Interview with Alexander Brondarbit

Alexander Brondarbit is an Academic Planning Analyst at UC Santa Cruz and Instructor for the E-Campus at Oregon State University. His research focuses on the high and local politics of late medieval England with particular emphasis on the Wars of the Roses.  His teaching interests include the history of high and late medieval Europe, the Church in the Middle Ages, and medieval sex, gender, and culture.  You can read his article in the
Royal Studies Journal, Issue 6 here.

Kristen and Cathleen: What is a signet warrant? How does it differ from other types of documents?

The signet warrant was a means of connecting the king with the ordinary operations of his government. It was produced by the third type of writing office which arose after the other two writing offices (e.g., the chancery and privy seal office) had left the royal household to be housed permanently in Westminster. This change had occurred by reason of the high workload of those offices and the sheer volume of letters that were being produced. Obviously, the king was not always in Westminster and still needed a means of transmitting his will on official business regardless of his location. The signet office was thus formed in the early fourteenth century to meet this demand.

It differed from the Westminster offices in several ways. It was much smaller, less bureaucratic, and less solemn than the chancery. The signet was kept by the king’s secretary who was often a clerk based about the king’s person rather than say a bishop with public duties like the chancellor. A particularly interesting difference is the suspicion that often arose over the use of the signet. Initially used sparingly, the signet was seen as a method by which Richard II abused his royal prerogative as he bypassed the privy seal office in warranting the issue of letters under the great seal. The signet seal disappeared for a time when the Lords Appellant were victorious in 1388, yet it eventually reemerged in a more muted fashion afterwards as it definitely had its uses despite the concern it engendered.

 Kristen and Cathleen: Had scholars largely ignored this document before, aside from including it in histories of Eton?

I’d say many scholars do seem to have been unaware of it. The Duke of York’s signet letter was first examined by the English historian and archivist, Sir Henry Maxwell-Lyte in his A History of Eton College produced in 1875. Aside from some minor errors in his transcription, Maxwell-Lyte also did not fully appreciate the significance of the document as he focused entirely with the Yorkist regime’s treatment of Eton. This emphasis has been replicated by later historians of the college as one might expect as they were not as interested in what the document told us about this critical, and somewhat opaque, stage of the Wars of the Roses. Cora Scofield did quote a snippet of the signet warrant in her biography of Edward IV, but she relied on Maxwell-Lyte’s book and it is doubtful she ever consulted the record in person. The same goes for Charles Ross’s biography which quotes an even briefer portion of the document without any citation suggesting again that he may have been repeating the quote from Scofield’s work. I believe what we have here is a case of a great document that was known in the late nineteenth century, but sadly was forgotten except by historians of Eton College.

ECR 39 124

ECR 39/124. Reproduced by permission of the Provost and Fellows of Eton College.

Kristen and Cathleen: Briefly, what happened to Eton under the Yorkist kings?

Edward ultimately proved vindictive toward Lancastrian institutions in the early years of his reign. It was hardly impolitic to do so given that he still did not have full control of his own realm and a constant reminder of his more scholarly predecessor whom many still believed to be the rightful king could not have been a welcome proposition. This is all the more likely given the high survival rate of propaganda that attests to Edward’s right to rule. After he became king, Edward commanded King’s College Cambridge to pay its revenues to the exchequer and many of its estates were resumed in 1461. Eton received an even harsher sentence as Edward considered suppressing the college and annexing it into St George’s Chapel at Windsor. That Edward was committed to this course of action is without doubt as he secured a bull from Pope Pius II authorizing the abolition of the college in 1463 and we see this order taking effect two years later when its moveable goods (furniture, jewels, bells, clothing etc.) were removed to Windsor. Many of Eton’s original endowments were lost to resumption as the king dispersed the lands to his supporters. The impact of this initial royal policy is quite evident in the sharp decline of revenue as the annual income fell to a mere £321 at its lowest point in 1466-7. This is quite a fall as Eton received an average annual income of £1,200 under Henry VI. The diminished income prevented operations from continuing at Eton although the provost remained living on site.

For reasons unknown, Edward softened his stance toward Eton after 1467. At the king’s request, Pope Paul II revoked the bull annexing the college to Windsor. The tale that the school was saved by the charms of Edward’s mistress, Jane Shore, is an amusing one that even the college enjoys telling today, but there is no evidence to support this. I find the timing quite surprising given that the Lancastrian threat was far from over at this stage of the reign.

Unfortunately, Richard III’s attitude toward Eton is difficult to determine. The lone account roll for his reign does show that the college’s revenue had improved to an annual income of £565 in 1483-4, but this was largely by the minor grants Edward allowed the college in the latter half of his reign. If Richard harbored plans for Eton (which I doubt he did) they were never realized by the time he was killed at Bosworth Field.

Kristen and Cathleen: Was Edward taking advantage of Provost Westbury or was it just good politics?

Largely strapped for cash, Edward was certainly pressing his advantage here as he was raising funds to pay the troops needed for his campaign against the Lancastrian army in the north. This exchange with Eton was simply one avenue at his disposal to get the resources he needed, but it was merely a drop in the bucket. The bulk of money the Yorkists acquired came from London; within a few days of his reign Edward and his allies had received some £8,700 from the city dating back to the prior year. It is also worth noting that the quid pro quo arrangement between Edward and Provost Westbury was far from unique, particularly in the opening days of his fledgling regime. In 1461, Winchester College presented gifts to earn an exemption to the act of resumption in the king’s first parliament. In that same year, Canterbury paid nearly £300 to the king for a charter granting perpetual county status to the city and confirming its pre-existing civic liberties. Had Eton not been so closely associated with the House of Lancaster it is much more likely Edward would have kept his promises to protect the institution.

Kristen and Cathleen: Is this part of a larger project? What are you up to next?

At present, I am currently reshaping my thesis into what I hope will be my first monograph. My book will examine the Yorkist political power-brokers in operation in the reigns of Edward IV, Edward V, and Richard III. Power is its major theme as I utilized records held throughout several local archives in addition to the national archive in order to develop a picture of how the politically active men and women mediated and expressed royal power. So often historians make the determination of influence by listing the patronage one acquired from the Crown. I sought to bring in other avenues by which to see their influence at work both at court and in the shires.

Interview with Ellen Wurtzel

Ellen Wurtzel is an associate professor of history at Oberlin College (Ohio). She also  took part in the recent issue of the Royal Studies Journal on Taking Possession 

Cathleen and Kristen: Thank you for doing this interview on your recent article in the Royal Studies Journal “The Joyous Entry of Albert and Isabella in Lille”. First of all, could you tell us a bit more about what a “joyous” entry is, especially in comparison to other forms of entry or taking possession?

Ellen: Thanks so much for the opportunity of talking more about the article; I really enjoyed being part of the special issue for RSJ on Taking Possession. Joyous Entries were a particular form of late medieval ritual, but as you note, not the only one. Cities had numerous kinds of festival moments, including triumphal entries, marriage celebrations, peace processions and annual religious events. What differentiated Joyous Entries from these other celebrations was that they were the first visit of a ruler to a city, often at the beginning of his or her reign. It was a moment of introduction that served as an important kind of communication between two political entities.  While it is unclear exactly when this political ritual began, the inclusion of a written agreement originated when the Duke of Brabant entered the city of Leuven and delivered a charter in 1356. One article stated that if the sovereign did not fulfill his duties as specified in the document, his subjects would not be bound to obey him further.  When tensions rose in the 1560s over religious and political differences in the Low Countries, the Brabantine document was reprinted and distributed in a number of cities in order to legitimize a burgeoning rebellion. The 1582 Entry for the Duke of Anjou in Antwerp, in the midst of rebellion, contained pointed references to Spanish tyranny. Joyous Entries, like any liminal moment, could be fraught with potential disruption.

Interestingly, this ritual was revived with the founding of Belgium in 1830. The most recent Joyous Entries occurred in 2013 for King Philippe and Queen Mathilde and included the cities of Bruges, Antwerp, Ghent and of course, Leuven.

Cathleen and Kristen: In your article, you highlight that urban history considers early modern cities, and in particular, rituals like joyous entries as losing importance compared with the rising power of territorial rulers, in the case of Lille, the Habsburgs. Could you expand a bit on this? How can the relation between city and territorial rule be classified? And, is there really a decline in urban independence compared to the (late) middle ages?

Ellen: These are really big questions that depend in large part on what area of Europe one studies and how one defines the territorial power of rulers like the Habsburgs in the early modern period. The traditional narrative, shaped by Henri Pirenne and other social and economic historians, focused on the development of the powerful cities in Flanders and Brabant since the southern Low Countries was one of the most densely-urbanized populations in the later Middle Ages. Medieval cities, created to enable long-distance and local trade, arose and eventually weakened the power of feudal lords. A new class of people no longer bound to the land/service to their lord created economic opportunities and begat political liberties—and power. At the end of the Middle Ages, Pirenne argued, monarchical states developed political organizations that were strengthened by bureaucracy drawn from city elites, loyal armies, and the power to implement new taxation. With cities drawn more and more into the orbit of rulers’ needs—for money and war—their independence lessened. Therefore, in this traditional model, rituals like Joyous Entries could no longer be seen as a kind of negotiation, a contract, but rather a symbolic acceptance of territorial rulers’ overweening power.

While the dominance of that older model has been considerably weakened by the work of many historians in the past 25-30 years, it continued to shape the way that Joyous Entries were perceived until quite recently. Cities and states are no longer seen as either diametrically opposed systems or diachronic in importance. Even for strong-state kingdoms like France, historians have shown that the ‘state’ in its modern form was not fully-defined in the early modern period and different polities, including cities, continued to exercise corporate power vis-à-vis other political institutions. Moreover, not every city had an antagonistic relationship to the territorial ruler—Lille is a prime example of a city that promoted accommodation and peaceful negotiation while still retaining many liberties. In the early modern period, its officers consolidated power vis-à-vis other local authorities with whom the city corporation competed. The recognition of this diversity in the early modern period has enabled scholars like Anne-Laure Van Bruaene, Margit Thøfner, Michael Wintroub and Michael Breen to examine events like Joyous Entries in a new light, both in terms of audience and message.  My research on Lille’s Joyous Entry of 1600 in the RSJ confirms the continuing importance of these events as a primary site of identity fashioning and political negotiation, and allows us to ask new questions—about how city residents perceived their own pasts and how that perception of history and identity shaped their interactions with rulers.

Cathleen and Kristen: Lille at the turn of the sixteenth to the seventeenth century was, although firmly under the rule of the Spanish Habsburgs, geographically and culturally close to the rebellious cities of the later Netherlands/General States. In what ways was this visible also in the recognition of a new sovereign in 1600?

Ellen: It’s important to remember that in 1600, the Dutch Revolt was far from over. War between the Habsburgs and the French had ended in 1598, but the seventeen provinces of the Low Countries were still at war and would be officially until 1648. Although delegates from Walloon Flanders (Lille, Douai and Orchies) and Hainaut had signed the Treaty of Arras in 1579 and Alexander Farnese had won back allegiance to the Spanish Habsburgs in other southern provinces, it was in no way clear that the Low Countries were to be divided permanently into two separate political entities. Since the thirteenth century, Lille’s merchants and political elites had longstanding commercial ties with other cities in the Low Countries. They shared many cultural exchanges through participation in competitions of rhetorical societies and sent ambassadors to other cities. By the sixteenth century, their delegates met with those from other regions in the States-General and negotiated for lower taxes. The introduction of the Protestant Reformation, increasing taxes, and subsequent political tensions with the Habsburgs, however, meant that common ground was difficult to find, particularly since some city governments embraced the new religion and others did not. That uncertainty about the collective identity of the Low Countries remained in 1600, alongside hope for stability and peace under new sovereigns Albert and Isabella. While the lavish spending on the event, and ritual of the Joyous Entry itself mirrored what was seen in nearby cities like Valenciennes and Antwerp, Lille’s Entry focused primarily on the city’s history in relation to its rulers and (perhaps purposefully) avoided references to specific neighboring cities.

Lille in the late 16th century (based on  Braun and Hogenberg, Civitates Orbis Terrarum, II (1575))


Cathleen and Kristen: Part of the festivities were tableaux vivants, living pictures, which represented the city’s history by highlighting important events. It was, in a way, a form of historiography “written” by the magistrates of the city – what can these living pictures tell us about sixteenth-century Lille, and how they saw themselves? How were they different from earlier representations or from other cities?

Ellen: Many cities in the Low Countries, France and England included living pictures in their festivities throughout the later Middle Ages. They were a wonderful way of making history come alive by forging a relationship between past events and the present viewers. Local people that one knew would dress up as the long dead Queen Mahaut or King Philip II surrounded by the conquered but happy people of his empire. It allowed people in cities like Lille to forge a personal relationship to far off or far distant events and implicitly acknowledge their legitimacy and relevance. Tableaux vivants were didactic forms of entertainment, but they also meant to display the learnedness of the local elite—sometimes with mixed results. In one memorable visit of Duke Charles the Bold to Lille in 1468, one of his counselors, a Lille native, thought he would honor the city by having three local women perform the Judgment of Paris. They were, according to a now-lost chronicle, apparently so far from Hera, Aphrodite and Athena in size and stature (one was nicknamed Grosse Juliette, another so thin that the author likened her to a herring) that upon seeing the scene the duke burst out laughing and was unable to stop! These classical or religious histories were popular subjects well into the sixteenth century, but during the fraught years of the 1570s and 1580s, their high-flown symbolism became weighted with barely-concealed allusions to Spanish tyranny. Lille’s Joyous Entry of 1600 pointedly avoided protest. The program focused less on religion or allegory than local events, shifting to what I would term a more prosaic kind of history. It indicated the increasing popularity of new forms of historical writing and the presence of humanist-educated men like Floris van der Haer, who published histories as well as fashioned the Joyous Entry. But it also meant that lillois magistrates wanted to introduce themselves to their new sovereigns by fashioning a different kind of narrative including their rulers’ imperial conquest, their own steadfast loyalty and a shared faith, Catholicism.

Example of a tableau vivant (Philip II of Spain)

Cathleen and Kristen: You argue in your article that some of these tableaux vivants were already imagining Lille as part of the nation of Belgium, a territory which came into being as nation-state in 1830, more than 200 years later. How far were early proto-national sentiments already influential in the early modern period in Lille? And what did the contemporaries understand as “Belgian”?

Ellen: Although the focus of the Joyous Entry was Lille’s history, a number of the tableaux vivants and triumphal arches included references to the Belgian people and Belgium. These terms began to appear in reference to the whole Low Countries beginning in the 1550s, particularly in scholarly circles, and which both writers in the north and the south were using to describe their “Netherlandishness”. Some historians have argued that the shift from the plural les pays de pardeça to the singular, le pays de pardeça, or use of Nederlands or la Belge indicate a nascent nationalism. The Treaty of Augsburg  in 1548 had made the Low Countries its own entity within the Holy Roman Empire (The Burgundian Circle) and the Pragmatic Sanction the following year ensured that the same ruler would inherit the seventeen provinces. During the Revolt, those references moved from the antiquarian to the political, when both sides made reference to the Low Countries in terms of fighting for their country, the patrie or vaterland. I think the frequent appearance of Belgian and Belgium in Lille’s Joyous Entry raises some interesting questions—did the organizers mean to be subtly political? Or did van der Haer, Lille’s celebrated organizer of the event, see Belgium as a concept highlighting the learnedness of Lille’s educated citizenry and nothing more? One can’t say for sure, of course, but the context of their use appears to indicate that the lillois organizers wanted to see themselves as part of a larger polity within the Empire of the Habsburgs and were trying to figure out a way to do it. Many were uncertain what that belonging meant in 1600, with ten provinces in the south under Habsburg rule and the seven in the north still rebellious. Belgium united them, within the city and regionally, without forcing them to define what exactly that meant. And while these references were entirely positive in the Joyous Entry, they may also have served as a subtle warning that Lille was not alone and could act with other provinces, as they had in the recent past.

Cathleen and Kristen: The historiography in the sixteenth century experienced its own “spatial turn”, long before the more recent one in the last few years: chorography and cosmography found its way into early modern history writing. Could you expand a bit more on these ideas and their implementation?

Ellen: Yes, this idea of a sixteenth-century spatial turn was a really fun area to ‘think with’. While all kinds of historical writing was more common in the sixteenth century, the newfound interest among Europeans for places around the globe meant that chorography, or local description, became a popular way of pairing history with place. One of the most successful chorographies was Lodovico Guicciardini’s Description of All the Low Countries, which combined short descriptions of a number of cities and regions with maps and city views and includes their physical features, major monuments, events in history and celebrated figures. The focus of both the images and the written descriptions were on place, like a guidebook. Guicciardini and others described what happened in the past primarily through showing what could be seen—buildings, streets, oceans and fields. This emphasis on place created a particular kind of historical narrative. The peacefulness of chorographic descriptions contrasted with other kinds of history emerging during the period, like broadsheets that were published showing terrible events like the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. When reading chronicle accounts of Lille’s Joyous Entry, I noticed that several of the tableaux vivants were very similar to Guicciardini’s Description in both language and subject, and it made me think about how much Lille’s Joyous Entry reflected a chorographic sense of history. The sovereigns moved through the streets of the city and touched on the events of the past through seeing the institutions their ancestors had created. The place-based fashion it told local history allowed lillois and their visitors to avoid reminders of the recent turmoil that had torn apart the Low Countries.

Cathleen and Kristen: Finally, could you tell us a bit about what you are working on now? What can we look forward to reading from you next?

Ellen: Something completely different! I am finishing up one project but embarking on a study of urban bathhouses in the francophone world during the late medieval and early modern periods. From the mid fourteenth to the mid sixteenth centuries in the major cities of France and the Empire—Paris, Marseille, Avignon, Nîmes, Lyon, Besançon, Geneva, Tournai, Valenciennes, and Lille, to name a few—bathhouses welcomed all kinds, from locals and travelers to married couples, singletons, magistrates and members of religious orders. Histories of water and hygiene have noted the ubiquity of these places in urban France, and important studies have described the role of bathhouses in the history of prostitution, but little has been written on their social and economic history—who owned them, in what parts of cities, and with what labor and resources. It is a rich topic that can serve as a framework for understanding urban sites of sociability and gender distinction, medieval entertainment and pleasure, health and hygiene, material culture and the economy of individuals, families and institutions.

Cathleen and Kristen: This does sound interesting! We are looking forward to see what you discover in these urban bathhouses, and what it will tell us about late medieval/early modern urban culture. Thank you for doing this interview!




Interview with Charles Keenan

Charles Keenan is the Assistant Director of the Core Curriculum at Boston College. He is also author of the article The Limits of Diplomatic Ritual: The Polish Embassy of Giovanni Francesco Commendone (1572-1573) and Criticism of Papal Legates in Early Modern Europe in the special issue of the Royal Studies Journal on Taking Possession

Cathleen and Kristen: Thank you, Charles, for your interesting article in the Royal Studies Journal! In your article, you follow the papal legate, Cardinal Giovanni Francesco Commendone, to Poland-Lithuania during the interregna and elections of the 1570s. Such a mission of a legate was uncommon, especially since the use of papal nuncios spread across early modern Europe. Could you tell a bit more about the context of this mission, and why the apostolic nuncio in Poland was not enough?

Charles: Thanks for inviting me to appear on this blog! The original purpose of Commendone’s mission was to help organize a defensive league against the Ottoman Turks, which was a priority of Pope Pius V (r. 1566-1572) and his successor, Gregory XIII (r. 1572-1585). (As context, this was the same period as the famous naval battle of Lepanto.) Commendone was instructed to travel to the courts of the Holy Roman Empire and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to secure military support. This task could not have been entrusted to nuncios both because Commendone needed to speak to multiple rulers (nuncios were typically “in residence” at a single court and were only credentialed to function as a diplomatic representative there) and because of the delicate nature of negotiations regarding the league: this was a significant request that would entail substantial financial commitments, something that even the powerful Philip II of Spain balked at when asked.  Of course, following the death of King Sigismund II Augustus in 1572 Commendone was instead instructed to oversee the election of the next Polish king, and the issue of the league faded from view.

Giovanni Francesco Commendone

Cathleen and Kristen: So, his mission changed from gathering support to overseeing the election – and he failed, as you also stated in your article! How and why did Commendone fail?

Charles: I suggest there were two reasons for his failure. The first was related to the rituals surrounding diplomatic embassies, which were interrupted by the vicissitudes of the interregnum. As mentioned, the fact that Commendone was already in the middle of another embassy complicated the procedures for beginning a “new” mission to oversee the royal election, and, with no king in place, it was unclear who should receive him – the Polish diet, or only certain factions in the diet, or the one of several individuals claiming to be “leaders” of the commonwealth during the interregnum.  The second, less obvious issue was Commendone’s authority as a papal representative to intervene in secular political affairs. As I try to show in this essay, there was widespread disapproval of the legate’s role in the Polish election, which points to a larger critique of the papacy’s involvement in secular government.

Cathleen and Kristen: The close connection between a diplomat and whoever send him seems to be at the heart of Commendone’s failure. What can this failure of diplomatic ritual tell us about the bigger context of European politics, especially in a time of confessionalisation?

Charles: The rituals surrounding this particular diplomat – the legate a latere – derived their efficacy from the authority of the figure whom the legate represented, the pope. The failure of legatine rituals thus suggests a larger problem with papal authority in sixteenth-century Europe, which should come as no surprise. In many ways Commendone’s story points to a larger development, the secularization of European politics and the removal of the Roman papacy from international affairs, something that is evident during Commendone’s mission but which is unmistakable by the time of the Thirty Years’ War.

Cathleen and Kristen: Going from the subject of research to the researcher himself: How did you get started working papal diplomacy, and how does it differ from other kinds of early modern diplomacy? Was the pope still regarded as superior to all kingdoms, or was he just another ruler?

Charles: Well, if you asked one of the popes from this period, I’m sure they would maintain their superiority! It’s an interesting question. Some of the earliest resident ambassadors in Europe were stationed in Rome, and the pope was among the first rulers to send ambassadors abroad. But from the sixteenth century onward, the respect and honor paid to papal diplomats began to wane sharply. In many ways that is my argument in this paper: that there was a growing disjuncture between the papacy’s conception of itself and its authority and how other European states viewed the papacy. I became interested in papal diplomats after exploring the College of Cardinals in this period. Most of the literature on the Sacred College after the Reformation focus on cardinals’ roles in the growing papal bureaucracy (especially after Sixtus V reorganized the Roman curia in the 1580s), but a significant number of cardinals did not reside in Rome and instead served as papal diplomats across Europe.

Cathleen and Kristen: Finally, the events surrounding Commendone during the election of the new Polish king are described much like a game of Chinese whispers – what was the role of rumours, communication, representation, and so on?

Charles: Given the sheer distance involved, with diplomats active in courts stretching from Paris to Warsaw, it was inevitable that communication issues were an important factor in this story. Dispatches could be delayed or lost altogether, and competing diplomatic networks – papal, French, Polish, imperial, Spanish – picked up on different rumors and transmitted them to different locations at different speeds. One walks away with an appreciation for difficulties facing all the parties involved. Policy decisions were difficult to negotiate on their own, but the communication and implementation of those policies presented another set of challenges altogether.

Cathleen and Kristen: Charles, thank you for showing us how diplomatic failure can actually expand historical research! What are you working on now? Any interesting new projects we might soon be hearing more about?

Charles: I just finished preparing a translation of a sixteenth-century Jesuit devotional manual, Gaspar Loarte’s Exercise of the Christian Life, which is now available, and an overview to the historiography of Jesuit devotional literature should be appearing soon. Besides revising my book manuscript, which examines Catholic responses to edicts of toleration in the sixteenth century, I’m also drafting two articles at the moment: one that explores the difficulties Catholic diplomats faced in gathering information about Protestant Britain, and another that traces the career of Vincenzo Lauro, a contemporary of Commendone who was nuncio to Scotland, Savoy, and Poland before being created cardinal.

Cathleen and Kristen: Thank you so much for answering our questions, and good luck with your writing projects!



Interview with Cloe Cavero de Carondelet

Cloe Cavero de Carondelet will be joining the Institute of Art History at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich as a Research Associate in April 2017. She recently obtained her PhD in History and Civilisation at the European University Institute in Florence with a dissertation entitled “Art, Piety and Conflict in Early Modern Spain: The Religious and Artistic Patronage of Cardinal Bernardo de Sandoval between Toledo and Rome (1599-1618)”. She is the author of several essays on the suburban villas of Spanish cardinals, and her articles are set to appear in Archivo Español de Arte and the Boletín del Museo del Prado. Her recent article “Possessing Rome ‘in absentia’: The Titular Churches of the Spanish Monarchy in the Early Seventeenth Century” appears in issue five of the Royal Studies Journal, our first special issue on “Taking Possession.”

Kristen and Cathleen: Thank you, Cloe, for a wonderful and thought-provoking article. We learned a great deal about early modern Rome. To begin, for readers less familiar with your topic, could you explain what a titular church is? Were cardinals known as Cardinal [their name] or Cardinal [name of church]?

Cloe: Curiously, even the most informed visitors that marvel at the churches of the city of Rome are often unaware that almost every one of these was – and still is – the titular church of a cardinal. In some way mirroring the pope’s association with San Pietro in Vaticano and the connection between a bishop and his cathedral, seventy churches located in the city of Rome and its surroundings were attached to the corresponding number of cardinals of the Sacred College. Although the foundations of the cardinals’ association with the Roman churches are multiple and not yet completely clear, we can say that one of its main objectives was to establish a spatial and material link between the cardinals and the papal city. It was a mutually advantageous situation. The cardinal obtained a residence and a ceremonial space in the papal court, and the church received a source of patronage, which included the always needed architectural renovations and artistic refurbishments.

Most interestingly, as you have well pointed out, the temporary ownership of a Roman church also provided the cardinal with a new, symbolic identity. This was reflected in a fundamental element – the cardinal’s name. As it happened with Cardinal Carlo Borromeo – also called the Cardinal of Santa Prassede – it was a frequent practice, in which cardinals simultaneously employed their surname and the name of their titular church. However, as there was no fixed rule for the cardinals’ naming, sometimes they were also known by the name of their dioceses. In the case of Cardinal Sandoval, the archival documents refer to him as “Cardinale di Toledo” as a general rule, occasionally as “Cardinale di Sandoval”, and almost never as “Cardinale di Sant’Anastasia”.


Sant’Anastasia al Palatino. Photo courtesy of Cloe Cavera de Carondelet

Kristen and Cathleen: At one point your article mentions a lack of available titular churches. Were there usually more cardinals than churches? Would some cardinals never be assigned a titular church?

Cloe: The number of titular churches and indeed cardinals was not fixed until 1586, when Sixtus V made an effort to control the increasing number of cardinals, by imposing a limit of seventy cardinals within the Sacred College. Consequently, this decision was simultaneous with the adjustment of an equivalent of number of titular churches. In fact, San Pietro in Montorio was only established as a cardinalatial title after this decision. However, despite this numeric concordance between cardinals and churches, the churches were not automatically granted to the new cardinals. There was one necessary condition for the allocation of a titular church: attending the ritual of closing-and-opening-of-the-mouth with the pope in Rome or, as I have shown in my article for RSJ, ensuring that the ceremony took place by proxy. Nonetheless, the delay in the allocation of Cardinal Sandoval’s titular church suggests that other additional symbolic elements came into play, besides mere availability. Although there were available churches when Sandoval achieved the red hat, none of them corresponded with the churches traditionally granted to the Primates of the Spanish Monarchy. In my opinion, this was the main reason why it took almost two years to endow Cardinal Sandoval with Sant’Anastasia, a church of no particular importance or previous connection with the Spanish Monarchy.

Kristen and Cathleen: How were cardinals chosen during this era?

Cloe: From a ritualistic point of view, the creation of cardinals took place throughout three consistories. After listening to the suggestions and opinions of the College of Cardinals on the most adequate candidates, the pope decided who should receive the cardinal’s hat. From a political point of view, however, the situation was far more complex and negotiated. The unique system of government of the Holy See determined a curious situation. While the creation of cardinals was one of the most important prerogatives of the pope, the pope was elected from the College of Cardinals by the cardinals themselves. Thus, it is not surprising that the pope, the Italian families and the sovereign rulers of Catholic Europe all invested considerable efforts in influencing the appointments of these prospective papal electors. As one can imagine, this significant power was rarely given to individuals devoid of means or of humble origins. In fact, only in the years immediately following the Council of Trent can we find several cardinals chosen for their piety and devoted spirit. Furthermore, the creation of crown cardinals entailed a previous level of negotiation. As I mention in my article for RSJ, the Spanish king was the one who suggested the Spanish candidates who were to be considered for the cardinal’s hat. Being shortlisted for the purple was therefore also the result of complex negotiations within the royal court.

Kristen and Cathleen: Your article mentions that the cardinal creations of 1596 and 1599 negatively affected the Spanish monarchy. How so?

Cloe: Even if this affirmation may seem a bit excessive, I believe that it is safe to say that cardinal appointments were an important barometer of the political situation in early modern Europe. They indicated which of the main Catholic monarchies – the French or the Spanish – enjoyed the favour of a given pope in a given moment. From 1595, it is possible to see how the Holy See gradually moves away from its alliance with the Spanish monarchy and aligns with the French monarchy instead. The 1596 and 1599 consistories did not benefit the interests of the Spanish monarchy, either in the creation of cardinals aligned with their faction or with that of crown cardinals. The bitter complaints and numerous criticisms recorded in the correspondence maintained between the Spanish ambassadors in Rome and the court of Madrid in these years evinces the significant importance that cardinal creations had for diplomatic relationships between Spain and Rome.

Kristen and Cathleen: It seems having cardinals from your kingdom was an important part of diplomacy. How did the Spanish monarchy compare with its rivals?

Cloe: Known as the teatro del mondo, early modern Rome was a sort of international setting where the rulers of Catholic Europe negotiated their power. Every ruler could have formal or informal agents in Rome, but only a few of them had resident ambassadors, and an even greater minority had cardinals from their own kingdom at the papal court. Between the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, almost 75% of the Sacred College of Cardinals consisted of Italians. The rest was divided between French and Spanish cardinals, who had a steady 10% each, and by Germans, Austrian, Poles and other European territories. Therefore, both the French and Spanish monarchy enjoyed a valuable diplomatic privilege, which provided them with additional diplomatic agents and with valuable ceremonial spaces.

When in Rome, the French and Spanish cardinals acted as a sort of ambassadors; we may want to call them “ecclesiastical diplomats”. Similarly to resident ambassadors, they lived in lavish palaces and played a relevant symbolic role in the ceremonies and rituals of the monarchy that took place in the city of Rome. This was especially the case with the crown cardinals, who held the status of cardinal-protectors of a kingdom. Although there is still much to be done on this issue, I am certain that cardinals from the French and Spanish monarchies went through conflicts similar to those of their ambassadors. It is very likely that the cardinals argued about matters of precedence and status during papal ceremonies and informal encounters, apparently banal arguments that were instead regarded as important diplomatic tensions.


A Cardinal’s Procession by Ottavio Leoni (1578-1630). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City,

Kristen and Cathleen: What are your current projects?

Cloe: Having recently obtained my PhD, I am at the moment focusing on two main projects. The first one, as you might anticipate, is the turning of my doctoral dissertation into a book. I will be working on the manuscript in the coming months, and hope to have it completed as soon as possible. My second project, which I will be carrying out at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, is the examination of the visual normativity of childhood sanctity in early modern Europe. I will scrutinise images of child saints to consider how the emotional qualities of infancy shaped the construction of these saints’ visual representation and the reception of their cult during the Catholic Reformation. This new research project stems from one of the outcomes of my dissertation, that is, the fundamental role that art patronage had for the conformation, shaping and forging of sacred history in early modern Spain. In connection with some of the issues discussed in my article for RSJ, an essential part of the project will be to analyse how the lay and ecclesiastical authorities negotiated the contested dimension of childhood sanctity between Spain and Rome, paying special attention to the ceremonies of canonisation and other rituals.

Kristen and Cathleen: Thank you so much for answering our questions. We look forward to reading your work in the future!


Interview with John Hunt

John Hunt is an assistant professor of History at Utah Valley University and currently a fellow at Harvard’s Villa I Tatti Center in Florence. He is the author of The Vacant See in Early Modern Rome: A Social History of the Papal Interregnum (Leiden: 2016), as well as several articles on  various aspects of Roman society in the early modern era that include gambling on papal elections, rumor and the dissemination of news, and male violence. His article, “Carriages, Violence, and Masculinity in Early Modern Rome,” won the I Tatti Prize for Essay by a Junior Scholar of 2014. His current project is about gaming, sociability, and street life in early modern Italy.

 Kristen and Cathleen: Thank you, John, for a fascinating article! We had no idea carriages had such an exciting history! To get started, could you give us a sense of what these carriages looked like? Are we talking stagecoaches or maybe Disney princess?

John: Definitely more extravagant Cinderella than plain stagecoach. Just like Julian Munby’s depiction of the state carriages of Elizabeth I of England, the carriages of the elites in Baroque Rome were “Wardrobes on Wheels,” in that they had to be ostentatious in their use of rich ornamentation, so necessary on the conveyance of magnificence and power in the “Teatro del Mondo.” Few carriages from the seventeenth century survive intact (the Museu Nacional dos Coches in Lisbon has a carriage used by Philip III of Spain). Therefore, historians must rely on contemporary prints of festivities as well as written accounts for descriptions of carriages from the period. Most carriages of the elite were lower to the ground and less tall than stagecoaches. Moreover, they were gilded with gold and silver, used velvet and brocade for the curtains, and accoutered the horses’ manes and tails with silk ribbons. The coachmen as well as the pages and grooms that accompanied the carriage were dressed in the ambassador’s or nobleman’s livery. All these elements together could run the cost of tens of thousands of scudi (gold coins) for one carriage, not including the pay of servants, the horses and their upkeep, and the construction of places to park carriages. Finally, by the seventeenth century, keep in mind most ambassadors, cardinals, and noblemen kept at least three or four carriages (although a few of these would be less ornate vehicles used for travel in the countryside).


Coach from the Palazzo Braschi, late 1700s (photo by John Hunt)

Kristen and Cathleen: How did the carriage become so popular and move away from its initial status as transportation for women?

John: Noblewomen, ladies, and even courtesans (although papal decrees forbade the latter from doing so) never stopped riding in carriages throughout the early modern era. The great transformation occurred when men, both noblemen and ecclesiastics, began using carriages in the late sixteenth century. It took a while for two reasons. First, most noblemen and gentlemen preferred to ride horses as a way of displaying martial prowess and masculinity. Second, even mild popes such as Pius IV and Gregory XIII inveighed against their use by men, especially cardinals. Only with the reign of Sixtus V did popes give up their moral war against the luxurious carriage. By this time, members of the Roman elite recognized that the carriage was an ideal status symbol, much akin to owning an urban palace and a country villa. Some might also point out this happily coincided with the papacy’s “taming” of the rambunctious Roman Barony, but as my article shows the carriages themselves often provoked a great deal of violence over precedence and etiquette (often tied to political issues). By the early years of the seventeenth century, resident ambassadors and cardinals at the papal court found it necessary not only to ride in carriages during quotidian outings but also to incorporate them into courtly ritual. As I argue in the article, the carriage has become a mobile extension of the casa (both in the sense of the family and of its physical habitation in the city) and, for ambassadors, the state.

Kristen and Cathleen: How did you get started working on carriages and diplomacy?

John: My research broadly focuses on street life in early modern Rome and Italy. This includes how early modern people navigated the city and how they used urban spaces for a variety of social and cultural activities. In the course of doing research on my book, The Vacant See in Early Modern Rome, I became interested in how foreign powers, particularly the kingdoms of France and Spain, made their presence felt in the streets of Rome, beyond the court and the conclave, where scholars generally located diplomatic influence. In following the line of research I discovered how important the carriage was to ambassadors resident in Rome, particularly in the seventeenth century. By then many of the arguments, brawls, and street battles over precedence involved the ambassadorial carriages and their entourages.

Kristen and Cathleen: Your article talks about ambassadors using their carriages to battle for precedence in the streets of Rome. What sorts of sources do you use to trace these events and their results?

 John: Even though I have used a lot of judicial trials and criminal records in other research projects, I found that these sources really did not exist for elites and their carriages. Elites were typically above the law. In most cases, coachmen and the pages serving in ambassadorial cortèges are the types of people that can be found in these kinds of records. Therefore I rely mostly on private handwritten newsletters (the avvisi), printed accounts of ambassadorial entries, and private diaries. The diary of the beleaguered Governor of Rome, Giovanni Battista Spada, has proven exceptionally useful. Spada, as the chief magistrate of Rome’s criminal tribunal from 1635 to 1643, kept a running account of all the trouble caused by ambassadors and their carriages.

Kristen and Cathleen: Your article mentions closing the carriage curtains as a deliberate act. How did the opening or closing of carriage curtains play into these battles for precedence?

John: Seventeenth-century courtesy books addressed the arrival of the carriage on the ritual landscape of Rome, a city that had developed a system of ceremonial precedence for elites, especially for the ambassadors and agents of the Catholic powers of Europe and Italy. Etiquette required the ambassadors further down the political and ritual pecking order to give precedence to those of a higher rank upon meeting them in streets. This meant stopping the carriage before the ambassador of greater political worth, opening the curtain, and greeting him as he passed. Failure to perform this ritual correctly was seen as an intentional affront, and indeed, many ambassador sought to dishonor their political rivals by not opening the curtain upon meeting another ambassador. As I mentioned in the article for RSJ, the most famous incident of this occurred between the Taddeo Barberini, the lay nephew of Urban VIII, and the Venetian ambassador, who refused to recognize the elevation of Barberini to Prefect of Rome.

Kristen and Cathleen: Is there any evidence about how the less elite citizens of Rome regarded this jockeying for power via carriage? Was it ever a spectator sport to watch ambassadors square off in their carriages or were encounters not quite so deliberate?

John: Less elite members were probably awed by the spectacle of sumptuous carriages and the large entourages that accompanied them. At the same time they cast a wary eye towards carriages since commoners who failed to get out of the way of moving carriages often suffered serious injury and even death. Moreover, pages armed with clubs preceded the carriages of ambassadors, cardinals, and nobles to clear the path for their masters.

The carriages themselves, rather than the brawls and disputes, more likely caught the attention of the city, both among its elite and non-elite inhabitants. The owners of carriages intentionally rode out in the streets (andare a spasso), specifically to be seen by a citywide audience in order to show off their refined taste and magnificence. Certain areas were considered the best places to perform the “theater” of the carriage, namely Piazza Navona and the via del Corso, the wide street that ran from Piazza del Popolo to Piazza Venezia. Ritual occasions, such as Carnival and the papal possesso, were also times to show off in a carriage. So although elite Romans intentionally performed in their carriages, and part of this performance included deliberate assaults on the honor of rivals, the resulting street battles were something the populace at large sought to stay clear of, best to watch from the safety of their homes.


Print of Rome by Lievin Cruyl from 1692 (image courtesy of John Hunt)

Kristen and Cathleen: Finally, any particularly juicy carriage stories that you weren’t able to fit into your article but want to share?

 John: I can think of a few but one of the most salacious events involving carriages in Rome took place on the first night of Carnival in 1637. On Saturday, February 14, papal constables stopped a rented carriage on the wide via del Corso that contained the courtesan, Checca Buffone, and a servant of the ambassador of the Holy Roman Empire. Both were masked, along with several other unnamed men in the carriage. Papal decrees forbade courtesans and prostitutes from riding in carriages throughout the city. These decrees were difficult to enforce; however, during Carnival season and other festive moments in the year papal police made concerted efforts to repress the activity. It is clear that the bargello wanted to make an example of Checca; she was jailed as punishment for her transgression. Fearing the dishonor that would result from such a public action, the Imperial ambassador and the Cardinal Protector of Germany (Maurice of Savoy) issued petitions to the Governor of Rome, Giovanni Battista Spada, to save Checca. In reality the ambassador and the Cardinal of Savoy were more interested in preserving the reputation of the Holy Roman Empire in Rome. This can be seen by the Governor’s response, which also reveals how carriages had become an extension of diplomatic reputation. Spada told the ambassador and his allies that Checca’s punishment would continue as scheduled “since the woman did not go under the ambassador’s name, nor was she in his carriage.” Yet, the matter did not stop there. Several days later, on Giovedi Grasso (Fat Thursday) armed pages and grooms of the Savoyard cardinal attacked the carriage of Sebastiano Antinori, a gentleman in the service of the cardinal-nephew Antonio Barberni, as he made his way to watch the famous horse races that took place on the Corso. Savoy evidently blamed the Francophile Barberini for the action against Checca and the subsequent tarnishing of the Empire’s reputation.

Kristen and Cathleen: Thank you so much for answering our questions. We look forward to reading your work in the future!


Interview with Jennifer Mara DeSilva

Jennifer Mara DeSilva is an Associate Professor of History at Ball State University (Indiana, USA). Her research focuses on Renaissance Italy and the Papal Court, especially cultural, political, and social history of the Renaissance and Reformation movements. Her current research focuses on how individuals and groups at the Papal Court established identities through office-holding, rituals, and relationships with groups and sites. She has also just edited the first thematic issue of the Royal Studies Journal on the topic of “taking possession”.


Kristen and Cathleen: Hi Jennifer, thanks for doing this interview for our readers at the Royal Studies Journal Blog! Could you maybe first tell us a bit how this special issue of the Royal Studies Journal came to be, and what the idea behind the topic of “taking possession” is? Who takes possession of what?

Jennifer: Hi Kristen and Cathleen, it is a pleasure to speak about this exciting new issue of the Royal Studies Journal. This issue began life as a series of panels that I organized at the 2015 Sixteenth Century Studies Conference in Vancouver, Canada. The CFP invited scholars who work broadly on entry rituals and ceremonies of possession across the early modern world. I am a firm believer in the importance of conferences to bring scholars together who work on similar themes. Successful interactions create new communities that sometimes result in printed studies. A subset of the papers presented offered a conversation about the diversity of possession rituals in projecting messages about royal authority and identity, so I proposed a special issue on the topic to the RSJ editor-in-chief. One of the advantages of collections that emerge from conferences is that the contributors have already done the core research work, so working up an article-length study does not take too long. Conversations with other panelists and the audience help to expand their conception of the topic and its context. Also, big conferences like SCSC draw scholars from all career levels, which incorporates early career scholars into the conversation and helps to publicize their work. Keeping our field dynamic depends upon bringing new people and new ideas to the table.

The concept of “taking possession” has been around for a long time, but has mostly been explored in rather traditional forms: royal progresses by new monarchs, processions that affirmed the pope’s episcopal role, and New World territorial conquests. While these are the best-known examples of individuals and groups “taking possession” of communities, these studies only scratch the surface of the concept. The act of “taking possession” is a mechanism for asserting authority, reputation, and relationships. This has been done for centuries in a wide variety of settings and by far more people than princes, popes, and pioneers. RSJ Volume 3 Issue 2 is an opportunity to consider how early moderns applied the idea of “taking possession” to their own situations and means in order to project messages about their position in the local and global hierarchy and the privileges and responsibilities that their positions entailed. What we found was that the stratum immediately below monarchs was quite active on behalf of their royal masters. Ambassadors, cardinals, legates, agents, and even city fathers used entry ceremonies to negotiate reputations for themselves and the monarchs that they represented or greeted. Examining these events allowed us to consider how a monarch and state’s reputation for strength was constantly reinforced across a wide variety of sites, from the national cardinal’s titular church in Rome to congested city streets. The spaces that were possessed – communities, churches, squares, and intersections – are better understood as sites and opportunities for expressing strength based on relationships and resources. True possession was rarely had, but monarchs and their proxies avidly sought the local reputation and influence that resulted from these events.

Jean Bourdichon: Le Voyage de Gênes: entrée de Louis XII à Gênes

Kristen and Cathleen: So, taking possession of a space was far more ceremonial, symbolic, and a representation of authority. But inhowfar are such ritual entries representations of already existing power relationships, and how do they contribute to a change in this relationship?

Jennifer: Up to a point these events reflect and display the extent of existing hierarchies. A minor state is not going to rise above a major state simply because it puts on an impressive show. However, these events are opportunities to publicly display relationships within those hierarchies, which involves a larger group in the reputation-making process and lays plain the composition, growth, and rivalry of factions. Accounts of ritual entries allow historians to see how witnesses quantified reputation and reacted to displays produced by monarchs and their proxies. These accounts offer a glimpse into the deeper effects of “mere ritual” and sometimes provide commentary on developments in political relationships, as John Hunt’s article shows.

Kristen and Cathleen: You brought together authors concerned with entries in early modern Lille, Rome, and the Papal states. Are there any similarities across early modern Europe considering the actors of such entries, the ritual forms, or the expectations from local and distant audiences?

Jennifer: There are certainly broad similarities across ritual entries. Ellen Wurtzel’s study of the new monarchs, Archduke Albert and Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia, in Lille and Cloe Cavero Carondelet’s study of a proxy agent in Rome, standing in for King Philip III of Spain’s newest cardinal, reveal this clearly. Specifically, these articles show similarities in how the ritual expected participants to travel through spaces, greet specific people, perform acts, and thus have their identities, positions, and responsibilities affirmed by the ritual and the witnessing crowd. Nonetheless, this concept of “taking possession” through ritual action was applied in diverse ways and spaces. The frequent publication of accounts of entries through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries shows an interest in documenting and disseminating both ideal rituals and innovative developments across Europe. However, we must not forget that the tone, experience, and political results of these events could vary widely and depended on the individual context and the specific relations between organizers, “possessors”, and observers.

Kristen and Cathleen: You said already a bit about the entries from the point of view of the possessor respectively how these entries were supposed to be viewed by the possessed. However, if we turn the perspective around, were such possessions also a sign of the need for the subjects to accept the authority; i.e. a symbol of power from the ruled over the ruler?

Jennifer: Yes, in many cases. The rituals established a relationship between the ritual actor/monarch/authority and the community. The well-known progresses that French kings made were similar in purpose to the pope’s possesso ritual that involved traveling with the entire Papal Court from the Vatican Palace across the city to his episcopal see of St. John Lateran. In both cases the rulers followed traditional itineraries through their cities in order to meet with distinct groups and ratify their privileges and relationships with the central authority. As with other aspects of social life in communities with low literacy rates, public memory played an important role in these events. The observing community was called on to affirm the historical roots of the ritual forms, the legitimacy of the actors involved, and the legality of the adopted roles. While it was possible to avoid witnessing these entries as a statement against the proposed authority, this was not always a profitable avenue of negotiation. In many cases the situation was more delicate. As Charles Keenan’s article shows, observers might accept the individual’s right to office, but have a conflict with his or her intended policy and future actions.

Kristen and Cathleen: There is a huge emphasis on the rituals and spaces of these entries, which raises the question of sources – what kind of sources have survived to bring these entries to life? Is Geertz’s thick description possible from a 400-500 years distance? Or, in different words: how can we today understand the (symbolic) language of rituals?

Jennifer: There are a wonderful array of sources that have survived that help us understand the mechanism of and reaction to rituals of possession. These include published and personal accounts, images of events and apparati – see the British Library’s online collection of Renaissance Festival Books –, records of planning, construction, and payments, as well as the spaces themselves in some cases. While not all records survive for each event, enough do in cities, galleries, libraries and archives worldwide to reveal how there were global norms and patterns of action and interest on the part of both actors and observers. Geertz’s method of thick description is possible, but hinges on immersion in the sources, acknowledging the reality of festive labor, and using context to its maximal effect. The language of rituals, symbolic as it may be, has maintained certain core ideas over the centuries.

Kristen and Cathleen: Finally, could you please tell us a bit about how these early modern rituals of taking possession are still influential today, e.g. todays importance of the keys of the city, or the Lord Mayor’s Show in London?

Jennifer: Modern communities continue to hold entry rituals to greet leaders and celebrities, and politicians seeking election participate in progresses across their electoral districts. They depend upon public observers to show support, negotiate relationships, and thus build their reputations. Our ability to record and manipulate these events has grown with the development of the modern media and especially with the proliferation of individualized digital platforms. Today we are more likely to see rituals of possession as an integral part of celebrity or political culture, but the presence of an important or popular figure riding in a parade waving to crowds – be it members of a champion local soccer team, a newly crowned or elected head of state, or pop singers performing on a float – remains the same. We continue to participate in the process by which messages of reputation based on office or achievement are publicly ratified by traveling to and through landmark spaces under the public eye. These events are wide ranging, from traditional royal or ecclesiastical progresses to the Olympic flame relay and Santa Claus parades. Even in the twenty-first century, we seek out opportunities to interact locally with political, religious, and cultural leaders, and share our communities with them. Perhaps it is a common human need that makes us want to stake a claim to visitors, just as they want to “take possession” of us.

Kristen and Cathleen: Thank you very much for this interview, Jennifer! All of you who are now even more curious to read more about taking possession of a space, head over to the Royal Studies Journal, and enjoying reading the first thematic issue!

The very beginning of the Olympic Torch starting it’s entry into Rio de Janeiro in 2016

Interview with Theresa Earenfight

Theresa Earenfight is a professor of history at Seattle University. She is the author of The King’s Other Body: María of Castile and the Crown of Aragon (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009) and Queenship in Medieval Europe (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). She is currently working on Catherine of Aragon and a database of royal pregnancies in Europe.

Kristen and Cathleen: Hi Theresa, thanks for doing this interview for our readers at the Royal Studies Journal Blog! First of all, could you tell us a bit more about how you became interested in medieval and early modern queenship?

Theresa: I loved the history of queens since middle school, especially those rousing popular biographies that I devoured like a genteel bodice ripper, but with real people, not fictional heroines. In grad school, I worked with Joe O’Callaghan, whose work on Spanish kings got me interested in monarchy, specifically the fifteenth century Crown of Aragon because of its fascinating federative character. Well, Alfonso V (1416-58) spent most of his time after 1432 conquering and governing the kingdom of Naples, which left the peninsular realms kingless. At first I thought, oh, it must be ruled by his brother or a high-ranking prelate. Wrong on both counts. I was actually surprised to find out first, that Queen Maria (sister of the king of Castile) was in fact running the realm and second, that she faced no serious pushback from the nobles and clerics in Spain. None. Not a peep of the sort of hostile criticism that contemporary French queens faced. That really surprised me, and I’ve been trying to figure out the dynamics of monarchy ever since.

Kristen and Cathleen: Currently you are working on an article comparing medieval attitudes about three queens: Maria of Castile, Isabel of Castile, and Catherine of Aragon. Have you found any interesting commonalities about what writers said about these queens, some who had children and some who did not?

Theresa: The cross-generational commonalities are striking, and I think it is due largely to the political culture of Castile where they were all raised. They were all educated similarly and they all read, or were exposed to, many of the same writers. Some of this literature is misogynistic (there is a strong “querela de mujeres” strand) but much of what they read, or at least what their libraries contained, was strongly supportive of women in monarchy. I think this shaped Maria of Castile first, who simply stepped into the breach when Alfonso moved to Naples and stayed there. Isabel was stewed in this, but she was not supposed to reign, and only after the death of her brothers did she seize the throne and negotiated a deal with Fernando making him king-consort, not king-regnant in Castile. That is important, for both her own sovereignty and that of her daughter, Catherine and Catherine’s daughter, Mary Tudor. I’m not sure how children play into this directly, but that is something definitely worth studying. The idea of a childless queen was very much a concern for Maria of Castile, but as far as I know, there was little commentary on this in her lifetime. Alfonso was chided often for leaving his peninsular realms “like a widow,” which is a fascinating criticism. Isabel, of course, used her maternal status skillfully, as Liz Lehfeldt has very convincingly shown. Catherine of Aragon is the most famous of the three for her six pregnancies and only two live births, a son who died soon after birth and, of course, a daughter Mary. I’ve been reading lately some excellent new work on the literature of the period relative to women by Núria Silleras-Fernández and Emily Francomano, so this part of my work is still very much in progress.



Catherine of Aragon by Lucas Hornebolte

Kristen and Cathleen: You are currently writing a biography of Catherine of Aragon. How much of a role did her inability to have a son play in her divorce from Henry VIII?

Theresa: It was fundamental. Had their son, Henry, lived (he died a few months after his birth), I wager that their marriage would have survived. King Henry would probably still have had a number of affairs, but with a male heir, there would have been no reason for the divorce. So, I think that the English Reformation would have taken a rather different direction had the baby lived.

Kristen and Cathleen: Some medieval kings did not divorce their childless wives. Why was Henry VIII different?

Theresa: I think it’s both personal and bureaucratic. He was a spoiled man with advisors who gave him what he wanted. But it’s more than his corrosive personality. The Tudors had a serious legitimacy problem, starting with the Battle of Bosworth Field, and then getting worse with two pretenders (Perkin Warbeck and Lambert Simnel), so Henry had a strong impulse to prove that the Tudors were blessed by God. First Cardinal Wolsey and then Thomas Cromwell worked to give Henry what he wanted, although Wolsey ultimately paid dearly for his failure. But the Protestant Reformation’s anti-papal rhetoric provided a legal foundation for Henry to divorce and he happily took the bait.

 Kristen and Cathleen: In 2013, you presented some preliminary ideas on developing a database for royal genealogy, focusing on pregnancies and births – can you tell us a bit more about where this project is now?

Theresa: It is still in the development stage. I have been accumulating evidence for the database, but this is a much bigger project than I first envisioned and it needs an international team to do the research into genealogies, family histories, chronicles, and medical records (if they exist) to put all the facts together. My next step is to assemble that team of scholars to put our heads, and our sources, together to fill in the blanks. Eventually, the database will be open-source with an option for credentialed scholars to contribute.

 Kristen and Cathleen: With this project, you are working on the border of queenship studies and medical history – can you tell us a bit about the sources you use, and if there are any special difficulties?

Theresa: The sources are very tricky. Even for an early modern queen like Catherine of Aragon, at a court as well documented as the Tudors, the sources for the history of medicine are sketchy. We have knowledge of the court physicians, but very little is said or known of Catherine’s pregnancies, and until recently some pregnancies were considered dubious. This is due, in part, to a secrecy about her later pregnancies and miscarriages. But it is also due to the way that the physicians and midwives at court kept, or did not keep, records. For Maria of Castile, I know when she had her first menstrual period only because she wrote to her mother telling her about it. Maria’s health has been the subject of speculation, but very little real study by someone with expertise in the history of medicine. And there is a lot of ignorance and misogyny embedded in the hypotheses, most of which blame her for “infertility” when, in fact, she and Alfonso lived apart for most of their marriage. Yes, he had three illegitimate children, but what some scholars call her infertility may well have been simply the absence of sexual intercourse.

 Kristen and Cathleen: This summer, you raised also some interesting questions about periodization of queenship on your blog, – could you please elaborate a bit on this? In what ways does it actually play a role, if we define something as early modern or medieval?

Theresa: I am still struggling with this question, even more so now that I’m working on Catherine of Aragon who straddles the conventional periodization of medieval and early modern. There seem to be so many ways that queens face similar challenges and opportunities across time—they are defined by their fathers or husbands, they are expected to bear children, they get beat up for the same sort of sexual issues, they are second choices in the hierarchy. But after 1600, it seems something really does change and I think it’s a new political world after the rise of secretaries. But then again, I wonder if it’s not all that different from the earlier conversations queenship scholars had about the 11th and 12th centuries and the thesis on how women fared with the rise of bureaucratic kingship. I wonder if in the early modern period, region and religion matter more than time periods, if as the Reformation took shape, those monarchies in Protestant realms differed in important ways from those of Catholic ones. There are several ways this question could be investigated. One thing we know very little about is royal women in the Islamic world. There are some studies, but Muslim women need to be studied comparatively. And this makes me want to change the question a bit, to consider regional differences in a Braudelian way, as in the Mediterranean or the North Atlantic. Elena Woodacre’s recent collection of essays on queens in the Mediterranean does this well, but that was just the beginning.

Kristen and Cathleen: At the moment, much of queenship studies are concentrated on medieval and early modern Europe – do you have any insights what goes on beyond these borders, e.g. within Extra-European queenship studies, or in regards to modern queenship?

Theresa: I think we need to look beyond Europe, especially Asia after 1300, when Marco Polo and other traders opened Europe up to another set of influences, and the Americas after the Columbian voyages. Cultural points of contact may well have shaped the practice of monarchy in Europe, but until we do that work, all we can do is speculate. The differences between Asia, the Americas, and Europe complicate comparisons, but the more we know about how royal women around the world exercised authority and power, the sharper and more focused our comparisons can be.

Kristen and Cathleen: Thank you so much! We look forward to your future work.