The Medieval Review 10.10.14

Kagan, Richard L. Clio & the Crown: The Politics of History in Medieval and Early Modern Spain. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009. Pp. xv, 342. $55 ISBN 978-0-8018-9294-3. .

Reviewed by:

Aengus Ward
University of Birmingham

Richard Kagan's recent volume is an extended treatise on the uses of history in the Iberian middle ages and early modern period, and emerges from a 1995 article on a related topic. The focus here, however, is specifically the category of "official history" which is understood as "approved or authorized history"; fundamentally a form of "soft power." The explicit aim, stated on p. 3, is to examine the "extent to which history can serve as an instrument of imperial policy used to document conquests, legitimate policies of expansion, justify imperial titles, and...defend claims to territory." All of this is set in a context in which historiographers became increasingly important as an outlet for the expression of official policy; although some appear to have felt the tension between the pull of scholarship on the one hand and the pull of the salary on the other rather more firmly than others. Kagan's introduction then sets the framework within which the court historiographers worked and places what follows firmly in the tension between the historia pro patria and historia pro persona approaches which are the foci of most of the work.

The opening substantive chapter ("Empire and History") is a run- through of official history in the Christian kingdoms of the Peninsula before the reign of Carlos V. As it covers a period ranging from Isidore to Galíndez de Carvajal, it is necessarily a rather breathless account of the nature of official history for the medieval period. As might be imagined, the chapter deals in particular depth with writers from the late thirteenth century onwards, nonetheless, it can scarcely be said that the depth of analysis given to later writers is mirrored here. In itself, of course, this is not particularly significant, as it rapidly becomes clear that the late medieval historiography referred to here serves as background for the more substantive analysis which is to follow. However, it should be noted that, despite the subtitle, this monograph is not in any sense an analysis of the politics of history in medieval Spain (however one may wish to understand both parts of the term). Furthermore, the sections dealing with medieval chronicles might well have benefited from a more thorough grounding in the vast range of studies recently produced on the subject; the absence of most of Iné s Fernández-Ordóñez's work on the nature of the Estoria de Espanna being a case in point. The use of venerable editions (particularly those of the Biblioteca de Autores Españoles) is also a little unfortunate.

By contrast, subsequent chapters deal in great depth and analytical acuity with a wide range of chroniclers. Chapter 2, for example ("Historia pro persona Emperor Charles V") is an impressive account both of the notion of historia pro persona and of its relevance to the historiography of Charles's reign as emperor. We are then given an outline of the principal cronistas (and indeed of the nature of the office of cronista in the first place); an outline which covers such figures as the Giné s de Sepúlveda, Bustos, Mexía, Avila y Zúñiga among others. The effect, of course, is to place our understanding of such writers firmly in the framework provided by the reign of Charles. This, one might add, is perhaps a natural consequence of the notion of official history in the first place, although the construction of the analysis in this way also has the effect of reducing the analytical space available for each chronicler. More could perhaps be said about each; but the chapter will certainly be of enormous utility to those seeking a way into the historiography of the reign of Charles.

Rather different is the reign of Philip II which benefits from two separate chapters (to which substantial sections of Chapter 5 which deals with the cronistas de Indias might also be added). The first, "Historia pro patria," is an overview of the historiographical efforts of Philip's reign and takes as its starting point the lack of biographical writing about Philip, and indeed the king's own disinterest in such matters. Here the focus is more broad than previously; the setting up of the archive at Simancas is a key point of discussion, and the chapter goes on to discuss the general histories of the kingdom which were commissioned at the time. As might be imagined, the key figures are Ambrosio de Morales and Padre Mariana and this is taken by the author as an opportunity to discuss general questions of historical composition (the combination of ecclesiastical and secular writing, for example, or the notion of collective memory). If Morales and Mariana are the central figures of the chapter dealing with general history, then Garibay and, above all, Herrera are the entry points for Kagan to the study of the contemporary official history of Philip's own reign (Chapter 4: "His Majesty's History"). Given that Philip was, to say the least, reticent about having his personal history written, this chapter becomes a reflection on the history of a king's reign as the account of the events that occur within it. Here then, the king is a "political body" not a personal one. Kagan's method then is the analysis of the biography and historiographical production of the most significant historical writers of the period as a way of opening discussion on different approaches to history; and it is one that is most fruitful, for the reader will find here both valuable information on the context in which the works were written and an analysis of the theoretical basis for the works themselves. Through the employment of the chronological approach, Kagan is able to demonstrate the evolution of historical method amongst the official historians of the period.

Chapter 5, to a certain extent, breaches the chronological structure employed heretofore. Taking as its opening moment the appointment of Herrera as the cronista de Indias in 1596, Kagan gives us a view of the underpinnings of the imperial historical writings composed for the Spanish crown up to the replacement of Herrera by Pedro de Valencia in 1607. Naturally, questions of sovereignty and justice in the Spanish administration of the Indies come to the fore, although the chapter also provides significant insights into the career of Herrera, in particular focusing on his attempt to strengthen his own position as cronista. The chapter once more demonstrates the value of the methodology employed by Kagan as the thematic and the strictly chronological are neatly married to each other. The down side of this approach, of course, is that the analysis of Herrera as official historian is divided across two chapters.

Chapter 6 ("To Mortify our Enemies"), is the opportunity for Kagan to address the complex times of Philip IV and the Conde Duque de Olivares, and above all the value to both of these figures of the writing of history. The chapter is set against a brief account of Habermas's notion of discursive space and the growing importance of the reading public. Its concentration on the propagandistic aims of Olivares leads into a brief account of the many chroniclers and hired pens. The concluding chapter doubles up as a survey of official historiography in later years, the founding of the Real Academia de la Historia being a key moment, and as the occasion for general reflections on the question of official history. These general comments may be the most fruitful sections for subsequent scholars as they contain interesting remarks on the perceived end of a phenomenon that was destined to be swamped by the increasingly privatised historical writing.

In sum, then, this is a fine piece of work. One could make minor quibbles with regard to presentation, the aforementioned nature of the subtitle of the book being a case in point. There are occasional lapses of style which may grate with some readers ("playbook" and "Fair enough." being notable examples) and there is a sense that references to the contemporary world are superfluous. Nonetheless, it is clear that any reader searching for an overview of official history in post-medieval Iberia will find a more than adequate account here.