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Anglo-European Cultural Exchange and Inter-Confessional Sociability, 1648-1715

A British Academy funded Post Doctoral Fellowship held by Dr Eoin Devlin

The project examines the social interactions of English visitors to continental Europe in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. It explores how cosmopolitan figures engaged with different nationalities and religious convictions in the aftermath of the Thirty Years War. Examining correspondence, personal papers and cultural artefacts, Dr Devlin investigates how inter-confessional, international sociability was conducted in opposition to popular xenophobia and anti-Catholic sentiment. The project concentrates on English attitudes to baroque culture - an aesthetic form and cultural movement constructed as part of the counter-reformation Catholic response to Protestantism. The Protestant English elite came to embrace this form and re-worked its ideological significance in art, architecture, literature and music. Dr Devlin explores how and why this ideological shift occurred, and draws connections between this adaptive cultural exchange and the increasingly intense and sophisticated social relationships between members of the Anglo-European elite in a period of flux and transition.

This project examines how English men and women socialised with contemporaries of different nationalities and religious affiliations in the context of the late counter-reformation and the end of major religious conflict, questioning how elite English Protestants and Catholics understood religious, national and cultural distinctiveness in their actual (rather than theoretical or abstract) engagement with Europeans of different confessions.

The first part of the project concentrates on inter-confessional and international sociability between the English elite and their relationships with European society and individual Europeans. It will primarily explore the lived experiences of contemporaries reflected in correspondence, diaries and printed accounts of their travels and meetings with foreigners with an initial focus on two main case studies. The first of these uses the extant papers of Robert and Lady Theophila Nelson to explore issues related to international and inter-confessional sociability. The second case study will explore in a more specific way the inter-connectedness of public culture, diplomacy and politics by looking at the life, work and correspondence of  Sir George Etherege, playwright and libertine in the 1660s who became resident diplomat at Regensburg in 1685 and died at the court of the exiled James II, almost certainly a Catholic convert. The case studies will operate in to suggest similarities and differences between their informal and individual socialising, and the state-sponsored efforts of a cynical writer like Etherege. The studies are complementary, taking place at the same time and involving some of the same correspondents, exposing how English men and women pragmatically adopted cultures and adapted to foreign societies.

The second part of the project expands on themes of adaptation and acculturation and examines the theory and practice of cultural exchange by questioning how English Catholics and Protestants responded to baroque culture. Since the end of the 16th century, this aesthetic form emerged in Catholic countries as a conscious creative response of the counter-reformation reaction against Protestantism, but from the early 17th century the baroque made its own triumphal appearance in England, patronised by the king and an aristocratic elite. It had a profound impact on literature, music and art. By the early 18th century, it had become the standard architectural model for public works celebrating England's defeat of Catholic France. How did the baroque - usually understood by English contemporaries as distinctively Catholic and loaded with foreign ideological connotations - become re-conceptualised and deployed in this way?

The research questions how cosmopolitan understandings of Europe were shaped by xenophobic archetypes, and explore how archetypes affected the construction of opposing views. It will examine how late Stuart and Augustan England was shaped and informed by its continental interactions, and how the legacies of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation periods fused with proto-Enlightenment notions. The cosmopolitan ideal primarily remained the purview of a sophisticated socialising elite, but in baroque monuments and performances, English public culture was imbued with the components of a powerful alien aesthetic. Cultural patronage, diplomatic activity and international socialisation were some of the most important features of pan-European engagement at the end of the early modern period, and this research emphasises how precarious -or functionally adaptable - tropes of English proto-nationalism and confessional identity proved to be in the aftermath of the Thirty Years War.

Dr Eoin Devlin