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Clio and the Crown

, 376 pages

12 halftones, 1 line drawing

September 2009



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Clio and the Crown

The Politics of History in Medieval and Early Modern Spain

Monarchs throughout the ages have commissioned official histories that cast their reigns in a favorable light for future generations. These accounts, sanctioned and supported by the ruling government, often gloss over the more controversial aspects of a king's or queen’s time on the throne. Instead, they present highly selective and positive readings of a monarch’s contribution to national identity and global affairs.

In Clio and the Crown, Richard L. Kagan examines the official histories of Spanish monarchs from medieval times to the middle of the 18th century. He expertly guides readers through the different kinds of official histories commissioned: those whose primary focus was the monarch; those that centered on the Spanish kingdom as a whole; and those that celebrated Spain’s conquest of the New World. In doing so, Kagan also documents the life and work of individual court chroniclers, examines changes in the practice of official history, and highlights the political machinations that influenced the redaction of such histories.

Just as world leaders today rely on fast-talking press officers to explain their sometimes questionable actions to the public, so too did the kings and queens of medieval and early modern Spain. Monarchs often went to great lengths to exert complete control over the official history of their reign, physically intimidating historians, destroying and seizing manuscripts and books, rewriting past histories, and restricting history writing to authorized persons.

Still, the larger practice of history writing—as conducted by nonroyalist historians, various scholars and writers, and even church historians—provided a corrective to official histories. Kagan concludes that despite its blemishes, the writing of official histories contributed, however imperfectly, to the practice of historiography itself.

Richard L. Kagan is a professor of history at the Johns Hopkins University. He is the editor, with Philip D. Morgan, of Atlantic Diasporas: Jews, Conversos, and Crypto-Jews in the Age of Mercantilism, 1500–1800, and the translator and editor, with Abigail Dyer, of Inquisitorial Inquiries: Brief Lives of Secret Jews and Other Heretics, both published by Johns Hopkins.

"A masterful, comprehensive survey of the history of ‘official’ historiography in medieval and early modern Spain, from Isidore to Charles III."

"Kagan gives shape to an adversarial process among Spanish historians, royal advisers, and rulers to establish some measure of objective truth, ever so elusive, in official, commissioned histories of Spain's kings between the late Middle Ages and the reign of Charles II... This work provides fascinating, welcomed research on writing official history behind the scenes. Highly recommended."

"Researched and written with characteristic skill and grace, Clio and the Crown offers a much-needed survey of the social and intellectual milieus in which scholars from Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada in the thirteenth century to Juan Bautista Muñoz in the eighteenth labored to create a national historiography suitable to the needs of the Spanish court."

"Deeply researched and well-written work... Both the book and its extensive bibliographies of primary and secondary sources will therefore remain indispensable to future researchers for years to come."

"Clio and the Crown is a considerable achievement for the understanding of history in the Renaissance and its aftermath."

"An indispensable tool for understanding the evolution of official histories commissioned by Spanish monarchs, their idiosyncrasies regarding what kind of history needed to be written, and the uses of history to defend Spain's imperium in the New World."

"Kagan's exhaustively researched survey, along with its fifteen-page bibliography of primary sources, will prove to be an invaluable resource."

"Kagan's study is fascinating in terms of its subject matter and impressive in its scope. An excellent book."

"Richard Kagan's Clio and the Crown offers an insightful approach to the study of Spanish historiography by analyzing the social and political history of the official historiographers who worked for the kings of Spain from the Middles Ages to the Enlightenment... Thanks to Kagan's work, we know more about the interactions of a significant number of these historiographers with the other scholars involved in the social circulation of the past during the early modern period."

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