Anglo-Ottoman encounter in the Age of the Beloveds

Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Group
Nailya Shamgunova, Faculty of History
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Tuesday, February 6, 2018 - 13:10 to 14:00

This paper explores the relationship between the emotional ecologies of early modern England and the Ottoman Empire. It focuses on establishing two distinct ways of conceptualising male to male affection and love in these societies and explores parallels and direct connections between them. The emotional ecology of early modern male English friendship is an under-explored topic. Focusing on friendship manuals published in England between the 1580s and the 1670s, I argue that early modern friendship, far from merely giving a language of expression for hidden male to male love, was the very centre and focus for that love. Extensive debates about the possibility of male to female friendship, the importance of friendship in marriage and the competition between conjugal marriage and male to male friendship, ‘the marriage of souls’, all point to the central emotional importance of friendship between men, a category which encompassed far more than ‘being just friends’ does nowadays. Equally, the culture of the beloveds in early modern Ottoman Empire, explored by Walter Andrews and Mehmed Kalpaklı, was a distinct emotional ecology of male to male relationships. Andrews and Kalpaklı drew parallels between early modern Ottoman Empire and Renaissance England, showing that both cultures included a relationship between an older and a younger male. I want to take that a step further and draw connections rather than parallels, and to try to answer the question of why early modern English observers of the Ottoman Empire seemed incapable to capturing the relationship between Ottoman men despite the complete acceptability of close male to male bonds in English culture at the time. Using the example of Sir John Finch and Sir Thomas Baines, lifelong companions bonded in ‘holy matrimony’ (according to their Cambridge mentor) who lived in the Ottoman Empire for more than ten years, I will explore the role of religion and cultural prejudice in constructing early modern Anglo-Ottoman encounters in relation to emotions and sexuality.

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