by Jonas Bechtold
Early modern court historiography has been very productive in the twentieth and twenty-first century. Researchers dealing with the history of princely courts in Europe can have great use of this variety, but when being new in the field researchers and students may be seeking for orientation. With the intention of giving an – albeit limited – overview, this post is going to present some of the most important works on European courts, their networks and functioning:
A useful introduction to a number of important European courts between 1500 and 1750 can be found in the essays collected by John Adamson in “The Princely Courts of Europe. Ritual, Politics and Culture under the Ancien Régime 1500–1750”, (London, 2000). The volume contains an introduction and twelve essays, each presenting a different European court (Spain, France/Navarra, England/Great Britain, United Provinces, Holy See, Austria/Bohemia, Bavaria, Brandenburg/Prussia, Savoy/Sardinia, Tuscany, Sweden, Russia). Each article discuess the ceremonial and architectural settings of the court in question, describes the princely household contained within it, and explains court life. This volume provides a very good overview but, anyone beyond the most general readers will find that they have to read up on more specialized studies on the courts they are particularly interested in.
One of these is Jeroen Dunidam’s comparative work on the courts of “Vienna and Versailles. The Courts of Europe’s Dynastic Rivals 1550–1780”. The author analyses expenditures and daily routines, as well as the roles of favourites at court and their connection to politics. The broad temporal scope of the study is combined with in-depth source work and yields important new interpretations on the role of courts in state-building and criticized Norbert Elias from new angles.
The German scholar Leonhard Horowski presented in his remarkable PhD thesis a detailled prosopographical study on French noble court members starting 1661, the year Louis XIV began to rule independently, and up until the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789. In “Die Belagerung des Thrones” published in 2012 (reviewed here by Andreas Pečar), Horowski analysies the lives and careers of 687 court members awarded a dukedom, a first rang court office (as it was in the King’s, the Queen’s or the Royal children’s households) or an Order of the Holy Spirit. Based on these results, the author analyses the famous court “factions” in Versailles and the role of the noblility at the French court, their marrying politics, financial and economic backgrounds and politcal motivations. He stresses the nobility’s important influence during this entire period. Old noble families played a major part in French court system and hence in French politics.