This spring we will be holding a series of Extended Director’s Seminars, with papers given by Junior Research Fellows from the Institute. These will be held on Tuesdays, 11am-1pm, on the following dates: 21 April, 28 April, 5 May, 12 May, and 26 May. The full programme is below.
These seminars are an integral element of the Junior Research Fellowships programme at the IHR. They provide our Fellows with the opportunity of presenting before, and discussing their work with, their peers. They also offer the audience the chance of listening to engaging research being undertaken by a new generation of scholars.
We do hope you will be able to attend some of these seminars, which are open to all.
Junior Research Fellows’ seminar series
All seminars will be held in Wolfson II, on the lower-ground floor of the IHR. Coffee and tea will be served.
Tues 21 April 11am – 1pm
Róisín Watson – Lutheran piety and visual culture in the Duchy of Württemberg, 1534–c.1700
Carolyn Twomey – Living Stone: Early Norman Baptismal Fonts of the Yorkshire East Riding
Tues 28 April 11am – 1pm
Courtney Campbell – ‘The 1954 Miss Universe Pageant, the City of Salvador, and the Tale of the Famous Two Inches’
Jordan Claridge – Managing Milk, Making a Living: Dairying and Dairypeople in Medieval England c.1250–1450
Caroline Nielsen – Disabled by the state: the pensioners of the Chest at Chatham and their communities, 1660–1807
Tues 5 May 11am – 1pm
David Baillargeon – Slaving on the “Imagined Frontier”: Britain, Burma, and the Political Economy of Empire, 1795–1900
Will Pooley – Magic and the Law in France in the Long 19th Century
Tues 12 May 11am – 1pm
Kate Imy – Spiritual soldiers: masculinity and the body in the British Indian army, 1900–1940
Joshua Bennett – Baron Bunsen as historian
Tues 26 May 11am – 1pm
Catherine Arnold – Objects of charity: Britain and the development of a humanitarian politics, 1680–1748
This post has kindly been written for us by Benedict G. E. Wiedemann MA (UCL), Thornley Fellow, IHR.
‘A gift consists not in what is done or given, but in the intention of the giver or doer’
Seneca the Younger
When is a gift not a gift? Simple. When either the giver, receiver – or even an observer – says it isn’t. They might not say so at the time of course. Imagine I gave you my old sofa. I want to get rid of it and you very kindly take it off my hands, many thanks for that, glad to see the back of it. But then – perhaps six months, perhaps a year later – I want it back. My new sofa hasn’t worked out (it gives me nasty back pains) or maybe I’m moving and my big new sofa won’t fit. So I get in touch: ‘I’m afraid I’m going to need that sofa I lent you back’. Circumstances have changed – I want the sofa again – and so how I choose to define our earlier transaction has changed too. Less facetiously, the idea of ‘contested constructions’ – points at which two parties have conflicting interpretations of what has passed between them – is vitally important to Medieval political history.
When objects pass between two people, or two groups, how we define those objects can determine the relationship between those groups. If we say that someone paid tribute then there’s a clear indication of political subservience. Rent? Well that’s an indication that the recipient has some sort of power over the payer’s land or home. Gifts? Well there’s a bit more equality there. We all know that gifts can be a way to show hierarchy (in, for example, the relative costs of gifts) but not in the same way as tribute. What we and others call these transactions – and not everyone will call them the same thing – will influence how we speak of and consider the relationship between these persons and groups.
But what about other transactions? What about tax. Can tax also be a gift? Most of us would say no: it’s not as if we have any say in whether we pay tax or not. But that wasn’t always the case. In the Middle Ages, the language of gifts was often used when describing how permission to levy a tax was granted by the people to the king. When Henry III of England needed a tax to defend the county of Poitou in 1218. His letter ordering the sheriffs to collect it explained that ‘all the magnates and faithful men of our kingdom have conceded – by their grace – a gift to be made to us’. This ‘gift’ had previously been agreed between the royal administration and a council held at Worcester. We can reasonably assume that this tax – as many taxes are – was the result of hard negotiation. It seems probable that many of the people who had to pay it – and didn’t want to – would not call it a gift but an exaction, or even theft. But it was presented as a freely-given gift from the people to the king.
Defining transactions as ‘gifts’ can therefore confer legitimacy on forced exactions. It can also flatten out any suggestion that an exchange was dishonourable. Even fantasy creatures can show such manipulative skills: at the end of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins gives the Elvenking a necklace of pearls in return for the king’s food which the Hobbit had eaten earlier in the book. By giving the king a gift, Bilbo repays the king for the food. But turning back a few pages we read that Bilbo had stolen the food. Considering his fellows had – at the time – been prisoners of the Elvenking, the Hobbit had surely had no intention of giving recompense for the food originally. Circumstances had changed: the Hobbits, elves, dwarfs and so on were now united and so it behoved Bilbo to present his theft as one act in a reciprocal exchange.
Such contested constructions aren’t limited to giving and receiving either. Ceremonies and rituals are fertile ground for spectators and participants to read different meanings. Philippe Buc has emphasised how the same Medieval ritual could be presented either as cementing the power of a ruler or showing his unfitness to rule, depending on whether the chronicler describing the ritual thought he was a suitable king or not. That isn’t a solely literary observation either. When King Alexander III of Scotland performed homage to Henry III of England in 1278, the English chancery implied that the homage was for all Scotland – suggesting Scotland was subservient to England – while the Scots said that it was merely for the lands which Alexander held in England, and hence showed nothing about Scotland’s status vis-à-vis England. How the ritual was interpreted affected the political relationship of these two polities, and both sides had different interpretations.
What separates this from the bread-and-butter ‘he said, she said’ of historical analysis (or criminal detection) is the agreement on the actual event: both sides took it as read that King Alexander III had performed homage, but the circumstances – the terms – of the event were debated. Equally what is interesting about contests of interpretation is less who is ‘right’, but why different people want to put forward different constructions.
But – obviously – not all interpretations are equally plausible. Indeed, in order for a particular interpretation of an event to gain traction it has to be reasonable to those hearing it. In 1139 King Roger II of Sicily needed Pope Innocent II to confirm his royal title. It had earlier been confirmed by Innocent’s rival pope, Anacletus II, but Anacletus’ party had been defeated so Roger needed the winning pope’s approval. Considering Roger’s support for his enemies, Innocent was not disposed to look kindly on him. In fact they went to war. This was a poor choice on Innocent’s part. The pope was captured and Roger forced Innocent to recognize Roger’s title. The chroniclers did not all record the following events in the same way.
Falcone of Benevento explained that Innocent did confirm Roger’s kingship, after ‘the king […] sent envoys to Pope Innocent […] begging him more humbly than one would have thought possible to grant him the hand of peace and concord’. Then Roger ‘and his sons the duke and prince came into the pope’s presence, flung themselves at his feet and begged for mercy, and bowed to his authority’. The author of Pope Innocent’s biography – who was a cardinal – simply skated over the whole event, however. No mention was made of the events of 1139 at all. Presumably the biographer did not see any way to make Innocent’s humiliation – being captured by Roger and forced to accede to his demands – less. Even if he had done what Falcone had done, and emphasised how humble Roger was, it still wouldn’t alter the fact that Roger had beaten Innocent and captured him. The biographer could not simply deny this had happened, or put forward a radically different interpretation with no basis in fact, because no reader would take it seriously. So he chose to remain silent.
Historical accounts of ceremonies, transactions and rituals reflect the concerns and aims of the author. Sometimes this might be the same as what the original participants thought, but often it isn’t. By looking at conflicting interpretations of rituals and gifts, it is possible not only to observe common features, but to see differences. These differences are – quite simply – what mattered to the people who wrote, and constructed, and observed these events and exchanges. Their conflicting interpretations tell us what was important.
Buc, ‘Ritual and interpretation: the early medieval case’, Early Medieval Europe 9 (2000), pp. 183-210.
Algazi, ‘Introduction: doing things with gifts’, in G. Algazi, V. Groebner, B. Jussen, eds., Negotiating the Gift: Pre-Modern Figurations of Exchange (Göttingen, 2003), pp. 9-27.
Weiler, ‘Knighting, homage and the meaning of ritual: The kings of England and their neighbours in the thirteenth century’, Viator 37 (2006), pp. 275-99.
This post has kindly been written for us by Dr Alice Dolan, Economic History Society Anniversary Fellow.
My postdoctoral project comes directly out of my PhD thesis which was a social history of linen during the long 18th century. Linen was used by rich and poor for underwear and on beds and tables. Its ubiquity across all ranks of society makes it ideally suited to an analysis of how relationships with textiles varied over the life cycle. ‘The Fabric of Life: Linen and Life Cycle in England 1678-1810’ therefore considered experiences across the life cycle, exploring infant clothing, child labour and the temporality of domestic work within a Lancashire household. Adult daily life was uncovered through the themes of respectability, the commercial significance of linen and the relationship between bodily intimacy and the creation of emotional meaning. Finally the thesis finished by exploring burial practice with burial in wool rather than linen, which was forced by the 1678 Act for Burying in Woollen for economic reasons.
The thesis showed that linen was only dominated by cotton for plain textiles in the 19th century. Linen’s superior durability and cheaper price, alongside its essential roles in everyday life, meant that it continued to be used during the long 18th century. It took decades for cotton prices to fall far enough to change established material culture traditions. However by the 1830s, the British and Irish linen industries were in rapid decline. They were victims of low cotton prices, lengthier fibre preparation processes and a slower rate of technological innovation.
My postdoctoral project follows up where my thesis left off by investigating how mechanisation and falling cotton prices transformed working-class dress in the first half of the 19th century. Engels recorded a dramatic change in what people wore.
Wool and linen have almost vanished from the wardrobe of both sexes, and cotton has taken their place … [The working class] is scarcely ever in a condition to use a thread of woollen clothing; and the heavy cotton goods, though thicker, stiffer, and heavier than woollen clothes, afford much less protection against cold and wet, [and] remain damp much longer because of their thickness and the nature of the stuff.
Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England, (1844)
This bleak summary of the clothing privations of the working class centres on material changes. Engels bemoans the disappearance of wool from labouring wardrobes, replaced by stiff, absorbent cotton, an inferior insulator. Centuries of reliance on linens and woollens were over.
I will explore these dramatic and rapid material changes over this academic year. In 1800 working-class people wore linen underwear, men wore woollen outer clothing, and women wore cotton, linen and woollen dresses. By 1850 the cotton, linen and woollen trades were fully mechanised in England. Hand-spinning had largely died out which prevented industrious families from producing their own textiles to reduce costs. By 1844, according to Engels, their choices were basically limited to one textile – cotton.
The effect of manufacturing changes on working-class clothing has been little studied, yet it is another facet of the Industrial Revolution’s effect on daily life and the global rise of cotton. This project directly traces the impact of these changes on what people wore. It focuses primarily on members of the working class able to choose their clothing, rather than the poor forced to wear uniforms by institutions.
I will complete two garment studies this year: underwear and trousers. My research into underwear asks when did the majority of working-class people begin to wear cotton not linen underwear (shirts and shifts/chemises)? Was the price of cotton fibre grown in America more important, or the full mechanisation of production in the 1830s?
I will also examine the rise of trousers. Before 1800 only sailors wore trousers, while everyone else wore breeches. In the early 19th century trousers spread across the working class and they were then adopted by the middle and upper classes. Old Bailey crime records testify to a growth in their popularity: trousers appeared in 161 cases in the 1800s and 2018 in the 1840s. This case study will look at the materials used for trousers by the working class and whether they changed over the period. Was cotton exclusively used as Engels suggests? I will also examine how quickly the trouser fashion spread, whether men in some areas were more resistant than others.
My sources will include Quarter Sessions records from Yorkshire and a (still to be chosen) southern English county, surviving objects, images, autobiographies, adverts, shopkeepers’ inventories, merchants’ records and novels.
The evidence given at the Quarter Sessions provides insight into working-class clothing choices, textiles and colours as the following example from the West Riding Quarter Sessions shows. In early September 1826, Enoch Ant and John Wilson allegedly stole unfinished wool cloth from a manufacturer. Both were chimney sweeps. Wilson’s wife stated that John and Enoch made a pair of trousers out of the contentious cloth, an unusual example of domestic male production. However their endeavour was not successful, the trousers did not ‘fit him well between the Legs’ so Charlotte Wilson altered them to fit ‘better’.
The case was taken to Court because John unlike Enoch took his stolen kersey to a tailor who was suspicious because it was ‘unfinished’ or ‘raw’ and got a hawker to ask around for missing cloth. This means the final finish had not been applied to the textile. Kerseys were cheap woollen cloths. They were woven and then the surface was felted. The unfinished kersey lacked its fuzzy surface. Kersey protected its wearers against the elements and it was cheap, therefore it was popular with the lower classes. The stolen kersey was drab, meaning that it was undyed and was a grey-beige colour.
Clearly all chimney sweeps were not clad in stolen textiles. However, this case gives an example of what was considered appropriate and even desirable cloth for these two chimney sweeps. And it was even worn by one, if only for a few days before discovery. Examples like this will help to build up a picture of the clothing and colours worn by working-class people in 19th-century England. Furthermore, because a specific textile name is given, we are able to get an idea of what the outfit might have looked like, even if we don’t know the exact cut of Enoch’s trousers. The case also inspires questions – did John and Enoch have trousers because they were more practical garments for chimney sweeps? – Did certain professions adopt trousers earlier than others for practical reasons?
In summary, my postdoc examines the first half of the 19th century, a period with an unprecedented rate of change in working-class clothing. To uncover the role of mechanisation and declining fibre prices I will look at changes in fibres used for underwear. Research into trousers will also consider issues of materiality, as well as uncovering how quickly this new fashion spread amongst the working class.
Florence Montgomery, Textiles in America 1650-1870 (London, 2007)
Vivian Richmond, Clothing the Poor in Nineteenth-Century England (New York, 2013)
John Styles, The Dress of the People (London, 2007)
 Advanced search ‘trowser* trouser*’ on 03/03/2015.
Welcome to the inaugural blog post in a series promoting the Low Countries collection in the IHR Library. My name is Stijn van Rossem and I took up a one-year post-doctoral fellowship in March. In the months to come, I will explore and promote the remarkable holdings on the Low Countries, one of the largest collections outside of the Netherlands and Belgium, and will help to show the collection’s relevance not just for Low Countries studies but also for scholars of British, European and World History.
Before joining the IHR, I held teaching positions at the University of Antwerp (Literature of Modernity) and the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Art History). I am a visiting professor at the School of Arts in Ghent, where I teach courses on the history and theory of graphic design. In 2013, I was director of the Museum of Letters and Manuscripts in Brussels. My primary areas of expertise are book history, graphic design, and curatorship; my Ph.D. focussed on the publishing strategies of the Verdussen family, printers in Antwerp from 1589 to 1689.
As well as producing a general guide, I will focus on the extensive collection of rare books from the Low Countries held by the IHR, and which includes the arguably understudied collection of about 1,000 Dutch pamphlets (dating from 1602–1814), an important source on the political, religious, commercial and social history of the Dutch Republic and the Southern Netherlands.
Pieter Geijl in London 1922 (Source Wikipedia)
This collection of Dutch Historical pamphlets is but a small part of the books on the Low Countries entering the IHR Library on the instigation of Professor Pieter Geyl, the first chair of Dutch Studies in the United Kingdom. Geyl was involved in the creation of a seminar on Dutch History in the IHR and was able to negotiate the transfer of the history books from Bedford College to the IHR, which were to be used as the reference library for his seminar ‘Reading of Dutch Historical Texts’ (from 1925 to 1926). Although often a very controversial figure with the capacity to generate a series of academic and political feuds, Geyl is still considered one of the most important historians from the Low Countries, who started his academic career in London. Together with the Dutch Department of UCL, I plan to organise a conference on the influence of Pieter Geyl in the United Kingdom.
But also other libraries of the School of Advanced Study have important collections. Senate House Library holds more than 1,000 rare books from the Low Countries, with over 700 of those printed by the famous Elzevier family. Next year will be the anniversary of the death of the founding father of the dynasty Lowijs Elsevier (ca 1540–1617). Together with Leiden University, Museum Meermanno (House of the Book, The Hague) and the Elsevier Heritage Collection we are currently discussing how to organise a suiting commemoration and what role we could play in it.
Professor Lawrence Goldman, the Director of the Institute of Historical Research, discusses the film ‘Glory’ about the first black regiment in the American Civil War, the 54th Massachusetts, raised in 1862. ‘Glory’, released in 1989, won 3 Oscars including the award for best supporting actor which went to a young Denzel Washington.
The film is based on the letters of the Colonel of the 54th, Robert Gould Shaw. We shall examine the history of the African-American contribution to the American Civil War and the historical accuracy of the film. Hollywood can sometimes surprise us.
We hope you will be able to attend our programme of Director’s seminars for autumn, at which the 2015-16 junior research fellows will present their research. All are welcome. Tea and coffee will be served.
Jennifer Keating – Images in crisis: Landscapes of disorder in Russian Central Asia, 1915-1924
Julia Leikin – War and Commerce under the Imperial Russian Flag, 1768-1812
Alice Dolan – Re-Fashioning the Working Class: Mechanisation and Materiality in England 1800-1856
Judy Stephenson – Occupation and Labour market institutions in London 1600 – 1800
Will Eves – The Assize of Mort d’Ancestor: From 1176 to 1230
James Norrie – Property and Religious Change in the Diocese of Milan, c.990-1140
Felicity Hill – Excommunication and Politics in thirteenth-century England
Lucy Hennings – England in Europe during the Reign of Henry III, 1216-1272
Joan Redmond – Popular religious violence in Ireland, 1641-1660
Sarah Ward -Royalism, Religion, and Revolution: The Gentry of North-East Wales, 1640-88
Paul Kreitman – Attacked by Excrement: the political ecology of shit in wartime and postwar Tokyo
John Morgan – Financing flood security in eastern England, 1567-1826
Cécile Bushidi – Dance, socio-cultural change, and politics among the Gĩkũyũ people of Kenya, 1880s-1963
Tehila Sasson – In the Name of Humanity: Britain and the Rise of Global Humanitarianism
26 November (Thursday)
Mindaugas Sapoka – Poland-Lithuania and Jacobitism c. 1714 – c. 1750
Junqing Wu – Anticlerical erotica in China and France: a cross-cultural analysis
Roel Konijnendijk – Courage and Skill: A Hierarchy of Virtue in Greek Thought
Ben Thomas – The Royal Naval Reserve in rural Scotland and Wales, c. 1900-1939
Courtney J. Campbell, Past & Present Fellow at the IHR for 2014-15, has had a paper published in the most recent issue of Slavery & Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies.
From the abstract:
This article compares two cases in which Brazilian abolitionists mobilized around a law passed in 1843 to prohibit British subjects, no matter where they resided, from owning slaves. Placing a case against a large British-owned gold mine in Minas Gerais alongside outcry against a Scottish widow who owned two slaves in Recife, the article argues that this law was used as a rhetorical tool to gain support for abolitionism and create public outrage against British slaveholders in Brazil at a moment of expanding public participation in abolitionism as a form of nationalism.
After a highly competitive process, the Institute is delighted to have appointed eighteen Junior Research Fellows for the 2015-16 year. We received a record number of applications for Junior Fellowships this year, and panels found it challenging to select the successful candidates from a range of excellent submissions. Thank you to everyone who took the time to apply.
We greatly look forward to welcoming the new cohort in October, and will be sharing more details and news of them in the coming months. In the meantime, you can get a sense of their areas of interest from the list below.
Do remember to check back for the programme of Director’s Seminars. At these seminars the Junior Fellows will present their research. These will be held on Wednesday afternoons, 2-4pm, from 7 October – 2 December (except one on the Thursday, 26 November), in Wolfson II at the IHR.
Economic History Society Fellows
Alice Dolan (UCL) 1 year
Re-Fashioning the Working Class: Mechanisation and Materiality in England 1800-1856
Paul Kreitman (SOAS) 1 year
Economic and Social Dimensions of Sovereignty in the North Pacific, 1861-1965
John Morgan (Exeter) 1 year
Financing flood security in eastern England, 1567-1826 Warwick
Judy Stephenson (Cambridge) 1 year
Occupation and Labour market institutions in London 1600 – 1800 LSE
Jacobite Studies Trust Fellow
Mindaugas Sapoka (Aberdeen) 1 year
Poland-Lithuania and Jacobitism c. 1714 – c. 1750
Past & Present Fellows
Jennifer Keating (UCL) 1 year
Images in crisis: Landscapes of disorder in Russian Central Asia, 1915-1924
Roel Konijnendijk (UCL) 1 year
Courage and Skill: A Hierarchy of Virtue in Greek Thought
Tehila Sasson (UC Berkeley) 1 year
In the Name of Humanity: Britain and the Rise of Global Humanitarianism
Junqing Wu (Exeter) 1 year
Anticlerical erotica in China and France: a cross-cultural analysis Nottingham
Ben Thomas (Aberdeen) 1 year
The Royal Naval Reserve in rural Scotland and Wales, c. 1900-1939
IHR Doctoral Fellows – Royal Historical Society
Lucy Hennings (Oxford) 1 year P.J. Marshall Fellow
England in Europe during the Reign of Henry III, 1216-1272
Sarah Ward (Oxford) 1 year Centenary Fellow
Royalism, Religion, and Revolution: The Gentry of North-East Wales, 1640-88
IHR Doctoral Fellows – Scouloudi Fellows
Will Eves (St Andrews) 6 months
The Assize of Mort d’Ancestor: From 1176 to 1230
Felicity Hill (UEA) 1 year
Excommunication and Politics in thirteenth-century England
Julia Leikin (UCL) 1 year
Prize law, maritime neutrality, and the law of nations in Imperial Russia, 1768-1856
James Norrie (Oxford) 6 months
Property and Religious Change in the Diocese of Milan, c.990-1140
Joan Redmond (Cambridge) 6 months
Popular religious violence in Ireland, 1641-1660
IHR Doctoral Fellows – Thornley Fellow
Cécile Bushidi (SOAS) 1 year
Dance, socio-cultural change, and politics among the Gĩkũyũ people of Kenya, 1880s-1963
We would also like to announce that Jacob Currie (Cambridge) was awarded a six-month Scouloudi Fellowship, which has been deferred to 2016-17.
Mellon Fellow Kate Imy recently published an article in Gender and History that was based in part on a conference paper that she gave at an IHR-funded conference during her time as a Fellow at the IHR. ‘Queering the Martial Races: Masculinity, Sex and Circumcision in the Twentieth-Century British Indian Army’ can be found in the Wiley Online Library.
Past & Present Fellow Courtney Campbell has accepted a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship to teach and research at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. Tougaloo is a historically black college- it was an active base during the Civil Rights Movement and now maintains the Medgar Evers museum and archive. She is very excited about this opportunity to teach, research, and serve in new ways.
Courtney has an article forthcoming in Slavery and Abolition, another under review at Past & Present; has an IHR conference series volume under review (with Allegra Giovine and Jennifer Keating, other Junior Research Fellows from 2014-15) and she is working on a virtual issue of Past & Present on the theme of “Space and Place”.
An Endangered Archives Programme project grant that Courtney is co-director of was also approved through the British Library. It is for just over £39,000 and will digitize 18th and 19th century notarial and criminal documents in the state of Paraiba in Brazil over the next two years.
Past & Present Fellow Will Pooley was very pleased to be offered a lectureship in modern European history at the University of Bristol starting in September. He is also looking forward to submitting his book manuscript to the Past & Present series at OUP.
Kevin Lewis, a Past & Present Fellow earlier in the academic year, is one of the co-editors for a Festschrift to be published by the University of Wales Press in honour of Professor Denys Pringle (Cardiff) in 2016. This has received financial support from the IHR’s Scouloudi Trust, in addition to a number of other funding bodies.
The execution of Jan Hus, as depicted in Ulrich Richental’s chronicle.
This post has kindly been written for us by Duncan Hardy, a Scouloudi Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research
Six hundred years ago on Monday a former priest, preacher, and university master known to posterity as Jan Hus was burned at the stake in Constance (Konstanz in modern-day Germany), a city in the Holy Roman Empire. For more than a decade Hus had been fulminating against what he perceived as the abuses and errors of the Church in his native kingdom of Bohemia, inspired by a unique Czech brand of vernacular piety, his own understanding of the Scriptures, and the writings of the English heretic John Wyclif. After eight years of disputations and trials before ecclesiastical officials in Prague, Rome, and Bologna, Hus had travelled to Constance in 1414 to defend his views before the enormous assembly of prelates that had gathered there for a General Council of the Church. Despite a safe-conduct from Sigismund, the king of Hungary and the Holy Roman Empire, Hus was put on trial by the finest canon lawyers of the day. On the morning of 6 July 1415 he was condemned as a heretic and sentenced to death before the entire Council of Constance, then handed over to the secular authorities for execution. What followed was recorded in detail by a chronicler, Ulrich Richental, a citizen of Constance who witnessed the events of 6 July:
‘Then Duke Ludwig [a prince-elector of the Empire and Sigismund’s marshal] ordered the city guard and the hangman to take him [Hus] out to be burned, and to remove his clothes and possessions… And he had a white mitre made of paper placed on his head, on which were painted two devils, and in between them was written “Heresiarcha”, which is to say an archbishop of all heretics. And more than a thousand armed men led him out of Constance, as well as the princes and lords, who were also armed. And he was not bound because they surrounded him completely, and they called me, Ulrich, over to them. And the city council’s guards went before and behind him. And they led him to the Geltinger gate, and thence out of the city… And during this outward journey he said nothing other than “Jhesu Christe, fili dei vivi, misere mei”. And when he came to the field outside the city and saw the torches, timber, and straw, he fell three times to his knees and said in a loud voice “Jhesu Christe, fili dei vivi, qui passus es pro nobis, misere mei”. Then he was asked if he wished to make confession. He replied: “Gladly, but it is too crowded here”. People were making a ring around him. Then I asked him if he wanted to make confession. There was a priest there called Sir Ulrich Schorand, who had the authority of the General Council and the diocese. I called over the same Sir Ulrich. He came to Hus and said to him: “Dear sir and master, if you will turn away from your unbelief and heresy, for which you must now suffer, I will gladly hear your confession. If you do not want to do that, you yourself know well that according to canon law one cannot administer any sacrament to a heretic.” And Hus replied thus: “It is not necessary, I have committed no mortal sins.” After that he tried to start preaching in German. Duke Ludwig did not want this, and ordered him to be burned. So the hangman took him and bound him with rope to an upright plank. And he placed a small stool under his feet, and light wood and straw around him, and then he poured some pitch over it and set it alight. Then Hus began to emit horrifying shrieks, and was soon burned. […] Thereafter all of Hus’s ashes that were lying there were thrown into the Rhine.’ (My translation from the frühneuhochdeutsch original in Chronik des Konstanzer Konzils 1414-1418 von Ulrich Richental, ed. Thomas Martin Buck (Stuttgart, 2010), pp. 64-6).
What was the significance of Jan Hus’s execution, and why should we care about it? For centuries scholars and polemicists of every political and religious persuasion have examined and written about the striking life and death of this cleric from Bohemia. The story of Jan Hus as an individual certainly has some allure, in that it involved the dramatic actions of a hero of the faith or an infamous heretic (depending on one’s perspective) on an international stage at a time of profound crisis but also of political and intellectual ferment in Europe. Furthermore, accounts of Hus’s last days and moments, such as the narrative of Ulrich Richental, are simultaneously fascinating, moving, and horrifying to modern readers. The punishment of burning at the stake is emblematic for what are perceived today as the worst excesses of late medieval and early modern cruelty, and Hus was one of the most iconic victims of this method of execution. Because of his fate – suffering a gruesome death for standing by his convictions – we tend to look upon Hus with an instinctive sympathy, or at least to assume that his judges and executioners were inherently unjust and vindictive.
Some scholars, including Paul de Vooght, Jiří Kejř, and Thomas A. Fudge, have sought in recent years to establish whether Hus was indeed a heretic by the standards of contemporary canon law, and therefore legitimately sentenced by the Council of Constance, in an attempt to move beyond these emotive and moralistic interpretations of his trial and execution, and to analyse and reconstruct them in their late medieval context. Other historians, armed with the critical apparatus furnished by the various recent ‘turns’ in the humanities, are not convinced that the contemporary category of ‘heresy’ can be accessed and defined objectively, and conceptualise cases like Hus’s in terms of a power dynamic between ecclesiastical authorities and the increasingly complex societies in which they operated.
Yet the importance imputed to Jan Hus far exceeds the questions raised by his own life, trial, and death. At a broader level, historians have considered the events of 6 July 1415 to be an important manifestation of a range of developments that shaped European history in the early fifteenth century. The Council of Constance (1414-18) that condemned Hus had been convened in order to resolve a decades-long schism in the Church. By the 1410s there were three competing popes jostling for the allegiance of Catholic princes and subjects. In much late medieval historiography, Hus represents a widespread anxiety about ecclesiastical corruption and division, while his trial has become a famous example of the measures taken to try to restore clerical authority. Hus’s name also became linked to a religious and political movement within Bohemia that emerged around the time of his death. The ‘Hussen’ (or ‘Hussites’ in English) – so called by their German enemies – emerged in the 1410s as a heterogeneous group united loosely by a shared commitment to some of the principles defended by Hus himself, notably the taking of the Eucharist in both kinds and the transfer of ecclesiastical properties and jurisdictions into secular hands. Many Hussites also opposed the succession of Sigismund (the Hungarian and Roman monarch) as king of Bohemia in 1420. These conjunctures led to a series of extremely violent wars in Bohemia and in the regions surrounding it in the 1420s-30s, including five failed Crusades launched from within the Holy Roman Empire.
These broader developments associated with Jan Hus have been fitted into two main interpretive and narrative schemes. The first sees Hus as a hero of the Czech nation, who – in a nineteenth-century idiom – galvanised the people of Bohemia into following their ideals and fighting against their German oppressors, and – from a post-Soviet perspective – inspired the humanistic and tolerant values that are now held to be the hallmarks of contemporary Europe. The second situates Hus within the teleology of the Reformation, often including him within a triad of Great Men – John Wyclif, Jan Hus himself, and Martin Luther – who are thought to have spearheaded the call for reform in an age of ecclesiastical corruption, leading to what is typically characterised as an epoch-making rupture circa 1517 and, ultimately, to the birth of the modern world.
Both of these narratives are much in evidence in the various commemorations marking the 600th anniversary of Hus’s death. In the Czech Republic, for instance, a national festival entitled ‘Jan Hus – European of Modern Times’ is being held this year with the patronage of the president, Miloš Zeman, and the Charles University of Prague. In the documentation associated with this festival, Hus is described not only as a prominent reformer but as ‘a personality of pan-European significance… thanks to [whom] we can celebrate essential human qualities that are nowadays so important: personal responsibility, perceptive consciousness, insusceptibility, veracity, thoughtfulness, diligence, and heroism.’ On 1 July a four-hour biographical film of Hus’s life – the product of collaboration between the Czech broadcaster Česká Televize and the Franco-German channel Arte – was shown on television in several European countries. According to its producers, the film depicts Hus as ‘one of the most significant figures of the Reformation movement… [who] still has much to teach us today’.
As somebody who studies the later middle ages, I am pleased that Jan Hus and his era are currently receiving so much attention. Although the rhetoric of many of these commemorative events appears, from the perspective of academic history, anachronistic and transparently presentist, they are understandably seeking to convey some well-established narratives accessibly to broader audiences. However, I think that there is a key element in the Jan Hus affair that has been missed in all of the narratives and interpretations, scholarly and ‘popular’, discussed so far: the Holy Roman Empire. The Empire was the overarching political context within which the lives and actions of Hus and his opponents unfolded. Certainly, the proto-national dimensions of Hus’s vernacular preaching is significant, so politics within the kingdom of Bohemia needs to be taken into account; and there is no doubt that clear links can be made between Hus and the Hussites and the sixteenth-century reform movements (Martin Luther, for instance, explicitly identified with Jan Hus). However, this was not just a ‘Czech’ event, nor was it confined to the ecclesiastical sphere.
The first page of a mid-fifteenth-century copy of the Reformatio Sigismundi (München, Staatsbibliothek, Cgm 702). The title, ‘Kaysers Sigmunds Reformacion’, is written in the top-right corner.
Indeed, if we are to make sense of the meaning of the concepts of ‘reform’ and ‘Reformation’ as people living in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and early sixteenth centuries understood them, we will need to pay more attention to the Holy Roman Empire as the political framework within which many reformist impulses emerged and played out. Jan Hus’s career and his trial at Constance were two instances amongst many of the inhabitants of Central Europe attempting to address the perceived problems of the Church and the Empire – two interrelated bodies in contemporary understanding. While the Council of Constance condemned Hus – a self-proclaimed reformer – the professed aim of its members was also ‘the alleviation and reformation of the Roman and Universal Church’ (Romane ac universalis ecclesie relevationi ac reformationi). Polemicists at both the Council of Constance and its successor, the Council of Basel (1431-49), called for the simultaneous reform of the Church and the Empire. Especially notable in this respect was the Reformatio Sigismundi, a vernacular tract written in the name of King/Emperor Sigismund which called for the radical centralisation of religion and politics in the Holy Roman Empire. It met with enormous success, and was printed in multiple editions in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Bohemia, Hus’s homeland, was not cut off from these Empire-centred calls for reform, but inextricably bound up within them, despite the rhetorical enmity between Czech-speaking Hussites and their German-speaking neighbours. The kingdom of Bohemia was a part of the Empire, and its kings were prince-electors. Under the Luxemburg dynasty of Charles IV, Wenceslas, and Sigismund, the Empire, Bohemia, and Hungary came to be ruled by the same family, and similar dynastic links – this time generated by the house of Habsburg – would hold these regions together in the sixteenth century.
The Holy Roman Empire, then, was not simply the backdrop for the dramatic deeds of ‘Great Reformers’ like Jan Hus and Martin Luther. ‘Reformation’ was a multi-faceted and widely employed concept, and discussion of reform addressed a series of intertwined religious and political issues which were anchored in the specific structures, practices, and discourses of the Holy Roman Empire in the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries. For instance, the Empire had an unusually acute degree of crossover and friction between ecclesiastical and secular jurisdictions, owing to the high number of its bishops and abbots who were also temporal princes. In this context, debates about reforming the Church – and, in particular, of curtailing its powers and possessions – were especially highly charged. Equally, I have found in my research into the core lands of the Empire that elites across the political spectrum, from princes to guild masters, articulated their concerns about violence, conflict, and corruption, both religious and secular, in terms of what might be called ‘reformist’ concepts such as peace (Friede), necessity (Notdurft), and the common good (gemeiner Nutz). Long before Luther famously faced the emperor and the papal legate at the Diet of Worms in 1521, the means of implementing these pressing reformist goals had been discussed at many imperial diets (gemeine Tage, Reichstage) and myriad conferences organised by regional leagues of princes, nobles, and cities throughout the Holy Roman Empire. Often these meetings resulted in manifestoes and legislation which explicitly appealed to reformist ideals, such as the königliche Reformation issued by King Frederick III and the imperial estates at Frankfurt in 1442, an edict which sought to curtail feuding, protect priests, and regulate coinage throughout the Empire.
As we move from the 600th anniversary of Hus’s death to the 500th anniversaries of Luther’s deeds in 2017 and beyond, we should bear in mind the long and diverse history of religious and political reform in the Holy Roman Empire, much of which remains to be explored in relatively untapped archival collections throughout Europe.
This post has kindly been written for us by Róisín Watson, a Scouloudi Fellow at the IHR.
Theological assumptions about the material nature of the divine were central to the debates of the Reformation. The accessories of late medieval Catholic piety, in the form of multiple altarpieces, relics and reliquaries, and tabernacles, to name but a few, fed reformers’ attacks on Catholic worship and its associated beliefs. They argued that the sacred could not be accessed through these material trappings. The materiality of the divine also divided Protestants. Zwingli and Luther disagreed on whether a spiritual reality could be represented physically. For Luther, there was no clear separation between the material and the spiritual. God had revealed himself through the flesh of Christ. For Zwingli, the spirit and the material were irreconcilable – ‘what you give the senses’, he wrote, ‘you take away from the spirit’.
While such debates of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries framed the experiences of a theological elite, the everyday experience of the Reformation was far removed from these discussions. However, the materiality of religion is no less important for understanding how individuals interacted with the divine and defined their confessional identities. How were confessional cultures differentiated by the relationships they fostered with their material world? How did objects communicate the new theology? How can non-verbal expressions of confessional identities challenge the historical paradigms we currently use to understand this period?
As Scouloudi fellow, in early June I ran a one-day workshop at the V&A, funded by the IHR, RHS and GHS. It was designed to tackle these questions. The workshop brought together museum curators, historians, art historians, and archaeologists for an inter-disciplinary discussion on current research. It also provided the opportunity to integrate the V&A’s collections into our discussion. We were very grateful that curator Kirstin Kennedy was able to bring a smorgasbord of objects for participants to inspect up-close.
Many of the day’s papers revealed the ambiguity of objects, which stemmed from their malleability. The functions and significance of religious objects were defined by their owners or by the spaces that they inhabited. This was particularly true in the case of Allison Stielau’s study of the afterlife of the shrine for the bones of Saint Liborious in Paderborn. When the Catholic city was captured in 1622 by Protestant Christian the Younger, Duke of Braunschweig and Lüneburg, the shrine was melted down and turned into coins known as ‘Pfaffenfeindtaler’. For Protestants, the coins represented their iconoclastic triumph, as well as proof of the impotence of Catholic relics. However, Catholics used these coins too. They believed that touching them was analogous to touching the saintly relics the metal had previously protected. Stielau argued that despite the re-casting of the silver, the material retained the memory of its previous form.
The malleability of the meaning of objects has meant that they defy the neat labels placed upon them by scholars. In her paper, Suzanna Ivanič challenged the distinction historians have drawn between magic/superstition and religion in the early modern world. The inventories of citizens in Prague contain objects that resist this simple binary opposition. Catholic rosaries might contain non-traditional materials such as coconut shells, snake’s tongues and wolves’ teeth. Ivanič argued that these items demonstrate the co-existence of magical and religious beliefs, which in the mind of their owners were not discrete categories.
Lutherhaus in Wittenberg
Lutherans, too, actively engaged with their material surroundings. Distinguishing what was a ‘Lutheran’ object as opposed to a ‘Catholic’ one was not straightforward, as Mirko Gutjahr demonstrated. Gutjahr is currently curating an exhibition on what he refers to as ‘Luther’s rubbish’, that is the archaeological finds from Luther’s house in Wittenberg from the 1530s and 1540s. Gutjahr argued that there was, in fact, very little to distinguish the site as Lutheran. Catholic objects and motifs remained, indicating that a ‘Lutheran material culture’ did not exist at this early stage. Lutherans did occupy a middle ground, neither embracing the spiritual power of the object nor rejecting the utility of material religion indiscriminately. In her paper, Margit Thøfner demonstrated how Lutherans in Denmark consciously edited their catholic past by re-framing medieval altarpieces to suit the new theological standards.
Another theme that many of the speakers touched on was the agency of objects and how this could make them dangerous and subversive. This was most clear in Lloyd de Beer’s paper on the destruction of English alabasters in the Reformation, where these objects had been consciously disfigured. Irene Galandra Cooper also addressed the subversive qualities of religious materiality. In 1582 Francisco de Cordoba was brought to trial for wearing a pouch containing a variety of suspicious items, such as flesh that looked like a beating heart. Francisco insisted he was simply carrying an Agnus Dei, a wax disc blessed by the pope during the first Sunday after Easter. The object was traditionally hung within homes above the bed, but this case reveals the concerns the church had about their sanctioned sacramentals being used in ways that deviated from their stipulations. Edmund Wareham demonstrated how stone tablets decorated with text in the convent of Villingen allowed the nuns there not to be subversive, but to transcend the restrictions of enclosure. They used these tablets to aid their mental pilgrimages to the Holy Land. The women placed them around the convent to signal different locations on their pilgrimage, which established a sacred topography within the enclosed convent.
Object handling session at V&A.
The material culture of early modern religion had multiple meanings, but also multiple uses. It defined relationships between and within confessions, between local and official religions, and between different spaces. The workshop demonstrated how difficult it is to speak of a single Lutheran or Catholic identity and to characterise its relationship with the material world. Such relationships were negotiated and in constant dialogue with local customs, the availability of materials, contemporary understandings of the nature of materials, as well as the character of religious reform.