Interview with Jennifer Mara DeSilva

Jennifer Mara DeSilva is an Associate Professor of History at Ball State University (Indiana, USA). She has written several articles about the papal Masters of Ceremonies and edited collections examining the reformist behaviour of early modern bishops and the coercive process of sacralizing of space in the premodern world. 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. Please see our previous interview with Jennifer at https://royalstudiesjournal.wordpress.com/2017/01/10/interview-with-jennifer-mara-desilva/.

Kristen, Cathleen, and Elena: Thank you so much for talking with us! So the canonical age for cardinals was 30, which many people probably find surprising in the premodern era – a lot of undergraduate students don’t necessarily think people in the past lived that long! Why was the age for appointment 30 and does that suggest anything about life expectancy?

Jennifer: Calculating life expectancy in the premodern world is problematic. The fact that so many people died as infants or children makes the mortality rate deceptive low. If a man lived past 20 years of age or a woman past successive childbeds, they were likely to live for many years more, barring falling victim to a disease epidemic. With that in mind, we should also remember that there were several canonical ages. The canonical age for becoming a cardinal or a bishop was thirty, which was reaffirmed by the Council of Trent (1545-63). However, the canonical age for other ecclesiastical offices – tonsured monk, deacon, priest – varied over time and according to the authority. Most likely this says more about the vision of man’s intellectual frailty and potential, than it does about how long people lived. Yet, even with these age thresholds articulated, we would be hard pressed to find a medieval or early modern depiction of a cardinal that was not modeled on a much older man. Indeed, many modern films use the same stereotype of bearded maturity, decades past thirty, when depicting the College of Cardinals. This suggests that canonical ages functioned as guidelines illustrating a hierarchy of offices and the need for experience-based wisdom in those office-holders.

The broad population that the premodern College of Cardinals embraced can be seen in two sixteenth-century portraits: An Unknown Young Cardinal by a follower of Titian (16th century), now at Petworth House, National Trust, UK and Titian’s Cardinal Pietro Bembo (Samuel H. Kress Collection, c.1540), at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., U.S.A. The unknown young cardinal is likely under the canonical age of thirty, while Pietro Bembo was about seventy when Titian painted his portrait, having been elevated to the College in 1539.

Kristen, Cathleen, and Elena: Your article talks about the life stage adolescentia (14-28 years old). Is this life stage at all similar to that of today’s teenager?

Jennifer: Yes and no. In the premodern era, depending on one’s economic status, this phase could include years spent as an apprentice and journeyman worker, as a novice, or at university. By the age of 28 most men were still only approaching the point at which they could afford to start their own household, enter a guild as a master, or hold a civic or ecclesiastical office of power. In that sense adolescentia was a stage of continued dependence or training. This might seem similar to the lengthening period that today many people spend in post-graduate studies or research before landing a first full-time and permanent job in their chosen field. Of course, in contrast to this period’s characterization as “in-training,” financially, intellectually, and emotionally, teenagers today (13-19 years old) face the same stereotypes that Bernardino of Siena and Girolamo Savonarola identified in early modern adolescents. Some things have barely changed.

Kristen, Cathleen, and Elena: How big was the College of Cardinals? One of the reform decrees the article quoted mentioned there shouldn’t be two men from the same mendicant order, which really seems to limit options!

Jennifer: Over the course of the fifteenth century the College of Cardinals grew. Although reform decrees limited the College to a maximum of twenty-six members, after the 1450s the population fluctuated between the high twenties and the low thirties. Through the 1500s the College continued to grow, reaching a maximal plateau of seventy members. In 1587 Pope Sixtus V reinforced this ceiling by decree and it continued until the late 1950s when Pope John XXIII and his successors allowed it to creep upwards. However, even by the late sixteenth century very little store was placed in the fifteenth-century limits, and the mendicant orders played a diminishing role in cardinals’ origins. Many men elevated to the cardinalate in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were secular canons who had held positions in the pope’s household or in the Curia.

Kristen, Cathleen, and Elena: Your article mentions that the pope is often criticized for these under-aged cardinals but these youngsters are appointed anyway. Who was criticizing the pope for this? Protestants? Or the secular rulers who benefitted?

Jennifer: Secular rulers rarely suggested that fewer cardinals be appointed. Through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries they were more concerned with balancing factions in the College of Cardinals between themselves. This was especially true of France and Spain. Nevertheless, criticism sprung from both Catholics and Protestants, as well as some members of the College of Cardinals. Tension existed between those who had been promoted before thirty years of age and those who sought the promotion of under-aged relatives, against outsiders who had either had no skin in the game (historians of deceased popes) or profited from highlighting continued Catholic abuses (Protestants).

Kristen, Cathleen, and Elena: How much resistance did popes offer to the appointment of under-aged cardinals? Did your research turn up any young cardinal candidates who were never appointed or were made to wait until after they turned 30 for papal appointment?

Jennifer: Each promotion occurred because of a distinct assortment of motives and pressures. In the same way that popes objected to adult candidates with unsuitable pasts, there is evidence of reluctance to elevate very young men to the College. In several instances adolescent or pre-adolescent nominees were required to wait several years before their promotion was publicized, during which time they were prohibited from assuming the office’s dress or title. In all cases, these nominees were members of ruling families that were important to the pope. While none of these men were forced to wait until they turned thirty, this practice suggests that there was a widespread acknowledgement that one could undermine the authority inherent in the office, if the nominee was too far from the canonical age.

Kristen, Cathleen, and Elena: Why have historians been so attached to the idea that these under-age cardinals were the relatives of sitting popes rather than elites from Catholic states?

Jennifer: Into the twentieth century the papacy stood as an emblem of difference separating Catholicism from other Christian denominations, but also as an emblem of human invention and corruption. While denominational prejudice has largely left the discipline of History, centuries-old criticism that emphasized the pope’s autocratic rule and ability to create cardinals merged with disapproval of the swift social mobility that election to the papacy brought. The result was that papal nephews, sons, and grandsons, many of whom were underage, attracted so much attention and criticism that effectively they obscured the other men who profited in a similar but less conspicuous fashion. The under-aged papal kin provoked a far greater response than under-aged nobles, who traditionally were expected to compete for titles and wealth in a way that was unseemly for the relatives of a cleric.

Kristen, Cathleen, and Elena: Thank you again for you time and participation! What is next for you?

Jennifer: You are very welcome, Kristen, Cathleen, and Elena! This year I am one of the inaugural fellows of Ball State University’s Digital Scholarship Lab, where I am using timeline, mapping, and networking software to explore how Bolognese patricians competed for place and power. My current project is a digital study of how patrician families in Bologna, Italy, used offices, both ecclesiastical and lay, to compensate for limited access to executive civic authority. These tools offer exciting new insights and comparative opportunities for studying the past.

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Interview with Glenn Richardson

Glenn Richardson is Professor of Early Modern History at St. Mary’s University, London. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and an Honorary Fellow of the Historical Association. He specializes in the history of Tudor England and its political and cultural relations with Renaissance Europe. He has published extensively on the topic and is currently working on a biography of Cardinal Wolsey. We caught up with him to discuss his article for the Royal Studies Journal, “The King, the Cardinal-Legate and the Field of Cloth of Gold” in the special issue on Renaissance Cardinals which he edited.

Elena, Cathleen, Kristen: Good day Prof. Richardson and thank you for taking some time to do this interview!

You have written a very interesting article on one of the most fascinating characters of Tudor England. Thomas Wolsey came from a common family, and advanced to the second-highest position in the kingdom by his clerical career. Was this still a common occurrence in the early modern period, or was Wolsey indeed a huge exception? Was the promotion of “new men” perhaps a characteristic of the Tudor era, given the political background of the War of the Roses, the new dynasty and the lack of trust for old families?

Glenn Richardson: The early years of Henry VIII up to the period with the break with Rome were still very much dominated by the clerical estate. Many of the king’s leading counsellors and opinion-formers were senior clerics, like Fox, Warham, and Ruthall who (unlike many of their French or Spanish or German counterparts) were from gentry or commoner backgrounds. It was into this clerical establishment that Wolsey himself was first drawn through the patronage of Fox. His background was therefore not perhaps as exceptional as might first be thought, but his meteoric and stratospheric rise certainly was. The first two Tudor kings did directly or indirectly, bring into royal service numbers of ‘new men’ with backgrounds in law and the emerging humanities rather than theology and church administration, based on their competence and capacity for work – and Wolsey was certainly one of those.


Banner of Cardinal Wolsey

Elena, Cathleen, Kristen: And Wolsey had indeed done the king many services but it seems that Henry’s desired annulment of his first marriage became the cardinal’s Achilles heel. He appears ambitious but also very calculating, a man who knew well what and whom he was dealing with. Would you say that it was basically an unfortunate accumulation of circumstances that brought him down or did he overreach himself in the eyes of Henry VIII?

Glenn Richardson: It is true that Wolsey had made his entire career by giving the king what he wanted. He was able to give Henry a high international profile by means other than warfare for a long time but that tied his fortunes very tightly to the uncertain world of European politics. Had the Sack of Rome by Charles V’s rebellious troops in April-May 1527 not happened, it is possible that Pope Clement VII might have granted Henry the annulment of his marriage that he sought, but dependent as he was on the protection of Charles for his own and Florentine family’s interests, Clement was not going to do anything to bite the hand that might yet feed him – whatever the theological arguments for annulment Henry mounted. Wolsey was quite conventional, if imaginative, in his thinking and made strenuous efforts to secure his aim through all kinds of channels and suggested ways forward but, yes, an accumulation of adverse circumstances prevented him from doing all he might have done to achieve his aim. The failure of the Blackfriars’ legatine court and the signing at the same time of the Peace of Ladies between Charles V and Francis I, left Henry without the annulment he had sought and isolated in Europe. It finally undermined his confidence in Wolsey.

Elena, Cathleen, Kristen: You argue convincingly that Wolsey’s loyalty lay with the king’s interests much more than with the church’s, but how were those loyalties perceived towards the end of his career and afterwards? Was he perhaps even accused of being a papal spy and was his deposition partly a statement to the pope?


Pope Leo X (right) with Cardinal Giulio de Medici (left)

 Glenn Richardson: Wolsey was never in favour of the king’s divorce, a fact which he asked Henry to acknowledge publicly at the Blackfriars’ trial. This was in answer to allegations that he had somehow sought to bring a divorce about. In 1529, Wolsey was caught between a king in whose interests he had largely run the Church in England (through his legatine powers), and the papacy that had granted him those powers but for whom he had in fact done comparatively little. He fell only because he could not, for once, give the king all that he wanted.  I don’t think there was any suggestion that Wolsey was acting as the pope’s ‘agent’ in preventing the legatine court arriving at a decision favourable to Henry (although his fellow legate Campeggio almost certainly was). Subsequently, as part of the posthumous vilification of him by the chronicler Edward Hall and others, Wolsey was portrayed as both a papal dogsbody, and a man with an overweening ambition for the papal crown himself. Neither allegation can really be substantiated.

 Elena, Cathleen, Kristen: How then, was Wolsey perceived in Vatican City and how were the events you described in your article received there?

Glenn Richardson: The events which led to the creation of the Treaty of Universal Peace in 1518 and the Field of Cloth of Gold two years later were well reported and understood in Rome. Leo X had papal legates in England and France and the German lands for the negotiation of what he had intended as a truce between Christian princes and which Wolsey converted into an international non-aggression pact apparently sponsored by Henry but organized entirely by himself. They reported back to Leo regularly. There were French, Imperial and Venetian ambassadors at the English court, and in Rome, who (for their own varied interests) kept the pope well informed about Wolsey’s status and reputation in England and he was perceived rightly, if regretfully, as the key to Henry himself. Wolsey was seen as ambitious for England, pompous and difficult to deal with but impossible to ignore – so a mix of threats and inducements of various kinds were offered. The key to Wolsey in turn, was his desire for permanent legatine status in England. This, Leo was reluctant to give because he had no confidence that such an appointment would make Wolsey work more for him than for his king. He was right to be cautious.


Close up from the Field of Cloth of Gold ©Kent Rawlinson

Elena, Cathleen, Kristen: So the pope was indeed suspicious of Wolsey. At the same time he could not openly act against the peace alliances because it would have made him look hypocritical. Did he perhaps try to undermine them in any other way?

Glenn Richardson: There was little trust between Leo X and Wolsey and the pope constantly sought to undermine Wolsey’s ‘universal peace’ of 1518, in which he had no more than a walk-on role, by trying to get Henry to ally with Charles V against Francis I of France. Even as Henry and Francis met at the Field, Leo was in effect promising to make Wolsey a legate for life (something Wolsey very much wanted) if he could bring about an anti-French alliance, in order to force Francis to relinquish his hold on Milan. In the end this did come about in 1521, but that was because by then Wolsey and Henry had finally recognized that for all the talk of Henry’s being the ‘arbiter’ of Christendom, war between Francis and Charles was all but inevitable and Henry had to be kept on the likely winning side. So Leo got what he wanted (without having to grant Wolsey lifetime legatine status) and was comprehended in the anti-French alliance in November 1521. Even then Wolsey made clear that it would be Henry who determined the timetable for action against France, not Leo.

 Elena, Cathleen and Kristen: Your analysis show that Wolsey was a very complex character. It must be difficult to do him justice on screen. Yet, Wolsey has been depicted quite a lot recently in historical dramas like “Tudors” and “Wolf Hall”. What do you think of these portrayals?

Glenn Richardson: Wolsey is such a difficult character to portray. All the contemporary, or near contemporary, descriptions we have of him emphasize his arrogance, his pomposity and bombast, his cleverness, and his ambitiousness and this has given the lead to actors for generations. Many sources also acknowledge, however, his personal charm and sense of humour (especially for Henry VIII), his eloquence, his capacity for imaginative diplomacy, his considerable administrative competence, a desire to see the kingdom of England well governed, and his enormous appetite for sheer hard work. No recent portrayal captures the balance of these aspects of his personality very well, and having Sam Neil’s Wolsey in The Tudors cut his own throat in despair was just stupid. In my opinion the one portrayal than comes closest to capturing the many varied aspects of Wolsey’s personality and his role as Henry’s chief advisor is Anthony Quale’s subtle and highly nuanced performance in the 1969 film Anne of the Thousand Days.

Elena, Cathleen and Kristen: Richard Burton did quite a nice job as well in this movie playing Henry VIII. You also compiled an issue on Cardinals for the Royal Studies Journal. Could you please tell us a bit more about the role of cardinals at courts, in government, and within royal society?

Glenn Richardson: I have long found Cardinals an interesting group of people and historical subject in themselves, particularly those of the Renaissance period and after. They, more than other senior clerics, embody the close connections between Church and State, belief and politics in the early-modern period. I suppose my interest in them derives from that in monarchy and royal courts. They were at once enigmatic and impressive creatures, the electors of the popes who were the spiritual monarchs of Christendom, sometimes for the better and very often for the worse. After all one had to be a cardinal to be a pope and the papal Curia was, arguably, Christian Europe’s earliest and most complex royal court. I find their roles at Rome and in their home kingdoms, principalities and republics as agents of the papal rule interesting insofar as they always had to face in two directions, towards the papacy as its chief advisors, agents and representatives, ‘the princes of the Church’, but also back towards their own families as the majority in this period were of noble blood (and not a few from royal lines). Royal authority and papal authority had ideally to work in tandem, at least until the Reformation, and yet frequently did not do so very well at all. No two cardinals resolved the inherent contradictions of their ‘Janus-like’ position in quite the same way. Those kinds of questions and considerations were very much at the heart of the 2015 conference on them as ‘diplomats and patrons’ in relation to monarchs, which prompted the current issue.

Elena, Cathleen, Kristen: Thank you very much for answering our questions and giving us a deeper insight into the subject! We are looking forward to reading your biography on Cardinal Wolsey. Apart from the book, what are your next projects?

Glenn Richardson: I have a number of things that I have been tinkering away at for some time to complete including an article on an oration delivered by the University of Paris to Mary Tudor, the sister of Henry VIII, when she married Louis XII of France in 1514. It is a very arcane speech but interesting on showing how a French academic can be nice about England (and to an English woman) when he needs to be! I have a study of leading courtiers of Francis I of France les gentilshommes de la chambre du roi, to complete, making comparisons with the courtiers of Henry VIII. I am working on an article about Sir William Fitzwilliam, one of Henry VIII’s leading courtiers and am also pursuing my research into masculinity and kingship in the early-modern period. The 500th anniversary of the Field of Cloth of Gold is coming up in 2020 and I am working with the Historic Royal Palaces agency in Britain and several TV production companies on exhibitions and possible collaborations to mark that event.

Elena, Cathleen, Kristen: These sound like some ambitious and interesting projects. We wish you good luck with your endeavors!


Cardinal Thomas Wolsey

 

RSJ Prize for Articles and Book Chapters (CCCU-Prize)

Interview with Zita Rohr

Dr Zita Rohr is a member of the Royal Studies Network who is well known to participants of the Kings & Queens conference series. Aside from her research into medieval and late medieval queens and gender politics, she also coordinates the CCCU Article Prize for Early Career Researchers. We caught up with her to discuss the art of writing a prize-worthy research article!

Cathleen, Elena, Kristen: Hi Zita, and thanks for taking some time during the Australian summer to do this interview! First of all, could you please tell us a bit about the CCCU Article Prize in general? What are the conditions, who can submit, and so on?

Zita: My absolute pleasure, I am always happy and keen to sing the praises of this great initiative. Launched in June 2015, the RSJ Early Career and Post-graduate student prize is awarded annually to a current early career researcher for the best published or unpublished scholarly article-length work (approx. 5,000-10,000 words), which should be based on original research on any topic that falls within the scope of royal studies. The RSJ and the prize sponsor, Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU), are committed to assisting, encouraging, and supporting the career development of early career and young researchers in a highly competitive professional research environment.

Entrants for the Prize must be current Early Career Researchers. Early Career Researchers (ECR) are researchers who are within 5 years of the start of their research careers when they submit their applications. The applicant must be working towards or have a PhD or equivalent research doctorate, awarded within the last 5 years.  At the time of application, applicants must not be in a tenured or permanent academic position.  Entrants may make only one submission to the Prize per calendar year.  Contributions will be accepted on a year-round basis, with a submission deadline of 1 March 2018. The judging panel looks for exceptional research, and the ability to communicate it, emerging from early career stage scholars.

Cathleen, Elena, Kristen: Speaking from our own experiences, all early career researchers, two of us non-native English speakers, it is quite challenging to write an article. One has to figure out the overall argument, connect the case study to method and theory, discuss literature, think about audience and style, struggle with unwritten rules of academic presentation, and so on. What advice could you give researchers on how to approach such a project?

Zita: From personal experience, I would observe that, in the process of pulling together doctoral research, many interesting possibilities for further consideration/emphasis emerge – which may, or may not, have to do with the task at hand. The article format (5,000-10,000) words is an excellent framework within which to explore such possibilities. We are all very pressed for time, particularly during the earliest stages of our academic careers, yet if one can find the time and the inspiration to explore a particularly tasty morsel of research – or a truly innovative finding, I think that a well-framed article, or scholarly book chapter is a great way to unpick ideas and communicate innovation. So, what advice might I give – advice that has been extended to me by my own generous scholarly mentors, collaborators and good friends? Here is a quick and dirty list which might be worth considering:

  • Have a clear question, idea, great finding to which you seek to respond/communicate.
  • Be able articulate your methodology and argument with clarity and concision. Be precise in your thinking, and in communicating your thoughts. Think Hemingway rather than Proust.
  • Edit sober. By this I guess Papa Hemingway meant that we should hone our prose, and be ruthless with our cuts – not merely to keep the word count down, but moreover to achieve beautiful, simple (but not simplistic) communication.
  • Do not assume that your reader is an expert in your field – but likewise do not go overboard in your efforts to backfill.
  • This is perhaps the hardest: show your writing to as many people as you can corner, who are willing and able to make objective comments and suggestions. Climb out of your silo – it is sometimes our harshest critics who will give us the most honest appraisal of our work. This hurts – I know from very personal experience – but once one gets over the hurt feelings and has a good hard look at both the work in question and the criticism of it, the work improves. I am still learning about my writing. The more of it one does, the better and stronger it becomes.

 

Cathleen, Elena, Kristen: Conventions are very different, already between the UK, US, and Australia (never mind, in other languages, disciplines, and traditions). How can prospective writers deal with this?

Zita: We accept articles and scholarly book chapters for consideration in languages other than English. I always seek out native, or near native speakers, for these who likewise are specialists in the field of the particular research under consideration for the prize. Each submission is allocated a minimum of two specialist external readers who comment upon and grade the submissions according to specific and uniform criteria. Regarding conventions, we do not expect contributors to alter the way they structure their submissions – consistency is the key.

Cathleen, Elena, Kristen: One of the most difficult questions is always the one which sources to use. It can become very complicated, also from a financial point of view, to always get access to the original sources or the original quote. How important is it for an ambitious young scholar to always be on track of the “original” or “best” source?

Zita: On this, I am pretty much in lock-step with our man Erasmus, “Sed in primis ad fontes ipsos properandum” (Above all, one must hasten to the sources themselves). I realize that this is not always possible, or even feasible – living down here in the antipodes, Australian scholars of the pre-modern and early modern European world have a particularly hard time of it. That said, with increasing digitization of primary material, things are getting much easier and it behoves scholars (ECR and established) to persist and dig down into them. Interlibrary loans and electronic databases are invaluable aids to current research undertaking – as are digitally-connected networks of scholars and academics. There is nothing worse than reading books and articles that seem to rely only upon ‘edited highlights’ drawn from the research of other scholars. But, all of this takes time, and lots of it. When I think of the amount of excavating and reading I was obliged to do to unearth the life and deeds of Yolande of Aragon from original and secondary sources, my head fairly spins. That said, I still think that the ad fontes approach is still the best and most reliable method for getting at the ‘truth’.

Cathleen, Elena, Kristen: There is a lot of sensational or pseudo-scientific literature around that is often frowned upon but sometimes offers an interesting point of thought or simply a chance to compare. Can you give us any advice on how to make the leap and use such sources without risking the quality of our scientific work?

Zita: My suggested strategy would be to engage with such source material, ideas, and points of view as and when appropriate, but I am quite leery of hybridizing or over-popularizing academic research. There are many other fora where this approach might be considered; magazine articles, blogs, chat rooms etcetera. I am a bit old-school, I like to keep the standards high in scholarly undertaking and writing. With so much information out there these days, it is very easy to muddy the waters with unsubstantiated thought-bubbling that is not sufficiently backed up with hard scholarly evidence.

Cathleen, Elena, Kristen: Could you tell us a bit more about the side of the judges for the CCCU Prize? What are the criteria, and what are the most critical points?

Zita: There is a jury made up of three judges, who make the final call on the award of the prize. In order to be able to do this disinterestedly, and for us to be equipped with the very best advice, each submission is allocated at least two external readers in a double-blind review process. The jury looks for rigorous, exceptional, original research, and convincing results expressed in clear and effective prose.

The external readers are asked to make comments that highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the submission under review, and to make a recommendation as to the submission’s worthiness for the consideration of the award. The external readers are also asked to score the submissions in three categories viz. Originality and Depth of Research; Analysis and Argument; and Presentation and Clarity. The data are then collated for careful consideration and comparison by the three-member jury who will come to a definitive collegial decision. Should the readers indicate that none of the submissions meet the criteria for exceptionality, and the jury agrees, or if insufficient submissions are received, then the prize will not be awarded. This was the case for the 2017 campaign.

In closing, I wish to reiterate that we should call upon our wider networks to publicize this important prize. The exceptional work of post-graduate and early career researchers needs support and encouragement, and we need their fresh insights and ideas if we are to continue our work in promoting the importance of royal studies and the nurturing of new talent in the field.

Cathleen, Elena, Kristen: Zita, Thank you very much for giving us (and prospective early career article writers) some insights into the CCCU Prize.

Zita: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to discuss this important initiative.

Are you interested in submitting your research for the RSJ – ECR Article/Book Chapter Prize, or the RSJ – Boook Prize, both sponsored by Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU)? Check out all information here, the guidelines, and the nomination forms for the Article and Book Prizes.
The next deadline for submission is March 1, 2018. Good luck!

 

 

Website Review: History of Royal Women

Bildschirmfoto 2017-11-18 um 09.35.50

The History of Royal Women Website is a community project run by a group of enthusiastic women from various countries and professional backgrounds. The website is well structured, lovingly designed and regularly updated.

Articles about royal women are sorted according to the kingdom they married into or, if they remained celibate, according to the kingdom they were born in. Most of the articles are biographic and offer a general overview of their subjects’ lives, but some discuss more specific topics. There is also a section called “special series” covering various topics or regions. A search button at the bottom of the page will lead a visitor to all articles concerning the royal woman he or she is looking for.

The section for “Places to visit” includes royal residences and burial places, travel guides and a helpful list of ongoing exhibitions worldwide focusing on royal women. There is also a strong focus on articles about television series and documentaries.

The home page features the more recent posts, the must reads and book reviews that cover everything from historical fiction to biographies to more scientific literature. There is also a Youtube channel attached to the website featuring mostly videos on sights and exhibitions.

Some of the articles posted are taken from various journals and newspapers covering a wide range of topics and time frames which shows the dedication of the website contributors.

Yet, the website could extend certain topics and establish perhaps a section for visual portrayals like Royal Women in art. Most of the articles display several paintings, mostly portraits but there is not much information on the artists and which museum or private collection they could be found in.

As stated above, much of the biographic information is rather general and can often be found on other websites as well. Many writers make references in their articles but often very few and some do not indicate their sources at all.

Those who are working on the topic, perhaps preparing a presentation, will find this website a good starting point for some overall information and useful links. Since the use of a limited number of sources often creates a one-sided picture, university students and scholars have to treat certain information with caution. Although the website is not primarily directed at scholars of history, it offers some interesting reading and perhaps a suggestion for an article. One might also find a shortcut to useful books, an exhibition nearby or a captivating documentary to watch.

It is an ambitious project with information on an impressive number of royal women and women close to royalty, for instance mistresses. The website’s strength lies in the variety of topics, in its visuality and in the commitment of the team. For the majority of the contributors, history is more a passion than their career and for anyone with the same passion in history, this website has much to offer, if not on a professional, then at least on a private level.

 

Kings & Queens VI in Madrid: Interview with Rocío Martínez López

Readers with a good memory might remember Rocío Martínez López from our earlier interview on her winning the first Essay Prize of the Royal Studies Journal. She is also one of the main organizers of the next Kings & Queens VI Conference at Madrid in September 2017, and will tell us a bit more about what we can expect from the first Kings& Queens Conference in Spain. Please make sure to include #KQ6 on social media, and follow the conference on the same hashtag if you cannot be there!

Cathleen & Kristen: Hi Rocío! Great to have you here again, Rocío, establishing somewhat of a continuity and hopefully showing our readers the people behind the Royal Studies Journal, the Royal Studies Network, and the conference series Kings & Queens. First, the conference is now “on tour” for the third year in a row (before going back home to Winchester next year, and then again going to Sicily). Could you tell us a bit more about how the conference came to Madrid, Spain?

Rocío: Thanks to you, Cathleen and Kristen. The work you do with the blog and other activities for the Royal Studies Network is truly remarkable. Well, regarding your question, I went to the Kings and Queens series’ congresses that were wonderfully organized in Winchester and Lisbon in the past few years, although, unfortunately, I couldn’t be in Clemson for its last edition. I found myself amazed by the concept of Royal Studies when I went to my first congress in Winchester as well as by the depth of the discussions, the variety of topics and the great expertise showed by the researchers that were present there. I thought that Spain and Spanish scholars have much to offer to this field, as there has been a great development of several lines of research linked to the Royal Studies in the last few years, but that their work were not very well known by the English-speaking experts I met in both congresses and that there should be a way to give their work more exposure in an English-speaking, international context. Likewise, I noticed that the Royal Studied Network wasn’t very well known in Spain, where a great deal of people interested in this kind of studies right now might be interested in joining. I really thought that the contact between the Royal Studies Network and its members, and the flourishing Spanish royal scholars would be enormously helpful for both parts, so to host one of the Kings & Queens congresses in Madrid would be a wonderful way to bring them all together. I talked to Ellie Woodacre about this possibility around three years ago and asked her if she had thought about the possibility of bringing the congress to Madrid sometime in the future, and she showed a great enthusiasm for the idea. At first, I just wanted to bring Kings & Queens to Madrid, and I didn’t think I could have been the chosen one to make this wish come true. I really thought they would choose someone with more experience. But Ellie, who has always showed great support for young career scholars, trusted us with this task and the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED), has been always wonderfully supportive with this whole project. So, three years and the support of a lot of wonderful people after, Kings & Queens 6 is just a couple of days away!

Cathleen & Kristen: The organisation of such a conference is always a difficult matter with a lot of coordination, planning, and stressing out over problems going on. Could you tell us a bit more about how you are doing it in Madrid this year, e.g. who else is in the organisation committee, or how you divided all the work?

Rocío: Of course. Organizing the congress of this size is always a challenge. At first, we didn’t expect to host so many people and were working with a number of attendants closer to the ones who went to Winchester and Portugal. But we ended up receiving about 170 paper proposals from all over the world! The real preparation began more than a year and half ago when the project was officially presented in the Department of Early Modern History of the UNED, and they gave us not only their blessing, but their whole support. The institutional support given to us from the UNED was outstanding and we are very grateful for it. The number of people who could collaborate with us was a little small and all had their own research and teaching responsibilities, so the organization was quite a challenge. Also, one of our principal concerns was money. A congress this size is an important investment and we needed to know we would be able to back up financially all our promises. We also wanted to try to get some additional funding to help young historians or early career experts without a fixed post to come to Madrid, as to come to this kind of meetings is also very challenging economically for young historians and a lot of great new researchers haven’t been able to travel to big congresses like this one for economic reasons. We wanted to do our best to help and thanks to the UNED and the work of my co-organizer, Antonio José Rodríguez Hernández, we could obtain a grant which gave us the funds to organize the congress. Through the aforementioned grant, the UNED allowed us to offer 42 grants for young historians from around the world, to be able to organize the congress without having to impose a registration fee and to subsidise the outings. Without the UNED’s support, that would have been impossible to achieve. Once the economic part was settled, the real work began. We drafted the Call for Papers and began to receive proposals almost immediately. They were evaluated by two different experts from our Committee linked to the specific discipline of each proposal. Also, we began to work to organize all kinds of things that were needed for the congress, from the organization of the outings to El Escorial and the Prado Museum to contingencies as the reservation of the rooms for the congress, to the preparation of materials and the crafting of materials (just the bio & abstracts document is several hundreds of pages long). At the same time, we have tried to attend questions and petitions of our attendees to the best of our ability. All of this while we also attended to our other obligations in the university which, especially in certain times of the year, are enormously demanding. As none of us were devoted only to the organization of the congress and everyone had their own obligations to deal with, everyone in the committee took responsibility of the things they could do at the time and we are grateful for the help of lots of people. Besides Antonio José and me, the help of Luis Ribot, José Antonio Vigara Zafra, Ellie Woodacre, Julio Arroyo Vozmediano, Cristina Agüero, Ana Echevarría, Diana Carrió, Jitske Jasperse, Maria de la Cruz Carlos Varona, José María Iñurritegui, Marcela Miranda, Sergio Gutiérrez, Anabel del Prado, José Luis Sancho, Almudena Pérez de Tudela, Antonio Rubio Sánchez and many, many more was invaluable. A lot of people showed us support in concrete matters in all this time and we are very grateful to them, too. I especially want to thank Patrimonio Nacional and Museo del Prado, who offered us all the help we requested to organize the outings. And I apologize if I forgot someone!


El Escorial (top) and Prado (bottom)

Cathleen & Kristen: That does sound like we can expect one of the biggest Kings & Queens Conference to date, and thank you for spending so much time on this, and making sure, we will feel welcome!

Another topic: Can you tell us a bit more about the state of research in Royal Studies in Spain? From the outside, it looks like a very central topic with lots of interesting stuff being done on medieval king- and queenship, and of course on the Habsburg studies. Also, how does being a modern monarchy reflect on this field?

Rocío: That is a very interesting question. As I appointed before, the royal studies are flourishing in Spain. I can safely say that the royal studies in Spain are trending right now. In different Spanish universities and research groups, we find great works focused on different aspects of royal studies. For example, in the Department of Early Modern History of the UNED we have some of the leading experts in the study of seventeenth century Europe, like Luis Ribot, Juan Antonio Sánchez Belén, José María Iñurritegui and Antonio José Rodríguez Hernández, who had made great advances in the knowledge and research of this period in the fields of political, military and diplomatic history. This last aspect, as well as others like the representation of power, royal propaganda and the relationship between nobility, royalty and art is also well represented in our Department of History of Art, with experts like the aforementioned José Antonio Vigara, Diana Carrió and young researcher Cristina Agüero. Some of these topics are also present in our Department of Medieval History, to which the member of our organization Ana Echeverría also belongs. In the University Rey Juan Carlos, there is currently a great and very interesting project focused on Royal Sites and its varied functions, composed by experts like José Eloy Hortal, Félix Labrador Arroyo, Koldo Trápaga and Gijs Verstegeen, who are going to present a panel in the congress and they are also going to present the latest developments of the project they are working on aided by the latest technological advances. Also, the Autonoma University is doing a great work in the field, with experts like Antonio Álvarez-Ossorio Alvariño, who is going to give the closing lecture, and the activities and projects linked to the Instituto Universitario “La Corte en Europa” (IULCE), whose new director, Manuel Rivero Rodríguez, is also going to be with us, as well as other members, like Javier Revilla Canora. In addition, we will have with us experts from the Centro Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) of Spain, like Rubén González Cuerva, who has recently published a book with Brill about court factions in Early Modern Europe’s court which is very promising. And, to connect with your last question, last but not in any way least we have the Complutense University, which is going to be very well represented by several of their leading researchers, like the vice rector David Alonso. From said university, we are going to be able to listen to some remarkable experts in Medieval, History of Art and Early Modern History, but we also count with a very interesting panel focused in Contemporary royal history leaded by Raquel Sánchez. Royal Contemporary History  (meaning their study from Isabel II and Alfonso XII’s reigns onwards) as such weren’t a big line of research in Spain until recent years and its study was relatively limited to royal biographies, law and constitutional history and works of political history that, in most cases, weren’t focused on topics related to royal history and this approach was just a little part of a bigger idea, like the works related to the evolution of the Spanish political and constitutional system from Franco’s dictatorship to democracy, for example. But this is slowly changing and we hope that his congress can be a way to show this change. Other Spanish institutions, like the University of Barcelona, of Zaragoza, of Valencia or of Valladolid, amongst others, are also well represented in this congress. To sum up, we have representative of many of the leading research institutions of Spain and we hope our initial intention, which was to give exposure in an international setting to the leading Spanish research institutions and their researchers and forge a successful relationship between said Spanish researchers and the people linked to the Royal Studies Network, will come true.

Cathleen & Kristen: So, in the conference next week: what can we expect? What is planned, and what should we absolutely not miss when visiting Madrid? Also, could you please tell us a bit how you planned panels and breaks, and what you hope this conference achieves?

Rocío: We have a lot of plans for the congress and we hope for the attendees to enjoy it. We hope to go further than the papers themselves, and for it to be a way for scholars of different parts of the world, who seldom have the opportunity to meet, to exchange points of view, information and projects and maybe for it to be the beginning of a lasting relationship between scholars of different institutions, countries and research interest. I would like to highlight three points that we have worked a lot to bring to reality: firstly, for all the attendees to enjoy the possibility of hear papers of great quality from some of the most important and most interesting researchers  of the whole world, and for it to become a meeting place for hearing of the most innovative trends followed by different countries and universities, interact with researchers of different backgrounds and interests and exchange ideas, information and even plans for future projects and publications. In the second place, we expect for it to be a way to showcase all the possibilities that Spain has to offer in the field of royal studies, both with the presence in the congress of members of the leading Spanish universities and with the presentation of projects, future publications and collaboration that could spark our attendees’ interests. And, in third place, we also intend for it to be a way for young or early career scholars to present their current work in an international setting. Both the Royal Studies Network and the UNED are institutions who are trying very hard to promote young talents and help gifted young scholars to begin and develop their research careers. We hope for this conference to be a way to help them to thrive in their fields of choosing and meet older, more experience scholar who could assist them in the future, at the same time they reward us with new, exciting views, theories and investigations. All of these will be achieved not only through the panels and sessions given, but also with the other activities we planned for the congress, with two exciting guided visits to the great Monastery of San Lorenzo El Real de El Escorial and the Prado Museum and other activities in the congress, like the presentation of the exciting project about royal sites lead by the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos which uses the latest advance of technology to recreate and study the Spanish Royal Sites, and a meeting with the Royal Studies Journal’s leading members that will talk to those who are interested about their international publication and how they can become members of their staff, amongst other activities. All of this and much more will take place in during the congress, under the umbrella and support of the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED).


Impressions of Madrid

Cathleen & Kristen: Thanks for doing this interview! Is there anything you’d like to add?

Rocío: Just that we really hope that all our attendees enjoy the congress and the activities related to it and that we hope it becomes a milestone in the field of royal history. Also, we hope it is the beginning of many projects, publications and collaborations in the future. And, also, to say that all the members of the organization have worked hard and without stop for months to bring this congress to reality, so I hope everybody enjoys it and can forgive any human error we can commit. We are doing our best and we hope we all have a great experience at Kings and Queens 6!

We hope to see you in Madrid – bring sunglasses, comfortable shoes, great ideas, and share with us your experiences under #KQ6!

Conference Report and Interview Realms of Royalty

Imke Polland and Christina Jordan have just organized the successful conference on Realms of Royalty (20/21 April 2017) in Gießen, Germany, which questioned the role of royalty and monarchy in today’s societies. Bringing Royal Studies to the modern day is also part of their on-going doctoral research on Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden and Diamond Jubilee as Staged Media Events: A Case Study in the Production of Collective Memories (Christina), and Plurimedial Representations of the British Royal Weddings 2005 and 2011 as Ritual Media Events (Imke). We caught up with them to learn more about the discussion of the conference (see conference report by Max Bergmann here), and their research on modern monarchy.

Cathleen and Kristen: Thank you for doing this interview! To start, could you please tell our readers a bit about the conference, and how it started?

Christina and Imke: Right from the outset of doing research on contemporary monarchies, we noticed a significant lack of scholarly attention to this topic, as most studies dealing with royalty pursue historical research interests. Monarchies post WWII are usually only treated marginally at conferences and there are very few publications dedicated to researching their contemporary representations and standing in society. We think that current monarchies pose special challenges to researchers, which differ from the demands that historical research on monarchies has to face. Their role as post-political institutions[1] and their adaptation to ever-changing media environments turns them into a dynamic and rich object of research, which requires interdisciplinary analytical perspectives. Monarchies offer many starting points for exploring aspects that are of crucial interest to scholarly fields as varied as cultural, media and literary studies as well as sociology, law, political and economic science. The conference’s aim was to further this interdisciplinary dialogue on contemporary monarchies by raising questions such as, how do monarchies adapt to change, reinvent themselves and navigate between past, present and future to ensure the continuity of the institution? What are the possibilities of contemporary monarchies facing the loss of (political) importance, power, space, relevance, and popularity? How are the relevance and the roles of these seemingly anachronistic institutions negotiated? Where does the perpetual interest in monarchies stem from? During the two days of the conference we discussed, among many other topics, the role of contemporary European monarchies in national and transnational contexts, the British monarchy’s post-war public relations strategies, royal representations in (fictional) media products (such as radio broadcasts, TV series, and films) and (re-)appropriations of monarchical symbols in popular cultural contexts such as wrestling, comics, or alternative music.

Cathleen and Kristen: The conference was not only focused on European monarchy but also colonialism, transnationalism, and the global entanglements of royalty, maybe discussed most prominently by Cindy McCreery. Could you tell us a bit more about this? Are modern monarchies by definition more of a global actor?

Christina and Imke: European monarchies have been global actors for a long time. The most prominent and obvious example might be the role of the British or Spanish Crown within their respective Empires. As Cindy McCreery showed at our conference, when discussing ways in which royalty matters to people overseas, monarchy and imperialism are intricately entwined. She argued for a research on monarchies that extends the gaze to the view on royalty from abroad.

With the end of Empires, the role of monarchies has, however, not been diminished. Processes of decolonisation resulted in an increasing mobility of members of the European royal families that still continues today. The royal tours are a striking example of how people and royals interact. These tours work as a stage on which not only the monarch can be displayed and paraded, but they also allow for local responses. A recent example is constituted by the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to Germany in July 2017, during which they intended to “reinforce the strong and wide-ranging ties between Britain and Germany”and thus acted as cultural ambassadors – especially in the face of the ongoing Brexit negotiations.

Because of the increasing relevance of social media as well as recent celebrations of royal events as global media events, contemporary monarchies are definitely increasingly globally engaged. The global popularity of, especially, the British monarchy goes hand in hand with their high degree of visibility and availability in global consumer culture (only think of various films, documentaries, TV series etc. produced about the British royal family in recent years). At the same time, however, one has to emphasize the ongoing importance of monarchies as national icons.


Impressions from Realms of Royalty

Cathleen and Kristen: One of the core themes of the conference (and both your theses) is the use of media by royal dynasties which is also one emphasis in medieval and early modern royal studies – do you see any changes compared to the use of media in pre-modern times, or more of a continuity?

Christina and Imke: We are convinced that monarchies undergo processes of change and self-fashioning while at the same emphasising and drawing on their own constancy. The use of media is essential for conveying these (self-)images. Traditional forms of media usage for the distribution of images, e.g. painted portraits or the likeness of the monarch on coins, persist and are complemented by new and digital media uses as monarchies and their public relations offices have to adapt to new media environments. Monarchies always exploit the media, which are both available and popular at the respective time. Although John Plunkett (2003) termed Queen Victoria the first “media monarch”, earlier monarchs can also be viewed as media monarchs. A prime example is Queen Elizabeth I whose portraits were both censored and widely circulated. When celebrity culture developed and the collection of memorabilia became popular in the 19th century, new forms of distributing royal images, e.g. the cartes de visite, emerged. These cartes opened up a whole new way of personal engagement with royal images, as they depicted less formal moments than former portraiture, thus inviting emotional reactions. These kinds of depictions were sold in large numbers and were collected and highly valued by their gatherers.

As Deirdre Gilfedder and Ed Owens mentioned in their conference presentations, in the 1930s and 1940s, radio was a popular medium to address the public, e.g. during war speeches and the inception of the famous Christmas broadcasts. In 1953, the coronation of Elizabeth II was the first royal media event broadcast on TV. The medial omnipresence of monarchies still seems to increase steadily. Nowadays, monarchies permeate people’s lives not only in the (yellow) press and on TV, but they also make use of social media channels and networks – on 24 October 2014, Elizabeth II sent her first Tweet. The British royal family embraces the possibilities offered by new media and actively participates in the digital world via various Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr accounts.

Cathleen and Kristen: Everything to do with royal families, esp. the British one, is today being commercialized. How important is this commercialisation, and does it work only (or foremost) on a national scale, or even in an international market?

Christina and Imke: Commercialisation plays a very important role for contemporary monarchy. When looking at the British monarchy in particular, one can say that the whole institution is ‘managed’ as a global brand that caters to consumer demands and has to be beneficially and strategically placed on the market to be successful. Recent studies (especially Balmer 2011, Otnes/Maclaran 2015) have analysed this brand management and the role that the British monarchy plays in global consumer culture. There has also been an increase in societal pressure for the monarchy to actively and significantly contribute to the British economy. In this sense, former political pressures have yielded to commercial (and media) interests.

Understanding the British monarchy in marketing terms, Pauline Maclaran has suggested, means conceptualising it as a brand complex, involving different brand components, which speak to and potentially enhance the consumer’s (emotional) bonds to the brand. She explained that these different components are the global brand, the human brand, the family brand, the heritage brand, and the luxury brand, which all cater for different consumer demands and, thus, make the royal family brand complex so successful.

The monarchy can be consumed in various ways: There are a great variety of popular cultural products like books, films and TV series. Royal media events and memorabilia produced on the occasion of these events offer forms of interaction and participation. The monarchy also makes available touristic experiences, e.g. by opening state apartments and palaces to visitors. Furthermore, granting royal warrants for products supplied to royal family members is a long-established practice of royal engagement in commercial activities. Several members of the royal family have also created consumer brands, such as Duchy Originals, the organic food brand selling local products established by the Prince of Wales, or companies protecting the personal brand and intellectual property rights of royal family members, like the ones William and Catherine created. The Royal Collection Trust, which manages the royal collections and the opening of the palaces as well as the production of merchandise, is one key company involved in making the monarchy available for consumption. In her lecture, Pauline Maclaran pointed out the interesting paradox of ‘accessible mystique’ which results from the PR efforts of the monarchy. The royal family has to provide previously unavailable levels of access in order to engage in these marketing activities, while at the same time retaining an upmarket appeal and sustaining narratives of the institution’s past and present mystique. Even though the prime market for the consumption of the royal family brand concentrates on the national context, it is important to consider global dimensions, for example concerning tourist experiences and souvenirs or royal media events and memorabilia.

Cathleen and Kristen: What were your impressions of the discussions on the conference? Which new directions in research were emphasized, and how do they fit into the wider field of contemporary history?

Christina and Imke: The conference presentations and discussions showed clearly that the changes monarchies have undergone in the past century and that they are still undergoing are mirrored in changing interests and perspectives of research on these monarchies. Two major aspects were emphasised recurrently in the course of the conference: Firstly, the impact that monarchies have on people’s everyday lives has changed from political decision making to an omnipresence of sovereigns and monarchical topics in popular cultural contexts, ranging from films and TV series to exhibitions of royal dresses and even wrestling. Consequently, these new “realms of royalty” deserve scholarly attention and promise valuable insights beyond historical perspectives. Secondly, the increasing importance of emotional connections between monarchy and the people was highlighted. Ed Owens discussed efforts to redefine the monarchy’s place in the nation and to endear the royals to their subjects by strategic media usage and the formation of a new royal public language throughout WWII. Very recent developments include the propagation of narratives on the side of the monarchy that suggest accessibility and middle-class values and thus serves to enable the people to emotionally connect to members of the institution, e.g. when Princes William and Harry openly discussed their psychological struggles dealing with the early death of their mother in a video available on various online platforms in April 2017.

The most productive aspect of the conference, we find, was the interdisciplinary exchange, which linked diachronic perspectives with synchronic, and national with transnational ones, thus providing new insights on European monarchies as the common object of research. In this way, the conference explored monarchies beyond historical perspectives and succeeded in its endeavour to discuss, evaluate and make sense of the cultural phenomena that contemporary monarchies confront us with. By looking at the present state of monarchies as a space of negotiation, we were able to map out and open up new perspectives and understandings of the domains of royal studies that focus on contemporary transnational interactions.

Cathleen and Kristen: Thank you for these insights into your conference! Now, finally, could you tell us a bit more about your own research, and how royal studies fit into this?

Christina and Imke: We are both doing research on media events of the British monarchy that took place in the new millennium – the latest royal weddings and Elizabeth II’s crown jubilees. Our research continues traditional strands in the study of (modern) monarchies, e.g. by focussing on ceremonial events following David Cannadine’s seminal work on the re-invention of the British monarchy. Central for our research are media-related aspects, such as the analysis of TV broadcasts of the events and the medial prelude and aftermath of the events in the press. We hope to add to existing research on monarchies and answer to a recent surge in royal studies by bringing in new theoretical perspectives, first and foremost from the fields of narratology, cultural memory studies and the study of media events, and by analysing recent developments that have barely been in the focus of scholarly attention so far.

Cathleen and Kristen: Thank you both so much, and good luck with your research!

[1] Cf. Higson, Andrew. (2016) “From political power to the power of image: contemporary ‘British’ cinema and the nation’s monarchs.” In: Merck, Mandy (ed.). The British monarchy on screen. Manchester University Press, 339-362, here: 360.

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.