Interview with Philippa Woodcock

Niki: Thanks for doing an interview with us! to begin, how did you get interested in history? especially the period you specialize in?

Philippa: Thank you, I’m flattered to be asked. It is entirely my mother’s fault that I became a historian. She read historical novels non-stop (Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond and Niccolo novels especially) and had the portraits of the six wives of Henry VIII above her bath (but not Henry VIII). Anne Boleyn was a clear favourite, but I always preferred Katherine Parr (ah, the admiral!)

Niki: Your latest article contribution to the RSNJ is fascinating. Is this a subject you’ve been studying for years?

Philippa: Thank you. The article is a bit of an aside to my PhD which I finished in 2006 and, to my shame have still to publish. I ended up studying French Milan thanks to my supervisor, Evelyn Welch, who advised me to work in very quiet archives – Milan, Mantua, Cremona etc – rather than Florence.  When I started researching the de Foix family’s role in Milan, I realised that studying the governors would also give me an excuse to do research in Pau and Tarbes….

Each time I go to a new archive I always make a quick sweep of terms relating to French Milan before starting my other research. There’s a lot of unpublished material out there, even though Italian and French scholars have really revived interest in this period in the last twenty years.

Niki: What went into the research for this article?

Philippa: A long process and lots of travel! This article’s origins are in the Kings and Queens 3 conference in Winchester in July 2014. I remembered a contemporary Venetian observer remarking that Lautrec always maintained and fed a certain number of liveried servants and followers, so my contribution developed from that. Whilst teaching for Warwick in Venice I had the absolute luxury of being able to spend some time in the archivio di stato, where some references survive to the gifts given to Lautrec and his cronies by the Republic. I then gave the adapted paper at a researchconvegno, and was given some leads for future work from Italian scholars. Finally, when I submitted the article to the RSJ I got some really useful feedback about new research and publications that I had missed. This iterative editorial process is so important to ensure that work is representative of the state of scholarship, as well as including original archival research.

Niki: Was there anything that surprised you when conducting your research?

Philippa: I’m afraid that I get carried away in the archives and go off on tangents. I knew from Sanudo that Lautrec and Gritti had a difficult relationship, so I looked through the draft despatches of the Senate for 1515-20. I came across some lovely nuggets about provisions being made for Andrea Gritti to travel by litter on campaign, rather than horseback, owing to his age. This meets the idea of Venetian gerontocracy, but somehow goes against the idea of Gritti ‘man of action’. I was also interested to see how many references were made to the scars on Lautrec’s face which seemed to have affected his sinuses and made it necessary for him to frequently hawk up phlegm. He even adopted the panther as his emblem for it too had a ‘savage visage’.

Niki: Thanks again for letting us interview you! One last question: what are you working on next?

Philippa: Lots of things. I get distracted easily! I am working with my friend and former colleague, Matthias Range, to publish our post-doctoral work on Reformation rural religion, exploring the daily religious experience in isolated Catholic and Lutheran parishes. However, my main project (going slowly at present) concerns the experience of French mariners in the Venetian Stato da Mar. I have lots of juicy French complaints about the Venetians seizing French goods on rather flimsy pretexts. I aim to match this with Venetian enquiries into ‘misconduct’ and pre-consular diplomatic activity. I’ve looked at this in Paris, but I need to get down to Marseille. And one day, I will publish my PhD in some form or another….

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