Category Archives: Royal Studies Journal

Let’s talk about Royal Studies! (Video)

This little corner of the web is all about Royal Studies! The field, the network, the journal. Behind all this are amazing scholars, some of them coming together on the Kings & Queens conferences, some of them only connected via the Facebook group, following the activities on Twitter, Facebook, or the newsletter.

However, we do not only go to the Kings & Queens conferences but also to other gatherings like the IMC Leeds (for medievalists). Just recently, Kristen Geaman and Cathleen Sarti who are two of the people behind this blog and the marketing team have met for the first time in real life at IMC. Of course, we did a video.

Honestly, we’re not used to video interviews and you can see it – but if we are brave enough to post it, then so are you! Members of the RSN, get out, meet your friends from the network and talk about the network and Royal Studies! Please send any videos and questions to royalstudiesblog@gmail.com!
Under the video, you’ll find a list of possible questions to structure your videos! Although, we did also not really keep the structure – but take a look (sorry for the link, video is bigger than allowed upload size):

Kristen Geaman and Cathleen Sarti, IMC Leeds 2019

Here are some of the questions we discussed:

What brought you to royal studies, and how did you find out about the Royal Studies Network?

What do you enjoy most about the network?

Which new insights have you gained from your work connected to the network, or to royal studies?

What are you curious about?

What are you doing right now, and what are your next projects?

Advertisements

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

 

Interview with Alexander Brondarbit

‘Into our defense and saveguarde’: Eton College and the Good Lordship of Edward, Duke of York

Alexander Brondarbit is an Academic Planning Analyst at UC Santa Cruz and Instructor for the E-Campus at Oregon State University. His research focuses on the high and local politics of late medieval England with particular emphasis on the Wars of the Roses.  His teaching interests include the history of high and late medieval Europe, the Church in the Middle Ages, and medieval sex, gender, and culture.  You can read his article in the Royal Studies Journal, Issue 6 here.

RSJ Blog: What is a signet warrant? How does it differ from other types of documents?

Alexander: The signet warrant was a means of connecting the king with the ordinary operations of his government. It was produced by the third type of writing office which arose after the other two writing offices (e.g., the chancery and privy seal office) had left the royal household to be housed permanently in Westminster. This change had occurred by reason of the high workload of those offices and the sheer volume of letters that were being produced. Obviously, the king was not always in Westminster and still needed a means of transmitting his will on official business regardless of his location. The signet office was thus formed in the early fourteenth century to meet this demand.

It differed from the Westminster offices in several ways. It was much smaller, less bureaucratic, and less solemn than the chancery. The signet was kept by the king’s secretary who was often a clerk based about the king’s person rather than say a bishop with public duties like the chancellor. A particularly interesting difference is the suspicion that often arose over the use of the signet. Initially used sparingly, the signet was seen as a method by which Richard II abused his royal prerogative as he bypassed the privy seal office in warranting the issue of letters under the great seal. The signet seal disappeared for a time when the Lords Appellant were victorious in 1388, yet it eventually reemerged in a more muted fashion afterwards as it definitely had its uses despite the concern it engendered.

RSJ Blog: Had scholars largely ignored this document before, aside from including it in histories of Eton?

Alexander: I’d say many scholars do seem to have been unaware of it. The Duke of York’s signet letter was first examined by the English historian and archivist, Sir Henry Maxwell-Lyte in his A History of Eton College produced in 1875. Aside from some minor errors in his transcription, Maxwell-Lyte also did not fully appreciate the significance of the document as he focused entirely with the Yorkist regime’s treatment of Eton. This emphasis has been replicated by later historians of the college as one might expect as they were not as interested in what the document told us about this critical, and somewhat opaque, stage of the Wars of the Roses. Cora Scofield did quote a snippet of the signet warrant in her biography of Edward IV, but she relied on Maxwell-Lyte’s book and it is doubtful she ever consulted the record in person. The same goes for Charles Ross’s biography which quotes an even briefer portion of the document without any citation suggesting again that he may have been repeating the quote from Scofield’s work. I believe what we have here is a case of a great document that was known in the late nineteenth century, but sadly was forgotten except by historians of Eton College.

ECR 39 124

ECR 39/124. Reproduced by permission of the Provost and Fellows of Eton College.

RSJ Blog: Briefly, what happened to Eton under the Yorkist kings?

Alexander: Edward ultimately proved vindictive toward Lancastrian institutions in the early years of his reign. It was hardly impolitic to do so given that he still did not have full control of his own realm and a constant reminder of his more scholarly predecessor whom many still believed to be the rightful king could not have been a welcome proposition. This is all the more likely given the high survival rate of propaganda that attests to Edward’s right to rule. After he became king, Edward commanded King’s College Cambridge to pay its revenues to the exchequer and many of its estates were resumed in 1461. Eton received an even harsher sentence as Edward considered suppressing the college and annexing it into St George’s Chapel at Windsor. That Edward was committed to this course of action is without doubt as he secured a bull from Pope Pius II authorizing the abolition of the college in 1463 and we see this order taking effect two years later when its moveable goods (furniture, jewels, bells, clothing etc.) were removed to Windsor. Many of Eton’s original endowments were lost to resumption as the king dispersed the lands to his supporters. The impact of this initial royal policy is quite evident in the sharp decline of revenue as the annual income fell to a mere £321 at its lowest point in 1466-7. This is quite a fall as Eton received an average annual income of £1,200 under Henry VI. The diminished income prevented operations from continuing at Eton although the provost remained living on site.

For reasons unknown, Edward softened his stance toward Eton after 1467. At the king’s request, Pope Paul II revoked the bull annexing the college to Windsor. The tale that the school was saved by the charms of Edward’s mistress, Jane Shore, is an amusing one that even the college enjoys telling today, but there is no evidence to support this. I find the timing quite surprising given that the Lancastrian threat was far from over at this stage of the reign.

Unfortunately, Richard III’s attitude toward Eton is difficult to determine. The lone account roll for his reign does show that the college’s revenue had improved to an annual income of £565 in 1483-4, but this was largely by the minor grants Edward allowed the college in the latter half of his reign. If Richard harbored plans for Eton (which I doubt he did) they were never realized by the time he was killed at Bosworth Field.

RSJ Blog: Was Edward taking advantage of Provost Westbury or was it just good politics?

Alexander: Largely strapped for cash, Edward was certainly pressing his advantage here as he was raising funds to pay the troops needed for his campaign against the Lancastrian army in the north. This exchange with Eton was simply one avenue at his disposal to get the resources he needed, but it was merely a drop in the bucket. The bulk of money the Yorkists acquired came from London; within a few days of his reign Edward and his allies had received some £8,700 from the city dating back to the prior year. It is also worth noting that the quid pro quo arrangement between Edward and Provost Westbury was far from unique, particularly in the opening days of his fledgling regime. In 1461, Winchester College presented gifts to earn an exemption to the act of resumption in the king’s first parliament. In that same year, Canterbury paid nearly £300 to the king for a charter granting perpetual county status to the city and confirming its pre-existing civic liberties. Had Eton not been so closely associated with the House of Lancaster it is much more likely Edward would have kept his promises to protect the institution.

RSJ Blog: Is this part of a larger project? What are you up to next?

Alexander: At present, I am currently reshaping my thesis into what I hope will be my first monograph. My book will examine the Yorkist political power-brokers in operation in the reigns of Edward IV, Edward V, and Richard III. Power is its major theme as I utilized records held throughout several local archives in addition to the national archive in order to develop a picture of how the politically active men and women mediated and expressed royal power. So often historians make the determination of influence by listing the patronage one acquired from the Crown. I sought to bring in other avenues by which to see their influence at work both at court and in the shires.

Interview with Ellen Wurtzel

The Joyous Entry of Albert and Isabella in Lille: History, Conquest and the Making of Belgium

Ellen Wurtzel is an associate professor of history at Oberlin College (Ohio). She also  took part in the recent issue of the Royal Studies Journal on Taking Possession.  

RSJ Blog: Thank you for doing this interview on your recent article in the Royal Studies Journal “The Joyous Entry of Albert and Isabella in Lille”. First of all, could you tell us a bit more about what a “joyous” entry is, especially in comparison to other forms of entry or taking possession?

Ellen: Thanks so much for the opportunity of talking more about the article; I really enjoyed being part of the special issue for RSJ on Taking Possession. Joyous Entries were a particular form of late medieval ritual, but as you note, not the only one. Cities had numerous kinds of festival moments, including triumphal entries, marriage celebrations, peace processions and annual religious events. What differentiated Joyous Entries from these other celebrations was that they were the first visit of a ruler to a city, often at the beginning of his or her reign. It was a moment of introduction that served as an important kind of communication between two political entities.  While it is unclear exactly when this political ritual began, the inclusion of a written agreement originated when the Duke of Brabant entered the city of Leuven and delivered a charter in 1356. One article stated that if the sovereign did not fulfill his duties as specified in the document, his subjects would not be bound to obey him further.  When tensions rose in the 1560s over religious and political differences in the Low Countries, the Brabantine document was reprinted and distributed in a number of cities in order to legitimize a burgeoning rebellion. The 1582 Entry for the Duke of Anjou in Antwerp, in the midst of rebellion, contained pointed references to Spanish tyranny. Joyous Entries, like any liminal moment, could be fraught with potential disruption.

Interestingly, this ritual was revived with the founding of Belgium in 1830. The most recent Joyous Entries occurred in 2013 for King Philippe and Queen Mathilde and included the cities of Bruges, Antwerp, Ghent and of course, Leuven.

RSJ Blog: In your article, you highlight that urban history considers early modern cities, and in particular, rituals like joyous entries as losing importance compared with the rising power of territorial rulers, in the case of Lille, the Habsburgs. Could you expand a bit on this? How can the relation between city and territorial rule be classified? And, is there really a decline in urban independence compared to the (late) middle ages?

Ellen: These are really big questions that depend in large part on what area of Europe one studies and how one defines the territorial power of rulers like the Habsburgs in the early modern period. The traditional narrative, shaped by Henri Pirenne and other social and economic historians, focused on the development of the powerful cities in Flanders and Brabant since the southern Low Countries was one of the most densely-urbanized populations in the later Middle Ages. Medieval cities, created to enable long-distance and local trade, arose and eventually weakened the power of feudal lords. A new class of people no longer bound to the land/service to their lord created economic opportunities and begat political liberties—and power. At the end of the Middle Ages, Pirenne argued, monarchical states developed political organizations that were strengthened by bureaucracy drawn from city elites, loyal armies, and the power to implement new taxation. With cities drawn more and more into the orbit of rulers’ needs—for money and war—their independence lessened. Therefore, in this traditional model, rituals like Joyous Entries could no longer be seen as a kind of negotiation, a contract, but rather a symbolic acceptance of territorial rulers’ overweening power.

While the dominance of that older model has been considerably weakened by the work of many historians in the past 25-30 years, it continued to shape the way that Joyous Entries were perceived until quite recently. Cities and states are no longer seen as either diametrically opposed systems or diachronic in importance. Even for strong-state kingdoms like France, historians have shown that the ‘state’ in its modern form was not fully-defined in the early modern period and different polities, including cities, continued to exercise corporate power vis-à-vis other political institutions. Moreover, not every city had an antagonistic relationship to the territorial ruler—Lille is a prime example of a city that promoted accommodation and peaceful negotiation while still retaining many liberties. In the early modern period, its officers consolidated power vis-à-vis other local authorities with whom the city corporation competed. The recognition of this diversity in the early modern period has enabled scholars like Anne-Laure Van Bruaene, Margit Thøfner, Michael Wintroub and Michael Breen to examine events like Joyous Entries in a new light, both in terms of audience and message.  My research on Lille’s Joyous Entry of 1600 in the RSJ confirms the continuing importance of these events as a primary site of identity fashioning and political negotiation, and allows us to ask new questions—about how city residents perceived their own pasts and how that perception of history and identity shaped their interactions with rulers.

RSJ Blog: Lille at the turn of the sixteenth to the seventeenth century was, although firmly under the rule of the Spanish Habsburgs, geographically and culturally close to the rebellious cities of the later Netherlands/General States. In what ways was this visible also in the recognition of a new sovereign in 1600?

Ellen: It’s important to remember that in 1600, the Dutch Revolt was far from over. War between the Habsburgs and the French had ended in 1598, but the seventeen provinces of the Low Countries were still at war and would be officially until 1648. Although delegates from Walloon Flanders (Lille, Douai and Orchies) and Hainaut had signed the Treaty of Arras in 1579 and Alexander Farnese had won back allegiance to the Spanish Habsburgs in other southern provinces, it was in no way clear that the Low Countries were to be divided permanently into two separate political entities. Since the thirteenth century, Lille’s merchants and political elites had longstanding commercial ties with other cities in the Low Countries. They shared many cultural exchanges through participation in competitions of rhetorical societies and sent ambassadors to other cities. By the sixteenth century, their delegates met with those from other regions in the States-General and negotiated for lower taxes. The introduction of the Protestant Reformation, increasing taxes, and subsequent political tensions with the Habsburgs, however, meant that common ground was difficult to find, particularly since some city governments embraced the new religion and others did not. That uncertainty about the collective identity of the Low Countries remained in 1600, alongside hope for stability and peace under new sovereigns Albert and Isabella. While the lavish spending on the event, and ritual of the Joyous Entry itself mirrored what was seen in nearby cities like Valenciennes and Antwerp, Lille’s Entry focused primarily on the city’s history in relation to its rulers and (perhaps purposefully) avoided references to specific neighboring cities.


Lille in the late 16th century (based on  Braun and Hogenberg, Civitates Orbis Terrarum, II (1575))

RSJ Blog: Part of the festivities were tableaux vivants, living pictures, which represented the city’s history by highlighting important events. It was, in a way, a form of historiography “written” by the magistrates of the city – what can these living pictures tell us about sixteenth-century Lille, and how they saw themselves? How were they different from earlier representations or from other cities?

Ellen: Many cities in the Low Countries, France and England included living pictures in their festivities throughout the later Middle Ages. They were a wonderful way of making history come alive by forging a relationship between past events and the present viewers. Local people that one knew would dress up as the long dead Queen Mahaut or King Philip II surrounded by the conquered but happy people of his empire. It allowed people in cities like Lille to forge a personal relationship to far off or far distant events and implicitly acknowledge their legitimacy and relevance. Tableaux vivants were didactic forms of entertainment, but they also meant to display the learnedness of the local elite—sometimes with mixed results. In one memorable visit of Duke Charles the Bold to Lille in 1468, one of his counselors, a Lille native, thought he would honor the city by having three local women perform the Judgment of Paris. They were, according to a now-lost chronicle, apparently so far from Hera, Aphrodite and Athena in size and stature (one was nicknamed Grosse Juliette, another so thin that the author likened her to a herring) that upon seeing the scene the duke burst out laughing and was unable to stop! These classical or religious histories were popular subjects well into the sixteenth century, but during the fraught years of the 1570s and 1580s, their high-flown symbolism became weighted with barely-concealed allusions to Spanish tyranny. Lille’s Joyous Entry of 1600 pointedly avoided protest. The program focused less on religion or allegory than local events, shifting to what I would term a more prosaic kind of history. It indicated the increasing popularity of new forms of historical writing and the presence of humanist-educated men like Floris van der Haer, who published histories as well as fashioned the Joyous Entry. But it also meant that lillois magistrates wanted to introduce themselves to their new sovereigns by fashioning a different kind of narrative including their rulers’ imperial conquest, their own steadfast loyalty and a shared faith, Catholicism.

Example of a tableau vivant (Philip II of Spain)

RSJ Blog: You argue in your article that some of these tableaux vivants were already imagining Lille as part of the nation of Belgium, a territory which came into being as nation-state in 1830, more than 200 years later. How far were early proto-national sentiments already influential in the early modern period in Lille? And what did the contemporaries understand as “Belgian”?

Ellen: Although the focus of the Joyous Entry was Lille’s history, a number of the tableaux vivants and triumphal arches included references to the Belgian people and Belgium. These terms began to appear in reference to the whole Low Countries beginning in the 1550s, particularly in scholarly circles, and which both writers in the north and the south were using to describe their “Netherlandishness”. Some historians have argued that the shift from the plural les pays de pardeça to the singular, le pays de pardeça, or use of Nederlands or la Belge indicate a nascent nationalism. The Treaty of Augsburg  in 1548 had made the Low Countries its own entity within the Holy Roman Empire (The Burgundian Circle) and the Pragmatic Sanction the following year ensured that the same ruler would inherit the seventeen provinces. During the Revolt, those references moved from the antiquarian to the political, when both sides made reference to the Low Countries in terms of fighting for their country, the patrie or vaterland. I think the frequent appearance of Belgian and Belgium in Lille’s Joyous Entry raises some interesting questions—did the organizers mean to be subtly political? Or did van der Haer, Lille’s celebrated organizer of the event, see Belgium as a concept highlighting the learnedness of Lille’s educated citizenry and nothing more? One can’t say for sure, of course, but the context of their use appears to indicate that the lillois organizers wanted to see themselves as part of a larger polity within the Empire of the Habsburgs and were trying to figure out a way to do it. Many were uncertain what that belonging meant in 1600, with ten provinces in the south under Habsburg rule and the seven in the north still rebellious. Belgium united them, within the city and regionally, without forcing them to define what exactly that meant. And while these references were entirely positive in the Joyous Entry, they may also have served as a subtle warning that Lille was not alone and could act with other provinces, as they had in the recent past.

RSJ Blog: The historiography in the sixteenth century experienced its own “spatial turn”, long before the more recent one in the last few years: chorography and cosmography found its way into early modern history writing. Could you expand a bit more on these ideas and their implementation?

Ellen: Yes, this idea of a sixteenth-century spatial turn was a really fun area to ‘think with’. While all kinds of historical writing was more common in the sixteenth century, the newfound interest among Europeans for places around the globe meant that chorography, or local description, became a popular way of pairing history with place. One of the most successful chorographies was Lodovico Guicciardini’s Description of All the Low Countries, which combined short descriptions of a number of cities and regions with maps and city views and includes their physical features, major monuments, events in history and celebrated figures. The focus of both the images and the written descriptions were on place, like a guidebook. Guicciardini and others described what happened in the past primarily through showing what could be seen—buildings, streets, oceans and fields. This emphasis on place created a particular kind of historical narrative. The peacefulness of chorographic descriptions contrasted with other kinds of history emerging during the period, like broadsheets that were published showing terrible events like the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. When reading chronicle accounts of Lille’s Joyous Entry, I noticed that several of the tableaux vivants were very similar to Guicciardini’s Description in both language and subject, and it made me think about how much Lille’s Joyous Entry reflected a chorographic sense of history. The sovereigns moved through the streets of the city and touched on the events of the past through seeing the institutions their ancestors had created. The place-based fashion it told local history allowed lillois and their visitors to avoid reminders of the recent turmoil that had torn apart the Low Countries.

RSJ Blog: Finally, could you tell us a bit about what you are working on now? What can we look forward to reading from you next?

Ellen: Something completely different! I am finishing up one project but embarking on a study of urban bathhouses in the francophone world during the late medieval and early modern periods. From the mid fourteenth to the mid sixteenth centuries in the major cities of France and the Empire—Paris, Marseille, Avignon, Nîmes, Lyon, Besançon, Geneva, Tournai, Valenciennes, and Lille, to name a few—bathhouses welcomed all kinds, from locals and travelers to married couples, singletons, magistrates and members of religious orders. Histories of water and hygiene have noted the ubiquity of these places in urban France, and important studies have described the role of bathhouses in the history of prostitution, but little has been written on their social and economic history—who owned them, in what parts of cities, and with what labor and resources. It is a rich topic that can serve as a framework for understanding urban sites of sociability and gender distinction, medieval entertainment and pleasure, health and hygiene, material culture and the economy of individuals, families and institutions.

RSJ Blog: This does sound interesting! We are looking forward to see what you discover in these urban bathhouses, and what it will tell us about late medieval/early modern urban culture. Thank you for doing this interview!

 

 

 

Interview with Charles Keenan

The Limits of Diplomatic Ritual: The Polish Embassy of Giovanni Francesco Commendone (1572-1573) and Criticism of Papal Legates in Early Modern Europe

Charles Keenan is the Assistant Director of the Core Curriculum at Boston College. Read his full article in the Royal Studies Journal.

RSJ Blog: Thank you, Charles, for your interesting article in the Royal Studies Journal! In your article, you follow the papal legate, Cardinal Giovanni Francesco Commendone, to Poland-Lithuania during the interregna and elections of the 1570s. Such a mission of a legate was uncommon, especially since the use of papal nuncios spread across early modern Europe. Could you tell a bit more about the context of this mission, and why the apostolic nuncio in Poland was not enough?

Charles: Thanks for inviting me to appear on this blog! The original purpose of Commendone’s mission was to help organize a defensive league against the Ottoman Turks, which was a priority of Pope Pius V (r. 1566-1572) and his successor, Gregory XIII (r. 1572-1585). (As context, this was the same period as the famous naval battle of Lepanto.) Commendone was instructed to travel to the courts of the Holy Roman Empire and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to secure military support. This task could not have been entrusted to nuncios both because Commendone needed to speak to multiple rulers (nuncios were typically “in residence” at a single court and were only credentialed to function as a diplomatic representative there) and because of the delicate nature of negotiations regarding the league: this was a significant request that would entail substantial financial commitments, something that even the powerful Philip II of Spain balked at when asked.  Of course, following the death of King Sigismund II Augustus in 1572 Commendone was instead instructed to oversee the election of the next Polish king, and the issue of the league faded from view.


Giovanni Francesco Commendone

RSJ Blog: So, his mission changed from gathering support to overseeing the election – and he failed, as you also stated in your article! How and why did Commendone fail?

Charles: I suggest there were two reasons for his failure. The first was related to the rituals surrounding diplomatic embassies, which were interrupted by the vicissitudes of the interregnum. As mentioned, the fact that Commendone was already in the middle of another embassy complicated the procedures for beginning a “new” mission to oversee the royal election, and, with no king in place, it was unclear who should receive him – the Polish diet, or only certain factions in the diet, or the one of several individuals claiming to be “leaders” of the commonwealth during the interregnum.  The second, less obvious issue was Commendone’s authority as a papal representative to intervene in secular political affairs. As I try to show in this essay, there was widespread disapproval of the legate’s role in the Polish election, which points to a larger critique of the papacy’s involvement in secular government.

RSJ Blog: The close connection between a diplomat and whoever send him seems to be at the heart of Commendone’s failure. What can this failure of diplomatic ritual tell us about the bigger context of European politics, especially in a time of confessionalisation?

Charles: The rituals surrounding this particular diplomat – the legate a latere – derived their efficacy from the authority of the figure whom the legate represented, the pope. The failure of legatine rituals thus suggests a larger problem with papal authority in sixteenth-century Europe, which should come as no surprise. In many ways Commendone’s story points to a larger development, the secularization of European politics and the removal of the Roman papacy from international affairs, something that is evident during Commendone’s mission but which is unmistakable by the time of the Thirty Years’ War.

RSJ Blog: Going from the subject of research to the researcher himself: How did you get started working papal diplomacy, and how does it differ from other kinds of early modern diplomacy? Was the pope still regarded as superior to all kingdoms, or was he just another ruler?

Charles: Well, if you asked one of the popes from this period, I’m sure they would maintain their superiority! It’s an interesting question. Some of the earliest resident ambassadors in Europe were stationed in Rome, and the pope was among the first rulers to send ambassadors abroad. But from the sixteenth century onward, the respect and honor paid to papal diplomats began to wane sharply. In many ways that is my argument in this paper: that there was a growing disjuncture between the papacy’s conception of itself and its authority and how other European states viewed the papacy. I became interested in papal diplomats after exploring the College of Cardinals in this period. Most of the literature on the Sacred College after the Reformation focus on cardinals’ roles in the growing papal bureaucracy (especially after Sixtus V reorganized the Roman curia in the 1580s), but a significant number of cardinals did not reside in Rome and instead served as papal diplomats across Europe.

RSJ Blog: Finally, the events surrounding Commendone during the election of the new Polish king are described much like a game of Chinese whispers – what was the role of rumours, communication, representation, and so on?

Charles: Given the sheer distance involved, with diplomats active in courts stretching from Paris to Warsaw, it was inevitable that communication issues were an important factor in this story. Dispatches could be delayed or lost altogether, and competing diplomatic networks – papal, French, Polish, imperial, Spanish – picked up on different rumors and transmitted them to different locations at different speeds. One walks away with an appreciation for difficulties facing all the parties involved. Policy decisions were difficult to negotiate on their own, but the communication and implementation of those policies presented another set of challenges altogether.

RSJ Blog: Charles, thank you for showing us how diplomatic failure can actually expand historical research! What are you working on now? Any interesting new projects we might soon be hearing more about?

Charles: I just finished preparing a translation of a sixteenth-century Jesuit devotional manual, Gaspar Loarte’s Exercise of the Christian Life, which is now available, and an overview to the historiography of Jesuit devotional literature should be appearing soon. Besides revising my book manuscript, which examines Catholic responses to edicts of toleration in the sixteenth century, I’m also drafting two articles at the moment: one that explores the difficulties Catholic diplomats faced in gathering information about Protestant Britain, and another that traces the career of Vincenzo Lauro, a contemporary of Commendone who was nuncio to Scotland, Savoy, and Poland before being created cardinal.

RSJ Blog: Thank you so much for answering our questions, and good luck with your writing projects!

 

 

Interview with Cloe Cavero de Carondelet

Possessing Rome ‘in absentia’: The Titular Churches of the Spanish Monarchy in the Early Seventeenth Century

Cloe Cavero de Carondelet will be joining the Institute of Art History at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich as a Research Associate in April 2017. She recently obtained her PhD in History and Civilisation at the European University Institute in Florence with a dissertation entitled “Art, Piety and Conflict in Early Modern Spain: The Religious and Artistic Patronage of Cardinal Bernardo de Sandoval between Toledo and Rome (1599-1618)”. She is the author of several essays on the suburban villas of Spanish cardinals, and her articles are set to appear in Archivo Español de Arte and the Boletín del Museo del Prado. Her full article can be read in the Royal Studies Journal.

RSJ Blog: Thank you, Cloe, for a wonderful and thought-provoking article. We learned a great deal about early modern Rome. To begin, for readers less familiar with your topic, could you explain what a titular church is? Were cardinals known as Cardinal [their name] or Cardinal [name of church]?

Cloe: Curiously, even the most informed visitors that marvel at the churches of the city of Rome are often unaware that almost every one of these was – and still is – the titular church of a cardinal. In some way mirroring the pope’s association with San Pietro in Vaticano and the connection between a bishop and his cathedral, seventy churches located in the city of Rome and its surroundings were attached to the corresponding number of cardinals of the Sacred College. Although the foundations of the cardinals’ association with the Roman churches are multiple and not yet completely clear, we can say that one of its main objectives was to establish a spatial and material link between the cardinals and the papal city. It was a mutually advantageous situation. The cardinal obtained a residence and a ceremonial space in the papal court, and the church received a source of patronage, which included the always needed architectural renovations and artistic refurbishments.

Most interestingly, as you have well pointed out, the temporary ownership of a Roman church also provided the cardinal with a new, symbolic identity. This was reflected in a fundamental element – the cardinal’s name. As it happened with Cardinal Carlo Borromeo – also called the Cardinal of Santa Prassede – it was a frequent practice, in which cardinals simultaneously employed their surname and the name of their titular church. However, as there was no fixed rule for the cardinals’ naming, sometimes they were also known by the name of their dioceses. In the case of Cardinal Sandoval, the archival documents refer to him as “Cardinale di Toledo” as a general rule, occasionally as “Cardinale di Sandoval”, and almost never as “Cardinale di Sant’Anastasia”.

church-of-santanastasia-al-palatino-cloe-caveros-photo

Sant’Anastasia al Palatino. Photo courtesy of Cloe Cavera de Carondelet

RSJ Blog: At one point your article mentions a lack of available titular churches. Were there usually more cardinals than churches? Would some cardinals never be assigned a titular church?

Cloe: The number of titular churches and indeed cardinals was not fixed until 1586, when Sixtus V made an effort to control the increasing number of cardinals, by imposing a limit of seventy cardinals within the Sacred College. Consequently, this decision was simultaneous with the adjustment of an equivalent of number of titular churches. In fact, San Pietro in Montorio was only established as a cardinalatial title after this decision. However, despite this numeric concordance between cardinals and churches, the churches were not automatically granted to the new cardinals. There was one necessary condition for the allocation of a titular church: attending the ritual of closing-and-opening-of-the-mouth with the pope in Rome or, as I have shown in my article for RSJ, ensuring that the ceremony took place by proxy. Nonetheless, the delay in the allocation of Cardinal Sandoval’s titular church suggests that other additional symbolic elements came into play, besides mere availability. Although there were available churches when Sandoval achieved the red hat, none of them corresponded with the churches traditionally granted to the Primates of the Spanish Monarchy. In my opinion, this was the main reason why it took almost two years to endow Cardinal Sandoval with Sant’Anastasia, a church of no particular importance or previous connection with the Spanish Monarchy.

RSJ Blog: How were cardinals chosen during this era?

Cloe: From a ritualistic point of view, the creation of cardinals took place throughout three consistories. After listening to the suggestions and opinions of the College of Cardinals on the most adequate candidates, the pope decided who should receive the cardinal’s hat. From a political point of view, however, the situation was far more complex and negotiated. The unique system of government of the Holy See determined a curious situation. While the creation of cardinals was one of the most important prerogatives of the pope, the pope was elected from the College of Cardinals by the cardinals themselves. Thus, it is not surprising that the pope, the Italian families and the sovereign rulers of Catholic Europe all invested considerable efforts in influencing the appointments of these prospective papal electors. As one can imagine, this significant power was rarely given to individuals devoid of means or of humble origins. In fact, only in the years immediately following the Council of Trent can we find several cardinals chosen for their piety and devoted spirit. Furthermore, the creation of crown cardinals entailed a previous level of negotiation. As I mention in my article for RSJ, the Spanish king was the one who suggested the Spanish candidates who were to be considered for the cardinal’s hat. Being shortlisted for the purple was therefore also the result of complex negotiations within the royal court.

RSJ Blog: Your article mentions that the cardinal creations of 1596 and 1599 negatively affected the Spanish monarchy. How so?

Cloe: Even if this affirmation may seem a bit excessive, I believe that it is safe to say that cardinal appointments were an important barometer of the political situation in early modern Europe. They indicated which of the main Catholic monarchies – the French or the Spanish – enjoyed the favour of a given pope in a given moment. From 1595, it is possible to see how the Holy See gradually moves away from its alliance with the Spanish monarchy and aligns with the French monarchy instead. The 1596 and 1599 consistories did not benefit the interests of the Spanish monarchy, either in the creation of cardinals aligned with their faction or with that of crown cardinals. The bitter complaints and numerous criticisms recorded in the correspondence maintained between the Spanish ambassadors in Rome and the court of Madrid in these years evinces the significant importance that cardinal creations had for diplomatic relationships between Spain and Rome.

RSJ Blog: It seems having cardinals from your kingdom was an important part of diplomacy. How did the Spanish monarchy compare with its rivals?

Cloe: Known as the teatro del mondo, early modern Rome was a sort of international setting where the rulers of Catholic Europe negotiated their power. Every ruler could have formal or informal agents in Rome, but only a few of them had resident ambassadors, and an even greater minority had cardinals from their own kingdom at the papal court. Between the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, almost 75% of the Sacred College of Cardinals consisted of Italians. The rest was divided between French and Spanish cardinals, who had a steady 10% each, and by Germans, Austrian, Poles and other European territories. Therefore, both the French and Spanish monarchy enjoyed a valuable diplomatic privilege, which provided them with additional diplomatic agents and with valuable ceremonial spaces.

When in Rome, the French and Spanish cardinals acted as a sort of ambassadors; we may want to call them “ecclesiastical diplomats”. Similarly to resident ambassadors, they lived in lavish palaces and played a relevant symbolic role in the ceremonies and rituals of the monarchy that took place in the city of Rome. This was especially the case with the crown cardinals, who held the status of cardinal-protectors of a kingdom. Although there is still much to be done on this issue, I am certain that cardinals from the French and Spanish monarchies went through conflicts similar to those of their ambassadors. It is very likely that the cardinals argued about matters of precedence and status during papal ceremonies and informal encounters, apparently banal arguments that were instead regarded as important diplomatic tensions.

fontebuoni

A Cardinal’s Procession by Ottavio Leoni (1578-1630). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, http://www.metmuseum.org.

RSJ Blog: What are your current projects?

Cloe: Having recently obtained my PhD, I am at the moment focusing on two main projects. The first one, as you might anticipate, is the turning of my doctoral dissertation into a book. I will be working on the manuscript in the coming months, and hope to have it completed as soon as possible. My second project, which I will be carrying out at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, is the examination of the visual normativity of childhood sanctity in early modern Europe. I will scrutinise images of child saints to consider how the emotional qualities of infancy shaped the construction of these saints’ visual representation and the reception of their cult during the Catholic Reformation. This new research project stems from one of the outcomes of my dissertation, that is, the fundamental role that art patronage had for the conformation, shaping and forging of sacred history in early modern Spain. In connection with some of the issues discussed in my article for RSJ, an essential part of the project will be to analyse how the lay and ecclesiastical authorities negotiated the contested dimension of childhood sanctity between Spain and Rome, paying special attention to the ceremonies of canonisation and other rituals.

RSJ Blog: Thank you so much for answering our questions. We look forward to reading your work in the future!

 

Interview with Jennifer Mara DeSilva

Jennifer Mara DeSilva is an Associate Professor of History at Ball State University (Indiana, USA). Her research focuses on Renaissance Italy and the Papal Court, especially cultural, political, and social history of the Renaissance and Reformation movements. Her current research focuses on how individuals and groups at the Papal Court established identities through office-holding, rituals, and relationships with groups and sites. She has also just edited the first thematic issue of the Royal Studies Journal on the topic of “taking possession”.

RSJ Blog: Hi Jennifer, thanks for doing this interview for our readers at the Royal Studies Journal Blog! Could you maybe first tell us a bit how this special issue of the Royal Studies Journal came to be, and what the idea behind the topic of “taking possession” is? Who takes possession of what?

Jennifer: Hi Kristen and Cathleen, it is a pleasure to speak about this exciting new issue of the Royal Studies Journal. This issue began life as a series of panels that I organized at the 2015 Sixteenth Century Studies Conference in Vancouver, Canada. The CFP invited scholars who work broadly on entry rituals and ceremonies of possession across the early modern world. I am a firm believer in the importance of conferences to bring scholars together who work on similar themes. Successful interactions create new communities that sometimes result in printed studies. A subset of the papers presented offered a conversation about the diversity of possession rituals in projecting messages about royal authority and identity, so I proposed a special issue on the topic to the RSJ editor-in-chief. One of the advantages of collections that emerge from conferences is that the contributors have already done the core research work, so working up an article-length study does not take too long. Conversations with other panelists and the audience help to expand their conception of the topic and its context. Also, big conferences like SCSC draw scholars from all career levels, which incorporates early career scholars into the conversation and helps to publicize their work. Keeping our field dynamic depends upon bringing new people and new ideas to the table.

The concept of “taking possession” has been around for a long time, but has mostly been explored in rather traditional forms: royal progresses by new monarchs, processions that affirmed the pope’s episcopal role, and New World territorial conquests. While these are the best-known examples of individuals and groups “taking possession” of communities, these studies only scratch the surface of the concept. The act of “taking possession” is a mechanism for asserting authority, reputation, and relationships. This has been done for centuries in a wide variety of settings and by far more people than princes, popes, and pioneers. RSJ Volume 3 Issue 2 is an opportunity to consider how early moderns applied the idea of “taking possession” to their own situations and means in order to project messages about their position in the local and global hierarchy and the privileges and responsibilities that their positions entailed. What we found was that the stratum immediately below monarchs was quite active on behalf of their royal masters. Ambassadors, cardinals, legates, agents, and even city fathers used entry ceremonies to negotiate reputations for themselves and the monarchs that they represented or greeted. Examining these events allowed us to consider how a monarch and state’s reputation for strength was constantly reinforced across a wide variety of sites, from the national cardinal’s titular church in Rome to congested city streets. The spaces that were possessed – communities, churches, squares, and intersections – are better understood as sites and opportunities for expressing strength based on relationships and resources. True possession was rarely had, but monarchs and their proxies avidly sought the local reputation and influence that resulted from these events.

bnf059
Jean Bourdichon: Le Voyage de Gênes: entrée de Louis XII à Gênes

RSJ Blog:So, taking possession of a space was far more ceremonial, symbolic, and a representation of authority. But inhowfar are such ritual entries representations of already existing power relationships, and how do they contribute to a change in this relationship?

Jennifer: Up to a point these events reflect and display the extent of existing hierarchies. A minor state is not going to rise above a major state simply because it puts on an impressive show. However, these events are opportunities to publicly display relationships within those hierarchies, which involves a larger group in the reputation-making process and lays plain the composition, growth, and rivalry of factions. Accounts of ritual entries allow historians to see how witnesses quantified reputation and reacted to displays produced by monarchs and their proxies. These accounts offer a glimpse into the deeper effects of “mere ritual” and sometimes provide commentary on developments in political relationships, as John Hunt’s article shows.

RSJ Blog: You brought together authors concerned with entries in early modern Lille, Rome, and the Papal states. Are there any similarities across early modern Europe considering the actors of such entries, the ritual forms, or the expectations from local and distant audiences?

Jennifer: There are certainly broad similarities across ritual entries. Ellen Wurtzel’s study of the new monarchs, Archduke Albert and Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia, in Lille and Cloe Cavero Carondelet’s study of a proxy agent in Rome, standing in for King Philip III of Spain’s newest cardinal, reveal this clearly. Specifically, these articles show similarities in how the ritual expected participants to travel through spaces, greet specific people, perform acts, and thus have their identities, positions, and responsibilities affirmed by the ritual and the witnessing crowd. Nonetheless, this concept of “taking possession” through ritual action was applied in diverse ways and spaces. The frequent publication of accounts of entries through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries shows an interest in documenting and disseminating both ideal rituals and innovative developments across Europe. However, we must not forget that the tone, experience, and political results of these events could vary widely and depended on the individual context and the specific relations between organizers, “possessors”, and observers.

RSJ Blog:You said already a bit about the entries from the point of view of the possessor respectively how these entries were supposed to be viewed by the possessed. However, if we turn the perspective around, were such possessions also a sign of the need for the subjects to accept the authority; i.e. a symbol of power from the ruled over the ruler?

Jennifer: Yes, in many cases. The rituals established a relationship between the ritual actor/monarch/authority and the community. The well-known progresses that French kings made were similar in purpose to the pope’s possesso ritual that involved traveling with the entire Papal Court from the Vatican Palace across the city to his episcopal see of St. John Lateran. In both cases the rulers followed traditional itineraries through their cities in order to meet with distinct groups and ratify their privileges and relationships with the central authority. As with other aspects of social life in communities with low literacy rates, public memory played an important role in these events. The observing community was called on to affirm the historical roots of the ritual forms, the legitimacy of the actors involved, and the legality of the adopted roles. While it was possible to avoid witnessing these entries as a statement against the proposed authority, this was not always a profitable avenue of negotiation. In many cases the situation was more delicate. As Charles Keenan’s article shows, observers might accept the individual’s right to office, but have a conflict with his or her intended policy and future actions.

RSJ Blog: There is a huge emphasis on the rituals and spaces of these entries, which raises the question of sources – what kind of sources have survived to bring these entries to life? Is Geertz’s thick description possible from a 400-500 years distance? Or, in different words: how can we today understand the (symbolic) language of rituals?

Jennifer: There are a wonderful array of sources that have survived that help us understand the mechanism of and reaction to rituals of possession. These include published and personal accounts, images of events and apparati – see the British Library’s online collection of Renaissance Festival Books –, records of planning, construction, and payments, as well as the spaces themselves in some cases. While not all records survive for each event, enough do in cities, galleries, libraries and archives worldwide to reveal how there were global norms and patterns of action and interest on the part of both actors and observers. Geertz’s method of thick description is possible, but hinges on immersion in the sources, acknowledging the reality of festive labor, and using context to its maximal effect. The language of rituals, symbolic as it may be, has maintained certain core ideas over the centuries.

RSJ Blog: Finally, could you please tell us a bit about how these early modern rituals of taking possession are still influential today, e.g. todays importance of the keys of the city, or the Lord Mayor’s Show in London?

Jennifer: Modern communities continue to hold entry rituals to greet leaders and celebrities, and politicians seeking election participate in progresses across their electoral districts. They depend upon public observers to show support, negotiate relationships, and thus build their reputations. Our ability to record and manipulate these events has grown with the development of the modern media and especially with the proliferation of individualized digital platforms. Today we are more likely to see rituals of possession as an integral part of celebrity or political culture, but the presence of an important or popular figure riding in a parade waving to crowds – be it members of a champion local soccer team, a newly crowned or elected head of state, or pop singers performing on a float – remains the same. We continue to participate in the process by which messages of reputation based on office or achievement are publicly ratified by traveling to and through landmark spaces under the public eye. These events are wide ranging, from traditional royal or ecclesiastical progresses to the Olympic flame relay and Santa Claus parades. Even in the twenty-first century, we seek out opportunities to interact locally with political, religious, and cultural leaders, and share our communities with them. Perhaps it is a common human need that makes us want to stake a claim to visitors, just as they want to “take possession” of us.

RSJ Blog: Thank you very much for this interview, Jennifer! All of you who are now even more curious to read more about taking possession of a space, head over to the Royal Studies Journal, and enjoying reading the first thematic issue!

olympic-flame
The very beginning of the Olympic Torch starting it’s entry into Rio de Janeiro in 2016