Earlier this month (May 2014), the 49th Annual Medieval Congress was held in Kalamazoo, Michigan. This event draws thousands of scholars, students and interested members of the public to a four day fest of papers, roundtables, talks, society meetings/banquets and other related events. It was wonderful to see that there were a plethora of papers and panels related to royal studies-although I couldn’t get to them all, I hope to highlight a few here.
First off, there were the two Royal Studies Network sponsored panels: session 135 on monarchy and matrimony and session 209 on relations between monarchy and the church. We were fortunate to have a wonderful group of speakers in each panel and heard some excellent papers. The first of our panels, with a matrimonial theme, began with a paper by Christopher Berard on the negotiations between Richard I and Tancred of Sicily over the marriage of Richard’s nephew and potential heir, Arthur of Brittany. Next, Eileen McKiernan Gonzalez explored the pan-Mediterranean marital connections of Jaume II of Aragon, drawing comparisons between his four wives from his beloved and praised wife Blanca d’Anjou to his unsuccessful marriage to Maria de Lusignan. The final two papers both focused on the formidable Maria de Molina; both Paulette Pepin and Janice North discussed different aspects of Maria’s personal and political partnership with her husband Sancho IV of Castile which weathered political storms and papal demands for them to end their marriage due to consanguinity. All four papers stressed the importance of matrimonial diplomacy and choosing the right partner, both in terms of building alliances and compatibility. Indeed Eileen’s paper and those on Maria de Molina emphasised the importance of harmonious personal partnerships, particularly in enabling a queen to be not only content (unlike the thoroughly miserable Maria de Lusignan) but at her most politically effective.
The second RSN panel explored the often tense relationships between monarchs and the church. Wendy Marie Hoofnagle explored royal control of the forests in England post-Conquest and the concept of the forests as a ‘landscape of power’, reinforcing the overall authority of the king. Elizabeth Keohane-Burbage followed on with an examination of the use of convocation to deal with the Templars in England, as Edward II proved reluctant to follow his father-in-law’s lead and try them himself. Finally Alexandra Kotoch completed the session with a look at an equestrian statue of Philip IV of France, attempting to recreate the setting and purpose of the statue in the wider framework of Capetian royal imagery.
Beyond the RSN panels there were plenty of fascinating papers on monarchy related topics and themes. On the first morning of the conference, there was an excellent session on Elizabeth I with three fascinating papers. The first was by Estelle Paranque who drew an interesting comparison in the language of martyrdom and sacrifice employed in the speeches of both Elizabeth I and Henri III of France. The second paper by Linda Shenk, discussed Elizabeth as a ‘CFO’, deeply engaged in trading negotiations with Russia-sometimes to the dismay of her Russian counterparts who sought to keep their interactions in a purely courtly sphere. The session was rounded out by a paper by Valerie Schutte which compared the dedications of contemporary books to both Elizabeth and Mary Tudor, noting the language employed and the way in which these dedications were used to give subtle advice to the dedicatees.
An excellent pair of papers on queenly themes were part of an IMANA panel during the Friday sessions. Núria Silleras-Fernández’s paper deconstructed a fascinating document; a primer written for Maria Manuela of Portugal by her royal parents in preparation for her marriage to Philip II of Spain. This document was a virtual how-to guide of queenly behaviour, aiming to smooth her transition into queenship and help her to navigate the difficult waters of a foreign court, emphasising the model of Isabel of Portugal, wife of Emperor Charles V as one to emulate. Zita Rohr followed with a paper which drew connections between French and Iberian royal women across the 15th century, from Violant of Bar to Yolande de Aragon, Christine de Pizan and her patron Isabeau of Bavaria, to Anne de Beaujeu and her advice for her daughter Suzanne de Bourbon.
Other interesting papers touched on royal themes in various sessions across the conference. Examples include Linda E. Mitchell who surveyed and discussed the treatment of queens in medieval chronicles, exploring why certain activity is noted by chroniclers or ignored. She drew up an interesting handout which noted the frequency of mentions in various texts which highlighted significant variance across chronicles and periods. A paper which I sadly missed was Tania Lévy’s paper on astrology and royal entries which sounded very interesting indeed.
I participated in a roundtable session on Saturday and was fortunate to be in the company of some excellent scholars on the panel including Amy Livingstone who organised and chaired the session, Lois Huneycutt, Marie Kelleher, Kathy Krause and Constance Berman. We all contributed our thoughts on the continuing debate about women and power in the Middle Ages. Lois began by delineating the scholarship on the topic and discussing the developing debates and important studies from the 60s to the present noting key works such as McNamara & Wemple’s ‘The Power of Women through the Family’ and studies on queenship from Fascinger to Carmi Parsons to Theresa Earenfight’s new textbook on the subject. Kathy Krause and Constance Berman both discussed their work on female lords and how the agency and significance of these women are demonstrated through patronage, poetry and documentary evidence of their activity and administration. Marie Kelleher opened up an interesting discussion about how we categorise and frame the concept of power and agency and how wide we can extend the definition in the Middle Ages to encompass a much wider group of women. I added my thoughts on the idea of gendered power and partnership, studying medieval pairs in a more holistic fashion, originally inspired by Theresa Earenfight’s seminal article ‘Without the Persona of the Prince’.
These are just a few of the papers which touched on royal themes-one of the real challenges of large conferences like Kalamazoo is that you can only be in one session at a time but in any given timeslot there can be several papers in different places that you’d like to see! If you heard another paper relevant to royal studies at Kalamazoo, leave a comment on the blog, we’d love to hear about them.