Rachael (Ray) Ball became an Associate Professor of History at the University of Alaska Anchorage in 2012 after having taught at Kenyon College and Minnesota State University. Her research interests largely focus on the intersections of political culture and popular culture in early modern Spain and its empire. She is the author of Treating the Public: Charitable Theater and Civic Health in the Early Modern Atlantic World. When not in the classroom or the archives, she enjoys running, hiking, cooking, and traveling. Dr. Ball also recently had a chapbook of history-themed poems published by Louisiana Literature Press. For the Royal Studies Journal, Rachael has written a fascinating article titled Court Cities Celebrate Prince Baltasar Carlos: Loyalty, Status, and Identity in the Early Modern Spanish World.
RSJ Blog: Good day Rachael and thank you for making time to do this interview with us!
Rachael: Thank you so much for inviting me to participate!
RSJ Blog: You have done a fascinating study on the procedures of royal festivities respecting their impact on the various regions of the realm and the different parts of society. Is there any particular reason for picking the celebrations honoring the birth of prince Baltasar Carlos as an example?
Rachael: In the past I had written about the Spanish monarchy from the perspective of statecraft and comporting oneself as a ruler and about the regulation of performances and theater. My second bookTreating the Public examined the rapid development of early modern Spanish theater and its integration into urban daily life that stemmed in part from its relationships to hospitals, orphanages, and municipal governments. I had come to that project initially through a comparative examination of antitheatrical sentiment and long-term closures of playhouses in Spain and England during the 1640s. One of the previous interpretations of the closure of the Spanish theaters that my research complicated was that Spain closed its playhouses in 1646 to mourn the death of Prince Baltasar Carlos.
At that point, I realized that aside from articles by art historians focusing on Velazquez’s paintings of the prince, not a whole lot had been written about Baltasar Carlos. So I started keeping a file for a future project. Then in the summer of 2014 when I was wrapping up some final research for Treating the Publicin Spain, the abdication of Juan Carlos I and the coronation of Felipe VI took place, and there were processions and crowds and parties. Even though I don’t consider myself to be particularly pro-monarchy, I became much more interested in studying its ceremonial elements in the early modern period. This article is the direct result of that.
RSJ Blog: You have shown that the celebrations honoring the birth of Hapsburg crown princes were embedded in a very extensive dynastic propaganda. Could you tell us if certain rituals changed after the Spanish Hapsburgs were substituted by the House of Bourbon? Did the imperial Hapsburg family follow similar traditions in the rest of the Holy Roman Empire after the loss of the Spanish possessions?
Rachael: These are great questions! It would probably take a full article to do them justice, but I’ll take a stab at answering them briefly. In short, during the seventeenth century the Bourbons celebrated similar events in pretty similar ways. For example, when the future Louis XIV arrived “miraculously” after so many years without an heir to the French throne, subjects throughout France celebrated with bonfires and banquets. The protocols for triumphal entries in the Spanish world were quite similar to the entries that took place at other European courts. With the change of dynasty, some of the protocols that governed events did change, as did political and constitutional structures. For instance, under the Bourbons the independence of the queen’s household eventually ended. On top of that, the Bourbon era in Spain coincided with reformist tendencies that decried luxury and expenditure and bemoaned the loss of economic productivity that resulted from frequent feast days and celebrations.
I am not an expert in the Austrian Hapsburg practices after the War of Spanish Succession. However, my understanding is that the protocols that had emerged in Spain largely continued to be followed during ceremonies and state events. Irene Kubiska has argued that birth and baptism celebrations became more militaristic in symbology and tone over the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
RSJ Blog: One of the passages that fascinated me most was when you talked about how the different ethnic groups in Lima used the celebrations to demonstrate their distinction from each other especially the mulattos who wanted to stand out from the black population. Why was that so important to them and what was the relationship between those two groups and the Spanish ruling class? Did the latter differentiate between them at all?
Rachael: There were a multitude of factors at play here. One was the very real competition that drove many guilds and confraternities, as well as city governments, into chronic debt for these types of festivals as well as annual ones for religious celebrations like Corpus Christi. That being said, it seems to me, that there is an emerging element of colorism here, too.
Race is and was culturally and socially constructed, and there are plenty of examples from the archives of people emphasizing one aspect of their heritage versus another depending on circumstance and location. Joanne Rappaport’s book The Disappearing Mestizois a recent work that unpacks some of the complexities of this issue. Antonio Feros has recently written about the development of ideologies of race and identity and early modern Spain, and his analysis shows just how much debate there was among theorists and administrators.
Yet, scholars, like Geraldine Heng, have also uncovered evidence of the ways premodern people depicted racialized bodies. I would argue Carvajal’s account of the Lima festivals demonstrates that some differentiation could and did occur. He compared black people to crocodiles and caimans and called them ugly. It is only begrudgingly that he accorded them any humanity and only after some of Lima’s black inhabitants went to great lengths to display their loyalty to the Spanish crown. With the mixed-race confraternity I write about in the article, he begrudgingly noted that they exceed his expectations. At the same time, he claimed their successes stemmed from their European lineage.
RSJ Blog: You also point out the dark side of such celebrations for instance that criminals often used the disarray to their advantage. At the same time, you mention chronicles that purposefully avoided drawing too much attention to that particular matter. Were there any records discussing possible solutions: for instance, special security matters? Were the public executions during the celebrations not also a very ostentatious warning assuring that people, while enjoying the festivities, did not forget who held authority over them?
Rachael: Occasionally, you can catch glimpses of the protocols and regulations that had been established for demarcating space during events like these through contracts and payments that often show up in municipal archives rather than in official accounts meant for commemoration. At times, though, the less poetic authors of accounts reflect indirectly on some of these realities as well by mentioning palisades or the presence of guards. I definitely wouldn’t dispute that executions and the performance of piety during autos de fewere reminders of the power of ecclesiastical and civil institutions. This was a way to align expressions of local justice with a celebration of monarchy. Some scholars have even talked about how religion and secular authority merged with public spectacle creating “a theater state.” At the same time, these types of categories do have their limits. Absolutists never had as much power as they wanted, and the very criminality that was punished so publicly speaks to the limits of power.
RSJ Blog: Thank you very much for these interesting answers. What are your upcoming projects?
Rachael: I’m currently working on an essay that examines the relationship between performance and poor relief through both official and semi-official channels. In that way, I’m continuing work on festivals and performance in the early modern Spanish world. I’m also in the midst of writing a dual biography of the Duke and Duchess of Osuna.
RSJ Blog: Then we wish you good luck with your new project and are looking forward to reading more from you soon!