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Andreas Schlüter


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79104 Freiburg
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Dissertation Project:

Warriors in Crisis: Transformation of the Heroic in the Military Nobility of England and France (1580-1630)

As Western European societies were thrown into disorder by profound changes around the year 1600, the hero rose to prominence: In the last decades of the 16th century and the first of the 17th century the term ‘hero’ was used more and more in England and France. This project examines these two societies because of their similar structures and the various intricacies and transfer processes between them. During this period of the earliest onset of modernity (Vorsattelzeit der Moderne) in which the consolidation of power went hand in hand with religious conflicts the use of heroic terminology changed not just quantitatively. The meaning of the heroic also shifted as rulers and monarchs were consolidating their power over the historical actors who saw themselves subject to ever greater pressure to homogenize and experienced a politicization of individual belief dispositions to collectively obligatory ideologies. In this context I am examining qualitative changes in the figures which were called heroes or in another (for instance, performative) form were constructed as heroes. These same exceptional figures were placed between the complementary needs of the groups which constructed and imbibed them: On the one hand there was the need to identify with a role model and on the other hand the need for transformation through the disturbing element. It is possible that heroic terminology shifted from warrior to martyr, i.e. from the conspicuous heroism of the traditionally violent and aggressive individual, moulded through war, battles and tournaments, and dedicated to the ideal of a knightly-martial way of life to a heroism of the religiously-charged, stoic and passive martyr ideal that emphasized mastering the virtue of suffering to the point of spiritual asceticism. It is my intent to retrace this possible accent shift of the heroic, to register it in the historical context and to explain it within the framework of the crisis-laden developments of the time. I examine these changes in the various mediums which the high nobility close to the respective crowns used to represent themselves and in which they were also represented by others. It is precisely with these militaristic groups of the nobility that a change in the construction of the (no longer almost exclusively military) hero is recognizable. To accomplish this, the corpus to be examined includes traditional forms and genres used for heroisation such as funeral sermons, panegyric poems and battle records, but also personal testimonies such as memoirs and letters. These mediums are supplemented by material testimonies such as paintings and tombs. In close connection with methods and groundwork from both literary studies and cultural studies these primary sources will be surveyed for their heroic content and examined from the perspective of a cultural history of the political (Kulturgeschichte des Politischen), i.e. actors’ motivations, interpretations and interests as they relate to their respective power and authority structures are kept in mind. It is possible that the crisis-laden developments of the time can be better understood through the lens of the heroic. And it is precisely the comparison between the belligerent elites of these two monarchies who were both personally affiliated as well as interacting intellectually with one another that can provide first insights as to whether or not these developments can be generalized and what characteristics need to be considered unique for France or England. It may be possible to determine a culture-specific or perhaps even a transcultural political language of the heroic developed beyond the battlefield and to specify its users, functions and usage in this time of change.