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Absolutism as political language in early modern European discourse on statecraft

Final Report Summary - ABSOLUTISM (Absolutism as political language in early modern European discourse on statecraft.)

In the course of the two year-duration of the project I pursued a thorough examination of both primary and secondary sources on absolutist political literature in English, French and, partly, Spanish context. This activity was carried out by examining a variety of different historical texts (treatises, sermons, pamphlets, tracts, letters) written by a series of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century political thinkers. Amongst them can be mentioned the following authors: the French Louis Le Roy, François Grimaudet, François Le Jay, Daniel Drovin, Claude d'Albon, Jean Bédé de la Gourmandiere, Charles Loyseau, Pierre de l'Hommeau, Jérome Bignon, Jean Savaron, M. I. Baricave, François de Colomby, Jean-Louis Guez de Balzac, Cardin Le Bret; the English Charles Merbury, Thomas Floyd, Richard Vennard, Thomas Craig, John Buckeridge, Richard Mocket, John Rawlinson, Henry King, Edward Forsett, Francis Kynaston, Robert Filmer, John Cusacke, Henry Valentine; the Spanish Alamos de Barrientos, Pedro de Ribadeneira, Alvia de Castro, Clemente, Gracián, Homem, Madariaga, Márquez, Mayorlago, Moncada, Navarrete, Quevado, Ramírez de Prado, Saavadra-Fajado, Zevallos.
The main achievement obtained has been the identification of a range of political languages adopted in the course of the historically decisive period 1570-1630 by the aforementioned thinkers. In other terms, my work has attempted to establish a cartography of political paradigms, traditions, tropes, discourses that contributed to both articulate important reflections on the nature of power and the texture of government, and also delineate significant aspects of the process of identity-development occurred in various national contexts across Europe, especially in England and France.
This is to say that my study has proposed to create new paradigms within the framework of absolutism. Hence it speaks of absolutisms instead of adopting the simple straitlaced 'absolutism'. By investigating the theoretically multivalent composition of this political type and unveiling its different strands, we should then be enabled to (re)-assess in more vigorous and penetrating ways the role of ideas and the significance of thinkers in their transnational dimension. New light has thus been cast on the following models:
1. Machiavellian absolutism (Tacitean) >> insistence on prudence and tradition of the mirror of princes (religion as an instrument in the hands of those in power);
2. Bodinian absolutism >> insistence on the indivisibility and inalienability of sovereignty, but also on the role of positive laws and property;
3. Patriarchalist absolutism >> Filmer and the Adamite paradigm (family-model and ruler as founder and shaper of the commonweal's ethos, of its customs and laws);
4. Patriotic absolutism >> French monarchists against Jesuit and Ultramontanist ideas; monarchical discourse in e.g. eighteenth-century Denmark and Prussia;
5. Constitutional absolutism (royalism) >> specific case of seventeenth-century England;
6. Reason of State absolutism >> insistence on the arcana imperii;
7. Divine absolutism >> insistence on the divine right theory (references to witchcraft and mystical authority). Divine rights of kings primarily concerned obedience;
8. Hobbesian absolutism (Leviathan) >> role of the state of nature and totalisation of politics;
9. Miraculous absolutism >> royal touch and insistence on the king's physical and moral characteristics (king seen not only as god, saint, giver of justice, but also as wizard).
These models operate as analytical templates through which to explore and decipher the nature of absolutist political parlance in early modern Europe. They help to go beyond the interpretative impasse whereby all absolutist discourse is inevitably the expression of static, archaic and oppressive political societies. Instead of proposing an a-historical image of it as 'a strange and dangerous beast' aspiring 'to rise above reality, to break out of the limitation of history, to transcend the community and the very foundation of political organisation, that is, human beings living together in a group', they bring back into play the various languages deployed in disputes and polemics by theorists and monarchs and to which I have given the name of political absolutisms. This has nothing to do with traditionally antagonistic readings of absolutism as either feudal or bourgeois or fiscal. On the contrary, it has been my intention to listen to the voices of past authors, their rhetorical tones and argumentative accents so as to better capture the polyphonic discourse in which real people couched their narratives of power to argue for and/or attack specific ideas, principles, policies. As part of this effort, we need to study toleration, patriotism, freedom of the press, scientific development, philosophy in conjunction with absolutist theories and politics.

This research was conducted in various archives and libraries (British Library, London; Sussex Univ. Library, England; Bodleian Library, Oxford; BNF, Paris; Arsenal, Paris).
Moreover, the fellowship saw me engaged in revising a book-manuscript on Sir Robert Filmer (1588-1653) and his patriarchalist absolutism in the context of early modern English and European political cultures; in writing a series of internationally peer-reviewed articles and essays on themes related to the project (see the publications list for details); in teaching a series of seminar-courses at both undergraduate and postgraduate level at the University of Sussex on a variety of topics connected to both the early modern and the modern periods.
One major achievement has been the completion of a monographic study titled Sir Robert Filmer (1588-1653) and the Patriotic Monarch: Patriarchalism in Seventeenth-Century Political Thought that will be published by Manchester University Press in 2011/12. This work provides a long-overdue study of an important but often misread seventeenth-century thinker. Making use of unexplored primary material and adopting an innovative contextual reading of Filmer's oeuvre, the book casts new light on patriarchalism as a central theory in early modern political discourse and culture. The monograph appeals to a wide range of scholars and postgraduate students in the fields of intellectual history, the history of political thought and early modern English and European political and cultural history.

Subsequently, a large part of my scholarly activities in these two years was dedicated to the organisation of the international conference 'Absolutism, Monarchism and Despotism. Historiographical issues and theoretical developments in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in European context' held at the University of Sussex in July 2010. As a result of it, an edited collection of essays titled Monarchism and Absolutism in Early Modern Europe - of which I am the main editor and to which Prof. Glenn Burgess (Hull) collaborated as the other editor - will be published by Pickering & Chatto Publishers (London) in November 2011. Drawing on a multinational and multilingual range of sources, the volume will provide a novel approach to the literature on monarchical ideas produced across Europe in the early modern and modern periods.

As part of the project, I also presented the result of my post-doctoral work in numerous occasions at a range of international institutions and universities across Europe and in the US. Amongst these the two most recent ones are:
1) April 2011 The Curse of Isms: re-thinking absolutism? , History Department and the Center for Early Modern Studies, University of Wisconsin (Madison, US), 28 April.
2) February 2011 The "Curse" of isms: the Case of Absolutism, Trinity Long Room Hub, Arts and Humanities Research Institute, Trinity College Dublin, 24 February.

Thanks to the research pursued during the two-year period, my current project is to complete a study provisionally titled Monarchical Ideas in Context: English, French and Spanish debates 1570-1630.