Saturday, April 12, 2014

"History Today"--April Issue On-line Highlights

I'm not sure how long these stories will be available for free online, but there are several that interest me today:

A discussion of the last king of the House of Valois, Henri III, by the author of a new biography of the same:

In the 19th century, Henry appeared in the novels of Alexandre Dumas and other works of fiction. In 1941 Pierre Champion began a biography, but died before completing it. Following the Second World War, historical biography fell into disrepute among French academics, who preferred to study man as part of a group, but in the last decades the form has regained academic respectability. In 1985 Pierre Chevallier published a substantial biography of Henry III bearing the subtitle: ‘a Shakespearean king’. Since then Jacqueline Boucher, Nicolas Le Roux, Denis Crouzet, Monique Chatenet, Xavier Le Person and others have revolutionised our understanding of the reign. Unfortunately their contributions remain largely unknown to English-speaking readers. The only biography of Henry III in English, by Martha Walker Freer, dates from 1858.

Recent research has exploded the myth of Henry as an ineffectual and pleasure-seeking monarch surrounded by mignons, effeminate young men with absurd hair-dos. Henry is now seen as a highly intelligent and conscientious monarch who tried to bring peace to his troubled kingdom. Pleasure loving he may have been, but Boucher has shown that he spent long hours reading official reports and replying to them. Hundreds of his letters have been published by the Société de l’Histoire de France since 1959. Intellectually, Henry was also keen to learn: he set up a Palace Academy at the Louvre, where leading scholars discussed philosophy, astronomy or other topics. As for the mignons, far from being the parvenus of legend, they were mostly the sons of long-serving provincial nobles. They represented an attempt by Henry to use men of his own generation rather than older ministers chosen by his mother, Catherine de’ Medici.

A comparison between modern surveillance and the Tudor spy network:

Analogies between modern Britain and early modern England can also be seen in the history of social welfare. Beveridge and the creators of the welfare state hoped that by making benefits universal they would remove the stigma associated with poverty. Welfare benefits would simply be ‘social’ rights that would be as generally acceptable as property and political rights. However, opposition to taxation, benefits means testing and fears over fraud have led to the wholesale sharing of data between government bodies such as the Department of Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs. ‘Troubled’ families are now targeted for various forms of social intervention to prevent them from becoming a burden on the state.

Similarly, during the English Reformation, the Dissolution of the Monasteries led to the destruction of institutions such as hospitals, which had traditionally assisted the poor. The Reformation’s emphasis on salvation by faith also undermined the belief in the spiritual efficacy of charitable works, although that does not mean that Christian charity vanished. These religious, economic and social shifts led to a perceived crisis of welfare. The response of the Tudor state was to supplement the promptings of Christian charity with the legal requirements of the Poor Laws. Each locality was to raise funds through a poor rate and disburse them to those in need via overseers. Over the following centuries this system came to be seen by the poor as a right. Yet the response of rate payers was increasingly to view the poor as a nuisance to be controlled. Consequently the Poor Laws spawned a vast system of surveillance to determine the circumstances of families and the parentage of illegitimate children.

The recounting of an exorcism conducted by a missionary Catholic priest in Elizabethan London by Jessie Childs, set in the context of the English Reformation:

Few periods of English history have endured such liberal applications of hindsight as the Golden Age of Good Queen Bess. It may indeed have been a time of glorious national achievement, but the country was not, with a nod to Sellar and Yeatman, ‘bound to be C of E’. The children of Henry VIII (whose own brand of reformation was unpredictable) had hardly imbued their subjects with a sense of religious stability. As Daniel Defoe put it, the country had swung ‘from the Romish religion to reformed, from reformed back again to Romish, and then to reformed again’. By 1586 Elizabeth I had been on the throne for just over a quarter of a century, long enough for the dizziness to have subsided, long enough for a new generation to have been raised on the Book of Common Prayer and long enough – just – for the word ‘Protestant’ to have become an acceptable term of self-reference. It was not so long, however, for Elizabethan Catholics to have stopped praying for one more swing of the pendulum. Often their prayers were linked to those for ‘God’s prisoner’, Mary, Queen of Scots, still alive in 1586 and still, for most people, England’s putative heir.

Church attendance was compulsory in Elizabethan England, the fine for absenteeism having been raised in 1581 from 12 pence to a swingeing £20 a month. Most Catholics conformed, some only occasionally or partially, and suffered the label ‘church papist’ or ‘schismatic’ for their sins. Those who persisted in their nonconformity were known as recusants (from the Latin recusare: to refuse). Many of them hoped, not only for freedom of worship, but also for the restoration of the Catholic faith in England. They were a minority – thousands in a population of around four million – but they had a loud voice, amplified by powerful friends on the Continent. ‘God has already granted’, declared Mary I’s widower, Philip II of Spain, ‘that by my intervention and my hand that kingdom has previously been restored to the Catholic Church once.’ It was an ominous statement of chutzpah and intent.

And from the magazine's blog, this examination of Jacques le Goff's legacy as an Annales historian:

By showing how it could be applied meaningfully to transform perceptions of major problems in the study of the past, Le Goff ensured that the Annales School had an enduring relevance for historical scholarship. Thanks to works such as La Naissance du Purgatoire and Pour un autre Moyen Âge, its influence both in medieval studies and more widely has become palpable. Not only are undergraduates now introduced to the Annalistes’ ideas as a matter of course, but the scholarly value of such topics as popular culture and environmental history is also appreciated by historians around the world, especially in those regions (such as Britain and the US) which were previously most hostile to the Annales approach. And it was only right that by the time of Le Goff’s death on April 1st, 2014, he had been elevated to the pantheon of modern historians.

But if Le Goff’s contribution should be celebrated for having resurrected the Annales School from its mid-century Purgatory, his death is also an occasion to reflect once again on the future of the nouvelle histoire. While it may be true that few scholars now doubt the merit of the approach he pioneered, it is striking that the grand vision which marked both his work and that of his most eminent colleagues has perhaps not survived the test of time as well as it might.

Much good reading there on four interesting topics.

No comments:

Post a Comment