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Newsletter, 14 October 2015

Welcome to the Forum newsletter for our latest round-up of news and cultural events from the Early Modern period.

Amongst interesting calls for papers for conferences in the past month there are: Gender, Power and Materiality in Early Modern Europe, 1500-1800, which is a three-day AHRC Network conference in Plymouth in April 2016, with a deadline of 31 December; the Pre-Modern Book in a Global Context at Binghampton University in the US in October 2016, deadline 15 April; Magic and Magicians in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age at the University of Arizona, Tuscon, in April 2016, deadline 31 January; Religion and Medicine: Healing the Body and Soul From the Middle Ages to the Modern Day at Birkbeck, University of London, in July 2016, deadline 30 October.


In some news from the English Midlands, in the Guardian Maev Kennedy reported that the new grave of Richard III in Leicester Cathedral , and other sites in and near the city which are linked to England’s last Plantagenet monarch, have been included in the world’s top sites to visit by the Smithsonian magazine. Leicester is now 12th out of 25 “great new places to see”, followingplaces including the largest cave in the world in Vietnam, the Cern laboratory in Switzerland, gorillas in east Africa and the world’s fastest rollercoaster in Abu Dhabi. The dean of Leicester, David Monteith, described it as “thrilling”.

The archives of the first Englishman to visit the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, and an unsung explorer of the nineteenth century, Thomas Manning, will be made available to scholars soon, after being found in a bookseller’s cupboard in London. Hundreds of documents including his diary and letters have been found and acquired by the Royal Asiatic Society, which raised nearly £100,000 to buy the 400 items. Manning was born in 1772 to a Norfolk cleric, went to Cambridge to study maths but had been fascinated by Chinese history and culture, and eventually tried to travel to the country via Tibet. The documents include sketches of the then Dalai Lama, aged five. On his way back to England, he also visited Napolean, then exiled on St Helena.

A Constable painting which has belonged to the Tate is expected to leave the country as the last act of a story involving a black market operator, the aftermath of war in Hungary and a licence application. The licence application by Karola Fabri to allow Beaching a Boat, Brighton, to leave Hungary in 1946 has been the subject of a report by the Spoliation Advisory Panel, which examines claims made for the recovery of UK artworks which were alleged to have been looted by the Nazis. The painting dates from 1824, but was listed as looted following the German invasion of Hungary in 1944. Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota said in 2014 it should be returned, but the finding of the licence cast doubt on this; now a recommendation has again been made that it should be returned to an anonymous claimant.


The first few reviews are from the website:

Roman inquisition

The Roman Inquisition: Trying Galileo by Thomas F. Mayer was reviewed by Professor Maurice A. Finocchiaro of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, who began with “this is a deeply flawed book, although it is not completely without merit”. He said the author, who died while the book was going to press, had been an accomplished scholar of ecclesiastical history but a relative novice in Galilean scholarship. In a very long review, he then explained his view by describing Galileo’s trial, summarising the book and elaborating on his criticism.

The Renaissance in Italy: a Social and Cultural History of the Rinascimento by Guido Ruggiero was reviewed by Dr Stephen Bowd of the University of Edinburgh who said the book, covering 1240-1575, looked at how an urban civilisation led by merchants, bankers and investors, with some lawyers and artisans, superseded a mostly rural feudal world, and challenged the rule of the nobility and church. Dr Bowd said the author told the story with eloquence and mastery of memorable turns of phrase, and is described by the author as offering a “new vision” and way of seeing the period but that it is a lost opportunity to reboot the Renaissance as it aimed to do.

Experiencing Exile: Huguenot Refugees in the Dutch Republic, 1680–1700 by David van der Linden was reviewed by Dave Papendorf of Central Michigan University who said it filled a gap as previous studies of Huguenot history had missed out the struggles of ordinary immigrants upon arrival. The book comes from the author’s PhD dissertation, and focuses on the 35,000 French émigrés who settled in the Dutch Republic, and he argues those “who suffered gloriously for their beliefs were few and far between”, they struggled to make ends meet and some returned to France when their hardships had destroyed hopes for a better future. The reviewer says van der Linden “fails to adequately contrast the everyday spiritual struggles he describes with the more grandiose visions of persecution that most scholars ascribed unilaterally to the Huguenot refugees”. Despite this he is praised for his thoroughness with sources, and his valuable contribution to Huguenot history and early modern history in general.


The Man behind the Queen: Male Consorts in History edited by Miles Taylor and Charles Beem was reviewed by Estelle Paranque of University College London who said it filled some important gaps in the historiography of rulership and the interactions between royal couples, from the medieval period to the modern day. Subject include the king consorts of Navarre from 1274-1512, King Ferdinand of Aragon, Mary I’s husband Philip II of Spain and George of Denmark who was married to Anne Stuart. The reviewer found the essays well organised and engaging, but felt they were too short, leaving the reader wanting to know more.

Making Money: Coin, Currency, and the Coming of Capitalism by Christine Desan was reviewed by Katie Ball of Worcester College, Oxford, who said while it does acknowledge the physical act involved in the process, the primary focus is to look at “what gave money value and validated it as a reliable medium of egalitarian exchange”. For money to function, it needed to be centrally enforced, and the argument of the book is that money created the market, not the other way round. The reviewer concluded that medieval and early modern historians, economists and lawyers alike will enjoy the book, and the author’s clear and precise prose made accessible to all.


1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear by Columbia University Professor James Shapiro was reviewed by Robert McCrum in the Guardian, who found it an absorbing study which showed that radical change under James I galvanised Shakespeare. Shapiro had previously written 1599, about a year Shakespeare wrote several plays. King Lear reflected the anxieties of post-Elizabethan England. The reviewer said that 1606 was not all fire and brimstone though, and “Professor Shapiro’s dark, enthralling, and brilliant narrative includes a nice aside in which he reveals that the age-old thespian fuss about ‘the Scottish play’ was actually a Victorian invention”.

In the Guardian, Charles Nicholl said the chief theme of the book was Shakespeare’s profound engagement with the “troubled national mood”, and Shapiro showed how his plays of the time addressed the contemporary political and social upheavals. The author showed his skill in shaping quantities of research into a brisk and enjoyable narrative.

In the Independent, Lucasta Miller said it was another good year for Shakespeare, but an awful one for England. She found that Shapiro had a “vigorous, burning appetite for historical information and an equally burning desire to impart it”.

Frederick the Great

Frederick the Great, King of Prussia by Tim Blanning was reviewed in the Telegraph by Noel Malcolm who called it masterly. He said it was thanks to Frederick that during the eighteenth century Prussia became one of the dominant powers of Europe. His long reign was punctuated by bloody campaigns, and Malcolm said this book guided the reader through them all “with great skill and dry-eyed objectivity” , and also brought to life one of the most complex characters of modern European history, building a rich picture of his very active mental life and the strange social setting he built around himself.


Goya: The Portraits is on at the National Gallery until January 10. In a feature in the Guardian, Jonathan Jones questioned the belief that the artist turned to much darker subjects after he went deaf, but he went to Spain to investigate and decided the truth lay in a bloodbath in his hometown of Zaragoza which took place during guerrilla wars in 1808.

Laura Cumming reviewed the show for the Guardian, and said it was spectacular, with his “weird, wilful and radically truthful portraits” so showing him in an extraordinary new light. In the Telegraph, Mark Hudson called it “the show of the decade”, featuring 70 paintings on loan from across the world. He said the basement galleries were packed with fantastic paintings, one of which was described as crackling with human energy.

Indian fabric

Fabric of India, at the V&A in London, was reviewed in the Telegraph by Florence Walters who said it was in all ways a colourful journey, looking at the story of Indian fabric from the third century to the present day. Tipu Sultan’s eighteenth century tent, or moveable palace, has been constructed but it also looked at politics and how by 1830 British machine-made yarn had nearly wiped out India’s trade. It is on until January 10.

In the Telegraph, architecture critic Ellis Woodman, reviewed Palladian Design: The Good, The Bad and The Unexpected exhibition at RIBA, and described it as a “compact but compellingly curated” survey of the legacy of Andrea Palladio’s designs and their influence on people such as Inigo Jones. It begins with a selection of Palladio drawings bought by Jones in Italy, and looks at his influence on UK buildings, plus the United States Capitol and the Viceroy’s House in New Delhi, and even a ski-lodge in Canada and a largely subterranean house in the Mongolian city of Ordos. It is on until January.

In the Telegraph, author Jeanette Winterson visited the Foundling Museum, and wrote an article about its exhibition, A Fallen Woman. The museum is in the former Foundling Hospital, an orphanage founded in 1741 by sea captain Thomas Coram. It gradually became overwhelmed with arrivals, and changed from somewhere that admitted any child up to one with no questions asked, to one that by the early nineteenth century judged the character of the mother. The exhibiton, curated by social historian Linda Nead, includes petitions from women asking the Hospital to take their babies in, descriptions of them by the porter and supporting letters. It is on until January 3.


In the Independent, Holly Williams looked at why directors love Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure so much, as a production prepared to open at the Young Vic in London, following Cheek by Jowl’s version at the Barbican and one at Shakespeare’s Globe this year. She described the plot, then concluded that lines in it which can be read as funny or not are what had led to three radically different interpretations this year. The play is at the Young Vic until November 14.

Measure for Measure

The play was reviewed by Dominic Cavendish in the Telegraph who said it had to be pretty special to make it stand out, but he found it “snigger inducing”, trying to grab attention in the first few minutes which a simulated orgy which turned out to be lots of inflatable sex dolls. He said he could see there was an artistic method behind the “bonkers playfulness” when a fifteenth century picture of The Last Judgment was reproduced, but by emphasising the play's ideas of the temptations of the flesh it could be accused of being empty and flash.

In the Independent, Paul Taylor found it the boldest of the year’s productions, and “the most scabrously funny take I’ve yet seen on Shakespeare’s profound and notoriously self-thwarting problem comedy”.

In the Independent, Paul Taylor reviewed Mr Foote’s Other Leg at the Hampstead Theatre, and said it was directed by Richard Eyre with “admirable command of the play’s tricky tonal palette”. Cornish-born playwright, actor and theatre manager Foote (1720-77) lost a leg in a riding accident and was then known as a pioneer of improvisational comedy which used the lost leg for amusement value, in plays such as The Lame Lover. The play has been adapted from Ian Kelly’s award- winning biography of Foote, with what were described by the reviewer as some “well-judged liberties with the factual record”. It is now on at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until January 23.

In the Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish said history was being made at the Rose Theatre, Kingston upon Thames, as The War of the Roses, the three parts of Henry VI and Richard III fused together and shown in one day, was being staged for the first time since 1963. He said the 23-strong cast were dynamic and the exhilarating production, directed by Trevor Nunn, gave the RSC a run for its money. It is on until October 31.

In the Independent, there was an interview by Holly Williams with actress Mbatha Raw and playwright Jessica Swale about re-examining the famed 17th century actress-cum-royal-mistress Nell Gwynn at Shakespeare’s Globe. The play is a new one by Swale, who got interested in Gwynn, one of the first actresses on the English stage, when studying Restoration drama at university. The play is on until October 17.

In the Independent, Paul Taylor reviewed Henry V at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, until November 19 and said it was a production of “huge flair and bite” and that Gregory Doran had crafted an impressive addition to his English histories project.