I have just learnt that on the 9th May, a meeting of the Council of the Royal Historical Society elected me a fellow. Fellows are usually expected to have published a monograph that makes a significant contribution to historical studies. The Royal Historical Society is the oldest professional body for historians in Britain and was founded in 1868; it speaks up on heritage issues and matters relating to historical education. It is a great honour to be elected to this distinguished body and I look forward to being a part of the Society and its work. I am very grateful to Professor Peter Marshall for supporting my candidacy.
Philosophy at Cambridge, the newsletter of Cambridge University’s Faculty of Philosophy, has just published an article of mine entitled ‘A Philosophical Defence of Monarchy’, which was a reply to Professor Huw Price‘s inaugural lecture as Bertrand Russell Professor of Philosophy, ‘Erroneously supposed to do no harm’. Professor Price picked up on Russell’s remark that ‘The law of causality, like much that passes muster among philosophers, is a relic of a bygone age, surviving, like the monarchy, only because it is erroneously supposed to do no harm’. Professor Price then went on to state how he thinks that the monarchy can be said to cause harm, notably by restricting the autonomy of an heir to the throne. This is something we accept because most of us have never thought about it.
I was surprised that Professor Price picked a political and constitutional theme for his inaugural lecture, but remembering the pronounced republican bias amongst my contemporaries when I was an undergraduate reading Philosophy at Cambridge, I decided that it would be an interesting challenge to attempt a philosophical defence of the institution of monarchy, rebutting the arguments made by Huw Price in his lecture. Professor Price has been kind enough to reply to my article within the pages of Philosophy at Cambridge. He denies that he is, as I suggested, either a ‘radical libertarian’ or a republican, and suggests that if we do have a monarchy, ‘future incumbents can be chosen from a field of consenting adults’. This is essentially the system of tanistry that operated in Gaelic lands in the Middle Ages. He goes on to question my suggestion that a monarchy secures constitutional stability, and points to Switzerland as a case of a constitutionally stable republic.
Tanistry is one form of monarchical succession; another is election, as practised by the Kingdom of Poland and the Holy Roman Empire. However, the reason why primogeniture took hold in England, France and many other European countries was the perception that it guaranteed constitutional stability and the continuity of institutions, and prevented (in theory) protracted and bloody disputes over succession. Admittedly, primogeniture was not especially successful in securing the latter, and the reasons why I am supportive of monarchy are as much negative as positive. I am deeply wary of republics and written constitutions based on abstract notions, and I fear that as we enter an increasingly complex world where old certainties and old ideas are challenged, it would be better to have a human person as the focus of national identity than a mercurial idea. The US Constitution’s protection of ‘the right to bear arms’ is a vivid demonstration that something that seemed a good idea in the eighteenth century seems a lot less so in the twenty-first.
I remain unsure, however, whether Huw Price has really addressed my argument. In particular, he does not reply to my point that, through their education and separation from the rest of society, potential monarchs become a sort of ‘natural kind’ that has to be treated differently; nor does he reply to my comparison between training up a monarch and training up a child for service in a family company, or indeed restricting a parent’s freedom to select private education and healthcare for their child. I accept his point that being an heir to the throne restricts a child’s freedom, but I continue to believe that this is a price worth paying for the common good.
A review of English Catholics and the Supernatural has appeared on the Institute of Historical Research’s ‘Reviews in History’ website, by Dr Emilie K. M. Murphy, the Royal Historical Society Centenary Fellow at the IHR, whose PhD was on the subject of recusant music. Dr Murphy describes the book as ‘A wide-ranging, ambitious account that deservedly earned Young a PhD,’ and comments that ‘Young is … successful in firmly integrating the experiences of continental English Catholic exiles alongside their counterparts in England.’ The generous review goes on to state that ‘Young is … talented in making complex scientific and intellectual discourse easy to follow.’ Dr Murphy concludes that ‘English Catholics and the Supernatural … provides some fascinating insight and I would recommend this to anyone interested in the history of Catholicism, the intellectual and religious history of post-Reformation England, and early modern engagement with the supernatural.’
I am very grateful to Emilie Murphy for her review, which is very full and informative and reflects her deep knowledge of English Catholic culture.
Rather bizarrely, my review of Laura Sangha’s Angels and Belief in England, 1480-1700 on the History of Women Religious of Britain and Ireland website has appeared on the same day as her review of my English Catholics and the Supernatural, 1553-1829 in Recusant History.
I would highly recommend Dr Sangha’s book on angels as the indispensable introductory work on angels in early modern England, and the start of what will hopefully prove a fertile field of study.
Reviews of English Catholics and the Supernatural are coming in thick and fast, and the latest is in Recusant History, the journal of the Catholic Record Society. I tend to think of this journal as my academic ‘home’, as it was here that my first ever peer-reviewed article was published back in 2004 – ten years ago exactly, in fact, as ‘Mother Mary More and the Exile of the Augustinian Canonesses of Bruges in England, 1794-1802’ came out in the May issue. The very generous review is by Dr Laura Sangha of the University of Exeter, and describes the book as ‘diligently researched’, noting that ‘An undoubted strength of Francis Young’s study is his sensitivity to the cultural context within which Catholics encountered the supernatural’. The review concludes that ‘The study will be of interest to students of supernatural belief, Counter-Reformation Catholicism, and in English early modern religious cultures more broadly’. I am grateful to Dr Sangha for her comments.
The reference is Recusant History 32 (2014), pp. 132-134.
On the theme of the Catholic Record Society, the 2014 conference is now open for booking and will feature, on Wednesday 30th May, a tour given by me of the Bishop’s Palace in Ely, with a particular focus on its role as a prison for recusants 1577-97.
English Catholics and the Supernatural has been reviewed in Catholic Historical Review, the journal of the American Catholic Historical Association, which is published by the Catholic University of America Press. I was honoured to be reviewed by Professor Michael Questier of Queen Mary, University of London, who is one of the world’s leading historians of the Counter-Reformation. Prof. Questier comments that ‘The author has a very valid premise for this volume’, and goes on to describe the content of the book and the main areas of debate concerning the relationship between the Catholic community in England and the supernatural. In Questier’s view, ‘The author brings out well enough how the politics of debate about these issues generated skepticism as well as assent’ and his draws particular attention to my conclusion that Catholics were no more or less superstitious than anyone else, describing it as ‘Historiographically … of some significance’.
I am grateful to Prof. Questier for such a gracious and informative review. The review can be found in Catholic Historical Review 100:2 (2014) pp. 321-322.
Owing to popular demand, my little book on Witches and Witchcraft in Ely has been reprinted and will once more be on sale at all of Ely’s bookshops: Burrows, Topping and Co., Oliver Cromwell’s House, Ely Cathedral Shop and Babylon Gallery. I am extremely grateful to Brian Watson of ADEC for making this reprinting possible; all profits from this re-printing will go towards the development of the arts and historical projects in the Ely area, and I hope to announce in due course exactly which project we will be supporting.