The Experience of Warfare in the Long Seventeenth-Century: Narrating Body and Personhood in European Self-Narrative Documents
This project investigates how people writing journals, diaries and autobiographies in the Holy Roman Empire, France and England during the seventeenth century integrated the experience of warfare into the narrative of their lives and personhood. Conceptions of how bodies, subjectivity, and personhood are interlinked have varied radically across time; the clear barrier we perceive today between mental and physical wellbeing dates back only to the nineteenth century. Previous studies have traced how elite thinkers changed discourses pertaining to the body and to personhood and how this gradually changed the way both could be expressed and experienced. This enquiry wants to complicate this narrative by proposing a different angle of investigation. Here it is asked what role the complex relationship between embodied, socio-centric subjectivity and fledgling state power played in this development. Self-narratives written in the transcultural contexts of seventeenth-century warfare will be discussed with a view to how they engaged with the conflicts witnessed. The sources are chosen to represent English-, French-, and German-speaking territories of Europe, and an emphasis is placed on the inclusion of men and women from different confessional backgrounds. Close readings of the self-narratives are conducted, taking into account intended audiences and aims of the authors with a view to how they interrelated with the bodily images presented in the texts. Specific attention is paid to narrative gaps and contradictions and what they reveal about early modern embodied personhood. The present enquiry takes it as its working hypothesis that fully embodied subjectivities proved challenging to top-down state-formation, which is why an imagined barrier between person and body came to gain traction.
Gender as a resource of power at the early modern court of Württemberg, c. 1580-1630
In the early modern period, discussions of good rulership often referred to gendered relationships as a primary way of imagining the dynamics of power between the ruler and the ruled. This imagined figuration could take many forms in various cultural contexts, but often a well-ordered, hierarchical marital relationship could communicate a healthy form of governance, in which the ruler firmly held the reins of power, but nevertheless included the estates and ministers in his decision-making process. On the other hand, discourses of excessive sexual promiscuity and marital discord could stand for a departure from the God-given order of rulership and even for despotism. This study thus traces ways of how gender was mobilised as a resource of the practice of power in the sense that it organised systems of rule and societal orders, and supplied a rhetorical and imaginary device that helped convince viewers and listeners of the validity, legitimacy, and even ‘natural’ quality of the order that was being described. In close connection with this line of enquiry stands the intriguing question of how gender difference was attributed meaning in the first place. A focus on moments in courtly interactions where gender difference was performed and negotiated – such as for instance in marital disputes concerning task-sharing arrangements – can help us to address this question. Using the court of Württemberg as an example, documents ranging from court ordinances, festival descriptions and servants’ registers, to courtly correspondences, juridical supplications and declarations have been consulted. This broad range of primary sources facilitates the investigation of the salience of gender difference both in the context of a courtly system heading a polity, as well as on the level of individual actors whose personhood was intricately entwined with their gendered identities. It is argued here that it is imperative to avoid a fragmentation within court studies into gender and women’s history on the one side and political approaches on the other, in order to maximise our understanding of dynastic approaches to rulership. Gender difference complicated and further differentiated courtly status hierarchies and lent flexibility to increasingly rigid sets of dynastic rules about reproduction, succession, and etiquette, which had a beneficial impact on the longevity of the dynastic system.