Saturday, 30 October 2010

Wimmin's History

An enjoyably reactionary piece in today's Telegraph from Norman Tebbit, who can't see the point of teaching women's history in schools. I can understand that in an already overcrowded school curriculum, it might be just one more burdensome addition, but in listing the elite women (the Elizabeth I's, the Florence Nightingales) who are already part of the curriculum, the sage of Chingford has missed the point. Let me put it in a syllogism.
1. History is the story of humans in time (all humans, not just elites)
2. Women are half the human race
3. Therefore history should include women (and not just the elite ones)
The problem, of course, is that our sources are skewed to the experiences of elite males, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't do our best to uncover as many human lives as we can.

Rant over!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Machiavelli and the state

Machiavelli and the state
See here for a really comprehensive site.

Machiavelli was so shocking to contemporaries because he was not interested in questions of political legitimacy or even morality. He made no distinction between authority and power and asserted that whoever has the power has the right to command. The Prince arose out of his direct experience of Florentine government and was intended as a manual for the ruler who wished to maintain his power and the safety of the state.

Charles V and universal monarchy

The sixteenth century is usually seen as the age of the break-up of the unity of medieval Christendom and the rise of the ‘new monarchies’. Yet this development is extremely complex. The great obstacles were universalism and localism. The Church and the Holy Roman Empires were forces for universalism, while the majority of people lived their lives in local communities and had little concept of an abstraction such as the state.

The modern concept of the nation state should not be confused with contemporary notions of the natio or patria. In 1520 Luther appealed to the ‘German nation’. This did not mean that he had a 19th century concept of German nationalism, but it does imply an assumption of a common German identity.

The concept of universal sovereignty was the legacy of the Roman Empire, appropriated by the papacy in the Middle Ages. From the late 14th century the papacy was gravely weakened by the Great Schism (1378-1417). However, the concept of universal sovereignty was taken up by propagandists on behalf of the Emperor Charles V. When his tutor Adrian of Utrecht became Pope Hadrian VI in 1522 it looked as if the medieval vision of universal sovereignty was being revived. (For more on this theme see Frances Yates' classic, Astraea: the Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century (Routledge, 1975).

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The ritual year

Above is Pieter Bruegel's 'Battle between Carnival and Lent'. Click to enlarge.

This post is especially indebted to Ronald Hutton, The Rise and Fall of Merry England (Oxford University Press, 1996), Miri Rubin, Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture (Cambridge University Press, 1991), and Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, c. 1400-c.1500 (Yale, 1992).

In a largely unlettered world dependent on natural forces people took out insurance against what they could not foresee or control. Religion was a major protective and where official religion seemed inadequate, other rites were used. The Christian church obliged the realities of the agricultural year by turning at least one third of the days into obligatory festivals. A division may be made between rituals of joy, which welcomed in the seasons of the year, and rituals of protection. All coincided with the liturgical cycle of the Christian churches.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

La querelle des femmes

[The picture depicts the medieval writer, Christine de Pisan.]

If you would like to explore the feminist/anti-feminist discourses of the period, you might like to delve into what has been known since the fourteenth century as la querelle des femmes (the women's quarrel) discussed here. As the name suggests, it began in France and was especially lively in the sixteenth century when the Renaissance opened up the question of women's intellectual capabilities and the unusually large number of female rulers sparked off a controversy about their fitness to rule (of which more later).

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Women and gender

The beliefs and practices of the sixteenth-century were very hostile to women. Woman was blamed for the fall of man (see Lucius Cranach's Eve above), and medicine and political science asserted her unreliability, and her unfitness to exert authority. At the same time, however, female saints figured largely in popular culture and in the real world women did not always live according to the prescriptions in the text books and conduct books.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Family and home

Above: Martin de Vos, Joanna Hoeftmans and Antonio Anselmo with their children, Joanna and Aegidio, 1577 (Koninklijke Musea, Brussels). The inscription records the concord between wife and husband, their birth dates and those of their children. Joanna is standing by her father, and Aegidio is sitting on his mother's lap.

The post below owes a considerable debt to Raffaella Sarti, Europe at Home: Family and Material Culture (Yale, 2002) and Merry E. Wiesener-Hanks, Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789 (Cambridge, 2006)

In the early modern period the family was the basic unit of society. It was the place of residence and of the pooling and distribution of resources for consumption. For many a small farmer and craftsman it was also the basic unit of production. For most people the place of work was also the place of residence.