Sharon K. Broadley (1942–2010)

Orest Ranum, September 2011

Historian of Early Modern France

Sharon K. Broadley (née Kettering) left her beloved husband, cherished dogs, former colleagues and friends on August 24, 2010, to carry on without her learning, witty vivaciousness, and support. Born in 1942 in Washington D.C., Sharon grew up in Burlingame, California, earning all her post-high school degrees at Stanford University. In a preface she thanks Louis Spitz, for inspiring her to become a historian, and Philip Dawson for supervising her work on a dissertation that became her first book, Judicial Politics and Urban Revolt in Seventeenth-century France (Princeton University Press, 1978). She argued in this book that it was only after the Aixois population ceased to join its rebellion did the Parlement of Provence accept increased Parisian powers over it.

While there is a fil conducteur throughout her work, there was little reason to suspect a work on clientage in which an inspired reading in political science would be developed to illuminate 17th-century politics. Social relations based on the power (crédit) to distribute royal offices and pensions stretched all across the realm, with brokers empowered by their influence in the highest circles of the government and the court, controlled local patronage and pensions. So deftly researched and put together, Patrons, brokers and clients.. (Oxford, 1986) quickly became recognized as one of the top four or five books in the field ever written by an American. In 1983 Sharon went to law school, completed the degree, sat for the law-board exam, and was admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1986. During her second year, it became clear that whatever the charms of the law and the prospects in that profession, the love for research and writing history would prevail. Sharon taught history for 25 years at Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland. She applied for positions at some leading universities but was turned down in favor of less effective teachers and scholars who were male. She read papers, organized programs, and nurtured the Washington, D.C., Ancien Régime Group over the years, opening her home to the latter whenever no one else volunteered. She published 23 scholarly articles, ever widening her range beyond politics and social history, to the history of women at court and ballet during the reign of Louis XIII.

In 2001 Longmans published her French Society, 1589–1715. Each chapter in this book begins with a “story” of real individuals in circumstances that are subsequently presented through critical readings of the major interpretations on the subject. The range of sources used inspires awe. In 2002 Ashgate brought out a volume of her essays on patronage (it contains a beautiful photo of her), with a state-of-the-art introduction that makes numerous suggestions for further research.

Selecting Luynes, Louis XIII's early minister-favorite, for a book-length study constituted a challenge that was almost a defiance. Committed to work that would give depth to the big picture rather than descend into pedantic loose ends, Power and Reputation at the Court of Louis XIII (Manchester, 2008) is one of a handful of learnedly indispensable books in early-modern French history. Luynes was dug out of municipal, regional, and national archives, to be at one and the same time unique, as a local noble who becomes minister-favorite, yet also as an archetype of an aristocratic politicized elite that was eager for offices, titles and pensions for themselves and their clients, and as a man whose personality and political skills and vision righted the ship of state that had been overturned by Henry IV's assassination. As Sharon put it:

Luynes was a “no fingerprints” politician; that is, he was secretive about what he thought and did. Political sophisticates are often secretive because power politics is a game of misdirection... Luynes was unlikely to have committed anything significant to paper. Since he was semi-literate, he did not have the habit of committing his thoughts to paper. (p. 183).

Upon completing it, Sharon knew it was good. She wrote to various American university presses; all declined, not only the book, but to read the typescript. We must all thank Joseph Bergin for making possible its publication by the Manchester University Press.

It is with a heavy heart and in sadness that I recognize how much Sharon's learned grace meant to me, and will always mean to those who had the honor of knowing her.

Orest Ranum