German Identity in the Court Festivals of the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth century Holy Roman Empire
Author(s)Morris, Richard Leslie Michael
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AbstractThis thesis explores identity as it was portrayed, constructed, and upheld through court festivals within the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation in the period between the Peace of Augsburg in 1555 and the coronation of Friedrich V, Elector Palatine, as King of Bohemia in 1619. The thesis is made up of five inter-related thematic chapters. Chapter I analyses the role of ‘Lineage, Legitimacy, and History’. This chapter acknowledges the enduring importance of lineage, genealogy, and history to noble legitimacy, and discusses the threats and questions posed by newly rising families. It demonstrates how competing claims and counter-claims to legitimacy were made as festival occasions attempted to weave their protagonists into the fabric of ‘German’ history together with an associated possession of ‘German’ virtues, and how these claims to legitimacy were buttressed by representations of popular acclaim. Chapter II discusses ‘Mortality, Masculinity, Femininity, and Mutability’. At festivals both the mortality of members of dynasties and gendered roles, ideals, and identities as noble men and women were visible. This chapter argues that the evidence of these festivals complicates any stark delineation between male and female identities, instead stressing the degree of mutability of these categories as well as the centrality of virtue demonstrated, primarily, through skill. The themes of mutability and virtue continue into Chapter III, which addresses ‘Nature and the German Land’. Festivals often incorporated performed claims to possession of, and endorsement from, the German land itself. The land and its topographical features could be represented within cities as part of festival occasions, or the journeys to, and between elements of, festivals could incorporate the landscape into the rhetoric of these spectacles. This rhetoric could be confessionalised and politicised, but representations of nature also served to bolster a universalising rhetoric of virtue through the skilled manipulation of nature to the whim of the ruler. Chapter IV deals with the theme of ‘Religion, Piety, and Confessional Difference’. It discusses the role which displays of piety, including humility before God and the Church, played in these occasions, and draws out elements of confessionalised rhetoric present. However, the analysis shows that directly antagonistic religious imagery and language, seen elsewhere in European festival culture, does not feature. Instead, the emphasis is on non-divisive language and a unifying notion of Christendom. This was, of course, set against the dipole of the ‘Other’ which is addressed in Chapter V, ‘Language, Custom, Othering, and Unity’. Festivals drew attendees from across Europe and often included performed representations of non-Christian ‘Others’ such as Turks, Moors, and inhabitants of the New World. While the foreign, even the Ottoman, could be seen as exotic and luxurious, a rhetoric of superiority nurtured through appropriation and trivialisation of the threat which the Ottomans posed again contributed to the creation of common notions of identity. Finally, far from being an impediment to common identity, the meeting and use of different languages at festivals also served to highlight skill, learning, and virtue in the rhetoric of identity at these occasions.