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Authors: Toelle, Tom
Advisors: Colley, Linda J
Mintzker, Yair
Contributors: History Department
Keywords: Body
Subjects: European history
Issue Date: 2018
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: “Dynasty, Destiny, and Disease” tells the story of early modern dynastic politics through subjects’ practical responses to royal illness, failing princely reproduction, and heirs’ premature deaths. It treats connected dynastic crises between 1699 and 1716 as illustrative for early modern European political regimes in which the rulers’ corporeality defined politics. This political order that came into being in the 15th century grappled with the endemic uncertainties induced by dynastic bodies. By following the day-to-day practices with which subjects responded to the unpredictability of royal health, the dissertation shows how the ruling family’s mortal coils regularly threatened to destabilize the institutionalized legal fiction of kingship. Dynastic politics should not, as is so often argued, be understood only as a transitory stage of state formation, as part of elite cooperation, or as a cultural construct, but needs to be approached through everyday practices that put ailing dynastic bodies front and center. Frail royalty was not, it shows, a stumbling block to political change in early modern Europe. In a period of political planning and an intensifying focus on the present, it constituted one of the most important sites for changing the political itself. To study this European world of great uncertainty and greater opportunity, this dissertation advances three intertwined arguments: The project studies the risks and chances that certain subjects, envoys, healers, administrators, courtiers, news-writers, midwifes, and family members, saw accruing from tensions between the theoretical over-determination of institutionalized kingship and the indeterminate realm of dynastic corporeality (I). With new emphases on planning, probability, and a malleable present, it argues, failing royal health urged these subjects to use established practices creatively (II). I study five such practices - observation (ch. 1), medical diagnosis (ch. 2), official writing (ch. 3), court interaction (ch.4), and expressing emotions (ch. 5) - in case studies. Taken together, the dissertation contends, these practices impacted on political decision-making in significant, but often unintended ways (III). When subjects looked at dynastic bodies in all their theoretical over-determination and their physical unpredictability, they found the central problem of politics - the continuity of political form - embodied.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:History

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