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Early Modern and Eighteenth Century Centre Blog

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Down Under: Reflections on a Wellington Cemetery, by Michael Bycroft

I thought I was done with early modern European history. Not for good, but perhaps for two or three weeks. I was separated from Europe by ten thousand miles and two weeks in a quarantine hotel. I had just finished marking the last batch of Europe in the Making essays for the year. It was June, but the weather was getting colder, not hotter. The pōhutukawa trees in Wellington, the capital city of Aotearoa New Zealand, had lost their red flowers several months previously.

But then I saw this:

Mon 10 Oct 2022, 10:35

Merry Monarchs: Charles II and Charles III, by Mark Knights

Do Charles II (1630-1685) and Charles III (1948-present) have anything in common? Over three hundred years apart, there are, of course, many differences; but are there any parallels between the two monarchs and the two ‘Carolingian’ periods?

Both Charles II and Charles III came to the throne after a long wait. Charles II, whose father Charles I lost the civil wars and was beheaded in 1649, endured a long period of exile, in which he toured the courts of Europe looking for both refuge and support in his bid to regain his kingdom. Although the monarchy was restored in 1660 and Charles came to the throne, the somewhat traumatic experience of his ‘travels’ lived with him for the rest of his life. During his exile, Charles had to swallow distasteful policies foisted on him by his temporary allies, leading to a life-long tendency to disguise his true self. Charles III has waited longer, of course, and though his apprenticeship was less traumatic it may well have as enduring an impact on how he behaves as monarch and he may have to emulate his name-sake by hiding his opinions and his true self. Charles II was a ‘monarch in masquerade’; Charles III may well have to be one too.

Mon 12 Sep 2022, 15:54

Letter by the diplomat Thomas Robinson, Lord Grantham, to his brother in 1779, by Benjamin Jackson

During my PhD, I spent a number of days working through the family correspondence of the Yorkshire lesser nobility family the Robinsons at the ‘Wrest Park Collection’ at Bedfordshire Archives and Record Services. My magical source is a letter sent by the British diplomat in Spain Thomas Robinson, Lord Grantham to his brother Frederick (Fritz) Robinson in London in March 1779. The letter details the social and cultural life of the Spanish court as well as the Robinson family back in England. The conspicuous discussion of material goods in the letter is representative of the brothers’ correspondence generally – this is both in part down to the brothers’ intense personal interest in art and furnishings and a semi-professional interest as Frederick acted as Grantham’s secretary and agent. In the run of 301 Grantham and Frederick’s letters in the archive, hundreds were concerned with material things – this is magical in itself. When reading through the collection, a phrase really stood out to me from this letter discussing Grantham’s ambassadorial gala coach used on formal processions into the Spanish royal palaces. Grantham wrote: “my Coach & Buff Harness are shabby to a degree & I determine whether I can do anything to be merely decent at [the Palace at] Aranjuez. You may think that I have no ambition to make a figure, at the same Time I must keep up appearances.”

Wed 22 Jun 2022, 17:08

Mary Toft's First Confession, by Karen Harvey

In 2012 I was preparing to teach a module on the case of Mary Toft who alleged to have given birth to rabbits in 1726. The module was intended to teach second-year students about source analysis through a discrete and manageable case study. The case caused a media sensation and I knew well many of the primary sources associated, notably the well-known printed pamphlets and engravings. These sources had shaped the studies of the case which focussed on either medical historical perspectives or broader concepts relating to the imagination and the self. In their often satiric reinvention and representation of the case, these printed sources underscored that the case was a hoax.

Wed 22 Jun 2022, 16:54

A Quaker forgery? John Locke’s letter to a Quaker woman preacher, by Naomi Pullin

My magical source is a letter sent from John Locke to a Quaker preacher called Rebecca Collier, in which he outlines some of his thoughts and views on female preaching after he had heard her and her companion, Rachel Brecken, preach at a Quaker meeting in London. There was a short marginal note to say that Locke had altered his views on female preaching on the basis of this encounter with Collier and that he had subsequently revised his Notes and Queries on this subject. There was also a rather baffling story that King William III had been in attendance at the same meeting, dressed incognito.

Wed 22 Jun 2022, 14:32

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