I recently attended the latest meeting of the North West Early Modern Seminar Series, which was held at Liverpool University on 1 November.  It came at the end of a particularly busy few days for me, so I was really quite tired, but happily there was lovely homemade spiced apple cake from Elaine Chalus and great big cups of tea to wash it down.

2017-11-01 15.22.58The first paper was by Sophie Jones, a  student at the University of Liverpool: “‘Drinking the King’s Health’: Taverns, Sociability and Loyalism in Revolutionary New York”.  The main questions she asked were: how did taverns come to play such a political role? and how did they become so closely associated with royalism?

Her paper focussed on Albany, an area of colonial New York. It was at the centre of territorial disputes with New England,  but Albany was relatively small: it had fewer than 3500 inhabitants in c1700.  The county was predominantly rural apart from Albany town itself, therefore it represented the closest resemblance to feudal Engalnd in America.  The area was dominated by big estates with a lot of land, which provided a source of social tension in the 17th century.  There was little urban development,  and there were no coffee houses or other public amenities.  The social space it did have was a network of public houses and taverns which occupied the same functional space as coffee houses.  They were not, however, confined to the city of Albany but were also found in rural areas and they created focal points for unhappy tenants who sometimes turned into mobs.  She also pointed out that although ostensibly  a ‘public’ space, taverns also had private spaces and could therefore be seen as secretive.

During the revolutionary period, Albany was particularly afraid that tavern keepers were not loyal to the cause of American freedom.  Licenseto run taverns were issued on the basis of an oath of allegiance and committees were set up to detect loyalism.  One of their methods for identifying the disaffected was to listen for people who drank the king’s health.  Sophie suggested that this was a fractured society.

Next up was Dr Jonathan Spangler of Manchester Metropolitan University on “The Miseries of War: The Duchy of Lorraine, Jacques Callot and the 400th Anniversary of the Start of the Thirty Years War”.  His paper presented his recent research on the Westreich a bilingual not bi-confessional region.  Lorraine was nominally part of the Holy Roman Empire, and the dukes were constantly trying to balance between French and German political influence by marrying French  and Germans.  In 1618, fraternal strife increased between Henri, who had 2 daughters, and Francois, who had 2 sons.  They fell out over the dynasty – to whom the children should be married and, alongside that, whether to fight for the French or the empire.

2017-11-01 15.40.52Jonathan is interested in what effect this had on the dynasty.  Francois was allied to the empire, while his brother Henri was trying to appease France, whose army was getting bigger and only had access to the empire through Lorraine.  The marriage of one of Henri’s daughters to one of Francois’ sons in order to create a dual monarchy fell apart when Francois’ son overthrew his wife, and this created a split in the nobility, who were more pro-Catholic than loyal to their country.

By end of 30 years war Lorraine had lost 60% of its population. Beauvau described it as like an apocalypse.  The printmaker Jacques Callot was a product of this society.  His work has been described by art historians as technical but not emotional.  His most famous work is the series of woodcuts,  The Miseries of War.  They are moralising images which show that soldiers who are let loose to run amok will get their comeuppance.  They represtent peasant horror and peasant justice.  Jonathan argued that they are good evidence for him being more emotional than has hitherto been thought, because they might represent the trauma of his homeland.


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The first speaker after the break was Dr Anna French (University of Liverpool), who spoke about “Salvation of the Soul in Pregancy to Early Infancy”.  This talk was based on her new work on the social and cultural impact of belief, particularly surrounding the question: when did the human become a person?  She is investigating early modern perceptaions of infants?  They have small bodies and often fleeting lives, and attitudes to them demonstrate spiritual uncertainty, especially until baptism.

The first of her two key texts was a funeral sermon by Samson Price from 1624 – The two twins of birth and death.  This text described the closeness between these to parts of the human life cycle. It shows that birth wasn’t necessarily seen as the beginning of the new life because death often followed quickly.  A successful birth meant that child and mother had lucky escape from death. Original sin meant that although mother and child could and probably should have died during childbirth and been damned, they were saved from by God’s grace.

She pointed out that although birth meant that babies were awake, they were yet to be awoken to the presence of God. However, even infant baptism didn’t solve this so childhood was a difficult time for salvation. Children were seen to be in great spiritual danger. Indeed, infants were often not seen as a child or even as he/she until baptism – they were not given a name and were instead referred to as ‘creature’.

Her second text was Jacob Ruff’s The expert midwife, translated in 1637 and addressed to the ‘daughters of Eve’.  It described the inevitable but risky venture of pregnancy and labour, seeking to prevent ‘the great danger and manifold hazards’ to mother and child.  This text suggests that even after the quickening, when the woman first felt the child move in her womb, the foetus was not considered to be a person. It had a spirit, which moved it, but this was not the soul.  Instead, it just provided a channel for the soul, which came later.

Her overall argument was that life was defined broadly and ensoulment was crucial but piecemeal process.  It reveals some tension about what it meant to be a human.

We also heard short papers from two research students. Toni Prince (University of Sheffield) spoke on 2017-11-01 16.55.10“Authorship, Ovid and The Tempest”, arguing that some of Shakespeare’s scenes don’t sound the same and the lexical units (grammatical units which have meaning, not just words) are different.  Some of these lexical units appear again and again in Shakespeare’s plays as a whole, others appear to have been written by someone else.  Finally, Tom Morrissey (University of Liverpool) talked about “Exploring the reaction of the West Country Gentry to the English Reformation”.  He suggested that the gentry were complicit with successive Tudor regimes throughout the reformation as it changed the face of the localities. Their role was one of policing and enforcing the reformation – and their own faith.

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