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Response to Review no. 127

First of all, I want to thank Professor Briggs for the many generous and complimentary remarks he makes about my book in his review. One of the pleasures of writing outside one’s own field of historical training (in my case, 18th-century England) i s that it leads to interactions with scholars whom one has admired but never met. I was relieved that a reviewer for whom I have great respect did not discover egregiouss errors in the sections of my book on early modern France, and that he judged the enterprise “brave” rather than foolhardy!

This book lends itself to critical responses, precisely because it is a “sketch-map,” as Professor Briggs puts it. It is meant to be suggestive, even “provocative in the best sense.” Every historian should find something of interest in it; few will agre e with it all. Like any big structure that is built out of a lot of very small pieces, it wobbles in places, and it needs to be tested. I hope that most of it will bear up in the long run, but it would be absurd to claim that it is complete or unflawed or fully balanced. Surprisingly little has been written on the religious foundations of early modern monarchy, and almost none of the existing literature is comparative. It is not yet possible to be definitive, even with regard to one country. One can only define the problem and offer tentative solutions. Joint projects, like the superb recent volume on European courts edited by J.S. Adamson, are filling in some of the blanks. I should add that my book is addressed to general readers as well as to scholars, which will be a problem for some. Academic historians may find that there is too much narrative in it, or that it suffers in places from a “loss of analytic power,” in Professor Briggs’s words. For me, however, the trade-off that is involved in addressing a broader audience has been worthwhile.

In general, I believe, authors should learn to stomach the criticisms of reviewers, but as this forum is designed to elicit a reply, I will give one. I will first consider Professor Briggs’s general point about sacred monarchy, then will turn to some of the more particular criticisms that he makes. I agree completely with his view that the rituals of sacred monarchy were a kind of “intellectual bricolage,” but I would hesitate to say that the whole idea of royal sacrality is an anachronistic construct, cobbled together by historians out of evidence derived from the Renaissance. There was a religious logic to sacred monarchy, stemming from the medieval Christian conviction that the sacred could be vested in human beings. This may have emerged as early as Constantine; it was certainly apparent under the Carolingian emperors. Charlemagne himself was addressed by the Pope as belonging to “a holy race, an d royal priesthood.” Sacrality was never, to my knowledge, articulated as a full-scale political theory, and Ernst Kantorowicz probably made it appear far too coherent in his book, The King’s Two Bodies. Nevertheless, it pops up again and again a s a sort of ultimaratio of monarchy throughout the Middle Ages, in coronation ceremonies and rituals like the royal touch, as well as in sermons and political tracts. Joan of Arc herself voiced the idea when she stated that “Those who make war against the holy realm of France, wage war against King Jesus.” Renaissance kings certainly inflated the idea of sacred monarchy out of all proportion, as Professor Briggs impli es, but they didn’t invent it.

How important such ideas were to their rulership is much harder to determine. My own feeling is that sacred monarchy was designed to have a two-fold impact. If you couldn’t accept it at face value– and many rebellious noblemen obviously couldn’t– then at least you could see it as necessary to the preservation of the realm. Neither of these approaches was entirely acceptable to the religious reformers of the 16th century, for whom the sacred had to be kept quite separate from the worldly and profane. Again, Professor Briggs and I agree that the Reformation marked a tremendous break with the past. It was in the face of the reformist challenge that sacred monarchy reached such extravagant and fantastic heights, notably at the courts of Henri III, Elizabeth I and Rudolf II. With th e assassination of Henri III in 1589, the whole ramshackle structure of sacred monarchy began to collapse. Professor Briggs is correct to compare this with the execution of Charles I. The difference is that Charles was trying to revive a Renaissance con ception of kingship that had already been partially abandoned under his father, James I.

On more particular points, I will make briefer pleas. Professor Briggs may be right in complaining that the book’s conclusion is too short, but the chapter that precedes it was meant to be read as a longer coda. To the accusation of being led astray by Dame Frances Yates, I would plead partly guilty. Her speculations about a “Rosicrucian Enlightenment” were certainly wild and untenable. However, the Rosicrucian pamphlets of 1620, even if they were a hoax, created a considerable stir, and generated an iconography that depicted Frederic k V as an alchemical or magical hero. On not seeing Richelieu as successful in retaining the support of Catholic reformers, I am guilty as charged. The relationship between the Cardinal and the devots was certainly complex and I would not go so far as to argue that there was an “outright clash” between them. Richelieu was himself an ecclesiastical reformer, and at times a brilliant manipulator of public opinion; but I would question whether serious Catholic devots regarded his ministry with more than ambivalence, especially after 1635. If Gaston d’Orleans had signalled his support for an insurrection, would the b arricades set up in Paris after the siege of Corbie in 1636, in defiance of Richelieu, have led to an earlier version of the Fronde? In that case, what side would the devots have taken? Recent English scholarship on Richelieu, of course, has looked with much favour on the Cardinal’s ministry. Yet he can also be seen as a minis ter who left his country groaning under high taxes, racked by peasant rebellions, riddled with noble conspiracies, fighting two major European powers and on the verge of a devastating civil war. Did Buckingham or Olivares do much worse? (I hope that Pro fessor Briggs, who knows far more about the subject than I do, will interpret this heretical query as provocative in a good sense!)

The reviewer’s criticism of my brief treatment of the bull Unigenitus is justified. In retrospect, I can see that it should have been given much more attention. My reasoning at the time of writing was that its real importance lay in the future, beyond t he end of the book. In many ways, however, it spelled the undoing of the sacral vestiges of the French monarchy, so its genesis and immediate impact should have been discussed at greater length.

In both his positive and negative remarks, Professor Briggs has been very fair to my book. I hope above all that he will make other historians want to read it, if only to determine how inapplicable it may be to their own field of study! I welcome their comments, which they may send to me at [email protected]. If the book generates research on the topic of monarchy in early modern Europe, then it will have played its part, and I will happily renounce any further examination of Spanish court theatr e, Polish aristocratic memoirs or Viennese public statuary.