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.

In addressing the religious tensions of Edwardian and Marian England, primarily Protestant reforms under Edward VI and the subsequent return to Catholicism under Mary I, Dunn notes the reality in Elizabeth Tilney’s family’s approach to religion; they “certainly weren’t reformists, […] weren’t anything much else either: [they] just were; [they] were what [they]’d always been, doing pretty much as [they]’d always done, if – admittedly – a little more cautiously” (25). For most subjects in Tudor England, personal belief was largely just that: personal. Outward religious practice and performance varied according to the monarch’s religion, and most were able to conform outwardly without significant changes to their personal beliefs.

For some, such as Lady Jane Grey, however, the religious changes back to Catholicism were intolerable and her life became a mission to maintain English Protestantism. Jane spends much of her time, in Dunn’s novel, at her books, which Jane reveals to Elizabeth is because of the former’s concern for the policies which Mary will introduce to England as Queen. Jane is therefore fervently making copies of her books and writing religious reflections to ensure that the Protestant religious perspective does not disappear entirely under Mary. The religious aspect of Mary’s queenship is further highlighted in the characters’ discussion of Mary’s marriage to Philip II of Spain and the extent of religious persecution perceived in early modern Spain. Even Elizabeth and Jane’s relationship is at first strained because of the underlying religious assumptions, on Jane’s part that Elizabeth’s Catholicism will prove a barrier to any niceties and on Elizabeth’s that Jane will prove to be a dour, over-intelligent Protestant woman who has time only for her scholarship.

As the novel progresses, however, there is a distinct lessening of religious tension between Elizabeth and Jane, with each acknowledging the humanity and individuality of the other, though the two women nevertheless struggle to see eye-to-eye in religious discussions. By the time Jane faces her execution, Elizabeth sees her not as a religious fanatic but as a sort of friend and Elizabeth is physically unable to handle the emotion, disgust, and grief which overwhelms her at Jane’s execution. Though it is Elizabeth who is meant to prepare Jane’s body for burial, she finds herself unable to do so and it is one of the other Tower staff who takes this role, alluding to the closeness which Jane and Elizabeth found, despite their relative inability to understand each other on a religious level.

Ostensibly a work about the personal relationship between these two women held at the Tower, Dunn’s work emerges as a personification of the religious tensions in Marian England and of the day-to-day reality for the average person of setting aside significant Christian theological difference in order to co-exist and survive. The Lady of Misrule also serves to highlight the religious aspect of the politics of queenship, focusing as it does on the complex religious makeup of England which first Jane then Mary must oversee as monarch.

Further, Dunn’s work suggests the complexities inherent in the field of queenship studies which come with acknowledging the perspective of primary sources. While the novel is written from Elizabeth’s point of view, the narration is nonetheless influenced by Elizabeth’s environment. Given her isolation from the world outside the Tower, she is left to rely on hearsay and third-hand accounts of events such as Mary’s entry to London, her coronation, and Wyatt’s Rebellion and Mary’s response to it. When Elizabeth does gather first-hand information, Jane’s strong opinions quickly colour the narrative with her staunchly Protestant understanding of the world and of Mary’s queenship and rule. As such, Dunn’s novel implicitly engages with the age-old struggle for all historians: separating the individual’s experience and environment from the pure facts of a given situation (or at least as close to the pure facts as one can get). Despite their proximity to the events in question, Elizabeth’s own experience is tempered by her context, at once rendering the narrative more personal but also alluding to the difficulties of ever truly knowing a historical figure intimately. Despite the largely abstract academic musings which the novel suggests, the subjectivity of The Lady of Misrule’s perspective serves to humanise Lady Jane Grey’s story and makes Dunn’s character more alive to the reader.

Dunn’s The Lady of Misrule is thus a personal rendering of Lady Jane Grey and her time in the Tower of London before her execution. The novel not only highlights the difficulty of interpreting historical events but clearly demonstrates the political and religious tensions inherent in monarchical rule, particularly when the monarch in question is a queen. The Lady of Misrule personalises one of England’s most infamous historical moments while simultaneously implicitly engaging the reader in significant historical discussions surrounding queenship and religion.


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.

Often known in popular history as a religious fanatic who may have had a hand in the murder of the Princes in the Tower (the young sons of Edward IV) in 1483, Tallis demonstrates through a substantive and detailed analysis of both the sources and historiography that Margaret’s status as an heiress and descendant of Edward III, and the results of her marriage to Edmund Tudor, count of Richmond, determined her life’s journey. Married to Edmund shortly after her twelfth birthday, Margaret son bore her one and only son, Henry. Twice widowed and a mother at the age of thirteen against the backdrop of the Wars of the Roses, it is perhaps unsurprising that Margaret grew up quickly and prioritised the welfare and needs of her son.

Tallis’ discussion of the possibilities for Margaret’s further lack of children is novel and interesting: she speculates that it is entirely plausible Margaret chose not to have further children. The potential of damage, both physical and psychological, from Henry’s birth, as well as sex at such a young age, are all considerable factors in why there were no further heirs of Margaret. When motherhood was viewed as the primary and an essential role for medieval women, even more so for those of status, it is worth pondering the reasons behind Margaret’s role and life with regards to maternity.

Dr Tallis brings her wealth of expertise as a medieval historian to this biography: deeply engaging and well researched, readers will come away from this study with not only an original understanding of the life of one of history’s most influential queen mothers, but also with a wider appreciation of the dynasticism and ties of the royal and noble houses that were brought to the centre stage during the wars of fifteenth century England.

Divided into three sections, the first part of this study explores Margaret’s life prior to the birth of Henry, bringing together and centring Margaret’s role as a significant heiress and pawn in the early years of the Wars of the Roses. The second section uncovers Margaret’s life from Henry’s birth until his accession as king, and the third and final section situates Margaret in arguably her most famous era, that of mother of the king.

Tallis’ work ought to be praised for her crucial unpicking of many of the myths that surround Margaret. Applying a thoroughly critical appraisal of the available source material, Tallis weaves an excellent biography of a woman to whom history has often been unkind. Demonstrating Margaret’s activities beyond her piety, Tallis uncovers Margaret’s inspiration of loyalty and her generosity and kindness amongst her household [236]. In this we gain a richer picture of Margaret, one who was not only a queen mother or a devout woman, but a noblewoman who cared for her extensive household.

To come full circle, Margaret was also a politically astute and effective dynast, taking a strong interest in the alliances and allegiances of her son and grandchildren. In addition to this was a woman who was far more complex than is often perceived at an initial glance, and as with her other works, historian Nicola Tallis demonstrates that there is far more to the lives of medieval royal women that at first appears.  


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.

Twelve years later, however, James became king, and twenty-six-year-old Mary was the first consort to be crowned in England in eighty years, the most recent being Anna of Denmark in 1603. At the king’s order, Francis Sandford compiled A History of the Coronation, a publication indicating the queen’s grandeur at this event, during which she wore three different crowns. When Mary gave birth to Prince James Francis Edward in 1688 after years of fertility troubles, the response from Protestants, including the King’s daughter Princess Anne, and politicians such as John Wildman, was to claim that the child was not Mary’s. They claimed that he was smuggled into the bed as the queen lay in labour, or that he was illegitimate and Mary had affairs with her priests (she did not). At this time, Mary’s pregnant and maternal body was thrust into the public sphere. At court and in the streets, pamphlets and gossips dissected her appearance and actions. Was she really pregnant? Did her breasts leak milk? Some claimed she had her period when she was supposed to have conceived. Perhaps in response to these accusations, a medal shows the queen sitting up in bed holding her child, proclaiming his legitimacy. This was an unusually public visual depiction of an English queen’s childbed, and one satirised in playing cards that showed the bed with its curtains pulled furtively closed. In reality, the room had been crowded when Mary gave birth and, a few months later, James called a special council where witnesses testified that Mary was the prince’s natural mother. None of it was enough.

Medal showing the queen in bed surrounded by the Latin inscription ‘Public Happiness’. British Museum G3,EM.72.
The 2 of Diamonds and Knave of Hearts from a set of playing cards depicting the events of the Glorious Revolution, British Museum 1896,0501.920.1-51.

James had been accepted as a Catholic monarch in 1685 when he promised to support the Protestant religion, despite the Exclusion Crisis in 1679 – 1681, when three bills attempted to exclude him from the succession because he was Catholic. He had even won popular support against the claims of his brother’s eldest illegitimate son, the Protestant Duke of Monmouth, who was executed after attempting to take the throne. However, since James’ coronation, the increasing numbers of Catholics in his household and the army, his close ties to France, his attempt to suspend penal laws against Catholics, his dissolution of Parliament with the intent to introduce a new one supportive to his aims, and in 1688 his imprisonment of London’s bishops in the Tower, created a charged atmosphere that was heightened by the queen’s pregnancy and the birth of a son and Catholic heir.

The accusations of illegitimacy and James’ unpopular Catholic policies were a catalyst for the ‘Glorious Revolution’. The royal family went into exile in France before the end of the year. Mary escaped first, disguised as a washerwoman, and clutching her child on a stormy crossing to Calais. James made his escape soon after, leaving his crown to be seized by the staunch Protestants Mary II, James II’s daughter, and her husband William III.

Mary’s strong character, as evidenced during her time as queen and her flight from England, emerged even before her wedding, as is apparent from English accounts. The teenage princess was determined to be a nun, but James wanted a beautiful bride, and Mary’s graceful face, startlingly lovely dark eyes, and black hair fit the bill. Moreover, she was a choice approved by France, with whom Charles II had recently signed the secret Treaty of Dover, promising his eventual conversion to Catholicism in return for much-needed funds. After crying and protesting her fate, Mary acquiesced only when a letter from the Pope convinced her she could better serve God as a queen, aiding in England’s re-conversion to the ‘true faith’. A visit she made to see the heart of St. Francis de Sales, patron of the order she had hoped to join, on her way through France to England attests to her fervent belief that hers was a religious mission.

Unlike previous consorts, Mary spent twelve years in England before becoming queen and learnt to speak English well. In total, she was pregnant ten times before 1685; two of these pregnancies ended in miscarriages, three were stillbirths, and five of her children died young, leaving her without living children between 1682 and 1688. While regularly pregnant, Mary also engaged with music, commissioned art, particularly religious art, and was a common dedicatee of poems and plays, which demonstrates her popularity and cultural potency. She had a sense of adventure, which included engaging in snowball fights and sledding across frozen ponds, and was an avid rider, suffering a terrible fall in 1682 that nearly killed her. James admired the masterly way that Mary rode, and had a picture of her in riding clothes hanging in his chamber. Mary was so determined to be at her husband’s side during potential troubles that she insisted on accompanying James on a return journey from Edinburgh to London, despite being six months pregnant and needing to be winched into the ship.

Dressed for riding: Simon Verelst, Mary when Duchess of York, c. 1675, RCIN 404920.

As a duchess, Mary’s Catholicism and foreignness were perhaps mitigated by her beauty and charm and her assimilation into English court life and society. Even then, efforts to exclude James from the succession meant that both he and Mary were shunted from the English court from 1679-1682, first to Brussels and then to Edinburgh. After becoming queen, Mary’s position became thornier, as the satires directed at her in 1688 show. While some of her contemporaries accused her of giving herself airs, she was not universally hated; in 1687 the Tuscan ambassador reported that she gave audiences in a meadow in Bath ‘to all who desire[d] it’.

Mary’s early years in England shaped the role she was to play in her exiled French court. She continued to style herself ‘queen’, then ‘queen regent’ and ‘queen dowager’ for another thirty years in France. Like her well-known mother-in-law Henrietta Maria, she tirelessly campaigned for her husband’s then her son’s cause, selling her jewels, writing letters, and finding positions and food for the supporters that followed the king to France, all with limited means. She was not at all, as a 1960s biographer claimed, ‘uninterested in politics’ (Oman, 1962). Politics defined her life, and the lives of those she loved, to tumultuous ends. While her dedication to the ‘true faith’ was such that she refused to allow her son to convert in order to regain his throne, it would also be wrong to paint her as only interested in politics and culture insofar as they pertained directly to religion. Nicholas Field’s study of late Stuart musical patronage argues that Mary cultivated a wide musical taste for secular as well as religious themes. Among her admiring English ladies was the Protestant poet Anne Finch.

Benedetto Gennari, Mary and the Prince of Wales, 1690, private collection (credit: Historical Portraits, http://www.historicalportraits.com/Gallery.asp?Page=Item&ItemID=392&Desc=Mary-of-Modena-and-James-Prince-of-Wales-%7C-Benedetto-Gennari)

Mary’s cultural and political involvement as queen, her relationships, and much more remain to be fully illuminated in modern scholarship, yet among the reasons that Mary may have been sidelined in the historical narrative are those that make her particularly interesting to remember. These include the scandal surrounding her son’s birth in 1688, combined with her short tenure as queen in England. As pamphleteers, satirists, and even Mary of Modena’s stepdaughters Princesses Mary of Orange and Anne sought to portray James Edward Francis as illegitimate, delegitimising his succession required delegitimising Mary. However, as a queen, Mary of Modena was, for three years, the first lady of the London court, and the kingdom. For another thirty years, she was the ‘Queen over the Water’, and for many was still Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland.

Mary’s signature in 1687: ‘Maria R’ for ‘Maria Regina’ (author’s photo).

Bibliography and Recommended Reading

Barclay, Andrew. “Mary Beatrice of Modena: the ‘Second Bless’d of Womankind’?” in Queenship in Britain, 1660-1837: Royal Patronage, Court Culture and Dynastic Politics, edited by Clarissa Campbell Orr, 74-93. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002.

Barash, Carol. “The Female Monarch and the Woman Poet: Mary of Modena, Anne Killigrew, and Jane Barker.” In English Women’s Poetry, 1649–1714: Politics, Community, and Linguistic Authority. Oxford Scholarship Online, October 2011. DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198186861.001.0001

Cavelli, Emilia Rowles Campana Di, ed. Les derniers Stuarts à Saint-Germain en Laye: documents inédits et authentiques puisés aux archives publiques et privées. 2 vols. Paris: Didier & cie, 1871.

Corp, Edward, ed. A Court in Exile: The Stuarts in France, 1689-1718. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Field, Nicholas. Outlandish Authors: Innocenzo Fede and Musical Patronage at the Stuart Court in London and in Exile. PhD thesis, University of Michigan, 2013.

Haile, Martin. Queen Mary of Modena: Her Life and Letters. London: J.M. Dent & Co. 1905.

Hopkirk, Mary. Queen Over the Water: Mary Beatrice of Modena, Queen of James II. London: John Murray, 1953.

Oman, Carola. Mary of Modena. Suffolk: Hodder and Stoughton, 1962.

Sandford, Francis. The History of the Coronation of the most High, most Mighty, and most Excellent Monarch, James II. by the Grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, &c. and of His Royal Consort, Queen Mary. London: printed by Thomas Newcomb, one of His Majesties printers, 1687. Early English Books Online.

Toynbee, M.R. “An Early Correspondence of Queen Mary of Modena.” Notes and Queries 188, no. 5 (10 March, 1945): 90-94.


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. 


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.

Much work has been done on the lives of people of African descent in Europe, but this research often focuses on specific geographical areas. African Europeans encompasses the entirety of Europe and is therefore relatively unusual within the context of this scholarship. Even more ambitiously, the book covers two thousand years of history. Otele takes her readers as far back to the Kingdom of the Kush, where Queen Amanirenas (r. 40 – 10BCE) led her armies against Roman invaders in a bloody, five-year conflict.In tracing the stories of African Europeans through time, Otele also examines the present and more recent past. African Europeans is a book of this moment. It was published in 2020 against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement, protests against police brutality, and the toppling of the statue of the slave trader, Edward Colston, in Bristol. In many ways, therefore, this work is a turning point not only in academic scholarship but also in the realm of public history. By restoring to the historical narrative the lives of African Europeans whose stories had been left untold by previous generations of historians, Otele unequivocally demonstrates that there is a long, shared history between the peoples of Africa and Europe, one which should be remembered. That Otele has achieved all of this within such a short volume is her real triumph. It is well-paced, engaging, and highly readable which makes it a book that anyone can pick up, enjoy, and take something meaningful from.

Chapter One examines the interactions between Europe and Africa during the Classical period. While examining Italy, Egypt, and Ethiopia, Otele discusses the lives of St Maurice, Emperor Septimus Severus, and the Queen of Sheba. The Queen of Sheba is particularly interesting because, in European artistic representations of her, she is often shown as a white woman which “plays into the perception that otherness may not have mattered in instances where Africans, especially women, were at the top of the social ladder” (p.30). However, her otherness is not entirely eroded by her status and throughout the 19th century she was frequently depicted as “an African European temptress” (p.30). The changing depictions, Otele states, provide “an insight into social, cultural, and scientific changes in Europe” (p.31) and allow us to “analyse the European gaze on Africans” (p.30) Chapter Two moves the narrative further into medieval Southern Europe where African Europeans could be free or enslaved. Chapter Three then explores Western and Central Europe during the Renaissance. In both chapters, Otele demonstrates how racism and racialism were developed and then justified in the eyes of European thinkers of the period. In telling the stories of African Europeans such as, Jacobus Capitein, however, Otele demonstrates that these ideas were challenged by the very fact that these people defied the classifications imposed upon them. Chapter Four explores the lives of people born in Africa who had African and European parents. It also looks at the relationship between race and gender by studying the Signares of Senegal and the Ga women of Ghana. Otele uses the experiences of these women to examine the legacy of colonialism in contemporary Dutch society, a method she then uses in Chapter Five as she explores the lives of Afro-Germans and Germany’s role in the colonisation of Africa. In Chapters Six and Seven, Otele brings her readers to the modern period to discuss the overarching themes of identity and citizenship, and the problems of racism and racialism against a backdrop of contemporary activism. 

By Otele’s own admission, the phrase ‘African Europeans’ is a “provocation for those who deny that one can have multiple identities” (p.8). The notion that a person can have one identity, in this case African or European, is entirely belied by the experiences of the individuals whose lives she explores in this book. Theodor Wonja Michael is a key example of this. He was an Afro-German during one of the most tumultuous periods in world history and, as a young man during the Second World War, Theodor was affected negatively by both parts of his identity. In the eyes of many white Europeans, he was at once too German and not German enough. Otele concludes his story by stating that Theodor passed away in 2019, a fact which brings him startlingly close to us. His life is a profound reminder that the past is never as far away from the present as we might think.

Otele also seeks to undo the narrative of exceptionalism which has skewed the way African Europeans have been written about by their contemporaries and by later historians. As Otele concedes, they are exceptional because they have left evidence behind of their lives which is not true for most people in history (p.5). Exceptionalism has a darker quality to it, however—one which leads to the implication that ‘exceptional’ African Europeans are not representative of Africans and that it is only by the virtue of their proximity to Europeans that they managed to achieve what they did. Otele breaks down the narrative of exceptionalism simply by telling these untold stories. The people whose lives she details are exceptional, but they are not a departure from the norm, they are the norm – just as the presence of Africans in Europe, embodying dual identities, is not unusual, it is simply part of the long history of both continents.

There is, as Otele states, a “need to expand knowledge about the histories of the people of African descent … [and] revise the teachings of colonial history in the Global North” (p.12). African Europeans addresses both, but it is not exhaustive. Just as Otele leaves the shaping of a new future to all of us, it is for other scholars to follow in her footsteps and take her research further. For queenship scholars, we might begin with the handful of rulers that Otele mentions. African Europeans is by no means a work that studies queenship but it does study people and what Otele emphasises is the importance of looking at these women within their wider contexts and appreciating the multiplicity of identities that they influenced their lives. Just as the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston felt like a watershed moment in Britain, this book is a turning point, and it will craft new histories of both Europe and Africa—histories where stories are no longer left untold.


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.

In the course of working on Queens and Queenship, a short form monograph which looks at queenship in a fully global, longue durée sense, I encountered some of this incredibly valuable research which we can leverage to increase our understanding of the role of women in monarchical history and the present day. However, as this monograph is a short-form work, the series guidelines had limitations on the number of citations in the notes and bibliography in order for the book to remain affordable and accessible. While I complied with the series guidelines for the published version, I wanted to acknowledge the full range of excellent research which informed my own understanding and writing, to give thanks and credit to these authors. I thought that the Team Queens website was the ideal place to post this full list of works cited for the book as it is already a great repository for information on royal women across the ages and around the world, hopefully this addition will make Team Queens an even more valuable resource for queenship studies!

This is effectively the full list of works cited in my original draft of the book, before I began the process of cutting down the number of citations to fit the series parameters. This is not a full research bibliography, but it does acknowledge all the scholarship that would have been cited to give full credit to these authors’ work and to hopefully be a useful list of scholarship on global queenship for other students and scholars to use. At the end of Queens and Queenship there is a short annotated list for further reading which crosses over with this list of works cited but gives a bit more context about the contents of a few key works which I felt were particularly ‘go to’ pieces and wanted to recommend.

If you are interested in reading Queens and Queenship, it is available to order now, through the publisher’s website and from all major booksellers. I hope that you enjoy reading the book and that it will spark more much needed scholarship on global queenship!


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.   

The two queens who will be featured in this post are Æthelflaed of Mercia (870-918) and Lakshmibai, Rani of Jhansi (1828-1858), both widowed queens who ruled after the deaths of their husbands.

Æthelflaed was the daughter of Alfred the Great and Ealhswith of Mercia, and the wife of Æthelred, Lord of Mercia (881-911). She played a key role in governing Mercia and succeeded her husband as ruler after his death in 911, after which she was known as Myrcna hlædige (Lady of the Mercians), a title which denoted her royal position and power. She proved an effective leader and commander as she defended her kingdom from Viking attack and built towns and fortresses in the territories under her control. She is portrayed by Millie Brady in The Last Kingdom television series, based on The Saxon Series by Bernard Cromwell.     

Statue of Æthelflaed outside Tamworth railway station by artist Luke Perry, https://www.tamworth.gov.uk/Aethelflaed-unveiled.

Lakshmibai was the wife of Gangadhar Rao Newalker, Maharaja of Jhansi. Initially, Lakshmibai was not involved in the Indian Rebellion which began in 1857 against the British, but at the Siege of Jhansi in 1858 she commanded her army to defend the fort until it fell to the British and she retreated. In Gwalior, Lakshmibai fought another battle against British forces but was fatally shot. An all-female regiment in the Indian Army known as the Rani of Jhansi Regiment (RJR) was named after Lakshmibai. In The Warrior Queen of Jhansi (2019) she is played by Devika Bhise, who also co-wrote the script.   

Lakshmibai, Rani of Jhansi, image taken from ‘Britannica’, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Lakshmi-Bai.

The detailing of military operations in The Last Kingdom, from the decision to launch a campaign to declarations of victory or peace, showcased the activities of military leaders and Æthelflaed’s capacity as a commander is evident. She is seen making strategic decisions deciding where to attack and make camp, understands the importance of troop numbers, and acts as a diplomat in securing peace. In a scene that resonates with the iconic speech delivered by Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I (1998), Æthelflaed addresses her men as they prepare to join her father at Winchester c.892. This scene depicts the recognition of those who followed her as a legitimate military leader.

Her presence on the battlefield as the lone early English woman amongst men speaks volumes about perceptions of Æthelfled’s role in shaping events of the period. A snide remark from her husband Æthelred about the forbidden nature of her involvement is disregarded by Æthelflaed. Since no other men express their displeasure at her actions as a military leader, it can be assumed that this was a tool to cast Æthelred as the weak ruler and show Æthelflaed as brave. When leading troops into battle, she is shown wearing chainmail and leather armour with her hair tied back, reflective of the prominent male leaders alongside whom she is fighting. This shows that she is exhibiting the same level of power and authority in a martial context as her fellow male characters. The fact that Æthelflaed is seen actively killing men and covered in blood is crucial to understanding how her representation in the show refutes stereotypes surrounding women’s involvement in warfare, a revisionist theme which is highlighted in recent historiography.    

The 2019 film The Warrior Queen of Jhansi focuses primarily on the Indian Rebellion in 1857, and in an early scene depicting her childhood it shows Lakshmibai being taught how to shoot a bow and arrow from atop a horse. This foreshadows the role her character plays in this film as a military leader and gives a nod to the physical education she is believed to have been given as a child.

Later, Lakshmibai is seen giving weapons training to a group of women, teaching them to fight with swords, bows and arrows, and spears. She is shown riding a horse shooting arrows, reproducing the scene mentioned above of her as a young girl. She is asked by her tutor, “Do you really think you can teach these women to fight like men?”, and her response “No. I will train them to fight better than men” demonstrates that her character recognises the strength and skill in women that is often overlooked.

Much like Æthelflaed in The Last Kingdom, Lakshmibai is seen in the film participating in many aspects associated with military leadership. She is in charge of rallying allies, she directs the siege against British forces, she gives orders to troops during hand-to-hand combat, she herself is fighting in battle and is seen killing men, she makes tactical and strategic decisions, and she orchestrates a retreat. In the last battle scene, she rides at the head of her army and leads her troops into battle dressed in armour. Lakshmibai is also represented similarly to Æthelflaed in that she also delivers a great speech to her army, motivating them to fight against the enemy and defend the fort.  

These two queens’ depictions in warfare in film and television reflects themes found in military and gender historiography, such as identifying the roles queens played and addressing attitudes towards women on the battlefield. This growing historiographical field challenges previous perceptions of queens, and women as a larger social distinction, as purely victims of war and grants them agency and visibility in a traditionally masculine arena. Both Æthelflaed and Lakshmibai are depicted fighting alongside male characters as two strong female leaders who execute martial power and authority, as royal women, in order to challenge stereotypes and increase the representation of queens in warfare on the screen.            

Recommended Reading

Tim Clarkson, Aethelflaed, 2018.

Bhawan Singh Rana, Rani of Jhansi, 2005.

Harleen Singh, The Rani of Jhansi: Gender, History and Fable in India, 2014.  

TeamQueensHist, ‘Rani of Jhansi’, QOTD, 2021.

Megan McLaughlin, “The Woman Warrior: Gender, Warfare and Society in Medieval Europe”, 1999.

James M. Blythe, “Women in the Military: scholastic Arguments and Medieval Images of Female Warriors”, 2001.

Cothran Boyd, Joan Judge, and Adrian Shubert ed., Women Warriors and National Heroes: Global Histories, 2020.


Book Review: Les rois maudis 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.

The plot is set in fourteenth-century France, with occasional crossovers to England. It starts during the last year of Philippe IV’s rule (Philip the Fair) in 1314, and ends with the captivity of Jean II (John the Good) after his defeat at the battle of Poitiers in 1356. The authors based the story on a legend invented by Italian chronicler Paolo Emilio: while burning at the stake in 1314, the Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay is said to have cursed the Capetians, the pope Clément V, and the French minister Nogaret to the thirteenth generation. The series then followed the “accursed” kings of France and their entourage through decades of scandals, succession rivalries, court plots, murders, and wars.

Druon’s Accursed Kings distinguishes itself from other contemporary historical novels for its thorough research, except for a few liberties taken for plot purposes. An astonishing number of medieval sources were gathered to recreate the political and familial structures, the material environment and journeys of the characters, and the ceremonies they took part in.

Though most of the protagonists are males, queens – and more generally women – play a vital part in the story. In terms of queenship, the traditional marriage/maternity framework is addressed on many occasions. Indeed, the adultery of the Capetian princesses in the first book is one of the narrative catalysts, for it affects the mechanisms of alliances and successions that are central to the well-being of the monarchy. The plot of the princes’ remarriages shows the interests which guide behind the scenes the choice of new royal brides. The indispensable maternity is also a common thread of the series. As the last three Capetian kings all yearn for – and fail – to produce a male heir, the reader gets a glimpse of the heavy pressure experienced by royal couples to ensure dynastic continuity.

The representation of queenly power in the novels was ambivalent. Most of them, such as Clémence of Hungary or Jeanne I of Burgundy, are depicted without political ambitions, even though the latter was countess suo jure of Burgundy. When the French monarchy was confronted for the first time with the possibility of crowning a regnant queen, the authors were careful, however, to contextualise and rationalise the exclusion of women from the royal succession. The exclusion of women from the French succession has often been interpreted as a sign of an extreme medieval misogyny, a thought fuelled by the accusations of regression and barbarism put forth by modern historians. The story of Edward II’s deposition by Isabella of France (the plot of the fourth volume) serves as the only remarkable example of queenly rule, though the queen is portrayed as a romantic in her relationship with Roger Mortimer. The most brilliant illustration of female power in the series comes from the portrayal of the countess Mahaut d’Artois, a leading character based on the real-life domina. A widow and an heiress, Mahaut was a resourceful and cunning leader that had the most agency to pursue her grand ambitions. She also defended her interests, both politically and military, against her nephew Robert – the quarrel between the two about the heritage of Artois being the main thread of the volumes.

The queens’ cultural functions are briefly discussed, most through the character of Clémence of Hungary. Embodying a model of piety during her marriage with Louis X, her activities recall the importance of devotion and charity for a queen. Later in the narrative, as a widow she was presented as an avid art collector – her education at the court of Naples having endowed her with a taste for luxury and refinement. In this regard, the authors were well informed: indeed, Clémence’s will testifies to the richness of her library and recent studies have shown the extent of her patronage.

That said, the series is not exempt from all criticism. The characters, male and female, are frequently essentialised. For the latter, we find the stereotypical roles discussed by historians such as Paul Strohm or Guy Bechtel: the whore (Marguerite and Blanche of Burgundy), the witch (Mahaut d’Artois), and the saint (Clémence of Hungary). Some combine two of these categories: for instance, the lady companion Béatrice d’Hirson, is both a witch and a whore in the story. But we could attribute this to how medieval sources themselves tend to describe women. Moreover, Druon and his team choose to incorporate rumours spread by chroniclers (Jean Froissart, Pierre Cochon, or the author of the Chronique des quatre premiers Valois, for instance) who were hostile towards female rule (e.g. Jeanne II of Burgundy’s evil personality and limp). An informed reader can only wonder if this was intended for intrigue purposes. If not, then these additions are the result of centuries of negative historiography unquestioned by historians before the rise of queenship studies.


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.

Marie-Louise was the daughter of Philippe d´Orléans, brother of Louis XIV, and Henriette-Anne Stuart, sister of King Charles II of England. When she was born, she did not seem destined for Spain; at court, there were talks about an alleged marriage to the heir to the French crown. But Louis XIV’s daughter, Princess Marie-Thérèse, whom everyone already treated as a little Queen of Spain, died in 1672, aged five; the king’s niece was the only one who could replace her cousin. The wedding between Marie-Louise and Carlos II was celebrated after the peace of Nijmegen, in the royal chapel of the castle of Fontainebleau, on August 31, 1679.

The young Spanish king was not yet eighteen, but his shaky stride was obvious to all. His legs were too short to hold him upright; he dragged them around painfully and often appeared drowsy; epileptic seizures left him exhausted, and he suffered from multiple intestinal disorders. He probably had macrocephaly and his face was misshapen, with a disproportionate nose. His prognathism, a typical Habsburg malformation in which the lower jaw protruded, was so pronounced that swallowing was very difficult and his speech was hampered by excessive salivation. Carlos II showed a touching eagerness for Marie-Louise, whose beauty everyone celebrated, highlighting the promise of fertility that she held. In love with his young wife, Carlos devoted a passionate affection to her for a long time, before languishing in a resentful solitude, obsessed with the idea of a spell that prevented him from becoming a father, unable to tame a sick body eating him away relentlessly.

Portrait of Marie Louise d’Orléans (1662-1689), future Queen of Spain by Jean Petitot the Elder. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Miniature_of_Marie_Louise_d%27Orl%C3%A9ans,

Once she arrived in Spain, Marie-Louise retained her fidelity to France, to the point that, at the court of Madrid, there were those who suspected her of being, basically, only a well instructed spy for Louis XIV; falsely, because the sense of honour, duty and royal dignity, which her father and uncle instilled in her to the highest degree, forbade Marie-Louise from betraying her new homeland. However, Marie-Louise never succeeded in truly detaching herself from France and her family; Spain remained strange to her.

In France, the common voice peddled the image of a languishing young queen in Madrid, in a dismal court, hostage to a King and a people who hated all that was French. Certainly, the instinctive antipathy of the Spaniards for their Queen was undeniable, as were the French prejudices against Spain. However, Marie-Louise was above all a shy young woman, aware of her duties but without particular aptitudes, tragically ill-prepared to face the challenges imposed by her role.

Contemporary sources also drew astonishment, mixed with tacit disapproval, for the Queen’s attachment to her French family. It is true that her mother, the charming Henriette-Anne, died when she was only eight years old, but her father was overflowing with affection for his offspring and Philippe d’Orléans’ second wife, Élisabeth-Charlotte de Bavière, once settled into the family, testified to Marie-Louise’s tenderness. A true writing enthusiast, Élisabeth-Charlotte sent two letters to Madrid every week, while the Duke of Orléans wrote to his daughters, who were married abroad, at least once every seven days, even in times of war, which astonished the courtiers.

To become tangibly more attached to her new the kingdom, Marie-Louise would have needed a child whose Spanish interests could be defended. But her womb, the stake in a succession with enormous implications, remained empty. The survival of the Spanish Hapsburg monarchy depended on it; the wait for this heir who never arrived became a veritable international obsession and, for Marie-Louise, a painful and humiliating odyssey. As is tradition, the blame fell on her, even if the deficiencies of Carlos II were so obvious that questions arose regarding his impotence. Ministers and ambassadors lied in wait for the secrets of the royal household, the doctors debated the causes of the Queen’s sterility, the chambermaids offered their advice and their questionable remedies; the Church also got involved and Marie-Louise was offered exorcisms aimed at freeing her from an alleged spell. An infamous rumour circulated, which said that Louis XIV made his niece unfit to have children, thus, to prepare the succession of the Dauphin to the throne of Spain; it was also claimed that the princess inflicted on herself treatments which would have rendered her sterile in order to be sent back to France upon the death of the king.

Marie-Louise d’Orléans, Queen of Spain, after Carreño de Miranda

Against the background of this drama the ancestral conflict between the wife and the mother-in-law emerged; in this case Marie-Anne of Austria, who was regent for Carlos II from 1665 to 1675. It is undoubtedly necessary to nuance the picture of a persecuting Queen mother, ready to sacrifice her daughter-in-law to the interests of the Habsburgs of Austria, yet the fact remains that her relationship with Marie-Louise was difficult. Little cut out for the fight, the young queen could only be defeated, as Marie-Anne was so jealous of Marie-Louise’s ascendancy over Carlos II.

At the beginning of February 1689, the Queen was struck down by a colic which had afflicted her for a long time and for which she had often asked her father for medication. Two days earlier, despite a tormenting cough, she got out of bed to go hunting. An accident while hunting nearly killed her. Her horse reared up and, in the effort she made to restrain him, Marie-Louise struck the pommel of the saddle; she received a very violent blow to the stomach, and many feared the worst. On returning from the hunt, Marie-Louise went back to bed to treat her cough. The next day, feeling better, she ate plenty of raw oysters, olives and large glasses of ice milk. The next morning, at five o’clock, she had stomach pains, vomiting and very severe dysentery. Her illness quickly worsened; on February 11, after her confession, she was given Extreme Unction. The apostolic nuncio, who gave her the papal blessing, found her dying; “Only her eyes showed signs of knowledge,” he wrote.

Marie-Louise d’Orléans, Queen of Spain, died on February 12, 1689, at nine o’clock in the morning, “so quietly,” her confessor wrote, “that we hardly noticed her passing away”.

Several accounts of the Queen’s illness did not forget to mention the hunting accident she suffered. But it would take much more to quell the rumours about poison that were spreading in the European courts. When, on February 20, the tragic news reached Versailles, tongues were loosened. Without doubt, the death of the young queen did not displease the Austrian “party” at the court of Carlos II; indeed, in April 1689, the declaration of war against France was announced in Madrid. But the poisoning thesis, so prized by early modern historiography, willingly belittled Marie-Louise’s state of health. She had just recovered from smallpox, a very dangerous disease; for a long time, she had suffered from stomach pains and nausea. The most banal hypothesis is also the most probable, that is, poisoning caused by the ingestion of contaminated food, especially raw oysters; in such a case, the outcome is often fatal, especially for a young woman who was recovering, prone for years to eating disorders. But involuntary poisoning by Marie-Louise herself is not entirely to be ruled out; to promote fertility, the Queen had been taking all kinds of remedies for years and, during the final crisis, she had just undergone an unprecedented treatment, based on “drugs” whose composition is unknown.

For her French family, a fond memory and a painful feeling of failure remained, perhaps tinged with remorse. Marie-Louise, so unloved during her lifetime, ended up being missed, as much by her husband as by her subjects. Never again did Carlos II feel the “spring air” he apparently experienced with his first wife. Shortly before dying, he opened the tomb of Marie-Louise and gazed at her with morbid fascination before running away, frightened. The French chroniclers recall that the young queen’s body was still “whole and with all her clothes”, with the face “a little coloured”. The legend of Marie-Louise, “a French fleur-de-lis blowing in a south wind”, was born.

Further Reading

Bartolomé Bennassar, Le Lit, le pouvoir et la mort. Reines et princesses d’Europe de la Renaissance aux Lumières (Éditions de Fallois, 2006).

Ezechiel Borgognoni, “The Royal Household of Marie-Louise of Orleans, 1679-1689 : the Struggle over Executive Offices ,” The Court Historian, 23.2, 2018: 166-181.

Jaime Contreras, Carlos II el Hechizado. Poder y melancolía en la Corte del último Austria (Temas de Hoy, 2003).

Elisabetta Lurgo, Marie-Louise d’Orléans, nièce de Louis XIV. La Princesse oubliée (Perrin, 2021).

Sylvia Z. Mitchell, “The Spanish Habsburg Court during the Reign of Carlos II (1665-1700)”, The Court Historian, 23.2, 2018: 107-112.


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.

The book’s chronological framework covers the change of dynasty from the Capetians (987-1328) to the Valois (1328-1515), the “rediscovery” of Salic law, the Hundred Years war, and the Franco-Burgundy wars. Thus, it also constitutes a work of political history, showing for the first time a female perspective on these major events that shaped the French crown through to modern state.

              The first part of the book explores the traditional analytical frameworks of marriage and maternity. Strictly selected for political reasons, the future queen reinforces the status of her royal in-laws; whether by extending their land base with her dowry, securing an alliance with her lineage, or bringing the prestige of her blood. The case study of the queen’s coronation gives the author the opportunity to approach a flourishing topic in queenship studies: the many analogies between late medieval queens and their celestial model, the Virgin Mary, which will be discussed in more detail in the next sections.

              Dedicated to the queen’s “profession”, the second part looks at a queen’s political power within the public sphere. After going back to the circumstances which led to the exclusion of women from the royal succession, Gaude-Ferragu shows that nevertheless, queens were not discarded from politics. Modelled after the activities ascribed to the Virgin Mary, the specific tasks expected of queens were most often carried out through the action of intercession. As advocates of the people, they exercised their right to pardon and assist the king by performing missions of mediation with various third parties. Their promotion of peace also made them valuable diplomatic assets for the Crown, especially during familial conflicts.

As for governing, the queen acts as a lord for her personal lands – inherited or given as a dower. But her prerogatives can go even further in the case of a regency or a lieutenancy, an innovation from the fourteenth century. While depicting these episodes, the author is careful to avoid the traps which some previous historians fell into. Indeed, the image of the regencies of Jeanne II of Burgundy and Isabelle of Bavaria have been tarnished by both their political opponents and later narratives hostiles towards female power. The shaping of their negative historiographical posterity is therefore carefully analysed, which provides the reader with the tools to grasp the problems around the queen’s reputation and her subsequent portrayal in chronicle accounts.

The queen took part in public rituals and ceremonies (e.g. royal entrances, Maundy Thursdays) as another body of the monarchy. Her obsequies are also developed by the author, whose PhD thesis focused on the funerals of princes in medieval France. Now buried in the royal necropolis of Saint-Denis (formerly reserved for kings only), the queen rests for eternity with her husband in a dual burial.

The book’s third and last part highlights the queen’s devotional and cultural roles. Elements of her material environment, such as her Hôtel or her private trésor, are presented to showcase how the prestige of the queen is connected to the quality of her estates. The importance of her religious and artistic patronage contributes to assert her status and glorify the monarchy, as well as her exercise of caritas – charity – being both a theological virtue and a political duty equally shared by the royal couple.

              Providing a long-awaited synthesis, Murielle Gaude-Ferragu delivers a study that will introduce general readers to queenship and enrich the knowledge of specialists. Her re-evaluation of late medieval French queens, along with the work of Anne-Hélène Allirot, finally brings these powerful women out of oblivion and marks a renewal in French historiography after decades of disregard towards queenship studies.


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.

Katherine’s religious views had altered publicly and quickly during her time as queen. Before her marriage to Henry, her growing support for reformed religion was known in sympathetic circles but not advertised openly. A modern education, overseen by her mother Maud Green, had produced an ambitious and energetic thinker but Katherine, like most well born women of the time, was destined to marry young. She had married twice by the time the king began his pursuit of her and had been thrust into the heart of religious dissent when her second husband, John Neville, Baron Latimer, had supported the Pilgrimage of Grace, the rebellion that attempted to restore official Catholicism in the aftermath of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536. But even by the time Katherine wed the king, at Hampton Court on July 12, 1543, she was regarded by reformers as sympathetic to their cause. Her actions as queen proved that within months.

Her closest advisers shared her increasingly ardent reformist beliefs. Her inner coterie was filled with minds such as Lady Joan Denny, who had given her backing to persecuted reformers in the southwest. Katherine appointed Sir Robert Tyrwhit, who had helped suppress the Pilgrimage of Grace, as her master of the horse while his wife, another committed reformer, took her place among the queen’s ladies. Katherine’s personal doctor, Robert Huick, had been hounded in his younger years for his adherence to the new faith. One of her closest companions, the Duchess of Suffolk, expressed such extreme support for reformed religion that some called her position at court into question. Katherine’s closest advisers became an open declaration of the way she saw the future of the church in England.

The queen herself promoted use of the vernacular for religious texts, taking the staunch reformist view that Scripture was the sole authority for the Christian faith. At first, she did this quietly, publishing an English translation of Prayers and Psalms anonymously in 1544. That same year, Henry made her his regent when he departed for France and her success in that role gave her confidence.  In 1545, she put her name to her Prayers or Meditations, an English language collection of devotional texts. Within it was a clear show of support for one of the most controversial ideas of the new reformed religion: justification through faith. It was a brave move but, by then, Katherine was secure in her role and increasingly determined to use it to further reform.

Part of the reason for her confidence lay in her well-established place at the heart of Henry VIII’s royal family. Within months of her marriage, she had brought the king closer to all his children and helped bring about the new Act of Succession which restored rights to the throne to the monarch’s daughters, Mary and Elizabeth. Her husband also entrusted her with the education of his younger children. The queen used her position to support humanism. She appointed noted humanists as tutors to Edward and Elizabeth, with William Grindal taking charge of her stepdaughter’s learning while reformists Richard Cox and John Belmaine were among those brought into the young heir’s classrooms under the influence of Katherine Parr.

Her impact on Elizabeth was particularly evident. As early as 1544, Elizabeth had presented Katherine with her own translation of Marguerite of Navarre’s The Mirror of the Sinful Soul. Elizabeth would later work on translations of John Calvin’s writings for her stepmother. By 1545, Katherine’s faith was an integral part of her queenship. Her ability to weave religious reform into the traditions of the court would echo in later Tudor times when Elizabeth herself took the throne.

Katherine had been queen for three years when her enemies fixed her as their target. Her time as consort had been marked by a revival in the fortunes of religious reformists, of which she had become a notable member. John Foxe, in his Acts and Monuments written after Katherine’s death, described a queen who debated often with her husband about religion and who, as their marriage progressed, pressed him for further breaks with the traditions of the Church in Rome which for her, like all reformists, were filled with superstition.  However, leading conservatives including the Lord Chancellor, Henry Wriothesley, and the Bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner, were increasingly alarmed by her religious views. Furthermore, with the king’s health failing, the conservative faction feared that soon Katherine might have even more opportunity to exercise her move towards the new faith; by 1546, Katherine looked as though she might soon be queen regent for a boy king. The battle for control of the future monarch was also a battle for the future of the English Church and religious traditionalists were now working towards ensuring they came out victorious.

Their attempt to unseat the sixth consort was centred on a passionate Protestant reformer, Anne Askew. She had been in trouble with authorities across southern England through her short life for her preaching and, in May 1546, she was arrested by Wriothesley and tortured. The conservative faction at court hoped to gain a confession from her that implicated Katherine in heresy. Askew held firm and was consequently burned at the stake. But Gardiner continued to harbour suspicions that Askew had been associated with the queen. Along with Wriothesley, he began to press the king for Katherine’s arrest. And by then, her devotion to reformed religion was so well known that it appeared to be an easy fight for them to win. The king gave his permission for their plans, only to change his mind when Katherine learned of the plot and promised him that her religious talk was a mere ploy to divert his attention from his health problems. Henry forgave his wife for her perceived presumption to lecture him but he was as aware as anyone of how deeply entrenched her belief in the new faith had become.

However, her support for reform had made Katherine vulnerable. Until Gardiner and Wriothesley moved against her, she had been increasingly energetic in promoting the new faith. Following her narrow escape from the Tower, she hid much of her passion for Protestantism. In the later part of 1546, she fell into a private fury of writing which would produce her most famous work, The Lamentation of a Sinner. However, this ground-breaking tome, written in the first person, would remain unpublished until after Henry’s death. If he had read it, he would have found a queen ready to admit that her unassailable public image of purity was besmirched by sin while her open disregard for the old ways of religious practice were also committed to print. The threat to her life had produced a landmark book in English Protestantism but she was wise enough to keep it to herself while her husband lived.

Whether the plot to bring about her downfall had played a part in the decision to exclude her from Edward VI’s regency remains open to debate. Prior to the summer of 1546, when Gardiner and Wriothesley took aim at the queen as the greatest threat to their faction, there was every expectation that Katherine Parr would help govern for her stepson. However, if her opponents had hoped that diminishing her would stop the reformists, they were wrong. Edward VI fell under the control of his mother’s family, who were ardent Protestants. But they, too, were wary of giving Katherine any more power, even when she married the young king’s maternal uncle, Thomas Seymour, within months of Henry’s death.

Katherine’s last year was spent watching a Protestant reformation begin to take shape without her direct guidance. She continued to debate and write about the new way of practising the Christian faith, even as she retreated to Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire to await the birth of her first child. However, she did not live to see the new faith she so ardently supported become fully established. She died of complications from childbirth in September 1548. Her funeral was the first such public Protestant service in English held in the country over which she had once been consort.

Katherine has since, at times, been relegated to a pale imitation of herself when the Tudor tale is told and was initially given little credit for the expansion of the new faith. However, evidence points to her as an important influence on the religious convictions of England. Her queenship gave her an opportunity to promote a revolution in faith and, discreet though she was, she had taken her chance so well she almost lost her life in the process.

The Victorian tomb of Katherine Parr at Sudeley Castle, Winchcombe
Credit: MikPeach, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Further Reading

Katherine Parr, Prayers or Meditations (1545).

Katherine Parr, The Lamentation of a Sinner (1547).

Katherine Parr, Complete Works and Correspondence, edited by Janel Mueller (University of Chicago Press, 2011).

Anthony K. Martienssen, Queen Katherine Parr, Anthony K. Martienssen (Martin Secker and Warburg, 1973).

Linda Porter, Katherine The Queen. The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr (Pan Macmillan, 2011).

Susan James, Catherine Parr. Henry VIII’s Last Love (The History Press, 2010).


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.  

The collection of essays has been organised thematically to explore the theory prevalent to the study of queens and queenship. The thematic approach has highlighted similarities and differences between the ways in which queens from differing kingdoms and monarchical structures enacted authority. Furthermore, these themes provide a clear outline to some of the arguments which underpin queenship as an analytical branch of analysis.

The first section explores queens and empresses in western Europe, highlighting how they operated as machinations of government through familial relationships. Pauline Stafford and Valerie Wall emphasised how manuscripts were used to display familial connections and portray the position of power a queen held in relation to their male relatives in the Enconium Emmae Regina and Life of Saint Margaret. George Corklin’s assessment of the turbulent marriage between Ingeborg of Denmark and Philip I, King of France, and Volker Honemann’s examination of the relationship between Agnes, Queen of the Romans, and her stepdaughter Elizabeth of Hunagry explored how familial relationships could impact upon the visibility of a queen and their access to power, a theme still widely explored in recent queenship historiography. The correlation between the changing nature of kingdoms and queenship was shown by Steinar Imsen and Kurt-Ulrich Jaschke, outlining that the position Scandinavian and Romano-German queens held was impacted upon by access to resources.

The second section focuses on image and reality in the East, considering queenship as a separate model in comparison to the West. Liz James’ argument that the activities of emperors and empresses should be viewed as holding the same political significance in terms of monarchy, especially when considered through contemporary lenses instead of modern priorities, which supports recent arguments of studying the monarchy as a whole. The similarities between female rulership in the West and East are emphasised by Dion C. Smythe, highlighting key aspects of queenship that empresses engaged in, or did not, by analysing their presence in contemporary chronicles. Sarah Lambert also examined the representation of queens in contemporary sources, particularly William of Tyre, thinking about how queens were seen as necessary for succession, but their image was often manipulated by those around them.    

The theme of section three looks at the images of queenship. Each of the chapters in this section highlighted that these images of queenship reflected the expectations surrounding their behaviour. Mary Stroll and Diana Webb examined how popes, clergymen, and government officials used the image of Mary Regina to promote themselves and use her image to represent their specific ideals. Exploring Hungarian queens as scapegoats, Janos M. Bak outlines how the chronicle sources portrayed them as giving bad counsel and stepping outside of expectations to blame them for the pitfalls of the kingdom. Karen Pratt’s discussion of old French literature highlighted how key sources such as Christine de Pizan’s Cité des Dames and Gautier d’Arras’s Eracle use queenly examples to portray virtuous behaviour and form cautionary tales towards how queens should act.

The last section of this volume considered the connection between queenship and culture, identifying how queens acted as transports for culture across kingdoms. Paul Crossley’s examination of the church of St Elizabeth in Marburg identified how the design of the church was responsible for the spread of French-inspired Gothic architecture and used by popes, emperors, and her family to promote themselves and seek to portray themselves as influential in culture through her. The centrality of the Carolingian coronation ordines to queenly power is argued by Janet Nelson, highlighting how they laid out the roles and expectations of the queen as the partner of the king. John Carmi Parsons contribution as the last chapter is arguably fitting as he discusses the burials of queens and the design of their tombs. The iconography established connections between their marital and natural families and symbolised the importance of the burial of the queen as equal to that of the king for dynastic legacy.                   

Although the volume was published in 1997 and the field of queenship studies has advanced in certain areas, such as the rebuttal of exceptionalism as a descriptor of women wielding power, the arguments made in the essays by the contributors are still vital to the understanding of queenship theory. They set about in motion the re-evaluation of many medieval queens and challenged pre-existing ideas of how monarchy operated in the Middle Ages. They highlight themes and methodological approaches which are still at the heart of queenship studies. The chapters themselves provide an interesting and informative read that will enrich the knowledge of the reader.        

This volume provides multiple approaches to queenship in the Middle Ages, and the collection considers some of the main building blocks that have constructed the view historians have of queens and their place in medieval monarchy. Duggan’s introduction clearly outlines how the chapters have been brought together to show how these queens’ lives compare with one another, and how the chapters establish a wide spectrum through which female rule can be evaluated, moving past previously established stereotypes to demonstrate their importance to the political landscapes of the Middle Ages.


Book Review: She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth by Helen Castor

By Catherine Capel

Helen Castor’s She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth (2010) is perhaps one of the most well recognised popular biographies on English queens for both academic and public history lovers. Adapted into a popular BBCFOUR miniseries in 2018, Castor’s exploration of some of the women who ruled as queen consort or regnant before Elizabeth I presents a mixture of perceptions of female rule from the medieval to the early modern period in England. England’s first crowned regnant queen was Mary I, who reigned from 1553-1558, but before her there were consort queens who wielded power, and some who became well-known for their involvement in major historical events. Castor’s exploration of a selection of these consorts, and a would-be queen regnant, outlines how their lives were deeply affected by their political and social context.

She-Wolves’ chapters focus on the lives of the Empress Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, and Margaret of Anjou. There is also discussion around the status of Tudor consort queen Katherine of Aragon, alongside the disputed reign of Lady Jane Grey and the short-lived, but nonetheless impactful, reign of Mary I. Castor’s reasoning for choosing these particular queens revolves around their presence in the historical timeline, how they dealt with the predicaments they faced during their reigns, such as succession crises and warfare, and their ability to consolidate the gap between medieval and early modern queenship. These women have been given the status of ‘infamous’ in historical writing, which makes them well known to both academic and public audiences. Castor recognised that the lives of these queens occurred within the changing landscape of politics, warfare, and rulership, but that they continued to fulfil the expectations surrounding their positions. The aim of this book, one which this reviewer argues Castor meets holistically, is to present a biographical retelling of these royal women’s lives and emphasise their personal experiences.

Castor’s detailing of the significant events in these queens’ lives includes basic biographical details such as parentage, marriage, children, and death, and the political incidents which shaped their reigns. This includes the civil war period fought by the Empress Matilda; Eleanor of Aquitaine’s activities on the Second Crusade, her duties as Duchess of Aquitaine, her role in the rebellion of her sons, and her role in governing England during the reigns of Richard I and John; Isabella of France’s coup against her husband Edward II and her role in England during the minority of her son; and Margaret of Anjou’s role in the Wars of the Roses. These aspects are now essential to the study of medieval and early modern England, but it is important to remember that these factors shaped the contemporary experiences of these consort queens. Castor underpins this argument with her use of chronicle sources which, whilst they are not critically analysed, add to the understanding of the lives of these women and how their roles were recognised by their contemporaries.

The lack of historiographical debate and theory means that nuances that feature in the study of these queens and queenship have not been included, which limits the wider understanding of the full impact of these queens. But Castor’s ability to produce detailed accounts of that cover all the important aspects of their royal lives and the wider discussion she has included create well-rounded biographies that are informative and helpful.                   

The discussion of the queens’ relationships both with their male relatives and between each other is one of the prominent themes at the forefront of Castor’s biographies. Castor recognises that the power of queen consorts was sourced through their relationship with their husbands and for heiresses from the recognition of their status as their father’s successor. Matilda, Eleanor, Isabella, and Margaret all had often turbulent relationships with the men in their lives – their fathers, husbands, and sons – which often led to very public and political disagreements between them, as outlined by Castor. The tempestuous nature of Tudor queenship, for both consorts and regnant queens, highlighted in She-Wolves, demonstrates how the changing nature and actions of ruling men could impact the lives of women. Castor uses the example of the English succession in 1553 to show the impact of the decisions of men on women’s lives. She outlines how the Act of Succession in 1544 by Henry placed Mary and Elizabeth back into contention for the English throne, behind Edward and any heirs he might have, but Edward’s ‘device for the succession’ in 1553 removed them once again in favour of his cousin Lady Jane Grey and her male heirs.

Although Castor’s aim was not to present theoretical frameworks nor historical arguments, there is still discussion of key themes seen within queenship studies. She highlights the centrality of the duties of queens to ensure the continuation of their husband’s lines by providing heirs, emphasises the political role they played as intercessors and diplomats, and explored the manner in which they held power and executed authority across their reigns.  

She-Wolves is a biographical work which tackles the interchangeable nature of events that were at the centre of these queens’ lives and came to frame attitudes towards female rulership before the ascension of Elizabeth I. Its engaging rhetoric provides insight for the reader into the lives of Castor’s chosen queens and contributes to the understanding of the role they played in the political landscape of rulership in medieval and early modern England.  


Book Review: Game of Queens. The Women Who Made Sixteenth-Century Europe by Sarah Gristwood

By Gabrielle Storey

The women who feature in Game of Queens, its moniker to most contemporary readers appearing to play on the epic fantasy series Game of Thrones, undoubtedly draws parallels with the ruling women of G.R.R. Martin’s series. However, Gristwood’s intention is akin to the game of chess rather than the fantasy epic, demonstrating how sixteen ruling women, often viewed as political pawns for dynastic allegiance, were in fact far worthier of the title of queen, in reality and as a playing piece. The women of Gristwood’s book lived during a time of significant religious and cultural change and political upheaval: although political upheaval is often a backdrop to most ruling lives, the Reformation and the Renaissance both impacted the abilities and the exercise of power by women. 

The ambition of Gristwood to cover so many figures is mediated by her clear signposting as she moves from kingdom to kingdom to aid the reader with the next discussion, and for those familiar with only one or two regions, the book provides interesting insights to the other leading women in sixteenth-century Europe. Spanning Isabella of Castile to Elizabeth I, Game of Queens is richly detailed, and interweaves the lives and connections between the sixteen women under study. Though female leadership, regency, and the exercise of power was by no means exceptional, Gristwood’s explanation of the power struggles and centrality of the queens to rulership in the period is a refreshing and welcome examination.

As the work is a popular history, it is not littered with references, however Gristwood’s depth of research and detail is clear throughout – the breadth of knowledge is evident. She provides a list of further reading and recommendations at the end of the book to allow the reader to make further explorations of the queens under study.

The book is structured chronologically: Part I covers the period 1474-1513, beginning with Isabella of Castile and Margaret of Austria before spanning the reigning women of the royal houses of Europe at this time. Part II moves onto 1514-1521, bringing together the lives Mary Tudor, Margaret Tudor, Louise of Savoy, Anne de Beaujeau, and Margaret of Austria. In the third part (1522-1536), the Tudor women and English queens take centrality, again their stories interwoven with their counterparts on the continent. Part IV (1537-1553) outlines the careers of royal daughters and princesses, demonstrating the importance of these to the chessboard of power in Europe. In part V (1553-1560), Gristwood shows the difficulties Mary Tudor (daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon), Marie de Guise, and Mary of Hungary encountered in their rulership. It then moves to the rise of one of the sixteenth century’s most famous rivalries: that of Elizabeth I and Mary, queen of Scots, as well as the rising power of Catherine de Medici and Jeanne d’Albret. Part VI (1560-1572) continues to trace these rivalries and careers, whilst part VII (1572 onwards) tracks the end of the career of Mary, queen of Scots, and the survival of two formidable women: that of Elizabeth I and Catherine de Medici.

Game of Queens does a fantastic job of highlighting the struggles that rulers faced, and the complications of the Reformation and the divisions between Protestants and Catholics undoubtedly affected the decisions and the abilities of these women to reign. What it also shows is the importance of maternal influence over royal sons and daughters in order to network and maintain power. It demonstrates the tutelage and sisterhood of royal women, though rivalries undoubtedly existed as they sought to balance their personal and dynastic power. The family trees, structure of the chapters, and list of figures at the beginning of the book all aid the overall flow of the narrative. In sum, this reviewer would highly recommend this work for any readers interested in queenship, power, or the politics of the sixteenth century.   


“Like an Anvil”: The Language of the Kartlis Tskhovreba and Tamar the Great

By Irene Carstairs

Twitter: @CarstairsIrene

Tamar of Georgia presided over a period of unprecedented expansion, as well as an era of peace and prosperity that would never be seen in the nation again. Under her reign, Georgian historical writing began to resemble something recognisable as history, not a collection of biblical stories, folktales, and kings. Consequently, Tamar receives more space in the Kartlis Tskhovreba—the Georgian chroniclesthan any other monarch. Despite this, Tamar is one of the most difficult monarchs to get to know on a personal level, because of the way she is written about. She was a fierce woman who ordered massacres, conquered enemies, and freed the subjugated, but she was also a kind and compassionate woman who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and helped to raise orphans. She was, as all humans are, a complex, multi-faceted person.

According to the chronicles however, she was exactly one of those things. Despite her many military achievements, she is constantly described as kind, cheerful, and righteous, the way that dedopalebi, or queens, always were. However, Tamar was not a dedopali (დედოფალი) (the Georgian singular for queen) she was a mepe (მეფე) or king. There was, and is, no word for queen regnant in the Georgian language, and the way mepebi (kings) and dedopalebi (queens) are described in the chronicles is strictly divided by gender. Dedopalebi are always beautiful, cheerful, and pious. They are one-dimensional and receive almost no mention. Mepebi, on the other hand, are made out to be complex, three-dimensional people who can subjugate their enemies and bring peace to the land, but also transport their enormous library across the Caucasus, and almost miss battles because they were reading.

Being the first female monarch, the chroniclers struggle in their descriptions of Tamar and her actions. Instead of recording Tamar’s more “kingly” achievements or empire building the way they would for a mepe, Tamar is relegated to the pious, gracious role of a dedopali, while her second husband and generals receive the credit, despite the fact that Tamar was involved in the planning of campaigns. Instead of being addressed in her full complexity the way the kings before her were, she is rendered one dimensionalimpassive and pious to the point where much of what is written about her reads more like hagiography than biography.

A map of Georgia during the reign of Tamar the Great. Under Tamar, Georgia expanded to its greatest size.
Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Georgian_Empire_of_Queen_Tamar,_ca._1200.JPG

This is starkly apparent in Tamar’s first marriage at the beginning of her independent reign after the death of her father. Worried about the future of the Bagratid succession and keen for trade from the Kievan Rus, a marriage with Yuri Bogolyubsky was contracted in secret by Tamar’s aunt and advisors. When the young prince arrived in Georgia, everyone was deeply impressed with his strength and good looks, but knew little about him. When told she was to marry Yuri, Tamar replied “How can you expect me to take such a hasty step? We know nothing of the conduct of this foreigner, nor of his deeds, or his valor, nature or disposition. Let me wait till we see his virtues or shortcomings” (Ezosmodzghvari, 2014, 289).

 Tamar’s protests fell on deaf ears. Her advisors “opposed her, talking of her childlessness, of the barrenness of her house, demanding a leader for the army, and pressing on her soul by every means.” (Ezosmodzghvari, 2014, 289). Tamar was forced into the marriage, despite knowing it was a bad idea.

Tamar’s protest to her first marriage, though short and quiet, echoes when placed in the context of Georgian historical writing. It is common in the Kartlis Tskhovreba for Tamar’s words and actions in a moment of crisis to be calm and regulated, but then for the later actions of her or her men to be on a completely different scale. The most dramatic example of this was when 1,200 Armenian Christians were slaughtered on Easter morning in 1209. In one sentence, Tamar’s heart “blazed with anger.” In the next, her second husband and her trusted generals massacre 12,000 Muslims in the Sultanate of Ardabil during Eid. Tamar’s words of the moment frequently seem to not match up with her actions, and it is quite likely that her “words,” many of which were later composed by a chronicler, did not match her actions. This was seen in the case of her first marriage as well.

There was a short honeymoon period, but it did not last long. Yuri soon turned to drunkenness and fornication, and verbally abused his wife in public. Eventually, he started to torture Tamar’s subjects, and she divorced him. The two recorded accounts of this time say:

“Humble and kind, reasonable and charming, Tamar endured that trial for two whole years, or maybe even more…He [Tamar’s advisors] now prepared the exile of the prince…Tamar – who was kind and by no means inclined to anger – shedding tears, sent him [Yuri] into exile, providing him with countless riches and treasures. She did not put him to death, though he deserved it…” (Chqondidi, 2014, 245).


Tamar, like an anvil, cheerfully endured for two and a half years the vices of the Russian,  [Yuri] and no one besides her could stand it anymore… All that became unbearable for Tamar, and she said to him [Yuri] in front of all the others: “I am taught by the law of God that a man should not leave his first conjugal bed, but you should not patiently stay with a man who does not keep his bed pure… I am unable to straighten the shadow of a crooked tree, and feel no guilt on my side; I must shake off the dust which has stuck to me from you.” With that, she got up and left him. And Queen Rusudan and all the princes banished him.” (Ezosmodzghvari, 2014, 290).

In the first source Tamar is described only as tenderhearted, almost seeming sad to send her faithless, dissolute husband away. In the second, Tamar’s frustration and anger is surrounded with religious sentiment, and her reasons for staying with Yuri are also religious in nature. While there is no doubt that Tamar was a very devout woman, in this case her allusions might have run a little deeper than faith. In medieval Georgia, religion was the only place where women could hold legitimate power without contest, and Tamar, whose reign began with a civil war, needed to be able to use her piety to legitimise her rule. To be described as wantonly casting off a first husband, as foul as he may be, would have given people doubt about her ability to rule. It was later evidenced by her daughter, Rusudan of Georgia, that a female monarch who was not seen to be perfectly pious risked losing control of her own people.

While the Tamar of the chronicles may have shed tears over her husband’s departure, it is impossible to guess how she actually felt when she sent him away. While she did spare his life and give him a large allowance, this may not be the display of tenderheartedness that many scholars paint it as being. Yuri had a large coterie of noblemen who liked him, enough to rebel with him when he later returned to Georgia, and so the kind treatment of him might not have been done out of mercy but out of political expediency; it is, as it often is with Tamar, difficult to tell.

This cuts to the heart of one of the greatest difficulties when it comes to studying Tamar; she is unknowable. There are few remaining contemporary sources describing her reign, and because the chroniclers painted her so firmly into the traditional corner of a dedopali, it is more difficult to know Tamar than it is to know her contemporary monarchs and consorts. She is praised endlessly for her charitable works and good deeds, but how many of them were altruistic and how many were done out of political expediency? Her second husband is credited as a great conqueror, with Tamar as his patient, pious support, but how much of Davit Soslan’s success did Tamar have a hand in? It is impossible to guess, and unless more sources come to light, we may never know.


Abashidze, Medea, trans. The Chronicle of Giorgi Lasha and His Time. Tbilisi, Georgia: Artanuji Publishing, 2014.

Chqondidi, Theodore. The History and Eulogy of Monarchs. Translated by Dmitri Gamq’relidze. Tbilisi, Georgia: Artanuji Publishing, 2014.

Ezosmodzghvari, Basili.The Life of Tamar, the Great Queen of Queens. Translated by Dmitri Gamq’relidze. Tbilisi, Georgia: Artanuji Publishing, 2014.

Met’reveli, Roin, and Stephen Jones, eds. Kartlis Tskhovreba. Tbilisi, Georgia: Artanuji Publishing, 2014.

Rayfield, Donald. Edge of Empires: A History of Georgia. London, United Kingdom: Reaktion Books, 2013.

Targamadze, Zurab. 2017. “Social and Legal Status of Women in Medieval Georgia.” International Journal of Culture and History 3, no. 1 (2017): 72-79


The Great Loves of John Hervey, Part II

By Amy-Jane Humphries

This second part of our last #Pride month post delves further into sexualities and royal studies, continuing the story of John Hervey.

Frederick, Prince of Wales (1707-1751)

Frederick of Wales.

The social circle that Hervey, the Fox brothers, and Frederick ran in was defined by its sexual relationships, both heterosexual and homosexual.[1] When Frederick arrived in Britain in 1728, Hervey was abroad with Stephen Fox. Frederick quickly made a royal mistress of Anne Vane in a move which has been viewed as “signalling his advance into adult manhood.”[2] In this period, “rampant heterosexuality [was] proof of masculinity”[3] which, in turn, meant that homosexuality was coded as evidence of effeminacy and vice versa. In pursuing women as they did, both Hervey and Frederick were making statements about their manhood and their virility in line with the libertine spirit that they were attempting to embody. Their relationship to women was, it seems, just as complex as the relationship they themselves had. We know from their surviving correspondence that, during the early 1730s, the two were incredibly close – they even penned an almost universally panned opera together. The letters between them which have managed to survive reveal the affectionate pet-names that they had for one another. They also embodied classical roles within their letters, most frequently that of Orestes and Phylades but also that of Hephaestion and Alexander the Great. One might not be altogether in error if they read such illusions as reflecting some sort of truth about their relationship that could not be explicitly articulated.  This embodying of different identities was a trope many letter writers used throughout the period and arguably the most famous example of this are the characters of ‘Mrs Freeman and Mrs Morley,’ played by Sarah, Duchess of Churchill and Queen Anne respectively. It hints a more intimate entanglement between them, one which might account for why Hervey was so hostile towards Frederick later in his memoirs. However, we cannot ever be certain exactly what happened between them as many of their letters and parts of Hervey’s memoirs have not survived. Just like with some of Hervey and Steven Fox’s letters, the account of this friendship has largely been lost due to the interference of Hervey’s descendants. This absence further indicates that there may have been more to their relationship than meets the eye, but, as with all of his relationships, this one ended badly too.

The end of Hervey and the Prince’s relationship is believed to have been caused, in part, by Anne Vane, who had been a Maid of Honour in Queen Caroline’s household. Both men were involved with her sexually during the same period and it appears that a disagreement regarding her contributed to the breach between them. The birth of Vane’s first child, Fitz-Frederick Cornwall Vane, in 1732 was a complex affair because although the naming of the child indicates that Frederick fathered the child, and despite him acknowledging Fitz-Frederick, there were other paternity candidates who put themselves forward after the birth. This would have been a blow to Frederick’s self-esteem – particularly as his mother would later cast doubt upon his ability to father a child – and possibly helped to alienate him from Hervey. The extent to which Anne was the predominant cause of the breach between them is difficult to measure because we do not have the full picture of what was taking place. Hervey was certainly pushed out of Frederick’s sphere, however, because he soon found himself turning to Anne to try and get back into the Prince’s good graces. His inelegant attempt to blackmail her into helping him undoubtedly did little to help the situation – in fact, it probably made matters much worse for him. While it appears that the end of their relationship hinges on their involvement with Anne Vane, she is probably not the sole reason. Rather, she is likely part of a wider tale, the rest of which has been lost to history. There may well have been a romantic part of Hervey and Frederick’s relationship which went awry. Hervey might also have been collateral damage in Frederick’s attempts to reform his public image and, with his eventual marriage to Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, demonstrate himself to be a devoted husband and father, rather than a philandering libertine. Therefore, the friendship may have simply run its course.[4] Regardless of how it happened, by the mid-1730s, Hervey’s feelings had manifested into an intense loathing of the Prince of Wales and he found solace in the one person that detested him just as much: Frederick’s own mother.

Caroline of Ansbach, Queen of Great Britain (1683-1737)

Caroline of Ansbach.

Hervey “made prodigious court to [Caroline], and really loved and admired her”[5] in a way that he likely did not wholly expect. He became intrinsic to their routine—“the Queen sent for him every morning … and kept him, while she breakfasted”[6]—and was absorbed into the family as totally as Prince Frederick was pushed out. Caroline’s feelings towards her eldest son are inexplicable to us but they may be in part explained by the long separation between them when Frederick was a child. He was left behind in Hanover when the royal family decamped to Britain and at the time both George and Caroline were devastated. The son that the couple had lost had been replaced in their affections by the birth of William Augustus in 1721. Thus, when Frederick arrived in Britain, half-forgotten, uninvited and largely unannounced, in 1728, he did not receive the warm welcome he might have been dreaming about. From there, the Hanoverian tradition of open hostilities between the father and his heir was renewed once more and Caroline became more vehement about her hatred for her eldest child, siding with her husband on the matter just as she had done when they had been in Frederick’s position during George I’s reign. It is unlikely that the presence of Hervey, driven by his own reasons for loathing Frederick, helped matters between the King and Queen and their eldest son. Her disdain was cemented further by Frederick’s behaviour at the time of Augusta’s first pregnancy. Unwilling to have his parents witness the birth, Frederick bundled the labouring Augusta into a carriage and had her transported from Hampton Court to St. James’ Palace in a move that was not only childish but also showed a complete disregard for his wife’s safety. That both mother and child survived the ordeal was really a matter of luck and the ludicrous episode remains a permanent stain on Frederick’s character. Hervey reported all of this in his memoirs in unforgiving detail. 

For historians, John Hervey’s relationship with Queen Caroline is key to our understanding of the court because it brought him into the epicentre of the Georgian political world. He left us some of the most vivid – if not always the most kind or accurate – portrayals of the royal family during times both happy and sad. His voice paints a picture of the reign of George II and it is his proximity to Caroline that we have to thank for that. He watched the wheels of power turn and he believed that it was Caroline creating that movement – although, it must be said that his less than flattering portrayal of George II may have caused him to overstate the extent of Caroline’s power. Nevertheless, Hervey captured her importance to the careers of George’s courtiers in his famous line: “whomever she distinguished, the king employed.”[7] He would have known this first hand as through Caroline he was able to acquire a significant rise in his wages as Vice-Chamberlain of the Household.[8] Their relationship was ultimately built upon mutual affection and she became more to him than a vehicle for promotion. Indeed, when Caroline died in 1737, it was the beginning of the end for John Hervey.

John Hervey died in 1743, aged forty-six. He never truly recovered from the blow of losing Caroline. In the aftermath of her death, he was largely alone. His beloved Ste had long since moved on, his wife had found her own way in the world, and his Prince had cultivated a new life without him. He left behind eight children, and all three of his lost loves survived him. Despite his somewhat tragic end, Hervey had lived a full life and left behind a vital account of one of the most interesting periods of British history that otherwise might have been obscure to us. It is impossible to do his varied life justice here alone, but it is my hope that this Pride month you might have a closer look yourself at the life of John Hervey, 2nd Baron Hervey and better get to know the man who was so distinguished by the Queen.


Sussex Record Office. 941/47/4. John Hervey to Stephen Fox, 26th August 1731.

Browning, Reed. “Hervey, John, second Baron Hervey of Ickworth (1696-1743), courtier and writer.” In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004-. Accessed 14th June 2021, https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-13116.

Kilburn, Matthew. “Hervey [née Lepell], Mary, Lady Hervey of Ickworth (1699/1700-1768), courtier.” In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004-. Accessed 16th June 2021, https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-13118.

Koscak, Stephanie. “Rituals of Royal Masculinity in Eighteenth-Century Britain: Frederick, Prince of Wales, Takes a Mistress.” The Court Historian 26 (2021): 71-92.

Pope, Alexander. Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot. 1735. Accessed 14th June 2021 https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44895/epistle-to-dr-arbuthnot.

Sedgwick, Romney, ed. Lord Hervey’s Memoirs. London: William Kimber, 1952.

Smith, Hannah and Taylor, Stephen. “Hephaestion and Alexander: Lord Hervey, Frederick, Prince of Wales, and the Royal Favourite in England in the 1730s.” The English Historical Review 124 (2009): 283-312.

Wilson Crocker, John, ed. Memoirs of the Reign of George II from his accession to the death of Queen Caroline. Vol 1. Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1848.

Wilson Crocker, John, ed. Memoirs of the Reign of George II from his accession to the death of Queen Caroline. Vol 2. London: Bickers, 1884.

Worsley, Lucy. Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court. London: Faber and Faber, 2010.

[1] Hannah Smith and Stephen Taylor, “Hephaestion and Alexander: Lord Hervey, Frederick, Prince of Wales, and the Royal Favourite in England in the 1730s,” The English Historical Review 124 (2009), 311.

[2] Stephanie Koscak, “Rituals of Royal Masculinity in Eighteenth-Century Britain: Frederick, Prince of Wales, Takes a Mistress,” The Court Historian 26 (2021), 80.

[3] Smith and Taylor, “Hephaestion and Alexander,” 269. 

[4] Koscak, “Rituals of Royal Masculinity,” 75.

[5] Hervey, Memoirs, 47.

[6] Hervey, Memoirs, 46.

[7] John Wilson Crocker, ed. Memoirs of the Reign of George II from his accession to the death of Queen Caroline, vol 1 (Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1848), 93.

[8] Hervey, Memoirs, 46.


The Great Loves of John Hervey, 2nd Baron Hervey (1696-1743)

By Amy-Jane Humphries 

For our last #Pride posts, we have a two-parter on the courtier John Hervey, his relationship with Caroline of Ansbach, queen of Great Britain and Ireland, and his role in LGBTQIA+ history!

Pride Month provides a wonderful reminder that our world has been shaped by queer lives all over the world and throughout human history. These stories can be found in all of our histories, and royal history is no exception. Time and later prejudices can often obscure some of the lives that turned the wheels of history but there are individuals who have withstood the test of time and remain as vivid to us today as they were when they lived. John Hervey, 2nd Baron Hervey, is one such person. He was a prominent—one may even say infamous—courtier during the reign of George I and II. In the latter’s reign particularly, he was a royal favourite—the “child, pupil, and charge” of Queen Caroline.[1] By 1734, Hervey had found himself “in greater favour with the Queen, and consequently with the King, than ever; they told him everything, and talked of everything before him.”[2] The topics of these discussions were painstakingly, and often ruthlessly, recorded by Hervey and have survived to us in the form of his memoirs, which document the King’s reign until the death of Queen Caroline in 1737. Hervey is a more compelling character than your typical royal favourite, though. He was demonstrably, if not openly, bisexual and did not conform to the gendered expectations of the early eighteenth century. He was described by Sir Charles Hanbury Williams as being “excessively handsome, but so effeminately affected that it brought even his sex into question.”[3] Hervey’s androgyny made him the victim of vicious attacks by his political and romantic opponents both in the popular press and in poetic satire, with Alexander Pope penning the one of the most famous attacks on this courtier.[4] John Hervey was a fascinatingly complex character, and it is impossible to do him justice here alone. To celebrate Pride Month, though, we are going to have a look closer at four of the most important relationships in John Hervey’s life: that with his wife, Mary ‘Molly Lepell; the love of his life, Steven ‘Ste’ Fox; the Prince, Frederick of Wales; and the Queen, Caroline of Ansbach.

‘Now trips a lady, and now struts a lord’[5]: The Origins of Lord Hervey

Lord Bristol.

            A word or two must be given first to the early life of one of the eighteenth century’s most famous individuals. John Hervey was born on 15th October 1696 in a house on Jermyn Street in London. His courtly trajectory was perhaps then destined from birth, as Jermyn Street was built by and named after the 1st Earl of St Albans, Henry Jermyn, whom the Herveys were related to. Jermyn was a courtier and politician during the reign of Charles I and he was the life-long favourite of Queen Henrietta Maria. John was the eldest son of at least seventeen children born to Elizabeth Howard and John Hervey, the future Earl of Bristol. Lord Bristol also had three children from his previous marriage to Isabella Carr. One might imagine, therefore, that the Hervey house in Ickworth, Suffolk was a loud and raucous place to grow up. The young John was plagued by ill-health, but he did not allow it to hold back. Certainly, it did not prevent him from frequently accompanying his father to Newmarket for the races, nor did it stop him from becoming an able jockey in his own right.[6] Much of his youth was spent in the company of his mother, however. Unlike her husband, the Countess thrived in the court environment. She became one of Queen Caroline’s bedchamber women when the Hanoverians first came to Britain and Caroline was made Princess of Wales. She remained in post until Caroline’s death in the 1730s. Though she adored the court, her great love was cards and Hervey could often be found at the gaming table with her, learning how to play quadrille and other “games of skill.”[7]

Countess Bristol.

            The extended time that Hervey spent with women in his youth has been attributed to his later androgyny and the perceived eccentricities that he displayed—particularly his penchant for using face powder.[8] It is worth noting with regards to his use of cosmetics that it was not unusual for men in this period to utilise powders and rouges to enhance their beauty. A pale face paired with rouged lips and cheeks was considered the height of fashion and it is reflected in many of the portraits created during the first half of the century. However, the excessive use of cosmetics was derided and the fact that this was a notable part of Hervey’s appearance does imply that his usage teetered on excess. By the middle of the century, such individuals who displayed themselves in an outlandish, colourful manner as Hervey did would be unkindly referred to as Macaronis. Hervey also had other motives for using cosmetics, though. During his trip to Italy in 1728, he underwent surgery which left him with a facial scar. For courtiers of any period, not least in the eighteenth century, appearances were everything. Thus, while we can certainly see this as evidence of Hervey possessing a fluid gender identity, other factors saw him utilise these products.

Owing to his precarious health, Hervey was educated by tutors at Ickworth and it was not until 1712, when he was fifteen, that he finally began to attend the Westminster School. He then matriculated at Clare College, Cambridge and graduated in 1715. Afterwards, Hervey embarked on a grand tour of Europe. This had been a fashionable adventure for young aristocrats since the seventeenth century and a stay in Rome and Venice was considered the cornerstone of the trip. Hervey began his in Paris before moving onto the unusual destination of Hanover, which looks less like a strange detour when one realises that his arrival coincided with one of the many extended visits that George I made to the electorate over the course of his reign in Britain. It was there that the twenty-year-old Hervey met two of the people who would come to dominate his later life: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Prince Frederick, the son of the Prince and Princess of Wales. Lord Bristol’s hope was that by enabling his son to pay court to both the King and to the young prince, he might thereby secure the prominence of the Hervey family well into the future. Lady Mary and Prince Frederick were complicated figures in Hervey’s life and the exact nature of his relationship to both, but more importantly to Frederick, has remained elusive to historians. His return to court after the tour brought him into contact with a young woman with whom he had a relationship that is much more visible to us: his wife, Mary Lepell.

Mary Lepell (1700-1768)

by James Heath, line and stipple engraving, published 1798

Mary Lepell, affectionately known as Molly, was an animal of the court just like her future husband and mother-in-law. She was a Maid of Honour in the Princess of Wales’s household and was considered to be one of the great beauties of the Georgian court. The Maids of Honour provided George I’s court with some of the glitz and glamour it was so often in want of. Molly and her friends were frequently the subject of romantic verses and their exploits filled the gossip columns of the popular press. In Molly, Hervey felt that he had found someone who understood him, someone he could connect with about the trials and tribulations of court life. Moreover, he believed that he had come to love her more than he had ever loved himself.[9] When they married in the summer of 1720, neither of them had much money at their disposal. Molly came from a relatively impoverished background and Lady Bristol’s penchant for cards had much depleted the Hervey finances over the years. Thus, they were forced to keep their union a secret as they depended upon the salary Molly earned from her position at court. Admitting to their marriage would have left them in a dire financial state but the lie could not last forever as the marriage proved particularly fecund in its early days. Between 1720 and 1724, Molly had four children in quick succession. Several others would be born at less regular intervals in the ensuing years, reflecting that the lustre of first love had worn off quicker than either of them would have liked. The truth appears to have been their undoing, however. It may have been the clandestine nature of their match which had enthralled them and when reality caught up with them, they no longer savoured each other as they had once done. By 1726, the pair had begun to grow apart, and Hervey had moved on to other loves.[10]

Steven Fox (1704-1776)

Steven Fox.

In 1728, a year after his great patrons, George II and Queen Caroline, had come to the throne, Hervey abandoned his political career and his wife to go to Italy. Publicly, this trip was for Hervey’s health, which had grown precarious and unreliable once more. Privately, though, it was a chance for him to further cultivate his relationship with Stephen Fox, the future Earl of Ilchester. Undoubtedly, the relationship with Stephen Fox was the defining romance of Hervey’s life. Over the course of the following decade, the pair often lived together, but their relationship does not seem to have been a constant one as Hervey pursued other liaisons in this period and infrequently returned to the bed of his wife. The pair wrote passionate, and sometimes explicit love letters to one another, a number of which were removed from Hervey’s letter book by his descendants.[11]  They had an intense sexual and emotional relationship and Stephen completely eclipsed Molly in Hervey’s affections; Hervey wrote to him in 1731 that he loved him “more than he thought I could ever love anything.”[12] He had thought that of Molly too, once. His wife certainly came to tolerate, even accept the affair. The pair had three more children during Hervey’s decade with Stephen, and one last child followed after it concluded. It was Stephen to whom Molly wrote in 1728 to enquire as to her husband’s health while they were on the Continent.[13] Later, she even sold Stephen her house in London, which suggests that they were at least cordial, or perhaps even had a tentative friendship of their own.[14] Hervey and Stephen’s relationship did not withstand the test of time, however. In 1735, Stephen married the thirteen-year-old Elizabeth Horner, the only heir of Thomas Strangways Horner. Though it must have initially been a marriage of convenience, Stephen was reportedly “distressingly affectionate” towards his young wife.[15] Having thrown away his relationship with his wife and losing his great love to the institution of marriage, Hervey found himself alone by the mid-1730s. Two other significant relationships had failed by this point, too—that of Hervey with Anne Vane and, more importantly, Frederick, Prince of Wales.

Come back on Thursday for the second part of the life of John Hervey!

[1] John Wilson Crocker, editor., Memoirs of the Reign of George II from his accession to the death of Queen Caroline, vol 2, (London: Bickers, 1884), 46.

[2] Crocker, ed., Memoirs, 46.

[3] Sir Charles Hanbury Williams, quoted in Lord Hervey’s Memoirs, edited by Romney Sedgwick (London: William Kimber, 1952), 14.

[4] See Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot where Alexander Pope figures Hervey as Sporus, the young man who was castrated and then married to the Emperor Nero. In doing so, Pope is making clear statements about Hervey’s gender and sexuality which would have been clear to eighteenth century readers who understood who he was referring to.

[5] Alexander Pope, Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot, 1735, accessed, 14th June 2021, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44895/epistle-to-dr-arbuthnot.

[6] Sedgwick, ed. Lord Hervey’s Memoirs, 14.

[7] Sedgwick, ed. Lord Hervey’s Memoirs, 14.

[8] Reed Browning, “Hervey, John, second Baron Hervey of Ickworth (1696-1743, courtier and writer,” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2004-), accessed 14th June 2021, https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-13116.

[9] Lucy Worsley, Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court (London: Faber and Faber, 2010), 52.

[10] Worsley, Courtiers, 108.

[11] Worsley, Courtiers, 205.

[12] SRO 941/47/4, John Hervey to Stephen Fox (26 August 1731), 295.

[13] Worsley, Courtiers, 207.

[14] Matthew Kilburn, “Hervey [née Lepell], Mary, Lady Hervey of Ickworth (1699/1700-1768), courtier,” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2004-), accessed 16th June 2021, https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-13118.

[15] Worsley, Courtiers, 253.


A Queen Between Two Realms: Blanca of Navarre as Sicilian Lieutenant and Navarrese Princess, 1402-1415

By Jessica Minieri (Twitter: @jessica_minieri)

Cover Photo: Blanca’s initial on the ceiling of the Cathedral de Santa María la Real in Pamplona, Spain (Wikimedia Commons).

In 1402, Navarrese princess, Blanca (c.1387-1441), arrived in Palermo to marry the king of Sicily, Martí “El Joven” (r. 1390-1409), in an effort to secure his throne following the death of his first wife and co-ruler, Maria of Sicily (r. 1377-1401). The circumstances of this union began in the fourteenth century as the Aragonese royal house worked to unite its monarchy with Sicily in the decades following the War of the Sicilian Vespers (1282-1302). Since 1302, Sicily was ruled by a semi-autonomous cadet branch of the Aragonese House of Barcelona that maintained its own monarchy, parliament, and political institutions. While Maria’s death in 1401 temporarily stalled hopes in Barcelona for a dynastic merge with Sicily, Martí’s place as king of Sicily and heir of his father in Aragon, Martín “El Humano” (r. 1396-1410), left that possibility open.

After months of searching for a new wife, Blanca, princess of the Iberian Kingdom of Navarre, travelled to Palermo to become the new queen of Sicily and give new life to Aragonese hopes of a dynastic union.

Figure 2. In 1402, the Crown of Aragon composed of Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia, Malta, the Balearic Islands (Menorca, Mallorca, and Ibiza), Montpellier, Perpignan, Sicily, and parts of the island of Sardinia. By the mid-fifteenth century, the Aragonese also expanded their rule to Naples (1442).
(Wikimedia Commons, 1669 Map of the Mediterranean Sea, Pieter Goos).

While Blanca’s and Martí’s future may have seemed bright in the early years of their marriage, by 1409, things in Sicily had turned sour quickly as Martí died of battle wounds sustained in Sardinia. At his death, Blanca assumed the title of lieutenant general (vicaria generalis) and Martín of Aragon, Blanca’s father-in-law and Martí’s father, inherited the throne of Sicily. This arrangement, however, only lasted until May 1410 when King Martín died and left both the kingdoms of Aragon and Sicily without formal heirs. As the resulting political and dynastic situation worsened in Barcelona, Blanca remained as lieutenant until a replacement could be named at the ascension of a new king. This position, similar to a regent, allowed her to rule Sicily with the authority of a king. As the tension over the Arago-Sicilian succession grew violent in Iberia, a faction of Sicilian nobles led by Bernardo Cabrera, count of Modica (1350-1423), plotted to reshape Sicily at Blanca’s expense.

According to the minutes of the Catalan Parliament (Corts) in March 1412, Cabrera attempted to abduct Blanca and force her into marriage with Nichola Peralta, a descendant of Maria of Sicily. Cabrera’s representative to the Corts, Antonio Rigau, argued that a marriage between Nichola and Blanca would restore Sicily’s monarchy to its pre-1409 status and prevent it from falling under Aragon’s direct control via a dynastic merge with Barcelona. This arrangement, however, would stall Blanca’s ability to return to Navarre and prevent her from inheriting her father’s throne since, after the death of her sister, Juana, in 1413, Blanca became the heir.

Luckily for Blanca, this scheme foundered, and she was able to combat Cabrera’s ambitions until a new king, Ferdinand de Antequera (r. 1412-1416), was elected in Aragon in June 1412. Meanwhile, Blanca travelled around the island as Cabrera sieged the castles and municipalities that she visited. In her published letters from 1412, Blanca refers to Cabrera as a “rebel to this house” (rebelli di la casa) and an “occupier and destroyer of the kingdom” (occupaturi et distrudituri di quistu Regnu). Blanca’s fight to protect her throne characterized her lieutenancy since this fight with Cabrera dragged on for years.

Figure 3. Blanca signed her letters as “Blanca” or “La Reyna” (The Queen) in both Sicily and Navarre. (Wikimedia Commons).

Once news arrived in Sicily of the election of Ferdinand de Antequera, Blanca received the support she needed from Barcelona to repel further challenges to her position. By the end of 1412, Blanca banished Cabrera from Sicily and arranged for a marriage between Peralta and Isabella de Luna, a member of a high-ranking Catalan noble family. With the threat to herself and, by extension, the monarchy, extinguished, Blanca herself needed to arrange her journey home to Navarre.

The logistics of this journey had been in motion in Navarre for years as Blanca’s parents, Carlos III (r. 1387-1425), and Leanor of Castile (r. 1387-1416), petitioned the Catalan Parliament and the schismatic Avignon Pope, Benedict XIII (disputed reign 1394-1403/1423), in 1410 and 1411 to negotiate the terms of Blanca’s return. Both attempts, however, were unsuccessful since Blanca could not leave Sicily without a replacement. Ferdinand de Antequera’s ascension following years of failed negotiations and uncertainty brought new hope of Blanca’s return for Carlos and Leanor. Unfortunately, this process was not settled until late 1414 when Juan of Aragon, son of Ferdinand and Blanca’s eventual second husband, became of age to succeed her as lieutenant. Once Juan embarked for Palermo, Blanca traveled to Pamplona to become her father’s formal heir in 1415. By her death in 1441, Blanca had ruled Navarre as regnant queen with Juan for sixteen years.

While she may be most known in the Anglophone world for her reign in Navarre, Blanca’s lieutenancy in Sicily is still revered in popular celebrations of the island’s medieval past. From her namesake village of Biancavilla in the Province of Catania to commemoration of the legend of her failed abduction at Donnafugata Castle in Ragusa, Bianca di Navarra remains an ever-present figure in the landscape of the Sicilian medieval past.

Figure 4. Blanca depicted at the Iglesia de Santa María de Real in
Olite, Spain (Wikimedia Commons)

Bibliography and Recommended Reading

De Bofarull y Mascaro, Prospero Coleccion de documentos ineditos del Archivo General de la Corona de Aragon. Barcelona: Archivo General de la Corona de Aragon, 1847

Fodale, Salvatore, “Blanca de Navarra y el gobierno de Sicilia,” Principe de Viana 60, no.217 (1999), 311-322.

Lo Forte Scirpo, Maria Rita. C’era una volta una regina: due donne per un regno: Maria   d’Aragona e Bianca di Navarra. Napoli: Liguori, 2003.

Ramirez Vaquero, Eloisa. Carlos III rey de Navarra, Principe de sangre Valois (1387-1425). Gijón: Ediciones Trea, 2007.

­­­­_____. “El Retorno a Navarra de la reina de Sicilia in 1415,Principe de Viana 70, no. 246 (2009), 121-144.

Sciascia, Laura, “Bianca di Navarra, l’ultima regina. Storia femminile della monarchia siciliana,”     Principe de Viana 60, no. 217 (1999), 293-310.

Starrabba, Raffaele. Lettere e documenti della regina Bianca, vicaria del Regno di Sicilia (1411-1412). Palermo: Amenta, 1887.

Woodacre, Elena, ed. Queenship in the Mediterranean: Negotiating the Role of the Queen in the  Medieval and Early Modern Era. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013  

_____.  The Queens Regnant of Navarre: Succession, Politics, and Partnership, 1274-1512. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.


Christina of Sweden: Queerness and Queenship in Fiction

By Amy Saunders

For the third of our #PrideMonth posts, we have a special guest post from historian Amy Saunders on the iconic Christina of Sweden!

Christina of Sweden (1628-1689) inherited the throne at six years old after the death of her father Gustavas Adolphus King of Sweden. Christina’s biological sex was called into question at her birth when it was initially announced that Queen Eleanora had given birth to a son and heir. Soon after the queen’s attendants decided they had made a mistake and the king’s sister had to inform Gustavas that the baby was female. Although a woman could inherit the throne in Sweden it had only happened once before 1628 and a son would have been preferred. Prior to giving birth to Christina, Eleanora had several difficult and unsuccessful pregnancies, this, combined with Gustavas being away fighting in the 30 Years War, meant that they had no more children.

Later, Christina’s cross dressing, her self-declared disinterest in marriage, her relationship with Ebba Sparre and her traditionally-gendered-masculine interests, such as fencing and hunting, all fed into a seventeenth-century image that we would today term as queer. As Gabby discussed in the last Pride month #teamqueens blog, the terminology that we use today to describe gender and sexuality such as homosexual, heterosexual, transgender, and queer did not exist in the early modern period. Christina would not have self-identified as lesbian or bisexual or as gender fluid, as these terms had not been coined in the 1600s. Despite the lack of terminology, Christina’s gender and sexuality was frequently commented upon by her contemporaries and these aspects of her life have been seized upon by modern writers of historical fiction. 

Christina’s abdication and conversion to Catholicism made her a celebrity in her own age. She was so well-known that her masculine interests and outward appearance led to a Vatican-run propaganda machine that aimed to align her with Catholic virginal saints in the hope that this would mitigate her gender ambiguities. 

Christina’s dramatic narrative has inspired numerous biographies, fictional plays, films, and short stories. This post introduces three films that reimagine Christina’s story for three different audiences from the 1930s to modern day. These films reflect the times in which they were created and this post hopes to encourage you to explore some of these fascinating films for yourself. Warning: spoilers ahead! 

Sebastien Bourdon, Christine of Sweden, on Horseback, Oil on Canvas, 1653-1654. ©Museo del Prado.

Queen Christina, starring Greta Garbo, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1933.

This 1933 film starts with Christina, dressed in men’s clothing, kissing Ebba Sparre. While this could have been an early celebration of same-sex love, Christina is quickly re-aligned to heteronormative ideals. 

At the start of the production, Christina is depicted as having traditionally masculine interests and enjoying male humour. She uses her crossdressing to facilitate activities not available to her as a seventeenth-century woman and to play practical jokes on strangers. In this moment of fast-paced tenderness with Ebba, a modern audience might assume that Christina’s sexual and romantic interests are in women. However, it is quickly reinforced that despite her clothing and outward displays of affection towards Ebba, Christina is sexually attached to men, sleeping with a Spanish Ambassador. 

This Ambassador, Antonio, ultimately becomes Christina’s love interest and they break societal expectations by having a sexual relationship outside of marriage. There’s a very Shakespearean Twelfth Night moment when Christina and Antonio meet, where he believes her to be a young man and is clearly confused at his obvious attraction to the stranger. As with Orsino and Viola, Antonio sees this as humorous and as a wonderful surprise when Christina’s sex is revealed. 

To Christina, Antonio represents freedom and a different world that will offer her new opportunities that she does not find in Sweden and as queen. Although Antonio tells her many things about Spain that make her want to leave Sweden and attract her to a Mediterranean lifestyle, it is ultimately a man that shows her what life can be and therefore a man that is the catalyst in this narrative.

For 1933, this film challenges gender expectations and highlights female sexuality. The queen’s sexual encounters with men outside of marriage are widely spoken of but not used to discredit or depose her, whilst her potential interest in women is not discussed openly despite being very present prior to her relationship with Antonio. 

The Abdication, staring Liv Ullmann, Warner Bros., 1974

Whereas Queen Christina charts the events immediately prior to Christina’s abdication in 1654, The Abdication focuses on her initial arrival in Rome and her acceptance into the Catholic faith. Christina’s historical decision to abdicate was motivated by several factors, which for reasons of space will not be discussed here. Her choice to throw herself on the mercy of the Catholic church was, however, not only motivated by religious desire but also by the lifestyle that she believed she could have as one of the Catholic elites in Rome. 

Liv Ullmann’s Christina is tormented by her past with flashbacks to her difficult childhood trying to appeal to the physiological interests of the 1970s. However, just like Garbo’s Christina, Ullmann’s queen finds comfort in a man, and it is a man who acts as the catalyst for the development of her personality and shows her the way to a better life. Nora Sayra, who reviewed the film the week it opened, complained that Christina “is presented here as a love‐starved waif who needs only a great passion to wash out all her early traumas.” I’m inclined to agree with Sayra. At the end of the film Christina and Cardinal Azzolino’s love, which is already forbidden by their positions of ex-queen and Cardinal, is further denied through Azzolino’s elevation to Pope. Here Christina’s sexual and romantic desires have been denied her, but her life has been forever changed by the interventions of a man.  

Christina, the Girl King, starring Malin Buska, Marianna Films, Triptych Media, Starhaus Filmproduktion, & co., 2015. 

Finally, the most recent reimagining of Christina’s life, like its predecessors, is influenced by the men around her, but MalinBuska’s Christina distinctly attempts to pursue her own path, demonstrating her own agency and will throughout. The film follows Christina from her childhood to her abdication and suggests that from an early age her councillors encouraged her to act like a prince. In the film, Christina struggles with her gender identity, finding that her upbringing and personality conflict with the new expectations placed upon her as an adult female ruler. 

Christina is surrounded by male suitors, whose depth of love is hard to gauge. Her cousin Karl’s love could be genuine, or he could be an archetype of toxic masculinity who is threatened by her free will. Johan Oxenstierna may be interested in Christina as a person, but her position as queen is also important to him and that his desire to marry her may be based more on her ability to make him a king than her own personality. Finally, there is the overdressed Count Magnus de la Gardie.

Chirstina seeks answers to religious, moral, and philosophical questions in an attempt to understand her own position as queen, her sexuality and desires. Her love for Ebba, which starts as an instant physical attraction, soon evolves, and they begin a passionate physical and romantic relationship. Christina’s love for Ebba is used against her and Ebba is manipulated by the powerful and religious men around her into seeing their relationship as wrong and sinful. Here, Ebba is forced into a heterosexual marriage and into following societal expectations placed on women. Christina views this as betrayal and a weakness, but the viewer feels nothing but sympathy for the threatened and fearful Ebba.

Christina ultimately ends up alone, riding off into the sunset. Whilst all the films end in a similar scene, there’s a sense in Christina, The Girl King, that her exit is as a free and independent woman and as a person more in control of her own destiny than she has ever been before.

Concluding Thoughts

Apart from featuring Christina as a central figure, these films all demonstrate that ideas around gender and sexuality can be challenged, reinforced, and celebrated through historical fiction. These films allow Christina to be reconstructed as a human being the audience can understand and connect to, despite the almost 400 years that separate the viewer from the subject. They enter the world of seventeenth-century Europe, allowing the viewer to exclaim with interest as famous people or paintings appear on screen, and to see the conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism as it played out in the lives of real people. These films are a fascinating and thought-provoking introduction to the life of Christina of Sweden and are excellent Pride Month watches, in addition to the suggested readings, watching’s and listening’s below. 

Amy Saunders, Alex Churchill, and Charlotte White, Christina of Sweden, History Hack podcast: https://historyhack.podbean.com/e/history-hack-christina-of-sweden/, (2021). 

Amy Saunders and Nicola Tallis, Christina of Sweden, History Gems podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/queen-christina-of-sweden-with-amy-saunders/id1541852649?i=1000521419502, (2021).

Jo Strong and Amy Saunders, Queens on Screen, History Indoors: (2021), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G1k5h8KF-q4&list=PLWWcq_1DDryRyBvkcbzaWi3J_9i_PZHZ4&index=12&t=3s

Margaret A. Kuntz, “Questions of Identity: Alexander VII, Carlo Rainaldi, and the Temporary Facade at Palazzo Farnese for Queen Christina of Sweden” Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, Vol. 58 (2013), 143-179. 

Sarah Waters, “‘A Girton Girl on a Throne’: Queen Christina and Versions of Lesbianism, 1906–1933” Feminist Review, vol 46. (1994), 41-60.

Veronica Buckley, Christina, Queen of Sweden: The Restless Life of a European Eccentric, (Harper Perennial: London, 2005).


LGBTQIA+ History: Issues of Terminology

By Gabrielle Storey

This piece is the second of four for Pride Month: in this discussion we briefly look at some of the issues around terminology in historical and art studies. We will be providing a specific reference piece for royal studies and sexualities at the end of the month!

The decision around what categorisations and labels to apply to historical figures is inherently complex. The issues of utilising modern terminology to figures who would not have used these terms begs the question: how do we describe and discuss non-heteronormative sexualities? There is also a need to consider culturally appropriate terms – although for many members of the LGBTQIA+ community, queer has been reclaimed from its derogatory use and fully embraced as a positive identity, not all members of the community feel the same way, and the categorisation of LGBTQIA+ history under ‘queer history’ can bring its own problems. One such approach advocated by Margaret Middleton in her article ‘Queer Possibility’ is to frame the language used appropriately, for example to add the phrase ‘if x were alive today, historians would describe them as lesbian/gay/queer’, and so forth. Gender and sexuality are social constructs and thus societies of the past (and thinking globally as well) would have different views and descriptors for what we would now bracket under LGBTQIA+ identities and sexualities.

As Elena McGrath has highlighted, the terms we use for exploring attraction outside of a monogamous, cis male and female partnership can be politically loaded. They write for a blog post compiled by Claire Hayward in 2016: “A term like queer implies a society that associates same-sex love with gender non-conformity as a particular kind of social transgression, and that has not existed in all times and places.” Loving, desiring, and engaging with someone outside societal norms, and/or the expression of one’s true self can still be contested and in some countries criminalised today. When some of the world today has moved towards embracing their past, other parts are still living acts of revolution to confront LGBTQIA+ histories. Some historical societies were far more open to genderfluid and LGBTQIA+ folk and their lives, and demonstrate the openness which was available to some. People study and appreciate history for several reasons, however the searching for a relatable figure, through which one can empathise with due to a shared identity, is one which can be difficult due to a lack of evidence and certainty.

Historians and heritage specialists may face slightly different challenges when preserving, discussing, and analysing works: however, the need to situate items and figures within their historical context whilst appreciating the difficulties of using anachronistic terminology need to be more openly discussed. Many artistic works undoubtedly deserve an appraisal and acknowledgement of their queer subjects or background: likewise, historical figures, even those who are already LGBTQIA+ icons, need to described with the awareness that our terminology may not have been accurate in their time, and even that we risk inaccuracies with these discussions without all the information available. This should not discourage historians from engaging with LGBTQIA+ history and historical figures that fall outside heteronormative boundaries, but instead to embrace the flexibility and terminology that we can utilise today.

What this piece argues is that historians, particularly scholars of royal studies, make informed choices when using terminology surrounding gender and sexuality, and that this decision is clearly stated. Consumers of works and students of these works should be able to view and participate in these discussions, in order to fully engage with the past. LGBTQIA+ studies is an important aspect of our past, which deserves a fuller exploration and to be prioritised when analysing and interpreting history.

Recommended Reading

Christina B. Hanhardt, “Queer History.” Organization of American Historians, 2019. Accessed 12 June 2021. https://www.oah.org/tah/issues/2019/may/queer-history/.

Claire Hayward, “ Queer Terminology: LGBTQ Histories and the Semantics of Sexuality,” 9 June 2016. Accessed 16 June 2021. https://notchesblog.com/2016/06/09/queer-terminology-lgbtq-histories-and-the-semantics-of-sexuality/?fbclid=IwAR3mrM0FX7LortBx9yfyFaz1QvwOhG50AWv2s8ud6OObS1PpoyYzEjQeOTU.

Discussion on LGBTQIA+ terminology in the arts, 9 June 2021 https://twitter.com/_tabracadabra/status/1402553292488687616.

English Heritage, “LGBTQ History.” Accessed 16 June 2021. https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/histories/lgbtq-history/.

Jon Sleigh, “Know your queer icons: a warning from art history,” 3 February 2020. Accessed 14 June 2021. https://artuk.org/discover/stories/know-your-queer-icons-a-warning-from-art-history.

Margaret Middleton, “Queer Possibility.” Journal of Museum Education 45:4, 426-436, DOI: 10.1080/10598650.2020.1831218.

The Victoria & Albert Museum has a useful resources page, including a link to terminology: https://www.vam.ac.uk/info/lgbtq


Book Review: The King’s Pearl: Henry VIII and his Daughter Mary by Melita Thomas

By Johanna Strong

With the growth of revisionist Marian work, scholars have begun to challenge the traditional view of Mary I, England’s first crowned queen regnant (1553-1558), as a religious zealot and tyrant. Instead, she has been revealed as a highly competent, politically savvy queen. In this revisionist scholarship, though, Mary’s personal relationship with her father, Henry VIII, is often overlooked or under-analysed. Melita Thomas’ The King’s Pearl: Henry VIII and his Daughter Mary provides an answer to this oversight, adeptly exploring ‘how the personal and the political were woven into the tapestry of [Henry and Mary’s] relationship’ (page 24) from Mary’s birth in 1516 until Henry’s death in 1547.

As Thomas notes, ‘Bloody Mary is now becoming Tragic Mary. […] But there is more to the story of Mary than tragedy’ (22). A popular history approached largely with the rigour of an academic biography, The King’s Pearl is divided according to contemporary milestones such as betrothals in Mary’s childhood and the succession of mother and stepmothers. Interestingly, the chapters are largely organised according to the women in Henry VIII’s life, presenting this work as a female-based study, a valuable perspective in the growing field of queenship studies. Throughout, Thomas works to place Mary into a larger European context, clearly highlighting how Mary’s childhood – and indeed her relationship to her father – was greatly influenced by European politics and diplomacy. The narration of the many childhood betrothal negotiations can, at times, become overwhelming simply as a result of the complex tensions between England, France, and the Holy Roman Empire as played out through a vast number of ambassadors and emissaries. Thomas, however, effectively uses this structure to address the nuances of each set of negotiations and conveys their consequences and ramifications on Mary and her status as princess and presumptive heir to Henry.

In depicting Mary as more than bloody or tragic, Thomas assigns Mary agency, ensuring that this biography does not fall into the trap of portraying Mary as a victim of the ruthless politics surrounding her. For example, Mary’s time as Princess of Wales, despite her never being granted letters patent or officially invested with this title (76), makes up a significant portion of analysis of one of Thomas’ early chapters, in which she demonstrates the extent to which Mary fulfilled the role of heir to Henry VIII and established and maintained relationships with her future subjects in her capacity as Princess (78). Of particular interest is the discussion surrounding Mary’s curation of her personal and political network, the subject of Thomas’ ongoing doctoral work. Further, Thomas details Mary’s cunning while she was in her sister Elizabeth’s household at Hatfield; feeling under threat, Mary felt her only option was to ask for help from the Spanish Ambassador Eustace Chapuys. Unable to contact him directly and forbidden from sending messages or speaking to her supporters, Thomas brings to life the tension of the moment when Mary was forced to openly speak with her former doctor in Latin, telling him – the contents of her speech unbeknownst to the other household staff – of her insecurity (152).

In addition to including the more popular aspects of Mary’s early life, which often feature in biographies of England’s first crowned queen regnant, Thomas provides new insight into Mary’s often discussed health. Whereas others have generally accepted the popular theory that Mary suffered from gynaecological complaints throughout her life, Thomas hypothesises that perhaps she instead was ailed by digestive problems, an insight garnered from correspondence between Mary and Chapuys (165). Likely a result of aiming this biography for a popular audience, though, not all material is footnoted, making it challenging as a historian to further pursue the argument. The lack of rigorous footnotes also proves a barrier to readers who want to follow the trail of primary sources which make up Thomas’ argument. In spite of these challenges, Thomas’ work reads as an excellently-research biography detailing a relationship in Mary’s life which is often passed over in favour of her time as queen. The primary source foundation of Thomas’ argument is reinforced by her use of secondary research, at once positioning herself in the current literature while being guided by the contemporary early modern sources.

Moreover, Thomas pairs analysis of the court and Mary’s place in it with examinations of the psychological consequences of Henry and Katherine of Aragon’s annulment on Mary, ultimately tying the actions of her parents to Mary’s own mindset during her tenure as queen. Throughout the annulment proceedings, Mary observed her parents following their consciences, ultimately teaching her, ‘at a very impressionable age, […] that the dictates of conscience must be followed, regardless of how unpalatable the outcome might be’ (116). Thomas also includes discussion of how Mary upheld her royal status throughout these uneasy years, detailing the gifts that Mary continued to give and receive from the court (125-128). Though it feels, at times, that Mary becomes lost in the narrative surrounding Henry VIII’s pursuit of Anne Boleyn, Thomas’ examination of Mary’s life in this decade remains insightful and thought-provoking. While Mary’s relationship to the court has largely been studied in other biographies, Thomas highlights instead the relationship that Mary had with her father, retelling the familiar annulment narrative from a new perspective.

The King’s Pearl is thus a splendid biography of Mary, founded on widespread research and an obvious dedication to retelling Mary’s relationship with her father from Mary’s perspective. Where many biographies of Mary’s early life focus on her role as royal child and heir, Thomas pays particular attention to how historical events would have been experienced and perceived by Mary. While most narrative of the annulment proceedings naturally centre around Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, Thomas successfully analyses this event from Mary’s point of view, centring the narrative around this royal daughter instead of simply interspersing her throughout the familiar narrative. Tracy Borman praises Thomas’ work as ‘a stunning achievement’, a statement with which this reviewer concurs. While there are slight challenges for academic readers – such as the sparsity of footnotes and the inconsistent quotations – Thomas’ work is a foundational introduction to Mary’s early life and is an essential framework to understanding Mary’s relationship with her father and with English monarchical rule more broadly.


The Monarchs of Pride

By Holly Marsden

Cover Image: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2018/mar/08/rupaul-drag-race-transgender-performers-diversity

Happy Pride month! To celebrate, we are going to explore a very different kind of royalty…drag queens and kings! It is firstly important to understand why the festivals, street parties and rainbow splattered vodka bottles exist. Pride celebrates queer culture, history and activism in commemorating the Stonewall Riots, which took place on 28th June 1969. Police raids on bars that welcomed queer folk had become routine during the 1960s. In response to a raid on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York, members of the city’s LGBTQIA+ community spontaneously demonstrated, and retaliated against violent police officers.

This event led to the galvanisation of LGBTQIA+ community members of Greenwich Village and beyond in formulating organisations who demanded for equal rights. The following year in 1970, Christopher Street Liberation day commemorated the riots. Pride marches also happened in Chicago and Los Angeles, before spreading globally in 1971. Without trans women such as Marsha P. Johnson, drag queens, butch lesbians and every single person who fought the system, queer people would not have the rights, nor celebration of Pride, that we do today.

Today, in 2021, #TeamQueens will be commemorating and celebrating by looking at drag queens and kings who have donned historical dress, particularly outfits that have imitated royal queens. But why might a drag king or queen choose to portray those at the top of the social strata? As Emily Aboud, aka king TriniDad & TooGayThough, states ‘what I love about drag is that it is a way to satirise and take power back from what oppresses us and what disenfranchises us. As a cis woman being a drag king who is a hyper-masculine dude, it allows me to harness that masculinity in a way that I’m not allowed to as a woman and almost take ownership of my body. It shows that, genuinely, gender is a performance. It’s empowering to show that people can choose how to present themselves and how to present their gender. As a drag king, the power in the cabaret scene is in satirising what oppresses us: living in a patriarchy but getting to do a satire on what it means to be a man is so empowering and so funny. Drag can make huge political statements. Cabaret venues are usually full of oppressed groups of people, a community. It’s a truly incredible thing to be part of a community of kings, queens and viewers who are all interested in flipping the gaze and switching lenses. It’s one of the most political art forms we have, no doubt.’


With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best of drag’s royal guises. Up first is Rosé from season 13 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, who imitated Mary Queen of Scots in an utterly hilarious performance for challenge ‘The Snatch Game.’ Rosé’s Youtube channel, ‘The Rosé,’ honours the performance through a video interview by Austin Nunes, which, as the channel states, aimed to ‘get the tea and discuss her future plans now that she was returned from the dead to play “The Snatch Game” on RuPaul’s Drag Race.’ The look features a merlot-coloured dress, embroidered with a damask pattern and finished with HUGE sleeves and golden ruff. Mary Stuart even receives a makeover at the end of Rosé’s video, relinquishing her signature tight curls for a straighten style with a middle part, in order to appease the Tik Tok generation.


Now we have two interpretations of France’s most infamous queen: Marie Antoinette. Raja Gemini from Drag Race season three’s haute couture look featured an enormous white powdered wig crowned with flowers. Her neck was draped in multiple strings of pearls, which sat atop matching Rococo patterned leggings and corset, complete with printed cherubs and floral designs. Raja’s powder-white face and extravagant blush meant she could be associated with none other than Marie Antoinette. In a look that couldn’t be more different, Detox Icunt from season two of the All Stars series of the show donned an entirely different colour palette of a sickly fluorescent green and electrifying hot pink in a historical challenge. Detox’s look includes a similarly Antoinette-shaped green wig and pink corset and mantle shaped by a hoop that can only hark back to the French court. The look is tied together by a green lace trim, green fan, green bows, and hot pink lips, cheeks and eyes. Although entirely different, both queens truly ‘let them eat cake.’

Finally, let’s celebrate the look of a drag king. The character of Shakespeare in Morgan Lloyd Malcom’s play Emilia is portrayed by a woman in drag. This harks back to Shakespeare’s own plays; the word ‘drag’ is thought to have originated from dresses worn by men portraying women dragging along the stage. Although this example veers away from the monarchy ever so slightly, Shakespeare was a frequenter of the Jacobean court. The play is centred around Emilia, who was a poet and muse to Shakespeare. The play aims to let Emilia Bassano’s ‘voice be heard’ through exposing Shakespeare as taking credit for Emilia’s works. By presenting Shakespeare as a woman in drag, the play satirises Shakespeare’s patriarchal attitude and hyper-masculinity. The costume includes beautiful, chin-length, tousled hair and a preened moustache. Shaksey also wears a burgundy doublet and breaches, complemented by a white, lace-trimmed ruff. As this costume is for the stage, rather than a drag performance, it is more realistic than the other exaggerated looks we have seen today.

By looking at the iconic outfits of these kings and queens we can see how dress can be used to subvert gender binaries and power hierarchies. In the art of drag, clothing is a pivotal tool used for satire. For more historical drag fun, check out Anita Wigl’it’s portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II on RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under (which couldn’t be more different from Rosé, Raja, Detox and Shakespeare’s outfits) and London-based drag kings Beau Jangles and Bjorn the Viking. Drag is fun, political and creative, and the perfect way to celebrate Pride.

Recommended Viewing/Reading:

Brown, Leighton and Riemer, Matthew. We Are Everywhere: Protest, Power, and Pride in the History of Queer Liberation. Berkeley: Clarkson Potter/Ten Speed Press, 2019.

You can hear more from Emily at @trinidadtoogaythough on Instagram

Listen Queen Mary’s gorgeous (and completely accurate) Glaswegian drawl here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ij8E-Z6DMR4

A description of Emilia and a link to buy the playtext can be found here: https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/whats-on/emilia-2019/

Make sure to check out RuPaul’s Drag Race, especially the UK series!


Book Review: Before the Reign Falls: The Lost Words of Lady Jane Grey by David Black

By Johanna Strong

*This review contains spoilers, the inclusion of which were necessary for a proper analysis of the work’s plot and character development.*

As historians, we must stick to the facts. Occasionally, however, there comes a moment when every historian wonders “but what if…?”.

David Black’s Before the Reign Falls: The Lost Words of Lady Jane Grey answers precisely that question. Premised around the idea that there are no known contemporary depictions of Lady Jane Grey, Black wonders whether there is more to England’s ‘Nine-Day Queen’ than we know, a re-interpretation of women in power which is growing as the field of queenship studies gains popularity. Set in the Norfolk town of Cawston, former barrister-turned-crime-novelist John has recently purchased a “run-down Tudor mansion” and is planning to excavate, renovate, and restore it to its sixteenth-century glory. With the help of his Oxbridge-educated historian friends, they uncover a sixteenth-century book and a parcel of loose-leaf papers hidden in a crevice, which reveal a startling coincidence that sets up the big “what if?” of the novel: as Eleanor North dies of consumption (tuberculosis), a “well-educated, learned[,] and engaging” young widow (page 61) moves to the town. Who exactly is this mysterious woman who appears without a trace of her past and what is her connection to Eleanor?

Suddenly, it all comes together: it was not Jane Grey executed on that February 1554 day, but Eleanor and the reason why there isn’t a verified contemporary depiction of Jane? Mary I ordered them all destroyed in an effort to hide Jane’s continuing life. The only image allowed to survive this culling was by Levina Teerlinc and which Alice suggests is one of the unnamed miniatures in the Victoria & Albert Museum (252), an allusion to ongoing discussions of identity in the field of art history.

The premise of Black’s novel is a sort of fodder for historians’ imaginations; while it would be engaging regardless of the reader’s background, the fictional nature of this work appeals particularly to history-lovers who want to follow a counterfactual trail. Throughout the novel, Black uses the actual words of his historical characters, giving the reader a view into the real-life thoughts and feelings of Lady Jane Grey, as seen through a variety of her surviving historical letters (141-142, 144-145). He even includes contemporary accounts of Jane’s arrival into London after she is proclaimed queen (174). For a history-minded reader, however, the citations following these historical words point only to secondary sources, requiring further digging should one wish to follow up and read more of the original primary source. For most readers, however, this is certainly not a barrier to enjoyment of the novel.

Despite the novel’s subtitle being “the lost words of Lady Jane Grey” and the inclusion of a handful of primary source quotations, we see relatively little of Jane herself in the novel. Instead, the reader is presented with perspectives and stories from around Jane, with the only words from Jane being the few short diary entries and letters which are found during the excavations. Much of the dialogue and plot centres around overarching explanations of the Tudor age and the drama of Jane’s accession, brief reign, and execution. While this information is essential to the average reader who is perhaps unfamiliar with these specific years of the Tudor era, it can be quickly skimmed over by anyone with a more detailed knowledge of this period of English history.

While the counterfactual approach provides an interesting and engaging perspective which challenges historical interpretations, the lack of agency provided to the historical women in question – that is, Jane and Mary – is rather disappointing. Black must be commended for the strong feminist role which he provides to Alice, but the lack of independence among the historical women suggests that he perhaps sees female agency as only a recent innovation. Mary I is portrayed as being subservient in most matters to her council and is largely shown as being subject to the opinions of her Spanish Ambassador, Simon Renard (184-185). Even when Mary asserts her authority and forms her own opinions and acts on them, Black inserts Renard’s opinion, in one instance saying that “Renard was not amused.” (188). Despite Black’s attempts to humanise Jane by suggesting she was a “spirited girl” (160), he upholds the traditional interpretation of Mary as the ‘bloody’ and incompetent queen, Jane as the ‘martyr’ and innocent queen, and Elizabeth I as the Protestant saviour. This representation contrasts the emerging field of queenship studies, which has re-evaluated historical queens and their more traditional interpretations. At the same time, however, Black’s counterfactual plot implicitly urges readers to challenge their own perceptions of ‘established’ history.

Despite this reviewer’s misgivings about the agency given to Lady Jane Grey and Mary I, the focus on general details of the Tudor period, and the frustration of overt typographical errors missed by proof-readers, Black’s novel was an engaging read and one which begged for “just one more chapter”. The way the twenty-first-century narration was interwoven with the Tudor perspective created suspense which further drove both the plot and the reader’s desire to learn the identity of the mysterious figure at the middle of this counterfactual historical swap. More so than the content of the novel itself, it is the historical counterfactual challenge which it poses which serves as the ‘hook’ which keeps a historian-reader engaged. Black’s challenge to established history serves as a reflection of the ongoing re-interpretation of historical women which fields such as queenship studies advocate.

Further Reading:

Eric Ives, Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery (Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, 2011).

Leanda de Lisle, The Sisters Who Would Be Queen: The tragedy of Mary, Katherine and Lady Jane Grey (New York: HarperPress, 2010).

Rab MacGibbon, “Lady Jane Grey”, The National Portrait Gallery. https://www.npg.org.uk/support/individual/face-to-face/lady-jane-grey


The Mongolian Khatuns

By Katia Wright

Many scholars of Mongolian history focus on the politics and warfare which resulted in an empire that stretched from Egypt to China. However, the absence of women in these discussions does not mean that Mongolia’s women, and indeed their khatuns (or queens), had little political, social, or economic power. Royal Mongolian women were prevalent in all key aspects of their husbands’ and sons’ careers and could be incredibly influential throughout major political events. This can be seen most notably in the wives of Genghis Khan.

As with all royal marriages, politics played a prevalent role in the choice of a bride. In medieval Mongolian culture marriages took place in two ways – either through a political alliance, or the more violent kidnapping or conquest – and there was no exception to this at the top of the hierarchy. Genghis Khan’s marriage to his first wife, Börte Khatun, was arranged through political union. Following Mongolian custom, Temüjin (Genghis Khan’s name before his rise to power) was expected to serve at the camp of Dai Sechen, Börte’s father, to pay off the customary ‘bride price’ expected as payment for the loss of his daughter. For wealthy families, the bride price could be paid in goods and wealth, but for others it was paid through service to the bride’s family, which also enabled the future bride and groom to become better acquainted.

Image of Genghis Khan, taken from Wikipedia.

Mongolians were polygynous, Genghis Khan’s married his other wives after his rise to power. All eight of his junior wives were chosen from conquered peoples and represented both his political and military successes.

Status was incredibly important in Steppe culture, and though each man had multiple wives there was always one who stood above the rest, as his senior wife. The senior wife sat in the place of honour, bore and raised the husband’s children that would one day inherit, and she managed her husband’s largest and wealthiest camp and livestock. In the case of Genghis Khan, Börte remained his senior wife for her whole life. However, a man’s first wife was not always a senior wife, and the denoting of hierarchy amongst the wives came down to their capability and skill, as much as any marital affection.

Börte bore Genghis Khan nine children within the first sixteen years of their marriage – four sons, and five daughters. She raised all the children herself, likely with the aid of a wet nurse and her mother-in-law, Hö’elün. Börte provided political allies through her natal tribe, the Qonggirats – a powerful tribe on the Mongolian Steppes – and fulfilled her duties as a senior wife. These included managing her husband’s camp and his herds of animals, as well as her own. The junior wives who did not have their own camps fell under her management, as did concubines, servants, and the officers of the keshig (royal guard) assigned to them. Royal camps were incredibly large and could result in thousands of people being managed by one wife – when more than one wifely camp was together, they fell under the purview of the senior wife.

A key part of Mongolian culture, and the duties of a wife, was to provide suitable hospitality to her husband’s guests. It would have been at Börte’s hearth that important negotiations and agreements took place to enable Temüjin the political and military support he needed to succeed. Börte also possessed serious political clout, and her guidance was respected by her husband – not only were her Qonggirat brothers and cousins heavily active in Genghis Khan’s army, but he often listened to her advice that proved important in aiding his success. Indeed, as the senior wife, Börte would have been present at all important events such as quriltais (large meetings where major decisions were made and khans were elected), and she would have influenced the decisions and discussions held there as a key political player.

Image of Börte Khatun, taken from Wikipedia.

In her analysis of women and the Mongol empire, Anne Broadbridge notes that Börte ‘emerged as the single most important figure in Temujin’s life, and she made unparalleled contributions to his political career and the establishment of the empire.’ However, this does not mean that Genghis Khan’s junior wives had little power or responsibilities. Two interesting examples show both the other side to royal Mongolian marriages, and the power these women could wield.

Ibaqa Khatun, of the Kereit tribe, married Genghis Khan in c.1204. Their marriage was born from the dispute between her uncle, Ong Qan, and Temujin, that resulted in the eventual military defeat and conquest of the Kereit tribe. Several of Ibaqa’s younger sisters married sons of Börte and Temujin, and together they formed a Kereit network within their new marital family. Through this network they likely exchanged news and information with one another as well as their father, Jaqa Gambu, who was influential over Genghis Khan. For unknown reasons, two years after their marriage Genghis Khan divorced Ibaqa and remarried her to Jürchedei, a trusted supporter. It is not known why the divorce took place.

Nevertheless, despite her new marriage arrangements, Ibaqa retained both her influence and power as a junior wife of the grand khan, and the Kereit network continued. This is highlighted by Broadbridge in Ibaqa’s annual return to Mongolia to ‘renew her connections at court, host parties, and confer with her sister Sorqoqtani’ who was married to Tolui, a son of Genghis Khan. As such, though Ibaqa was a junior wife, she was still able to utilise her position and influence to further the benefit of her family.

Yisügen Khatun and Yisüi Khatun are other examples of marriage through conquest, and highlight the complexity of a Mongolian wife’s loyalties to both her conquering husband and her natal family. Yisügen, and her sister Yisüi, of the Tatar tribe, married Genghis Khan around the autumn of 1202. In the chronicles it is noted that the Tatar tribe had a longstanding feud with Genghis Khan, and after their military defeat Yisügen visited the grand khan and offered her older sister, Yisüi, as his wife. The move was purely strategic – after watching the men of her tribe being slaughtered, Yisügen was taking matters into her own hands to protect the women who survived. Genghis Khan agreed to marry both sisters and left them in charge of the surviving women and children of the Tatar tribe. Though junior wives of an opposing tribe, both sisters were placed in charge of royal camps, highlighting both their capability and successes as junior wives. However, their loyalties to their natal tribe never wavered. When two young Tatar brothers who had escaped the slaughter were found, both sisters pleaded with Genghis Khan to allow the boys to live. He gave permission for the brothers to work for Yisüi, and later they developed careers under Genghis Khan’s sons. Years later, Yisüi returned to Genghis Khan and this time asked that the two brothers be returned to their remaining family who had survived. The request was well timed, possibly just after the birth of Yisügen’s son, Char’ur, and utilised the influence she held as a junior wife and as the aunt of his youngest son. Broadbridge notes that Yisüi was doing more than aiding the two brothers and sought to unite the surviving Tatars who were hidden throughout the empire, thus easing conditions for her natal people, though the use of her status as Genghis Khan’s wife and her position of favour.

Mongolian Khatuns, though sometimes overlooked in history, were incredibly influential royal women who maintained complex loyalties and political alliances between their natal and marital families. Though a hierarchy denoted differences between senior and junior wives, this did not limit a khatun’s influence over her husband nor her political agency. The women discussed here led fascinating lives during a period of great change in both Mongolian society and in developing its geographical reach.

Further Reading

Broadbridge, A. F., Women and the Making of the Mongol Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

Weatherford, J., The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued his Empire (Broadway Books: New York, 2010). 

It should be noted that all quotes have been taken from Broadbridge, Women and the Making of the Mongol Empire.


Book Review: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

By Holly Marsden

Queenship and Francophilia in Tolstoy’s War and Peace

Tolstoy’s War and Peace was first published as a selection of short stories before its novel format in 1869. Beginning in July 1805 and ending in 1820, the epic story depicts the Napoleonic invasion of Russia and its effects on five aristocratic families. Although queenship is not a main focus of the novel, Tolstoy provides an interesting insight into the power of Russian queens and their cultural ties. It should be noted that this review references the Wordsworth Classics edition which is in translation, bringing with it the politics and challenges of reading in translation.

Book One opens to a reception held by Anna Pavlovna Scherer, a maid of honour and favourite, as noted in the novel, to Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna. Although many of Tolstoy’s characters are fictional, Feodorovna was the true queen mother at the time. Born Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg in 1759 in Prussia, she was chosen to marry widower Grand Duke Paul in 1796. Feodorovna then converted to the Russian Orthodox Church, hence the change of name. Her husband ascended to the throne as Tsar Paul I in 1796 but was assassinated four years later. Though she considered appealing for the throne, her son Alexander I took over, and Feodorovna became Empress Dowager.

Feodorovna was chosen as Paul’s wife by her great aunt and Paul’s mother, Catherine II, or Catherine the Great. Catherine’s influence is littered throughout Tolstoy’s novel, who centres a lot of the action in the Russian court in St Petersburg. The court in its contemporary form had been highly influenced by Catharine’s rule. Although the original text of the novel is primarily in Russian, French text makes up a significant amount of the spoken words of the characters. The courtiers also display Francophilic tastes and sentiments. This was down to Catherine II, who introduced French culture and language to the Russian court earlier in the eighteenth century. It was expected of Russian courtiers to speak French as fluently as Russian, exemplified in Anna Pavlova writing the invitations to her party only in French, “without exception” (page 3). Tolstoy introduces this linguistic influence playfully in the context of a literal French invasion.

Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna does not play a huge role in the novel, though is a constant presence in the background of the court milieu. Tolstoy’s mentioning of her is unsurprising as she was the most powerful woman in Russia at the time, even more so than the Tsar’s wife, consort Empress Elisabeth Alexeievna (whom Tolstoy does not even mention). Anna Pavlovna demonstrates her love for her boss by, at the mention of her name by a guest at the party, assuming an expression “of profound and sincere devotion and respect, and this occurred every time she mentioned her illustrious patroness” (page 5). Pavlovna’s emotional response demonstrates a great fondness for the Empress who, as insinuated by Tolstoy, was equally as empathetic for those around her.

The opening of Book Twelve describes the ‘complicated struggle’ between different groups and individuals at court including Feodorovna and her daughter in-law, the two empresses. As well as struggling with the competing ideologies of different political parties, Tolstoy writes that the court was fearful for the Russian people, a result of Napoleon’s recent conquests. The empresses are written to react differently to this danger. Empress Elisabeth says she will be the last to leave St Petersburg and that she cannot give instructions for the people, as this is only the monarch’s duty. Opposingly, Tolstoy portrays the strength of Empress Dowager, writing that “The Empress Maria, concerned for the welfare for the charitable and educational institutions under her patronage, had given directions that they should all be removed to Kazán, and the things belonging to these institutions had already been packed up” (page 737).

Tolstoy rightly reflects Feodorovna’s role in overseeing all of the charitable institutions in the empire, which she had begun after her coronation. Being a patron of charities is a widely recognised role of queenship and contributes to the cultivation of traditionally ideal female leadership. Tolstoy also portrays Feodorovna’s unapologetic attitude, who stood by what she believed in. Moreover, the Empress Dowager’s empathy for the institutions she looks after led her to approach her fear proactively in order to protect them. Tolstoy then writes Feodorovna as a skilful leader, especially in comparison to her rival empress. The character (as representative of the real person), then, seems utterly worthy of Pavlovna’s visceral response to the mentioning of her name.

Despite Tolstoy’s clear patriarchal influence, which means the Empress Dowager and her achievements have been largely omitted from War and Peace, the portrayal of her character harks to her real-life gumption, skill and people-centred politics. The novel also highlights the influence of Catherine the Great through Francophilia in the Russian court. Thus, Tolstoy’s novel celebrates two of the Russian court’s most powerful elite women.

Bibliography and recommended reading:

Lincoln, W. Bruce. The Romanovs: Autocrats of All the Russians. New York City, Doubleday, 1983.

Massie, Robert K. Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman. London: Head of Zeus, 2012.

Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace. Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Classics, 1993.


The Age of Queens in Medieval Lanka

By Bruno M. Shirley (Cornell University)
Twitter: @brunomshirley

Lanka’s long twelfth century has been called many things: the “Augustine Age” of Sinhala-language literature; an Age of Reform for Buddhist institutional and intellectual lineages; a Golden Age of growing internal stability and external influence across the Bay of Bengal, at least under the long reign (c. 1153-86) of Parākramabāhu I. Mindful of the rapid succession of increasingly vulnerable monarchs following Parākramabāhu’s death, others have seen this period as one of gradual decline from instability into outright chaos, culminating in the eventual invasion of Parākramabāhu’s former capital Poḷonnaruva in c. 1215 and a permanent shift of power towards the island’s south.

But there is another way we can view this period: an Age of Queens, in which powerful women were able to assert their places in a shifting political and social order. Lanka had seen female monarchs before, of course. The story of Anula, a queen-consort from the first century BCE who poisoned her way through multiple proxy-king lovers before claiming the throne herself, is a perennial favourite in modern Sri Lankan history books. But the thrilling details of Anula’s story are related to us only through the c. fifth century Mahāvaṃsa, a narrative of the island’s past intended to speak more to its then-present religious and political concerns than it was to simply record “historical details.” The women of the twelfth century also feature in medieval extensions to the Mahāvaṃsa narrative, but even here, as Kathleen Nolan has argued for medieval France, “…reading women’s lives, especially powerful women’s lives, through the words of suspicious male monastics, requires careful sorting through the biases and motivations of the author” (13).

The statue of Viharamahadevi, Wikimedia Commons.

For the twelfth century queens, unlike their earlier counterparts, we have the luxury of complementary sources – textual, epigraphic, numismatic – which offer us more nuanced pictures of their lives and reigns. Each view is only fragmentary, of course; the remaining shards of long-broken mirrors, each set up to reflect a very particular angle. But taken together these glimpses give us insights into some of the most fascinating women in medieval Lankan history.

How can we account for the sudden prominence of queens in this period? I suspect that the answer lies in the very duality of stability and chaos between which the Poḷonnaruvan kingdom fluctuated. Consortial relationships with powerful monarchs like Parākramabāhu or the prolific self-publicist Niśśaṅka Malla (r. c. 1187-96) secured political capital, military connections and economic means; moments of instability offered opportunities to those willing to take them. These opportunities were no accident: in one of Niśśaṅka Malla’s most rightly famous inscriptions, the remarkable Galpota (“Stone Book”), he writes that in the absence of (male) princes, the stability of the realm should be left in the hands of the royal consorts (bisova). This is no proto-feminist moment: he goes on to suggest that in the absence of bisova, even a royal slipper placed on a throne would make a better king than his lower-caste political rivals (a reference to the Arthaśāstra, Kauṭilya’s classic political treatise). Niśśaṅka Malla’s concern here seems to be more with the continued dominance of his own caste and direct lineage than with the wholesale succession of women to the throne; but his words seem to have been taken firmly to heart, including by his own principal wife (agra-maheśī) Kalyāṇavatī (r. c. 1202-1208).

Perhaps the most noteworthy of these medieval queens is Līlāvatī, the agra-maheśī of Parākramabāhu I himself. Līlāvatī was placed on the throne, and subsequently deposed, not twice but three times, ruling c. 1197-1200, 1209-1210 and 1211-1212. Each assumption of the throne was associated with a (different) general, suggesting to some scholars that Līlāvatī was merely a puppet queen, ruling in name alone to further the ends of these powerful men. The Mahāvaṃsa’s treatment of her reigns might appear to support this interpretation; in the unusually terse description of her first reign, for example, she is not even grammatically treated as the direct subject. The general Kitti merely “caused the sovereignty to be done” by her (Līlāvatyā… rajjaṃ kārāpayī, MV 80:31); the wording is similar in the description of her second reign. Again, Nolan’s “suspicious male monastics” come to mind!

It is in our other sources that we get a clearer glimpse – if not of the woman herself, who left behind no diaries or other private insights into her own mind, then of the public face she crafted alongside her advisors and courtiers. We know, for example, that she patronised new literary works like the Dāṭhavaṃsa, a Pali-language history of a sacred Buddha-relic which praises her extensively as “a mother unto her subjects.” We also know she took particular care to rebuild religious monument originally erected by her late husband Parākramabāhu, like the (almost certainly misnamed) Potgul Vihāraya just south of Poḷonnaruva proper, suggesting that her matrimonial connection remained central to her queenly project.

It is in the text of her inscriptions and coins that we gain perhaps the most interesting insight. Līlāvatī’s inscriptions, in contrast to those of her male counterparts, feature a glaring absence of any explicit and appositional regnal titles. Male monarchs, such as Līlāvatī’s husband Parākramabāhu I, would use terms like maharajān (“great king,” EZ II 41: 6) in grammatical agreement with their own names. Līlāvatī’s predecessor Niśśaṅka Malla used an entire string of these: in EZ I 19, for example, he names himself vīrarāja Niśśaṅka Malla laṅkeśvara KāliṅgaParākramabāhu cakravartin (“Heroic king Niśśaṅka Malla, Lord of Lanka, [of the] Kaliṇga, Parākramabāhu, the wheel-turner”). However, Līlāvatī takes no such descriptive terms in her own self-appellations besides the honorific prefixes svāmin and vahansē.

A number of the terms we often translate “queen” – bisova, agramaheśī, rājñī, devīare present in Līlāvatī’s inscriptions, or the inscriptions of other noblewomen of the period (such as Kalyāṇavatī, or Līlāvatī’s co-wife Candavatī). But all are either used indiscriminately to refer to any royal, or even noble, woman (such as devī and rājñī); or they are only used with oblique cases to suggest a relationship to a royal husband (“the bisovarun of a king,” “the agra-maheśī of Parākramabāhu”). This suggests, perhaps, that no grammatically feminine term adequately captured the notion of a female monarch; Līlāvatī was forced to rely on adjectival clauses to describe her queenly stature. In her coinage, however – too minute a medium to accommodate such lengthy workarounds – she remarkably refers to herself using the masculine title: Śrī Rāja Līlāvatī.

I am well aware of the dangers of an “exceptionalist” argument, so thoroughly criticised by Louise Gay on this very blog. But the apparent openness to female succession of the late Poḷonnaruvan period does indeed seem to be an exception. Later Lankan kingdoms, established in the more readily defensible south, seem to have been (almost) entirely androcentric, even in periods of similar crisis and instability. An increasing eroticisation of royal masculinity, well-documented by Stephen Berkwitz, may be at least partly the cause: as these norms of gendered performance became more and more well-established, female succession likely seemed less and less plausible. Later queens would have had to accommodate more difference than a single grammatically-masculine regnal title. But if the twelfth century Age of Queens is an exception in the longue durée of Lankan history, it is the exception that undermines the rule: the apparently normalcy of later hyper-masculine kingship is belied by the willingness of twelfth century women to claim new social positions, to subvert inscriptional conventions, and even to assert themselves not as queens, but as rāja – (female) kings in their own right.

The remains of the royal palace at Polonnaruwa, Wikimedia Commons.

Suggested for further reading

Amirell, Stefan. “Female Rule in the Indian Ocean World (1300-1900).” Journal of World History 26, no. 3 (2015): 443–89.

Berkwitz, Stephen C. “Divine Kingship in Medieval Sri Lanka: Dynamics in Traditions of Power and Virtue in South Asia.” Entangled Religions – Interdisciplinary Journal for the Study of Religious Contact and Transfer 8 (2019).

—. “Strong Men and Sensual Women in Sinhala Buddhist Poetry.” In Religious Boundaries for Sex, Gender, and Corporeality, edited by Alexandra Cuffel, Ana Echevarria, and Georgios Halkias. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2019.

Blackburn, Anne M. “Buddhist Connections in the Indian Ocean: Changes in Monastic Mobility, 1000-1500.” Journal of the Economic & Social History of the Orient 58, no. 3 (September 2015): 237–66.

Gornall, Alastair. Rewriting Buddhism: Pali Literature and Monastic Reform in Sri Lanka, 1157–1270. London: UCL Press, 2020.

Hallisey, Charles. “Works and Persons in Sinhala Literary Culture.” In Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia, edited by Sheldon Pollock. California: University of California Press, 2003.

Strathern, Alan. “Sri Lanka in the Long Early Modern Period: Its Place in a Comparative Theory of Second Millennium Eurasian History.” Modern Asian Studies 43, no. 4 (July 2009): 815–69.

Taylor, Keith. “The Devolution of Kingship in Twelfth Century Ceylon.” In Explorations in Early Southeast Asian History: The Origins of Southeast Asian Statecraft, edited by Kenneth R. Hall and John K. Whitmore. Michigan: The University of Michigan Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies, 1979.

Thompson, Ashley. Engendering the Buddhist State: Territory, Sovereignty and Sexual Difference in the Inventions of Angkor. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2016.


Book Review: The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England by Valerie Traub

By Holly Marsden

Valerie Traub’s sentiments towards queer queens in The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England works against scholarship that renders female homoeroticism invisible prior to the Enlightenment, arguing instead that representations of queer femme desire in publications increased in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. She refers to this growth as a ‘renaissance,’ intentionally and ironically using the term in opposition to the male-centric, heteronormative ideologies that the Renaissance represents. By ‘queering’ queenship, Traub has opened the possibility that early modern queens acted outside of heterosexual love and desire, a notion addressed in recent popular culture in terms of Queen Anne. Through literary and visual analysis, Traub questions how lesbian-like tropes were made intelligible to contemporary audiences. Her use of lesbian-like, a term coined by Judith M. Bennett, aids Traub’s aim not to situate modern lesbians in the past, but to trace the emergence and influences of this modern identity category. In doing so, Traub also introduces a queer theoretical approach which seeks to overturn the ‘impossible’ nature of early modern queer women which has been sold by heteronormative scholarship.

In her discussion of queenship, Traub situates femme erotic desire and the articulation of this desire as central. She dedicates a chapter to ‘queering’ of Queen Elizabeth I, in which she explores the potential for erotic agency within patriarchal ideology. Her analysis of Elizabeth’s portraits presents a dichotomy of representation: the performance of chastity and feminine modesty as well as an intense eroticism that draws attention to the anatomy of the queen’s gender. This represents the broader virgin/whore dichotomy that was central to early modern ideals of femininity. Traub’s intention was ‘not just to offer an alternative reading of Elizabeth’s “resistance” to marriage, but to analytically divorce chastity from asexuality.’ Although the potentially for asexuality could have been explored further, this is nevertheless important in opening the possibility for future scholars to consider asexuality as not just an intentional choice bound in religious belief but part of individual desire, or lack thereof. Furthermore, after discussing Elizabeth’s anatomy, Traub posits breasts in early modern literature as being objects of femme homoerotic desire. This notion has little been explored in scholarship since, which complements her discussion of the unveiling of queenly bodies as an act of titillation. Ultimately, Traub argues that the fetishistic nature of this bodily play is queer in nature, ‘destabilizing to the putatively straight-line separating chastity from eroticism.’ She moreover emphasizes this point by discussing the ‘transivity’ of Elizabeth’s gender identity, introducing the concept of androgyny within her visual representations.

Unfortunately, Traub’s discussion of other early modern queens is limited. Understandably so for Queen Anne, whose sexuality has been widely explored in the academic and public spheres. Both Anne and the future Queen Mary II are mentioned in Traub’s discussion of Calisto, a homoerotic masque staged at Charles II’s court which they both took part in as children. Mary played the role of Diana, both the object and proponent of lesbian desire. Once again, Traub argues the performance of chastity as central to royal authority, performed at once with homo erotic desire. Differently to her discussion of Elizabeth’s portraits, though, Traub argues that the meanings of desire between women were constantly negotiated in relation to discourses on gender, such as those on chastity, friendship and marriage. Thus, in relation to Charles’ royal court at least, she argues that the femme began to pose a threat in restoration England, doing so because the meaning of heterosexuality itself had begun to change. This is through greater interest in femme erotic desire in texts such as Calisto, which include the ‘perversion’ of this desire in the representation of the abject tribade. In all, Traub’s discussion of Calisto is highly comprehensive, differing to other scholars who have focused more on the performance aspects. However, more could have been explored in terms of other early modern queens and their places in queer histories, for example Mary’s relationship with her maid of honour Lady Frances Apsley as discussed by Molly McLain.

Nevertheless, the scope of identities, practises, desires and representations discussed in The Renaissance of Lesbianism is pivotal research for anyone studying the fields of early modern desire, histories of the body and queer history as a whole. Her ‘lesbian-affirmative analytic,’ which Traub explains is one ‘that begins with the assumption of worth and variety of female emotional and physical ties, and moves from there to explore the ways such ties are portrayed,’ is especially important for scholars of queer history. By valuing women’s desire in the early modern period, Traub disrupts modern scholarly conceptions of women’s lives during this time. This approach is vital to the future of feminist study, whether its aim is to ‘queer’ queenship or not. In all, Traub proves that ‘the phallus isn’t always the right tool for the job.’

Bibliography and suggested reading:

Bennett. Judith M. “”Lesbian-Like” and the Social History of Lesbianisms.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 9, no. 1/2 (2000), 1-24.

McLain, Molly. “Love, Friendship, and Power: Queen Mary II’s Letters to Frances Apsley.” Journal of British Studies 47, no. 3 (2008), 505-527.

Traub, Valerie. The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.


Tamar the Great: A Biography

By Irene Carstairs
Feature Image: Restored fresco from Betania monastery. Tamar is pictured in green. Image: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c6/Queentamar_giorgi.jpg

Today is the first of our special guest blog posts from the fantastic Irene Carstairs! You can follow her on Twitter @CarstairsIrene or see more of her work at http://www.thathistorynerd.com/.

From the late eleventh century to the early thirteenth century the kingdom of Georgia enjoyed a golden age. Out of the four Bagratid monarchs who ruled during this era, the most influential was Tamar, the first female king of Georgia.

In 1177, Georgia was ravaged by a civil war, the second in as many generations. Tamar’s father, Giorgi III, worried that the country would plunge into another war upon his death. Giorgi had no sons, only two daughters, the eldest of whom, Tamar, was barely 18 years old in 1178. That year, Giorgi made her his heir, and crowned her co-king in the citadel of Uplistsikhe.

Tamar and Giorgi ruled jointly for about six years. Not much of Tamar’s life during this time is known, but according to The Kartlis Tskhovreba, the Georgian chronicles, Tamar was serious and hardworking, and virtually took over running the government.

Giorgi died in Kakheti on March 27, 1184. Shortly after, his sister Rusudan assumed regency for Tamar, who was still considered underage. Widow of two sultans, Rusudan was a hardened politician. She had, more than once, served as a diplomatic envoy for her father and husbands, and she had taken over the duties of queen after the death of Tamar’s mother, Burdukhan. Rusudan had raised Tamar in her court, and Tamar trusted her implicitly.

Tamar’s reign was challenged from the beginning. Shortly after Giorgi’s death, a faction of eristavi, the princely class, insisted on having Tamar re-crowned. In the ceremony, Tamar would be given the sword and scepter by the eristavi, symbolizing that her power derived from the eristavi, and not from God, as all her ancestors had done. This made Tamar dangerously dependent on the eristavi for her power.

The eristavi demanded that a house of lords be formed. The house of lords would take over the governance of Georgia, reducing the monarch to a figurehead, effectively ending Bagratid rule. This went beyond the pale, and Tamar had Qutlu Arslan, the leader of the eristavi arrested, and the rest of the offenders fled. A bitter standoff ensued, with princely houses divided between the monarch and the rebel lords. Eventually, Tamar sent two noblewomen to negotiate with the rebels.

Tamar offered generous terms. She would pardon all of the offenders except for Qutlu, and everything would return to normal. After some negotiation, the rebels surrendered, and all were pardoned, though Qutlu retired from public life.

A view of the Hall of Queen Tamar in the cave city of Uplistsikhe.
Image: Irene Carstairs, 2019

Nobility now in line, Tamar needed to wed, but a suitable husband was difficult to find. The law declared that the monarch must marry a foreigner, and in addition, Tamar needed to marry a man who would not balk at playing the role of consort. It was a delicate decision, one which her council did not treat as scrupulously as they should. They selected Yuri Bogolubsky, a dispossessed Rus prince. Yuri came with excellent trade connections, but he also came with a nasty temper and an unwillingness to step aside and let his wife rule.

Yuri was summoned to Tbilisi without Tamar’s knowledge, and she was shocked when she was told that she was to marry him. She vehemently objected, protesting that it was dangerous to make a stranger her consort. She pleaded with her council to wait and see what sort of man Yuri was. However, she was overruled, and Tamar and Yuri married in 1185.

Yuri was initially popular, winning land and battles in Armenia, and many of the ruling class were willing to overlook his drinking, fornicating, and verbal abuse of the God-appointed monarch. However, when Yuri began to torture commoners, his abuses could no longer be overlooked. Tamar divorced Yuri, and he was packed off to Constantinople with a generous allowance.

Reliquary belonging to Tamar that contains a fragment of the True-Cross. Currently in the possession of the Georgian National Museum.

With Yuri far on the horizon, Tamar was faced with remarrying. This time, however, she chose her spouse, and Tamar chose her fifth cousin, the Ossetian prince Davit Soslan.

Davit was not an advantageous choice; he brought no lands, wealth, or new political connections. However, Davit was a skilled military leader, and he and Tamar worked well together. They had known each other since childhood, and they were, if not in love, good friends. Davit had been raised with the expectation that Tamar would take the throne, and could be trusted to not undermine his wife. The couple married in 1188, and quickly produced two children.

As king, Tamar was constantly on the move. Georgia was in the centre of a global religious conflict, and Tamar spent most of her life at war, following her armies across the Caucasus. Officially, Tamar did not lead armies; she accompanied the army, gave rousing speeches, and retired to the nearest monastery to pray for victory while her husband led. However, it has been theorized that she might have had more influence in military matters than official accounts state.

Tamar and Davit had numerous important victories. They defeated two rebellions headed by her ex-husband; battled the dreaded Rum Sultan; “liberated” Armenia; and established an empire in Trebizond. Under Tamar, Georgia expanded to its greatest size, and became the most powerful country in the region.

Whilst there was always fighting on the frontiers, Georgia experienced a renaissance. Art, especially literature, flourished, encouraged by the patronage of Tamar and her court. The biggest work to come out of this era was Shota Rustaveli’s epic poem The Knight in the Panther’s Skin, a work commissioned by and dedicated to Tamar. It tells the story of  the knight Avtandil as he adventures to win the hand of fair Tinatin, the queen regnant of Arabia, and thinly-veiled Tamar stand-in. Though the story focuses mostly on Avtandil, it centralized a powerful female monarch, which, combined with the work’s popularity, provided a boost to Tamar’s authority.

Tamar’s Georgia was incredibly wealthy, and she ensured the wealth was spread around. Tamar cleared debts and allotted 10% of the treasury to the lower classes. During her reign “the peasants were like nobles, the nobles like princes, and the princes like kings.” (Toumanoff, 1966, 611).

It was also a time of mercy; Tamar repealed her father’s harsh criminal penalties; outlawed torture and the death penalty; and refused to use whipping or blinding and castration as punishments. Remarriages were approved and Tamar continued Georgia’s great tradition of religious tolerance.

Mural from the Chapel of the Dormiton at Vardzia depicting Tamar and her father. Expanding the cave monastery of Vardzia was a joint project of Tamar and her father, and is one of the greatest building works of her reign.
Image: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2a/Vardzia_Chapel_fresco.jpg

Tamar died, likely from cancer, on January 18th, 1213 at Agarani fortress, near Tbilisi. Her death was met with intense mourning, and “the sounds of moaning, and mourning was among the Georgian people, as if they had been sucked alive into hell.” (Metreveli and Jones, 2014, 315)

The exact location of her remains is unknown. There are many theories; Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, Gelati monastery, the Monastery of the Holy Cross. One legend even claims that she sleeps in a cave waiting to arise and resume the throne. Wherever she now lies, it is undeniable that she was the most powerful ruler in Georgian history. She built an empire, founded another, and left a legacy of prosperity that still prompts Georgians to look back on her rule as a golden age.

Recommended Reading

Kakabadze, Sargis. Queen Tamar: Her Significance. Translated by Michael P. Willis. Tbilisi, Georgia: Amazon Digital Editions, 2017.

Met’reveli, Roin, and Stephen Jones, eds. Kartlis Tskhovreba. Tbilisi, Georgia: Artanuji Publishing, 2014.

Rayfield, Donald. Edge of Empires: A History of Georgia. London, United Kingdom: Reaktion Books, 2013.

Peacock, A.C.S. “Georgia and the Anatolian Turks in the 12th and 13th Centuries.” Anatolian Studies 56 (2006): 127-146.

Anchabadze, Zaza. European Georgia. Tbilisi: n.p, 2014.

Toumanoff, Cyril. “Armenia and Georgia.” In The Cambridge Medieval History, 593-637. Vol. IV. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1966.

Toumanoff, Cyril. 1940. “On the Relationship between the Founder of the Empire of Trebizond and the Georgian Queen Thamar.” Speculum 15.3 (1940): 299-312.


Book Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses Book Series by Sarah J. Maas: A Study of Queenship

By Katia Wright

Feature Image Caption: Book covers taken from Bloomsbury Publishing – bloomsbury.com.

*WARNING* This review contains a lot of spoilers for all the published books in the series as of April 2021.

This review discusses:

1. A Court of Thorns and Roses (ACOTAR)

2. A Court of Mist and Fury (ACOMAF)

3. A Court of Wings and Ruin (ACOWAR)

4. A Court of Frost and Starlight (ACOFAS)

5. A Court of Silver Flames (ACOSF)

The Court of Thorns and Roses series, by Sarah J. Maas, is a popular high fantasy series telling the lives of the High Fae in a fictional country called Prythian. Readers follow the story of Feyre Archeron, a human girl who falls in love with a faerie and ends up becoming crucial to saving their country. Across ACOTAR Feyre falls in love with Tamlin, the High Lord of the Spring Court, and completes three trials to save not only Tamlin, but all the other faeries of Prythian from Amarantha, an evil faerie queen. The next book follows Feyre coping with her PTSD from the events of the trials in ACOTAR, the breakdown of her relationship with Tamlin, the development of her relationship with Rhysand, High Lord of the Night Court, and the discovery of a much bigger villain than Amarantha – the King of Hybern. In the third book, Feyre and Rhysand facilitate a union between the High Lords, and the war with the King of Hybern takes place. The fourth book, a short novella, serves as a summary of the lives of the main characters from Feyre’s perspective, set shortly after the end of the war. Book five is the beginning of a new collection of books, focused on secondary characters in the first three books. In ACOSF the reader follows Cassian, the general of Rhysand’s army, and Nesta, Feyre’s sister, as they deal with the fallout of the war with Hybern and discover a new threat to Prythian. So far five books have been published in this series, and another three are due to be published over the next few years.

Map of Prythian, created by Kelly de Groot and Charlie Bowater.

Despite the ruling titles utilised in this book denoting lordship, queenship themes run throughout the actions taken by Feyre and other female characters. These themes begin to develop in ACOMAF onwards, with the return of the High Lords to their courts. At the beginning of this book, whilst witnessing the collapse of Feyre and Tamlin’s relationship and the extent of Feyre’s PTSD, readers are introduced to the expected roles of a High Lord’s consort. As Lady of Spring, Feyre was expected to wield very little power. As shown in her discussions with Ianthe, a priestess of the High Fae, and the anger displayed by Tamlin when Feyre aided a water wraith during the Spring Court’s annual ‘tithe’, Feyre’s role as Tamlin’s wife was to be centered solely around the production of an heir and ‘planning parties.’ We see this lack of agency again in the scenes featuring the Lady of Autumn in ACOWAR, in which she was expected to be ‘seen and not heard.’ This relationship is very similar to the queenship and concubinage of early medieval Europe, in which a consort was expected to manage the royal household and a royal woman’s power could be based more on the success of her son claiming the throne, than on her marital connection to the king. Moreover, the titles of Lady of Spring or Lady of Autumn mimics the titles used for queens in Early Medieval England. Æthelflæd was known as the Lady of Mercia, and though the title is not that of ‘queen’ it still equated her to royalty, in the same way that the titles of High Lord or Lady equate the characters in these books to that of the royalty of the individual courts. This is made even clearer when Feyre visits the Summer Court in ACOMAF, in which Varian and Cressida are introduced as Prince and Princess of the Summer Court, relatives of Tarquin, the High Lord of the Summer Court.

Themes of queenship develop further along with Feyre’s story and her position in the Night Court. Eventually Feyre and Rhysand fall in love, and with their marriage Rhysand elevates his wife to not only Lady of Night, but the High Lady of the Night Court. This new title is unheard of Prythian and noted with some surprise by the other High Lords, particularly at their council in ACOWAR. Indeed, the nature of their personal relationship reflects the importance of good relations within a royal marriage as the source of a queen’s power and extent of her agency. This can be seen in the successful relationship between Matilda of Flanders and William the Conqueror, which resulted in her holding a position of authority in Normandy during William’s absence.

Rhysand and Feyre as High Lord and High Lady – The Court of Dreams, drawn by Charlie Bowater, Instagram –https://www.instagram.com/p/Bc-WQAUhusY/

Aspects of queenship can be seen in Feyre’s new title, along with later examples across the books. In the ceremony, which isn’t actually witnessed by the reader but described later in the story, Rhysand literally gives some of his power to Feyre. Though this is in reference to his magical power, it mirrors the power a monarch would give to his spouse if they were to co-rule. Co-rulership was a common mode of authority, especially in the medieval Iberian kingdoms, in which a queen shared the responsibilities and power with their spouse or co-ruler. It should be noted that co-rulership did not always mean equality in each ruler’s position but highlighted that the power was shared and not based solely on one monarch. A key aspect of European co-rulership was the presence of the monarchs. For example, when Juana II of Navarre and Philip d’Evreux were both present they shared in the responsibilities and power as a genuine partnership, and thus co-ruled the kingdom of Navarre and their French domains.

The sharing of magical power is not the only example of co-rulership in Feyre’s role as High Lady. Once she returns to the Night Court, she is seen as taking up shared responsibilities with Rhysand – they attend the Court of Nightmares together to negotiate for additional military support, she plays a role in the meeting of the High Lords at Thesan’s palace even though spouses were only invited ‘as a courtesy’, and she is heavily active in the war that eventually takes place. In these examples Feyre and Rhysand are continuously together and making shared decisions, highlighting Feyre’s position as co-ruler of the Night Court.

Indeed, these aspects of the story similarly reflect the themes surrounding queenship and warfare: Feyre takes up arms, becomes heavily involved in the diplomacy leading up to and between battles, joins numerous war councils, and is readily seen to be supporting the soldiers of her court. These aspects of Feyre’s role as High Lady are reflected in the actions of historical consort queens, such as Catherine of Aragon, who fought against Scottish attack in Henry VIII’s absence, or Morphia of Melitene, who led negotiations and a military campaign to free her husband Baldwin II of Jerusalem.

This series tells a fantasy story of diverse characters that discusses pertinent themes for any reader. Though they are labelled as young adult, they come with a content warning as themes discussed are more suitable for older readers. The events that take place, and actions taken by the characters, highlight aspects of queenship that scholars have been studying across the medieval and early modern periods and creates a union between fiction and historical themes for any fans of queenship to enjoy.

The Inner Circle, drawn by Charlie Bowater, Instagram –https://www.instagram.com/p/BcU3V3ChCBQ/

Suggested Reading for Queenship Themes Discussed

James M. Blythe, “Women in the Military: Scholastic Arguments and Medieval Images of Female Warriors,” History of Political Thought 22 (2001): 242-269.

Tim Clarkson, Aethelflaed: Lady of the Mercians.Edinburgh 2018.

Boyd Cothran, Joan Judge and Adrian Shubert, Women Warriors and National Heroes: Global Histories.London 2020.

Theresa Earenfight, The King’s Other Body: Maria of Castile and the Crown of Aragon. Philadelphia 2010.

Sophie Harwood, Medieval Women and War: Female Roles in the Old French Tradition.London 2020.

Natasha R. Hodgson, Women, Crusading and the Holy Land in Historical Narratives.Woodbridge 2007.

Megan McLaughlin, “The Woman Warrior: Gender, Warfare and Society in Medieval Europe,” Women’s Studies 17 (1999): 193-209.

Pauline Stafford, Queens, Concubines and Dowagers: The King’s Wife in the Early Middle Ages. London 1983.

Pauline Stafford, Queen Emma and Queen Edith: Queenship and Women’s Power in Eleventh Century England. Oxford 1997.  

Gabrielle Storey, ‘Co-Rulership and Competition: The Exercise of Queenly Power in the 12th and 13th Centuries,’ London Society for Medieval Studies Seminar, Institute of Historical Research (virtual), 12Jan 2021.

Jean A. Truax, “Anglo-Norman Women at War: Valiant Soldiers, Prudent Strategists or Charismatic Leaders?” in The Circle of War in the Middle Ages: Essays on Medieval Military and Naval History, eds. Donald K. Kagay and L. J. Andrew Villalon. Woodbridge 1999.

Elena Woodacre, The Queen’s Regnant of Navarre: Succession, Politics, and Partnership, 1274-1512. Basingstoke 2013.

Elena Woodacre, Lucinda H.S. Dean, Chris Jones, Russell E., Martin, Zita Eva Rohr (eds.), The Routledge History of Monarchy. Abingdon 2019.


Scholar Introduction: Jack Beesley

Jack Beesley is a postgraduate in Heritage and Queenship Studies from Queen Mary University of London and Historic Royal Palaces, currently preparing to begin his PhD at Manchester Metropolitan University this October.

Jack’s BA dissertation focused on the memory of Anne Boleyn in the reign of Elizabeth I, for which he won the King Alfred Prize for Best Performance in History from the University of Winchester in 2019. His MA dissertation, meanwhile, focused on the relationship between nationalism and the heritage sector, specifically the impact of Scottish Civic Nationalism on gendered heritage interpretation. Jack’s research identified how this form of nationalism can contribute to the obscurement of royal women, such as Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scots, from mainstream heritage narratives in Scotland. This project inspired Jack to pursue doctoral research. His PhD will focus on the impact of nationalism on representations of royal women in heritage interpretation across England, Scotland and France. By conducting this research, Jack hopes to contribute towards making gender an acknowledged field within heritage discourse and influence the future diversity of heritage interpretation, affording women’s narratives greater presence and impact.

Outside of academia, Jack can be found writing his first historical fiction novel (which of course features queens), enjoying long walks and learning French.


The extravagant death of Queen Mary II

By Holly Marsden

At 12.45am on 28th December 1694, Queen Mary II of England died of smallpox at the age of 32. She had suffered for a reasonably short time, only recognising a rash on her arms and chest on December 21st. However, Mary had not been feeling herself for some time. Around May of 1694 she was treated for exhaustion and directed to drink a course of asses’ milk by her doctor. Throughout the year Mary tried to cheer herself up by shopping, one of her favourite activities, purchasing multiple gowns, jewels, shoes, and accessories. Mary liked all things grand, including visits to the theatre. However, she was so worn out throughout her last year that Mary was unable to complete the public appearances she enjoyed, foregoing her outgoing pursuits for frequent retirements at Kensington Palace.

It is perhaps Mary’s fabulousness in life that encouraged the grandiosity of her death. Despite having written a letter containing wishes of a modest funeral, only to be discovered after the arrangements had been made, the celebration of Mary’s life was one of the largest in British royal history. Her body was embalmed a few hours after her death in December, but she wasn’t buried until 5th March 1695. Before her funeral, her commemoration was staged through the ritual of the lying-in. Mary’s body was situated in an open casket, dressed in purple and gold and publicly mourned in state at the Banqueting House in Whitehall. For a fee, the public could pay their respects between 12 and 5pm each day. Huge crowds had gathered every morning by 6am, eager to take part in the ritualised spectacle of Mary’s crossing between life and death.

The lying in of Mary II. Romeyn de Hooghe, Koningin Maria II Stuart op haar sterfbed Etching, 1695, Rijksmuseum. https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/nl/collectie/RP-P-OB-76.277

Mary’s physical body was also commemorated in the form of a wax effigy, which still stands in her burial place at Westminster Abbey. The effigy encapsulates the symbiotic relationship between the social and natural body, aiming to offer great likeness to the monarch whilst acting as a lasting public presence. With the Abbey as the end point, Mary’s funeral procession began at Whitehall, passing through St James’ Palace en route. With the drama of a March snowstorm, her Christopher Wren-designed catafalque was followed by the chief mourner, the Duchess of Somerset, important members of London’s local and national government and 400 poor women shrouded in black. Bells from the Tower of London tolled every minute, the same method used to inform the public of Mary’s passing three months earlier.

Mary’s lifelike wax embodiment. Wax Effigy of Mary II at Westminster Abbey. Image from Westminster Abbey Library. https://www.westminster-abbey.org/abbey-commemorations/royals/mary-ii

After the arrival of the procession to music specially composed by Henry Purcell, Mary’s favourite composer and a dear friend, the ceremony was conducted by Archbishop Tenison. His sermons were later published en masse, and the grand funeral was reported in broadsheets and through visual prints after the occasion. The press cashed-in on Mary’s public mourning, adding to her celebrity-like status which was reflected by diarist John Evelyn, who stated that ‘never was there so universal a mourning.’ The glamour and grandiosity of this funeral was yet another performance of a public identity, reflecting how the royal body is greater than the individual. Mary’s life, and death, symbolised a nation in its social function. The cultivation of such a powerful image throughout her life was maybe why Mary was so widely and magnificently mourned, amongst a myriad of reasons, which included both personal attributes and public actions. The fact her young life was so suddenly ravaged by disease evoked an emotional response throughout the nation and beyond.

An artist’s depiction of Mary’s huge funeral procession. Jan Luyken, Lijkstatie van koningin Maria II Stuart, 1695. Etching, 1703, Rijksmuseum. https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/nl/collectie/RP-P-1896-A-19368-2201

Bibliography and Recommended Reading

Gargangio, Alex. “William without Mary: Mourning Sensibly in the Public Sphere.” The Seventeenth Century 23.11 (2008): 105-141.

Jenner, Greg. Dead Famous. London: Hachetee, 2020.

Llewellyn, Nigel. The art of death: visual culture in the English death ritual c; 1500-c; 1800. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1991.

Van der Zee, Henri and Barbara. William and Mary. London: Macmillan, 1973.


Book Review: Philippa of Hainault: Mother of the English Nation by Kathryn Warner

By Katia Wright

Kathryn Warner’s 2019 Philippa of Hainault: Mother of the English Nation is the first study in over a century to analyse the life of this long-serving fourteenth century queen. Following in the footsteps of her previous biographical works (namely Edward II and Isabella of France), Warner weaves a fascinating story of Philippa’s life, placing her firmly in the centre of European politics.

Targeting a popular audience, Warner takes a chronological approach to this biography following Philippa’s life from the moment she enters the records as a young child until her death in 1369. Across the text, Warner accounts Philippa’s numerous relationships with her family and acquaintances to expose the nature of the woman beneath the crown. In this, she analyses the lives of Philippa’s sizeable extended family and other political players from across Europe, providing a well-rounded understanding of the events and members of medieval Europe’s political stage. To support this, Warner also includes helpful genealogical tables and a dramatis personae to aid the reader at the front of the book.

Philippa’s life, and tenure as queen, occurred at a tumultuous time in which the Hundred Years’ War between England and France was initiated and the Black Death ravaged European populations. Warner’s biography includes particulars of these events to place Philippa’s story within the context of the time. For example, she discusses the famous retelling of the ‘Burghers of Calais’, in which Philippa supposedly publicly begged Edward III to be merciful. Though Warner explains that this event was unlikely to have taken place, due to the logistics and dates in which Philippa travelled, the story is an important one to remember in understanding Philippa’s position as queen. The public act of intercession described in this story is a key aspect of medieval queenship and is directly linked to the imagery of Philippa’s queenship; though this story is untrue it highlights the role Philippa embodied as a successful consort to Edward.

Philippa of Hainualt’s Coronation as depicted in Jean Froissart’s Chronicles, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippa_of_Hainault

Beyond this, Warner’s biography further highlights the successful nature of Philippa’s marriage to Edward III. The couple appeared inseparable, with Philippa often attempting to travel with her husband as often as possible, including whilst pregnant. They had twelve children, who each had interesting and dramatic lives of their own, siring families that would lead to future political turmoil in England. Warner hints at this in her title of the book ‘Mother of the English Nation’, referring to the deeds of Philippa’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren that would result in the infamous Wars of the Roses.

Utilizing the primary sources, Warner reveals key elements of Philippa’s position as queen: noting her continuous movements, her acts as both a queenly patron and administrator, and her doting role as a mother. She cites from Philippa’s household accounts and surviving correspondence to show both Philippa’s generous nature and the ways in which she both spent and earnt her income. Though there is no deeper analysis of these sources or Philippa’s queenship, the inclusion of this detail enables Warner to create a rich image of Philippa’s life – she was an active woman who took both her role and responsibilities as Edward’s wife and queen seriously.

This popular biography of Philippa of Hainault brings an often-overlooked queen into the forefront of medieval European politics, drawing attention to a fascinating woman who did her utmost to fulfil her role as queen consort.


Remembering Mary: Examining the Creation of Mary I’s Legacy in the Historical Narrative

By Johanna Strong

Feature Image: Hans Eworth, Mary I, 1556-1558, National Portrait Gallery

The Queen is dead; long live the Queen! Though this phrase has been uttered only once in English history, its context is not as well-known as it should be. Many will be quick to identify that the second queen in question is Elizabeth I, who came to the throne on November 17, 1558. Many, though, might struggle to identify her predecessor: Mary I, England’s first crowned queen regnant.

Mary came to the throne after the death of her brother Edward VI and the ‘Nine-Day-Queen’ Jane Grey in July 1553. Largely hailed as the rightful queen after Edward, Mary began her reign quite popular with her people, but as her rule progressed many became uncomfortable and upset with her decision to marry Philip II of Spain. Anti-Spanish and anti-Catholic sentiment in Marian England reached a peak with Wyatt’s Rebellion in early 1554, though Mary also faced much criticism particularly from English exiles on the Continent.

These anti-Spanish and anti-Catholic sentiments became stronger after Mary’s death on November 17, 1558. Elizabeth’s accession as England’s second queen regnant meant that English people had to find a reason to criticize Mary that went beyond the fact that she was a woman in a traditionally male role. Soon, Mary’s Catholicism and her Spanish heritage were being used as a way to unfavourably compare her to the unmarried and seemingly more ‘English’ Elizabeth. As Elizabeth’s reign progressed, English Catholics became a greater concern to the Crown and Spain became an even larger threat to England’s hopes of empire. By 1588 and the Spanish Armada, Spain had been cemented as an English enemy and therefore so had Mary, by association with Spain through her mother and through her husband Philip II.

Lucas de Heere (probably after), Mary I of England and Philip II of Spain, Royal Museums Greenwich

Mary’s legacy has largely been a result of these anti-Spanish and anti-Catholic sentiments, a legacy which continues through to the modern period. In recent years, revisionist works by Dr Valerie Schutte, Dr Sarah Duncan, Dr Susan Doran, Dr Thomas Freeman, Dr Anna Whitelock, Dr Linda Porter, and others have begun to change modern perceptions of Mary, eschewing her ‘Bloody’ nickname.

A good case study of the emergence of Mary’s legacy in the Elizabethan period occurs in John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments – better known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Its publication in 1563 created a new English narrative about Protestant martyrdom. Once it was ordered to be placed in all cathedral churches, Foxe’s work became accessible to all English people, solidifying a Protestant narrative for English history. Though Foxe was concerned that writing in English – as opposed to Latin – would make his work seem less respectable academically, it meant that the text was accessible to any literate English person. Those who could read could therefore access the text while the illiterate could still access the many woodcuts which Foxe included. His work and the Bible became staples in cathedral churches and therefore in English theological life.

Acts and Monuments was reprinted multiple times in Foxe’s own lifetime. As editions were produced, Foxe received accounts from those who had witnessed the executions of strangers and from family and friends who had witnessed loved ones die. He edited these accounts to eliminate any inconsistencies which appeared. He had received some criticism from English Catholics about these inconsistencies so he wanted his accounts to be as airtight as possible so that his narrative of Protestant persecution under Mary couldn’t be undermined. Even after Foxe’s death, Acts and Monuments saw many reprints, such as in 1684 when there were rumours that Charles II would order its re-placing in English cathedrals.

Mary’s posthumous legacy has often been unfavourable to her as a queen and as a woman, but with ongoing research building on the strong foundation of recent revisionist works there is hope for significant change in the coming years.


Book Review: Joan, Lady of Wales, Power and Politics of King John’s Daughter by Danna R. Messer

By Andy McMillin

Joan, Lady of Wales, Power and Politics of King John’s Daughter, is a welcome study in medieval queenship as scholarship on Welsh queens has arguably been largely overshadowed by research on their English counterparts. Those who study queenship will recognise the impact of the lack of surviving records and resources from this period which can make it difficult to study women, an issue recognised by Danna Messer. To date, few historical assessments of Joan exist, but Sharon Kay Penman’s Here be Dragons has highlighted her in a fictional manner. However, for royal studies scholars seeking an academic and clear assessment about Joan and the world she lived in, Messer brings Welsh queens to the attention of queenship scholars.  

Joan, Lady of Wales, is introduced in this biography as a powerful driving force who was at the centre of the dynamic circle of the Welsh Princes of Gwynedd. As the illegitimate daughter of King John, she became the consort queen of Llewelyn ap Iorwerth, giving him five children, demonstrating her fulfilment of dynastic continuity, a primary role of queenship . However, as Messer notes, Joan was not traditionally recognised as a Welsh queen. Her official title was Princess, who then fulfilled her role as a consort queen and a “peace weaver”.

Messer’s aims of her work are clear in this chronological assessment. By using identity as a cornerstone of her study, she uses this term to help place Joan and her story within the realms of queenship for the popular reader and scholar alike. By understanding identity as an avenue of queenship, the author outlines how this method establishes connections between Joan’s embodiment of Welsh queenship and reflected the expectations of the wider medieval political world. This approach that the author takes is very useful due to the slim sources available for Joan and others royal figures of the period. For Joan, as this work demonstrates, her identity as a consort queen who played a fundamental role in politics helped give her an identity within her husband’s court in Wales, the English court and her own. Echoed by the author, this was not uncommon for this period as many medieval consort queens’ lives were filled with complicated and interconnected personal and family relationships. Her actions demonstrated how she fulfilled the expectations of consorts through her marriage, intercession, maternity, and patronage.

Messer also uses the theme of marriage to further define Joan’s role as a consort and highlights her abilities as queen. Details of Joan’s role as a wife within the parameters of queenship emphasise her marriage as a political tool which not only defined her position as queen but cemented her identity as a “peace weaver”. This is further defined in the third chapter of this work titled, “Marriage, Queenship and the Roles of Women in Wales.” The chapter discusses how marriage was used as one of the most powerful tools in throughout the middle ages. Marriage was a way to make means to create peace, negotiate treaties, for families to gain lands, transfer property and to obtain or transfer wealth. Joan’s marriage to Llewelyn ap Iorwerth, in the eyes of her father, King John, was just that. Messer notes that Joan’s marriage to the Welsh prince was one of the first recorded Anglo-Welsh treaties. The tensions between the parties who participated in the treaty which arranged Joan and Llewelyn’s marriage affected Joan’s life and shaped her activities as consort. Moreover, Joan was a respected royal figure, as demonstrated in the chapter, “Royal Female Authority”, and acted as a diplomat many times throughout her life to further Anglo-Welsh relations. The full extent of her political expertise is detailed in the chapter,“The Legitimate Diplomat.”

By understanding Joan’s role in medieval dynastic Wales, Messer highlights Joan as a queen with the many abilities and various aspects of queenship, that make her a model for further study.  It is the new and original appeal of the understudied world of medieval Wales and the women who lived there that makes this biography appealing to queenship scholars. By focusing on major themes within queenship, the work fully encompasses who Joan was not only as a medieval woman but as a Welsh princess or “queen”.  Joan, Lady of Wales is an excellent study for anyone wishing to delve into the world of not only Welsh history but also Welsh queenship.


Book Review: Catherine of Aragon, An Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife by Amy Licence

By Andy McMillin

Many English queens in the last twenty years have been placed at the foreground of historical studies in an array of original biographies. One such queen is Catherine of Aragon. Originally published in 2016, Amy Licence brings a new narrative to Catherine and the importance of her role first as Princess of Wales, but then as queen consort to Henry VIII in Catherine of Aragon, An Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife. The biography, though aimed at a more general audience, is nonetheless very useful for queenship scholars who desire a different approach to the complex world of Tudor queenship.

Within queenship studies, there are many themes which are at the forefront of scholarship, with gender being one of the primary focal points. The focus of this work about Catherine being a wife is a fundamental part of queenship which highlights the consideration of gendered roles. Licence argues and clearly states that Catherine, according to contemporary narratives, was the wife that Henry VIII divorced, diminished, and humbled, and is branded by history as the queen who failed to give Henry a male heir. However, she was much more. She was a Renaissance queen. A queen who, according to the author, had humanist ideals, was a figure of wisdom, and had an education that emphasised learning, and exploring the world. Licence even suggests that she might have been more educated than Henry. In short, Catherine, with her wealth of expertise and complex reign, is a queen worth including in any queenship study.

To consider License’s work following the core aspects of queenship studies, the book covers some of the most fundamental aspects. Motherhood was one of the most important roles of a queen and is highlighted in the chapter titled Maternity. Catherine as a wife and queen consort is covered in two separate chapters. The author covers not only Catherine’s relationship with Arthur, but also with Henry in the chapters Man and Wife, 1501, and in Wife and Queen, 1509 respectively. Facets of Catherine’s political agency are demonstrated in its entirety in European Queen, 1517-1524.

Eighteenth century copy of a lost portrait of Catherine of Aragon.

Regarding the importance of a queen’s image, and agency, the book focuses on the relationships Catherine had with many individuals, demonstrating her networks within Henry’s court and her own agency. It also highlights the impact once this circle was taken away. Furthermore, the work also highlights the importance of her parents in her life and identity as a queen. A chapter is devoted to how Henry and Catherine’s marriage tried to emulate the marriage of her parents, King Ferdinand and Isabella of Castile, demonstrating how legacy can be important within queenship.

As a scholar focusing on the financial aspects of queenship, including queen’s lands, dower and jointure, the work featured sources that are difficult to locate. The ease of reading and clear discussion of various aspects of Catherine career as queen made this possible. However, there is not a huge variety of newly discovered information regarding Catherine. This work would be beneficial to scholars or students needing a starting place to begin their research, as the majority of the primary evidence surveyed comes from the State Letters and Papers of Henry VIII and State Papers, Spain and Venice. Therefore, the book itself acts as a good guide and starting point to discover more information.

This fresh approach to Catherine is a success as a popular history book on queenship. It is very well laid out and clear in its presentation of material. . The work is written in a way that many can understand the material and appreciate the queen under study. Overall, it contains a very comprehensive bibliography and is not so heavy in references that it would turn away a reader who wanted an accessible and comprehensive examination of Catherine’s life.


Framed in fantasy: Stuart allegorical imagery and Queen Mary II

By Holly Marsden

Like many English monarchs, Queen Mary II carefully cultivated a public image through visual and material culture. Through tangible objects and artworks, regnant queens could secure the loyalty of their public whilst strengthening the image of their dynasty. Mary came from the Stuart family, and the visual culture surrounding her reign demonstrates a strategic attempt to hark back to previous Stuart rulers.

One way that Mary did this was through commissioning and sitting for portraits with allegorical subject matters. In art, allegory is when aspects of the artwork are used to symbolise deeper moral or spiritual meanings. Allegorical images are able to illustrate complex thought in a tangible form. Depictions of visual allegories were used by English monarchs to demonstrate their power, often using classical imagery to associate themselves with the empires of Greece and Rome. In seventeenth-century English painting, the tradition of allegorical representation in royal portraiture was transformed by the court painter to Charles I, Netherlandish artist Jan Van Dyck.

Van Dyck painted allegories that did not focus on visual reality, but on possibility. He used a mixture of real and fantasy representation, reducing the extensive number of props and costume previously used in royal images. The re-imaged Stuarts in Van Dyck’s paintings represented the ideas or projections of who their characters should be, rather than the royal figure realistically dressed as an allegorical character. Dress as portrayed in portraiture was a political symbol as much as it was an expression of taste. Through Mary’s display of royal dress, she connects to other Stuart women such as Anna of Denmark, queen consort to James I. Dress in allegorical portraits helped to situate the figure outside of reality.  

A portrait of the Roman goddess Diana by Peter Lely from 1672 is of Mary II when a child, before her engagement to William of Orange. Lely’s painting of Mary as Diana depicts her central to the composition, in front of a plain pastoral background. The lack of extensive props and elements to set the scene is in accordance with the precedent set by Van Dyck. She is dressed in sumptuous fabrics which include a flowing scarf, and Diana’s crescent crown is placed on her head. Her bow and arrow also communicate that the figure is Diana, who is Goddess of the Hunt. One theory of the origin of this image states that this depicts Mary as her character of Diana, whom she performed as in John Crowne’s masque Calisto. Staged in the court of Mary’s uncle Charles II, this image aided the masque in presenting Mary as an eligible marriage match.

Image: https://www.rct.uk/collection/search?fbclid=IwAR1tBy7QLHhYjz5NyVcNITNhk7S1cXqIFtZpilKTFEG1lAbeLSo6QzCIBOc#/13/collection/404918/mary-ii-1662-94-when-princess

Another theory is that this young girl as Diana is not Mary at all, but only later attributed as the young princess. Whatever the origin, both theories beg the question as to why Mary is associated with Diana, especially if the Stuart dynasty attributed her to this figure perhaps later into or after her reign. Diana symbolised the somewhat contradictory virtues of chastity and fertility, meaning she was an appropriate symbol for a queen who was expected to continue the Stuart line whilst promoting sexual and religious piety. Moreover, as a self-sufficient huntress, Mary as Diana may have helped to quell fears over having the first woman on the throne since Elizabeth I.

Van Dyck’s introduction into the Stuart court in the 1640s created a hybrid of a Dutch and English painting style that became characteristic to the Stuart dynasty. The style stressed the social image of the family rather than the political image of the dynasty, like English royal painting had previously. This was influenced by Netherlandish painting traditions and went hand-in-hand with the Protestant move away from the belief and visual portrayal of the Divine Right of Kings. In all, the Stuarts presented themselves, as noted by Simon Schama, as the ‘family of families.’ This cultural exchange was echoed in Mary’s appointment as Dutch consort to her husband William of Orange in 1677, before she travelled back to England to take over from her deposed father James II in 1688. Once again, cultures and fashions were brought from the Dutch court and introduced to England. Consort queens were vital in cross-cultural exchange such as this.  

Allegorical depictions of royals did not always convey the messages they had planned. A medal circulated by William and Mary to celebrate their coronation in 1689, designed by Jan Roettiers, depicts the bust of the royal couple on the obverse. The reverse side portrays the allegorical scene of Roman god Jove (or Jupiter) releasing a thunderbolt from a cloud at Phaeton, who is driving a chariot. As a result, he loses control and falls over the burning world. The allegory at first sight provides a fitting sentiment for the Glorious Revolution: Protestant William is Jupiter, ready to overtake from Catholic James II (Phaeton) who has lost control of power. The allegory used demonstrates that the government aimed to reassure the public that the monarchs’ power is well-placed. It also aimed to settle anxieties over the tumultuous Revolution and affirm loyalty to the crown. By circulating commemorative medals, the monarchy created a physical manifestation of power which could be experienced by the masses.

Image: https://www.rct.uk/collection/search#/7/collection/443165/medal-commemorating-the-coronation-of-william-and-mary

However, not all of the public read the allegorical message of the medal as the monarchy intended. The Jacobites, followers of James II, interpreted the medal to show Mary as the Roman figure of Tullia driving the chariot to demonstrate their disdain of the so-called Glorious Revolution. In Roman mythology, Tullia urged her husband Tarquin to kill her father to gain his throne. According to Jacobite readings, then, the medal shows Tullia, or Mary, riding over the remains of her father. The lightning bolts were seen as a punishment from God for patricide and for not handing her new-found power entirely to her husband. Images on objects are as important to explore as images in portraiture.

As we have seen, allegory was important in early modern depictions of royalty, conveying coded moral messages through imagery. Despite her short reign, images of Mary II demonstrate careful (but not always successful) image-making by the Stuart family, informed by cultural influences from the Netherlands.

Recommended Reading
Gordenker, Emilie E. S. “The Rhetoric of Dress in Seventeenth-Century Dutch and Flemish Portraiture.” The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery 57 (1999): 87-104.

Roskill, Mark. “Van Dyck at the English Court: The Relations of Portraiture and Allegory.” Critical Inquiry 14, no. 1 (1987): 173-199.

Schama, Simon. “The Domestication of Majesty: Royal Family Portraiture, 1500-1850.” The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 17, no. 1, (1986): 155-183.

Schwoerer, Lois G. “Images of Queen Mary II, 1689-95.” Renaissance Quarterly 42, no. 4 (1989): 717-748.


Scholar Introduction: Ellie Woodacre

Dr. Elena (Ellie) Woodacre is a Senior Lecturer in Early Modern European History at the University of Winchester who specialises in queenship and royal studies. Ellie has become an evangelist for royal studies as an academic discipline and has been pushing the field of queenship in new directions with her activities in the field and her own research. Her work in promoting royal studies can be seen in her coordination of the ‘Kings & Queens’ conference series, as founder of the Royal Studies Network (www.royalstudiesnetwork.org), Editor-in-Chief of the Royal Studies Journal (www.rsj.winchester.ac.uk) and the editor of two book series–the Gender and Power in the Premodern World series (ARC Humanities Press) and the Lives of Royal Women series (Routledge). In terms of her own work, her monograph on the regnant queens of Navarre offered new perspectives on the partnership of reigning queens and consort kings and identified various modes of partnership between them. She has also looked at the Mediterranean as a distinctive space for female rule in her edited collection Queenship in the Mediterranean (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) and in a chapter for Megan Moore’s Gender in the Premodern Mediterranean (ACMRS, 2019). With Carey Fleiner, she has co-edited two volumes which offered a series of case studies on queenship and motherhood for Palgrave Macmillan’s Queenship and Power series and she offered a new take on the “Mechanisms of Monarchy” in The Routledge History of Monarchy (2019), a landmark, extensive collection on rulership for which she was the lead editor. Most recently, she has been driving forward a new global perspective on queenship which can be seen in the edited collection A Companion to Global Queenship (ARC Medieval Press, 2018) and a short work on queens and queenship in a timeless, global sense which is in press with ARC and will be out in 2021.Her other passion, which she shares with other members of Team Queens, is to examine the economic aspects of queenship, particularly their control of lands and resources, which she discovered while researching Joan of Navarre—her biography of this largely overlooked, but fascinating, queen will be out in 2022.

Beyond her research, Ellie enjoys staying active with yoga, running and hiking and sings semi-professionally with The Bridge. She loves to read historical fiction and watch historical films and tv series (largely about queens of course) and also has a deep love of sci-fi and fantasy (where queens often turn up as well). While she grew up largely in California, she has lived in the UK for over two decades and has grown children who live on both sides of ‘the Pond’. Her remaining ‘baby’ is her cat Mr. Theo Muffin, who is well known to the Team Queens crew!


Book Review: Queens of the Conquest: England’s Medieval Queens

By Catherine Capel

Catherine Capel is back with her second review of the month – this time focussing on the popular history of England’s Medieval Queens!

Popular biographies of queens have long been bringing to attention the lives of royal women who may have been understudied in academic historiography. Alison Weir’s volume ‘Queens of the Conquest’ is one which continues to make queenship accessible to a public audience. Her work begins with the first Anglo-Norman queen Matilda of Flanders and ends with the Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I. Weir also includes Adeliza of Louvain in the volume, a queen who is widely overlooked by both academic and popular writers. Having her first volume cover the first four queen consorts and the empress has allowed Weir to cover them more in depth and think more widely about their lives. The layout of the book takes a chronological approach giving each queen their own chapter until you reach the last substantial chapter which discusses the Empress Matilda and Matilda of Boulogne together. This was a good move by Weir as the two’s presence in historical events are intertwined and instead of having two separate chapters that would result in much repetition, she works their stories together to give a more comprehensive description of events. The relationship between these two women is often ignored by both popular and academic writers and so the choice to put them together shows Weirs understanding of how their narratives interacted with each other. When it then comes to considering the empress on her own, this begins after the death of Queen Matilda when the future Henry II is making his final assault on England and she is staying behind to serve as his lieutenant. The chapters also cover basic important biographical information (birth, parents, marriage, motherhood, queenship) and have descriptive headers to guide readers.     

As with most popular histories, Weir outlines in her introduction that this is not designed to be an academic biography of these queens but her research is based on both primary and secondary sources. One way in which this volume is particularly successful is in her use of the primary sources. Weir weaves them into the lives of these women in ways which enhance their stories. There is no historical analysis into the primary sources and so some of the of the passages are taken at face value without considering the deeper significance they have. For example, Weir includes the story of how William beat Matilda when she initially refused his offer of marriage and although this story is mentioned in medieval chronicles, they all declare it to be untrue. In fact, most sources suggest she was happy to marry William as she recognised the advantages of their marriage even though he was a bastard. She was also instrumental in the agreement formed with Pope Leo IX which allowed their marriage to be officially recognised. However, Weir remains successful in her use of the sources in general because the biography is not supposed to be academic and therefore the reader is still informed of medieval narratives without overwhelming them with information that may put them off continuing reading.

In her introduction, Weir outlines the importance of the “emotional realities of the subjects lives” to her biographical writing, saying that popular biographies have often been accused of being overemotional. Whilst this reviewer may be inclined to agree that popular biographies have a tend to lean towards overemotionalism, I agree that it is important to think about the emotions of the women who are being written about. There is a growing trend in recent historiography to study the history of emotions which will validate this approach in popular biographical writing.

Overall, Alison Weir has written a biographical volume which provides an enjoyable and informative read for a wide popular audience, as she aimed to do, for those who have an interest in medieval queens and wish to know more about the lives they led. Weir has made the lives of these women accessible to those beyond an academic audience and the next volume will continue to do so for the next group of queens.         


Scholar Introduction: Louise Gay

Louise Gay is a postgraduate in Medieval Studies from the University of Toulouse Jean Jaurès (France), currently preparing the beginning of her PhD next fall. Her Master’s dissertation focused on Capetian queenship and warfare, investigating the French queens’ policies of war and diplomacy from the late Xth to the early XIVth centuries. This project explored the contexts in which queens took an active role in warfare and focused on the mutations of such reginal power in connection to the establishment of the royal dynasty throughout the centuries. As a member of the Visiting Researcher scheme of the University of Winchester during her last year of MA, Louise discovered and enthusiastically joined Team Queens. Alongside fellow comrade Catherine Capel, she specialises in high-status women’s involvement in warfare and its repercussions on their lives and reputations, hoping to contribute to our understanding of gender within a military framework within the medieval period.

Louise has presented parts of her research at several academic conferences, most notably at the WIF Women & Power and Women and War International Conferences in 2019. She also presented a paper on the medieval queen’s plural body for the medievalist association Questes at the Sorbonne Research House in 2020.

Louise’s current publication:

Gay, L., 2020. Des commandements militaires féminins en guerre sainte: Marguerite de Provence et Sagar al-Durr lors de la septième croisade. Royal Studies Journal, 7(1), pp.39–56. DOI: http://doi.org/10.21039/rsj.237


Medieval English Queens as Landowners

By Katia Wright

An important aspect of a queen’s power derived from her financial revenue. Throughout the medieval period English queens received income from numerous sources, however the largest of the queen’s revenues were drawn from her vast estates. These properties were granted to the queen by the crown to provide for her household and granted more than just income. As the owner of a large estate the queen’s financial position and political influence were interdependent and enabled the queen to gain substantial economic and political power. As such, these estates were vital for the queen to maintain her own position and status, both as the wife of the king and as the symbolic extension of the king’s royal authority.

By the late medieval period, property was granted to English queens in three distinct ways:

  • for life which referred to a lifetime grant
  • during pleasure, which was a temporary grant of undetermined length
  • and in dower, a grant of property that was traditionally intended for the widow, but during certain periods was also accessed by consort queens.

Queenly dower did not follow the customs of the English nobility, in which dower was intended solely for the widow. Rather, its customs fluctuated across the medieval period. Queens of the early middle ages had access to lands specifically identified as dower as both consorts and dowagers, however by the thirteenth century, the dower lands assigned to queens were explicitly reserved for their widowhood, with other lands and grants providing the necessary income. Yet, by the fifteenth century, dower was clearly provided as a lifetime grant for both the consort and the dowager, highlighting that the custom of queenly dower had changed again. Despite these changes to queenly dower, queens continuously held crown property as a major source of revenue throughout their lives as both consorts and dowagers, across the medieval period.

As both a queen and a landowner of vast estates, the queen was in an incredibly unique position. The queen was a married woman who held her lands outright, unlike any other married aristocratic woman. As the wife of the king, the queen’s legal status was enhanced, granting her a position of power normally only experienced by independent noble women such as an unmarried heiress or a dowager peeress. As such, the queen was unlike her noble counterparts: as a married woman she maintained large estates like any male magnate whilst simultaneously, as the king’s wife, embodied an office and position greater than any other landowner in the country.

Yet, though the queen held these lands outright in truth they were crown property, granted to her by her husband. The queen’s entire position, her financial and political power, was connected to her status as the wife or mother of the king. Therefore, though she fulfilled a uniquely powerful position as a married woman and independent landowner of her estates, she was equally uniquely vulnerable and financially dependent on the generosity of the king. This can be seen clearly in the limitations to the administration of her properties. Unlike other landowners, the queen’s lands could be surrendered at the king’s will, were held solely for her lifetime and were subsumed back into the crown’s larger estates upon her death, as with any dowager peeress. As such, the queen’s properties were inalienable: she could grant property, offices, and keeperships on her estates, but these grants could only be held for the duration of her life and had to be confirmed by the king.

Through the extended study of queen’s lands, it is evident that a queen’s properties frequently fluctuated, and changes to a queen’s estates were common: small groups of her properties were often redistributed, and though intrusive, the queen was generally compensated either through property or a temporary grant of revenue until property could be provided. However, the reasoning behind these changes were rarely noted in the records. They could easily be connected to a need to increase the queen’s income, fulfilling grants to specific magnates, or the need for the king to assert his dominance. Additionally, the political events of the time could equally impact the changes within the queen’s estates. These fluctuations highlight the queen’s potentially precarious financial situation in her reliance on the king’s generosity, and how external influences could impact the estates of each queen across the fourteenth century.

Studying the lands of medieval queens reveals the intricacies in both the queen’s role and position as a landowner, and within her own estates. Though the queen was in a unique position as a married woman and landlord, there were both advantages and limitations to her role as a landowner that could simultaneously benefit her political position or cause extreme financial limitations. The queen’s vulnerability within her lands was unparalleled across the country, and though the king frequently sought to maintain the balance between provisions for the queen and his own political strategy, personal relations and extreme political events could easily result in the loss and seizure of the queen’s property, potentially limiting both the queen’s power and influence. it is evident that though queens held lands as a vital source of income, the detailed study of their estates reveals both the complexities and significance of a queen’s property and her position and status as the wife or mother of the king.

Odiham Castle.

Suggested for further reading

Benz St John, L., Three Medieval Queens: Queenship and the Crown in Fourteenth Century England (New York, 2012).

Crawford, A., ‘The Queen’s Council in the Middle Ages’, English Historical Review, 116.469 (2001), 1193-1211.

Laynesmith, J. L., The Last Medieval Queens: English Queenship 1445-1503 (Oxford, 2004).

Seah, M., “The Material Foundations of Queenship in Late-Medieval England, 1445-1503”, PhD Thesis, University of Newcastle, Australia, 2019. 

Seah, M. and Wright, K., ‘The Medieval English Queen as Landholder: Some Reflections on Sources and Methodology’, in Sarti, C., (ed.)., Women and Economic Power in Premodern Royal Courts (Leeds, 2020), 9-34.

Wright, K., ‘The Queen’s Lands: Understanding the Sources for Fourteenth Century English Queens’, conference paper presented at Kings and Queens 6, Madrid, 2017.

Wright, K., ‘The Transformation of Lands and the Transformation of Power: Isabella of France and the Fluctuations of her Property’, conference paper presented at Kings and Queens 9 E-Conference, 2020.


Scholar Introduction: Holly Marsden

Holly is a first year PhD student on a Collaborative Doctoral Partnership scheme, studying the life of Queen Mary II of England. Based at both the University of Winchester and Historic Royal Palaces, Holly also works with the National Portrait Gallery and Royal Museums Greenwich. She is currently learning early modern French and Dutch as part of her studies and is very excited to be joining Team Queens this year.

Previously, Holly studied her Master’s in Queer History at Goldsmiths, University of London and her Master’s (undergraduate) in History of Art at the University of Edinburgh. Her research interests cover histories of sexuality and gender, art history, global queenship, theatre history and pop culture, focusing predominantly on the seventeenth century. Within academic and public history practise, Holly is passionate about accessibility and inclusion within heritage spaces, galleries, museums and academic institutions. Previous projects include working with Historic Royal Palaces on their ‘Queer Lives’ immersive theatre tours.

Outside of academia, Holly loves the theatre and has been performing and directing since she was little. She also enjoys yoga, costume parties, long walks and writing. Fun fact: before Holly started her full-time PhD, she worked many random jobs alongside studying and performing and the weirdest was her brief moonlighting as a zorbing instructor.


Scholar Introduction: Amy Saunders

Amy Saunders is currently undertaking a PhD at the University of Winchester, exploring gender, sexuality and representation in heritage. Her research currently focuses on Stuart royal couples, examining how James VI & I and Anna of Denmark, Charles I and Henrietta Maria, and Charles II and Catherine of Braganza are represented and remembered. Amy has presented at several international Kings and Queens conferences, given public talks and tours in museums, and recorded a podcast for Winchester Heritage Open Days. She has also published an article, “The Afterlife of Christina of Sweden: Gender and Sexuality in Heritage and Fiction” and is a member of the HistoryIndoors team who have been sharing history content throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Away from history Amy loves traveling, reading fantasy books, baking, playing board games, and cuddling her cats.


Book Review: The Empress Matilda: Queen Consort, Queen Mother and Lady of the English

By Catherine Capel

Twice a month we’ll be recommending some of our favourite fiction and non-fiction historical works focussing on queenship, and reviewing other cornerstone works for you. This month, Cathy Capel is picking out two works which have been integral to her studies!

Marjorie Chibnall, The Empress Matilda: Queen Consort, Queen Mother and Lady of the English, Chichester 1991.

Marjorie Chibnall’s biography on the Empress Matilda is one which remains a go to text for students of the Anglo-Angevin civil war, medieval female rulership, gender and politics, and female biography two decades after it was first published. The previous scholarship which studied the tumultuous events of Stephen’s reign presented well-researched arguments  and a compelling analysis of the events during the civil war period but they were largely missing one key element – the women.

The Empress Matilda was one of the key players during this period, she was the other claimant to the throne, but her contributions and importance to the conflict have been majoritively overlooked until Chibnall’s biography was released. The work is divided into chronological chapters which are characterised by important events in her life – from her first marriage to Emperor Henry V through to her retirement in Normandy and her death. The order of the bibliography is synonymous to the empress’s famous epitaph – ‘great by birth, greater by marriage, greatest by her offspring: here lies Matilda, the daughter, wife and mother of Henry’ – even using elements of the inscription as chapter titles. This creates an easy-to-read account of her life whilst sign posting the key themes of the study. The three chapters which stand out most to this reviewer are ‘Political Inheritance’ (chapter 3), ‘Disputed Succession’ (chapter 4) and ‘Lady of the English’ (chapter 5). They cover the years of Matilda’s life where her status as an heiress and her position in the line of succession in England had their most prominence and impact on events. Chibnall engages successfully with the aspects that affected Matilda and her ability to succeed her father, and the role she played on the early stages of the civil war. In particular, during chapter 5 Chibnall covers the aftermath of the Battle of Lincoln and the almost victory of the empress over Stephen. In previous historiography, the emphasis has been on the impact this had on the men during the period –  Stephen in prison, Robert of Gloucester leading the empress’s forces and William of Ypres forming the counterattack. The Empress Matilda, and her counterpart Queen Matilda, are only given a passing mention in terms of the Route of Winchester and their contributions to the wider period are not taken into context.

This biography is also the first which seriously covers the empress’s impressive political career in Germany, England and Normandy. Chibnall’s in depth examination of her charters and her representation in contemporary chronicles recognises the importance she played as an individual without focusing primarily on her gendered failings. Through her charters, Chibnall establishes Matilda as the political player she is, plotting her movements during the civil war, highlighting the supporters she won and lost and the strategic moves she made. As charters are perhaps the best way to show elite women’s involvement in government, administration and political matters, Chibnall is arguably the first scholar to sincerely consider the empress as someone who was able to exist in all of these realms. As to her consideration of Matilda in charters, Chibnall does not rely on tropes such as gendered criticism to further her narrative nor criticise the empress’s actions and criticise she does. Instead she presents a more modern analysis of how her identity is shaped in contemporary chronicle sources.  

This biography covers many a topic and discusses the relationship between Matilda and other central players of the period but for this reviewer there is one topic and individual missing. There is discussion by Chibnall of the empress in relation to warfare, however it is not an in-depth analysis and does not consider the effects this had on her identity as a female ruler. Whilst Chibnall does not present an in-depth analysis of the empress’s military leadership, her biography remains a widely studied work which fully explores the political implications of the empress as an heiress. As to the presence of the queen, she is included in key points of Chibnall’s narrative, such as the events of 1141, but her wider impact on the civil war is not considered in depth.

It bears repeating that Chibnall has written a biography on the empress that shall remain on the reading list for studying female rulership and women in the political realm. The well framed biography clearly establishes Matilda as a female heiress and considers the wider role she had to play in the politics of England in the twelfth century.    


Scholar Introduction: Andy McMillin

A California native, Andy McMillin holds a Bachelor’s degree in Medieval Studies from the University of California at Davis. She also has credentials from the University of Oxford, in English Local History, and a MRes degree from the University of Reading in Medieval Studies. She is currently a PhD researcher at the University of Winchester in History, specializing in Early Modern queens, specifically on queen’s lands.

Andy’s MRes thesis, covering aspects of religious patronage of Edward IV and Richard III, has been published by the American branch of the Richard III society. She is a member of History Indoors and the Royal Studies Network, and works as part of the Royal Studies Journal editorial team.

Outside academia, she is also an internationally ranked equestrian and award-winning artist and graphic/web designer. 


Queenship and Historiography

By Louise Gay

For centuries, sovereignty in the “Male Middle Ages” (as defined by Georges Duby) has been thought and written about from a male perspective. Perpetually presented as passive and submissive beings, queens were mainly considered as royal wombs rather than political actresses in the collective imagination. In consequence, the old historiography on queens focused on their roles as mothers and educators – preferably of male children in line to inherit the throne – overshadowing their active involvement in government, diplomacy, and war. Since the late 1960s, with the rise of feminist and women’s studies that aimed to place women back in history and discuss gendered roles in the past, queens have been largely reassessed as historical figures and queenship emerged as a field of study in its own right. Aspects of queenship such as maternity, piety, religious and artistic patronage, wealth, regency and many others have been thoroughly studied, and this has even allowed the publication of a few thematic syntheses. Although Western European queens have received sustained attention since the very beginning of this movement, the field of queenship studies is now expanding its horizon. Indeed, while Western scholars are starting to explore new areas, queenship as a topic of research is emerging in countries outside Europe and is investigated by their native researchers. This multiplication of case studies of women from different periods, places, and religions provides exciting new perspectives for the future.

However, a few historiographical issues remain for those hoping to study queenship. Generally speaking, the mentalities regarding powerful and/or high-status women have been slow to change. Projection of contemporary misogynist stereotypes, often rooted in the belief that women did not possess any kind of agency until the twentieth century, can still be found in academic works produced by non-specialists. As a result, women are frequently erased from narratives: many political studies and kings’ biographies comport none or few references to queens (e.g. Anne of Bohemia and Isabel de Valois get little mention in Richard II’s biographies or political works). Most often, queens are still conventionally portrayed as daughters, wives, and mothers of “greater” men; the underlying goal being to shed light on the history of their male counterparts. Such perspective can also be characterised by a psychologizing approach of the queens: citing a lack of sources, some historians havedeliberately presumedcertain reactions or behaviours (e.g. Régine Pernoud in the 1960-80s).Another relatively common practice about the representation of queenship is the use – and abuse – of the norm-exception schema. If a queen is politically active, she is most of times credited as exceptional in the sources. This norm-exception scheme is part of a process of differentiation which reaffirms the dominant values by proposing an individual and exceptional model as the only alternative. As such, it helped to deny a much more nuanced reality where many women managed to find power and agency. This “exceptionalism” in the sources has frequently misled researchers, considering in turn that the leading role played by certain queens fell within the anecdotal register without finding any place within the “great history” that has persistently been gendered male. Today, queenship specialists are calling for moving beyond the exceptionalist debate.

Meanwhile,popular history tends to represent queens associated to scandal, reemploying classic literary topoï such as the adulterous wife, the power-hungry queen (as well as its opposite, the frivolous queen), and the witch. The persistence of these myths, some centuries old, can pose another challenge for historians actively trying to distinguish the legend from the reality. From Cleopatra to Eleanor of Aquitaine through to Marie-Antoinette, controversial queens are quasi-inseparable from their harsh reputations frequently shaped by the judgment of later narratives. A similar observation stands for allegedly more consensual queens, their written stories usually being instrumental in the process of the production of dynastic, or even national, narratives. The case of Isabel la Católica of Castile, the “mother” of Spain’s political unification during the XVIth century, offers a good example of such instrumentalization. While the queen was presented as a model of virtue throughout centuries (in 1958, a request for canonization has even been made by the Spanish Church and Franco’s dictatorial regime), recent historiography has re-evaluated her political career, emphasizing her active role in the creation of the modern Inquisition, or in the expulsion and persecution of religious minorities. Thus, in all cases the reputation of a queen – whether coming from an old historiographical tradition or from popular literature – should be viewed with caution.

In addition to this general overview, queenship historiography has also been influenced and shaped by national (or regional) cultural specificities. Several factors can contribute to this effect: the existence or absence of a law forbidding women to inherit the throne (such as the Salic law in the French realm, or the Muslim political doctrine following the Arab conquests), the notoriety enjoyed by local queens (especially those who ruled in their own name), as well as contemporary republican legacies. Furthermore, as the reception of gender and women studies varied in different countries, queenship as an academic field has yet to be developed in some parts of the world to truly become a global movement.


Scholar Introduction: Catherine Capel

Catherine is a full time PhD student at the University of Winchester and is in the final year of her three-year studentship on the theme of forgotten women in history. Her main research focus is the motivations and participation of Anglo-Norman queens and noblewomen in warfare, with an interest in gendered political representations of women and the impact of kinship ties. Catherine specialises in the study of women in warfare and her other research interests focus on the presence of high-status women in charter evidence, the description of women in chronicle sources and the concepts of female power, reputation and sexuality. She has presented papers at conferences on the topic of women in warfare including at the Women and War International Conference in 2019 where she presented a paper called ‘An Exploration of the Classifications of Authority in Warfare and their Impact on the Visibility of Elite Women’ and the Kings and Queens Conference 2020 with a paper entitled ‘Queens as Military Leaders: A Transformation or Extension of their Feminine Body?’. She also recently organised and spoke at the first virtual Medieval studies Day in conjunction with the University of Winchester. Catherine has also been involved in popular history events, participating in the Heritage Open Days history festival in Hampshire.


Scholar Introduction: Katia Wright

Katia Wright is a part-time PhD Student at the University of Winchester. She has been studying medieval queenship for the last ten years, and her research interests include the troubles of fifteenth century dowager queens and the political impact of England’s French queens on Anglo-French relations during the Hundred Years’ War. Katia’s current research, for her PhD, is focused on the lands of fourteenth century English queens.

The queens’ lands are a fascinating subject that reveal a lot surrounding the queen’s position of power and the fourteenth century provides some great case studies. Katia has presented parts of her research at numerous academic conferences, most notably the Kings and Queens series organised by the Royal Studies Network, as well as at several public talks.

When Katia is not studying medieval queens, she is often working in the archive of the Adjutant General’s Corps Museum in which she also works as the Assistant Curator (Archives). On her days off she enjoys reading fantasy novels (especially anything featuring queens), a good Netflix binge, cooking, going for walks, and cuddles with her cat Oreo.

Katia’s current publications include:

Seah, M., and Wright, K., ‘The Medieval English Queen as Landholder: Some Reflections on Sources and Methodology’, in C. Sarti, (ed.), Women and Economic Power in Premodern Royal Courts (ARC Humanities Press: Leeds, 2020), 9-33. https://arc-humanities.org/products/w-87111-116115-50-6714/

Wright K., Legon, E., and Storey, M., (eds.), Royal Studies Journal Special Edition: Royal Sexualities (December 2019). https://www.rsj.winchester.ac.uk/19/volume/6/issue/2/


Scholar Introduction: Amy-Jane Humphries

Amy-Jane Humphries is a recent postgraduate alumna from the University of Winchester. Her Masters dissertation explored the queenship of Margaret of Anjou and Henrietta Maria with a particular focus on how they operated as queens during the Wars of the Roses and the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. The range of her main research interests is largely encapsulated by this dissertation, but she has since begun to explore the queenship of the early-Hanoverian queens, Caroline of Ansbach and Charlotte of Mecklenberg-Strelitz, and the role of their respective daughter- and mother-in-law, Augusta, Princess of Wales. Amy is particularly interested in historical narratives that are obscured from view, especially in the public sphere, and is always striving to make sure these stories are told. She is therefore interested in both global queenship and local history, because sometimes the stories closest to us are the ones we lose sight of first.

Outside of history, Amy can often be found buried in some sort of Star Wars-related media. She is also a keen cook and baker (of mainly bread, but she does make a killer cheese scone) and is firm in the belief that once you’ve made your own bread, shop-bought will never ever be enough. She is also an insatiable houseplant enthusiast and has lost count of how many she actually has, but it has long-since passed the point of ridiculousness. 


Scholar Introduction: Johanna Strong

Johanna is a second-year PhD student at the University of Winchester under the supervision of Dr Ellie Woodacre and Dr Simon Sandall. She completed her Bachelor of Arts (Honours) at Queen’s University, Canada, and went on to complete her Master of Arts at the same university. Her Master’s thesis analysed early modern interpretations of queenship, especially through the works of John Knox (The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women) and Henry Howard (‘A Dutiful Defence of the Lawful Regiment of Women’). She spent the first year of her Bachelor’s at the Bader International Study Centre at Herstmonceux Castle in East Sussex and is thrilled to be back in England for her PhD.

Currently studying how the English and British historical narrative has been created, she has a particular interest in how Mary I is portrayed from the Elizabethan period to the rise of the Hanoverian dynasty and the reasons for these portrayals. Though Mary is often seen as a villain of English and British history, Johanna’s research argues that this interpretation is a result of political, religious, and gendered influences and does not reflect the truth behind Mary and her reign.

You can hear parts of her research on the Hampshire HistBites podcast, part of the Winchester Heritage Open Days 2020, in the episodes titled “Coronation, Marriage, Burial: Mary I in Westminster Abbey and Winchester Cathedral” and “Marriage and Childbirth: Mary I at Wolvesey Castle and Hampton Court Palace”. She also has a chapter entitled “Happily Ever After?: Posthumous Representations of Mary I and Philip II’s Marriage” in Valerie Schutte and Jessica Hower’s Writing Mary I: History, Historiography, and Fiction, due for publication in late 2021.

When she’s not working on her PhD thesis, Johanna enjoys exploring all the heritage Winchester has to offer, reading, watching guilty-pleasure reality TV, and working on one of her many cross-stitch projects.