Pan-Protestant Heroism in Early Modern England Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Chovanec, Kevin
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • “Pan-Protestant Heroism in Early Modern England” explores transnational religious identifications in England by tracing the written response to and construction of Protestant heroes of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, among them, Willem and Maurits van Oranje, Henry Stuart, Friedrich V, and Gustavus Adolphus. Intervening in the critical conversation on early modern nation-writing and the construction of Englishness, I argue that continental figures like these profoundly shaped English identity in the early modern period. While most historians believe that nationalism and indeed the nation are constructs of a later period, Richard Helgerson, Claire McEachern, and others have posited the sixteenth century as a key moment in the construction of England. Yet this research, and even more recent multinational approaches that consider how foreigners shaped English identity, focuses too heavily on ethnic alterity and neglects the ways in which religious communion provided alternate possible identities. I argue that the transnational lens of pan-Protestant heroism uncovers literary communities and collaboration generally obscured by our nationalized conception of literature. Heroic figures attracted literary responses – in poems lionizing their accomplishments, theorizing their roles in God’s church, and eventually mourning their deaths – responses that spanned across political and linguistic borders. Protestant writers throughout Europe shared the same tropes, types, and literary genres when celebrating these idealized men. Through my research, I question the anachronistic national organization of early modern literature. I consider German, Dutch, and neo-Latin writing on these figures because English writers clearly understand themselves to be participating in a transnational project – part of a wider pan-Protestant literary field. Heroes posed a series of questions for English Protestants at home: what was England’s position within the Protestant church? What were English obligations to their often-suffering coreligionists on the continent? How were English and Protestant identity related? Religion has too often been read as a purely centripetal force, binding the English together, and this tendency has effaced strong, alternative collective identities. Instead, identification with pan-Protestantism and its heroes rendered early modern conceptions of foreignness especially fluid. A focus on these heroes therefore helps us uncover specific, alternative forms of early modern religious identity, trace how they changed, and understand the literary communities they cemented.
Date of publication
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Floyd-Wilson, Mary
  • Barbour, Reid
  • von Bernuth, Ruth
  • Wolfe, Jessica
  • Baker, David
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2016

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