topic at hand, but a museum is an institution that receives guests and needs to deal with practical, legal, and societal issues, while conveying their message to an audience during a relatively short visit. This theoretical and practical reality need to meet in the middle, guaranteeing the best visitor experience possible. This brings forth all sorts of questions:

How do we explain changes in the architectural structure of a building? How do we successfully show different uses of a space in a single display? How can we stay true to historical facts, while taking practical matters like crowd control and safety precautions or state regulations regarding heritage and conservation into consideration? How can we show an empty building as a living machine without its former inhabitants? What is the best place for an entrance, a shop, or guest facilities? How does a palace-museum deal with issues like inclusion or climate change? How can we serve all the different stakeholders that are invested in a museum best?

Figure 3. Routing, demarcations and signage in the Magpies Room at the Palácio de Sintra, Portugal, October 2021. Photo: E. Griffin.

Palace-museum professionals have to deal with such questions while running the day-to-day business. The ESRs have the opportunity to better understand what this means by continuous interaction with heritage professionals during the project, but mostly during a hands-on secondment at a palace-museum. In return, the ESRs offer the museum staff a bridge between the academic and museum world, as well as fresh eyes that treat palace museology as heritage of present-day Europe.

So, next time you visit a palace-museum, think about everything going on behind-the-scenes or the many choices that have been made before the opening of a new exhibition. And perhaps you will meet one of the ESRs of our project, getting trained to become specialists in the interesting field of court architecture, history, and museology!

Esther Griffin – van Orsouw is an Early Stage Researcher of the PALAMUSTO network and a doctoral student at the University of Warsaw, Poland. Her individual research focusses on art collections of Polish and European royals and nobles in the late 17th and early 18th century and the use of digital humanities to study such collections.

[1] As we can read on the website of Historic Royal Palaces and the Sisi Museum (consulted 01 November 2021).

[2] This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 861426.

[3] Norbert Elias,  Die Hofische Gesellschaft, (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1969, 2007).

[4] Jean Guillaume,  Architecture et vie sociale à la Renaissance. L’organisation intérieure des grandes demeures à la fin du Moyen Age et à la Renaissance, (Actes du colloque tenu à Tours du 6 au 10 juin 1988; collection De Architectura fondée par André Chastel et Jean Guillaume) (Paris: Éditions Picard, 1994); Werner Paravicini,  Zeremoniell und Raum, (Symposium Der Gottinger Residenzen-Kommission Der Akademie Der Wissenschaften 1994) (Sigmaringen: Jan Torbecke Verlag, 1997); PALATIUM, Publications on their website (consulted 23 November 2021)

All images belong to the author and are not to be reproduced without permission.

Cover Image. Royal Łazienki Palace, Warsaw, Poland, September 2020. Photo: E. Griffin

Figure 1. On-site training at Heidelberg Castle, Germany, November 2021. Photo: E. Griffin.

Figure 2. GIS experiment by M. Fraikin and M. Wiedemann, October 2021.

Figure 3. Routing, demarcations and signage in the Magpies Room at the Palácio de Sintra, Portugal, October 2021. Photo: E. Griffin.

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Celebrating the Accession Day of Elizabeth I of England, 1558 and Beyond

By Aidan Norrie

On 17 November 1558, Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, succeeded to the throne of England and Ireland upon the death of her half-sister Mary I. She was England’s fourth monarch in eleven years (or fifth, if Jane Grey is counted), and it is not unreasonable to claim that her accession would change the course of English history forever.

This is not Whiggish, hagiographic biography: in the premodern period, a monarch’s own opinions and beliefs were hugely influential on their subjects, especially when they were shared by the elites. That Elizabeth harboured reformist beliefs (i.e., was a Protestant), was something of an open secret, especially among those at court. It is this ‘belief’ of Elizabeth’s that would have profound consequences for the nation’s future.

Within a year of her accession, the Church of England was once again reformed, although this departure from the Catholic Church would prove permanent—unlike that undertaken by her half-brother Edward VI. That Elizabeth was protected by God to succeed to the English throne, and thus re-establish England as a Protestant nation, was a fairly common belief in Elizabethan, and then Stuart, England.

Figure 1. Clockwise, from top left: Henry VIII and Thomas Cranmer removing the pope’s power in England;
Edward VI kneeling in prayer; Elizabeth I and a bishop holding a copy of the Bible in English;
and the burning at the stake of Cranmer, Bishop Nicholas Ridley, and Bishop Hugh Latimer,
while Mary I watches.
Frontispiece of Gilbert Burnet, The Abridgment of the History of the Reformation of the Church of England,
2nd ed. (London, 1683). Author’s own copy.

This belief ensured that Elizabeth’s accession day was an important day of celebration during the Queen’s life. For instance, in his tract celebrating Elizabeth’s accession day in 1587, Maurice Kyffin claimed that ‘No Ruler Such hath weld this Realme of yore, / Fewe Realmes haye [en]joyd, so long a Peacefull Rule’, before exhorting the English to

Adore Novembers sacred Sev’nteenth Day,

Wherein our Second Sunne began her Shine:

Ring out lowd sounding Bels; on Organs play;

Stringd Instruments, strike with Melodious sound.[1]

Kyffin’s points were made even more overt in several marginal notes. One claimed that ‘The reestablishing of the Gospel, by her Majestie, [is] a work of inestimable worth, [and is] everlastingly famous for ever and ever’; another described 17 November as a date ‘More fit to be solemnized, than many other dayes noted in the Kalender.’ It was clearly not enough to merely commemorate Elizabeth’s accession: the English had to be reminded of their good fortune, and it had to be celebrated with great fanfare.

In the century after her death, however, when England’s Protestantism was believed to be under attack from Catholics (especially in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot), Elizabeth’s accession day was increasingly tied up with ideas about England’s ‘freedom’ from popish ‘tyranny’, and English exceptionalism. Consequently, throughout the seventeenth century, Elizabeth’s accession day was often treated as England’s quasi-national day—generally at the expense of the current monarch.

Figure 2. Commemorating the deliveries of Elizabeth, as England’s Deborah, and James VI & I,
as England’s Solomon, from the invasion of the Spanish Armada and the Gunpowder Plot, respectively.
Frontispiece of George Carleton, A Thankfull Remembrance of Gods Mercie (London, 1624).
Copy in the Newberry Library, Chicago, Case F 4549.146.

For instance, on 16 November 1634, the parish of St Botolph without Bishopsgate in London paid three shillings for the ringing of the bells in response to an official order that Henrietta Maria’s birthday be commemorated. The next day, the parish commemorated Elizabeth’s accession day with the ringing of bells, for which the churchwardens paid ten shillings—without any official prompting.[2] Thirty years after Elizabeth’s death, she was apparently worthy of more vigorous celebrating than the Catholic consort of the current king who was refusing to work with parliament.

A few years later, on 17 November 1640, Cornelius Burges delivered a fast day sermon to MPs in St Margaret’s, Westminster. His claim, ‘I presume, little did you think of the 17 of November, when you first fixed on this day for your Fast’, is extremely disingenuous, and was evidently intended to set up his main point about Elizabeth’s accession.

Linking Elizabeth’s accession with England’s freedom from ‘popery’ and ‘Popelings’, Burges observed that on ‘this very day, the 17. of November, 82. yeeres sithence, began a new resurrection of this Kingdome from the dead, our second happy Reformation of Religion by the auspitious entrance of our late Royal Deborah (worthy of eternall remembrance and honour)’. Elizabeth’s ‘blessed and glorious Reigne’ ensured that ‘Religion thrived, and prospered under her Government’, despite the ‘oppositions from Popish factors at home and abroad’.[3] Again, England’s (re)birth and England’s accession are explicitly linked.

The links between England’s Protestant rebirth and Elizabeth’s accession were a common trope during the Exclusion Crisis (1679–1681), a conflict caused by attempts to prevent the potential accession of James, Duke of York, who was a Catholic, and was Charles II’s heir presumptive.

A Poem on the Burning of the Pope, published in 1679, praised ‘our Eighth Henry’s Daughters Reign … Not bloody Maries, but Triumphant Bess’, and sought to ‘in her Memory, on her Birth-Day too / Do over now again, what she did do.’ The author praised

That Holy Queen whose Memory we adore

the Great Elizabeth,

Who the great Romish-Babylon with her Breath

Threw to the Ground.[4]

The ballad also claimed it was ‘Solemnly Performed / On Queen Elizabeths Birth-Day: / This Instant November the 17th. 1679’. Elizabeth’s birthday was actually 7 September, but these two ‘slips’ further emphasise the link between Elizabeth’s accession and the re-birth of English Protestantism.

Likewise, James Salgado’s overtly anti-Catholic ballad, A Song upon the Birth-day of Queen Elizabeth (1680), equated Elizabeth’s ‘birth’ with the establishment of Protestantism in England:

Let Protestants with thankful hearts remember

This Royal day, the seventeonth [sic] of November.

This is the day wherein that Glorious Star

Did first in Englands Horizon appear:

Whose Life was life to Protestants, and death

To Popish Rebels, stirr’d up by the Devil,

I mean Elizabeth, that Noble Queen,

Who us from Popish Bondage did redeem.[5]

In the context of the Exclusion Crisis, there could be no greater argument against allowing the accession of a Catholic than the invocation of England’s Protestant rebirth at Elizabeth’s accession.

The continued celebrations of Elizabeth’s accession well into the seventeenth century are a large part of the reason the last Tudor monarch occupies a powerful place in contemporary popular culture. These celebrations of Elizabeth’s accession morphed, as the decades went by, into the myth of British exceptionalism that still pervades British public discourse—especially in the aftermath of the 2016 Brexit vote.

Elizabeth’s life and legacy was—and to some extent remains—incredibly adaptable and of contemporary relevance. Upon hearing of her accession, Elizabeth is said to have fallen to her knees and quoted Psalm 118: ‘It is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.’ This idea that Elizabeth was sent to the English by God was repeated again and again throughout both her life and the seventeenth century, and remains (implicitly, rather than explicitly), part of the myth of ‘Good Queen Bess’.

Figure 3. Elizabeth I, as depicted in the seventeenth century.
Henry Holland, Herōologia Anglica (London, 1620). Copy in the Newberry Library, Chicago, Case 6A 110.

Aidan Norrie is Lecturer in History and Programme Leader at the University Campus North Lincolnshire, and the author of the forthcoming monograph, Elizabeth I and the Old Testament: Biblical Analogies and Providential Rule (Arc Humanities Press). You can follow them on Twitter @aidannorrie.

[1] Maurice Kyffin, The Blessednes of Brytaine, Or A Celebration of the Queenes Holyday (London, 1587; STC 15096), sig. B3v

[2] David Cressy, Bonfires and Bells: National Memory and the Protestant Calendar in Elizabethan and Stuart England (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989), 138.

[3] Cornelius Burges, The First Sermon, Preached to the Honourable House of Commons now assembled in Parliament at their Publique Fast. Novemb. 17. 1640. (London, 1641; Wing B5671), 66.

[4] A Poem On The Burning of the Pope. Being SOLEMNLY Performed On Queen Elizabeths Birth-Day: This Instant November the 17th. 1679 (London, 1679; Wing P2688), one page.

[5] James Salgado, A Song upon the Birth-day of Queen Elizabeth, the Spanish Armado; the Gun-Powder-Treason, and the Late Popish Plot ([London, 1680]), 1.

Cover Image and Figure 1. Clockwise, from top left: Henry VIII and Thomas Cranmer removing the pope’s power in England; Edward VI kneeling in prayer; Elizabeth I and a bishop holding a copy of the Bible in English; and the burning at the stake of Cranmer, Bishop Nicholas Ridley, and Bishop Hugh Latimer, while Mary I watches. Frontispiece of Gilbert Burnet, The Abridgment of the History of the Reformation of the Church of England, 2nd ed. (London, 1683). Author’s own copy.

Figure 2. Commemorating the deliveries of Elizabeth, as England’s Deborah, and James VI & I, as England’s Solomon, from the invasion of the Spanish Armada and the Gunpowder Plot, respectively. Frontispiece of George Carleton, A Thankfull Remembrance of Gods Mercie (London, 1624). Copy in the Newberry Library, Chicago, Case F 4549.146.

Figure 3. Elizabeth I, as depicted in the seventeenth century. Henry Holland, Herōologia Anglica (London, 1620). Copy in the Newberry Library, Chicago, Case 6A 110.

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‘”A celebrated correspondence between the charming Mrs C- formerly well-known in the fashionable World – & her Amiable Daughter”’: The Historical Importance of the letters of Hitty and Bess Canning.[1]

By Rachel Smith

Whilst reading through the eighteenth-century Canning Family archive at the West Yorkshire Archive Service in Leeds, I came across a rather interesting letter from John Murray, a publisher, to a Mrs Butler. Dated 25th July 1912, he wrote that

I gather from what Miss Routh and Mr. Duff told me that the materials in your possession deal mainly with the early days of the Canning family, and the youth of George and Stratford. If a complete and coherent work on this period and subject could be produced and kept within the limits of one moderate sized volume, I think it might meet with a good reception.[1]

However, once he read the early manuscript for the project in 1913, he stated that

a good many of the letters in this [sic] chapters are not of marked literary or historical significance: the characteristics of the writers might be brought to a reader equally well if they were edited judiciously…there is a great deal of that kind of material on the 18th century already in print (e.g. Seasons at Bath) and there is probably in family archives plenty more that would not justify publication…the central figures must be George and Stratford Canning, and in order to bring out this purpose care must be taken not to overload them with collateral detail.[2]

The collateral detail mentioned by Murray were the letters of Mehitabel ‘Hitty’ Canning and Elizabeth ‘Bess’ Canning, politician George Canning’s aunt and cousin respectively. Their eighteenth-century letters are the backbone of the defunct manuscript and they presented Mehitabel as the central connection between all the family members of the Canning family. Although Murray acknowledged that Mehitabel and Elizabeth’s letters, especially the ones to each other, were ‘very clever’, Murray’s response clearly depicts his belief that a book focusing on these unknown female protagonists would not sell, and that it was their famous relatives, George and Stratford Canning, that would be the major pull.

Murray’s comments reflect the general status of women’s history in the 1910s.[3] June Hannam noted that women were just starting to write their own histories at this time, after finding that women were largely absent from historical texts, an initiative that did not really develop until the 1960s. Moreover, Murray was writing at a time of female political unrest: the Suffragettes had become more militant at a time where women were still expected to remain at home as wives and mothers. Therefore, a manuscript full of letters by women was not reflective of historical interest at that time. Now, women’s history is a burgeoning field, with a rich variety of research strands including the histories of motherhood, women’s politics, and women’s social history.[4]

These letters between Mehitabel Canning and her daughter, Bess, are about the everyday, the routines, the seemingly mundane details of life in the eighteenth century. Yet it is through their everyday conversations that a picture of the intimate relationship between a mother and daughter emerges. Individuals lived their lives through everyday encounters and relationships and this correspondence epitomises the nuances that we can learn from their letters.

The importance of the letters as a tool of communication is evident, both for practical and emotional reasons. A role of the sentimental mother was to educate her children, especially her daughters, and their correspondence allowed Hitty to continue this duty whilst she or her daughter were away from home, sometimes in a manner similar to distance learning today. As well as teaching her about letter writing itself, Hitty’s letters aimed to help Bess improve her French, her knowledge of society and household management.

Figure 1. Mehitabel Canning with her daughter, Bess, Fyvie Castle, taken by Rachel Bynoth (2019).

These letters also taught skills such as discipline and self-awareness, traits which Bess inherently displays throughout her adult letter writing. These tools were essential for entering polite, elite society, with whom the Canning family socialised, as they allowed one to correct any faults with diligence, become masterful in accomplishments, display a natural modesty, and eventually ensnare a husband. Hitty was essentially parenting through her correspondence, an aspect which has not been fully analysed and is important for understanding eighteenth-century parenting.

The correspondence also reveals information on how the postal service fit in with their daily lives, giving another glimpse into eighteenth-century life. The postal service dictated letter writing to some extent. Deemed to be worth using up precious paper and ever-growing postal costs, news of the postal service’s timings, speeds and ‘quirks’ filled up space in most letters. That this deserved such attention from eighteenth-century letter writers is important as it shows the emotional importance of letters to their recipients, a subject worthy of more attention.

Moreover, the postal service’s daily timings, which often resulted in hastily scribbled closures to letters, are mentioned throughout the correspondence, as well as how they were delivered, how much they cost and the speed of travel to certain places. Thus, the letters are also evidence of the working post office and one can learn about how it operated, valuable evidence to the study of the eighteenth-century postal system.

The content of the letters, though often instructing Bess, also reveal Hitty’s influence as a parent and Bess’s intellectual and social development. The discussions surrounding housekeeping give an insight into the roles of servants in the household, differentiating tasks between different types of servants and the mistress of the house and how Hitty was able to run the household through her correspondence with Bess.

Yet Hitty’s influence over her daughter is seen most keenly through their discussion of politics.  One sees Bess’s sharp political awareness when she was only thirteen and her similar views and behaviour towards Hitty, eager to please. Only an intimate correspondence such as this would reveal a mother discussing politics with her child so openly and the political impact on the child seen so clearly. This led to Bess gaining knowledge of other worldly matters and the letters reveal all sorts of anecdotes and details of larger historical events and famous figures from the time, allowing historians to better understand how these events shaped everyday lives and build a larger picture of what life was like in the eighteenth-century.

Hitty and Bess’s correspondence is full of historical significance and with the development of gender history, the history of emotions, and the changes in views towards women since the letters were last considered for publication, one can finally see their merit as rich historical sources deserving attention. Though Murray was not necessarily incorrect in stating that they would not meet with a good reception unless George and Stratford Canning were the focus one hundred years ago, this blog, and indeed my forthcoming article in History, proves that they are certainty able to hold their own now.

Rachel Bynoth is a final year PhD student based at Bath Spa University and Cardiff University, funded by the South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership. Her doctoral research examines expressions of anxiety within remote relationships across the lifecycle, through a case study of the Canning Family letter network, 1760-1830. Her research interests include social, gender, political and emotional histories between 1700-1945. She is History Lab Seminar Co-Convenor and co-organiser of the Distant Communications project.

Twitter: @Smudge2492


[1] Elizabeth Canning to Mehitabel Canning, 6th December 1798

[1] John Murray to Mrs Butler, 25th July 1912

[2] John Murray to Mrs Butler, 1913

[3] There were very few female historians at this time, the most famous of which is arguably Alice Clark.

[4] See Hannah Barker and Elaine Chalus ed., Women’s History: Britain 1700-1850, An Introduction, (London, 2005), p.1-5

All images are author’s own and not to be re-used without permission.

Cover Image. Letter from Mehitabel to her daughter, Bess, 13th February 1789, WY888, West Yorkshire Archives, Leeds, taken by Rachel Bynoth (2017).

Figure 1. Mehitabel Canning with her daughter, Bess, Fyvie Castle, taken by Rachel Bynoth (2019).

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Face to Face Encounters: Letter-Writers and Portrait Photographs in the Russian State Archive

Hannah Parker

On the final research trip for my PhD, I found some small portrait photographs of letter-writers in a file of between some hundred and a thousand 1925 letters to the editor of Krest’ianka – a series of biographies with enclosed photographs from their authors. Though, in my experience, group photographs were occasionally included with letters, as were a captivating variety of sketches and drawings, I was spellbound by the pictures of these women, which – for the first time – allowed me to visualise the letter-writers with whom I’d worked so closely. Since personal photography was at the time entirely prohibited (though the State Archive announced a month after I returned home that they would allow personal photography for a fee), I added the documents to my list of photocopying, which was set aside for far longer than I’d care to admit.

As ‘posed’ photographs, these portraits offer the ‘enactment’ of Soviet identity, and ruminate notions of selfhood.[1] Visible also is the ‘presence’ of peasant women in public life and as actors in the historical narrative of the Russian Revolution and construction of socialism. In this sense, the photographs are also expressive as visual and material objects, substantiating the writer’s social identity according to the biographies they provided.[2] Appearing materially, ‘outside of time’, portraits enabled peasant women to establish themselves in the Revolutionary historical narrative. Interestingly, the biographies that I’ve worked my way through so far clearly establish a narrative that spanned the late imperial and early Soviet years – sometimes even ending in 1917 – inscribing themselves in the very foundation of the Soviet project.[3]

Each of the photographs accompanied an autobiography, intended for publication in Krest’ianka. They often contained details about the authors’ early lives prior and during the Bolshevik Revolution. Fyodora Azhbalina (Figure 1), a krest’ianka (peasant women) from a village near Shadrinsk, in Russia, was born in 1885 to peasants and breadmakers, and detailed in her autobiography how she helped with peasant work from early childhood, along with her siblings.[4] E. Matveeva (Figure 2) was born in October 1904 in Shibotovo, a small village near Borovichi in Russia, and had been able to complete her studies a year earlier, in 1923, having been forced to abandon her studies at the age of 12, prior to the Revolution.[5] Writing to Krest’ianka in March 1925, the daughter of poor peasants, A. Solodovich (Figure 3) had joined the Komsomol in 1923, and in the two years since had organised a Komsomol branch in her village near Kriukovo.[6]  

Figure 1. F.Azhbalina.
Source: RGAE, f. 396, op. 2, d. 31, l. 69.

In many ways, these passages reflected contemporary expectations of the appropriate proletarian biography, offering dates, places and precise details to assure their reader of the narrative’s veracity. The women’s face-on poses are reminiscent of portraiture style of the late nineteenth century; ‘a form of self-fashioning’.[7] The photographs are a reminder that these missives contain a multitude of meanings beyond the formulaic. The inclusion of a photograph with one’s biography offered women recognition, and validation among the magazine’s readership: archival sources show that Soviet magazine readers did express an interest in learning about the lives of others ‘like them’.[8]

Figure 2. E. Matveevna.
Source: RGAE, f. 396, op. 2, d. 31, l. 66.

Snapshot photography initially emerged in the late nineteenth century; however the photograph was still an emerging medium after 1917. Photo studios made steady business in the late imperial period, and  as Christopher Stolarski has shown, ‘cheap, handheld cameras encouraged people to regard images as signifiers of social information.’[9] The establishment of new arts, new culture, and a new daily life after the Russian Revolution transformed what was at stake in the social production of images. Photography was important after 1917 because it transformed the figure or moment captured ‘into a symbolic or universal expression of human experience’; particularly apt as an agitational journalistic tool.[10] As Susan Sontag has observed, for their viewer, whilst photographs appear to ‘furnish evidence’, providing proof of what was doubted, they are no generic exception to the usually shady commerce between art and truth.[11]

Figure 3. A. Solodovich.
Source: RGAE, f. 396, op. 2, d. 29, l. 54.

I have argued elsewhere that letters possess a dual function as texts and objects, as a tangible connection between writer and recipient imbued with emotional agency by the mental and physical process of writing.[12] The possibility that a photograph of oneself might be printed in the Soviet press therefore effectively inscribed their life into the material culture of the Soviet Union.

Relatedly, the inclusion of personal photographs with letters might also be understood in the context of print and press as a ‘multi-sensory experience’: texts were frequently read aloud in reading rooms in communities and workplaces, or passed around groups of people. To mitigate low attendance among mixed groups in rural areas, reading groups run by women, with childcare, or run as sewing circles, proliferated.[13] How might an illustrated life-narrative such as those sent by Krest’ianka’s correspondents be experienced in such a setting?

The set of questions that these found photographs has thrown up for me highlights what Elizabeth Edwards has described as ‘the inseparability of social practices, material practices, and imaging practices’.[14] Why was I drawn to photocopy these photographs, and not the drawings dotted throughout the archive? Was this the effect of being able to visualise the author so clearly? In Stolarski’s exploration of the late imperial expansion of photojournalism, he remarked  that not only did photos inform the viewer, and provide evidence for their textual narratives, but ‘also established an emotional connection between the spectator and the passage of time.’[15] 

Without the ability to consult the sender, what is missing from my impression of these images is how they came into being, and a confirmation of their personal significance. These were photographs from Krest’ianka’s correspondents, but it is not at present clear whether these letter-writers arranged and paid for the photographs to be taken themselves, whether they were commissioned by the journal itself, or whether there is some other context for their production, though the biographies themselves don’t appear to have been solicited, based upon their narrative construction. According to Katerina Romanenko, photography was altogether easier and less expensive to produce and acquire than ‘fine art’ and illustration. Photographers’ rates were low for journals and newspapers, but with paper itself being a scarcity during the 1920s, it would have been expensive for the average peasant or worker, at 4-12 roubles per image, depending upon size and photo quality.[16]

Being able to see what the letter-writers ‘looked like’, and how they presented themselves, and the often ambiguous emotions etched upon their faces, offers a flavour of the layers involved in letter-writing through the historical imagination, enabling me as a sighted person to visualise the lives described and their composition into epistolary form. However, the emotional connection generated by the photographs is far greater than a visual phenomenon. Susan Sontag has observed that, although the veneer of their ‘veracity’ does not exclude photographs from the elusiveness of objectivity, nonetheless in handling them, they ‘do not seem to be statements of the world so much as pieces of it’.[17]

With cautious awareness of one’s position as a researcher, the cumulative effect of these sensory aspects is what Sonja Boon describes as ‘destabilizing archival certainty’. The introduction of the historical imagination into the extensively documented Soviet biographies of citizens undermines their discursive categorisation according to their biography which remains in the archival record. Photographs can bring the embodied selves involved in the self-construction of Soviet identity back to life.


I do not currently have many answers to these questions. From my present stance, I can say that the historical imagination elicited by the photographs of letter-writers increases my emotional proximity to the sources and subjects, by bringing me face-to-face both with these women, and with the time elapsed since their lives.[18] In this sense, the photographs can offer a generative layer of critical reflection[19] Nonetheless, my emotional connection with Fyodora Azhbalina, Solodovich and Matveeva through their images presents a stark reminder of the unidirectional ‘relationships’ we as historians construct between historical subjects produced by work with personal documents: this work is about as close to a face-to-face encounter with the women I research as I am able to get.

Hannah Parker is currently a lecturer in Russian and Soviet History at the University of Gloucestershire, and will be taking up a Visiting Fellowship at the Aleksanteri Institute in spring 2022. She is the author of Education, Labour and Self-Worth in Women’s Letters to Soviet Authorities, 1924-1941’, in A. Arnold-Forster and A. Moulds (eds), Feelings and Work in Modern History: Emotional Labour and Emotions about Labour, (London: Bloomsbury, Feb 2022), and the co-editor of a special issue on Public History currently under review with History: the Official Journal of the Historical Association.

[1] Oksana Sarkisova, Olga Shevchenko, ‘Between Elias and Foucault: Discipline, Photography and the Soviet Childhood’, Social Psychology Quarterly, 73:1, (2010), pp. 1-4 .

[2] Mark D. Steinberg, ‘Workers in Suits: Performing the Self’, in Valerie Ann Kivelson, Joan Neuberger (eds), Picturing Russia: Explorations in Visual Culture, (New Haven, 2008), p. 128.

[3] Pierre Bourdieu, Photography: A Middle-Brow Art, trans. Shaun Whiteside, (Stanford, 1990), p. 76.

[4] Rossiiskii gosudarsvenyi arkhiv ekonomiki, f. 396, op. 2, d. 31, l. 70.

[5] RGAE, f. 396, op. 2, d. 31, ll. 67-68.

[6] The Russian Lenin’s Young Communist League (RLKSM), a youth organisation in the Soviet Union, was renamed the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League  (VLKSM) in 1922, though Solodovich referred to the organisation as RLKSM. RGAE, f. 396, op. 2, d. 29, l. 54.

[7] Christopher Stolarski, ‘Another Way of Telling the News: The Rise of Photojournalism’, , Kritika, 12:3, (2011), p. 575.

[8] Gosudarstvennyi arkhiv rossiiskoi federatsii, f. 7279, op. 8, d. 15, ll. 65-66.

[9] Stolarski, ‘Another Way of Telling the News’, p, 563.

[10] Stolarski, ‘Another Way of Telling the News’ p, 589.

[11] Susan Sontag, ‘On Photography’, pp. 174-5.

[12] Hannah Parker, ‘Education, Labour and Self-Worth in Women’s Letters to Soviet Authorities, 1924-1941’, in Agnes Arnold-Forster and Alison Moulds (eds.), Feelings and Work in Modern History: Emotional Labour and Emotions about Labour, (London: Bloomsbury, 2022), p. 102.

[13] Peter Kenez, The Birth of the Propaganda State: Soviet Methods of Mass Mobilisation, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 16.

[14] Elizabeth Edwards, ‘Objects of Affect: Photography Beyond the Image’, Annual Review of Anthropology, 41, (2012), p. 226.

[15] Stolarski, ‘Another Way of Telling the News’, p. 563.

[16] Jeffrey Brooks, ‘The breakdown in Production and Distribution of Printed Material, 1917-1927’, in Abbot Gleason, Peter Kenez and Richard Stites (eds.), Bolshevik Culture: Experiment and Order in the Russian Revolution, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985), pp. 153-4; Romanenko, ‘Photomontage for the Masses’, pp. 33-34.

[17] Susan Sontag, ‘On Photography’, p. 174.

[18] Stolarski, ‘Another way of telling the news’, p. 563.

[19] Katie Barclay, ‘Falling in Love with the Dead’, Rethinking History: the Journal of Theory and Practice, 22:4, (2018), pp. 459-473.

All images in the text are the author’s own, created from photocopies. No re-use without permission.

Cover Image. Crop of Soviet poster, available through Wikimedia Commons.

Figure 1. F. Azhbalina. Source: RGAE, f. 396, op. 2, d. 31, l. 69.

Figure 2. E. Matveevna. Source: RGAE, f. 396, op. 2, d. 31, l. 66.

Figure 3. A. Solodovich. Source: RGAE, f. 396, op. 2, d. 29, l. 54.

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A History of Argument: Teaching Students Critical Analysis

By Andrew Struan

Writing in 1808 when in office as President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson told his grandson: ‘I never yet saw an instance of one of two disputants convincing the other by argument’. Continuing this line of thought in his letter, Jefferson explained that his fellow Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin, was ‘the most amiable of men in society’ because he never contradicted any others: ‘he did it rather by asking questions, as if for information, or by suggesting doubts’.

Understanding the finer details of argumentation or rhetoric is not new – it has been a topic of discussion since antiquity to the modern day – and yet it is continually one of the most difficult elements of critical thinking to teach students. The process of trying to instil within our students the ability to think critically and understand the mechanics of argumentation is one of the central features of the study of history as a subject. We look to equip our students with the abilities of evaluation and analysis, and we do that through investigation of the past.

My role at the University of Glasgow is to teach our students how to analyse, critique, research, and investigate, and then how to craft arguments befitting academic discussion and investigation. My research is on the history of political speech and ideas in the early modern period, and I’m particularly interested in the ways in which Anglophone politicians frame their language around concepts to develop and deploy their arguments.

Combining these two elements – my role and my research – into one course was a challenge that I relished. The resulting course – A History of Argumentation – is designed around two essential criteria: firstly, that the processes, mechanics, structures, and methods of argumentation must be made explicit, and clearly defined to students; and, secondly, that the historian’s focus on analysis of, and engagement with, primary sources must be the means of testing students’ skills in understanding arguments.

The course itself was developed during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in the UK. The course was designed for first- and second-year undergraduates to continue to engage them with academic debate and discussion at the peak of lockdown, and to maintain student engagement with their wider academic development. I designed the course in collaboration with a Graduate Teaching Assistant and PhD student in the history of disease, Monica O’Brien, and we took about the process of building a broad course that would be relevant to any student – not just history students – in the broad subjects of arts, humanities, education, and social sciences.

The course was structured as follows:

  • An introductory class that covered Classical rhetoric (by looking at Aristotle’s On Rhetoric) and modern argumentation (by looking at Stephen Toulmin’s model of argument).
  • A second class looking at an early eighteenth-century text, Wholesome Advice Against the Abuse of Hot Liquors (1706), by renowned Franco-Scottish physician Daniel Duncan against the abuse of coffee and tea,
  • A third class investigating the American Declaration of Independence in 1776
  • A fourth class that looked at The Second Sex (1949) by Simone de Beauvoir
  • A fifth class discussing the Indians of All Tribes Proclamation of Alcatraz (1969)
  • A final class where students were able to bring all the themes, topics, and debates from the previous classes to the present day through an analysis of modern presidential rhetoric and Trumpian political speech.
Figure 1. Raphael, ‘The School of Athens’ (1509-11). Available under CC.

Each class was structured around a range of pre-class materials, resources, and short recordings. The class itself – always held on Zoom – was then an hour-long discussion of the topic at hand. Students from subject areas as broad as law, Scottish literature, sociology, and film and theatre studies all brought their interpretations of the sources to the class.

What had initially started as a course designed to encourage students to engage with argument in an explicit manner turned into a course that looked at the arguments of rights, liberties, and freedoms in the early modern- and modern-period. Students took to heart the importance of rhetorical structures in understanding how sources are structured and organised, and began a process of critiquing ideas through those frameworks.

A separate, student-led reading group around the history of argumentation was set up and continues to provide interested students with a forum for discussion around the role of argumentation in understanding key texts and key themes. Students in particular engaged with the Proclamation at Alcatraz – in a large part because none of them had come across the text before and found it fascinating – and with The Second Sex. Our discussions were lively debates around the concepts of liberty, freedom, and equality – and all within a broader framework of clarity of argument and expression in arguing around these topics.

In a subsequent iteration of the course, I added an additional text: Mussolini’s Doctrine of Fascism (1932). I wanted to forcibly challenge students to consider an argument which did not, at the time, ‘win’. In other words, I wanted students to be presented with an argument that was presented at the time on par with our other texts, but which ultimately did not dominate the political and social rhetoric after the 1940s.

Students found this an obvious challenge and asked questions of how to approach the text: ‘Can we highlight the text’s strengths?’; ‘Should we look for the ways in which the claims were proven?’; ‘Is there a way to critique this that isn’t giving it undue credit?’. Again, here, the focus on argumentation was crucial: we used the tools, structures, and methods developed in earlier classes to investigate this difficult text and to place it within a wider context. At the end of the course, over 40% of the students chose to write their essays on the Doctrine and how the ideals therein were realised in practice.

The course itself, then, adopted no particularly radical concepts in the teaching of history or of rhetoric. Instead, the course aimed to give students a range of specific structures through which to analyse the past (and present). These structures allowed students unfamiliar with many of the sources and the contemporary issues surrounding them to engage in meaningful debate and discussion. Beyond that, the course aimed to allow students to see the ways in which arguments are constructed and to then deconstruct the strengths/weaknesses within. In so doing, the students were able to see some of the mysteries of rhetorical debate, argumentation, and analysis.

John Trumbull, ‘Declaration of Independence’ (1818). Available under CC.

In a modern world where fake news dominates and the humanities come under attack from governments, giving students the tools to defend their arguments against criticism, to deploy evidence and argument, and to understand the role of the study of history is crucial to the continuation of our subject and its unique pedagogical approaches.

The course now runs for pre-entry first year students as an optional module and for current undergraduate and postgraduate taught students across the University of Glasgow.

Andrew Struan is a historian of Anglophone political language. Mixing historical and linguistic approaches to the study of the past, Andrew’s research looks at the ways in which Anglophone politicians frame concepts and ideas. Andrew works at the University of Glasgow as a senior Learning Developer; his role here involves teaching students how to conduct research, how to build rhetorical structures, and how to communicate research to multidisciplinary audiences.

Twitter: @andrewstruan

University website:

Cover Image, Donald Trump speaking at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference (2018),

Figure 1, Raphael, ‘The School of Athens’ (1509-11),

Figure 2, John Trumbull, ‘Declaration of Independence’ (1818),

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‘Here terrible portents’: Famine as a Catalyst for the first Viking raids?

By Tenaya Jorgensen

As an Environmental Historian, I am keenly interested in how humans have responded to climate pressures and weather extremes in the past, and what we can learn from these responses today. One aspect of my doctoral research compares periods of violence against temperature and precipitation during the early Viking Age, c. 790-920. While the Norse are rarely mentioned in the years leading up to their first raids, it is important to investigate if and/or how the climate varied in Scandinavia and the rest of Europe prior to the earliest Viking attacks. Could the climate have played a role in kickstarting the Viking Age?

Scientists warn that more extreme weather may result in famine, and worsening climate conditions have been shown to influence production levels. In Kenya, the majority of famines are triggered by drought. Successive dry years have resulted in crop loss, reduced harvests, emaciated livestock, and human hunger and death. Even when the local population is able to produce, store, and access enough in non-drought periods, they are unable to build up a large enough buffer to cushion crop and income against the next period of drought and famine.

But, the success or failure of the crop yields relies on both exogenous and endogenous factors: external (exogenous) conditions, such as extreme weather and climate changes, cannot be considered independent of socioeconomic, internal (endogenous) conditions. Food shortages stem from a complex network of political, social, economic, and biophysical factors. For example, in 2017 the famine on the Horn of Africa was exacerbated by armed conflicts, which made distributing imported food goods throughout the population nearly impossible.

Could drought have been a catalyst for the first Viking raids?

The first Viking raid is usually attributed to the 793 attack on Lindisfarne. The entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a near-contemporary chronicle for the early English kingdoms, reads: “…Shortly after, in the same year, on the sixth day before the ides of January, the woeful inroads of heathen men destroyed god’s church in Lindisfarne island by fierce robbery and slaughter.”

This, of course, is not the whole entry, but the rest has often gone unremarked: “This year came dreadful fore-warnings over the land of the Northumbrians, terrifying the people most woefully: these were immense sheets of light rushing through the air, and whirlwinds, and fiery dragons flying across the firmament. These tremendous tokens were soon followed by a great famine. Shortly after, in the same year, on the sixth day before the ides of January, the woeful inroads of heathen men destroyed god’s church in Lindisfarne island by fierce robbery and slaughter.”

793 sounds like an extremely difficult year for the Northumbrians, no less so because of the Viking raid, but the famine needs further examination.

I wondered if any of the other Western European contemporary sources recorded this famine as well. The Frankish chronicles do record a famine at this time, though it appears to have begun several years prior. In 791, the Annales Mosellani state that a famine began in Francia. The source mentions it again in 792, and by 793 it was described as a “great famine.” [1] This famine was so severe that Adrian Verhulst suggests that it led to both the Council of Frankfurt fixing grain and bread prices in May 794, as well as to the Frankish monetary reform of  793-94, which saw the denier being linked specifically to the price of bread.[2]

But the famine may have spurred public works beyond bread-price and monetary reform. In 793, Charlemagne oversaw his fossatum magnum, a canal that linked the Rhine and the Danube rivers. Janet Nelson has argued that the canal was the product of a “series of acute harvest shocks,’ which necessitated the need to ship grain and other food-stuff from famine-free zones to famine-affected areas quickly and efficiently.[3] Such construction could be indicative of a number of famines and food-shortages, as Charlemange’s fossatum magnum was a serious governmental work.

Comparing the written sources against natural archives

Historians now have easy access to sources within the paleoclimatic sciences. Freely available online is the Old World Drought Atlas (OWDA), which uses dendrochronology to recreate hydroclimatic variability for a year-by-year assessment for much of Europe.

I first checked Western Europe and Britain for evidence of drought from 791-794, and these areas do indeed reveal a distinct lack of precipitation during the summer months of this period. This proxy data matches the contemporary chronicles, and it would appear that the Norse conducted their first raid during a time of widespread drought.

But correlation is not causation, and while there appears to have been drought in Scandinavia as well, we do not have contemporary records from the Norse to confirm that they set out due to a disruption in food supplies, or if they had even suffered from famine at all. The Norse may have had sufficient mitigation measures in place to keep food supplies stable.

What would the climate have looked like for the generation leading up to the Viking raids?

For this reason, I decided to push the study of precipitation levels back to 770, which would allow for a 25-year study of the climate of Northern and Western Europe from 770-795. In this way, I sought to confirm if precipitation levels were stable in the years leading up this drought; in particular, I was curious whether Scandinavia suffered under climate pressures that could have led to a break-down in mitigation measures.

The OWDA reveals that precipitation levels were well below average for this period. Within Scandinavia, there are only three years that rise at- or above-average precipitation levels: 771 and 780-781.

Europe and Britain also appear to suffer from below-average precipitation levels during this entire twenty-five-year period. There are periods in which precipitation levels rise above normal, but these twenty-five are marked by less-than-average rainfall during the summer months. Drought is mentioned the Royal Frankish Annals in 772, and famine is recorded in 779 in the Annales Mosellani.

Given the long periods of drought, and several noted famines, is it possible that this particularly dry period was a factor in the beginning of the Viking Age?

More research ahead 

Undoubtedly, the reasons behind these first Viking raids are varied and numerous. Yet, previous research has previously overlooked or dismissed climatic factors, perhaps in fear of falling into the trap of environmental determinism. Even within climate and environmental history, there is more to study, including temperature, a known Solar Particle Storm in 774-775, and agricultural practices of the time.

My research proposes that a generation of drought led to instability in the food supplies of Western and Northern Europe, which no doubt impacted, and were impacted by, other geopolitical factors. Ultimately, the famine of 791-794 should be considered as one of many catalysts for the earliest Viking raids.

Tenaya Jorgensen is a PhD Candidate at the Trinity Centre for Environmental Humanities at Trinity College Dublin, as well as a junior archaeological consultant for Rubicon Heritage Services Ltd. You can follow her on Twitter @tenayajorgensen, or her PhD project @VikingAgeMaps.

[1] Annales Mosellani (703-797), ed. J.M. Lappenberg, SS 16 (1859),  494-499.

[2] Adrian Verhulst, The Carolingian Economy, Cambridge Medieval Textbooks, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 118.

[3] Janet Nelson, “Charlemagne’s fossatm magnum: Another Look,” in Academica Libertas: Essais en l’honneur du professeur Javier Arce – Ensayos en honor del profesor Javer Arce, eda. D. Moreau and R. Gonzalez Salinero (Turnhout, 2020).

Cover Image. The 9th century Viking Domesday stone at Lindisfarne, now displayed in the site museum (2007). Photo by Wendy North, 19 April 2007, ( Available in the public domain.

Figures 1, 2, 3, and 4. The Old World Drought (OWDA) for 791-794 in Ireland, Britain, and Western and Northern Europe. Images created by post author using OWDA tool, September 2021.

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Dr Karie Schultz

In recent years, the value of universities––and especially of a humanities education–– has been hotly contested. Discourse has focused on how the humanities might equip students to think critically about the contemporary problems with which they are faced. Turning our focus toward the history of universities, it is evident that these institutions have always served this purpose. Early modern universities were wealthy, powerful institutions with vast political and cultural significance.[1] My research has focused on how university education informed seventeenth-century students’ ideas about multiple religious and political conflicts in Europe. In this post, I want to suggest how examining the studies and experiences of students helps us to better understand early modern political and religious changes on a transnational scale.

The Cultural Significance of Early Modern Universities

In the seventeenth century, students entered universities at a young age, usually around 13 or 14 years old (which is inconceivable to us today!). They undertook courses in a range of subjects, including but not limited to ethics, logic, rhetoric, and metaphysics.[2] When they graduated, many became ministers, lawyers, university regents, or statesmen. In these positions, they were able to affect policy developments on a broad social basis. This was especially the case in Britain and Ireland (the main geographic focus of my research) where people witnessed unceasing conflicts, such as the civil wars of the 1640s, the Glorious Revolution in 1688, and the Acts of Union in 1707. University-educated individuals responded to these problems by transmitting the ideas that they learned about political life and theology in the universities to the wider population through sermons, books, political pamphlets, and ordinary conversations. Those in positions of political prominence also used the universities to enforce conformity. For example, the Scottish Covenanters purged the universities of those who opposed their agenda throughout the 1640s while ensuring that the curriculum trained students to support their cause.[3] Although those in political power sought to control university education, these institutions offered students multiple opportunities to challenge or strengthen their religious and political allegiances.

Figure 1. The Constitution of the Scots College (1615) provides details about the studies and instruction of students.

Student Migration and Identity Formation

Even though the universities had cultural significance at home, early modern students were also highly mobile. Students undertook part––if not all––of their university education at universities outside their native country. This was possible because Latin was the universal language. Students attended lectures and took notes in Latin, while the lengthy treatises they read on theology, politics, and other pertinent subjects were also in Latin. As a result, universities throughout Europe provided students with an education which transcended geographical borders. However, early modern universities were also confessional. This meant that the education offered adhered to the confessional affiliation of the institution. Universities in England and Scotland, for example, required students to subscribe a Protestant Confession of Faith to attend. This requirement forced Catholic students to travel overseas for their education. Catholic national colleges consequently emerged throughout continental Europe (primarily in France, Italy, Spain, and the Low Countries). At these colleges, Catholic students from England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland could train to become priests or missionaries, or they could enter alternative careers upon graduating.[1]

During my recent nine-month postdoctoral fellowship at the British School at Rome, I studied the Pontifical Scots College and the Venerable English College in Rome to understand the studies and experiences of students at both institutions. English and Scottish students who studied in Rome often faced tensions between their national and confessional identities. On the one hand, students sought to preserve their national distinctiveness in the eyes of the Catholic Church hierarchy, especially following the dynastic Union of Crowns in 1603 and subsequent attempts to consolidate the English and Scots Colleges into one institution. On the other hand, they also trained alongside students of multiple nationalities to spread Catholicism globally through mission work. The need to contribute to a confessional goal which transcended geographical borders whilst maintaining their national distinctiveness resulted in many institutional conflicts with, and challenges to, the Catholic Church hierarchy throughout the seventeenth century.

Figure 2. A list of student grievances from the Scots College Rome (c.1720) reveals the importance they placed on having a Scottish
Rector to ease national tensions.

However, transnational mobility was not unique to Catholic students. Reformed students from the British Isles also attended universities in the Low Countries and the German-speaking lands, such as the University of Heidelberg and the University of Leiden. Students who migrated to Reformed universities also established confessional communities through local churches which, like those of Catholic students, transcended national borders. The experiences of students in the early modern period therefore raise multiple questions about the relationship between international mobility, education, and identity formation that are worth further exploration.

Since the beginning of September 2021, I have been pursuing such research questions further during my Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship at the University of St Andrews. For the next three years, I will study the transnational and cross-confessional mobility of seventeenth-century students from Britain and Ireland to continental Europe. One of my aims is to challenge the emphasis on the printed text as the primary evidence of intellectual culture. Using lecture notes, philosophical theses, dictates, and correspondence scattered throughout archives in Europe, I hope to show how political and religious ideas were transmitted on a broader social basis outside of printed treatises. Furthermore, by examining the studies and experiences of Catholic and Reformed students together, it is possible to interrogate fundamental assumptions about the rigidity of confessional and national identities through the lens of university education. Students are therefore a crucial but often overlooked category of migrants who offer us new perspectives on how education informed international political and religious developments during the early modern period. 

Dr Karie Schultz is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of History at the University of St Andrews, UK. Prior to this she held a postdoctoral fellowship at the British School at Rome. Her PhD thesis entitled “Political Thought and Protestant Intellectual Culture in the Scottish Revolution, 1637-51” was completed at Queen’s University Belfast (2020). 

All figures are the author’s own and require permission to be re-used.

[1] Liam Chambers and Thomas O’Connor, eds., College communities abroad: Education, migration and Catholicism in early modern Europe (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2017); Tom McInally, The Sixth Scottish University: The Scots Colleges Abroad: 1575 to 1799 (Leiden: Brill, 2012).

[1] Mordechai Feingold, ed., History of Universities, 33 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975-2020); Hilde de Ridder-Symoens, ed., A History of the University in Europe, Volume II: Universities in Early Modern Europe (1500-1800) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

[2] Christine Shepherd, “Philosophy and Science in the Arts Curriculum of the Scottish Universities in the 17th Century,” PhD diss. (University of Edinburgh, 1974).

[3] Salvatore Cipriano, “The Engagement, the Universities and the Fracturing of the Covenanter Movement, 1647-51,” in The National Covenant in Scotland, 1638-1689, ed. Chris Langley (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2020), 146-60; Salvatore Cipriano, “Seminaries of Identity: The Universities of Scotland and Ireland in the Age of British Revolution,” PhD diss. (Fordham University, 2018); Steven J. Reid, ‘“Ane Uniformitie in Doctrine and good Order’: The Scottish Universities in the Age of the Covenant, 1638–1649,”’ History of Universities 29(2):13-41.

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The History of Emotions: A Four Volume Sourcebook

KATIE BARCLAY, with FRANÇOIS SOYER, is editor of Emotions in Europe, 1517-1914 (Routledge, 2020), a four volume sourcebook. Here she talks to History about the work.

History: What was the inspiration behind this project?

Katie: I’ve been teaching History of Emotions courses for several years now and had been developing a series of resources to support students in their learning. I began with my ‘student guide’, The History of Emotions: A Student Guide to Sources and Methods (Palgrave, 2020), which is designed to support students applying history of emotions methods to historical sources and was based on the lectures that I was giving at Adelaide to my students. This was accompanied by an edited collection with Sharon Crozier-De Rosa and Peter Stearns, Sources for the History of Emotions: A Guide (Routledge, 2020), which brings together a group of scholars to explore the sources they use in their research and how they are helpful for research in the History of Emotions. Unsurprisingly, a set of primary sources to accompany these volumes also seemed like a good idea and this collection is designed to sit alongside them and to offer a ‘package’ of resources for teaching. I got together with François for this because we have different chronological and language expertise and thought that between us we could produce something useful. The four-volume sourcebook that results brings together a range of sources from Europe and its empires between 1517 and 1914, which can be used for History of Emotions research.

History: What is the main contribution that you hope these History of Emotions source volumes will make to the history of emotions?  

Figure 1. The front cover of Emotions in Europe, 1517-1914: Volume 1. Reformations 1517-1602 (2020)

Katie: The original goal had been to provide a collection of sources for students to use in the classroom, or for early research. We wanted volumes that could be used along current research (so tied into articles and books in the field) and offered sources that were otherwise hard to access (from manuscripts and archives) or were considered ‘classics’ and directed students to important works from an emotions perspective that they could explore in more depth. It was especially important to us that we offered a range of voices, not just from different languages, but from children and adults, rich and poor, different ethnicities, and to provide some access to the variety of Europe and its empires. This turned out to be quite challenging because of the limits of space, but we hope that where there are gaps that students might nonetheless be inspired to fill them. We started out to create this resource for teaching, but along the way, it became apparent that our collection allows for some new histories to emerge, both chronologically as you compare similar concepts over time, and more narrowly as they focus on particular themes and allow new connections to emerge. 

History: How did you decide which source types and themes to include? 

Katie: We designed the volumes – each deal with a different period – around the themes of self, family and community, religion, politics and law, science and philosophy, and art and culture. Our choices here reflected our sense of the field and the areas where there was developing work. Here it is noticeable that we’re both early modernists. I suspect a properly ‘modern’ historian might have identified different topics. We thought it was important that our sources complemented current research so that teachers could accompany sources with relevant readings to contextualise them or demonstrate how historians might use them. That was perhaps the easy part! Harder was picking the sources themselves. Initially we were really ambitious, but it’s surprising how quickly you fill up the space once you get started. Languages were also a concern. While François is a talented linguist and I can read in a few complementary languages to his, translating new sources is nonetheless quite time consuming. And, unfortunately, we had no budget to recruit a world of translators. For this reason, we ended up relying on translations produced by others for a lot of our work, and that shaped several of our decisions. A lot of translated work is of well-known and powerful men. As a result, we tried to complement these more traditional writings in print with original manuscripts from new voices. This was inevitably imperfect, but we aimed for a balance that offered students both key works that have underpinned our knowledge of emotions in the past with some new material that might open up different ways of thinking about the topic.

History: Did your involvement in the editorial processes take you in any unexpected directions? Have any of these sources directly impacted your own research? 

Katie: Great question! François might have different answers to this too! I am not sure this counts as unexpected, but I became very aware when pulling these sources together – partly I suspect as my own research has been so archivally based – how the ‘big narratives’ of European history are based on some classic texts – novels, religious works, scientific writings (in translation). It made me conscious not only of the importance of being widely read in the key texts of the European tradition, but how these works provide the outlines of so many of our historical narratives of progress and change. If different writings – and implicitly different people – had been given the same level of acknowledgement, our histories might be quite different. I think this is especially important to remember ‘in context’ as these works often became important over time, but in the moment of production were part of a contest of ideas. Because of this, I tried to give some texts that ‘failed’ – that never became canonical but were important in their time – and also archival sources that offered examples of how people experienced emotion in the everyday, beyond the grand narratives of the past. I especially enjoyed putting together the sections on science and philosophy because it helped me contextualise how the ideas expressed in my archival sources – letters, court records – were underpinned by ideas that were given particular authority.

Figure 2. ‘A Peasant Burial’ – Erik Werenskiold (c.1883-1885)

History: Are there any themes or source types that you weren’t able to include within this book?  

Katie: Most of them! The further we went with this project, the more imperfect it felt. A key issue that is missing is regional variation. Early modern Europe rarely shared a language let alone a national identity and yet we tried to use the modern nation state to guide our ‘spread’ of sources. But once you have a source from Ireland, Austria, Portugal and the Spanish Americas, suddenly you’ve filled a lot of space. But of course all of these nations would have seen significant regional variation in languages, ideas, and cultural norms. We made an effort to cover significant religious groups, genders and age categories, but there are numerous minority experiences that we don’t touch on. Emotions too are not all present. When selecting sources, we tried to create connections for teachers and students, so that they could compare and contrast works. But this meant we ended up with more on love than hope, and on anger than loneliness. We hope that ultimately these decisions will be productive for users, but it’s very much a start and not an end. 

Figure 3. ‘Young Man and Woman in an Inn (Yonker Ramp and His Sweetheart)’ – Frans Hals (1623)

History: How would you hope to see these sources used in teaching? ​

Katie: The design of these volumes was to complement research by other scholars in the field and to allow students to create new histories of their own. I hope therefore they are used in a variety of ways – for lower-level teaching as an example of the sources than underpin works in the field; for upper level students, for more original comparisons across sources and original reflections on variety and difference, and for early researchers who might see these volumes as providing stories of their own of the past – and exclusions as part of those histories. As a good history addict, I found all these sources interesting in their own right, and I hope that teachers enjoy them too – even if just because our engagements with our predecessors is rewarding and their emotional lives make an especially rich domain in which to do this.

Katie Barclay is Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in the History of Emotions and Associate Professor and Head of History, University of Adelaide.

Cover Image. A. Trankowski, ‘Jewish Wedding’ (c.1875 – 1900). Available in the public domain.

Figure 1. Cover of Emotions in Europe, 1517-1914: Volume 1. Reformations 1517-1602 , ed. K. Barclay and F. Soyer (2020). Image provided by the author.

Figure 2. Erik Werenskiold, ‘A Peasant Burial’ (c.1883-1885). [National Gallery, Oslo, Norway – Oil on canvas]. Available online CC BY 4.0.

Figure 3. Frans Hals, ‘Young Man and Woman in an Inn (Yonker Ramp and His Sweetheart)’ [1623]. [Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York – Oil on canvas, 105.4 x 79.4 cm]. Available online with CC BY 4.0.

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Britain First: The official history of the United Kingdom according to the Home Office – a critical review

Frank Trentmann

BRITAIN FIRST: The official history of the United Kingdom according to the Home Office – a critical review

Following this summer’s open letter to the Home Office, this article by Frank Trentmann offers an analysis of the official history chapter in the ‘Life in the UK’ handbook that is required reading for migrants applying for citizenship or settlement in the United Kingdom. Comparing the current (third) edition to previous versions, the article documents a pattern of rewriting the national past, especially over issues of race and Britain’s relation to Europe and the rest of the world. It shows distortion and falsification in the account of slavery, empire, Anglo-Irish relations, and Hitler and the Second World War. The essay places the rewriting of Britain’s past in the context of the Home Office’s hostile environment to migrants after 2013 and the increasingly insular view of Britain’s position in the world, with little regard to the reciprocal ties and collaboration with Europe, the United States and other international partners. The article places the official history’s difficulty of acknowledging race, antisemitism and colonial violence in a comparative context. 

Please click here to download Professor Trentmann’s full report as a PDF;

Frank Trentmann is a professor of history at Birkbeck College, University of London. His many publications include Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First (London: Allen Lane/Penguin; New York: HarperCollins, 2016) and Free Trade Nation: Consumption, Civil Society and Commerce in Modern Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), which was awarded the Royal Historical Society’s Whitfield Prize.

Professor Trentmann also recently wrote in the Times Literary Supplement about this issue: Britain First: the Official History of the United Kingdom according to the Home Office” by Frank Trentmann, Times Literary Supplement, 4 September 2020, pp. 7-9

Figure 1. Selected editions of the ‘Life in the UK’ Test handbook. The image was provided by the author and should not be reproduced without permission.

A Royal Bedroom: Gender, Class and Material Culture

By Esther Griffin van Orsouw

For my PhD research at the University of Warsaw, I investigate the consumption of art by the Sobieski family and their contemporaries in the late 17th and early 18th century in relation to space. I consider what type of objects the royals surrounded themselves with, whether they favoured any objects in particular, what spaces were thereby created, and what these spaces and objects tell us about the creation of a royal identity. As part of the PALAMUSTO project, I also take the research of my nine colleagues into account by comparing data using digital tools and by sharing qualitative information on our individual research topics.[1]

In this blog I will put forward a case study about Marie Casimire de La Grange d’Arquien (1641-1716), or Maria Kazimiera in Polish, who made her way from France to the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth as lady-in-waiting of the queen, eventually becoming queen herself. I have taken into consideration the research of my colleagues who focus on gender and architecture, the bedchamber and ceremonial, interior decoration and colour, and exotic objects – as is key to our project.

Having married the wealthy nobleman Jan ‘Sobiepan’ Zamoyski (1627-1665) in 1658, Maria left for a trip to Paris in 1662. She was accompanied by Aleksander Jarocki, a courtier of her husband who was responsible for her stay abroad. Jarocki’s letter of 24 June 1662 shows he was confronted with different customs, one of which was the reception of guests while lying in bed, or la ruelle.[2]

Figure 2. A. Bosse, Visit to the new mother, etching with engraving, 1633. MET Museum.

This custom was introduced by Catherine de Vivonne, marquise de Rambouillet (1588-1665), in the first half of the 17th century. The marquise received many aristocrats and famous intellectuals in her blue salon in Paris, lying on her bed with her guests placed on chairs between the bed and the wall; a space called la ruelle, which gave name to the custom.

Maria writes on 22 June 1662 to Jan Sobieski (1629-1696) – her future husband whom she had already met before marrying Jan Zamoyski and with whom she maintained a clandestine relationship – about the new beds she had bought in Paris.[3] She would also receive noble guests lying in bed.

Maria returned to Poland in 1663, bringing her beds with her, as well as the custom of la ruelle. Maria married Jan Sobieski after the death of Zamoyski in 1665. In 1676 they were crowned king and queen of the Polish-Lithuania Commonwealth. Maria would practice the custom of la ruelle throughout her life. On 20 July 1690 Fagiouli, the secretary of the Papal Nuncio, writes about a visit of the Nuncio in Warsaw saying that “he was with the queen, who received him in the alcove, having seated him on a stool by the bed where she lay, with complete familiarity”.[4]  

Figure 3. S. Bombelli, Miniature of King Jan III Sobieski with Queen Maria Kazimiera, Oil on Metal sheet, 1677. National Museum Warsaw.

Was the adoption of this ceremony by Maria an expression of feminine critique on the political and social order, like it was as part of the salon culture of theprécieuses (intellectual women) in Paris in the mid-17th century, or was it simply an imitation of the fashion it had turned into? The précieuses used the important skill of conversation to exchange knowledge and raise their social importance. The guests in their salons would not be limited to the nobility.[5] To centralise his power and have absolute control, king Louis XIV would target all elements that threatened his authority, including the précieuses, who constructed their own rules.[6] By supporting authors who ridiculed the précieuses, the cultural importance of their salons was soon to come to an end.[7]

The Polish king did have a richly decorated bed in his chamber, but he did not adopt the French custom of receiving lying in bed. He dismissed it as unfit for a king.[8] As such, Sobieski not only marked himself as a righteous leader, but he also supported the gender conventions of keeping official business and politics outside of the bed, and thus away from his spouse, confirming male/female boundaries. This was made evident in the royal bedrooms in the Wilanów Palace, developed in several stages since 1677. The decorative scheme of the palace and the gendered identities it supported for both king and queen, created an image of marital bliss, of a brave and wise leader and a pious wife and mother. Yet it did not necessarily match the actual behaviour of Maria Kazimiera and her husband.[9] 

Figure 4. BurgererSF, Queen’s Bedroom in the Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów, 2012, Wikimedia Commons.

The queen’s bed had a canopy and curtains made of white satin. They were embroidered with Chinese patterns of birds and delicate figures, complemented with tassels and edges of lace. Similar fabric was also used to dress furniture in her room. More expression of colour could be found on religious images and light-hearted paintings of ladies dressed in white and red, a Venetian mirror, a cabinet of Florentine craftmanship decorated with silver and ‘pietra dura’ mosaics and Turkish and Persian carpets.[10] The queen’s bedroom would lead to a cabinet filled with mostly religious art works, appropriate for a pious queen.

The king’s bed is described by Fagiouli after a visit to Wilanów: “…where there is among other things a bed whose canopy is woven like a tapestry all of gold, jewels and pearls, given to him by the Persian King […]. In the room where the bed is located, there are also hanging, like trophies, various shields and sabres decorated with jewels, on the tables you can see golden vases and bowls and a huge amount of silver and filigree ornaments”.[11] The shields and sabres, possible war spoils from Sobieski’s battles with the Ottomans, enhance his image of warrior and hero, simultaneously demonstrating his appreciation for the beauty of such foreign objects. Valuable objects from different origin and paintings from well-known artists like Rembrandt complemented the room, highlighting the king’s rank and worldly knowledge. The king’s bedroom would lead to his Chinese Cabinet, in keeping with European fashion.

Figure 5. Unknown artist, Maria Kazimiera and her children, Oil on Canvas, 2nd half of the 17th century, Bayerische Staatsgemaldesammlungen – Staatsgalerie Schleissheim, Inventory number: 2433 (retrieved 22-12-2021).

Wilanów did not have a kunstkammer (art chamber) as such, but worldly art and precious artifacts could be found all around the palace, including in the bedroom. This study shows that collected items like paintings, artifacts, shields, and sabres may not play the leading role in making a bedroom a significant space of representation, yet are part of the overall scheme of the space and the identity it helps to create. By mapping objects and researching spaces in a holistic manner, I am curious to find out what role art objects played in the different spaces of Maria Kazimiera, her family and contemporaries and what meaning they carried there.

Figure 6. EU Horizon Funding Logo.

Esther Griffin – van Orsouw is an Early Stage Researcher of the PALAMUSTO network and a doctoral student at the University of Warsaw, Poland. Her individual research focusses on art collections of Polish and European royals and nobles in the late 17th and early 18th century and the use of digital tools to study such collections.

Personal links:

[1] This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 861426.

[2] L. Kukulski,  Maria Kazimiera d’Arquien de la Grange : Listy do Jana Sobieskiego (Warszawa: Czytelnik, 1966) p. 173-174.

[3] L. Kukulski,  Maria Kazimiera, 172.

[4] G. B. Fagiuoli, Diariusz Podróży Do Polski (Muzeum Pałac w Wilanowie: Warszawa, 2017 [1690-91]) p. 96.

[5] M. Tebben, ”Speaking of Women: Moliere and Conversations at the Court of Louis XIV,” Modern Language Studies 29.2 (1999): p. 190.

[6] V. Herold, “In the Shadow of the Sun King:  The Précieuse,”  Paroles Gelees, UCLA French Studies 14.1 (1996): p. 35.

[7] Herold, “In the Shadow,” p. 31.

[8] (consulted 22-12-21).

[9] B. Arciszewska, “The Royal Residence in Wilanów and Gender Construction in Early Modern Poland” in S. Frommel (ed.), Homme bâtisseur, femme bâtisseuse: traditions et stratégies dans le monde occidental et oriental (Paris : Editions Picard, 2013) p. 137-150.

[10] Kwiatkowska, A., Inwentarz Generalny 1696 z opracowaniem (Muzeum Pałac w Wilanowie: Warszawa, 2012).

[11] G.B. Fagiuoli, Diariusz Podróży, 101.

Cover Image. Photo by E. Griffin, Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów, 2020.

Figure 2. A. Bosse, Visit to the new mother, etching with engraving, 1633, MET Museum, Accession Number: 51.501.2235 (retrieved 22-12-2021)

Figure 3. S. Bombelli, Miniature of King Jan III Sobieski with Queen Maria Kazimiera, Oil on Metal sheet, 1677, National Museum Warsaw, ID number: Min.910 MNW  (retrieved 23-12-2021)

Figure 4. BurgererSF, Queen’s Bedroom in the Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów, 2012, Wikimedia Commons.  (retrieved 22-12-2021).

Figure 5. Unknown artist, Maria Kazimiera and her children, Oil on Canvas, 2nd half of the 17th century, Bayerische Staatsgemaldesammlungen – Staatsgalerie Schleissheim, Inventory number: 2433 (retrieved 22-12-2021).

Figure 6. EU Horizon Funding Logo.

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