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Archive 28 November 2014

Welcome to the Forum newsletter for our latest round-up of news and cultural events from the Early Modern period.

As we approach the end of term, there is news of a seminar series running at Kings College, London, in spring 2015. Innovation, Utility and Expertise in Early Modern Science brings together historians of different cultural contexts to look at questions around the intersections of science and commerce in early modern Europe.

There has been a flurry of news stories and book releases (see reviews below) to do with the Battle of Waterloo as its 200th anniversary approaches next year. In a bizarre story, the Telegraph said Swiss company De Witt had announced it would sell a range of limited-edition watches with a fragment of Napolean’s hair in for £6,350 each. Half millimetre bits of hair will be put in 500 watches which will also bear the likeness of Napolean. The hair came from a collection of memorabilia which used to belong to Monaco’s royal family and was sold off earlier this year.

The Telegraph also reported that a wooden crucifix which survived an inferno during the Battle of Waterloo, but was then looted from a battlefield chapel in 2011, had been rediscovered in a Belgian flea market after a four-year hunt by Interpol. Police were tipped off that a man had bought the 6ft high crucifix.

The earliest written report of the Gunpowder Plot, describing the bravery of Guy Fawkes under torture and the foiling of his “cruel and detestable crime”, is to be sold at auction on December 9. The six-page letter was written by Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, spymaster and trusted adviser to James I and was sent four days after Guy Fawkes was arrested beneath the Houses of Parliament, and describes how the plot was uncovered.

There was also the news that a Shakespeare First Folio, one of only 230 still in existence, had been found in a library in the small French town of Saint-Omer, near Calais, where it had been undiscovered for 200 years. The librarian said he found it while looking for books for an exhibition on historic links between the region and England. It is believed it may have belonged to one of the English students who attended a Jesuit college in the town which centuries ago was one of the most important in northern France. The only other known copy of a First Folio in France is in the National Library in Paris.

Mr Turner, the film about the artist starring Timothy Spall, was reviewed by Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian who said it was a confident portrait which hits its stride straight away, with sharp direction from Mike Leigh.

Art

In the Guardian, Jonathan Jones wrote a feature about William Hogarth, on the 250th anniversary of his death. But he found it hard to find many of his works on show in British galleries, despite the fact he said Hogarth put British painting on the map.

The Telegraph though discovered an exhibition, Hogarth’s London, on at the Cartoon Museum in London until January 18, and Harry Mount wrote a feature based on the works on show there, saying Hogarth caught Britons at their bawdy best, but with a moralising tone.

An exhibition of works by Giovanni Battista Moroni at the Royal Academy was reviewed by Lauren Cumming in the Observer, who said it was hard to believe there were still painters of genius left to be rediscovered. The Italian portraitist spent most of his 30-year career in Bergamo in the late sixteenth century. He was one of the first Italian artists to paint life-size portraits at full length, and worked directly from life without any preliminary drawing. The exhibition is on until January 25.

In the Telegraph, Richard Dorment wrote about the sensitive renovation of the cast court at the V&A gallery in London, and why it continues to be one of its cornerstones and a highlight of a visit, containing casts of medieval and renaissance buildings and sculptures.

He also wrote about an exhibition which tells the story of the eighteenth and nineteenth century marquesses who built the Wallace Collection. The collection of five generations of the Seymour-Conway family was bequeathed to the nation in 1897, and displayed in their former home, Hertford House in London. The exhibition, Collecting History: The Founders of the Wallace Collection, tells the story of how this happened through prints, photographs, letters, books, miniatures and to a small extent art. The collection includes Canalettos, Dutch seventeenth century paintings, portraits by Reynolds and Gainsborough, and works by Rembrandt and Titian. The exhibition is on at the Wallace Collection until February 15.

Miniature models collected by Sir John Soane will go on show for the first time at the museum that carries his name in London next year, He commissioned and acquired the plaster reconstructions of some of the world’s best-know buildings, cork models of ancient ruins and designs used for his own commissions. Some of the models reminded Soane of his grand tour of Italy in the 1770s. The 117 models will be displayed for the first time in the room where they were originally housed.

Books

There are several reviews of new books on the www.history.ac.uk website.

Emotional Lexicons: Continuity and Change in the Vocabulary of Feeling 1700-2000 edited by Ute Frevert was reviewed by Dr Anna Jordanous of the University of Kent. The book brings together accounts of how emotions have been documented historically in encyclopedias and reference books in the period, and the reviewer wonders if including newspapers, periodicals and dictionaries would have given a broader overall perspective. She concludes that most chapters work better as a standalone reference rather than a cohesive volume.

Women and the Counter-Reformation in Early Modern Munster by Simone Laqua-O'Donnell was reviewed by Dr Jennifer Hillman of the University of Chester, who said it reflected other recent scholarship in a move away from a traditional narrative about ‘little women’ of this period, and advanced it. The book “argues convincingly how women in 17th-century Münster often used their civic identities and social status to negotiate their own spaces for religious expression”. Dr Hillman said the author’s approach is more attuned to the practicalities of social life than many studies, and how this shaped women’s piety in the urban context. She concluded the book will be of interest to scholars and students interested in women’s history and Catholic Reformation Europe, as well as urban history.

The Soteriology of James Ussher: The Act and Object of Saving Faith by Richard Snoddy was reviewed by Dr Susan Royal of the University of York. Ussher was Archibishop of Armagh in the first half of the seventeenth century, and the reviewer said his life as “primate, politician and intellectual heavyweight” provides a rich subject for study, and Snoddy “analyzes Ussher’s evolving thought on the nature of salvation with great care and precision, leaving readers with a compelling new perspective on the way Ussher considered this, the most essential question in the life of the Christian believer". Dr Royal says that although the book’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses, the writing is at times jargon-heavy.

The Scottish Town in the Age of the Enlightenment 1740-1820 by Bob Harris and Charles McKean was reviewed by Professor Ian Donnachie of the Open University. Charles McKean died when the book was being written, and the reviewer said it is a “formidable and scholarly volume, a major contribution to urban, social and cultural history”, which is first and foremost a tribute to him. The book sets out to explain how the renewal and development of towns was a function of “improvement” which they see as an important part of Scottish enlightened mentalities. Perthshire, Angus, and Ayrshire are particularly focused on.

Gender and Enlightenment Culture in Eighteenth-Century Scotland by Rosalind Carr was reviewed by Professor Stana Nenadic of the University of Edinburgh, who said she had often cautioned students against trying to write dissertations on gender and the Scottish enlightenment! Prof Nenadic said Carr sets out her understanding as one shaped by Joan Scott’s work on gender as a category for analysis, and as the story is told it shows major concerns about what men and women should be and do, and “speaks volumes of a profound anxiety in Scottish society and culture about changes in the lives of men relative to women, rather than the certainties that monolithic masculine institutions like the church or universities would seem to imply”. The reviewer found the book left as many questions unanswered as it resolved, and that the intellectual discourses that defined the Scottish Enlightenment could have been more fully explored.

The Making of Home by Judith Flanders is described in the Guardian as a fascinating 500-year history charting how houses turned from uncomfortable workplaces to cosy sanctuaries. Ben Highmore said the author looks at myths, rituals, marriage practices and the material fashioning of houses as homes, from the sixteenth to twentieth century.

Elizabeth I: Renaissance Prince, a Biography by Lisa Hilton was reviewed in the Independent, and draws on new research from Italy, France, Russia and Turkey, and defines the queen as a Renaissance prince, a Machiavellian figure doing what she needed to turn the country from an impoverished island into a world power.

Killers of the King: the Men who Dared Execute Charles I by Charles Spencer was reviewed by Christopher Howse in the Telegraph who said the regicides are given a “surprisingly sympathetic hearing” by Earl Spencer in this readable slice of history. There were also so many that their stories become tangled, and there are not sources to show what happened to all of them. The Guardian found the book “rather cavalier with its sources” in looking what happened to the 80 or so regicides who signed the death warrant and worked in other ways to put him to death. The reviewer said the book was at its best when telling of exciting escape attempts and pursuits, but the stories of bloody ends and narrow escapes could be repetitive.

Next year's 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo has inspired books looking at the personalities, as well as the military and domestic aspects:

Waterloo: The Aftermath by Paul O’Keeffe, The Longest Afternoon by Bernard Simms and Waterloo by Tim Clayton were all reviewed by John Pemble in the Guardian. The Longest Afternoon is a micro study of action at a farm in La Haie Sainte which held up the French while Wellington consolidated a position, and tells of the devastation of war on the countryside. The reviewer said Waterloo by Tim Clayton is a huge hour-by-hour account of the four-day Waterloo campaign, which does not get over excited or overawed, but he said Simms is overawed and “the result is a hugely readable mix of side effects and after effects, held together by imaginative structuring, and storytelling in the great narrative tradition”.

Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts was described as a “marvellously readable and sumptuously illustrated” if partial biography by Mark Mazower in the Guardian. The author's treatment of the civil code, which drastically curtailed women’s rights, is treated more uncritically than it need have been, and the larger impact of Napolean’s administration on law and politics across Europe also gets relatively little attention.

In These Times: Living in Britain Through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793-1815 by Jenny Uglow was reviewed by Vic Gatrell in the Guardian, who said it was anecdote-rich descriptive history at its best. It is chronologically arranged, and focuses on surviving accounts from letters and diaries of things like the reception of news of Trafalgar or Waterloo, giving voice to the family worlds of people including farmers, bankers, gunsmiths, weavers, brewers and soldiers. Gatrell said the author tells stories warmly, and they are exquisitely written, although there was a wish for more reflection.

The book was also reviewed by Peter Stothard in the TLS, who said in 700 pages Uglow “chooses her cast with a dramatist’s care”, although some seem random and others easily dropped. The Telegraph called it a “hugely ambitious account of the era of press gangs, rumoured French invasion and ‘Mad King George’.

Theatre

In the Guardian, Michael Billington reviewed ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore, at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in London until December 7, and said the John Ford 1633 incest drama “falls like manna from heaven”. The play performed in the candlelit space showed it had been visibly directed by Michael Longhurst to illuminate the text rather than the director’s ego.

Paul Taylor in the Independent found it “passionate, horribly funny and vividly disconcerting”, with the horror intensified by the shadowiness of the venue.

In the Telegraph, Tim Walker found it admirably done, and made for the venue, with the brother and sister’s love coming over as unashamedly erotic.