Book Review: The Favourite, Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough by Ophelia Field

By Holly Marsden

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

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Mater Dolorosa: Elisabeth in the Aftermath of Mayerling

By Lucy Coatman

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

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

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

By Johanna Strong

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

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

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Film Review: Mary Queen of Scots

By Johanna Strong

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

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

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

By Amy-Jane Humphries

Augusta of Saxe-Gotha.

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

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

By Johanna Strong

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

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Scholar Introduction: Victoria Rasbridge

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

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Book Review: The Lady of Misrule by Suzannah Dunn

By Johanna Strong

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

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

By Gabby Storey

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

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