Author Archives: elenachristiane

January 2019 Book of the Month

Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman

by Stefan Zweig (1881 – 1942)

marie-antoinette-cover

cover of the Viking Press first edition, 1933

The book was first published in 1932 under the title: Marie Antoinette: Bildnis eines mittleren Charakters

Marie Antoinette was born in Vienna in 1755 as archduchess Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna of Habsburg-Lothringen, daughter to Maria Theresia and Emperor Francis I. In 1770, she was married to the French Dauphin and future king Louis XVI, to manifest a political liaison that had been vigorously pursued by both countries to form a coalition against Prussia. In his book, Zweig focuses on the woman who was queen and on the judgment that she faced by her contemporaries. Tried by the Revolutionary Tribunal, Marie Antoinette was convicted, sentenced to death and eventually executed by the Guillotine in 1793.

It is not easy to rate this book from the viewpoint of a historian. Zweig’s biography has reached great popularity, not only for its topic but also for its masterful language. It is well researched especially on the level of personal correspondence between the featured personages. The book, albeit not the work of a historian, has had a considerable influence on historical fiction and scientific writing ever since.

Zweig was a novelist with a PhD in philosophy, known for his analytical character studies, regularly submitting his personages to a thorough psychological analysis. He is famous for the melancholic atmosphere of his works and his tragic protagonists trapped between humanity and human cruelty. His work shows a man not only in search for himself but with a deep insight into the world around him and a need to grasp the changes of said world that left him in a deep shock, expatriated from his beloved homeland and that eventually contributed to his suicide. He remains without question one of the most accomplished writers of modern Austrian literature.

Stefan Zweig’s biographies are therefore rather a work of literature than scientific analysis. They reflect Zweig’s subjective interpretations but pay tribute to his deep knowledge of human nature.

Among them, Marie Antoinette is particularly interesting in retrospect of Zweig’s own connection to monarchic Austria. As a Jew growing up in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, he was very skeptical of the political changes after its downfall and developed a nostalgic view of the old world where the Emperor had held his protective hand over the cultural and ethnical variety.

Already the title catches the eye and gives food for thought. When Zweig describes Marie Antoinette as an average woman, he does not attribute her overly negative character traits. In his narration, she is not unintelligent, hypocritical, ill-natured or overly condescending. Zweig simply stretches the fact that she was unprepared and by nature of her character also unfitting for the responsibilities that should arise from the economic and political circumstances within France.

Zweig does not hide Marie Antoinette’s personal shortcomings but describes her in all the authenticity of her character. She is not a studious character, trying to avoid her more tedious duties wherever she can, charming her way out of them. According to Zweig, she lacks the perseverance for more responsible endeavors. She is described as a woman caught between a carefree, fun-loving and slightly irresponsible child and the role as queen, the importance of which she never really cared to grasp. She is lost in the court intrigues, thrown into the lion’s den at the age of fifteen, not knowing who to trust and eventually relying on the wrong people who would abuse her friendship and ruin her reputation in the public eye. In that way, Zweig shows Marie Antoinette as a political pawn, forced into a role that, because of her personality, she was unfit to fulfill, yet by no fault of her own. He does not judge Marie Antoinette in the light of history, he merely analyzes her character and actions within the world and the circumstances surrounding her, very much like in a play.

Unlike many biographers before him and some after him, Zweig does not try to hide the relationship between Marie Antoinette and Graf Fersen or describe it as an innocent friendship. He fully grants the queen who is trapped in a marriage of political convenience her right to a fulfilling love life. Zweig is appalled at the insinuation that Marie Antoinette should be accused of having tried to conceal the relationship out of fear and false sanctimoniousness. She, who had never been a coward and never allowed any convention to break her will.

According to Zweig, Marie Antoinette’s greatest mistake largely contributing to her downfall was that she mingled into politics without understanding it or being interested in it. She merely did it to distribute favors, to satisfy her courtiers and perhaps, like in a childish game, to prove to them as well as to herself the power and influence she held over her husband.

Zweig implies that as a female royal consort, Marie Antoinette did not achieve the extraordinary. She did not guide her husband in a way that might have prevented the revolution. Yet, it was the revolution that brought this fact more to light than anything else. After all, so Zweig, Maria Theresia did not want her daughter to mingle into public affairs. If criticism would arise, Maria Theresia would have preferred for it not to fall upon her daughter but on some minister, who could be held accountable.

Zweig portrays the queen as the maker of her own fate but stresses that she is mostly a victim of circumstances. Those circumstances were beyond her control and understanding and to a certain extend also beyond her care. Yet, in her darkest hour, when she is personally attacked and under scrutiny, she shows her strength and dignity. Zweig does not fail to mention that even certain members of royalty used that opportunity to settle a personal account with Marie Antoinette.

In this moment, Zweig portrays her more as a queen than ever stating that beside all her shortcomings, she possessed incredible courage. The revolutionary trial against her is a sham, attempting to frame Marie Antoinette in the most appalling manner. Yet, she proves her wit and escapes all judicial subtlety and calculation. When she is asked by the judge if she regrets that the right of the people have cost her son the throne, she responds that she would never regret anything for her son if it served his country. Zweig salutes Marie Antoinette for not opening herself to the attack while at the same time emphasizing her son’s birthright and the role of the Monarchy by calling France “his” country. This scene gives an interesting insight into Zweig’s own state of mind. This is perhaps less a proof to reveal Zweig as monarchist but rather shows his disgust with the French Revolution and his refusal to see it as a glorious event. He underlines the cruelty of public opinion that shamed the royal family with the worst kind of propaganda. Zweig might have written those passages reflecting upon his own experiences with the power of such vilification over the public mind.

Zweig, although far from calling Marie Antoinette an exemplary queen, does not judge her in the retrospective of post-monarchist democratic politics. He focuses on his portrayal of a woman faced with the inhumanity of her judgment and her judges. In that sense, Zweig stays true to one of his leading topics. In doing so, he naturally becomes apologetic of Marie Antoinette and somehow glorifies her image.

Zweig is undoubtedly subjective but he looks at the historical background from a point of view that is in itself fascinating and worth reflecting upon. He wrote the biography on Marie Antoinette in 1932, about 140 years after her death but within this comparatively short time, the world had seen incredible changes. Stefan Zweig uses Marie Antoinette for his own reminiscence of a past that was to him irrevocably lost, while facing a future he was not looking forward to. The comparison of the terror of the French Revolution with the terror that was yet to come in Zweig’s own country and that he partly anticipated, shows his inner turmoil. As such, the novel is in some way equally a testimony to Zweig’s own time which creates an interesting multifaceted nature.

Zweig has been criticized for writing a pamphlet of redemption, portraying the queen as a victim of her circumstances, giving future writers a justification for a similar romantic notion culminating in publicized fiction like the film by Sophia Ford Coppola.

A historian might consider himself an apt critic of such work but it might also lead him to reflect upon his own scientific judgement. Finally, critical observations aside, the writing itself is nothing but superb and clearly shows Zweig’s mastery of the German language which makes the book a pleasure to read.

Advertisements

Interview with Carolyn Harris

Canadian Women’s Responses to Royal Tours from the Eighteenth Century to the Present

Dr. Carolyn Harris is a historian, author and royal commentator. She obtained her PhD in history at Queen’s University at Kingston and is currently teaching history at the University of Toronto, School of Continuing Studies.Carolyn is the author of several successful books and articles. Her most recent book is Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting. She is also a prolific guest lecturer and works as a historical consultant, writer, presenter and contributor to television, radio, print and online media. Carolyn is the winner of the first CCCU Book Prize on which occasion we published another interview with her on our blog.

RSJ Blog: Welcome Carolyn and thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview with us.

Carolyn: Thank you, I am delighted to discuss the long and interesting history of Canadian women’s responses to royal tours.

RSJ Blog: You have written a very fascinating article highlighting Canadian woman’s reactions and points of view regarding British royal presence in their country over a period of about 200 years.

In your opinion, how much personal impact did those royal visitors and representatives have on swaying Canadian women’s impressions and views on British Monarchy and rule?

Carolyn: The presence of members of the royal family in Canada, especially for extended periods of residence, contributed to the perception of the monarchy as distinctly Canadian. Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn (the father of Queen Victoria) gave his name to Prince Edward Island and was one of the first public figures to describe both French and English inhabitants of British North America as Canadians. Princess Louise, along with her husband Lord Lorne was instrumental to the founding of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. Her niece Princess Patricia of Connaught became honourary Colonel-in-Chief of the Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry. Long before the 1931 Statute of Westminster laid the groundwork for a Canadian Crown that was politically distinct from the British Crown, the Canadian monarchy was already culturally distinct from the British monarchy because of the presence of royalty in Canada for extended periods of residence as well as shorter tours.

For Canadian women, royal tours of Canada were not only rare opportunities to catch a glimpse of members of the royal family but opportunities to express their concerns and seek patronage for philanthropic institutions that benefit women’s health, education and professional development. When the future King William IV visited what is now the province of Newfoundland in the late 18thcentury both men and women brought their grievances to his attention and sought legal redress. When Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Louise arrived in Canada as vice regal consort in 1878, one of the first requests that she received was to become the patron of the Montreal Ladies’ Educational Association. Louise’s sister-in-law the Duchess of Connaught was the patron of the first solo exhibition by the Canadian artist Mary Riter Hamilton in 1912.

The association of female members of the royal family withcauses benefiting women continues to the present day. When William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited British Columbia and the Yukon in 2016, their itinerary included a visit to Sheway, an organization that benefits vulnerable mothers in Vancouver’s downtown eastside. The marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, attracted particular attention in Canadian media because Meghan had resided in Toronto for a number of years during her career as an actress and was involved in local charities such as World Vision Canada. The Duchess of Sussex describes herself as a feminist and has a long history of speaking up for women’s equality, which will shape her philanthropic endeavours in Canada and throughout the Commonwealth.

princess_louise_and_lorne_engagement

The engagement photo of Princess Louise and John, Marquess of Lorne and 9th Duke of Argyll

RSJ Blog: Despite the differences between the portrayal of women’s participation in Canada and the USA, the romantic notion is apparent on both sides. Would it be too big a cliché to say that women just liked that aspect very much?

Carolyn: There are distinctive differences between Canadian and American press coverage of royal tours that have remained constant from the 19thcentury to the present day. Royal tours of Canada often prompt discussions of the future of the constitutional monarchy in Canada and the involvement of members of the royal family in Canadian philanthropy and institutions in addition to coverage of royalty as famous people and leaders of fashion. In the United States, however, the celebrity aspect of the royal family’s public image dominates the press coverage. In 1860, when Queen Victoria’s son Albert Edward toured British North America and the United States, there was some acknowledgement of the political significance of King George III’s great-grandson enjoying a successful American tour but the majority of commentary, especially coverage intended for women readers emphasized the fairy tale aspect of the presence of a Prince on American soil, dancing with American women at balls in his honour. American women were encouraged to view the Prince as a romantic figure rather than a political personage.

In his landmark work The English Constitution, Walter Bagehot assumed that the spectacle of royal weddings was of more interest to women than the political role of the constitutional monarch, noting that “The women — one half of the human race at least — care fifty times more for a marriage than a ministry.” Bagehot’s analysis ignores the wider social context for the intense scrutiny by 19thcentury women of royal weddings and other events in the life cycle of the royal family. The wedding of Queen Victoria’s eldest son, the future Edward VII, which Bagehot singled out as a particular focus of women’s’ interest, meant the arrival of Princess Alexandra of Denmark, a young woman who would become the second most prominent female member of the royal family after her wedding. Alexandra’s interests, friendships, background and approach to public engagements, especially at a time when Queen Victoria was living in comparative seclusion as a widow, would influence which charities benefiting women would receive royal patronage and which women would be appointed to the royal household. The new Princess of Wales was not simply being welcomed as a fashionable young princess but as one of the most prominent women in the United Kingdom at a time when roles for women in public life were becoming increasingly circumscribed.

RSJ Blog: You are mentioning that the 1791 Constitutional Act provided an unusual amount of political autonomy for property-owning women. Could you perhaps elaborate on the origin of this Act and why it was later abolished? Did the personal, more conservative views of Queen Victoria have any influence?

Carolyn: Prior to the nineteenth century, there were individual examples of propertied women voting throughout the English-speaking world. These women were generally unmarried women or widows as until the married women’s property acts of the 19thcentury, the property of married women was owned and controlled by their husbands and they therefore did not meet the requirements for the franchise. The position of married women in propertied households differed under the Coutume de Paris, which had formed the basis of the law in New France.  Property was jointly owned by both spouses under the administration of the husband, circumstances that allowed married women in propertied households to be voters in theory if not always in practice. Under the Quebec Act of 1774, French civil law continued to be in force in Lower Canada (modern day Quebec) following the British conquest of New France. Women voted in 15 districts of Lower Canada between 1791 and 1854, when a specific law was passed prohibiting female suffrage in all circumstances. A similar process had occurred under English common law where the rare cases of widows and single women voting were proscribed by law in the 19thcentury. The prohibition of all forms of women’s suffrage at the same time as the expansion of the male franchise provided an impetus for the late 19thand early 20thcentury campaign for women’s suffrage.

Queen Victoria served a role model for women seeking a greater role in public life, including the Canadian suffragist Nellie McClung, but the Queen did not support women’s suffrage. Her daughters were more interested in increased roles for women outside the home. Princess Helena supported the professionalization of nursing as a career for women while Princess Louise encouraged education and vocational training for women of all social backgrounds. Louise’s sister-in-law supported women’s suffrage publicly and Louise met privately with suffragists but did not champion their cause in the public arena out of respect for the views of her mother Queen Victoria.

RSJ Blog: For some, Princess Louise as viceregal consort and daughter of the ruling monarch signified too much royal presence in Canada. What was the reaction of Canadian women to this particular criticism? Did it have any importance at all?

Carolyn: Louise became viceregal consort in 1878, just eleven years after Canadian Confederation at a time when Canada was defining its place in the world in comparison to Britain and the United States. Canadians prided themselves on their loyalty to the monarchy as this was a key political and cultural trait that differentiated them from Americans. Queen Victoria’s birthday was a popular holiday and it remains a statutory holiday and the monarch’s official birthday in Canada today. Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of Anne of Green Gables, wrote about how images of Queen Victoria were displayed at home and the Queen was viewed as a role model for young women to emulate. A number of her literary heroines express admiration for royal women. Queen Victoria’s public image emphasized her role as a loving wife then a grieving widow and the mother of nine children. She was frequently photographed in comparatively simple attire, wearing a bonnet instead of a crown, even on grand occasions such as her Golden Jubilee in 1887. This domestic image allowed women from a variety of social backgrounds to view the Queen as a woman with a great deal in common with themselves as well as the sovereign.

Although Queen Victoria was held in high personal regard in Canada and loyalty to the monarchy was a key aspect of Canadian culture during her reign, royalty who visited Canada, especially those who resided there for extended periods of time were expected to behave differently than they did in the United Kingdom. Royalty in Canada were expected to cultivate an approachable manner toward people of a variety of social backgrounds and relax the customary court etiquette. The news that Princess Louise would reside in Canada prompted concerns that Canadians would be expected to wear court dress in her presence or back out of rooms when royalty was present. Louise’s refusal to insist on ceremony in this manner attracted widespread approval in Canada. Like previous viceregal couples, Lord Lorne and Princess Louise were also expected to embrace Canadian pastimes, especially outdoor activities. The couple were praised in the newspapers for taking up skating, curling, tobogganing and sleigh riding in the winter and camping and fishing in the summer.

princeofwalescanoeing

Edward, Prince of Wales with two Ojibwe guides, canoe on the Nipigon River during his 1919 royal tour.

RSJ Blog: What was the reaction among Canadian women to Princess Louise’s philanthropic engagements especially concerning her progressive views? Did they generally embrace them or were there any critical voices?

Carolyn: There is circumstantial evidence that Princess Louise received some quiet disapproval from certain members of the English Canadian elite in Canada. There were persistent rumors of feud between the Princess and the Canadian Prime Minister’s wife, Lady Macdonald. Both women were bothered by these rumors and were determined to present a show of unity in public and express their regard for one another. During the term of the previous Governor General, Lord Dufferin, English and French-Canadian high society often socialized separately but Louise, who spoke fluent French, befriended French Canadians and these friendships attracted comment within English Canadian society who expected the Princess to socialize within their own ranks rather than branching out in this manner.

Louise’s philanthropy and views regarding women’s place in society received a variety of responses. In her role as viceregal consort, she was expected to become patron of charities that benefited women. Louise’s encouragement of women pursuing professional careers as artists certainly stood out at a time when art for women was often viewed as a feminine accomplishment rather than a professional endeavor. In her promotion of women’s education, however, some of Louise’s views were considered not progressive enough in certain circles. In her patronage of the Montreal Ladies’ Educational Association, she emphasized the importance of domestic science and vocational training, which disappointed some women who hoped that she would champion higher academic standards in women’s education.

The majority of the criticism concerning Princess Louise’s time as vice regal consort, however, concerned her extended absences from Canada during her husband Lord Lorne’s time in office. Louise was injured in a sleigh accident in 1880, which prevented her attendance at the inaugural Royal Canadian Academy of Arts exhibition, which eventually formed the basis for the National Gallery of Canada. Lorne minimized the extent of Louise’s injuries and so her extended periods of convalescence in Europe and Bermuda attracted widespread speculation. There were rumours that she disliked Canada or that her marriage was in jeopardy. The perception that Louise neglected her duties because of her lengthy absences continues to be the most prominent critique of her time as viceregal consort.

opening_of_canadian_parliament_1879

The Marquess of Lorne, accompanied by Princess Louise, opening the Canadian Parliament in 1879

RSJ Blog: Thank you very much for this deeper insight into your topic. What other projects are you pursuing at the moment? Are you perhaps working on a new book?

Carolyn: I am currently writing articles for a variety of publications including the Historica Canada Canadian Encyclopedia and the BBC History Magazine. Links to my writing are available on my website royalhistorian.com

Regarding my next book project, I am co-editing a forthcoming four volume book series, English Consorts: Power, Influence, Dynasty with Joanna Laynesmith, Danna Messer, Aidan Norrie, and Elena Woodcare as part of the Palgrave Macmillan Queenship and Power series. The English Consorts series aims to provide short, focused, well-researched, and refereed biographies of all of the English consorts since the Conquest.

The Call for Contributors for English Consorts: Power, Influence, Dynastyis available here. 

 

Interview with Barbara J. Messamore

Barbara J. Messamore holds a PhD from the University of Edinburgh and is an associate professor at the University of the Fraser Valley in Canada. She specializes in Canadian political, constitutional and migration history. Barbara is also on the board of directors at the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada at Massey College, University of Toronto. A list of her publications and other projects can be found on her homepage. Read the full article in the Royal Studies Journal.

RSJ Blog: Good day Barbara and thank you for doing this interview with us.

Barbara: Thanks for your interest. It’s my pleasure.

RSJ Blog: You mention that the 1939 Royal Visit to Canada was the first by a ruling Monarch. Could you sum up the national and international circumstances that eventually led to it?

Barbara: Yes, I’d be happy to. Incidentally, it’s a subtle point, but I think it is better to say “reigning—rather than ruling– monarch” in the era I’m describing. The genesis of the 1939 tour seems to have been a 1936 meeting between Edward VIII and Canada’s prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King. But after Edward VIII’s abdication and George VI’s accession to the throne, circumstances made a successful tour even more important. There are a few reasons for that. One was directly tied to the institution of the monarchy. It had arguably been damaged by the abdication crisis. A tour could restore the image of the royal family and strengthen Canadian ties to the Commonwealth. And Canada’s position within the Commonwealth had also recently changed with the 1931 Statute of Westminster, as had that of other Dominions. The tour would be a chance to demonstrate that, while Canada was autonomous, the tie to the monarch was still strong. The tour organizers arranged to have the King conspicuously carry out some of the duties of the Crown while in Ottawa, duties that were normally carried out by the governor general, such as giving royal assent to legislation. It was a chance to show that Dominion autonomy did not sever the link to the Crown.

Perhaps paradoxically, given this focus on George VI’s role as King of Canada, an even more important aspect of the tour was its function in bolstering Canada’s tie to Britain. This is the thing that made the tour especially urgent in 1939. There was every reason to believe that war with Germany was on the horizon, and Canadians had given little assurance that they would lend support. Canada’s Mackenzie King had been unwilling to make any commitments at the 1937 Imperial Conference and was deeply sensitive to isolationist sentiments in Canada; Quebec’s opposition to European entanglements was clear, as was that of a new and rising socialist party in Canada, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. The British were mindful of this political pressure on King and, if it could be demonstrated that love for and loyalty to the mother country was strong in Canada, King could be swayed.

RSJ Blog: Are Royal Visits to Canada significant in comparison to visits to other parts of the commonwealth or the dominions?

Barbara: I think the essentialobjective is common to each. How such a tour is going to be received is likely to be a function of the circumstances of the moment. So, for example, the article touches on the fact that the 1964 Canadian tour, coming at a time of resurgent Quebecois nationalism, was fraught with difficulty. Similarly, while there had been a durbar in Delhi in 1911 to mark George V’s coronation, the atmosphere of Indian nationalism in 1937 when George VI came to the throne made the accession contentious, so it was thought better not to risk it.

In the particular context of the 1939 tour, a chance to enhance Canada’s loyalty was especially valuable. Cultivating a better tie with Mackenzie King might pay dividends in case of war and Canada’s prime minister would have a chance to observe that many Canadian subjects felt that sense of loyalty. It would show him that it would be impolitic to turn his back on Britain in their hour of need. Spending time in Quebec was also an important part of the tour for that same reason. The brief visit across the border to the United States was not in itself going to shift American isolationist sentiment, but it certainly provided a vital human connection that gave a face to the British struggle to confront Nazi aggression. And while Roosevelt was faced with an intransigent Congress, he did wish to offer what help he could.

RSJ Blog: And they needed all the help they could get. How would you describe the relation between the legal constitutional position of Canada within the Commonwealth and the representation of said position by Canadian politicians especially towards the Royal Family?

Barbara: The 1931 Statute of Westminster made Canada’s role in the Commonwealth with respect to the Crown more explicit, but I’ll readily concede that it’s far from simple. It had gradually evolved that the dominions had autonomy in foreign as well as domestic matters, and in reality, the 1926 Balfour Report and the 1931 Statute of Westminster only recognized that evolved state of things. In both the UK and the dominions, it was well understood that the Crown would act on the advice of responsible ministers—hence, my preference for the term “reign” over “rule.” There were—and are—still reserve powers that might be exercised by the Crown in emergency situations, for example, if a head of government attempts to hang on to power when faced with a loss of Parliament’s confidence. Because Mackenzie King had had a famous clash with a previous governor general, Lord Byng, in 1926, he was acutely sensitive about the role of the Crown and about any potential encroachment on Canada’s self-governing status. By this time, though, it had been long established that the governor general was not dictated to by British authorities; he carried out his duties entirely with reference to Canada. Mackenzie King had an unfounded suspicion that British partiality to the Conservative party had informed the governor general’s actions in 1926. But Mackenzie King also had a kind of reverence for the Crown and was deeply drawn to the royal family. The challenge for George VI was to demonstrate that he was not in Canada as the “British” monarch, but as king of Canada, one of his most important dominions, and that there was no wish to curtail Canada’s autonomy. I think this is why the symbolic gesture of him carrying out the sovereign’s duties in Ottawa, using Canada’s royal seal, was so important. He was acting, not as the British king visiting Canada, but as the king of Canada. Having said this, George VI would have certainly been mindful of the fact that, for Britain, Canadian support would be essential to a successful war effort and I’m sure his British cabinet looked at the tour in that light. So, this vital British objective could hardly have been absent from his mind.  For many Canadians, the king represented a British empire to which they still felt a keen personal loyalty.

RSJ Blog: Talking about loyalty, what significance did the filming of the event have at that time and was it rather exceptional or already a usual procedure to have British royal visits accompanied by a camera team? Where were these films broadcasted to?

Barbara: I think in any royal tour, commemoration was a given. Books commissioned to depict the tours were a standard way to do this, as were photographs. For example, there are some great photographs and sketches of the Prince of Wales’s 1860 visit to Canada, including one of him riding a timber slide. The commemoration would take the form available in the day. In 1939, the daily radio broadcasts and a commemorative film provided a way to both broaden the reach of the tour and to preserve it. The 1939 film was produced by Canada’s National Film Board, so it would be widely circulated, and it really provides a way to frame the narrative in an optimal way. The film is meant to convey a message of loyalty to the Crown, including among French Canadians, aboriginal Canadians, and veterans of the Great War. Military inspections are featured prominently in the film.

RSJ Blog: Thank you very much for deepening our insight into the topic! What other project are you pursuing at the moment?

Barbara: I’m happy to share these thoughts with you. My newest project is a study of Canada’s pre-Confederation upper house. We have perennial debates in Canada about whether our appointed Senate should be elected or eliminated altogether. But few Canadians know that we actually had an elected upper house between 1856 and 1867, so I’m investigating the reasons why that short-lived experiment was abandoned.

RSJ Blog: A very opportune question concerning the actual debate. We are looking forward to reading about your results!

the unveiling of the national war memorial, ottawa 1939_margaret fulton frame

The Unveiling of the National War Memorial, Ottawa 1939 by Margaret Fulton Frame

 

Interview with Stella Fletcher

Cardinals and the War of Ferrara

Stella Fletcher is a graduate of the University of Warwick, where she specialised in Italian Renaissance history.  Her doctoral thesis examined Venetian cardinals in Rome between 1471 and 1492.  Since then she has taught for various universities, most recently the University of Manchester.  She has also served as editor of the Bulletin of the Society for Renaissance Studies and as honorary secretary of the Ecclesiastical History Society. Read the full article in the Royal Studies Journal.

RSJ Blog: Welcome Stella and thank you for agreeing to this interview with us!

Stella: I’m flattered to have been asked.

RSJ Blog: In the Royal Studies Network we are interested in cardinals because they are ecclesiastical princes, but your account of the War of Ferrara (1482–4) reveals that some of them were royal or noble by birth as well, so we are particularly interested in those individuals.  Were cardinals of noble birth expected to be equally knowledgeable about worldly and spiritual matters?

Stella: My suspicion is that you are thinking principally of Cardinal Giovanni d’Aragona, who was the son of King Ferrante of Naples, making him a prince by birth and by profession. Giovanni was dynastically connected to Cardinal Ascanio Maria Sforza of Milan, so perhaps you are thinking of him as well. Other names come to mind, but those will do for now. There is one rather useful distinction that can be observed concerning cardinals of elite birth in the later fifteenth century. Just as the clerical body is formed of a hierarchy of bishops, priests and deacons, so there were – and are – cardinal bishops, cardinal priests and cardinal deacons. If you look at each cardinal in turn you can see a distinction between the venerable cardinal bishops, who were effectively a short list of candidates for the next papal election, the more numerous cardinal priests, who had a lifetime of ecclesiastical service and often much learning behind them, and the cardinal deacons, who were often younger, less learned and – yes – of noble birth. Sure enough, Giovanni d’Aragona and Ascanio Maria Sforza were both made cardinal deacons, as was the young and apparently irresponsible Giovanni Colonna. It seems to me to be a tacit acknowledgement that they were not quite the thing. Fortunately for them, they could be cardinals without even being in holy orders, which is a bit like the president of France being a canon of the Lateran basilica in Rome in spite of being a layman.  All sorts of rules can be tweaked for persons of such distinction. There are certain responsibilities that fall to the most senior of the cardinal deacons. They include making the ‘Habemus papam’ declaration when a new pope has been elected, but do not happen to involve cure of souls. In the century of Bernardino of Siena, Girolamo Savonarola and any number of other notable preaching friars, there was no shortage of men to teach the faith, hear confessions and so forth. For practical purposes, it didn’t make any significant difference if a small number of prelates did not possess the faculties to do that sort of thing.

Titian_Sixtus IV

Pope Sixtus IV, Titian ca. 1545

RSJ Blog: How much was the education of future cardinals as political assets part of a noble family’s long-term planning?

Stella: That depends on which generation you have in mind, though it is something we can see coming into focus in the decades around the War of Ferrara.  If you look at earlier generations, there was no shortage of cardinals from ‘noble’ families, though we could be here for some time if we try to identify precisely what counted as noble status and whether it meant precisely the same thing in different regions of Christendom.  I remember sitting round a table in the Jesuit headquarters in Rome with a diverse group of people from around the globe. Each one declared him or herself to have noble blood, leaving me to comment that I was the only person present who came from a country where noble birth actually entitled certain individuals to have a seat in parliament – the rules have changed slightly since then – and I was pleased to say I had no noble blood in my veins whatsoever.  If nobles can apparently outnumber non-nobles in a random group of people, how much has the term been stretched over the centuries?  In the fifteenth century a handful of cardinals came from the higher nobility but, like many of the bishops throughout Christendom, a much larger proportion was recruited from the minor nobility.  The novelty came when close relatives of ruling princes – who perhaps had no overlord other than the distant and ineffectual emperor – were made cardinals.  Think of it as beginning with Pius II’s promotion of the seventeen-year-old Francesco Gonzaga in 1461.  That opened up all sorts of possibilities.  If the ruling family of Mantua could have its own cardinal, families of similar or higher status wanted them too.  It paralleled an inflation of secular titles in the same period, an inflation that can also be illustrated by the Gonzaga. Thus, the cardinalate became politicised in a way that it had not been previously.  You ask about ‘long-term planning’.  The clearest case of that in the fifteenth century comes not from a noble family at all, but from one that chose to marry into noble families and live the noble lifestyle.  In the Florentine republic Lorenzo de’ Medici positively groomed his son Giovanni for great things in the Church, and it worked: he was a cardinal at thirteen and pope at thirty-seven.  In the following centuries it became the norm for elite families to have a cardinal in each generation as a matter of course, regardless of whether their candidates were intellectually suitable for it or had illustrious careers behind them.  That’s the ancien régime for you!

RSJ Blog: In view of the political divisions among the Italian states, how much self-regulation and compromise was involved in the creation of cardinals and papal elections?

Stella: The creation of cardinals was and remains entirely in the gift of the pope, so it is up to him whether he chooses to create balances of one sort or another, geographical, theological or whatever might be relevant.  I would rather not generalise but, instead, suggest that you look at the precise circumstances behind each creation.  In the article I account for Sixtus IV’s creation of five new cardinals in 1483 and emphasise the balancing acts that went into that.  The political context surely influenced his decisions.  Similar patterns can be found among his earlier promotions, but there is also evidence of a certain lack of caution, not least in his choice of Giovanni d’Aragona. The existing cardinals advised against it precisely because Giovanni was the son of the king of Naples and would retain that allegiance.  More broadly, they sought to block increases in their number because each individual cardinal enjoyed more authority and significance if the college was smaller and found his personal authority diminished by each addition to their number.  There was a financial dimension to this because certain sums of money were divided between those cardinals who were resident in Rome: the fewer of them there were, the greater the income each one received. The sums didn’t increase to match a larger number of cardinals.  Think of it as a cake being divided into pieces.  There was no possibility of baking a larger one.  On the other hand, it was in the pope’s interest to promote a greater number of cardinals because that meant none of them were too powerful to be any sort of threat to his authority. Sixtus IV was a strong pontiff who created many cardinals.  His successor, Innocent VIII, was much weaker and created fewer in proportion to the length of his pontificate.  It is well known that cardinals voting in conclaves have often reacted against the previous pontiff and gone for a deliberate contrast for the next pope. Sixtus was so strong a character that there was much to react against though, as you saw in the article, in 1484 Giovanni Battista Cibo was not necessarily chosen because he was meek and mild in comparison, though it must have helped his chances. The nature of conclaves means that compromise is almost inevitable. It is part of how the world works.

RSJ Blog: Did Sixtus IV’s experience of the Ferrarese war influence the way in which subsequent popes dealt with the secular powers?

Stella: You might be forgiven for thinking so, especially because the next four pontiffs – Innocent VIII, Alexander VI, Pius III, and Julius II – were among those cardinals featured in the article, men who had direct experience of the conflict.  However, that would be to assume that the War of Ferrara was somehow exceptional. It wasn’t, even during Sixtus’s pontificate. Not long before the Ferrarese war there had been the Pazzi War, in which papal and Neapolitan forces encountered those of Florence and Venice.  Tensions were usually high, and the pope employed soldiers as a matter of course. The War of Ferrara was part of a continuum of conflicts among the states of later fifteenth-century Italy, so it made no decisive difference to how any of the major political players operated, including the popes.  Between 1454 and 1494 the Italian states were pretty much always jostling with one another in such a way that we can look back at it now and see that what they did had the effect of maintaining a balance of power. Relations between the popes and the secular princes did change from 1494 onwards and that was because non-Italian powers – France, the Spanish kingdoms, the emperor, the Swiss – began using Italy as a convenient battlefield on which to fight each other, which challenged the popes in unprecedented ways.  Back in 1482 the fear was that Venice had become too dominant and, indeed, it is a measure of Venetian strength that most of the Italian states were in league against the republic and yet failed to defeat it in two years of conflict.  As we have seen in the article, that was a measure of the League’s weakness as much as it was a sign of Venetian strength.  Venice was not defeated and continued to be conscious of its vulnerability to attack from the south, which it countered by seeking influence down the coast south of Ferrara … in the Papal States.  One of the cardinals who appears in the article, Giuliano della Rovere, became Pope Julius II in 1503 and effectively took up where his uncle, Sixtus, had left off, being determined to drive the Venetians out of papal territory.  That is just one example of continuity, of the Ferrarese war marking no obvious difference in relations between the states.  As long as the popes were territorial princes as well as spiritual leaders of Christendom they had no option but to defend their state.  How could they have done otherwise?

RSJ Blog: The bellicose Pope Julius was roundly condemned in the satire Julius exclusus, so how did his uncle’s involvement in the War of Ferrara affect the reputation of the papacy a generation earlier?

Stella: Just because we have the Julius exclusus does not mean that it should be allowed to speak for anyone except its author – presumably Erasmus – and his learned circle of friends.  Just because you know what happened in the sixteenth century does not mean that it should be allowed to colour appreciation of the fifteenth.  The sixteenth gets us into a world of polemical tracts and therefore into something we can regard as public opinion. The fifteenth-century printers were busy educating and currying favour with patrons, rather than stirring up trouble and biting the hands that fed them.  What the pope did at a political level was therefore communicated by ambassadors in their dispatches to their princes, so who knew what depended on the quality and quantity of information they received from Rome and was limited to the princes and their ministers. The pope belonged to their world: they took up arms to defend their territory, so there was no reason for secular princes to be surprised if he did likewise. He was, of course, expected to inspire men to take up arms against the infidel, and the Venetians were not slow to point out the irony when that enthusiasm was directed against fellow Christians, but they were playing politics when they did so. The political elites knew what was happening and why it was happening, so the pope’s reputation was not really an issue.

Pope Julius II_Raphael

Pope Julius II, Raphael ca. 1511

RSJ Blog: Thank you very much for giving us these fascinating insights into your topic. What is your next project?

Stella: I have a list of potential projects, ranging from the fifteenth to the twentieth century, most of which deal with some sort of cross between religion and diplomacy. It would be satisfying to do all of them in due course, but the precise order will have to be dictated by whatever circumstances happen to arise.

Interview with John Murphy

Cardinal Reginald Pole: Questions of Self-Justification and of Faith

John Murphy is a historian and writer. He studied at the University of Leeds, where he also taught as well as at Westfield College and Exeter University. Today, he works as an independent scholar specializing in the Tudor Age. Next to his work in fiction he also writes articles such as “Cardinal Reginald Pole: Questions of Self-Justification and of Faith” that recently appeared in the Royal Studies Journal. Among his many talents he also creates tasty recipes which you can find on his blog. Read the full article in the Royal Studies Journal.

RSJ Blog: First of all, thank you John for doing this interview with us!

John: After those kind comments about my recipes how could I be less than delighted to answer your further questions?

RSJ Blog: In your article you argue that “Pole and his contemporaries would not have understood human sexuality in modern terms”. Could you elaborate on that a little bit more?

John: Gay Studies and Gender studies are new intellectual disciplines and many of them have rested on the extraordinary work of Professor John Boswell. His thesis is set out in broadest terms in Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality (Chicago, 1980). It establishes the idea that gay history is hidden in plain sight but although Boswell established a pedigree for adopting the term “gay” over “homosexual”  in historical narrative he remained sensitive to the fact that “homosexuality” is itself only an intellectual construct based on a nineteenth century understanding of human sexuality and gender. Therefore, whether or not Pole might be thought to be homosexual or homosocial or gay – which in my view stretches evidence beyond where it goes – he could not have considered himself in terms of possessing such a sexual identity. In the sixteenth century certain physical sexual acts were placed under legal prohibition in both in ecclesiastical and secular jurisdictions because of Biblical injunction – which is why for example “buggery” becomes a matter of treason under statute in England after Henry VIII’s separation from Rome. Platonic or non-sexualised same-sex love was in fact generally well-regarded, almost attaining the status of a higher form of intimacy than conjugal love.  Here, Christ’s injunction: “greater love no man can show than to lay down his life for his friend” dignified this understanding of love’s better nature.

Cardinal Reginald Pole

Cardinal Reginald Pole (Sebastiano del Piombo, 1540)

RSJ Blog: You say that Pole left a large written heritage. Did he express himself on the accusations of being a hidden Lutheran?

John: He does not debate the matter quite in those terms. The accusation of Lutheranism rested rather on how the first big question of the Reformation emerged into the public sphere – the question Luther raised of how Christians are saved by Christ’s death and resurrection. Luther’s answer to this question was the doctrine of Justification by Faith alone –  alone being essentially the novelty that was later accepted as the “protestant” position. This rejected the notion that good works by the individual were meritorious in any way. This not only attacked the theology behind Indulgences but the theology behind what had long been considered the greatest of good works – the Mass itself. However, other humanist reformers were also reflecting on what St Paul had meant in his Epistles (Romans and Galatians). It was a question of wider scholarly interest and Cardinal Contarini (Pole’s patron), for example, saw both the Catholic tradition and Luther’s position as more fluid and thus more as a difference in kind, one that might be bridged by a form of words acceptable to both sides. If that was ever really possible, events made it an impossible dream whose time went as quickly as it came. By the time Pole wrote his will, in 1558, there is no longer any ambiguity and it is clear that Pole accepted both the notion of Purgatory and the efficacy of Masses for the Dead. Both are essentially totems of the idea that good works are efficacious in themselves, as asserted in the Epistle of St James, although their efficacy is ultimately entwined with the Justification of humankind bought by the ultimate sacrifice of Christ’s death on the cross. The fact that Pole’s final testament and will commissioned priests to pray for his soul demonstrates his total rejection of Luther’s position and ultimately his own doctrinal orthodoxy.

RSJ Blog: You mention that Pole’s elevation to the Sacred College in 1536 was clearly an act of provocation to King Henry VIII. Did Pole’s family situation influence his career in Rome? In other words, did their fall from grace in England trigger Pole’s success abroad?

John: Pole was prominent in the world of sixteenth century nobility because of his family –  he was himself a (Yorkist) prince of the blood. That gave him an entrée to courts of Europe in his own person – it is the sort of social status often played with in Shakespeare. Thus, Pole’s elevation to the Sacred College in an important sense only confirmed his natural pedigree whereas with a Wolsey it bestowed a pedigree.

Pole’s rapid promotion and later prominence reflected his own gifts of scholarship and acuity as much as his birth. This is in part what makes him so special in the history of the sixteenth century. He was already a cardinal before his family fell and their fall was linked to the first great crisis of the English reformation – the Pilgrimage of Grace. Here, given what happened to More and Fisher, Pole must have understood that his willing part as papal legate to Francis I and Charles V against Henry VIII immediately endangered the lives of his family. From our perspective it would seem obvious there would be no limits to the extent of Henry VIII’s revenge. Pole, however, was not equipped with our hindsight and he may still have clung to his own delusions about how far Henry would go; and perhaps he believed the king’s previous affection for his mother, Margaret Pole, would protect her. If Pole had owned such hopes they were to be disappointed.

Whether as a consequence Pole was driven to apply himself to his spiritual endeavours cannot be asserted from any single piece of documentary evidence. What history can observe is that the most productive phase of his career follows the catastrophe his family suffered in England.

Pope Paul III by Titian, ca.1543

Pope Paul III, who appointed Pole cardinal in 1536 (Titian, ca.1543)

RSJ Blog: You say that Pole might not have anticipated the extent of Henry’s retribution against his family. Pole’s biography by  Ludovico Beccadelli states that Pole allegedly thanked God for making him the son of a martyr. Was this perhaps an attempt to deal with his hidden guilt about putting his family in constant danger by criticizing Henry so openly from afar?

John: We speculate to accumulate and I am in danger of speculating too much. I think we can say that it was not until the second half of the sixteenth century that the resistance of the Henrician martyrs became such unequivocal heroic emblems of Catholic identity. Those closest to the martyrs – family and affinity – from the moment of their deaths certainly regarded them as heroic martyrs. Therefore, Pole would have believed his mother’s execution was in the same noble lineage as those of John Fisher and Thomas More. I conjecture that one of the reasons Pole so often reexamines all the events leading to his breach with Henry in his subsequent correspondence must partly have been shaped by the consequences for his family of his decisions to contest the king’s Supremacy – consequences which Pole had to live with for the rest of his life. Any man of conscience would inevitably ask himself over and over if there was another, safer way to have pursued his course.

RSJ Blog: Pole sometimes appears as a rather ambiguous character, being self-assured, calculatingly diplomatic and ambitious at one moment, true to his convictions, humble and even insecure in the next. How do you explain these inconsistencies and what difficulties do subjective sources on Pole pose – including his own writings – to making an astute assessment of his character?

John: Character is a tapestry. Every biographer pulls at the handful of threads he or she believes to be important. We are none of us wholly consistent and throughout most of our lives we all demonstrate the remarkable human ability to happily live with our own contradictory selves. Differing characteristics often come to the fore in different situations. Just as Pole acquired the language and forensic skills of a humanist intellectual in Padua, so, after 1537 as cardinal he certainly acquired the diplomat’s way of overlooking inconvenient facts and working only with the convenient ones. This was a skill set most legates a latere needed.  Personally, Pole could certainly be prickly, aloof, grand perhaps – even to the extent of being slightly pompous – but he could also be suave and persuasive, kind, thoughtful and even self-deprecating. He was most relaxed with a small coterie of trusted intimates. This however is a sign more of awkwardness, born of shyness and a matter of how his princely class behaved in this age rather than a sign of anything more sinister or repressed.

Pole had the flare to see the need for a spiritual awakening in the church that spoke to the sensibilities of his time; he had the “nous” to understand the elements such a reinvigoration of the mission of the Western Church might contain. He also had the skill to conceive a plan for a thoroughgoing reform of the English church but he lacked the time to deliver on the latter and perhaps even the administrative aptness to make it happen. Unlike many of his age, he has left us with a wide-ranging correspondence and literary works of varied character.

At the day’s end, I think he is less ambiguous than scholars have thought him – partly because they have often seen him through the prism of their own prejudices and these have been often informed by a confessional viewpoint. The real Pole is complicated, and his positions evolved with the events of the Reformation in the first fifty years of the sixteenth century.  Pole’s problem – as for all the Catholic Reformers of that time – was the fact that their program of spiritual renewal was partly hijacked by Luther and the later diaspora of ideas of the other emergent protestant churches.

The project of Catholic Reform for spiritual enlightenment bore fruit less in its own time than in the second half of the sixteenth century but by then Christendom was irretrievably divided and the unity of the Western Church was already lost.

Possibly Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury

Portrait of an unknown woman traditionally thought to be Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury                                   (artist unknown)

RSJ Blog: Thank you so much for you time! What is your next project?

John: I have been looking at the Chapel Royal in the reigns of Edward VI and Mary I and how it was used to change the direction of the Reformation.

History has long discounted Edward VI and Mary I as no more than interludes between the mythic reigns of Great Harry and Good Queen Bess. Therefore, my next big project is a daring reconsideration of the political and religious history of the central decades of the Tudor period –  c. 1546 to 1562 –  offering a perspective that challenges presuppositions about how Minority Government worked in Edward VI’s reign; and how well prepared a monarch Mary I really was; and why it is, History has found it difficult to tell the real story of their two reigns. In retelling that story many questions will need to be re-asked about Elizabeth and her long reign; and the real inheritance she left the Stuart kings.

Interview with Glenn Richardson

The King, the Cardinal-Legate, and the Field of Cloth of Gold

Glenn Richardson is Professor of Early Modern History at St. Mary’s University, London. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and an Honorary Fellow of the Historical Association. He specializes in the history of Tudor England and its political and cultural relations with Renaissance Europe. He has published extensively on the topic and is currently working on a biography of Cardinal Wolsey. We caught up with him to discuss his article for the Royal Studies Journal, “The King, the Cardinal-Legate and the Field of Cloth of Gold” in the special issue on Renaissance Cardinals which he edited.

RSJ Blog: Good day Prof. Richardson and thank you for taking some time to do this interview!

You have written a very interesting article on one of the most fascinating characters of Tudor England. Thomas Wolsey came from a common family, and advanced to the second-highest position in the kingdom by his clerical career. Was this still a common occurrence in the early modern period, or was Wolsey indeed a huge exception? Was the promotion of “new men” perhaps a characteristic of the Tudor era, given the political background of the War of the Roses, the new dynasty and the lack of trust for old families?

Glenn: The early years of Henry VIII up to the period with the break with Rome were still very much dominated by the clerical estate. Many of the king’s leading counsellors and opinion-formers were senior clerics, like Fox, Warham, and Ruthall who (unlike many of their French or Spanish or German counterparts) were from gentry or commoner backgrounds. It was into this clerical establishment that Wolsey himself was first drawn through the patronage of Fox. His background was therefore not perhaps as exceptional as might first be thought, but his meteoric and stratospheric rise certainly was. The first two Tudor kings did directly or indirectly, bring into royal service numbers of ‘new men’ with backgrounds in law and the emerging humanities rather than theology and church administration, based on their competence and capacity for work – and Wolsey was certainly one of those.


Banner of Cardinal Wolsey

RSJ Blog: And Wolsey had indeed done the king many services but it seems that Henry’s desired annulment of his first marriage became the cardinal’s Achilles heel. He appears ambitious but also very calculating, a man who knew well what and whom he was dealing with. Would you say that it was basically an unfortunate accumulation of circumstances that brought him down or did he overreach himself in the eyes of Henry VIII?

Glenn: It is true that Wolsey had made his entire career by giving the king what he wanted. He was able to give Henry a high international profile by means other than warfare for a long time but that tied his fortunes very tightly to the uncertain world of European politics. Had the Sack of Rome by Charles V’s rebellious troops in April-May 1527 not happened, it is possible that Pope Clement VII might have granted Henry the annulment of his marriage that he sought, but dependent as he was on the protection of Charles for his own and Florentine family’s interests, Clement was not going to do anything to bite the hand that might yet feed him – whatever the theological arguments for annulment Henry mounted. Wolsey was quite conventional, if imaginative, in his thinking and made strenuous efforts to secure his aim through all kinds of channels and suggested ways forward but, yes, an accumulation of adverse circumstances prevented him from doing all he might have done to achieve his aim. The failure of the Blackfriars’ legatine court and the signing at the same time of the Peace of Ladies between Charles V and Francis I, left Henry without the annulment he had sought and isolated in Europe. It finally undermined his confidence in Wolsey.

RSJ Blog: You argue convincingly that Wolsey’s loyalty lay with the king’s interests much more than with the church’s, but how were those loyalties perceived towards the end of his career and afterwards? Was he perhaps even accused of being a papal spy and was his deposition partly a statement to the pope?


Pope Leo X (right) with Cardinal Giulio de Medici (left)

Glenn Richardson: Wolsey was never in favour of the king’s divorce, a fact which he asked Henry to acknowledge publicly at the Blackfriars’ trial. This was in answer to allegations that he had somehow sought to bring a divorce about. In 1529, Wolsey was caught between a king in whose interests he had largely run the Church in England (through his legatine powers), and the papacy that had granted him those powers but for whom he had in fact done comparatively little. He fell only because he could not, for once, give the king all that he wanted.  I don’t think there was any suggestion that Wolsey was acting as the pope’s ‘agent’ in preventing the legatine court arriving at a decision favourable to Henry (although his fellow legate Campeggio almost certainly was). Subsequently, as part of the posthumous vilification of him by the chronicler Edward Hall and others, Wolsey was portrayed as both a papal dogsbody, and a man with an overweening ambition for the papal crown himself. Neither allegation can really be substantiated.

RSJ Blog: How then, was Wolsey perceived in Vatican City and how were the events you described in your article received there?

Glenn Richardson: The events which led to the creation of the Treaty of Universal Peace in 1518 and the Field of Cloth of Gold two years later were well reported and understood in Rome. Leo X had papal legates in England and France and the German lands for the negotiation of what he had intended as a truce between Christian princes and which Wolsey converted into an international non-aggression pact apparently sponsored by Henry but organized entirely by himself. They reported back to Leo regularly. There were French, Imperial and Venetian ambassadors at the English court, and in Rome, who (for their own varied interests) kept the pope well informed about Wolsey’s status and reputation in England and he was perceived rightly, if regretfully, as the key to Henry himself. Wolsey was seen as ambitious for England, pompous and difficult to deal with but impossible to ignore – so a mix of threats and inducements of various kinds were offered. The key to Wolsey in turn, was his desire for permanent legatine status in England. This, Leo was reluctant to give because he had no confidence that such an appointment would make Wolsey work more for him than for his king. He was right to be cautious.


Close up from the Field of Cloth of Gold ©Kent Rawlinson

RSJ Blog: So the pope was indeed suspicious of Wolsey. At the same time he could not openly act against the peace alliances because it would have made him look hypocritical. Did he perhaps try to undermine them in any other way?

Glenn: There was little trust between Leo X and Wolsey and the pope constantly sought to undermine Wolsey’s ‘universal peace’ of 1518, in which he had no more than a walk-on role, by trying to get Henry to ally with Charles V against Francis I of France. Even as Henry and Francis met at the Field, Leo was in effect promising to make Wolsey a legate for life (something Wolsey very much wanted) if he could bring about an anti-French alliance, in order to force Francis to relinquish his hold on Milan. In the end this did come about in 1521, but that was because by then Wolsey and Henry had finally recognized that for all the talk of Henry’s being the ‘arbiter’ of Christendom, war between Francis and Charles was all but inevitable and Henry had to be kept on the likely winning side. So Leo got what he wanted (without having to grant Wolsey lifetime legatine status) and was comprehended in the anti-French alliance in November 1521. Even then Wolsey made clear that it would be Henry who determined the timetable for action against France, not Leo.

RSJ Blog: Your analysis show that Wolsey was a very complex character. It must be difficult to do him justice on screen. Yet, Wolsey has been depicted quite a lot recently in historical dramas like “Tudors” and “Wolf Hall”. What do you think of these portrayals?

Glenn: Wolsey is such a difficult character to portray. All the contemporary, or near contemporary, descriptions we have of him emphasize his arrogance, his pomposity and bombast, his cleverness, and his ambitiousness and this has given the lead to actors for generations. Many sources also acknowledge, however, his personal charm and sense of humour (especially for Henry VIII), his eloquence, his capacity for imaginative diplomacy, his considerable administrative competence, a desire to see the kingdom of England well governed, and his enormous appetite for sheer hard work. No recent portrayal captures the balance of these aspects of his personality very well, and having Sam Neil’s Wolsey in The Tudors cut his own throat in despair was just stupid. In my opinion the one portrayal than comes closest to capturing the many varied aspects of Wolsey’s personality and his role as Henry’s chief advisor is Anthony Quale’s subtle and highly nuanced performance in the 1969 film Anne of the Thousand Days.

RSJ Blog: Richard Burton did quite a nice job as well in this movie playing Henry VIII. You also compiled an issue on Cardinals for the Royal Studies Journal. Could you please tell us a bit more about the role of cardinals at courts, in government, and within royal society?

Glenn: I have long found Cardinals an interesting group of people and historical subject in themselves, particularly those of the Renaissance period and after. They, more than other senior clerics, embody the close connections between Church and State, belief and politics in the early-modern period. I suppose my interest in them derives from that in monarchy and royal courts. They were at once enigmatic and impressive creatures, the electors of the popes who were the spiritual monarchs of Christendom, sometimes for the better and very often for the worse. After all one had to be a cardinal to be a pope and the papal Curia was, arguably, Christian Europe’s earliest and most complex royal court. I find their roles at Rome and in their home kingdoms, principalities and republics as agents of the papal rule interesting insofar as they always had to face in two directions, towards the papacy as its chief advisors, agents and representatives, ‘the princes of the Church’, but also back towards their own families as the majority in this period were of noble blood (and not a few from royal lines). Royal authority and papal authority had ideally to work in tandem, at least until the Reformation, and yet frequently did not do so very well at all. No two cardinals resolved the inherent contradictions of their ‘Janus-like’ position in quite the same way. Those kinds of questions and considerations were very much at the heart of the 2015 conference on them as ‘diplomats and patrons’ in relation to monarchs, which prompted the current issue.

RSJ Blog: Thank you very much for answering our questions and giving us a deeper insight into the subject! We are looking forward to reading your biography on Cardinal Wolsey. Apart from the book, what are your next projects?

Glenn: I have a number of things that I have been tinkering away at for some time to complete including an article on an oration delivered by the University of Paris to Mary Tudor, the sister of Henry VIII, when she married Louis XII of France in 1514. It is a very arcane speech but interesting on showing how a French academic can be nice about England (and to an English woman) when he needs to be! I have a study of leading courtiers of Francis I of France les gentilshommes de la chambre du roi, to complete, making comparisons with the courtiers of Henry VIII. I am working on an article about Sir William Fitzwilliam, one of Henry VIII’s leading courtiers and am also pursuing my research into masculinity and kingship in the early-modern period. The 500th anniversary of the Field of Cloth of Gold is coming up in 2020 and I am working with the Historic Royal Palaces agency in Britain and several TV production companies on exhibitions and possible collaborations to mark that event.

RSJ Blog: These sound like some ambitious and interesting projects. We wish you good luck with your endeavors!


Cardinal Thomas Wolsey

 

Website Review: History of Royal Women

Bildschirmfoto 2017-11-18 um 09.35.50

The History of Royal Women Website is a community project run by a group of enthusiastic women from various countries and professional backgrounds. The website is well structured, lovingly designed and regularly updated.

Articles about royal women are sorted according to the kingdom they married into or, if they remained celibate, according to the kingdom they were born in. Most of the articles are biographic and offer a general overview of their subjects’ lives, but some discuss more specific topics. There is also a section called “special series” covering various topics or regions. A search button at the bottom of the page will lead a visitor to all articles concerning the royal woman he or she is looking for.

The section for “Places to visit” includes royal residences and burial places, travel guides and a helpful list of ongoing exhibitions worldwide focusing on royal women. There is also a strong focus on articles about television series and documentaries.

The home page features the more recent posts, the must reads and book reviews that cover everything from historical fiction to biographies to more scientific literature. There is also a Youtube channel attached to the website featuring mostly videos on sights and exhibitions.

Some of the articles posted are taken from various journals and newspapers covering a wide range of topics and time frames which shows the dedication of the website contributors.

Yet, the website could extend certain topics and establish perhaps a section for visual portrayals like Royal Women in art. Most of the articles display several paintings, mostly portraits but there is not much information on the artists and which museum or private collection they could be found in.

As stated above, much of the biographic information is rather general and can often be found on other websites as well. Many writers make references in their articles but often very few and some do not indicate their sources at all.

Those who are working on the topic, perhaps preparing a presentation, will find this website a good starting point for some overall information and useful links. Since the use of a limited number of sources often creates a one-sided picture, university students and scholars have to treat certain information with caution. Although the website is not primarily directed at scholars of history, it offers some interesting reading and perhaps a suggestion for an article. One might also find a shortcut to useful books, an exhibition nearby or a captivating documentary to watch.

It is an ambitious project with information on an impressive number of royal women and women close to royalty, for instance mistresses. The website’s strength lies in the variety of topics, in its visuality and in the commitment of the team. For the majority of the contributors, history is more a passion than their career and for anyone with the same passion in history, this website has much to offer, if not on a professional, then at least on a private level.