Monthly Archives: August 2015

Interview with Dr. Sara Wolfson

Niki: Hi Sara! Thanks so much for doing this interview. To begin with, how did you get interested in your specialization? Is this something that struck your interest at a young age?

Sara: During my undergraduate studies, I was always interested in gender history, but my primary interest was the court of Charles I, particularly the politics of the 1630s. When I was researching my undergraduate dissertation on the king’s personal rule in Durham, I was surprised at how little Caroline court women appeared in the general histories of the period. This was something that I hoped to address at postgraduate level.

Niki: Is there something particularly interesting about Queen Henrietta Maria and her court that led your research to be focused on that particular time in British history?

Sara: I found S.R. Gardiner’s assertion that Henrietta Maria was a ‘gay butterfly’ at odds with work that I was reading during my doctorate by Caroline Hibbard, Malcolm Smuts, Erica Veevers, and Karen Britland, which showed that the queen was a woman of political, cultural, and religious acumen. I was particularly interested in the practicalities of a mixed marriage in seventeenth century England. For instance, how Henrietta Maria’s Catholicism shaped the ceremonial culture of the Caroline court, but also helped to further the exchange of confessional ideas by the 1630s. Of course, it goes without saying that Charles I’s reign is a period of intense historical interest with his early wars with Spain and France; the king’s personal rule; his relations with parliament; the civil wars; and the aftermath of his execution. I wanted to understand how early modern women at the apex of society negotiated the position of themselves and their families during this time, above all during the post-1642 period.

Niki: If you can, how would you best describe Queen Henrietta Maria’s character?

Sara: Steadfast, loyal and vivacious.

Niki: Do you think aristocratic women and their role in politics has been largely ignored by historians?

Sara: Since Barbara J. Harris and Sharon Kettering emphasised the ways in which women could engage informally in politics through patronage networks and personal relationships, the political activities of elite women have been addressed by a number of historians and literary scholars. The recent edited collection by Nadine Akkerman and Birgit Houben, where I published a chapter on Henrietta Maria’s Bedchamber, made a point of looking at ladies-in-waiting, rather than queens, queens consort and royal mistresses. It was encouraging to be asked to be a part of that collection.

Niki: How did you get CCCU interested in awarding prizes for RSN? and how does the nomination process work to be eligible for the prize?

Sara: Canterbury Christ Church University has a number of historians and literary scholars interested in royal studies, such as Prof. Louise Wilkinson, Prof. Jackie Eales, Dr Astrid Stilma, and Dr Leonie Hicks. The opportunity to collaborate with other institutions to further our research culture is part of our research objectives and sponsoring the Royal Studies Journal seemed like the perfect opportunity. The prize will be awarded on an annual basis to the best postgraduate article published by the Royal Studies Journal.

Niki: Lastly, what are you working on now? We look forward to reading your work.

Sara: I am currently reworking my PhD for publication with Manchester University Press. I’m also working on transnational relations between the Dutch Republic and the Stuart crown in 1641-3. I’m publishing an article on Henrietta Maria at the court of Frederick Henry in a Special Issue for Women’s History Review, which will be forthcoming next year.