The Ties that Bind

This is the official blog of the research group ‘Practices of Power and Interpersonal Relationships at Dynastic Centres (1500-1800)’, which has its seat in the German Historical Institute in Paris. The group’s objective is the investigation of interpersonal relationships that defined and shaped power structures at court. The shifting constellations of these relations often decided over success or failure in the endeavour to create and rule stable polities. This project seeks to contribute to a better understanding of how social relationships and political practices of power relate to each other and indeed, as is our contention, build on one another in the context of early modern dynastic centres. We thereby seek to overcome public/private dichotomies, which are ill-equipped to describe early modern polities, yet are still entrenched in historiographical approaches to the topic of the court. To this day, most studies of dynastic centres as locations of practices of power can be divided into two categories. On the one hand we have studies of classical political history, focusing on the monarch and his (rarely her) ministers. These studies often approach dynastic centres as mere ruling bodies through which the men in power governed their territories without considering the social aspect of rule and the subjective agency of actors at court. On the other hand, there are studies of court societies with a sociological or anthropological focus, which provide insights into the structures of court societies, but which lack an important aspect of historical enquiry, namely the analysis of change and process. Instead, they identify and describe life trajectories against the backdrop of rather static sociological systems. This project has made it its aim to bridge these two approaches in order to reveal the crucial importance of social relationships for the political developments instigated by courtly society. We access courtly networks through the analysis of specific actors in their entanglement in political dynamics and power stratagems, using new approaches, combining methods of cultural, social, gender and political history. Furthermore, we are studying court societies from an explicitly transcultural viewpoint, in order not to constrain our findings within cultural limits and to avoid the retelling of a euro-centric master narrative. At stake is a deeper insight into the dynamics that shaped the power structures which provided the foundations for our contemporary societies.

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