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Mary II and Queen Anne: The Representations of Two Sisters

By Imogen Haywood

Born in 1662 and 1665, respectively, Mary II and Queen Anne were the only surviving children of James Duke of York (later James II/VII) and his first wife Anne Hyde. Their father married a Catholic, Mary of Modena, in 1673, confirming publicly his own religious beliefs. This placed him in conflict with his daughters, who had been raised Protestant, and in doing so created issues for them in the future; when they were born, it was never expected that either of them would be queen, but with a lack of male (Protestant) heirs and the deposition of their father, they were thrust onto the throne and placed in opposition to each other. With this in mind, this post hopes to present the comparisons that Mary and Anne have faced throughout their lives and history and how the different paths their lives took affected their relationship with each other.

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Foreign Queens in Scottish Heritage Sites

By Amy Saunders

View of Stirling Castle from the castle’s ‘Ladies Lookout’, demonstrating both its defensible position and its geographical importance as the ‘Gateway’ between the Scottish Highlands and Lowlands. ©Amy Saunders.

Stirling Castle, Scotland’s best rated castle on TripAdvisor, attracted over 600,000 visitors in 2018-2019 and has, over time, housed and hosted numerous Scottish monarchs including James V (1512-1542), Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587), and James VI (1566-1625).[1] However, through marriage it is also a site influenced and shaped by the lives and reigns of foreign queen consorts, including Marie de Guise (1515-1560) and Anna of Demark (1574-1619). Anna’s great-granddaughter – Queen Anne (1665-1714) – also placed her own mark, quite literally, on Stirling Castle. Born in England, Anne never visited Scotland during her reign despite the Acts of Union in 1707. In this way she, too, could be perceived in Scotland as a foreign queen who influenced the physical site of Stirling Castle and continues to be part of its narrative today.

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Illegitimate daughters exercising power in the twelfth century: The case of Urraca the Asturian

By Lucía Gomez

In the medieval era, the twelfth century appears as one of special importance for the analysis of female power. In Castile, the effective exercise of power by women of the royal family was facilitated, strengthening their position as queens, consorts, sisters, daughters, mediators, advisors, and even intercessors before the king. This is evidenced in the figure of Urraca the Asturian (c. 1133-1164/1180), who, despite being an illegitimate daughter, enjoyed a position from which it was possible for her to participate in courtly life.

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Film Review: Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

By Louise Gay

Amid a resurgence of interest for peplum and the rise of medieval fantasy movies in the early 2000s, the director Ridley Scott, after having conquered the world with Gladiator, returned to the historical drama genre with Kingdom of Heaven in 2005. Set in the late twelfth century, the film proposed a very romanticized story of Balian d’Ibelin, defender of Jerusalem in 1187 against the armies of Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf (“Saladin” in Western sources).

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Book Review: Edouard III, le viol de la comtesse de Salisbury et la fondation de l’ordre de la Jarretière by Jean-Marie Moeglin

By Louise Gay

After analysing the episode of the Burghers of Calais twenty years ago, Jean-Marie Moeglin returns in his latest study to another narrative composed in the first century of the Hundred Years War: the much less famous story of the rape of the countess of Salisbury by Edward III of England (r. 1327-1377).

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Queen Mary I’s Accession

By Valerie Schutte

Queen Mary I by Hans Eworth, 1554, National Portrait Gallery, NPG 4861.

            On 19 July 1553, Mary I became England’s first queen regnant. Yet, it was not an easy road for her to get there. She was the only living heir of her parents, King Henry VIII and Queen Catherine of Aragon, at the time of her birth on 18 February 1516. But her father had five subsequent marriages resulting in the birth of Elizabeth in 1533 and Edward in 1536. Both of Mary’s half-siblings displaced her in the line of succession. Henry VIII’s final will and testament reinstituted Mary in the line of succession, after her brother, even though it upheld her status as the king’s bastard.

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Gold and Diamond: A Brief Look at the Jubilees of Queen Victoria

By Amy-Jane Humphries

On 2nd June 2022, the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth marked the 70th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. It is the first time that a British monarch has reached this milestone. Elizabeth II has the distinction of being both the longest reigning monarch in British history and the longest reigning queen regnant in global history. These accolades were once held by her great-grandmother, Queen Victoria.

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Global Queenship in Disney’s Pocahontas (1995) and Moana (2016)

By Amy Saunders and Johanna Strong

**Please note that this post includes discussion of racial slurs, including historical terms our followers may find offensive.**

Disney has long been synonymous with princesses, but rarely have their films meaningfully approached the topic of female rule as a theme. When they do, in films such as Pocahontas (1995) and Moana (2016), the title characters still lack a rounded identity. Despite the progress made in society between the 1990s and the 2010s in terms of racial awareness – and the fact that some audiences perceived both films as progressive at the time of their release – Pocahontas and Moana perpetuate harmful and offensive visual depictions of the cultures they portray and fail to take into account the historical contexts of the real events and cultural myths they narrate.

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Book Review: Virtuous or Villainess? The Image of the Royal Mother from the Early Medieval to the Early Modern Era, eds. Carey Fleiner and Elena Woodacre

By Victoria Rasbridge

Virtuous or Villainess? The Image of the Royal Mother from the Early Medieval to the Early Modern Era, edited by Carey Fleiner and Elena Woodacre, is the second of two volumes that explore the subject of royal motherhood in Palgrave Macmillan’s Queenship and Power series.

Continue reading “Book Review: Virtuous or Villainess? The Image of the Royal Mother from the Early Medieval to the Early Modern Era, eds. Carey Fleiner and Elena Woodacre”
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King George III and Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz in Netflix’s Bridgerton

By Amy-Jane Humphries

In 2022, Bridgerton returned to Netflix to popular acclaim. The role of Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen of Great Britain was once again masterfully played by Golda Rosheuvel, who expertly balances the queen’s performative frivolity with the fragility that lay at the heart of the monarchy, within the royal marriage itself. While Queen Charlotte has a prominent role in both seasons of the show, King George III, played by James Fleet, makes only fleeting yet often heart-rending appearances in the show. The relationship between George III and Queen Charlotte has long fascinated historians, and Charlotte is of enduring interest to queenship scholars. The scenes that the couple share in the show are especially significant because they are so infrequently represented on screen.

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The Queen of Canada: Dominating the Dominion or a Dated Role?

By Jessica Storoschuk

With Victoria Day (celebrated in Canada on the Monday closest to May 24, the anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth) and a royal visit for the Platinum Jubilee wrapped up, the question of the monarchy in Canada is becoming increasingly prominent. Canada, with Victoria and Elizabeth II, has had a queen as sovereign for 104 years of its 155-year existence. These queens’ relationships with Canada differed greatly, and Canadians’ view of them has also changed substantially throughout the decades.

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Le sacre des reines/The sacrament of queens

By Louise Gay

Sacrare: to dedicate to a deity; to dedicate, as a curse, to a divinity. The Latin verb derives from sacer (-cra, -crum), formerly sacros, which designates what belongs to the world of the divine, opposed to what is specific to everyday human life (the profanum). The transition from one to the other takes place through rites. It also designates what cannot be touched without defiling or being defiled. (Larousse Etymological dictionary)

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Mary II and Asian luxury goods

By Amy Lim

For a few short years in the 1690s, Mary II’s Water Gallery at Hampton Court was the most sophisticated and influential interior in England. Created from a Tudor water gate on the banks of the river Thames, the queen used it as a retreat from the dust and noise of Sir Christopher Wren’s building works on the main palace.

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Book Review: Æthelflaed, The Lady of the Mercians by Tim Clarkson

By Catherine Capel

The ever-growing field of queenship has brought to light many queens and noblewomen who have been largely ignored in historical scholarship or have been misunderstood, with their narratives shrouded in stereotypes of cruelty, disillusions of power, and sexual scandal. One such royal woman who has been garnering renewed attention is Æthelflaed, daughter of Alfred the Great and his wife Ealhswith, the wife of Æthelred Lord of the Mercians and most commonly known as ‘Lady of the Mercians’. Tim Clarkson’s book evaluates her life and the political and military epochs within which she lived, paying close attention to how she interacted with the world around her.

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No Reign: Mary, Queen of Scots on Screen

By Jessica Storoschuk

Mary, Queen of Scots has remained a popular historical figure in the centuries since her death and remains so to this day. She has appeared in countless television shows and feature films, both as a protagonist and as a secondary character. Despite leading Scotland in a politically turbulent period (both internally and externally), Mary Stuart is largely seen on both the large and small screen as an emotional and heedless figure, with the focus in films such as the 1971 and 2018 Mary, Queen of Scots on her romantic relationships and relatively scant attention paid to her reign save for one television show, Reign, that is typically dismissed offhandedly.

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Film Review: The Princess Diaries & The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement

By Catherine Capel

The Princess Diaries, released 2001, and its follow up sequel The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, released 2004, were based upon the popular book series of the same name written by Meg Cabot. The films depict the struggles of American teenager Mia Thermopolis, portrayed by Anne Hathaway, as she grapples with her newfound identity as a princess. Her grandmother, previously queen consort and now queen regent Clarisse Renaldi, played by Julie Andrews, rules the fictional kingdom of Genovia until Mia reaches her age of majority. Clarisse plays an important role in Mia’s navigation of the complex and often turbulent realm of queenship.

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Book Review: Blanche of Castile by Lindy Grant

By Gabby Storey

The life and career of Blanche of Castile, queen of France, rivals that of her illustrious grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine: perhaps no surprise to Eleanor, who in 1200 selected Blanche to marry the heir to the French throne, Louis (later Louis VIII). Grant’s thorough and captivating biography of Blanche (2016) is long awaited: the last major work on her was Elie Berger’s 1895 biography Histoire de Blanche de Castille, Reine de France. Given Blanche’s long political career as consort, regent, and queen mother, her adeptness for political negotiation, and her greatness as a ruler for her son, Louis IX, it is surprising that there was such a gap between Berger’s and Grant’s works.

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Studying Medieval Queens and (In)fertility

By Emma Trivett

Being a mother was a crucial role for medieval queens, and maternity continues to be a central theme in queenship studies. Scholars of queenship have explored how queens were able to exercise authority and influence through their role as mothers and, recently, Kristen Geaman and Theresa Earenfight have drawn attention to how queens without children cultivated alternative roles to biological motherhood by acting as religious patrons and political intercessors.[1] So far, historians have only really considered royal fertility when queens failed to have children. Yet, many of the medieval queens whom we might recognise as being successful mothers also struggled with fertility problems or experienced concerns and pressure to be fertile at some point in their lives. Historians need to take into account the realities of reproduction and uncertainties around fertility when we think about queens and the expectation of motherhood for queenship. 

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‘You spent fifty thousand on shoes!:’[1] power, gender, and sartorial expression in Versailles


By Holly Marsden

Cover Image: BBC Two

Canal+’s historical drama Versailles premiered in the UK in May 2016 on BBC Two. It is set during the building of the palace of Versailles, led by King Louis XIV in seventeenth century France. The is frivolous, dramatic and gripping, portraying Louis in his most power-hungry prime: in an attempt to re-establish his power to the waning and defying masses, the King chooses his father’s old hunting lodge to be a new court of unparalleled opulence. As you can imagine, Madeline Fontaine’s costume styling is equally as extravagant. Clothing during the seventeenth century was a tool for conveying wealth and power, and Louis XIV’s court is the perfect case study to see this in action. Although this blog post is not focusing on queenship as Team Queens usually do, it provides an insight into gender, kingship and clothing in Early Modern France and England.

Continue reading “‘You spent fifty thousand on shoes!:’[1] power, gender, and sartorial expression in Versailles
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Book Review: The Favourite, Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough by Ophelia Field

By Holly Marsden

Ophelia Field’s 2002 (revised in 2018) biography of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough is a fascinating insight into the eighteenth-century elite. The biography focuses on the intensity of the relationship between Sarah and Queen Anne, with the two having grown up together in and around the court of Charles II. Sarah was later given two of the highest positions of the early modern court when Anne ascended the throne in 1702: Keeper of the Privy Purse and Groom of the Stool. These positions are just two roles discussed by Field, a focus of her biography being the positions, hierarchies, and structures at play in Anne’s court. Another predominant theme is the writer’s voice. Like in much discussion of queenship, Churchill’s agency and self-fashioning is both emphasised and questioned throughout. Moreover, Field also analyses the use of the spoken word, exploring slander, gossip, and scandal. The depth of Field’s research provides ample background to Sarah’s story, especially for those who enjoyed Yorgos Lanthimos’s 2018 film of the same title. Field explores shared desire, passion and love as suggested by existing historical sources including correspondence between the two women. This part of Sarah’s life, and indeed Anne’s, had not yet been explicitly researched and discussed by scholars, who had previously focused on Churchill’s political ambition and patronage. In all, Field demonstrates that Sarah wielded great power, painting a portrait of an ambitious, intelligent, and passionate woman.

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Mater Dolorosa: Elisabeth in the Aftermath of Mayerling

By Lucy Coatman

Cover Image: Empress Elizabeth at Corfu by Friedrich August von Kaulbach, after 1898, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Friedrich_August_von_Kaulbach_-_Sisi_auf_Korfu.jpg

This blog post complements Lucy’s post published earlier this month, and we highly recommend reading it before delving into Elisabeth here.

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Exhibition Review: ‘Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens’ at the British Library

By Johanna Strong

All images unless otherwise indicated were photographed at the British Library by Johanna Strong.

Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, form one of the most popularly famous – or rather, infamous – female partnerships of the early modern European world. While most historians of early modern England could provide more detailed accounts of Elizabeth and Mary’s relationship, most outside academic circles remember only that it was on Elizabeth’s orders that Mary faced her fate, ascending to the scaffold on 8 February 1587 at Fotheringhay Castle. The British Library’s ‘Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens’ exhibition is the first to examine the personal and political relationship between Elizabeth and Mary and is a timely addition to the sphere of public history. Bringing together portraiture and visual components, contemporary documents, and expert historical interpretations, this exhibition provides an intimate look at the rival queens who shared an isle.

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Film Review: Mary Queen of Scots

By Johanna Strong

Cover Image: courtesy of IMDB, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2328900/.

With the winter break behind us, some of us might be hesitant to let that holiday spirit go. With that in mind, this month’s first blog post eases back into the historical world by examining the 2018 film, ‘Mary Queen of Scots’.

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The Marriage of Augusta of Saxe-Gotha and Frederick, Prince of Wales

By Amy-Jane Humphries

Augusta of Saxe-Gotha.

In April 1736, Britain and the Hanoverian royal family celebrated the marriage of the heir apparent, Frederick, Prince of Wales, to Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. With this union, the monarchy found itself in a unique position. For the first time since they had inherited the throne from Queen Anne in 1714, the Hanoverians had both a king and a queen and a prince and princess of Wales at its helm. The early Hanoverian period, encapsulating the reigns of George I (1714-1727) and George II (1727-1760), is notable for its dearth of consort queens. George I’s divorce from Sophia Dorothea of Celle in 1694 meant that he came to Britain without a consort. George II was crowned beside his wife, Caroline of Ansbach, in October 1727 but their partnership ended with Caroline’s death a decade later and George never remarried. The absence of the queen consort was therefore the norm rather than the exception. Instead, the early Hanoverian period could be said to have been the era of the princess of Wales.

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Book Review: The Monstrous Regiment of Women: Female Rulers in Early Modern Europe by Sharon L. Jansen

By Johanna Strong

Sharon L. Jansen’s The Monstrous Regiment of Women: Female Rulers in Early Modern Europe is a foundational work in the field of queenship studies and stands in a long series of responses and allusions to John Knox’s infamous First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (1558). Where Knox argued that women were inherently unable to rule and so should be barred from political power, Jansen highlights early modern Europe as a centre of female power, a complex “network[…] of related women and patterns of connections between them” (page 4). Instead of focusing on individual remarkable women, Jansen “explore[s] the relationships among women whose lives occupy a place in and perpetuate a continuing, though largely unrecogni[s]ed[,] tradition of political rule” (5-6).

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Scholar Introduction: Victoria Rasbridge

Having completed her undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University of Oxford, Victoria is currently pursuing a PhD in Spanish at University College London (UCL), funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council UK. In addition to her AHRC studentship, Victoria is an ARTES-CEEH scholar and has been awarded the Everett W. Hesse prize by the Association of Hispanic Classical Theater.

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Book Review: The Lady of Misrule by Suzannah Dunn

By Johanna Strong

“A good Catholic girl was what they’d said they needed” (page 5). So begins Suzannah Dunn’s The Lady of Misrule, a novel of Lady Jane Grey’s last days in the Tower of London before her execution in February 1554. As seen through the eyes of the “catch-all Catholic girl” (5) Elizabeth Tilney, the woman who had “come to supervise [Jane] in her detention” (11), Dunn’s work simultaneously approaches the question of confessional divide in mid-Tudor England and provides a more human view of the imprisonment and execution of England’s ‘Nine Day Queen’. Dunn also implicitly engages with historians’ largest quandary: source bias. While the plot is dominated more by interpersonal relationships between the characters than by any twists and turns of actions and events, Dunn’s novel is nevertheless engaging and provides a unique viewpoint to mid-Tudor England.

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Book Review: Uncrowned Queen. The Fateful Life of Margaret Beaufort, Tudor Matriarch by Nicola Tallis

By Gabby Storey

The image of Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII, the first Tudor king of England, is often one of a somewhat dominant, stubborn, and determined royal mother who sought to ensure her son gained the throne and stayed there. Tallis’ biographical study of Margaret offers a compelling insight into this royal matriarch, uncovering her life outside of queenly motherhood and her epitome of ‘Uncrowned Queen’ makes her an interesting study for one who was not formally queen, but arguably held the power of one.

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A Forgotten Queen: Mary of Modena

By Susannah Lyon-Whaley

Willem Wissing, Mary of Modena, Buccleuch Collection, Drumlanrig Castle.

One early modern queen consort has not yet received her share of the limelight, despite a dramatic and remarkable life. Mary of Modena (1658-1718), born Maria Beatrice Eleonora Anna Margherita Isabella d’Este, married James, duke of York (1633-1701) in 1673. She was only fifteen, and the duke was forty. While such age gaps sometimes occurred in noble marriages, they were unusual amongst the Stuarts. Of the most recent royal pairs, Charles I was nine years older than his wife, Henrietta Maria, and Charles II was eight years older than his consort, Catherine of Braganza. Mary’s new husband at least shared her Catholic faith, although this faith was reviled by many in England. In the early 1670s, Charles II’s failure to produce an heir meant it looked increasingly likely that his brother James would one day be king. The English Parliament therefore tried to stop Mary and James’ marriage from going ahead because of their fear of a male Catholic heir who would supplant James’ Protestant daughters with his first wife, according to England’s tradition of male primogeniture.

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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.

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Book Review: African Europeans: An Untold History by Olivette Otele

By Amy-Jane Humphries

With African Europeans, Olivette Otele, Professor of the History of Slavery and Memory of Enslavement at the University of Bristol, deftly weaves from past to present to tell the untold stories of the people of Africa and Europe. By restoring these stories to their rightful place in the histories of these continents, Otele provides a more complete picture of our past. It is a reminder that Africa and Europe, and their peoples, have been intwined for millennia. However, this book is much more than a work of history—it is also a manifesto for our times. The book challenges many of the ideas that surround questions of identity, heritage, and the historical presence of people of African descent in Europe. Otele uses the past to illuminate the path to a better future and demonstrates that it is only by understanding our past that we can help to build a world that is truly equal and breaks the “destructive patterns of violence and subjugation” (p.219) that have, and regrettably continue to, ruin too many lives. African Europeans is a work that seeks to resolve the problem that those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it; it is history-writing at its finest.

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Acknowledging a wealth of scholarship on global queenship

By Elena ‘Ellie’ Woodacre

In my last blog post for Team Queens “Going Global: New Directions in Queenship Studies”, I talked about how important it was for us as a field to reframe queenship in a fully global context, inclusive of all periods, places and cultures. While this is a fairly new trajectory for queenship as a field, it is important to acknowledge that there is already some fantastic scholarship on royal women, from ancient Mesopotamia to the ongoing modern controversies on female succession in Japan.

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Girls on Film: On-Screen Depictions of Queens in Warfare

By Catherine Capel

Queens have been brought to life on the screen for many decades, highlighting their turbulent and enigmatic reigns and portraying key themes analysed within queenship studies – reception of female power and rulership, succession crises, sexuality, and motherhood to name but a few. But warfare as an aspect of queenship has not been a focal point for representing these queens. Although there are references to the conflicts which occurred during their reigns, it is not a theme that forms their identity as a ruler. The depiction of queens participating in warfare in films and television series, however, is gaining ground in tandem with royal women gaining more recognition in military historiography.   

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Book Review: Les rois maudits by Maurice Druon

By Louise Gay

A member of the French Academy, a veteran, and a resistance fighter against Nazi Germany, Maurice Druon (1918-2009) was one of the co-authors of the mythical Chant des partisans – the anthem of French Resistance. But among his many nationally acclaimed works, the Accursed Kings series of historical novels (Les Rois Maudits) crossed borders to become an international success. This seven-volume story is the result of  a collaborative team effort, and the names of his many collaborators can  be found in each preface. The first six books were published between 1955 and 1960, with a final seventh – more independent from the others – released in 1977.

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Marie-Louise d’Orléans, Queen of Spain (1662-1689)

By Elisabetta Lurgo

Cover Image: Portrait of Marie Louise d’Orléans (1662-1689), c. 1679, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Marie-Louise_d%27Orl%C3%A9ans,_reine_d%27Espagne.jpg

If, according to the contemporary view, the reign of Marie-Louise d’Orléans, wife of King Carlos II of Habsburg, ended with the fleeting victory of the Austrian faction at the court of Spain, her sudden death, which gave rise to tenacious suspicions of poisoning, has something to feed the romantic imagination.

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Book Review: Queenship in Medieval France, 1300-1500 by Murielle Gaude-Ferragu

By Louise Gay

Translated from French to English by Angela Krieger, this book by Murielle Gaude-Ferragu (original publication in 2014) sheds a welcome light on the last medieval queens of France from the early fourteenth to the end of the fifteenth centuries. It focuses mainly on Valois queenship, exploring through nine thematic chapters (grouped in three distinctive parts) the power held by these women at a time when the French monarchy excluded the possibility of crowning a regnant queen. Whereas previous historiography overlooked Valois queens for being “simple” consorts, Gaude-Ferragu argues they played an essential role in the monarchy throughout the nearly two centuries of crises it faced. Her aim is to define late medieval queenship in France, outlining the queen’s functions and expectations.

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Katherine Parr, religious reform, and the battle for the throne

By June Woolerton

Twitter: @mrsrjgiven

On a summer’s day in 1546, the Queen of England was walking with her husband when guards arrived to arrest her. King Henry VIII had already had two of his previous wives detained and later executed and for a moment there was every indication that his sixth consort was about to follow the same path. However, Henry stepped in and dismissed his wife’s enemies, who left, embarrassed and bewildered. Katherine Parr had survived. But if she said a prayer of thanks later, she kept it discreet. For it was religion that had placed her in peril of the block.

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Book Review: Queens and Queenship in Medieval Europe: Proceedings of a Conference Held at King’s College London, April 1995 by Anne J. Duggan

By Catherine Capel

This volume, edited by Anne J. Duggan, celebrates the diverse aspects which make up the foundations of queenship in the Middle Ages. It analyses them through thematic lenses identifying core aspects affecting the execution of power by queens and the construction of queenship. The essays in this collection come from the conference ‘Queens and Queenship in the Middle Ages’ in 1995, which aimed to draw comparisons between the constructions of monarchy in Europe and the Latin East from the sixth to the sixteenth centuries. The study of queenship is deeply complex, but Duggan’s volume highlights many of the arguments which have perpetuated the study of queens as agents of the monarchy.  

Continue reading “Book Review: Queens and Queenship in Medieval Europe: Proceedings of a Conference Held at King’s College London, April 1995 by Anne J. Duggan”
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Lady Katherine Grey: Tudor Heiress

By Conor Byrne
Instagram: @_cbhistory
Facebook: Conor Byrne Historian

According to the last will and testament of Henry VIII, the throne of England should have been inherited by the descendants of Lady Katherine Grey when Henry’s younger daughter, Elizabeth I, died on 24 March 1603. A somewhat obscure figure in Tudor history, Katherine was the second daughter of Henry, duke of Suffolk and his wife Frances, the elder daughter of Mary Tudor, queen of France and subsequently duchess of Suffolk. Mary was the youngest surviving daughter of the first Tudor king, Henry VII, meaning that Katherine, as his great-granddaughter, had a claim to the English throne. Born on 25 August 1540 at the Grey family residence of Bradgate Park in Leicestershire, Katherine may have been named after Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard, whom he had married in July of that year.

In previous monarchs’ reigns, where the ruler was blessed with a large number of legitimate healthy male heirs, it is unlikely that Katherine’s dynastic claim would have become a political issue. However, the childlessness of Elizabeth I as a result of her decision not to marry, coupled with her refusal to name a successor to the throne, meant that Katherine was regarded by a number of courtiers, diplomats and politicians as a viable claimant to the throne in the eventuality of the English queen’s death, especially by those who favoured a Protestant successor.

At the end of his life, as he made preparations for the rule of his young son Edward, Henry VIII surely never envisaged that all three of his children would die childless; his placing of the descendants of his younger sister Mary in the line of succession was probably, at best, a contingency plan that the king would not have regarded as likely to be required. The king stipulated that in his will, in the event of Edward dying without having fathered heirs, the crown would pass first to his elder daughter Mary and her heirs and then to his younger daughter Elizabeth and her heirs. If neither daughter produced offspring, the crown would pass to ‘the heirs of the body of Lady Frances [Brandon], our niece, eldest daughter to our late sister the French Queen’ (‘Henry VIII: December 1546, 26-31’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 21 Part 2, September 1546-January 1547, ed. James Gairdner and R H Brodie (London, 1910), pp. 313-348. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol21/no2/pp313-348 [accessed 5 August 2021], 634). When Henry’s only son Edward became king in 1547, at the age of nine years old, his contemporaries surely believed that their king would reign over them for many years to come; a marriage and children would take place in good time. However, as Edward’s health took a turn for the worse in the spring of 1553, involving an illness that ultimately proved fatal, the young king elected to ignore his father’s policy on the succession and instead decreed that, by virtue of their illegitimacy, neither of his half-sisters could succeed him on the throne; he also refused to name his half-sister Mary as his heir on account of her Catholicism. Instead, Edward stipulated, he would be succeeded by the heirs of Frances Grey’s elder daughter, Jane; when it became clear in 1553 that Jane’s marriage to Guildford Dudley, son of the duke of Northumberland, would not produce an heir before the king’s death, Edward decreed that the crown would pass to Jane herself. Historians have conjectured that Frances was passed over on account of her marriage to the duke, who Edward did not wish to see as king.

As is well known, the attempt to place Jane Grey on the English throne collapsed in the summer of 1553 as the country rallied behind the elder of Henry’s daughters. The Grey claim was not a political and dynastic issue during Mary I’s reign after her accession to the throne, mostly because of the disgrace and executions of Jane and her father in 1554, but it did become an issue during her successor’s reign. Shortly after Elizabeth I’s accession, the teenaged Katherine was appointed as maid of honour to the queen and engaged in conversations with the Spanish ambassador, apparently expressing resentment that the queen had not named her as her heir and promising to follow the Catholic faith and not marry without the Spanish king’s permission. If true, this report demonstrates Katherine’s own ambitions for the throne.

It was rumoured abroad that ‘there ys practysing for a mariage to be made betwyxt the prince of Spayne and the Lady Kateryn [Grey]’ (‘Cecil Papers: March 1560’, in Calendar of the Cecil Papers in Hatfield House: Volume 1, 1306-1571 (London, 1883), pp. 190-200. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-cecil-papers/vol1/pp190-200 [accessed 5 August 2021], 645), but these rumours proved false because Katherine recklessly engaged in a love affair with Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford, son of the executed Lord Protector and duke of Somerset, and thus a cousin of Edward VI, a love affair seemingly at odds with her ambition to succeed Elizabeth as queen. Katherine’s liaison with Seymour was foolish because, as a member of the royal family, she required the queen’s permission to marry. Moreover, it constituted a possible threat to Elizabeth herself because it could establish a strong power base against the as-yet unmarried queen. The couple seem to have hoped that Katherine’s mother and stepfather would seek Elizabeth’s permission for the marriage to go ahead, but Frances died in November 1559 before managing to do so. Despite the possibility that a secret marriage could be considered an act of treason, Katherine and Seymour were clandestinely married at the end of 1560. In the months after the wedding, the court became increasingly aware of the couple’s ‘companie and familiaritie’, especially when Katherine conceived a child. Her condition became obvious by the summer of 1561, when the court was on progress, and she resolved to speak to the queen’s favourite Robert Dudley to ‘be a meane to the queene’s highness for her’. When Elizabeth found out, she ordered Katherine and her husband – who had recently spent time abroad – to be imprisoned in the Tower of London and interrogated. While housed there, Katherine gave birth to a son, Edward.

On Elizabeth’s express orders, the ‘pretended mariage’ was declared null and void by a specially appointed commission; a conclusion that was reached because of the lack of evidence that such a marriage had taken place: no banns had been read or communion celebrated prior to the marriage; the date of the ceremony was unrecorded; and there were no witnesses to testify that a marriage had taken place (Seymour’s sister, Jane, who had allegedly been present at the wedding, had died in early 1561, and the priest who had married them had vanished). Seymour was found guilty of carnal copulation with a member of the royal family and was punished with a hefty fine. Although the queen had stipulated that the couple were to be separated in prison, they contrived to meet one another and Katherine conceived for the second time, giving birth to a son, Thomas, in 1563. Seymour was punished with another fine and, on the orders of Elizabeth, both children were declared bastards on the grounds of their parents’ marriage being invalid. Susan Doran has suggested that, while she almost certainly disliked Katherine and had no desire to be succeeded as queen by her, Elizabeth’s harsh stance was based on her wish to maintain a harmonious relationship with Mary Queen of Scots, with whom she was then in diplomatic discussions and whom she believed had a stronger claim to the English succession than Katherine. If Katherine’s sons had been pronounced legitimate, this could have been viewed by Mary as a challenge to her claim. The queen, however, did release Katherine and Seymour from the Tower, but they were placed under house arrest and were separated from one another.

Public opinion on Elizabeth’s actions was mixed. Some asked ‘whye sholde men and wief be lett from coming together?’ John Hales proclaimed that the Seymour-Grey marriage was valid in line with ‘the lawe of nature, Godd’s lawe, and the common lawe’. He also wrote a pamphlet arguing that Katherine was Elizabeth’s rightful successor according to the last will and testament of Henry VIII, and also because foreigners (thus, Mary Queen of Scots and her heirs) were barred by common law from succeeding to the English throne. As the queen’s adviser Sir William Cecil explained, Hales ‘had secretly made a book in the time of the last Parliament wherein he hath taken upon him to discuss no small matter, viz., the title to the Crown after the Queen’s Majesty, having confuted and rejected the line of the Scottish Queen, and made the line of the Lady Frances, mother to the Lady Catherine, only next and lawful. He is committed to the Fleet for this boldness, specially because he had communicated it to sundry persons.’ Hales’ pamphlet was followed by a number of succession tracts debating who should succeed Elizabeth, while the 1566 parliament produced calls for the queen to name her successor, with a number of MPs favouring Katherine as the queen’s heir. During this time, Katherine remained under house arrest at Ingatestone, then Gosford Hall, and finally at Cockfield Hall in Yoxford, Suffolk. She died at the latter residence on 26 January 1568 at the age of twenty-seven, probably of consumption (others have suggested anorexia). Initially buried at the parish church in Yoxford, her remains were later interred at Salisbury Cathedral, where they were joined by those of her husband.

Although some may have considered Katherine’s marriage to Seymour to have been valid, at the queen’s death in 1603 she was succeeded not by Katherine’s eldest son Edward, then aged forty-one, but by James VI of Scotland, only child of Mary Queen of Scots. Contrary to popular belief, James’ accession to the English throne was not inevitable. In the mid-1590s, the Jesuit Robert Persons suggested that there were at least sixteen possible heirs to Elizabeth, while the lawyer Thomas Wilson named twelve individuals. Katherine’s historical significance lies in her status as a claimant to the throne during the early 1560s, when she was regarded by a sizeable number of courtiers, councillors and diplomats as the rightful successor to Elizabeth I in the event of the queen dying without having married and produced heirs of her own. Those who supported the claim of Mary Queen of Scots, however, such as the anonymous author of ‘Allegations in behalf of… the Lady Mary now Queen of Scots’, instead asserted that Katherine could not succeed the English queen by virtue of her descent from a bastard line, while her ‘carnall company’ with Seymour rendered her unfit to rule. Those who favoured Mary’s claim based their arguments on primogeniture, Mary being descended from Henry VIII’s elder sister Margaret, while supporters of Katherine used the will of Henry VIII alongside statute and common law to validate Katherine’s claim.

While refusing to name her successor during her lifetime, Elizabeth herself seems to have been determined to ensure that Katherine and her sons never succeeded her. When, on her deathbed in 1603, her councillors asked her if Katherine’s eldest son Edward, Lord Beauchamp, should succeed her, the queen apparently refused, saying ‘I will have no rascal’s son in my seat but one worthy to be a King’. As Leanda de Lisle has commented, ‘Elizabeth was determined that dynastic legitimacy and a monarch’s divine right to rule would prevail over the secular power of parliamentary statute.’ Historians have recognised that James’ accession to the English throne was also made possible due to there being no credible alternative claimants: Katherine’s younger son, Thomas, had died in 1600 and, unlike his elder brother, he could claim to be legitimate since he had been born after his parents had married. The elder son, Edward, showed no interest in challenging the Scottish king for the English throne. By refusing to name the sons of Katherine Grey as her heirs, Elizabeth – like Edward VI – ignored the last will and testament of her father.

Reading List

Henry VIII’s will – accessed online. ‘Henry VIII: December 1546, 26-31’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 21 Part 2, September 1546-January 1547, ed. James Gairdner and R H Brodie (London, 1910), pp. 313-348. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol21/no2/pp313-348 [accessed 5 August 2021].

Chapman, Hester. Two Tudor Portraits: Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, and Lady Katherine Grey (London, 1960).

De Lisle, Leanda. The Sisters Who Would Be Queen: The Tragedy of Mary, Katherine and Lady Jane Grey (London, 2008).

Doran, Susan. Elizabeth I & Her Circle (Oxford, 2015).

Doran, Susan and Paulina Kewes (eds). Doubtful and Dangerous: The Question of Succession in Late Elizabethan England (Manchester, 2014).

Ives, Eric. Lady Jane Grey – A Tudor Mystery (Oxford, 2011). 

Levine, Mortimer. The Early Elizabethan Succession Question, 1558-1568 (Stanford, 1966).

Levine, Mortimer. Tudor Dynastic Problems: 1460-1571 (New York, 1973).

Lipscomb, Suzannah. The King is Dead: The Last Will and Testament of Henry VIII (London, 2015).

Schutte, William. ‘Thomas Churchyard’s “Dollfull Discourse” and the Death of Lady Katherine Grey’. The Sixteenth Century Journal 15(4): 471–487.

Spies, Martin. ‘The Portrait Of Lady Katherine Grey And Her Son: Iconographic Medievalism As A Legitimation Strategy’. In Alicia C. Montoya, Sophie van Romburgh and Wim van Anrooij (eds), Early Modern Medievalisms: The Interplay between Scholarly Reflection and Artistic Production (Brill, 2010): 165–191.

Tallis, Nicola. Crown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey (London, 2016).

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Twitter: @CarstairsIrene

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