Robin Hood and Remote Rule

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Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe

British North America developed from a landscape of religions into a nation of races over the course of the eighteenth century.This process culminated in a hot, locked Philadelphia hall in 1787, but the lessons upon which the drafters drew reached back to the Reformation of the sixteenth century and earlier to Rome.

Americans had, after all, just rejected their inclusion in the British variant. If they failed to grasp the significance of their success, Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of Rome, David Hume’s History of England, and the tales of Robin Hood1 served to remind them of the dangers of remote rule.


Early Modern Europe possessed two empires with established Protestant populations inhabiting borders under perpetual threat.The Holy Roman Empire’s borderland Protestants included the Southwestern Germans of Wuerttemberg and the Rhineland-Palatinate, for whom “cuius regio, eius religio” offered precious little protection from neighboring Catholic armies. The British Empire sent forth Scots to settle among and pacify the Catholics a few leagues away in Northeastern Ireland. These two groups moved away from their fraught locations on Europe’s bloodiest frontiers topopulate the so-called backcountry of eighteenth-century British North America from the Kennebec to the Altamaha.2


The Germans, Scots, and Irish, in a multitude of hyphenated forms, created a cultural and military frontier in the new world as they had in the old. The German Swabs and Ulster Scots had a great deal in common. Both had theological roots in the ‘second’ or ‘radical’ Reformation of the 1570s.  Southwest German’s Lutheranism was heavily influenced by Zwingli3 and Covenanters in Scotland and Ireland derived their beliefs from the Swiss reformer, Calvin, as well as Zwingli, as John Knox interpreted their theology.4 Both came from regions of Europe where radical Protestants lived cheek by jowl with counter-Reformation Catholics. In 1685 Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes. By 1688 French troops bathed the Palatinate in blood.Britain’s ‘Glorious Revolution’ in the same year may have peacefully secured a Protestant succession in England, but its new Protestant King, William, and Catholic claimant, James II, ensured that the Ireland suffered enough for all three British kingdoms combined.5 For both border populations, these traumas were but the latest horrors in litanies of loss wrought during centuries of constant crisis. Seeking escape, both landed on Atlantic shores with dreams of stability guaranteed by land-holding independence.6
 
In Europe, these ill-definied communities buffered their rulers’ borders from attack, but they also attacked their rulers.Luther’s condemnation of the South German’s Peasant’s Revolt of 1525, secured its infamy in historical memory.7 The covenanter’s revolt in Scotland and the Catholic revolt in Ulster cost Charles I his head in 1642.8 The sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries created real and imagined bandits throughout Europe. A few real bandits possessed the noble motives of the fictionalized Robin Hood, whom Wilkesites adopted as their mascot on both sides of the Atlantic.9 

All bandits, Eric Hobsbawm argues, thrived in the unruly borderlands: in the Roman, Holy Roman, and British Empires.10 Martin Luther drew the parallel with bandits in his tirade against the peasants wrecking havoc under the influence of Thomas Muenzer. “Like public highwaymen and murderers,” he raved, “It is right and lawful to slay at the first opportunity a rebellious person….”11 

The linkage between these peoples in Europeans’ corporate imagination dated back at least to the Roman conquest of both “Upper Germany” and Britain. The Romans built their most famous walls to keep out the populations (Der Limes for the Swabs and Hadrian’s Wall for the Scots) that British seaboard colonies invited into their midst.  Those south-west Germans misnamed ‘Palatines’ and those from north-east Ireland ‘With No Name’12 had once shared the label ‘barbarian’ to the civilized rulers of Rome.“All ancient writers agree,” writes Hume in his widely read History of England “in representing the first inhabitants of Britain as a tribe of the Gauls or Celtae, who populated that island from the neighboring continent.” These Celts shared language, manners, government, and superstition in Hume’s estimation.13 Even when a Roman colony, Gibbon thought the empire unable to “guard the maritime province against the pirates of Germany” leaving “independent and divided” Britons to fall prey to “rapine and destruction” when “the Saxons might sometimes join the Scots and the Picts in a tacit or express confederacy.”14 In Hume’s historical framework, after Rome fell, Germany became the prize in the medieval tug-o-war between the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope, while Scotland and Ireland played a similarly critical role in the Tudor-Stuart era rivalry between the French and English crowns.15

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When Virtù Courts Virtue

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Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe

I found my way to this topic via a peculiar trajectory that began along the Cam under the tutelage of Quentin Skinner, where the distinction between classical republican virtù and protestant Christian virtue first entered my consciousness.  The hybridized virtù(e) that filled the political treatises of the American Revolution/War for Independence fascinated me but were not the centerpiece of my doctoral research.  When I returned to Jane Austen as my entertainment while my second son nursed, I realized that the hybridization process took place on the pages of Miss Austen’s novels.

The historiography of the American Revolution nearly drowns in examinations of Republican motherhood and patricidal rage. Austen’s heroines need not kill their fathers. They are already dead (Sense & Sensibility) or emasculated by poverty (Pride & Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park), frailty (Emma), and vanity (Persuasion).  It takes little imagination to envision Elinor Dashwood, Elizabeth Bennet, Catherine Moreland, Fanny Price, Emma Woodhouse, and Anne Elliot as the republican mothers of a future generation.  In attributes they share much with the ultimate Republican mother as proven in her dual role as the United States’ first wife and mother to (failed) Presidents, Abigail Adams.  They can hold their own in discussions of the lofty but are unafraid to engage in the lowly. Think of Abigail Adams mopping her floors with vinegar while her many children lay sick, and Anne Elliot caring for her injured nephew while his squeamish mother tends to her own nerves not his physical needs.  When the virtùous Captain and Mrs. Wentworth set sail, I suspect their destination is the new republic on the other side of the Atlantic.

Thomas Jefferson obsessed over virtù(e) and corruption in both the public and private spheres.  Jefferson is remembered for his assiduous adherence to the necessity of landholding independence as a prerequisite for political virtù. He never deigned to fight in the colonies-cum-new republic’s wars though famously wrote on the worth of blood spilled for a virtùous cause.   He is also remembered for his utter lapse in private virtue, bedding but never wedding a woman he considered his racial inferior.   Jefferson was a last gasp of  this double standard in the Americas.  The widow’s of New Jersey had already become the first in Atlantic world to cast their votes in a simultaneous demonstration of both their virtù(e)s. 

Finally, I beg leave to indulge in some Whiggish analysis and imagine that William Jefferson Clinton’s presidency would have been very different indeed  had Americans not come to accept Jane Austen’s definition of hybridized virtù(e) and applied it to men and women alike.

____________

Sources: Linda Kerber, Women of the Republic; Mary Beth Norton, Liberty’s Daughters; and Jay Fleigelman, Prodigals and Pilgrims.

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Clovis DNA Points to Native-American Origins

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The genetic sequence from a prehistoric baby in a 12,000-year-old Clovis burial site in Montana is providing significant data on the origins of the earliest Americans. Until now, archaeologists have had to rely mainly on tools made of stone and bone, and other artifacts to tell the story of human migration about 15,000 years ago to the New World.

Now that story is bolstered with some dramatic, ancient DNA, extracted from the remains of a 1-year-old boy who died in what is now Montana more than 12,000 years ago, according to a study described in Nature magazine.
"Clovis is what we like to refer to as an 'archaeological complex,' " says Michael Waters, an archaeologist at Texas A&M University.
That complex is defined by characteristic tools, he says.  
The Clovis artifacts were common for about 400 years, starting about 13,000 years ago. But at this point, there is only one set of human remains associated with those sorts of tools: that of the baby from Montana. "So this genetic study actually provides us with a look at who these people were," Waters says.
The most obvious conclusion from the study is that the Clovis people who lived on the Anzick site in Montana were genetically very much like Native Americans throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Image: Depiction of Clovis people, Mastodon State Park, Missouri


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Resources for Teaching History

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Over the last five years the HS blog has featured a variety of posts on history teaching, curriculum, group assignments, writing, and more.  Interested in creating a class website?  Wondering about how best to encourage students to read?  Need to engage students in a session about history and historiography?  You can find what you're looking for here:

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