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Reformation, Revolt and Civil War in France and the Netherlands, 1555-1585.

Philip Benedict, Guido Marnef, Henk van Nierop and Marc Venard, eds. Reformation, Revolt and Civil War in France and the Netherlands, 1555-1585.

Amsterdam: Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1999. vii + 298 pp. NG 95.00. ISBN: 90-6984-234-3.

Stuart Carroll. Noble Power during the French Wars of Religion: The Guise Affinity and the Catholic Cause in Normandy.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. 6 pls. + xv + 298 pp. $59.95. ISBN: 0-521-62404-5.

Scholarly interest in the discord and strife associated with the Reformation is deep and enduring. Among other things, the violence involved an explosive mix of politics and religion that we see replicated all too often. The volumes at hand offer, at the very least, fresh and innovative perspectives on the subject. The first suggests the value of the comparative approach: in this instance, the study of parallel developments in France and the Netherlands. The second study seizes upon the recent surge of research on the nobility and utilizes it to examine the Guise, a neglected yet leading Catholic family, which had a key role in the strident politics and militant religiosity of sixteenth-century France.

The articles gathered in Reformation, Revolt and Civil War in France and the Netherlands were originally presented as part of a conference held at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in October 1997. The contributors accentuate the similarities and interrelationships of French and Dutch developments, even as they point up significant differences. Nicolette Mout initiates the discussion with a lucid historiographic essay that pushes the issues well beyond the traditional contrast between the "destructive" character of the French Wars of Religion and the "liberating" nature of the Dutch Revolt. The fourteen essays that follow are paired, one concentrated on France, the other on the Netherlands. Together, they explore seven carefully selected themes. Here the editors are to be commended for their diligence in settling on substantial, informative topics and then promoting their comparative investigation. The results are impressive and, at times, highly original.

Two of the volume's editors, Philip Benedict and Guido Marnef, assess the dynamics of Calvinist militancy. How, to pose the obvious query; did goals for the reform of church and society lead so quickly to violence and conflict? In examining this and related problems, both essays underscore the central place of the religious component for understanding the clash. The concerns of Jean-Marie Constant and Henk van Nierop turn to the place of the nobility, one of the critical elements in the political crisis associated with the Reformation. Why did so many seemingly disaffected aristocrats opt to support the Reformed Church and, in the process, oppose the crown? The considerable problems surrounding political mobilization are taken up at length by Denis Crouzet and Alastair Duke. The principal concerns turned on perceptions of political rights and the defense of the public weal. Utilizing evidence in the form of pamphlets, handbills, emblems, medallions and badges, Crouzet and Duke cleverly analyze the propagandi sts of resistance and the ways in which their ideas acquired currency in the public sphere.

How, to change the confessional perspective, did Catholics confront and challenge the Protestant Reformation? Marc Venard and Joke Spaans detail the core beliefs and practices that united Catholics as well as the vectors for the gradual emergence of religious identity. Still, Spaans's views run counter to much of the interpretative structure which permeates the volume. She argues for the primacy of political motivation, especially among the aristocracy. In a shift of social groupings, the political tendencies among persons of middling status become the subject of Mario Turchetti and Juliaan Woltjer's contributions. Religious moderates were, by all accounts, prominent throughout the Netherlands and, in Turchetti's view, have frequently been overlooked or badly understood in the French kingdom.

No study of this sort would be complete without attention to policy at the highest governing levels. Olivier Christin explores the French monarchy's adjustment from its traditional opposition to "heresy" to a far more tolerant position during the early years of the religious wars. Fernando Gonz[acute{a}]lez de Le[acute{o}]n and Geoffrey Parker in their companion piece survey the grand strategy of Philip II. Finally, Mark Greengrass and James Tracy, in two of the more original chapters, examine the financial structures and representative institutions, which supported and sustained decades of armed combat in France and the Netherlands.

These comparative reflections emphasize fundamental historical problems, pose a series of crucial questions, and offer imaginative, if occasionally tentative, responses that transcend the customary, perhaps anachronistic, national context. It is not without a touch of irony, however, that a collection, which repeatedly represents the conflict as intrinsically religious, confines itself largely to the political and social domains. It passes over specific, comprehensive discussion of the religious dimension, excepting the chapters on Catholicism by Venard and Spaans.

Stuart Carroll's Noble Power during the French Wars of Religion investigates radical Catholicism in France and its development under the leadership of the powerful Guise clan. Although Guise ancestral holdings lay toward the east in the region of Champagne, the ultra-Catholic family was also the largest landholder in Normandy. This was a region where the Huguenot movement possessed considerable strength and, not surprisingly, the Reformation clash became especially sharp. The province also served as something of a bridge to Guise ambitions in Scotland and England. Thus, Carroll's case study has powerful implications for our overall reading of the French Wars of Religion. How, for example, did the Guise go about constructing an energetic Catholic party in the provinces? What was the interplay of confessional identity among ordinary folk and politics at a far higher level? Is it possible to delineate the principal means for establishing and promoting Guise influence? What was the interface of local concerns an d the conflict occurring throughout the kingdom? To adopt broader language, how do developments in Normandy inform us about events elsewhere in France?

The Guise affinity, as Carroll formulates it, embodies more than accustomed notions of patron-client relationships. Larger social groupings, to include aristocratic networks, urban associations and even peasant solidarities, figure prominently. Accordingly, the analysis, while concentrating on political society (to borrow the author's terminology), also pays close attention to complex issues of family interest and religious ideology. Here, Carroll imaginatively augments the usual letters, memoirs and institutional documents with notarial records, particularly marriage contracts, which can divulge the dynamics of sociability, kinship and political enterprise. The result is a regional study with substantial value for appreciating the political, religious and social complexity of confessional warfare.

The discussion proceeds in a measured and logical sequence. To begin, Carroll offers important observations regarding the patterns of landholding, above all possession of fiefs and benefices, and how they molded participation in the Guise association. These are not merely matters of influence and interest, alliance and loyalty. The author carefully dissects the intricate layers of clientage from household councillors and members of the military retinue to seigneural officers, financial administrators and ecclesiastical officials.

The heart of the analysis is a detailed chronological account of the Wars of Religion in Normandy. The emphasis is on Guise involvement and the momentous repercussions. Here, Carroll is likely at his best when examining the Catholic League at Rouen and throughout Normandy. He is especially convincing in recasting the League and highlighting the rural features of a movement that has heretofore been considered almost exclusively within an urban context. League supporters -- nobles and bourgeois, artisans and peasants -- found themselves collectively bound by ties of kinship and sociability, political allegiance and religious cohesiveness. Carroll also makes clear that religious conviction among the Guise was less extreme and monolithic, more subtle and varied than commonly supposed. In short, this exploration of a major Catholic family opens original and refreshing lines of inquiry into a significant subject.

In the end, these two volumes expand considerably traditional treatment of armed religious discord during the Reformation. The contributors to Reformation, Revolt and Civil War underscore the advantages of comparative inquiry as well as the risks of too narrow a national focus. Carroll's Noble Power, in related yet distinct fashion, makes a compelling case for the study of family relationships and regional experiences as a springboard toward a new and stimulating interpretation of an extremely troubling period.
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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2000
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