Book Review: Royal Women and Dynastic Loyalty by (eds.) Caroline Dunn and Elizabeth Carney

By Gabby Storey

The growth in scholarly works on royal women has continued apace for the last four decades, with a particular speed owed undoubtedly in part to the machinations of the Kings and Queens conference series, organised by the Royal Studies Network, and the book series Queenship & Power, with this volume being a perfect example of how the two intertwine. It is a must-read for those looking for a series of case studies on royal women and their dynasties.

As Dunn and Carney so rightly note in their introduction, royal women ‘played much more influential and diverse roles than merely marrying the king and producing the heir’ (1). This volume highlights the many ways in which women worked (and on occasion, didn’t) for their dynasties as loyal women. In chapter 2, Waldemar Heckel compares the notion of legitimacy in royal families across Hellenistic monarchies, the Normans and Angevins, and Mexico, providing a fascinating use of comparative methodologies to better understand royal dynasticism and rule.

The third chapter by Dolores Mirón examines the connections between Queen Apollonis of Pergamon and the construction of bonds of loyalty, providing an examination of an often underresearched area of study. Chapter four unravels the various conflicts between mothers and sons in another excellent comparative study of Seleucid and Ptolemaic dynasties by Walter Penrose.

Retaining the emphasis on ancient history, the work of Riccardo Bertolazzi on Julia Domna, wife of Roman Emperor Septimus Severus, shows the complications of being loyal to one’s native family and region against their new marital family and dynasty in chapter five. In an innovative take on this analysis of royal women, Karl Alvestad focusses on the activities of the royal sisters Astrid and Ingeborg Tryggvasdaughter in eleventh century Norway in chapter six. Moving to the Iberian peninsula, in chapter seven Ana Maria Rodrigues investigates familial conflict in fifteenth-century Portugal, examining this through the lenses of power and loyalty. Here the evidence of intercessory royal women is key.

In chapter eight, Charles Beem considers the career of one of the most famous of early modern queens, that of Mary, queen of Scots, and the (im)balance she struck between dynastic ambitions and the execution of royal office. For Renée de France, the focus of Kelly Peebles’ chapter nine, the prioritisation of religious reform and faith over dynastic bonds becomes clear, though Renée, as argued by Peebles, stressed her religious virtue to promote her family and dynasty.

In chapter ten, discussion turns to another important aspect of queenship, that of cultural patronage which could benefit dynasties through laudation of their name, dynastic propaganda, and networks, as noted by Wendy Hitchmough when discussing the career of Queen Anna of Denmark. The work of Renée Langlois in chapter eleven draws attention for several reasons, not least the authority of the mothers of sultans in ensuring dynastic loyalty and continuity.

Chapter twelve by Charlotte Backerra focusses on the dynastic conflict with Empress Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel taking centre stage as she sought to reconcile dynastic loyalties in the absence of a male heir – a function that was still the primary function of a queen in the early modern period, in spite of her many other virtues. The final chapter in this collection by Heta Aali considers the representations of Merovingian rulers by nineteenth-century historians and what that tells us about the loyalties to the competing French dynasties during the revolution and restoration period.

Considering its temporal span, this volume is impressive in how it finely draws together the links between these women and their dynastic loyalties. Such a focus on the ancient and early medieval period is unusual but much welcomed. This publication is also worthy for its emphasis on royal women, and not just queens. It clearly elucidates the many aspects of queenship beyond bearing an heir, and indeed the complications that came with not bearing a (male) heir. One might wish for some wider geographical studies to round off the volume more finely, but this is only a minor critique. The growing expansion of queenship studies on a global theme, considering the ways in which women ruled in different contexts and geographies. The themes and links presented in these studies would be of use to many queenship scholars across boundaries, and undoubtedly helpful to other royal studies scholars when considering the many and varied roles of women in dynasties. This book would be suitable for primarily undergraduate students and above, as although many of the chapters are accessible, the background knowledge required for these would mean they are of interest to either the familiar or highly educated reader. 

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