This year’s annual Society for Court Studies conference was hosted by the Paul Mellon Centre for the Studies in British Art in London, and was organized via Birkbeck College School of Arts and Department of History, Classics and Archaeology. The theme was ‘Performance, Royalty and the Court, 1450-1800.’ I presented a paper on the subject of the Oliver Fleming, the Master of Ceremonies during the English Civil Wars and Interregnum. Apart from some good natured teasing about bringing ‘Republican’ research to a venue packed with royalists, I feel it went rather well. People were interested in the topic, and no one said that it had either been done before, or wasn’t worth doing at all.
My research, however, is in the early stages. The results being reported by more senior historians were far more interesting. One of the best and most coherent panels was presented by three scholars from the Vatican Museum: Alessandra Rodolfo, Michela Gianfranceshi, and Camilla S. Fiore. The first covered receptions and ceremonies, while the latter two focused on the use of the city of Rome as an extension of pontifical diplomacy during the eighteenth century. It turns out that John Finet was not exceptional in having kept notebooks regarding precedents and disputes – he was only exceptional in early Stuart England. The Vatican’s Masters of Ceremonies, meanwhile, had been doing so regularly. Far more detailed than Finet’s yearly summaries, these records are now being used in a wonderfully systematic way within an integrated research program to reconstruct the reception of ambassadors and princes in the Early Modern, as well as the interiors of the palaces they visited on the papal tours that were arranged for them.
Other particularly interesting papers were those of Elisabeth Natour, Siobhan Keenan, Anastazja Grudnicka, and Hannah Rodger. Natour examined the use of sound and music in staging Early Modern monarchy – an exceedingly difficult area of study considering the relative scarcity of sources, and thus one that is often overlooked. Keenan’s work will be of particular interest to people looking at Joyous Entries in the Low Countries, examining, as it did, the role of the city of Edinburgh in stating Charles I’s Royal Entry in 1633, and the messages conveyed therein. As an amateur food historian, Grudnicka’s investigations of dining culture at the Viennese Habsburg court of the 1590s was fascinating – particularly her findings regarding the variety of ‘public’ dining and the range of performance and observation. Rodger, in what was perhaps the best delivered presentation, covered her research on the English Chapel Royal and Laudianism. Her work greatly added to my scarce store of knowledge on that topic – from the basics (the Chapel Royal describes an institution, not a specific place) to the more in-depth (patronage networks and chains included poets, composers, andthe archbishop).
Lastly, Bram van Leuveren, M.A. Katritzky, and Aidan Norrie covered topics that were closer to my own area in New Diplomatic History. Van Leuveren covered the Franco-Spanish and Anglo-German marriage negotiations that took place between 1612-1615. The former was especially interesting to me – especially the somewhat disruptive receptions of successive Spanish ambassadors in Paris for these talks. Katrizky covered the incredibly transnational nature of ‘Jacobean’ masques – which often appear in my sources prior to the Interregnum. And finally, Norrie delivered a bit of a blow to anyone enchanted by the supposed first-hand account of Charles I’s reception of Christian IV of Denmark in which the two kings and the ‘masque’ participants got roaring drunk at Theobalds in July of 1606. Chances are, it never happened. Or if it did, it was not a formally arranged ‘masque’ with professional or experienced performers so much as hastily arranged entertainment employing whoever was near at hand. A presentation on the dangers of using single source descriptions of court events was a good way to end what was a fantastic conference.