Monthly Archives: May 2015

Interview with Cinzia Recca

Cinzia Recca is a research fellow in Modern History at the University of Catania. Her book “Sentimenti e Politica. Il diario inedito della regina Maria Carolina di Napoli (1781-1785)” regarding the personal diary of Queen Maria Carolina of Naples has just been published in 2014 and will soon be translated into English. Her current research is aimed at a re-writing of the biography of Queen Maria Carolina of Naples through the analysis of unpublished documents.

Cathleen & Niki: Hi Cinzia, thanks for doing this interview! You’ve just published an article in the first issue of the Royal Studies Journal about Maria Carolina of Naples and Marie Antoinette of France. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

Cinzia: The historical figures of Marie Antoinette of France and Maria Carolina of Austria have been misunderstood for a very long time. Even after more than two hundred years since Marie Antoinette’s death, some history books still describe her as a silly and superficial woman, who with her fancies, quickened the end of the Ancien Régime and drove the Parisian people to rebel. Notwithstanding this wide spread opinion, Marie Antoinette was a strong and resolute woman, for this reason she still causes animated debates among scholars. The innumerable biographies edited between the nineteenth century and the present day, testify indeed, to a perennial interest in the last Queen of France. While the first Queen has been reconsidered inside the historiographical field, not completely defined yet, the second one hasn’t had a balanced, calm and impartial judgment yet.

Marie Antoinette and Maria CarolinaMarie Antoinette and Maria Carolina

The interest in Maria Carolina of Naples derives from the necessity to reopen a historiography, which in the past lacked influential interpretations and which needed to be more updated and up to the restored historiographical standards of the Reign of Naples. In fact, during the nineteenth century and part of the twentieth, this regnant Queen’s figure was judged according to two different stereotypes that were to influence the future historiographies of the Queen: the first one, nationalistic ( let’s think, for example, of the opposing interpretations by the “Central European” historians, like Baron Helfert and Earl Corti, the French ones like Gagniere e Bonnefons and the Italian Botta, Cuoco, Colletta, Pepe, Palumbo, Croce, and the more moderate ones by the English Jeafferson and Bearne); the second one, antifeminist, ante litteram, spread everywhere and strongly present in some works by the above mentioned authors.

The Empress Maria Theresa said of her that “among my daughters she is the most similar to me”, but about this Queen and this lady, it was necessary to rewrite her history to give the reader a less nationalistic and male chauvinist panorama.


Cathleen & Niki: Could you tell us more about all the Habsburg sisters?  Did they all have a close relationship? Or just Maria Carolina and Marie Antoinette?

Cinzia: Maria Carolina had a sincere and loving relationship with all her brothers and sisters: Maria Amalia, sweet and charming, was the mature and reassuring older sister who was an example to follow. Even throughout most of their lives as wives they remained on good terms: they used to exchange portraits, letters and gifts. Maria Carolina had also a good, confidential and durable relationship, with the Archduke Leopold whom she considered her favourite brother. Several were the letters that they exchanged after their respective marriages: a correspondence that testifies on the one hand to the confidence of Leopold towards his younger sister about the intelligence and the ability to educate their respective children, on the other hand a solid and long-lasting presence of an older brother to whom to refer in moments of indecision and crisis, both familial and institutional. However, there is a correspondence between Maria Carolina and her brother Emperor Joseph II which testifies to the family ties between the two, confirming the wise Habsburg policy implemented by the Queen who asked for recommendations and opinions on proposals and guidelines that came from the Spanish royal family and British ministers, in order not to make decisions contrary to the interests of Austria. Having been brought up with a sister who was three years younger, Marie Antoinette, almost like a twin, favoured the emotional relationships with the latter. And having shared their childhood, in fact, favored the establishment between the two sisters of a solid loving bond that accompanied them troughout their lives, as is testified by the letters through which they communicated even after they married. So that after the French Revolution and the execution of her sister Marie Antoinette, Queen Maria Carolina swore eternal hatred first for the French revolutionaries, and then for Napoleon.


Cathleen & Niki: In the article you discuss several hate pamphlets against Maria Carolina and Marie Antoinette. Who were the author(s) behind these pamphlets against the two Queens?

Cinzia: It depends on the year of publication of the pamphlets. Before and during the Revolution, the majority of the authors of these texts were of course anonymous. Political enemies such as the Duke of Orleans could have sponsored them. Also booksellers and unscrupulous printers, greedy blackmailers (such as Boissiere who published, Image Des Amours Charlot and Toinette) offered their editions to discredit the King’s Finance. All authors had in common one purpose: to attack the most outrageously, filthy and obscene Monarchy, especially the figure of the Queen considered the cause of the ruin of the country in the interest of Austria.



Cathleen & Niki: Very interesting! Could you also tell us a bit more about the role the Habsburg family and their influence during the time of the French Revolution in Europe?

Cinzia: Well it is not easy to answer to this question with few lines, but I will try. The Empress Maria Theresa had extended family power in Europe with her marital diplomacy, the marriages of Maria Carolina and Marie Antoinette are two examples. So after the death of their beloved mother, the Habsburg had inherited a position of power even leadership in Europe, which was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. The French Revolution of 1789 represented a mortal danger for them, during this period they were more worried than the most European dynasties by the need to defend their extensive territories. Therefore in the years immediately after the French Revolution and also after, during the Napoleonic period, the Habsburg were involved in a series of wars against their old enemy, France, that lasted almost a quarter of a century and finished with the Treaties of Vienna in 1815. gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube

Cathleen & Niki: Quite a time of change! Is there anything new you are working on that you would like to share?

Cinzia: I have to confess to you that it is a quite busy time for me. I recently finished translating into English and up dating my book regarding the personal diary of Queen Maria Carolina which, I hope will soon be published. I am starting a monograph regarding the Habsburg shadow in the Kingdom of Naples, analysing and focusing the attention on the precious suggestions contained in un-published letters that Emperor Joseph II and Grand Duke Peter Leopold sent to their sister during the pre-French-revolutionary age. And in the meantime, I am starting to investigate the crucial role that ‘the Winspeares’ a noble family and native of the county of Scarborough had acquired in the Kingdom of Naples during the Eighteenth century.


Cathleen & Niki: And finally, will we see you this summer at the Kings & Queens IV conference in Lisbon? If so, what will you be presenting?

Cinzia: Yes, I will be very happy to join you at the next Kings & Queens conference in Lisbon, when I read a paper entitled ‘The reversal of dynasties’ during the era of the House of Bourbon in the Kingdom of Naples regarding the history of the Neapolitan branch of the Bourbons showing how the balance of power and alliances changed within the House before and after the arrival of Maria Carolina of Habsburg –Lorraine.

Cathleen & Niki: Thank you again, and see you in Lisbon!






Conference Report: CMRS Inaugural Annual Symposium

Guest post by Lisa Di Crescenzo and Sally Fisher

The Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (CMRS) Inaugural Annual Symposium, “Tied with indissoluble chains”: Languages of Exile and Imprisonment in Medieval and Renaissance England and Italy was held at the Monash Club, Monash University, Clayton (Australia) on April 24th, 2015. The symposium was organised by Monash CMRS PhD candidates Lisa Di Crescenzo (Monash University) and Sally Fisher (Monash University).

As an idea borne out of shared research interests the enthusiastic response from the invited speakers and the attendees confirmed both scholarly and more general interest in a sustained enquiry into languages of exile and imprisonment in Medieval and Renaissance England and Italy.

Whilst the seven papers presented on the day cut across all levels of society, there was certainly a strong Royal Studies flavour to the symposium. From the letters of Queen and regent Caterina de’ Medici to the Medici duchess (Giovanna of Austria) who ran away from home; from the downfall of Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester to the imprisonment of Charles, Duke of Orléans, the analysis of royals, and those inhabited royal spaces, was a strong theme of the day. Indeed, the symposium acknowledged that in Medieval and Renaissance England and Italy, exile and imprisonment were the ubiquitous result of political and dynastic struggles. Such struggles enabled these speakers to engage in a close exploration of how the experience of exile and imprisonment was negotiated, reshaped and performed, and the intersections and oppositions between these two states.

Susan Broomhall (University of Western Australia), was the invited plenary speaker, and there were four other invited speakers; Stephanie Downes (University of Melbourne), Helen Hickey (University of Melbourne), Amanda McVitty (Massey University, NZ) and Natalie Tomas (Monash University). Papers by Lisa Di Crescenzo (Monash University) and Sally Fisher (Monash University) completed the programme.

With the aim of considering the languages of exile and imprisonment and exploring how the experience of exile and imprisonment was negotiated, reshaped and performed, and the intersections and oppositions between these two states, the day began with Susan Broomhall’s exciting enquiry into the affective language of exile in Caterina de’ Medici’s letters. Drawing from Caterina’s formative experience of imprisonment, when an orphaned girl of seven, by the city’s officials in the Florentine convent of Santissima Annunziata delle Murate, Broomhall’s paper magnified the profound impact this three year confinement within the convent walls exerted upon Caterina’s adult life, before her imprisonment was ended with her forcible removal in late August 1530. Although she would never return to Florence following her marriage to the Valois prince Henri (later Henri II of France), Caterina re-cast her girlhood experience of incarceration into a vision of emotional refuge. Fluently and subtly weaving through Caterina’s letters to the women of Le Murate, Broomhall demonstrated how the language of nostalgia, gratitude and longing, not for home, but for the affective community of the convent, recast the queen’s imprisonment as a girl into a particular vision of an emotional and spiritual refuge from which she drew strength as a woman in her life lived in exile from the Florentine homeland.

Session One: Women and Exile, and Strategies of Authority and Identity opened with Lisa Di Crescenzo’s paper, ‘Departing Hell and Entering Paradise: Motherhood Vignettes of Exile and Reprieve’. Di Crescenzo analysed the performative and emotive articulation of exile’s all-consuming fear of loss in the correspondence of the Florentine patrician, Luisa Strozzi to her sons. Immersed in the double trial of exiled menfolk and widowhood, the paper argued, Luisa was transformed into a neurotic and embattled manipulator of the pervasive patriarchal authority of the family. Analysing Luisa’s epistolary weapons of melancholic lamentation and corporeal suffering in the maternal and filial tug-of-war over her imperilled patrimony: part of exile’s legacy of ruin, Di Crescenzo identified the emotional stages of exile’s material and psychological menacing of this Strozzi widow as interlocked within her long life cycle.

The second paper of this same session, entitled ‘A Stranger in a Strange Land: The Medici Duchess Who Ran Away From Home’ and presented by Natalie Tomas, brought to light a hitherto unknown document about the Medici duchess, Giovanna of Austria, who exploited her absence from her homeland to legitimise a claim for greater control over the Florentine court. Weaving across the principal themes of gender, nationality and identity forged in a strange land, under Tomas’ analysis, exile was examined as a sense of place and a feeling of alienation for a foreign Medici duchess who considered herself a stranger out of place in the Florentine court.

Moving from Italy to England, Session Two: Reshaping Political Ideas of Exile and Imprisonment included papers by Stephanie Downes and Sally Fisher on experiences of exile and imprisonment in fifteenth-century England.

Fisher used the infamous case of Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester to consider how contemporary chroniclers drew on the complicated circumstances of Eleanor’s trial to explore ideas of exile and imprisonment. Looking at three chronicle versions documenting Eleanor’s removal from London, Fisher highlighted the possibilities Eleanor’s story provided chroniclers. From her close reading of three chronicle accounts, Fisher argued that when terms such as prison, ward and safeguard are read as part of entire chronicle entries the boundaries of exile and imprisonment are exposed as porous and shifting and the meanings of these two states are contested and represented as spaces where religious, legal, political and social contexts are negotiated.

Enhanced by a stunning manuscript illumination and contemporary references to both modern and medieval warfare commemoration, Downes skillfully navigated the medieval and postmedieval in her paper, ‘Feeling ‘lijk a prisonere’: Re-Reading Charles of Orléans.’ Reminding her audience of the sheer body of Charles’ poetry, in English and in French, Downes proposed a re-examination of his poetry, demonstrating instances where Charles strove to make the political, emotional. Recognising the ability of the lyric form to witness the human condition, Downes focused on languages of imprisonment in Charles’ poetry to present a new approach to his writing of his captivity and, at the same time, offer a close engagement with the themes of the day.

Session Three, ‘Languages of Exile and Imprisonment and the Law’ was the final session of the day. Continuing the previous session’s geographical focus on England, Helen Hickey’s paper ‘Lexical Constraints: English Medieval Statutes on the Mentally Impaired’ drew the audience into an exploration of the languages used to describe the mentally impaired, and the lexical prisons created by these languages. Hickey’s paper did, however, shift the focus from the lives of the elites to those at other levels of society, reminding the audience that imprisonment was not only a politically-motivated punishment. Using as her case study the example of Emma de Beston of Lynn (late 14th century), Hickey teased out the meanings shaped by legal and medical terminologies which were embedded in these texts, and outlined the realities of life in a medieval community for those with a mental impairment.

The final paper of the day was Amanda McVitty’s ‘Imagining Imprisonment: Confession and Resistance in Legal Narratives of Treason’. McVitty’s expert employment of confessional texts to show how those accused of treason could appropriate legal authority to represent themselves as ‘true men’ offered an approach into legal records which had much to say about languages of imprisonment. McVitty demonstrated how a performance of political agency by accused men stood as an example of authority contested and subverted and that languages of imprisonment, in both Latin and the vernacular, became powerful speech acts. Richly-detailed manuscript images also threw into sharp relief the relationship between imprisonment, speech, bodies and authority as identified by McVitty.

Acting Director of the CMRS, Associate-Professor Megan Cassidy-Welch and Associate Professor Carolyn James oversaw the closing remarks and roundtable, drawing together some of the identified themes of the day. Cassidy-Welch invited the speakers and audience to consider how exile (and imprisonment) are historically specific. With a broad selection of sources used to interrogate the categories of exile and imprisonment Cassidy-Welch also drew attention to the importance of considering how the sources are constructing these categories, rather than representing them. Ensuing discussion focused on the agency of the subjects of the day’s papers, their representation and their voices before a general conclusion that exile and imprisonment are useful concepts through which to approach these questions.

Overall, the day highlighted the value of an enquiry into languages of exile and imprisonment, with the papers and enthusiastic discussions illuminating areas warranting further exploration, whilst also suggesting new modes of analysis into these themes.

The symposium was sponsored by the CMRS, the School of Historical Studies (Monash), the Monash Postgraduate Association, The Bill Kent Foundation Fund and the Italian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Melbourne, with support and contributions also coming from the Australasian Centre for Italian Studies and the Royal Studies Network.

The convenors are also grateful to Ellie Woodacre for her enthusiasm and support of the symposium. Royal Studies Network and Royal Studies Journal materials were included in the gift bags distributed on the day and it is our hope that the symposium generated further interest in this exciting field.


Have you been recently to an interesting conference, and like to tell us about it? Send us an email!