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Response to Review no. 616

To respond to the review of a volume of collected essays is an ambivalent experience. It presents a very welcome opportunity to engage with arguments put forward by such an eminent historian as Professor Doyle whose views on the eighteenth-century monarchy are highly valued by anyone working in the field. And I would like to thank him for taking on the task of reviewing this volume. On the other hand, as editor one does not feel entitled to speak on behalf of individual contributors and to respond to specific criticism. I will therefore confine myself to two more general points with regard to the structure and overall message of the volume.

It was a conscious decision to address the theme of ‘Monarchy and Religion’ only for a select number of European monarchies. Focusing on France, the German-speaking countries, Great Britain, and Russia allowed in-depth analysis of several aspects of the theme (court clergy, religious life at court, state occasions) and at the same time the introduction of a comparative perspective for all of these aspects. This would not have been feasible, at least not in a single volume, had more countries been included. Even more importantly, a comparison between the various confessional court cultures is at the heart of the volume. It seemed important to make sure that Catholic, Protestant, and—too often neglected in such enterprises—Orthodox monarchies are represented in equal measure. Only then it is possible to assess whether kingship in Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox monarchies was different in each case, or whether there was a coherent European pattern fostered by an exchange of ideas between the various courts. Since there was no lack of Catholic courts the exclusion of the Iberian monarchies, in particular, seemed justified.

As Professor Doyle points out ‘the overall message of this book is indeed that religion and its connections with monarchy remained vital over the long eighteenth century’. However, the way in which religion remained vital for the self-definition of monarchies or the conduct of courtiers’ and monarchs’ lives could vary. And it is exactly this broad spectrum of links between monarchy and religion which the book wants to address and illustrate. In some countries this could mean a sacralization of monarchy, in others the cult of a pious dynasty, and in yet others a secular religion of the state. Reducing the theme to a binary opposition of sacralization versus desacralization of monarchy would therefore amount to a foreshortening of the perspective. One aim of the volume is precisely to move the debate beyond this narrow divide and open up the variety of ways in which religion worked within a monarchical setting in the eighteenth century. In addition, it has to be stressed that the religious underpinnings of monarchy were never self-evident. They had to be constantly reiterated and re-inculcated. In many instances the religious staging of monarchical rule was, as many contributions to the volume demonstrate, successful; in others, however, the religious mise-en-scène could be misread by contemporaries or performed in such a way as to subvert the intended message. For all these reasons there is no single narrative to be told. This may create the impression of a ‘lack of consensus among the contributors’ and of an editor ‘sitting on the fence’, but it essentially reflects the many ways in which religion and monarchy interacted in the eighteenth century.