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Absolutism, Monarchism and State Foundation

Absolutism, Monarchism and State Foundation in Early Modern Britain


This MPhil option encourages students to explore the wide variety of ways in which historians have tried to understand the nature of monarchical states in early-modern Britain and Europe. The course will consider how far this was a distinctive period in the development of such states, and the extent to which it was characterized by continuity or change. The classes will examine some of the different concepts and models that historians have evolved to understand royal government and state formation, and consider whether the term ‘absolutism’ is more of a help or a hindrance to gaining such an understanding.

The first class will offer a general introduction to the range of interpretations and methodologies that are found in the vast historiography on this subject. The remaining six classes will focus in turn on institutional approaches; intellectual approaches; the emergence of the fiscal-military state; the nature of the confessional state; the significance of iconography and the visual arts; and the nature of the ceremonial and ritual that surrounded monarchies in the early-modern period.

The course integrates British and European themes, and each class will be built around 2-3 key books or articles, at least one of which is primarily British in focus, and at least one primarily European in focus. Students will be expected to become familiar with these assigned readings, and to present to the group on at least one of them during the course of the term.

Outline plan of the seven classes and the assigned readings:

[1] Introduction: themes and approaches
J.H. Elliott, ‘A Europe of Composite Monarchies’, Past & Present, 137 (Nov. 1992), 48-71
Wolfgang Schmale, ‘The Future of “Absolutism” in Historiography: Recent Tendencies’, Journal of Early Modern History, 2:2 (1998), 192-202
Michael J. Braddick, State Formation in Early Modern England, c. 1550-1700 (2000), General Introduction & Part I
[2] Institutional approaches
Maija Jansson (ed.), Realities of Representation: State Building in early modern Europe and European America (2007)
Michael Graves, The Parliaments of Early Modern Europe (2001)
H.G. Koenigsberger, ‘Dominium Regale or Dominium Politicum et Regale’, in his Politicians and Virtuosi: Essays in Early Modern History (1986)
[3] Intellectual approaches
Cesare Cuttica & Glenn Burgess (eds.), Monarchism and Absolutism in Early Modern Europe (2012)
Glenn Burgess, Absolute Monarchy and the Stuart Constitution (1996)

[4] The fiscal-military state
Jan Glete, War and the State in Early Modern Europe: Spain, the Dutch Republic and
Sweden as Fiscal-Military States, 1500-1660 (2001), chapters 1, 2 & 6
Braddick, State Formation, Part III
[5] The confessional state
Wolfgang Reinhard, ‘Reformation, Counter-Reformation, and the Early Modern State: A
Reassessment’, The Catholic Historical Review, 75:3 (July 1989), 383-404
C. Scott Dixon, Dagmar Freist and Mark Greengrass (eds.), Living with Religious Diversity in
Early-Modern Europe (2009), chapters 1 & 14
Braddick, State Formation, Part IV
[6] Iconography and the visual arts
Peter Burke, The Fabrication of Louis XIV (1994)
Kevin Sharpe, Image Wars: Promoting Kings and Commonwealths in England, 1603-1660
[7] Ceremonial and ritual
Edward Muir, Ritual in Early Modern Europe (2nd edition, 2005), chapter 7
Roy Strong, Coronation: From the 8th to the 21st Century (2005), chapters 5-7