Magna Carta and the Declaration des droits de l’homme: a one day event

The Franco-British Council, the Franco-British Lawyers’ Society and the Franco-British Connections would like to invite you on 11th of June, at Lancaster House to a day seminar on the impact of Magna Carta and the Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen on our societies through history.

Key speakers including Lord Sumption, SE Sylive Bermann, Pr Etienne Picard, Keith Vaz MP, Pr Robert Tombs, Rt Hon Lady Justice Arden, Judge Bernard Stirn, Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC MP, Jean-Paul Costa, Shami Chakrabarti, will be answering questions such as :

  • How have these documents shaped the relationship between those who govern and citizens today?
  • Should Europe have more or less power over its member states?
  • Do the domestic political classes need to regain legitimacy?
  • Do religions have a legitimate right to be exempted from the domain of free speech?
  • Are the secular settlements of Europe secure?

Please find more information and the agenda of the seminar here. The proceedings will be conducted in English

We are grateful to the French Embassy and the Foreign Office for supporting this event.

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A new audio project/ Un nouveau project audio

We’re looking for some volunteers to talk about their research for a possible future Franco-British Network audio project. This is likely to take the form of a short interview with one of us here at [Network HQ], probably over Skype (or some other VOIP software). We’re keen to have people at any stage in their careers, and no preparation is required. The aim is to increase the profile of members and stimulate discussion. Interested parties should email our IT officer, Richard Gough-Thomas at by April 30th at the latest.

Nous cherchons quelques volontaires pour un nouveau projet audio du réseau, probablement sous la forme d’un petit entretien en utilisant le Skype, ou un autre type de logiciel VOIP. Nous cherchons des gens de toutes étapes de leurs carrières, et aucune préparation ne sera nécessaire. Ceci a pour but d’élargir le profil de nos membres, et de créer la discussion. Si vous êtes intéressé, il faut contacter notre officier informatique, Richard Gough-Thomas à avant le 30 Avril.

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CfP: Anglo-French Information Exchange in the Long Sixteenth Century: An Interdisciplinary Workshop

Friday 26 June 2015, IHR, London


Organisers: Sara Barker (University of Leeds), Stefania Gargioni (University of Kent)

& David Potter (University of Kent)


The sixteenth century represents a critical moment in the history of England’s complex relations with France. At the beginning of the century, only Calais remained of the once-extensive English possessions on the other side of the Channel. The early 1560s saw an intriguing new development as England gained important allies in France, the Huguenots. The reign of Elizabeth I was characterised by both the marriage negotiations between the Tudor Queen and the sons of Catherine de’ Medici and a somewhat problematic English interest in the French Civil Wars, an interest that reached through to the 1620s.


These political connections between England and France were mirrored by cultural links between the two countries, particularly in the area of non-literary exchange. Drawing on the recent scholarship in the field of both cultural and book history, this study day aims to investigate the various kinds of networks that were channelling information between France and England during the sixteenth century. Attention will be given not only to printing, but also to the circulation of information, intelligence and news in oral form and in manuscripts.


By bringing together both emerging and established scholars interested in this research topic, this workshop aims to re-evaluate the importance of Anglo-French information networks during the long sixteenth century, and to identify future areas of collaboration and research.


We invite papers, discussion sessions and work-in-progress reports on the following and related topics:


–       Translations of non-literary texts between English and French

–       The circulation of French books in England and English books in France

–       Identifying intelligence and information

–       The circulation of news and information between England and France

–       Editorial practices concerned with printed news and information texts

–       Manuscripts and the circulation of information

–       Epistolary and Diplomatic Networks

–       People as information conduits

–       Oral information transmission





To submit a proposal or for more information, please contact the organisers at


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Fabricating Nobility? Genealogy and Social Mobility among Franco-Scottish Families in the Early Modern Period

Steve Murdoch

Read the full article this blog is based on here


Seventeenth-century Europe witnessed a dramatic increase in social mobility, particularly from the lower into the upper-strata of society. This breakdown of a seemingly impervious barrier between the high and low born caused quite a degree of resentment. Long-standing noble families in many countries found their elite status challenged by people from non-noble backgrounds; these were those who had earned royal favour through their aptitude for warfare, commerce, administration and invention.[1] In Scotland this process occurred through the creation of a nobility of service, particularly in the reign of James VI & I. Under this king opportunities also opened up for some Scots in England, Ireland, and even in the New World through the creation of the baronetcies of Nova Scotia.[2] While opportunities were created within the king’s dominions, many more were opening up for the thousands of educated civilian and military Scots who sought to make their fortune abroad. Among the soldiering class in particular there was a growing belief that birth and lineage were actually worth less than the ‘personal virtue’ they could display on the battlefield.

The delineation between higher and lower nobility was seen in France where resistance by the older nobility (noblesse d’épee) to the new nobility of service (noblesse des robes) was strong. Numerous scholarly works have been written contrasting the perceived nobility of ‘personal virtue’ as opposed to a ‘nobility of lineage’ in early modern France.[3] These studies highlight that by the mid-1600s, some of the virtuous sought to ‘prove’ they were also of noble origin as well. They would do so by claiming to be descendents of immigrants of high birth who had arrived in France from abroad generations previously.

In 1666, Jean-Baptiste Colbert introduced a new investigation into “usurpers of the title of nobility” – one in a line of recherches into false claimants of nobility stretching back to the 1540s.[4] The main reason behind this was to return these ‘false nobles’ to the various tax-rolls and thus claim revenue from them. Despite such actions by the French authorities, a number of dubious claims to ancient nobility continued throughout the early modern period. Ironically, no less a figure than Colbert himself has been accused of such genealogical deception. He sent a secretary to Edinburgh in the late 1660s to ascertain the origins and migration patterns of Scots called Colbert (or any similar sounding name), who had travelled to France in the preceding centuries, in the hope of ‘finding’ his Scottish pedigree.[5] In order to understand why Colbert sought a Scottish origin, we must consider that, in France, there was something of a feeling that the Scots too easily claimed to be of noble origins or even claimed a blood relationship to the Stewart ruling dynasty leading to the maxim – Tous les Stuarts ne sont pas cousins du roi d’Ecosse.[6]

Jean-Baptiste Colbert’s grandfather had been a merchant in Reims and general controller of the king’s salt stores, but was not a nobleman and only known by the title of “honourable Mr Colbert”.[7] However, there were positions available by the mid-seventeenth century that brought with them a guarantee of ennoblement after a specified period of time and, importantly, for a price.[8] Thus the opportunity for ennoblement came for Jean-Baptiste Colbert on 19 June 1655 when he was offered the post of secretary to the king, which would lead to nobility after 20 years of service and a large injection of cash to the French treasury.

According to some accounts, the Abbot of Choisy reported that in the church of Cordeliers of Reims, Colbert had a headstone removed which bore the epitaph of his grand-father, the merchant, and replaced it with another which was engraved “Here lies the knight Richard Colbert, called the Scotsman …1300. Pray for his soul”. Heraldic symbols were added to the tomb along with the motto “En Ecosse j’eus de berceau, Et Rheins m’donne le tombeau” – “Scotland gave me life, Reims gave me death”.[9] This inscription is frequently reproduced in studies mentioning Colbert, often accepting its authenticity unquestioningly, and leading to the perpetuation of the myth that Colbert himself was keen to promote.[10]

After many years of correspondence, on 29 July 1681, a document arrived in France, allegedly confirmed in 1687, stating that the Colbert barons of Castlehill were the common ancestors of the Scottish and French Colberts, leading to a host of genealogies tracing the family back to an Edward Colbert, born in 1284. The story continued that he was of a well-known family in Scotland, and that he travelled to France in the Scottish guard of Louis Hutin before settling and marrying in Reims in 1314.[11] The problem with the 1687 ‘confirmation’ is that it was only signed by some members of the Scottish Colbert family and thus is not official confirmation of anything. It is rather illustrative of the assumed kinship discussed earlier: a wish for the relationship described to be as it was written by the Colberts themselves.

Seeking proof of family origin in itself was not necessarily proof of trying to hoodwink the authorities of a new nation into believing the applicant was of noble origin – rather it was so that they could establish their roots and prove they were of ‘good standing’ in the community. However, if they subsequently used their proof in a dubious manner – or if the authorities in France, or elsewhere, misread such genealogies as proof of nobility – then the Scottish authorities can hardly be held responsible. Indeed the reverse seems to be true, and if anything, they seem to have been most rigorous in ensuring that only those with legitimate claims successfully navigated the system. Fraudulent claimants like Colbert, if indeed he ever applied, were rejected at such an early phase in the process that evidence of his attempts still await discovery in the archives.

Professor Steve Murdoch is based at St Andrews’ University, learn more about his research here.

[1] Mettam, 1995, p. 144.

[2] Brown, 2004, pp. 9-21.

[3] Bitton, 1969, pp. 77-177; Bohanan, 2001, pp. 7-31; Wood, 2001, pp. 71-95.

[4] Wood, 1980, pp. 26-44.

[5] Vergé-Franceschi, 2003, p. 146.

[6] I would like to thank Professor Christian Civardi for bringing this expression to my attention.

[7] Vergé-Franceschi, 2003, p. 410; DBF, IX, pp. 185-189.

[8] Mettam, 1995, p. 115.

[9] Vergé-Franceschi, 2003, p. 415.

[10] Kay & Maclean, 1985, p. 74.

[11] Vergé-Franceschi, 2003, p. 417.

Featured image: Wikicommons

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Comparing and connecting criminal biography in Early Modern England and France/ Comparer les biographies de criminels anglaises et françaises de l’époque moderne

Léa Lebourg-Leportier

(En francais ci dessous)

Adapted from a paper given at the inaugral conference for the Franco-British network ‘Channel Connections’ 11-12th September 2014, Humanities Research Institute, Sheffield.

Sourced from

Sourced from


This post focuses on connections and thematic similarities between English and French criminal biographies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As Françoise du Sorbier and, more recently, Lise Andries have underlined, Early Modern English and French criminal biographies differed in many ways: in terms of quantity (the corpus was much larger in England), chronology (criminal biographies developed earlier in England), and themes (especially in terms of the link between the stories told in the biographies and official judicial discourse). These differences may be explained partly by the nature of English and French judicial systems of the period. Criminal procedure was public in England which allowed for a wider dissemination of judicial news than in France where criminal procedure was secret. However, despite these differences, comparative study of English and French criminal biographies reveal that Channel-connections existed, as well as some commonalities that partly came from shared textual traditions such as rogue literature.

Firstly, this paper presented some examples of connections and exchanges. To some extent, English and French corpora enriched one another. Biographies of some of the most famous criminals such as Louis-Dominique Cartouche or John Sheppard were translated, and some texts were based on foreign cases. For example, A Narrative of the Proceedings in France, which is often attributed to Daniel Defoe, relates the crimes of two French criminals, Le Febvre and Bizeau, who had attacked English travellers and the compilation Derniers sentiments des plus illustres personnages condamnés à mort recounts the lives of mostly English public figures. Furthermore, foreign outlaws were sometimes referred to in criminal biographies to provide comparison.

Besides these connections, comparative study of English and French criminal biographies also shows thematic similarities. In both countries, criminal biographies epitomized what Michel Foucault has depicted in Discipline and punish as a contradiction between a proclaimed didactic aim (more or less foregrounded depending on the text) and an emphasis on the sensational and transgressive dimension of the crimes described. For instance, some texts portrayed criminals through positive motifs that can be found both in England and France. For example, Guilleri and William Page were presented as brave and daring outlaws who could have been great soldiers (in England this kind of characterisation was linked to the gentleman highwayman tradition). Similarly, as shown in Guilleri’s, Cartouche’s and Sheppard’s biographies, thieves were sometimes depicted as cunning and facetious. This last motif echoes rogue literature which often presented the world of marginality humorously. This textual tradition, which developed in Europe in the sixteenth century, depicted the fraud and theft techniques of beggars. These texts had a long-lasting impact on the imagery of criminality which is visible in criminal biographies. As in rogue literature, some of these texts focused on criminals as a group rather than on individuals. As Louis-Dominique Cartouche’s and Jonathan Wild’s biographies show, criminal biographies sometimes presented criminal typologies, described thieves’ specialities and provided information on thieves’ secret languages which recalls sixteenth-century cant lexicons.

Thus, comparative study of these two corpora reveal their differences but also their similarities which seem all the more interesting since English and French editorial and judicial contexts were so different. Furthermore, comparative study seems to be a useful tool for assessing the extent to which criminal biographies oscillated between repetition of traditional motifs and development of new ways of representing criminality.

Léa is a doctoral student at Paris IV Sorbonne, her profile can be found here.

Cartouche, from

Cartouche, from


Comparer les biographies de criminels anglaises et françaises de l’époque moderne

Cette communication s’est intéressée aux liens et aux similarités thématiques qui existent entre les biographies de criminels anglaises et françaises à l’époque moderne. Comme Françoise du Sorbier et plus récemment Lise Andries l’ont souligné, les biographies de criminels anglaises et françaises de l’époque moderne diffèrent sous plusieurs aspects : quantitativement (le corpus est plus abondant en Angleterre), chronologiquement (le développement des biographies de criminel est plus précoce en Angleterre) et thématiquement (notamment en ce qui concerne le rapport du récit et de la parole juridique). On peut expliquer partiellement ces différences en invoquant la nature des systèmes juridiques anglais et français de l’époque. La procédure criminelle publique en Angleterre permettait une exploitation commerciale des nouvelles juridiques plus vaste qu’en France où la procédure était secrète. Cependant, l’étude comparée des biographies de criminels anglaises et françaises ne met pas au jour que des différences. Il existait à la fois des échanges entre ces deux corpus et des points communs thématiques qui sont en partie dus à l’influence de traditions textuelles comme la littérature de gueuserie.

Dans une certaine mesure, les corpus de biographies de criminels anglaises et françaises sont enrichis mutuellement à l’époque moderne. Les biographies de certains criminels très connus comme Louis-Dominique Cartouche ou John Sheppard ont été traduites et certains textes s’appuient sur des cas étrangers. Par exemple, A Narrative of the Proceedings in France, qui est souvent attribué à Daniel Defoe, raconte les crimes de deux français, Le Febvre et Bizeau, qui s’en étaient pris à des voyageurs anglais et le recueil Derniers sentiments des plus illustres personnages condamnés à mort s’appuie en grande partie sur des cas anglais. De plus, les biographies font parfois référence à des criminels étrangers qui servent de points de comparaison.

En dehors de ces échanges, l’étude comparée des biographies de criminels met au jour des motifs de représentation communs. On observe dans les deux corpus un balancement que Michel Foucault décrit dans Surveiller et punir entre un dessein moral et didactique affiché (plus ou moins marqué selon les cas) et une mise en valeur de la dimension sensationnelle et transgressive des faits rapportés. Certains textes présentent par exemple le hors-la-loi à travers des motifs positifs que l’on retrouve de part et d’autre de la Manche. Par exemple, Guilleri et William Page, sont parfois représentés comme des brigands forts et audacieux qui auraient pu devenir de grands soldats (en Angleterre, ce type de représentation est associé à la tradition du gentleman highwayman). De même, comme le montrent les biographies de Guilleri, Cartouche et Sheppard, les voleurs sont parfois peints comme des individus rusés et facétieux. Ce dernier type de représentation rappelle la tradition de la littérature de gueuserie qui décrit assez volontiers le monde de la marginalité et de la criminalité sur un mode léger. Ces textes qui se sont développés au XVIe siècle en Europe exposaient les techniques d’escroquerie et de vol des mendiants. Cette tradition marque durablement l’imaginaire de la marginalité et les biographies des criminels portent la trace de cet héritage. Comme dans la littérature de gueuserie, certaines biographies s’attardent davantage sur les criminels en tant que groupe plutôt que sur un individu en particulier. Comme le montrent les textes concernant Louis-Dominique Cartouche et Jonathan Wild, on trouve parfois dans les biographies des typologies des criminels qui peuplent les bas-fonds, la description des spécialités des voleurs ou des informations sur le langage qu’ils utilisent entre eux qui font écho aux lexiques de jargon du XVIe siècle.

L’étude comparée de ces deux corpus permet de mettre en valeur leurs différences mais aussi des points communs qui paraissent d’autant plus intéressants qu’ils ne vont pas de soi puisque les contextes juridiques et éditoriaux anglais et français étaient très différents. De plus, elle semble être un outil intéressant pour évaluer la mesure selon laquelle ces textes oscillent entre la reprise de motifs traditionnels et le développement de nouvelles façons de représenter la criminalité.

Léa est doctorant à Paris IV Sorbonne, son profil se trouve ici.

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“You sparks who have to Paris rid…”: Dennis & Eccles’ Rinaldo and Armida (1698), and the politics of adaptation

This post is a summary of a paper delivered by Michael Lee of Queens University Belfast at the Channel Connections Conference that took place 11-12th September 2014, University of Sheffield. Si vous aimerez le lire en francais contactez Anna Jenkin (

Dennis_R&A title page

This paper argues that Rinaldo and Armida, a ‘dramatick’ opera by John Dennis and composer John Eccles, utilised and indeed promoted the imagery of Williamite myth- making. The opera was partly based on Armide (1686), the hugely successful tragédie en musique by Philippe Quinault and Jean-Baptiste Lully, and also more generally followed the Armida/Rinaldo romance in Tasso’s Renaissance epic Gerusalemme liberata (‘The Liberation of Jerusalem’ – available in English translation by 1600). Adaptations formed an important part of the post-Commonwealth theatrical repertory, and William Davenant’s Shakespearean adaptations in the 1660s (notably Macbeth, and The Tempest, or The Enchanted Island) also contributed to the development of dramatick opera on the English stage. It was not unknown for well-known narratives to be re-formed for the theatre in ways that could be interpreted politically. This was especially so during the Exclusion Crisis of the 1670s and early ’80s, a case in point being Nahum Tate’s ironically now-infamous happy-ending version of King Lear, produced in 1681.

Armide_Berain costumes

Costume designs for Lully’s Armide by Jean Berain (1686)

The Lear and Cordelia of that production, Thomas Betterton and Elizabeth Barry, serve as a useful link; seventeen years later we find them still together, this time as the title lovers of Rinaldo and Armida. Its story of the crusader knight Rinaldo being lured by, but eventually escaping, the Saracen enchantress Armida – in Tasso’s richly allusive epic – was already popular. Evoking Odysseus and Circe, or Dido and Aeneas, from classical literature, Armida and her magic function as the main obstacle to Rinaldo’s eventual achievement of glory and virtue, which in turn serves as a microcosm for the victory of the Christian faith over both its own divisions (the poem was in part a product of the Counter-Reformation) and the pagan infidel. Popular at the French royal court, this romance was used in ballets as early as 1617, but the tale was most famously re-staged in 1686 as Armide, the final fruit of the partnership between writer Philippe Quinault and composer Jean-Baptiste Lully. Revived in Paris as many as three times, most recently in 1697, if London audiences in 1698 had any sense of this romantic story as a stage work it would surely have been in this context.

unnamed (1)

Given Dennis’ Whiggish patriotism – and the fact that up to the previous year, England and France had been at war – it was surely an unusual time to adapt a successful French opera. As the prologue to the new work suggests, however, this was no straightforward revision:

Then all you Sparks who have to Paris Rid,

And there heard Lullys Musical Armide;

And Ye too, who at home have Tasso read,

This in precaution to you must be said;

Armida’s Picture we from Tasso Drew,

And yet it may Resembling seem to few;

For here you see no soft bewitching Dame,

Using Incentives to the Amorous Game,

And with affected, Meretricious Arts,

Secretly Sliding into Hero’s Hearts.

That was an Errour in the Italian Muse…

Dennis purposely adapts Tasso’s characters to suit the morality with which he invests the drama. Armida, shorn of the moral ambiguity that makes her such an arresting character in the texts of both Quinault and Tasso, becomes a tragic heroine who ultimately suffers and dies – arguably evoking the female protagonists of the so- called she-tragedies with which actress Elizabeth Barry was especially associated. If the clear separation of good and evil on the stage was considered necessary to ensure political and social order, then Dennis’ adaptation certainly matches that aim.


Music and drama are unusually well-integrated in this work, and in terms of musical dramaturgy Rinaldo and Armida presents a tantalising attempt at reforming the awkward structure of Purcellian opera, with its loosely-connected sequences of dramatic and musical scenes. As Dennis describes elsewhere, “all the Musick in this play, even the Musick between the Acts, is part of the Tragedy, and for that Reason the Musick is always Pathetick”. Even the players in the theatre band were to be imagined as part of the drama, as successively good, then evil, spirits, filling the stage with music. The third-act masque of Venus and Cupid (performed for Rinaldo’s benefit), involves choral singing and dancing that arguably mirrors Lullian dramaturgy, raising by implication the idea of music as an ironic, theatrical effect. To have French Armide thus recalled in Rinaldo and Armida principally in moments of moral danger, where (foreign) music threatens to cause the characters’ judgment to be overwhelmed, certainly harmonises with the work’s wider political context. As the epilogue announces, only those who avoided the recently-ended war against the forces of Louis XIV would find something to criticise in Rinaldo’s decisive actions:

But you, who to your Country and your Fame,

Great Souls, still sacrific’d your Amorous Flame:

Who in each Spring, the season of Desire,

Left the Bright Dames, that set your Souls on Fire;

To follow William, forcing France to yeild,

And hunting Glory thro’ the Dusty Field:

You sure with Pleasure should Rinaldo view,

Who less deserves Immortal Fame than you…

Here we see reflected the new patriotism of the post-Revolutionary England of William III and, indirectly, the securing of the Peace of Ryswick in 1697, with the character of Rinaldo constructing what could be called a new “English heroism.”

Literature, whether printed or performed, played an important role in the cultural conflict between France and England, with the differences between French absolutism and English constitutionalism played out in such works as Charles Montague’s panegyric ode An Epistle to the Earl of Dorset (1690). Written after the defeat of Louis XIV’s allies at the battle of the Boyne, the poem’s didacticism underlined a self-awareness of styles of praise within the poem, as Montague satirically imagines if William III were French – “Opera’s [would] repeat no other Sound; / Boyne wou’d for Ages, be the Painter’s Theam…” Indicating the relationship between policy and poetry in Whig culture, Montague, as one of the earliest identifiably ‘Whig’ writers, by contrast praises William III and his generals not as exemplary symbols of heroic fame, but rather as the implied guarantors of English liberty, the Whig aesthetic only accepting the trappings of absolutism ironically. Similarly, in Rinaldo and Armida music may well charm, but it is ultimately passed over in favour of the plain speech of victory, with this adaptation turning a symbol of France’s cultural fame on its head.

Michael recently completed a PhD in early opera at Queens University Belfast. His academia page can be found here.

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First review in! Premier compte-rendu!

The first conference review by delegate Gabor Gelleri of Unviersity of Aberystwyth can be found here: Gabor gives us a great overview into some of the (many) highlights of the conference.

Voilà le premier compte rendu du colloque qui vient du délégué Gabor Gelleri de l’université d’Aberystwyth: Gabor nous donne une bonne introduction à quelques des moments les plus marquants du colloque (dont il en avait plusieurs!).

Gabor’s research blog can be found here:
Vous pouvez trouver l’autre blog du Gabor ici:

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Conference news: Nouvelles du colloque

On Thursday and Friday we hosted the first conference of the Franco-British network entitled ‘Channel Connections’. The event was a roaring success, watch this space for more information about the wide range of stimulating discussions that went on during the two days. As a teaser, check out this storify for a summary of some of the wonderful twitter activity that was going on during the conference:


Nous avons accueilli le premier colloque du réseau Franco-Britannique ce jeudi et vendredi, sous le titre ‘de l’autre côté de la manche.’ C’était un grand succès, et vous trouverez ici bientôt des rapports concernant les discussions variées qui ont eu lieu. Mais, pour commencer, vous pouvez suivre un ‘storify’ de la forte activité sur twitter durant les deux journées du colloque.

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Why do comparative studies of France and the British Isles in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries?/ Pourquoi faire des études comparatives de la France et les Iles Britannqiues au 17e et 18e siècles?



This network has been set up with the central aim of encouraging discussions between scholars of France and the British Isles during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Such discussions will hopefully provide an important context for scholars of both nations. But why is such a context important? What can we learn by thinking about these two nations in comparison with one another?

We have come a long way from Marc Bloch’s 1923 article ‘Towards a comparative history of societies’. Bloch saw comparative methodologies as based very much upon comparing statistics on economic dynamics and population changes representing two different ‘nations’. While excellent work has been produced in this mould for seventeenth and eighteenth century Britain and France, in particular by Georges Rudé, such an approach has not been without its problems. Most important is the question of whether the societies of Britain or France can really be described as ‘nations’ for these centuries; are they instead a disparate structure of interlocking and clashing groups, affected in different ways by European, national and local dynamics of change?

There is more to comparison, then, than comparing columns in a spreadsheet. Yet there has been a considerable amount of unease from historians towards the possibilities of comparative cultural history. Such unease comes from a wider definition of culture as the icing on the top of the societal cake, while cultural historians are instead redefining it as a central ingredient: that is to say, culture is not merely the product of social and economic dynamics, it influences as much as it is influenced. Therefore comparing cultures is not so different from comparing economies: it requires a rigorous self-awareness that developments did not occur in a vacuum, but can also be equally fruitful. It must also be remembered that literary scholars and art historians, unencumbered by dubious cake metaphors, have been happily and successfully comparing cultural products of Britain and France for decades. Historians are perhaps overthinking the obstacles of comparative cultural history, and should instead just get on with it.

Yet while drawing upon both French and British cultures has proven fruitful, it is important not to deal with the cultures interchangeably. Such an approach misses out on a great deal of analytical opportunities by failing to recognise that just because cultural outputs from the two nations follow similar media forms, and often draw upon similar tropes, the dynamics behind the creation of the works may not be the same. Works which are essentially on Britain OR France rather than Britain AND France will miss half of the story. But at the same time that we seek to distinguish British and French culture, however, we must also remember that neither existed in a vacuum, and a number of new works (including those created by network members) illustrate the importance of interactions between the two nations on separate developments in each.

France and Britain make excellent partners for comparison, more so, I would (perhaps foolishly) suggest, than any other two contemporary European nations. The differing political events of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in these two nations interacted with wider European dynamics of urbanisation, economic growth and collapse, industrialisation, population growth, rises in literacy and printing and religious pluralisation to create two societies at once utterly unique and yet also closely connected to each-other. The different results of the English Civil War and the Fronde set the two nations on dramatically different political paths, with each becoming a sort of anarchic spectre used to enforce order in the other. While both experienced widespread urbanisation and economic growth, both spent a great deal of time embroiled in naval warfare (with eachother) and both underwent the cultural developments of the Enlightenment, the events of the eighteenth century drew the two nations towards very different finales. While print production in Britain spiralled following the expiry of the licensing act, in France much printing remained underground as absolutist censorship continued to control much cultural production.

Comparative history, or at least the provision of a comparative context, allows the scholar to single out particular developments or dynamics as unique and as more likely to have been the driving force behind particular historical events or cultural products. France and Britain, with such essential similarities and differences, and communities that were so integrally interwoven throughout the period, provide excellent counterparts to one another.

This network is still in an early stage, but already boasts over 100 members, and has attracted interest from a variety of other institutions and organisations. Several scholars have been in touch to say how important such an organisation will be. What are readers’ thoughts on the contribution that this network can make to current research? Do you agree with Britain and France as historical subjects providing particularly special opportunities for comparison? How do you justify a French/British focus within your own work?

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Ce réseau a été fondé dans le but fondamental d’encourager les échanges entre les chercheurs sur la France et les Îles Britanniques des 17e fourniront un cadre important pour les spécialistes des deux nations. Mais pourquoi un tel cadre est si important ? Que pouvons-nous apprendre en comparant ces deux nations ? Nous avons beaucoup avancé depuis la publication en 1923 de l’article de Marc Bloch, « Vers une histoire comparative des sociétés ». Bloch envisageait une méthodologie comparative fondée sur la comparaison des chiffres des dynamiques économiques et des changements des populations de deux nations distinctes. Même si on trouve des ouvrages excellents suivant cette méthode pour la France et les Iles Britanniques de cette période, en particulier celui de Georges Rudé, une telle approche ne va pas sans problèmes. Le principal réside dans le fait de définir les sociétés britannique et française de cette période comme des « nations » ; ne seraient-elles pas davantage des structures disparates de groupes à la fois entrelacés et opposés, touchés de manière différente par les changements à l’échelle européenne, nationale et locale.

Effectuer une telle comparaison est beaucoup plus complexe que d’opposer deux colonnes dans une feuille de calcul. A opérer une histoire comparative culturelle, on s’heurte à un grand nombre de difficultés. Ces dernières découlent d’une définition de la culture comme la cerise sur le gâteau sociétal, tandis que les historiens sont en train de la redéfinir comme l’un de ses ingrédients, certes fondamental. Autrement dit, la culture n’est pas simplement le produit de dynamiques sociales et économiques ; elle influence autant qu’elle est influencée. En conséquence, comparer deux cultures n’est pas si différent que de comparer deux économies : il est important de garder à l’esprit que ces développement s’inscrivent dans un contexte particulier, et une telle comparaison peut être aussi fructueuse. Il est important de se rappeler que les spécialistes littéraires et de l’histoire de l’art (dépourvus des métaphores des gâteaux !) ont comparé les produits culturels français et britanniques depuis plusieurs décennies avec beaucoup de succès. Il se peut que les historiens s’attardent trop sur les obstacles qui se dressent devant eux et devraient avancer en s’y confrontant.

Cependant, même si une approche se focalisant sur les cultures française et britannique a été féconde, il est important de ne pas traiter de ces deux cultures de manière interchangeable. Un telle approche manque en effet beaucoup d’opportunités analytiques en négligeant de reconnaître que les similarités des genres et des motifs dans la culture française et britannique n’impliquent pas une similarité des processus qui y conduisent. Les ouvrages portant essentiellement sur la Grande Bretagne OU la France plutôt que la Grande Bretagne ET la France manquent la moitié de l’histoire. Pointer les différences entre ces deux cultures ne doit pas amener à omettre les connections qui existent entre elles. Une série de nouveaux ouvrages (y compris les ouvrages des membres de ce réseau) démontrent en effet l’importance des interactions entre ces deux pays dans leur développement respectif.

La France et la Grande-Bretagne forment un couple idéal pour la comparaison, plus que, je suggérais (peut-être bêtement), n’importe quelle autre nation européenne contemporaine. Le fil des événements politiques des 17e et 18e siècles au sein de ces deux nations a interagi avec les changements à l’échelle européenne (comme l’urbanisation, la croissance économique, l’industrialisation, la croissance démographique, l’alphabétisme et l’imprimerie et la pluralisation religieuse) aboutissant à la formation de deux sociétés à la fois très différentes et interconnectées. Les résultats différents de la guerre civile anglaise et de la Fronde ont placé les deux nations sur des chemins politiques dramatiquement différents, chacun se servant de l’autre comme contre-modèle. Même si ces deux pays ont expérimenté l’accroissement urbain et la croissance économique, passé beaucoup de temps entraîné dans les guerres navales (luttant contre l’autre), et été touché par les développements culturels des Lumières, les événements de la fin du 18e siècle ont mené ces deux pays à un aboutissement très différent.

Bien qu’en Grande Bretagne la production des imprimés ait grandi dramatiquement après l’expiration de l’acte d’autorisation, en France, une large partie de la production des imprimés restait cachée, parce que la censure absolutiste continuait à contrôler une large part de la production culturelle. L’histoire comparative, ou du moins l’introduction d’un contexte comparatif, permet au spécialiste d’identifier des dynamiques historiques profondes au-delà des spécificités historiques et culturelles. La France et la Grande Bretagne, qui avaient des similarités et des différences si importantes, et qui contenaient des communautés qui étaient étroitement interconnectées tout au long de la période, sont les partenaires idéaux pour une telle méthode.

Ce réseau est encore très jeune, mais comprend déjà plus d’une centaine de membres. Des institutions et organisations variées ont manifesté beaucoup d’intérêts à son égard. Plusieurs spécialistes m’ont contacté pour exprimer le grand potentiel qu’ils voyaient dans cette organisation. Je demande au lecteur ce qu’il pense de la contribution de ce réseau à la recherche historique. Êtes-vous d’accord avec l’argument selon lequel la France et la Grande- Bretagne seraient des partenaires idéaux pour une étude comparative ? Comment justifiez- vous une concentration sur la France et la Grande Bretagne dans vos propres recherches ?

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Welcome to the network! Bienvenu au reseau!

(En francais au dessous)

Welcome to the website for the Franco-British network for seventeenth- and eighteenth-century research. This page will feature research blogs from members and will also act as a forum for online discussion. If you would like to write a blog for the network, or if you have any questions that you would like to ask of/debate with your fellow franco-british scholars please email


Bienvenue sur le site du réseau Franco-britannique des chercheurs du 17e et 18e siècles. On trouvera sur cette page des ‘blogs’ de recherche des membres ainsi qu’un forum pour la discussion en ligne. Si vous aimeriez écrire un blog pour le réseau, ou si vous avez des questions que vous voulez demander aux autres chercheurs, ou des sujets de débats importants, contactez

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