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Clio and the Crown

The Politics of History in Medieval and Early Modern Spain

Richard L. Kagan

Publication Year: 2009

Monarchs throughout the ages have commissioned official histories that cast their reigns in a favorable light for future generations. These accounts, sanctioned and supported by the ruling government, often gloss over the more controversial aspects of a king's or queen’s time on the throne. Instead, they present highly selective and positive readings of a monarch’s contribution to national identity and global affairs. In Clio and the Crown, Richard L. Kagan examines the official histories of Spanish monarchs from medieval times to the middle of the 18th century. He expertly guides readers through the different kinds of official histories commissioned: those whose primary focus was the monarch; those that centered on the Spanish kingdom as a whole; and those that celebrated Spain’s conquest of the New World. In doing so, Kagan also documents the life and work of individual court chroniclers, examines changes in the practice of official history, and highlights the political machinations that influenced the redaction of such histories. Just as world leaders today rely on fast-talking press officers to explain their sometimes questionable actions to the public, so too did the kings and queens of medieval and early modern Spain. Monarchs often went to great lengths to exert complete control over the official history of their reign, physically intimidating historians, destroying and seizing manuscripts and books, rewriting past histories, and restricting history writing to authorized persons. Still, the larger practice of history writing—as conducted by nonroyalist historians, various scholars and writers, and even church historians—provided a corrective to official histories. Kagan concludes that despite its blemishes, the writing of official histories contributed, however imperfectly, to the practice of historiography itself.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Contents

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pp. vii-9

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Preface

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pp. ix-xii

This book has been long, probably too long, in the making. I first started thinking about the uses, as opposed to the idea and practice, of history back in the 1980s, when I was working on the history of Toledo, Spain’s imperial city, in the era of its most famous artist, Doménikos Theotokópoulos, a.k.a. El Greco (1547–1614). My inquiries into this topic included reading histories by various Toledan scholars interested in documenting their city’s past. Upon further consideration, I came...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xiii-xiv

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INTRODUCTION: Official History

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pp. 1-15

I begin with a short drama. The place: London. The year: 1616. The setting: not the Globe, Shakespeare’s theater, but the royal residence at Whitehall. The principal characters are a king, an ambassador, a prisoner, and a book, all of whom play themselves. The king is James I, ruler of England and Scotland, their thrones...

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CHAPTER 1: Empire and History

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pp. 16-56

‘‘Language has always been the companion of empire.’’1 This memorable and oft-quoted phrase, included in the prologue of Antonio de Nebrija’s Gramática Castellana of 1492, proved prophetic. In the months and years that followed, language for the Spanish monarchy became a tool of conquest, helping its missionaries...

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CHAPTER 2: Historia pro Persona: Emperor Charles V

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pp. 57-93

In June 1550, traveling aboard ship on the River Rhine, the emperor Charles V began writing his memoirs with help of his aide-de-camp, Guillaume van M

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CHAPTER 3: Historia pro Patria: Philip II [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 94-123

On 13 September 1598, only hours after learning about the death of Philip II, Francesco Soranzo, the Venetian ambassador at the Spanish court, wrote to inform the Doge and Senate of the momentous news. ‘‘The king is dead,’’ the dispatch began. ‘‘His Majesty expired at the Escorial this morning at daybreak, after having...

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CHAPTER 4: “His Majesty’s History”

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pp. 124-149

In 1589 Justus Lipsius and Giovanni Botero lived almost at opposite ends of Europe, Lipsius in Leiden, Botero in Turin. Lipsius was a borderline Calvinist, almost a politique, although one who was reconciled to the Roman Church in a matter of years, Botero a Jesuit with orthodox Catholic beliefs. Despite these differences, the two shared similar political ideas, as both were practically charter...

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CHAPTER 5: Defending Imperium

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pp. 150-200

On or around May 24, 1596, having had just learned of his appointment as cronista mayor de las Indias, an office dedicated to writing the history of Spain’s empire in the Indies, Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas made the two-day trek from Madrid to San Lorenzo de El Escorial in order to meet with Spain’s aging...

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CHAPTER 6: “To Mortify Our Enemies”: History and Propaganda at the Court of Philip IV

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pp. 201-250

In 1628, shortly after Louis XIII had honored him with the title of historiographe de France, Charles Sorel announced his idea for a new history of the French monarchy in his Avertissement sur l’histoire de la monarchie française. A former novelist, Sorel explained that he wanted this history to be popular and ‘‘agréable,’’ and he proposed to...

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CHAPTER 7: Critical History or Official History?

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pp. 251-289

At the close of the seventeenth century, official history, in Spain at least, was nearing the end of what had been an extraordinarily successful run. Starting in the thirteenth century with the workshops of Alfonso X, it had taken many different forms: sprawling general histories centered...

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CONCLUSION: Rethinking Official History

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pp. 290-300

I have done little in the preceding chapters to offer a complete survey of Spanish historiography during the centuries covered in this book. Official historians of the kind I examine represent but a tiny percentage of Spain’s important but still somewhat understudied community of historians. Starting already in the fourteenth century, historians who worked independently, without benefit of royal...

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 301-333

Index

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pp. 335-342

Illustrations

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E-ISBN-13: 9781421401652
E-ISBN-10: 1421401657
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801892943
Print-ISBN-10: 0801892945

Page Count: 376
Illustrations: 12 halftones, 1 line drawing
Publication Year: 2009