Sixteenth Century Nationalism

Posted by dianamuir on December 18, 2012
Medieval nationhood

Sixteenth Century Nationalism is a slender 1976 volume by E.D. ( Eva) Marcu.   It is not a constructed argument so much as it is a collection of quotations offering “a great variety of voices”  from Portugal, Spain, Italy, Germany, France and England that Marcu deems “sufficient to demonstrate no more, no less, than that nationalism in the sixteenth century was noisy, fanciful, and plainly fashionable.   Dressed in contemporary style, with its contemporary vocabulary and associations, it was neither quantitatively nor qualitatively different form later configurations.”

Because Marcu reads  all of the languages in which she found these quotations, and tells us that  she first “encountered, almost incidentally, so much chauvinism,” while pursuing other topics, it is necessary to take the material she found seriously and explain why such strongly-expressed nationalist sentiment existed in the sixteenth century.

In a one dated to the the time of the Armada, Elizabeth visits her troops (presumably at Tilbury)


“And many a captain kissed her hand,

As she passed forth through every band,

Where many a one did say and swear

To live and die for England

Add would not ask a penny pay…

But of their own would find a stay

To serve her Grace for England.”


Page follows page filled with patriotic sentiments of this sort.   Marcu concludes that “the abundance of examples should leave little doubt as to the existence of nationalism in the sixteenth century and of a nationalism that differed in no essential way from any later kind.”

At the very least, the existence of so much nationalist sentiment needs to be encountered.

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