Brown coverDavid Worthington

Scots in Habsburg Service, 1618-1648

History of Warfare vol.21, xxii+352 pp. (Leiden: Brill, 2004) €91/ US$ 114. ISBN 90 04 13575 8.

Too often seventeenth-century Scottish foreign policy, in other words the dealings of the Scottish parliament, the Kirk, and semi-official Scottish agents with the Continent, is submerged in English foreign policy and dubbed “British”. Similarly, Scots supporting the Protestant Cause take center stage and force Scottish expatriates at Catholic courts into the wings. David Worthington fashions a more accurate and balanced historical depiction of Scotland’s international position in the wars of religion. In fact, Scots had close links with the Habsburgs that very well might have been exploited in order to mediate an end to the Palatinate crisis and thus terminate what became three decades of bloodshed from 1618 to 1648.

Worthington has done a great service first by exploring a relatively underdeveloped field of inquiry and second by delving into foreign archives at Brussels, Simancas, Vienna, and Zamrsk. He emphasizes two related phenomena: dynastic universalism and internationalism. The former generated a complex web of dynastic and political relationships that radiated out of the Catholic courts of Madrid, Vienna, Munich and Graz and bound together Catholic Europe. While “dynastic universalism” is not explicitly defined, an aggregate reading of the book abundantly illustrates the concept. Dynastic universalism extended into the Protestant world as well, as exemplified by support for Elizabeth Stuart, the “Winter Queen” of Bohemia. Many Scottish Catholic expatriates declared for Elizabeth’s cause despite its Protestant association. They placed Scottish dynastic interests over their personal religious sentiments.

Worthington’s emphasis on “internationalism” suggests that historians should guard against the anachronism of fixating on religious alignments and national boundaries. Networks of individuals, bound by diplomatic, commercial, military, familial, and patronage ties constituted another grid-work to be over-laid on the landscape of Thirty Years’ War Europe. Perhaps we have imposed too strict a compartmentalization on mid-seventeenth century nation-states. Similarly, the author shows how personal connection complicated the ideological dimensions of the wars of religion.

Worthington’s arguments convince, even if his use of sources is occasionally shaky. Considering that the author chastises historians for neglecting evidence, it is fair to weigh Worthington’s handling of evidence by the same standard. The chapters’ historical sources shift dramatically as the geographical contours change within the chronological framework of the Thirty Years’ War. Several chapters (i.e. six and seven) make substantial use of the diplomatic correspondence and foreign papers collected by Edward Hyde, who was physically present in continental Europe in the 1640s and 1650s, having gone into exile as a royalist during the British civil wars. Indeed, some paragraphs are constructed entirely or largely from information gleaned from Clarendon’s vast collections (pp. 187, 211, 216, etc.). However, Worthington uses the Calendar of the Clarendon State Papers, which for the period 1618 to 1648 was edited in the late nineteenth century. Like many calendars of that era, the consistency and detail of the calendar entries vary widely, especially for manuscripts composed prior to 1650.

A rather more unwieldy, but superior way of getting at Clarendon’s collection is to consult also the transcriptions that were published between 1767 and 1786 as State Papers Collected by Edward, Earl of Clarendon. The latter multi-volume folio-sized collection can be cross-referenced against the original manuscript volumes in Duke Humfrey’s Library, within the Bodleian Library, Oxford. It is a simple task to order up the original manuscripts, nicely bound in leather and on either side of a manuscript volume place the 1872 calendar and the appropriate State Papers Collected, respectively.
Clarendon’s manuscripts have not been exploited to the fullest, despite the fact that they contain a staggering amount of original material about Europe in the era of the Thirty Years’ War. The collection was not so expertly and systematically calendared as, were, say, late Elizabethan State Papers Foreign by R. B. Wernham in the modern era. The 1872 calendar, the source used in Scots in Habsburg Service, is maddening in that some documents receive detailed treatment whilst other manuscripts are paraphrased in a sentence or two (though the editors had the good sense to cross-reference numbered entries to the eighteenth-century-published extracts). In short, reliance upon the 1872 calendar, solely, prevents the historian from examining large quantities of information. Nor can he/she quote from the manuscripts because there are no true verbatim et literatim extracts in the 1872 calendar.

The most obvious concern is that the author chose not to consult the original sources. When the author’s narrative reaches the period 1640 to 1648, the Clarendon references disappear entirely. Now the Clarendon manuscripts dating from 1640-1648 contain scores of documents pertaining to events in the Habsburg lands. So, should the reader surmise that there is little of value in the Clarendon manuscripts pertaining to British involvement with the Habsburgs? Or, is this topic something that the editors of the 1872 calendar did not include in their publication? A cursory reading of the correspondents and locations cited in the 1872 calendar makes clear that there is much to be discovered about the Habsburg Empire and European events. Whether that evidence would affect Worthington’s argument is unknown, since he never saw the manuscripts. Therefore, for example on p. 222, when an argument is made and the 1872 calendar quoted, that conclusion was reached on the evidence at hand (the 1872 calendar) not a genuine close reading of the Clarendon manuscripts.

Now if a scholar goes as far afield as Zamrsk in the Czech Republic for a handful of sources, wouldn’t it makes sense also to devote a fortnight to reading the original Clarendon manuscripts in the pleasant confines of Duke Humfrey? Further, the Bodleian houses some splendid collections of manuscript newsletters, pretty much uncalendared (i.e. St. Amand 36A, among others), which are directly relevant to British activities in (and observations of) Europe from 1618 to 1648. All this suggests that Worthington’s research is not as comprehensive as the reader might think given the self-assured tone of the book, particularly in reference to historical evidence.

On the positive side of the ledger (and there is a great deal of new evidence and accompanying perceptive analysis in this book) Worthington has expertly dissected the continental balance of power during the Thirty Years’ War whilst bringing an episode of Scottish history out of the shadows. The quality of this book is representative of an historiographically significant group of scholars that has grown up at the University of Aberdeen.

Mark Charles Fissel

The Augusta Arsenal <mfissel@aug.edu>

Page Added: September 2004

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