Siege of the sexes

It’s always interesting to come across metaphors in historical research. Metaphors attempt to describe and explain a relationship or activity by associating the unknown (or poorly-known) with an already-known concept. The simile’s more sophisticated sibling, a metaphor is inherently complex and one never knows quite how far to stretch it without exceeding the breaking point (we’ll talk about the war-as-sports metaphor in a later post). They also require both sides to understand the known quantity in the same fashion; and lest we forget, metaphors should be shaken, not mixed.

The metaphors people choose to employ, therefore, give us some insight into their period, whether it be the ‘body politic’ of the middle ages, the clockwork metaphor of the early modern period, the machine of the 19th, or the digital/computer of the late 20th century. In previous posts we’ve speculated on the intimate familiarity agricultural metaphors must have had for early moderns.

If you’ve read Christopher Duffy’s Siege Warfare, you saw his discussion of various ways in which sieges and their technical terminology were used in other fields. Given that the period included interminable wars of religion, and that the Bible itself used a variety of military metaphors to depict the struggle between Good and Evil, little surprise that contemporaries would associate the lengthy struggle for religious uniformity with siegecraft:

  • Warmstry, A countermine of union to the Jesuites myne of division, whereby they contrive the blasting of the work of mercy, and the return of a flood of ruine and desolation upon this church and nation: being a short platform of expedients for peace, for the preservation of all and for the repair of the great distractions that have bin upon us, by an happy reconciliation of the differences that are amongst us, directed to the honourable Council of State (1660)
  • Nalson, The countermine, or, A short but true discovery of the dangerous principles and secret practices of the dissenting party, especially the Presbyterians: shewing that religion is pretended, but rebellion is intended: and in order thereto, the foundation of monarchy in the state and episcopacy in the church are undermined / by one who does passionately wish the prosperity of the church, his King and country (1677).

Rider of White Horse a-Crusading

While conflicts between religions may go back to the wars of the Ancient Near East, even older is the eternal struggle between Man and Woman, Adam and Eve.

To quote one example from the 18th century (a letter from the libertine Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke circa 1735), providing advice to a friend on courting a Parisian actress:

“With all ladys, with those particularly, good Engineers proceed by assaults, not sappes. If you have enjoyed [her], stick to her close, work yourself hard, she will like you the more and you will like her the less. Whilst I loved much, I never loved long, but was inconstant to them all for the sake of all.” (H.T. Dickinson, Bolingbroke, 6.)

Not only is this an interesting example of the timeless battle siege of the sexes, it also provides yet another example of the distinction between Vaubanian-style siegecraft (i.e. proceeding à la sappe) and vigorous storms. The evidence keeps piling up.



One response to “Siege of the sexes”

  1. Erik Lund says :

    Siege as metaphor for love life? Exactly; here I sit, mired in the mud in front of a provincial city, hoping the burghers will take pity on my starving, disgruntled troops and let us in. . .

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