This year the Royal Studies Network and Royal Studies Journal hosted two excellent sessions on Plural/Corporate Monarchy at the 53rd International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The Congress at Kalamazoo is one of the largest gatherings of medievalists from around the world, and it features papers from a wide range of disciplines such as history, English, philosophy, religious studies, and world languages to name just a few. Medievalists from undergraduates to senior scholars enjoy the scholarship, social opportunities (including a Saturday night dance), and book discounts. Be on the lookout on the Royal Studies Network Facebook page for more information about future Kalamazoo sessions.
Below are quick summaries of our sessions, provided so that those who were unable to attend don’t miss out!
Erin L. Jordan’s paper, “Melisende, Fulk and Corporate Monarchy in the Twelfth-Century Kingdom of Jerusalem” discussed corporate monarchy in the Latin East. Jordan argued that Melisende was a true co-ruler and when her husband Fulk tried to cut her out, she (with the support of native nobles) rebelled in 1134. The couple reconciled rather quickly because co-rule worked very well for a conquest kingdom such as that of Jerusalem. The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem follows more Mediterranean patterns of monarchy where the demands of war make a partnership between the king and queen particularly useful.
Manuela Santos Silva’s paper, “The king, his wife, their children and their households: Royal power in Iberia in late middle ages” is part of a larger project investigating collective monarchy in the Iberian peninsula. Using law codes such as Las Siete Partidas and Portuguese letters and chronicles, Silva traces the answers to such vital questions as: who should be king? What is the role of the royal family in an elective monarchy? What is the role of the royal family in an inherited monarchy? Should we refer to some monarchies as “shared monarchy”?
Janna Bianchini’s paper, “Duplicate Monarchy? Kings Confirming Royal Women’s Gifts in León-Castile” focused especially on Sancha Raimúndez (1095-1159) and her many royal diplomas. The vast majority of Sancha’s surviving grants are not confirmed by her royal brother, suggesting that royal women could grant land independently. Several of the diplomas issued jointly by Sancha Raimúndez and Alfonso VII show the royal siblings acting via verbs in the first person plural (we give, we concede), which indicates a joint dominion over certain lands or rights. In a close examination of some of Sancha’s grants, Bianchini then explored the concept of “keeping while giving” that seemed to be in action with some of Sancha’s grants.
During the question-and-answer period, participants and audience members discussed the idea of a Mediterranean or “frontier” concept of rulership that relies fairly heavily on corporate monarchy. Is this a thing? Worth pondering!
Kristen Geaman’s paper, “Is All Monarchy Plural? A Look at Medieval Kings and Queens” took the idea of corporate monarchy beyond the Mediterranean to England. Looking specifically at intercession and the idea that a king needed/had two genders, she suggested that English monarchy could also be seen as plural because kings and queens together often embodied and enacted the performance of the king’s two genders. Intercession, in which a merciful queen tempers a vengeful (but just) king particularly showcases the monarchs working together to fulfill both kingly genders.
Anna Jagosova’s paper, “The House of Luxembourg (1309 ‒ 1442): Ruling practices in composite monarchy from gender comparative perspective” explored the charters from the many domains ruled by the House of Luxembourg to highlight the role of consorts in ruling these territories. With such disparate holdings, the regnants needed assistance, which queens could often provide. Comparing the language in extant charters, Jagosova showed that queens and kings used nearly identical language. Queens were generally especially powerful in places where they held lands, either from their dowers or morning gifts.
Abdulaziz Alqabli’s paper, “Religious Authority in the Mamluk Era 1250-1517” explored how the Mamluk sultans of Egypt used the Abbasid caliphs (who they had installed in Cairo after their defeat by the Mongols in 1258) and the ulama (religious scholars) to help legitimize their rule and prevent rebellions by the populace. The Mamluks particularly needed this support because of their slave origins. In addition to the support of religious leaders, the Maluks promoted jihad against both crusaders and the Ottomans to shore up their authority. But without the support of the Abbasid caliphs, the Mamluks likely would not have been able to rule; the official stance that the caliphs had delegated authority to the sultans solved a number of problems.
During the question-and-answer period, participants and audience members discussed the Mamluks and the importance of land/wealth as a route to power. The Luxembourg queens, rather like the “frontier” queens of the first session could exercise more power the more wealth they possessed.
Overall, the sessions emphasized the necessity of thinking about monarchy in medieval terms, rather than (as Janna Bianchini noted) “absolutist terms.” Medieval monarchs were not absolute monarchs (we will leave it to other scholars to determine whether absolute monarchs were actually absolute monarchs), and it isn’t helpful to think of them as a bunch of “the state is me” kind of people.