Manuela Santos Silvia is a professor of Medieval History at the University of Lisbon, as well as a long time member of the Royal Studies Network. Her work is concentrated on medieval queens of Portugal, especially Philippa of Lancaster who has been dead this year for 600 years. Manuela is instrumental in bringing the Kings & Queens Conference for the first time outside of England, from the 24th until the 27th of June 2015 at the University of Lisbon.
We asked her about the challenges in organizing such a big conference and about her work.
Cathleen & Niki: Hi Manuela! Thank you for doing this interview.
The Kings & Queens conference is leaving Winchester for the first time and going to Lisbon, Portugal. Could you tell us a bit how this came to be?
Manuela: It was actually very easy. I asked Ellie, the main organizer of the Kings & Queens conference series, what she thought about doing the fourth edition of Kings & Queens Conference in Portugal and she immediately said yes. However, my motive for doing it in Portugal was the 600th-anniversary of the death of Philippa of Lancaster, the only queen of Portugal of English origin. She was the mother of Henry the Navigator, Isabel of Portugal, duchess of Burgundy and four other important characters of the 15th century. She died in July 1415, and as her most recent biographer, I would like to organize a conference, not only about her, but about what she helped her husband king João I of Portugal to achieve the legitimacy of the new dynasty, which they founded after a period of turmoil. Thus, the theme of the conference came very naturally: Dynastic Changes and Legitimacy.
Philippa of Lancaster
Cathleen & Niki: Kind of a win-win-situation for both the conference series and the research on Portuguese queens. What happens behind the scenes in organizing such a conference? For example, how many people are in your team? And what exactly do they do?
Manuela: I knew I couldn’t organize the Conference on my own. But I also knew, I could count on good help from my friend and colleague Ana Maria Rodrigues, who is very experienced in organizing international conferences. However, I was pretty sure that there would also be enough work for a committee. With only one exception, I chose four PhD students and post-doc researchers from different Portuguese Universities that already participated in other Kings & Queens’ Conferences (Covadonga Valdaliso, Tiago Viúla Faria, Hélder Carvalhal, Isabel Baleiras), and also asked my colleague, Saul António Gomes from the University of Coimbra to join us; he was very helpful, especially with contacting the Batalha Monastery and Municipality. All of them have already different tasks concerning the book exhibition organization, contacting key-note speakers, the quest for financial support, and so on.
Our research Centre (the University of Lisbon History Centre) was our partner since the beginning. The head of the Centre, Hermenegildo Fernandes, has also helped with external contacts, and the Centre Secretary, Armando Norte, who is also a Post-doc researcher, has been our right arm in most logistic tasks.
And the Faculty Dean, Professor Paulo Farmhouse Alberto was also very supportive and helpful to this initiative.
Cathleen & Niki: This sounds like a great group effort, not only of members of the University of Lisbon but also of other Portuguese universities. Could you tell us a bit about the research in the field of Royal Studies at universities in Portugal?
Manuela: Some dissertations on kings and on royal institutions, such as the Queens’ Household in the 17th and 18th centuries, had been written on the last decades of the twentieth century in our University. Royal Studies in general, have gained new vigour in Portugal in the twenty-first century with the edition, by a commercial editor, of the historical biographies of ruling kings (and queens) (2005-2006) and consorts of queens and kings (2011-2013). These 54 volumes were the result of the labour of at least as many researchers from Portugal and abroad, belonging to many different universities, including ours.
The idea for a collection on the non-ruling queens of Portugal in 18 volumes, directed by Ana Maria Rodrigues, Isabel dos Guimarães Sá and myself, started some years earlier. Since 2000, Maria Paula Marçal Lourenço, Ana Maria Rodrigues and I, submitted our research projects several times on the Queens of Portugal’s households and their biographies to the Portuguese scientific research foundation (FCT), but unfortunately none of them were accepted for approval. Finally, the acceptance by a commercial editor of our idea for this series of biographies of the queens, allowed us to persist on the study of Queenship, Monarchy, Royal Treasures and Weddings in our research center, and to teach at graduate and post-graduate levels, that attract new students every year.
Presently we are about to publish a collective book on Royal Weddings of the Portuguese Royal Household coordinated by Ana Leal de Faria, Ana Maria Rodrigues and myself, as a result of several Conferences and Seminars on the subject in the past years.
Cathleen & Niki: This sounds like some interesting research going on in Portugal, especially on royal studies. You are also working in this field; what are you working on right now?
Manuela: For many years now, my main project has been writing a book on the Medieval Queens’ Households and Dominions, but more recently, I’ve been evolving to the idea of doing a more complete study on Portuguese Medieval Queenship. Also, I’m redirecting my teaching and research interests to the subject of Family as the genesis of social institutions: monarchy, of course, court living, monastic living, etc. Meanwhile, I’m writing essays for some collective books and conferences, when I have some spare time between organizing the conference, teaching and directing MA- and PhD-theses and occupying the position of Sub-Dean at my School of Arts and Humanities.
Cathleen & Niki: Basically a very full academic schedule!
Back to the conference this June, what can we expect? Are any special events planned?
Manuela: As I explained before, though Queen Philippa of Lancaster is the main reason for the conference being in Lisbon, the theme and sessions will not be centred around her character. We decided to make a tribute to her on the Opening and Closing Ceremonies that will take place in two Medieval Monasteries, the Odivelas Monastery in the Lisbon outskirts, where she died of plague, and the Batalha Monastery – 100km from Lisbon – where her definitive tomb was built.
The Monastery of Batalha and the Tomb of John I and Philippa of Lancaster
In our school (where the normal sessions will run on the 24th, 25th and 26th June), we will also have a book exhibition on Portuguese Royal Studies and many moments of conviviality at the coffee-breaks (twice a day) and particularly during the well-served lunches, in a private room of the University main building.
Our Conference Dinner will take place on the top floor of Hotel Mundial in the city centre and added to the excellence of food the main attraction will be the beautiful view over Lisbon and Tagus River.
Cathleen & Niki: Already looking forward to it! Could you please also tell us a bit more about the city? What do you recommend participants of the conference see?
Manuela: Lisbon, the traditional capital of Portugal, is a very old city, but also a very modern one. The ancient quarters, near the Saint George Castle, and the Romanic Cathedral (the Sé) are very characteristic. Downtown, which was built after the 1st November 1755 earthquake, is also worth visiting. Following the river’s margins to the West you will find Belém and its monastery built in the 16th century to commemorate the Portuguese Maritime Discoveries and also the Belém’s Tower from the same period. There you can also visit the Belem Cultural Centre and several classical and modern museums. If you go east, you will find a modern town, which emerged during and after the World Expo 98, now called Parque das Nações. If you enjoy cycling, running or just walking, you can do it in many places alongside the long coastal area.
The nearest museum to the University Campus is the Museum of Lisbon and it is very recommendable.
Cathleen & Niki: Thanks so much for doing this interview and see you this June in Lisbon! Enjoy some impressions from the conference venue: