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Monarchy and Modernity since 1500

8th and 9th January 2019

Venue: Faculty of History, West Road, Cambridge CB3 9EF


Europe’s past is overwhelmingly monarchical, yet the monarchies that remain in place today hardly resemble those that governed Europe at the end of the Middle Ages. Modernity has transformed monarchy from a matter of unquestioned and often sacred fact to a matter of largely secular and usually democratic choice. If the words remain the same – along with many of the families, their titles, properties and places of residence – their meaning has changed profoundly over time and across countries, so much so that, along the centuries, the working mechanisms, functions and powers of European monarchy have been transformed. The academic literature, however, seldom measures this distance between monarchy’s various historical meanings and its surprisingly frequent manifestations today.

In theoretical and speculative disciplines, the lack of inquiry into monarchy’s significance is due partly to disciplinary divisions. Political theorists and intellectual historians rarely delve into the subject of monarchy, while historians of monarchy tend to focus on chronology rather than concepts. Monarchy’s own nature has helped determine these divisions. With its providentialist, semi-magic and mysterious foundations in the divine right of kings, monarchism is a double paradox, a form of political theory that is at once anti-political and anti-theoretical. Innovatively, this conference seeks to break disciplinary barriers by combining the outlooks of monarchical specialists on the one hand, and of social, cultural, and political theorists on the other.

Proceeding from the premise that the nature of things is best known, and their development most determined, during critical times, this conference centers on three (long) key moments in the history of modern European monarchy: the English Revolution, the French Revolution, and the mainstreaming of republicanism during the first half of the twentieth century. These moments, however, are only referential, and presentations studying the reinvention, representation and conceptualisation of monarchy during other modern periods, from 1500 to the present, are also welcome, with Renaissance subjects possibly serving as introits and contemporary ones as epilogues to the conference.

The main lines of inquiry are twofold, one directed at monarchy’s political significance, and the other at its socio-cultural, psychological, religious and spiritual roles. The political-conceptual line of inquiry can include – without being limited to – European monarchy’s historical relationship to legislation and the administration of justice, as well as democratic, republican, and aristocratic traditions. The theological/sociological/anthropological perspective is instead concerned with monarchy as a series of rituals, processions, celebrations and formal procedures that represent sovereignty, organise time and relationships, lend nations a sense of identity, and connect individuals emotionally with sacred spaces and powers, especially as represented by the Catholic and Protestant religions.

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