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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