Archive | November 2015

French Cowardice and English Vigor

… was my shorthand working title for a book chapter that’s finally been released. Selected papers from the 2012 Louis XIV Outside In conference have just been published in a collection that should be read by everyone interested in France, Britain and the Netherlands during Louis XIV’s reign.

Claydon, Tony, and Charles-Edouard Levillain, eds. Louis XIV Outside In: Images of the Sun King Beyond France, 1661-1715. Farnham, Surrey, UK, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishers, 2015.
Abstract: Louis XIV – the ‘Sun King’ – casts a long shadow over the history of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe. Yet while he has been the subject of numerous works, much of the scholarship remains firmly rooted within national frameworks and traditions. Thus in France Louis is still chiefly remembered for the splendid baroque culture his reign ushered in, and his political achievements in wielding together a strong centralised French state; whereas in England, the Netherlands and other protestant states, his memory is that of an aggressive military tyrant and persecutor of non-Catholics. 

In order to try to break free of such parochial strictures, this volume builds upon the approach of scholars such as Ragnhild Hatton who have attempted to situate Louis’ legacy within broader, pan-European context. But where Hatton focused primarily on geo-political themes, Louis XIV Outside In introduces current interests in cultural history, integrating aspects of artistic, literary and musical themes. In particular it examines the formulation and use of images of Louis XIV abroad, concentrating on Louis’ neighbours in north west Europe. This broad geographical coverage demonstrates how images of Louis XIV were moulded by the polemical needs of people far from Versailles, and distorted from any French originals by the particular political and cultural circumstances of diverse nations. Because the French regime’s ability to control the public image of its leader was very limited, the collection highlights how – at least in the sphere of public presentation – his power was frequently denied, subverted, or appropriated to very different purposes, questioning the limits of his absolutism which has also been such a feature of recent work.

I presented two different versions of this chapter at the SMH and the Maison française d’Oxford conference. In a nutshell, I argue that popular English perceptions stereotyped France’s military strategy as barbaric, deceptive, cowardly and criminal, in contrast with their own idealized ‘downright’ embrace of field battle. Of course this was baldly one-sided and selective history, but identity is like that, most especially during wartime. Hello, cult of vigor! This cultural preference for battle is a theme I’ve referenced on this blog again and again; this is my first published formulation of a part of the broader argument I’m exploring in my book project on the English cult of battle.
The other chapters are also quite interesting (as was the Oxford conference as a whole), and well worth a look. To wit:

Introduction: Louis XIV Upside Down? Interpreting the Sun King’s Image 1
Tony Claydon and Charles-Édouard Levillain

  1. Image Battles under Louis XIV: Some Reflections 25
    Hendrik Ziegler
  2. Francophobia in Late-Seventeenth-Century England 37
    Tim Harris
  3. ‘We Have Better Materials for Clothes, They, Better Taylors’: The Influence of La Mode on the Clothes of Charles II and James II 57
    Maria Hayward
  4. The Court of Louis XIV and the English Public Sphere: Worlds Set Apart? 77
    Stéphane Jettot
  5. Popular English Perceptions of Louis XIV’s Way of War 93
    Jamel Ostwald
  6. Louis XIV, James II and Ireland 111
    D. W. Hayton
  7. Lampooning Louis XIV: Romeyn de Hooghe’s Harlequin Prints,
    1688–89 133
    Henk van Nierop
  8. Foe and Fatherland: The Image of Louis XIV in Dutch Songs 165
    Donald Haks
  9. Amsterdam and the Ambassadors of Louis XIV 1674–85 187
    Elizabeth Edwards
  10. Millenarian Portraits of Louis XIV 209
    Lionel Laborie

Thanks to Tony Claydon and Charles Levillain for putting the conference, and the volume, together. Hopefully this won’t be the last book in Ashgate’s Politics and Culture in Europe, 1650-1750 series!

 

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Colloque went (well)

The conference on Louis XIV’s last two wars (Le grand tournant) was held at the Service historique de la Défense (Vincennes) without a hitch – the Sun King refuses to be eclipsed by the dark clouds of a few Islamic terrorists. I’m sure Phil McCluskey could find some irony in there somewhere. The first day saw an almost full house, 50+ attendees, while the second day (a Friday, with fewer presentations) saw probably 30 in attendance. Quite a success, given that many Parisian academic conferences/meetings scheduled for that week were cancelled altogether, and given the fact that Paris was still technically in a state of emergency.

Like most European academic conferences that I’ve attended, there was little premeditated commentary. The chairs largely served to introduce each presenter, though occasionally they might make some brief commentary at the end. This means, of course, that the presenters have until the day of their presentation to write their talk – not sure if this is generally a good thing or a bad thing. All this differs from the American academic conference culture, where the papers are due weeks before the conference, so the commentator has time to draft a more considered response to each paper, and combine the papers together thematically.

The program follows, with my briefest of summaries of each paper:

Des pratiques guerrières en mutation, prés. Bertrand Fonck (SHD)

D’une guerre à l’autre, le double retard de l’infanterie française (1688-1715), par Boris Bouget (musée de l’Armée).

Discussed the technological and tactical limitations on French infantry weapons and tactics.

«Le bras droit des armées»: la cavalerie dans les dernières guerres de Louis XIV, par Frédéric Chauviré (CERHIO)

Good summary of the many roles cavalry played in the wars of the period.

Pour une histoire-campagne, prés. Hervé Drévillon (Université Paris 1)

Le duc de Vendôme en Italie (1702-1706), par Fadi El Hage (IHMC/Université Paris 1)

Argued that Vendôme was fortunate to get recalled from Italy before Eugene relieved Turin and exposed Vendôme’s poor planning for the theater.

A l’aube de la campagne: l’impact du quartier d’hiver dans le déroulement de la campagne de Flandre de 1712, par François Royal (SHD)

Interesting paper discussing the diplomatic, logistical and preparatory operations of the French army in Flanders during the winter 1711-1712.

Batailles, sièges et usages de la violence, prés. Olivier Chaline (Université Paris-Sorbonne)

Au cœur de la bataille: l’expérience des combats de la guerre de Succession d’Espagne, par Clément Oury (Centre ISSN International)

Described the psychological responses to battle by officers and soldiers.

Louis XIV aimait-il trop la bataille?, par Jamel Ostwald (Eastern Connecticut State University)

Thought-piece on Louis’ willingness to order relief battles despite his oft-stated “fear” of battle.

Le sort des vaincus pendant les guerres de Louis XIV: les limites de la culture de la reddition honorable, par Paul Vo-Ha (Université Paris 1)

All the ways in which Louis’ armies didn’t play nice: devastations, bombardments, expulsions…

Regards croisés, prés. Guy Rowlands (University of Saint-Andrews)

Louis XIV, ennemi de la Chrétienté. Le roi noirci par ses adversaires pendant la guerre de la Ligue d’Augsbourg, par Isaure Boitel (Université de Picardie – Jules Verne)

Analyzed several Allied (English, Dutch) anti-Louis illustrations.

Repenser la Boyne : regards croisés, France-Irlande, par Nathalie Genet-Rouffiac (Ministère de la Défense)

Présentation de documents d’archives et de la bibliothèque du SHD

Exhibition of variety of documents from the archive’s holdings, including numerous maps and contemporary engravings.

Les contraintes stratégiques et logistiques de la guerre, prés. Michèle Virol (Université de Rouen)

Les enjeux géostratégiques des différents théâtres d’opérations de la France sous Louis XIV, par Jean-Philippe Cénat

Good overview of the fundamental geostrategic considerations in each theater of war (Flanders, Germany, Italy, Spain).

The Failure of Bourbon Empire in Europe: the Logistics of French Defeat and Survival in the War of the Spanish Succession, par Guy Rowlands (University of Saint-Andrews)

Interesting analysis of the economic/logistical collapse of France by late war – elicited some good discussion of how desperate France really was by 1712.

Un temps de reconfigurations géopolitiques, prés. Jean-Philippe Cénat

L’histoire d’un déclin ou les limites de la puissance? La France face aux reconfigurations géopolitiques de l’Europe du Nord, au tournant des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles, par Eric Schnakenbourg (Université de Nantes)

Summary of the politics and diplomacy of the Baltic during the period.

Le théâtre atlantique durant la seconde partie du règne louis-quatorzien: bilan naval et colonial, par Philippe Hrodej (Université de Bretagne Sud)

Thorough discussion of the blue water and raiding warfare at sea.

Discours et représentations de la guerre, prés. Charles-Edouard Levillain (Université Paris-Diderot)

La «désolation du Palatinat» (1688-1689): du scandale à l’évènement, par Emilie Dosquet (Paris 1)

Analyzed the contemporary media debate over the French devastation of the Palatinate. Prompted some good discussion on the laws of war and propaganda.

Peindre la guerre, 1688-1715, par Bertrand Fonck (SHD)

Survey of the main painters of Louis’ wars, and the role of patronage. Louis liked landscapes.

 

The conference ended with Hervé Drévillon introducing John Lynn as the scholar most responsible for reinvigorating the military history of Louis XIV’s reign with his Giant of the Grand Siècle (1997). Lynn then provided an égo-histoire (intellectual biography) of his career up to the drafting of his Wars of Louis XIV.

 

All in all, ‘twas an excellent conference. (And I even understood 90%-95% of what each speaker said!) Its main organizers – Hervé Drévillon and Bertrand Fonck – deserve congratulations. It’s made me decide to discuss French historians and historiography on this blog more. There’s a whole crop of new scholars (many under the tutelage of Drévillon) who are providing detailed, archivally-based analyses of Louis’ armies and wars. Their work deserves to be disseminated beyond la Francophonie. So stay tuned.*

 

* There’s a plan to publish the actes (i.e. proceedings from the conference) sometime in the next year or two. There are even rumors that video of the conference will be posted on YouTube. Depending on whether the videographers got my good side or not, I might even post the link.

Colloque is a go

For those who were curious, Le grand tournant colloque will be held as scheduled this Thursday and Friday. That’s good, because I arrived in Paris Monday morning, and I’d have to figure out something else to do if the colloque had been cancelled.

This is in contrast to the dozen or so French academic meetings that have been cancelled (according to H-France). I guess there’s an advantage to holding the colloque on a military base. There’ll be more security than initially planned, no doubt, and the venue generally doesn’t qualify as a soft target even when the French aren’t being vigilant against pirates:

And they thought the security at the Stade de France was tough

And they thought the security at the Stade de France was tough

So now I can add a second item to my terrorism tourism:

  1. Flying to France several weeks after 9/11.
  2. Visiting Paris a few days after 13/11 (I don’t think it’s been long enough for them to settle on a name for the attacks).

It’s all about probabilities.

Finally, an unrelated, half-formed, reaction from watching French coverage of the terrorist attacks. In my Western Civ classes I always play La Marseillaise (musical nationalism), and point out its revolutionary origins reflected in the violent language. Particularly the last part of the chorus: “Let impure blood water our furrows” (Qu’un sang impur, Abreuve nos sillons) – the impure blood belonging to the invading soldiers, of course. I’ve always wondered how modern French people view those lyrics – strikes me as pretty bloody.*

So now, after the attacks, various crowds have spontaneously broken out in singing La Marseillaise: fans exiting the Stade de France the night of the attacks, yesterday’s Congress meeting at Versailles… Which makes me wonder yet again how the lyrics are heard today. Personally I cringe a little – particularly given the nature of the attacks, and imaging how Daesh might riff on the lyrics – but maybe the lyrics are background noise for the French?

* I initially added that “at least the Star-Spangled Banner limits its violence to decontextualized bombs bursting in air.” But now that I’ve bothered to check the lyrics, it turns out there’s more than one verse! (Who knew?) And the third verse includes this line, of which I was equally unaware: “Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.” I believe the Mexican national anthem has a similar line about enemy blood watering their fields, so I guess a little blood is symbolically spilled when most anthems are sung. Maybe there’s some lesson in there about nationalism…