Since the whole US seems to be aflutter with today’s solar eclipse, I might as well jump on the bandwagon, and introduce an earlier solar eclipse and how it was interpreted. That would be, of course, the eclipse of the Sun King – le Roi Soleil himself, Louis XIV – during his annus horribilis of 1706.
In a way, Louis XIV asked for it. After all, he was the one who choose to dance as the sun god Apollo in ballets at Versailles, and he was the one who bestowed upon himself the moniker of the Sun King. (Even before twitter, it was still a good idea to think about how your brand could be twisted by your opponents.) Appropriately, the Sun King would see his most visible eclipse in the twilight of his reign, during the exhausting War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714).
France’s Sun King saw his military forces eclipsed most spectacularly in 1706. The failure of the Bourbon attempt to recapture Barcelona lead to the occupation of Madrid by mid-year. The 23 May battle of Ramillies allowed Allied forces under the Duke of Marlborough to sweep through the poorly-defended Spanish Netherlands and then conduct a series of successful sieges of Franco-Spanish fortresses along Louis’ northern border. As if these two reversals weren’t humbling enough, the Bourbon siege of Victor Amadeus of Savoy’s Turin capital turned into catastrophe when Prince Eugene of Savoy attacked French defenders in their trenches in early September. Within months, the French were forced to abandon Italy.
And what did early modern Europe make of such sudden and unprecedented reversals of fortune in multiple theaters? Helpfully, the deistic Supreme Being himself prophesized the upcoming eclipse of the Sun King. It just so happened that 12 May of that very year witnessed an actual eclipse of the Sun. The path of totality passed through Montpellier, France, encouraging a local professor of mathematics there to publish his own calculations of the event against empirical observation:
scientists natural philosophers, the events offered more than just an opportunity to improve the astronomical sciences. Contemporaries hardly needed the excuse of astrology, or of Huguenot prophecies, to draw the parallel between a real solar eclipse and a metaphorical Sun King eclipse. With the irrefutable proof of post hoc ergo propter hoc, literal and figurative solar eclipses became intertwined – a Protestant God couldn’t have provided a better PR opportunity, nor could anti-Bourbon powers ask for a better one. The parallel was obvious to all. One letter from Spain, published in the Present State of Europe, noted the connection:
“But what is remarkable, too, according to the course of the Planets there is no wonder in [the victory], is, that this Morning about a quarter past 9 a Clock, when the Enemy’s Army was in full march and Confusion, the Sun was eclipsed for 6 Minutes, so that the Day look’d like Night. Thus the Crown of France, which has the Sun for its Device, loses its Force before Barcelona; and must at last restore to the King and lawful Sovereign of Spain all the Monarchy usurp’d from him.”
Those of a more cynical bent placed more faith in Man than Heavenly constellations, one skeptic noting that on the retreat from Barcelona the French march “was overcast this morning with the darkest eclipse of the sun as almost ever was seen, by which the superstitious here portend the eternal setting of the Bourbon son, but I believe the attendance of the enraged Miguelets [Catalan partisan bands] from the mountains will prove most fatal in their way to Girone, whither we hear they are marched in very great confusion.”
Whether through powers divine or human, the outlook remained dark for Philippe V’s Spanish forces for months afterwards.
Meanwhile, to the north, an English soldier fighting in Marlborough’s Flanders army was unaware of the great events to come, and therefore chronicled more prosaically that “over a great heath there happened a greate eclipse of the sunn wch. begann about 9 o clock in the morning and held till half an hour after 10, vizible unto us and was the strangest and greatest that ever I beheld or could heare of by any souldier or officer amongst us.” Within weeks, the victory of Ramillies would make the eclipse’s meaning for the northern theater clear.
Since war is fought with pens as much as with swords, the eclipse was also enlisted into service in the visual war for hearts and minds. Yet perhaps interpreting visual metaphors isn’t as simple as it might seem. Two examples of how propagandists used the eclipse metaphor will suffice. The first is an English copy and translation of “cuts from beyond the Sea,” illustrating the symbolic eclipse, with Louis presciently commenting to his wife: “The Sun, my Dear, Is now eclips’d, and bodes some Ill, I fear.”
The second, more interesting example, comes from the Dutch,* whose had a long pedigree of mocking the pretensions of that tyrant Louis (see: Romeyn de Hooghe). The top half of the page consists of an image illustrating England’s Queen Anne siting on her throne, surrounded by courtiers and action scenes from the year’s military victories.
(See a version of the entire page here.)
The accompanying text, in both Dutch and French, first situates the event within the growing age of Enlightenment. It starts by noting that:
“Although it seems that we are no longer in the time of miracles, and that in such an Enlightened century as this, we know that everything that occurs on earth results from natural causes, nevertheless people naturally stray into superstition, seeing in the eclipse of the Sun which took place May 12 much similarity to the Eclipse of the grandeur of Louis XIV who take the Sun as his emblem…”
It continues by extending the metaphor: the Sun is being eclipsed by his “sister” the Moon, just as the terrestrial Sun King is eclipsed by his “soeur” Queen Anne:
L’Eclypse qui parut au Ciel l’autre semaine,
Fut aux yeux des Mortels un parlant Phenomene
D’une terrestre Eclypse, un Divin Precurseur
C’est celle de Louis, le Soleil de la France
Qu’aujourd’huy nous voyons tomber en defaillance
Par l’entremise de sa Soeur
But deconstructing the imagery takes a bit more work, which the editor is happy to assist us with, at least to the best of his abilities. Obviously enough, the editor suggests, the lunar eclipse of the sun drives the successive events. “You also see two astrologers who, with the assistance of a telescope, attempt to teach us some kind of new discovery” [Unfortunately, the editor remains silent as to whether a mirror, held by two characters on the opposite side, can serve the same protective purpose as eclipse glasses.] Queen Anne sits on her throne underneath the royal coat of arms adorned with English lions, Irish harp and French fleur-de-lis. She appears to be clipping the wings of the French coq “so that it cannot fly so high and so far from its own home.” What exactly all those courtiers want is admittedly uncertain, presumably something more than just clipping wings. Even less certain is the point of the fleet scene, though it “seems to me to represent those of Admirals Leake and Wassenaar” generically preventing the Comte de Toulouse from ruling the Two Seas. And we know that the combat scene has to represent the battle of Ramillies “because I see the Judoigne village church tower.” After another sonnet on the neutralization of the universal hegemon’s plans, we come to the final frame. What do you see happening with those people in the upper left? “I see,” continues our guide, Madame de Maintenon lecturing her husband (and his court) about the courage, strength, and abilities of his enemies, and of the need to extricate France from its losing war. Which, I suppose, is as good an interpretation of that single-frame snapshot as any.
So what, pray tell, is the lesson for those of us dealing with our own solar eclipse in 2017? Can we hope to interpret our celestial event and predict our own future with any greater certainty than our struggling art critic interpreted his?
My takeaway from the eclipse of August 21, 2017?
* It’s worth noting that the imprint at the bottom claims the print is based on a copy from London (and Jean Mosse), raising the possibility that this Anglo-centric illustration is, in fact, an English (Huguenot-exile-related?) creation being translated for dutcho- and franco-phone audiences, which might explain the [editor’s?] rather curious inclusion of the Dutch admiral Wassenaar alongside the English Leake. Undoubtedly, further research on the source would turn up additional details and context. Boy, History can be complicated.
For those who get all their international news from CNN, they would’ve come across this article on the British (“Royal”) Navy keeping a close eye on Russia’s lone aircraft carrier as it chugs its way back to its Baltic home: http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/26/europe/britain-russia-aircraft-carrier/.
The quote receiving attention abroad was the UK Defence Secretary saying that “We are keeping a close eye on the Admiral Kuznetsov as it skulks back to Russia, a ship of shame whose mission has only extended the suffering of the Syrian people.” Of course for me, the money quote was not the “ship of shame” line – to be honest, I had to think for a minute which shame to focus on: the mission, the carrier design, or its operational performance in the Eastern Med? No, I smiled at yet another example of the British accusing their opponents of skulking about – why can’t everybody just be brave and downright like the British?
So, is Vladimir Putin the new Louis XIV? Discuss.
Finished revisions for “More Honored in the Breach?” siege capitulation chapter? Check.
Edited more chapters in World of the Siege collection? Check.
Read through (half of) Gillian Rose’s Visual Methodologies (4th ed.) and converted her Critical Visual Methodology circle (p. 25) into a matrix generalized for textual sources? Check.
Viewed the Watteau’s Soldiers exhibit at the Frick in NYC? Check.
A video of the curator’s analysis of the works here. Think interiority and Watteau’s refusal/inability to make his figures interact with each other. Or, you can read it:
Wile, Aaron. Watteau’s Soldiers: Scenes of Military Life in Eighteenth-Century France. New York: GILES, 2016.
Related talks here.
Completed last hoop of West Point History of Warfare iBook chapter, wearing navy slacks and blazer with matching slippers in video intro? Check.
Taught first three weeks of French Revolution and Napoleon (and Western Civ, part deux)? Check.
Purchased Amazon Echo and dove back into Spotify? Check.
Downloaded 194 articles and book chapters from Academic Search Premier and the new Books at JSTOR? Check.
Entered bibliographic info on new(ish) publications? Check.
Ansani, Fabrizio. “Craftsmen, Artillery, and War Production in Renaissance Florence.” Vulcan 4, no. 1 (August 1, 2016): 1–26.Navarro-Loidi, Juan. “Cadet Selection for the Royal Artillery in Spain, 1764–1808.” Vulcan 4, no. 1 (August 1, 2016): 27–51.
- Guidi, Andrea. “‘Per Peli E per Segni’. Muster Rolls, Lists and Annotations: Practical Military Records Relating to the Last Florentine Ordinances and Militia, from Machiavelli to the Fall of the Republic (1506-1530).” Historical Research 89, no. 245 (August 2016).
- Heuer, Jennifer Ngaire. “Celibacy, Courage, and Hungry Wives: Debating Military Marriage and Citizenship in Pre-Revolutionary France.” European History Quarterly 46, no. 4 (October 1, 2016): 647–67.
- Way, Peter. “Militarizing the Atlantic World: Army Discipline, Coerced Labor, and Britain’s Commercial Empire.” Atlantic Studies 13, no. 3 (July 2, 2016): 345–69.
- Schwoerer, Lois G. Gun Culture in Early Modern England. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2016.
- Canning, Ruth A. “James Fitzpiers Fitzgerald, Captain Thomas Lee, and the Problem of ‘secret Traitors’: Conflicted Loyalties during the Nine Years’ War, 1594-1603.” Irish Historical Studies 39, no. 156 (November 2015): 573–94.
- Aure, Andreas Harald. The Right to Wage War (Jus Ad Bellum): The German Reception of Grotius 50 Years after De Iure Belli Ac Pacis. BWV Verlag, 2015.
- Persson, Mathias. “Mediating the Enemy: Prussian Representations of Austria, France and Sweden during the Seven Years War.” German History 32, no. 2 (June 1, 2014): 181–200.
- Bruyn, Frans de, and Shaun Regan, eds. The Culture of the Seven Years’ War: Empire, Identity, and the Arts in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division, 2014.
Set up keyword alerts in JSTOR and Academic Search Premier? Check.
Read general works on military strategy in history, even including some modern U.S. army/navy/air force publications, and scanned some of the more useful into PDFs using ScannX? Check.
Finished drafting paper on the levels of war and strategy for the John F. Guilmartin, Jr. conference next week? Not yet.
Agreed to be the university’s club advisor for Dagorhir Battle Games, where young men (not middle-aged professors) beat each other with foam clubs? That’s what you get for teaching military history, I guess.
I hope those EMEMHians among you are taking some time out of your busy summer schedule to watch some of the Rio Olympics coverage. In addition to the requisite soccer (aka “football”) and basketball viewing, I’ve decided to dip into the (European) martial arts. Which means adding a bit of fencing (I think I prefer sabre over foil and épée), archery, shooting, equestrian, and, of course, the pentathlon.
All of which makes me absolutely astounded at all the individual (or team, with a horse) skills a good early modern military officer was supposed to have. Presumably there are big differences between modern single-event sport specialists and early modern jack-of-all-trades military professionals. And the skills of the average army officer were likely far below what might qualify as “expert.” But it’s interesting to speculate about what historians might learn from such modern echoes of the martial past. As a few historians have done already: skulkers Erik Lund and Gavin Robinson come to mind.
I do wonder, though, what English longbowmen would have done with clickers, sights and stabilizers. And did a cuirass provide as much protection to cavalry troopers as those inflatable vests modern cross-countriers wear?
And I hope you military medical types out there are slightly amused that old-school cupping has joined space-age-polymer kinesio tape as the latest athletic fad:
So who wants to start a petition to get horse archery as an Olympic event? Maybe parade ground evolutions? Or perhaps add ramming to the rowing competitions, followed by some boarding and hand-to-hand: a new triathlon of rowing, followed by jumping/rope climbing, followed by cutlass fencing? (Sounds like Ninja Warrior, now that I think about it…) The possibilities are endless!
Now that I’ve dipped my proverbial toe into the weird cult world of art museums, I’ve found a few more items that might be of interest for fellow EMEMHians who are procrastinating from their many research projects. I’ve accumulated a few museum exhibit guides that give the reader the opportunity to read the background of Karl V’s Tunis tapestries, and get more background on each of the pieces on display (see online Zotero group). Admittedly, it’s not the same as being there, but, still, these catalogs allow you to look silly and pretentious pointing at art in the comfort of your own home (or library).
Since we’ll be going to the Frick to check out Watteau’s French soldiers, I thought I’d check out the massive Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC) online, remembering that they have quite the collection of arms and armor – largest in the Western hemisphere they claim. Turns out they have a fair number of art pieces in their online catalog – or ‘catalogue’, if you think ‘theater’ should be spelled ‘theatre’. So, for example, if you were ever wondering what great-grandpa Louis le Grand gave to Prince Luis of Asturias for his fifth birthday c. 1712, you can, thanks to the Met:
But to make a short story long, I’ll circuitously wind back to the title of the post. Turns out Europe and the U.S. both have rich people who pay lots of money to buy artwork. While in the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum (Vienna’s Military History Museum) a month back, I came across a collection of large prints of the ‘greatest Austrian hits’ of the War of the Spanish Succession, such as they were. The intimidating Latin title of the volume is Representatio Belli, ob succesionem in Regno Hispanico auspiciis trium potentiis. Invictiss. et gloriosiss. Caesarum Leopoldi. I. Josephi. I. et Caroli VI. intra 14. annos (Der Spanische Successions Krief unter drei Gossmächtigst. Unüberwindlichst-und Gloruwürdigsten Kenssern Leopoldo I. Josepho I. und Carolo VI. innerhalb 14 Jahren…), c. 1714, published by Jeremias Wolff. You’ve likely seen the format before, you can find similar illustrations of individual triumphs from the English, Dutch and French sides: triumphal engravings of battlefield victories (battles, sieges, naval victories) textually explicated on cherubim-suspended drapery and humanized by likenesses of selected participants. And don’t forget the marginal panoplies (martial cornucopia?) and allegorical figures. Something like this, in other words:
If so inclined, you can download the whole book, in all its gory detail, at several places online.
Adding the work to my list, I just now happened upon an even more interesting variation in the Met’s collections. Turns out somebody wasn’t happy just looking at the pictures in a book, or maybe they wanted to look at the pretty pictures while having their cuppa and were afraid of stains. So the market, always efficiently satisfying demand, led one Ignaz Preissler to create a tea set with some of these same images. The Met acquired most of the tea service (and tracked down the rest), a researcher wrote up a description for art fans and the occasionally-interloping military historian, and Bob’s-your-uncle:
(Note that Figure 10, the upper-right bowl, illustrates soldiers stripping a body.) For details, you can read all about it in Cassidy-Geiger, Maureen. “Repraesentatio Bell, Ob Successionem in Regno Hispanico…: A Tea Service and Garniture by the Schwarzlot Decorator Ignaz Preissler.” Metropolitan Museum Journal 24 (1989): 239–54, available here.
The Met has other publications online as well. Those of interest to EMEMHians include catalogues of fencing manuals, early modern crossbows, and of arms and armor more generally. So if you’re interested, head on over to the MetPublications page and choose the Thematic Category of European Art 17C-18C. Undoubtedly you can find similar online resources at other major museums. But, unfortunately for me, my research projects won’t finish themselves, so it’s back to the grind.
In less than a month we’ll be heading to Vienna and Munich (oops, Wien and München) for a couple of weeks. Spanish dancing horses and a few palaces/museums are on our list, but feel free to leave suggestions in the comments about places of particular interest for early modern military history. Intact star fortresses are particularly appreciated (I’ve got a video to record). And no, we won’t be venturing out to Blindheim.
From the 1702.01.03-06 Flying Post:
This is to give Notice, That there is lately arrived a large Elephant, the biggest that ever was in Europe, and performs varieties of Exercise for Diversion and Laughter, viz. exercises the Musket, flourishes the Colours very nimble and swift in several Postures; he also bears two Persons upon his Trunck; two upon his Ears, and ten upon his Back; with several Varieties. Is to be seen at the White-Horse Inn in Fleetstreet, from 10 in the Morning till 5 at Night.