Exploring Entangled Histories: Britain and Europe in the Age of the Thirty Years’ War, c.1590-1650

For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a spring 2018 conference led by Alastair Bellany.

A Folger Institute Conference to be held on 12-14 April 2018

On his deathbed, Shakespeare’s John of Gaunt famously declared that the “silver sea” around the “precious stone” of England served “in the office of a wall / Or as a moat defensive to a house.” But the seas that separate the British Isles from the European Continent have long been bridges as well as walls, connective tissue as well as defensive moats. Four hundred years after the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War, and two years after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, this conference inverts Gaunt’s prophetic inspiration to consider the entangled histories of the British Isles and the European Continent from the late sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth century. Paying particular attention to the transnational movement of people, texts, objects, cultural forms, information, and ideas, invited speakers will examine how European entanglements shaped individual and collective experience, and influenced the course of early modern political, social, literary, and artistic history.

Organizer: Alastair Bellany is Professor of History at Rutgers University and author, with Thomas Cogswell, of The Murder of King James I (2015). His research focuses primarily on the political culture of early modern England, in particular the histories of media, popular politics, and the image of the early Stuart court.

Provisional Program (all presentation titles and abstracts are subject to change)

Thursday, 12 April

Opening Reception

Founders Room, Folger Shakespeare Library


Opening Lecture: Stronger in: Britain as centre and as periphery in European news

Joad Raymond (Queen Mary, University of London)
This lecture will look at Britain’s place in a European network of news communication between 1500 and 1700. While there was a substantial two-way trade of news between Britain and the mainland, there was a kind of disconnect. London was the terminus of a postal network, an entrepôt, one of Europe’s great cities. It supplied regional markets within the archipelago, but its contribution to the international news network was largely in terms of generating and sponsoring local news supplies. News wasn’t relayed elsewhere. It was therefore politically and symbolically central, but in terms of news it was peripheral. It thus provides an instructive contrast with Antwerp: from London, Europe seemed relatively far away. This lecture will examine the trade in news in quantitative terms, and suggest how this plays out in the experience of Europe in Britain and of Britain in Europe. There may be some reflections on the modern world.

Paster Reading Room

Friday, 13 April

Session One: Before the Thirty Years' War

Folger Board Room

Chair: Nicholas Popper (The College of William and Mary)

The Short Peace: Controversy, Libel and Violence in Early Modern Europe’s ‘Interwar’ period, 1595-1620

Noah Millstone (University of Birmingham)
Between 1595 and 1606, a series of treaties and truces brought peace to Western Europe, ending decades of religiously-inflected warfare involving France, the Low Countries, England, and Spain. But while scholars have often stressed the eirenic tenor of the age, across Europe the first two decades of the seventeenth century were characterized by growing fissures within confessional communities. Reformed theologians in England and the Netherlands began to question or reject central doctrines like predestination, sparking sometimes-violent confrontations. Roman Catholics disagreed over doctrine, the legitimacy of the Council of Trent, the role of the new Jesuit order, and the extent of papal authority. These internal struggles led not to a de-emphasis on confessional identity, but rather to a series of bitter disputes over the terms of confessional identity; that is, over what one had to believe or to do in order to count as Protestant or Catholic. These developments were immensely destabilizing. Many states had come to link religious confession and temporal allegiance, which made disputes over the terms of confessional identity into disputes about loyalty and membership. The stakes of these disputes were so high for so many different people – aristocrats who feared being excluded from the temporal state, religious groups who wanted people to choose exclusion over accommodation – that they could not be left to learned theologians alone: coups, conspiracies, and assassination plots were joined by a 'low' literature of news, propaganda, and libel. The Short Peace, this paper argues, should be seen as an era of political instability, confessional confrontation, and terrorism.

Dutch Public Diplomacy, England, and the Making of the Thirty Years War, 1609-1621

Helmer Helmers (University of Amsterdam)
This paper investigates the ways in which Dutch public diplomacy affected Anglo-German-Dutch relations in the years between the conclusion of the Spanish-Dutch truce, in 1609, and the beginning of the Thirty Years War. In these years, the Dutch sought to create a large anti-Habsburg alliance to secure their new and brittle position as a new state. As part of this campaign, they actively reached out to foreign audiences, and sought to create public awareness abroad and at home of the entanglement of the various brewing conflicts and 'coming wars' in Europe. This paper analyses these efforts, and seeks to gauge their effects.

Session Two: Amboyna

Chair: Amanda Pipkin (University of North Carolina, Charlotte)

The View from Amsterdam: Amboyna, Information, and the English East India Company Agent

Rupali Mishra (Auburn University)
News of the trial and execution of English East India Company men at the hands of the Dutch East India Company in Amboyna reached Europe in 1624 and created a financial and moral crisis for the English East India Company. Its members questioned the feasibility of the trade in the East Indies and their relationship with their Dutch rivals in the wake of this alleged betrayal. The Company’s agent in Amsterdam and the English ambassador to The Hague, Robert Barlow and Sir Dudley Carleton respectively, found themselves acting as the Company’s first responders on the Continent. They worked to keep Company leaders in London informed of the state of affairs in the Netherlands, and of opinion in both the States General and on the streets. They also took direct action on the Company’s behalf, attempting to manage the story of Amboyna and hence its meaning and consequences. This paper centers on their efforts on behalf of the English East India Company in Amsterdam in the 1620s. Their work and experience of revealed the ways the East Indies trade reshaped English interactions with the Dutch not only in the East Indies but in Amsterdam and London as well, how the control and manipulation of information was key to that reshaping, and the extent to which the scope of England’s East Indies trade was determined by events and opinions in rival European capitals.

“I know not what to advise”: Sir Dudley Carleton, the diplomacy of print and the Amboyna Massacre of 1623

Jason Peacey (University College, London)
Historians are now very familiar with the idea that the print revolution of the early modern period created both problems and possibilities for contemporary governments, and that communicative practices – libelling, pamphleteering and news mongering, as well as censorship and propaganda – provide a vital means of reassessing political and religious consensus and division in the decades leading up to the English civil war. Recent years have also witnessed growing recognition of the need to situate English affairs of this period within a European rather than merely a British context, and considerable strides have been made towards new forms of diplomatic history, not least in culturally inflected ways. Scholars now talk not just about a ‘new diplomatic history’, but also about histories of ‘diplomatic culture’ and of ‘cultural diplomacy’. As yet, however, studies of the political culture of seventeenth century diplomacy remain underdeveloped and under conceptualised, and one way of developing such sub-disciplinary fields involves focusing on the importance which early modern diplomats placed on print culture. They grappled, therefore, with the ease with which printed texts moved across state borders, through translation, commercial exchange and the smuggling of illicit texts, and they were forced to confront the fact that certain continental regimes had more or less lax press laws, and to think about the possibility, desirability and necessity of using printed texts to address different European publics. This paper explores such themes by revisiting what might be thought to be fairly familiar territory: English responses to the notorious Amboyna massacre of English merchants by employees of the Dutch East India Company. This episode is well known, not just because it bedevilled Anglo-Dutch relations for many decades, but also because scholars have explored the ways in which it was portrayed in print, not least at the behest of the English East India Company. The aim of this paper is to recover neglected but vital aspects of this affair, in terms of the dilemmas facing the English ambassador in The Hague, Dudley Carleton, as he struggled to come to terms with the diplomacy of print in the age of the Thirty Years War.

Lunch (on your own)


Session Three: Going to the Wars

1:45- 3:15
Chair: Daniel Riches (University of Alabama)

Fighting on the Wrong Side: British and Irish Soldiers in Multiconfessional Armies in the Thirty Years’ War

Scott Sowerby (Northwestern University)
Under the "Acte to Prevent and Avoid Dangers which may grow by Popish Recusants" of 1605, Catholics were barred from serving as officers in English armies. The 1605 act aimed to end a practice of confessional mixing in English armies that had been fostered under Queen Elizabeth. At the same time, most European armies remained multiconfessional in the early seventeenth century, with Scottish Catholics serving in the army of Gustavus Adolphus and English and Scottish Protestants serving in Imperial armies. These Continental practices could be seen as a challenge to the increasingly exclusionary practices of armies in England and Scotland. This paper juxtaposes the experiences of British and Irish Catholics who fought for Protestant rulers with the experiences of British and Irish Protestants who fought for Catholic rulers. The paper investigates how these men were recruited, to what degree their religious practices were accommodated, and how they justified their actions, both to themselves and to the communities they came from. The paper also charts how these men's actions were perceived by noncombatants and by other soldiers whose military service was driven by confessional imperatives.

Britain and the Thirty Years’ War. The evolution of a field of study

Steve Murdoch (University of St. Andrews)
This paper presents the changes in understanding of British military participation in the Thirty Years’ War from a once unsophisticated and dismissive approach to a more enriched and interesting field of study. Where once soldiers operating in the European theatre were crudely dismissed as low ranking, low status, and ultimately ineffective mercenaries, this paper reviews the plethora of work on the subject that has adopted a less sweeping and more critical analysis. While imagery of the British usually focuses on the four Highlanders depicted in the 1631 Stettin Woodcut, recent research has revealed a more varied participation. Some 15 Scots held the rank of general in the Swedish army alone, while a number of Englishmen held similar status in armies in the Dutch Republic and Denmark. But the more interesting developments come in those projects which view the war not just through scrutiny of successful officers, but also the women, children and common soldiers who went to the wars. Their agency and motivation is apparent in the letters they wrote. The war is seen in nuanced ways: Dynastic politics and the service to the House of Stuart drove many to fight for Elizabeth of Bohemia, but we are now far better versed in other motivations, including kinship networks, coercion, desperation religious persuasion and, of course, the mercenary in its proper sense. From the body of recent scholarship by Alexia Grosjean, Adam Marks, Kathrin Zickermann, David Worthington and Nadine Akkerman, the role of the Scots, English and Welsh has evolved into a field of study, not concerned just with a perceived peripheral participation which ultimately spilled over into the English Civil War, but a field which places Britons at the very heart of the conflict across all levels of the social strata, and with a varied degree of success and failure within the armies with which they are associated. From major battlefield victories such as Wittstock (1636), to the plight of the widows, orphans, the lame and the retired the field of study continues to evolve.

Tea Break


Moderated Discussion


Saturday, 14 April

Session Four: Diplomacy and Espionage

Chair: Stefano Villani (University of Maryland)

Factious Nobles, Bickering Clerics, Huguenot Pirates and Stuart Diplomacy: Notes on British Relations with France, c. 1607-1627

Malcolm Smuts (University of Massachusetts—Boston)
Historians have recently begun to broaden the scope of diplomatic history by taking into account not only formal negotiations by accredited ambassadors but a variety of other less formal contacts and exchanges that mediated relations between courts and kingdoms. Often this has meant paying attention to conflicts not only between states but within them, and the efforts of governments to influence and exploit political and religious dissension within the dominions of their allies and rivals. This paper seeks to develop these themes through an examination of Stuart relations with France in the early seventeenth century that will focus less on formal negotiations between crowns over matters like their 1625 marriage alliance than the various ways in which James I and Charles I pursued alliances with French princes of the blood and dissident Huguenots, in efforts to gain greater leverage over French politics. It will also examine the role played by Huguenot nobles, notably the dukes of Bouillon and Soubise, in shaping British policy, as well as the significance of long-standing maritime and commercial contacts between the French Protestant port of La Rochelle and English ports like Plymouth. It is hoped in this way to illustrate the complexity or international politics in the period as conducted not only through official diplomatic channels but in a variety of other ways.

Mr. Sterrell, XXX and OOOO: Habsburg Intelligence Assets Penetrate Whitehall, 1624-1627

Thomas Cogswell (University of California—Riverside)
In the Spring of 1624, the beleaguered Spanish ambassadors in London took an unusual step. Unable to prevent Prince Charles and the Duke of Buckingham from organizing a “patriot” coalition to back open war with the House of Austria and from disgracing the remaining hispanophiles in Whitehall, they asked for – and received -- funding to retain a series of secret agents who could improve their optics on the English situation. In short order, reports began flowing from several agents, the most prolific of which were William Sterrell and two mysterious men dubbed XXX and OOOO. The result was a remarkably vivid, and perceptive, take on James I’s last months and on the early Caroline regime. Unfortunately, because the ambassadors were soon recalled, Archduchess Isabella’s representative in London had to run this network, and the reports themselves were filed first in Brussels and then in Vienna, not in Madrid or Simancas where English scholars were more likely to look. Thanks to this bureaucratic oddity, scholars have had almost no knowledge of either this network or its reports. This essay will correct this lamentable omission, and in the process, it will stress the urgent need to use this set of records – and other underutilized material in continental archives – to set early modern English history more firmly within its European context.

Lunch (on your own)

Chair: Amanda Herbert (Folger Institute)

Session Five: Ireland, Britain, and Europe


Ireland in the early Stuart world

Jane Ohlmeyer (Trinity College, Dublin)
Ireland’s place in the early modern world is well illustrated through an examination of the contents of a wash pit at Rathfarnham castle in Dublin, where archaeologists unearthed a veritable treasure trove of 17,500 well-preserved artefacts, probably dating from the second half of the seventeenth century. The Rathfarnham hoard reflects Irish interactions with and access to commodities and foodstuffs from all over the globe: from Columbia, Mexico, Peru, and the Caribbean in the Atlantic World; to England, Italy, France, and Germany in continental Europe; to China and India in Asia. It also illustrates some key features of early modernity. While relative localism characterised the medieval, the early modern period saw the swift and unprecedented global circulation of commodities, peoples, ideas, and technologies. Ireland thus operated in a number of interconnected and often overlapping geo-political contexts: that of the British Isles/three kingdoms, continental Europe, the Atlantic World, and global empires. In this paper I want to look briefly at each of these contexts.

Untangling a multi-lingual early modern Ireland

Brendan Kane (University of Connecticut)
This paper attempts to make some sense of the linguistic, generic and authorial complexities of the Irish experience in the early Stuart period. The Irish were deeply entangled in the European and increasingly global contexts of the age, record of which is left in multiple languages (Irish, Latin and English) and in what was an explosion of new or altered genres and forms. This paper argues that understanding the early modern Irish experience requires further research into what is a rich and revealing archive, and it offers supporting examples from across the chronological period in question.


Chair: Owen Williams (Folger Institute)

Session Six: Phobias and Poets


Hollandophobia and the Question of Europe

Carmen Nocentelli (University of New Mexico)
This paper proposes that Hollandophobia played an important role in seventeenth-century political discourse, both inside England and outside of it. On the surface, anti-Dutch sentiment was largely a matter of colonial and mercantile rivalry—an attempt at advancing base matters of gain under cover of ideological concerns. At a deeper level, however, Hollandophobia also begged the question of Europe, and did so in at least two ways. First, it invited reflection on the nature of Europe as a coherent, if deeply contested, entity. Second, it suggested that Europeanness might inhere less in geography than in ethnoethics. From this perspective, seventeenth-century Hollandophobia helped shape not just the idea of Europe, but also the idea of Europeanness as a category of belonging rooted (at least in part) in values such as justice, liberality, and love for freedom.

Transnationalism, Exile and the Anglo-Dutch Making of German Literature during the Thirty Years War

Nigel Smith (Princeton University)
There were German-speaking literary figures in the west European Atlantic countries before the outbreak of the Thirty Years War in 1618, but the outbreak of hostilities and destruction that followed markedly increased that transit. I’ll look at the career of the government secretary Georg Rodolf Weckherlin, well known to historians of England as an administrator and international relations specialist, but less well known to English speakers as the second most innovative German-language poet of his time. I’ll look in particular at his admiration for English poetry, especially Spenser, and his development of Spenserian poetics within his German amatory and political verse. Weckherlin’s verse should be compared with that of the leading German innovative poet Martin Opitz, himself a student of the Dutch scholar-poet Daniel Heinsius, whose Latin and Dutch verse was Opitz’s blueprint for an entirely new kind of vernacular German verse. What was the relationship between these Protestant poets’ work and the matter of allegiance in the war? I’ll be thinking here about the politics of vernaculars, German, Dutch and English, the business of ‘purifying’ languages, and the prophetic and occult roles of poetry. If time permits, I’ll also look at the impact on the continent of English drama (e.g., performances of Shakespeare, Jonson and Marlowe) at the displaced Bohemian-Stuart courts and elsewhere as it vied with French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and German drama to make a theatrical ‘taste’ in that time.

Closing Discussion


Closing Reception
Foulke Conference Room (301 East Capitol Street, SE)