Sacrare: to dedicate to a deity; to dedicate, as a curse, to a divinity. The Latin verb derives from sacer (-cra, -crum), formerly sacros, which designates what belongs to the world of the divine, opposed to what is specific to everyday human life (the profanum). The transition from one to the other takes place through rites. It also designates what cannot be touched without defiling or being defiled. (Larousse Etymological dictionary)
For a few short years in the 1690s, Mary II’s Water Gallery at Hampton Court was the most sophisticated and influential interior in England. Created from a Tudor water gate on the banks of the river Thames, the queen used it as a retreat from the dust and noise of Sir Christopher Wren’s building works on the main palace.
The ever-growing field of queenship has brought to light many queens and noblewomen who have been largely ignored in historical scholarship or have been misunderstood, with their narratives shrouded in stereotypes of cruelty, disillusions of power, and sexual scandal. One such royal woman who has been garnering renewed attention is Æthelflaed, daughter of Alfred the Great and his wife Ealhswith, the wife of Æthelred Lord of the Mercians and most commonly known as ‘Lady of the Mercians’. Tim Clarkson’s book evaluates her life and the political and military epochs within which she lived, paying close attention to how she interacted with the world around her.
Mary, Queen of Scots has remained a popular historical figure in the centuries since her death and remains so to this day. She has appeared in countless television shows and feature films, both as a protagonist and as a secondary character. Despite leading Scotland in a politically turbulent period (both internally and externally), Mary Stuart is largely seen on both the large and small screen as an emotional and heedless figure, with the focus in films such as the 1971 and 2018 Mary, Queen of Scots on her romantic relationships and relatively scant attention paid to her reign save for one television show, Reign, that is typically dismissed offhandedly.
The Princess Diaries, released 2001, and its follow up sequel The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, released 2004, were based upon the popular book series of the same name written by Meg Cabot. The films depict the struggles of American teenager Mia Thermopolis, portrayed by Anne Hathaway, as she grapples with her newfound identity as a princess. Her grandmother, previously queen consort and now queen regent Clarisse Renaldi, played by Julie Andrews, rules the fictional kingdom of Genovia until Mia reaches her age of majority. Clarisse plays an important role in Mia’s navigation of the complex and often turbulent realm of queenship.
The life and career of Blanche of Castile, queen of France, rivals that of her illustrious grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine: perhaps no surprise to Eleanor, who in 1200 selected Blanche to marry the heir to the French throne, Louis (later Louis VIII). Grant’s thorough and captivating biography of Blanche (2016) is long awaited: the last major work on her was Elie Berger’s 1895 biography Histoire de Blanche de Castille, Reine de France. Given Blanche’s long political career as consort, regent, and queen mother, her adeptness for political negotiation, and her greatness as a ruler for her son, Louis IX, it is surprising that there was such a gap between Berger’s and Grant’s works.
Being a mother was a crucial role for medieval queens, and maternity continues to be a central theme in queenship studies. Scholars of queenship have explored how queens were able to exercise authority and influence through their role as mothers and, recently, Kristen Geaman and Theresa Earenfight have drawn attention to how queens without children cultivated alternative roles to biological motherhood by acting as religious patrons and political intercessors. So far, historians have only really considered royal fertility when queens failed to have children. Yet, many of the medieval queens whom we might recognise as being successful mothers also struggled with fertility problems or experienced concerns and pressure to be fertile at some point in their lives. Historians need to take into account the realities of reproduction and uncertainties around fertility when we think about queens and the expectation of motherhood for queenship.
Canal+’s historical drama Versailles premiered in the UK in May 2016 on BBC Two. It is set during the building of the palace of Versailles, led by King Louis XIV in seventeenth century France. The is frivolous, dramatic and gripping, portraying Louis in his most power-hungry prime: in an attempt to re-establish his power to the waning and defying masses, the King chooses his father’s old hunting lodge to be a new court of unparalleled opulence. As you can imagine, Madeline Fontaine’s costume styling is equally as extravagant. Clothing during the seventeenth century was a tool for conveying wealth and power, and Louis XIV’s court is the perfect case study to see this in action. Although this blog post is not focusing on queenship as Team Queens usually do, it provides an insight into gender, kingship and clothing in Early Modern France and England.
Ophelia Field’s 2002 (revised in 2018) biography of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough is a fascinating insight into the eighteenth-century elite. The biography focuses on the intensity of the relationship between Sarah and Queen Anne, with the two having grown up together in and around the court of Charles II. Sarah was later given two of the highest positions of the early modern court when Anne ascended the throne in 1702: Keeper of the Privy Purse and Groom of the Stool. These positions are just two roles discussed by Field, a focus of her biography being the positions, hierarchies, and structures at play in Anne’s court. Another predominant theme is the writer’s voice. Like in much discussion of queenship, Churchill’s agency and self-fashioning is both emphasised and questioned throughout. Moreover, Field also analyses the use of the spoken word, exploring slander, gossip, and scandal. The depth of Field’s research provides ample background to Sarah’s story, especially for those who enjoyed Yorgos Lanthimos’s 2018 film of the same title. Field explores shared desire, passion and love as suggested by existing historical sources including correspondence between the two women. This part of Sarah’s life, and indeed Anne’s, had not yet been explicitly researched and discussed by scholars, who had previously focused on Churchill’s political ambition and patronage. In all, Field demonstrates that Sarah wielded great power, painting a portrait of an ambitious, intelligent, and passionate woman.
All images unless otherwise indicated were photographed at the British Library by Johanna Strong.
Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, form one of the most popularly famous – or rather, infamous – female partnerships of the early modern European world. While most historians of early modern England could provide more detailed accounts of Elizabeth and Mary’s relationship, most outside academic circles remember only that it was on Elizabeth’s orders that Mary faced her fate, ascending to the scaffold on 8 February 1587 at Fotheringhay Castle. The British Library’s ‘Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens’ exhibition is the first to examine the personal and political relationship between Elizabeth and Mary and is a timely addition to the sphere of public history. Bringing together portraiture and visual components, contemporary documents, and expert historical interpretations, this exhibition provides an intimate look at the rival queens who shared an isle.
With the winter break behind us, some of us might be hesitant to let that holiday spirit go. With that in mind, this month’s first blog post eases back into the historical world by examining the 2018 film, ‘Mary Queen of Scots’.
In April 1736, Britain and the Hanoverian royal family celebrated the marriage of the heir apparent, Frederick, Prince of Wales, to Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. With this union, the monarchy found itself in a unique position. For the first time since they had inherited the throne from Queen Anne in 1714, the Hanoverians had both a king and a queen and a prince and princess of Wales at its helm. The early Hanoverian period, encapsulating the reigns of George I (1714-1727) and George II (1727-1760), is notable for its dearth of consort queens. George I’s divorce from Sophia Dorothea of Celle in 1694 meant that he came to Britain without a consort. George II was crowned beside his wife, Caroline of Ansbach, in October 1727 but their partnership ended with Caroline’s death a decade later and George never remarried. The absence of the queen consort was therefore the norm rather than the exception. Instead, the early Hanoverian period could be said to have been the era of the princess of Wales.
Sharon L. Jansen’s The Monstrous Regiment of Women: Female Rulers in Early Modern Europe is a foundational work in the field of queenship studies and stands in a long series of responses and allusions to John Knox’s infamous First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (1558). Where Knox argued that women were inherently unable to rule and so should be barred from political power, Jansen highlights early modern Europe as a centre of female power, a complex “network[…] of related women and patterns of connections between them” (page 4). Instead of focusing on individual remarkable women, Jansen “explore[s] the relationships among women whose lives occupy a place in and perpetuate a continuing, though largely unrecogni[s]ed[,] tradition of political rule” (5-6).
Having completed her undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University of Oxford, Victoria is currently pursuing a PhD in Spanish at University College London (UCL), funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council UK. In addition to her AHRC studentship, Victoria is an ARTES-CEEH scholar and has been awarded the Everett W. Hesse prize by the Association of Hispanic Classical Theater.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 chronicles—than 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The material remains of historic houses and the imagining of their past inhabitants enables the concurrent appreciation by their visitors of the historical specificity and otherness of the past, together with those echoes of the familiar which makes them feel real. Making connections with the ghosts of the past will remain an affective and popular approach to the history of sexuality. Lesbian and gay identities continue to be significant in the present day and give resonance to visitors seeking evidence of the dissident sexual past.