Author Archives: CSarti

Interview with Edward Cavanagh

Edward Cavanagh is an Isaac Newton Research Fellow in History at Downing College, Cambridge.  He works both in history, mostly in the history of ideas and in world history, and in law, with a focus on legal and constitutional history. Switching between epochs and also straddling premodern to modern times, his interdisciplinary work focuses upon scales of government from officeholding to monarchies to empires over the longue durée. For the Royal Studies Journal, he demonstrated this by incorporating rhetorics and literary scholarship into English legal history in order to explain what exactly flowers are doing in the crown – literally.

RSJ Blog: Hi Edward, thank you for doing this interview! You just published your article Flowers of the Crown in English Legal Thought. Metaphorical Assessments of Royal Power in Transitional Periods of Monarchy in the Royal Studies Journal! Often, legal history can be a bit dry, but you managed to find flowers in it – could you please elaborate a bit on that?

Edward: This is a treat for me, Cathleen, because I respect your own work on deposition and the comparative history of monarchy. You are right. Legal history does have a reputation for its dryness. It also has a reputation for the burden it can impose upon readers to grasp immediately the esoteric details of procedural and substantive aspects of the law as it was practised and understood in the past. Both reputations are fairly earned. The challenge, I think, is to approach legal history as a history of ideas. This was something that F. W. Maitland used to harp on about over a century ago, but we appear to have lost our way since then. To continue to see the history of law as the history of ideas, we are able to feel for certain patterns in both the language and the logic of the law reports. We might also be tempted to look beyond the traditional sources of law, as I attempted to do in places here, albeit I think with mixed successes.

RSJ Blog: What are you unsure about? Personally, I think, using a broader approach to sources to really understand law is quite helpful! Although, in my experience, political practice – though based on legal thought – was often times contrary, or at least different, from the ideas and debates in courts and parliaments. What is usually missing is an element of representation, and how normal people on the streets (usually of London) viewed things.

Edward: Indeed it is very sensible to insist that ordinary people experienced the law differently to those judicial officeholders whose job it was to expound that law in court. On the other hand, the case could be made for historians to expand their definitions of ‘law’ to account for both kinds of experiences. Quite whether it’s possible to uphold such an all-encompassing definition of law while attempting to sketch out the contours of a history of legal ideas is another question.

File:WLA vanda Cast of Tomb Effigy Henry III.jpgTomb effigy, in gilt bronze, of Henry III of England (b.1206; d.1272) in the Confessor’s Chapel, Westminster Abbey; by William Torel, about 1292
English, Westminster

RSJ Blog: You are approaching legal thought through language and rhetorics and with political culture in mind as well – how difficult was it to combine these different approaches, or was this something which came naturally from the subject of research?

Edward: English legal thought did not appear from nowhere in the early modern period, of course. Its evolution had taken place over many centuries as part of a wider European phenomenon. Rhetoric was a key factor in this development. So too was the ideological clout of the institutional Church across Christendom. We are able to account for many other attributes across the ‘long’ middle ages as well.

Legal thinkers in England, as elsewhere, often prided themselves on the receptivity they showed to foreign ideas. At other times, English legal thinkers were rather protective of the borders established around their own intellectual domain. In a sense, to write the history of English law is to recount the ongoing saga of how generations of lawyers attempted to get this balance right.

By the sixteenth century, English law had become endowed with hundreds of quirky traits. Many of these derived in part or in whole from the beautifully awkward multilingualism of the country. Consider the linguistic lay of the land. As law reporters wrote down the details of common law proceedings in Law French, they seldom did so consistently. As scholars wrote in neo-Latin, they did not always do so particularly well. As scribes and chroniclers moved away from Middle English towards early modern English, they did not immediately care to follow orthographical conventions all that strictly. Once more, to come to the history of law like the history of ideas, it is often necessary (indeed, it is sometimes quite amusing) to observe the movement of concepts between these different languages. (I accept that political thought is little different in this respect to legal thought.)

RSJ Blog: Sounds like the legal scholar in you is searching for cases where the norm and the historical reality match, while the historian in you has long accepted that the norm is basically an idea depending on contexts, languages, and meanings. Does this kind of sum it up?

Edward: That may be right, but if so, then I am far more of a historian than a legal scholar.

RSJ Blog: You trace the expression of „flowers of the crown“ back to the 15th century, although it might have become much more popular under the Tudors and Stuarts. Could you pinpoint moments when the flower metaphor was used more widely, or – the opposite – not used at all?

Edward: While the crowns of English monarchs were often embedded with decorative ‘fleurons’ from the twelfth century onwards, it would not be until the early fifteenth century that the expression ‘flowers of the crown’ was appropriated for poetic, legalistic, and moralistic ends. There may be earlier instances of the expression, but I have not been able to find them. Conventional wisdom holds that the expression emerged out of the unique constitutional predicament of the Tudor-Stuart transition. The expression was indeed used more commonly into the Stuart period, but it is also to be encountered in many pamphlets and reports of the Hanoverian period. It disappears from English vocabulary during the reign of Victoria, and that, I argue, is because the crown itself was becoming a metaphor for the modern administrative state at this moment. Such is the way we are expect to dress the windows of our modern scholarly articles. Really,  the purpose of the article was to draw attention to an action brought into the Court of Common Pleas in 1430. I had found it in the Year Books, which is now a much less daunting body of source material to sort through because of the magnificent Seipp Abridgement of Professors David J. Seipp and Carol F. Lee. Chief Justice William Babington is reported to have used the expression to emphasise the temporariness of royal donations (in this particular instance, some jurisdictional privileges conferred in letters patent by Richard II and Henry IV).

RSJ Blog: Using flowers as metaphor also relates to the separation of an individual monarch, restricted by their humanity and mortality, and the everlasting crown, existing beyond and apart from individuals carrying it. In what ways do flowers help to bring this idea forward?

Edward: Of course, you are right. Lawyers had to dance very carefully around this distinction between ‘the king’s two bodies’, and the strategic use of abstract language, through the invocation of cutesy metaphors, could be handy for dullening the thump of their arguments. But the metaphor is more intriguing for me because of its situation between this dichotomy. A flower is organic and begins in the crown, and it can only be enjoyed for as long as it does not decompose, and when it appears to be decomposing, it can no longer be enjoyed and must then be replaced by a new one from the same source. Here we are to come to terms with the finiteness of time that attaches to an expression of royal favour; this does not necessarily require us to read anything else into the formula about the mortality of the individual monarch who may have expressed such a favour in the first place. What it does require, on the other hand, is some acknowledgment that judicial officeholders in courts were the best placed in England to know when to discard or to replant particular flowers.

RSJ Blog: In the end, flowers of the crown refer as such less to the one monarch wearing it, but more to the whole system of government ‘gardening’ – so to speak?

Edward: Very good, even if I am concerned that we are ‘transplanting’ a modern understanding of government into the late Middle Ages.

RSJ Blog: Are there any specific flowers symbolising specific ideas of monarchy, and if so, why are they associated with a specific idea?

Edward: The fleur-de-lis – the heraldic lily – is perhaps the most obvious candidate for consideration in this frame. By the thirteenth century, in both England and France, each of the three petals of this flower had become associated with distinct tenets of the Holy Trinity. It therefore conveyed the need to show reverence to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Long before this, however, the flower had already been imbued with a Christian symbolism, in France, to reflect the endorsement of the king by God. We might say, therefore, that it also conveyed one of the oldest and most established ideas in European political theology about kingship as a royal office holdable only of God.

RSJ Blog: Flowers connecting the sphere of the holy and the worldly powers!

Edward: And more!

RSJ Blog: Indeed – in your article, there are recurrent connections between nature and legal-political authority as well. Were such metaphors used due to an easier understanding of a mostly rural population (as the miller in Ginzburg’s The Cheese and the Worms did), or was there also another understanding of nature behind this?

Edward: Rural folk may never have been party to high-brow discussions in the central courts or in parliament about the prerogatives of the crown, but they came face to face with kings in floriated crowns whenever they held common coins in their hands. And there were many opportunities for ordinary people to come into contact with royal iconography on town streets, at the market, or in church: I think here of seals, effigies, portraits, coats of arms, and even hearsay. On the other hand, what they knew of the virtues of kingship, they mostly experienced through the burdens of taxation, the patchiness of justice, and the vices of lordship. It may be interesting, if inevitably fruitless, to speculate on the extent to which, if at all, some association of a floriated crown with kingship in popular culture mirrored the high legalism of lords temporal, lords spiritual, judges, and serjeants.

Coin, round, at centre, the letter E above a floriated cross. In each angle, a Lion passant below a crown.Copyright Museums Victoria / CC BY
Photographer: Justine Philip; Museums Victoria

RSJ Blog: I am not so sure if trying to find out what the flower meant to rural or town folk is really fruitless, or, if there might not still be sources we can use to shed light on this question. But this might be a perspective from my own research where the fate of monarchs often was decided by their subjects 😊.

Edward: If we must accept that God had no such control over the fate of monarchs, then we have no choice but to accept that all royal power was determined by subjects. I would only add that some subjects (owing to their birth, education, profession, and comportment) were better suited than other subjects to curtail royal power while giving the convincing impression that such actions were all-the-while lawful. Writing this as the UK Supreme Court begins to ponder both the justiciability and the lawfulness of the Prime Minister’s request of the Queen to prorogue parliament, such a perspective would seem to provide a glimpse into the reality of constitutional monarchy today, too. Crucially, however, questions about executive misconduct and its accountability to judicial review necessitate far less engagement with the crown in the jurisprudence of the United Kingdom today than they did centuries ago in England, when the first judicial chidings of officeholding negligence are to be discovered in the Year Books.

RSJ Blog: Coming from the medieval flowers in the crown full circle to todays politics! Finally, what are you working on right now? Was this article part of a bigger project, or just a curiosity you found in your research material?

Edward: This article was a happy distraction from larger ongoing projects of mine on the development of English legal thinking about war, monarchy, and the constitutional separation of church and state. It had an unusual trajectory before publication. I had originally prepared the article to appear as a short corrective to J. W. Gough’s appearance in the Notes and Comments section of the English Historical Review. Contrary to decades of convention and the editorial policy laid out on that journal’s own website, I was informed by the managing editors that a distinct Notes and Comments section in the English Historical Review ‘no longer exists’. This had been my favourite section of that journal, where quick findings and correctives could be displayed for curious readers. I immediately thought of Notes & Queries, an outlet which has published antiquarian and historical research of exactly this kind for centuries (some of which I had even cited in my own article!). But I was told that my piece was ‘not of wide enough interest for N&Q’. Undeterred, I resolved to expand the article and try my hand with a journal more committed to interdisciplinary thematic research. The Royal Studies Journal was perfect for this end and I am very glad to have published my article here. May this journal be produced, published, and read for as long as its editorial policy remains to impose no restrictions upon authors owing to some perception of ‘audience interest’. As historians, we need outlets that discriminate on research, not on topic. I am under no illusions about the popularity of my research. If only 10 or 20 people bother to read my article, so be it.

Thank you for your engagement!

RSJ Blog: Thanks for this interview, and we’re happy to fill in an open gap left by the EHR, and especially due to our focus on all things royal – be they legal, political, representations, or flowers in the crown! We’re curious about your further research, and hope to see it then in the bookshops where it will certainly find its readership!

Journal of the Summer: 5 Years of the Royal Studies Journal

This summer, we’re celebrating already 5 years of the Royal Studies Journal! A few more posts on this are planned, so keep your eyes on this blog, on Twitter, or Facebook. First up is an interview with the person who started all this: Elena (Ellie) Woodacre is the heart and soul of the Royal Studies Network as well as of the Royal Studies Journal which is connected to the network and its other various activities. She is also editor-in-chief of the journal, and – together with the team of the journal – brings it to life. The first issue of the journal launched in July 2014 – 5 years ago! We caught up with Ellie to learn more about the first five years, and what is planned for the next five!

Covers of all ten issues of the last five years

RSJ Blog: Hi Ellie, we’ve looked deep into our archives, and one of the very first posts on this blog was your status report in March 2014 about the upcoming launch of the Royal Studies Journal! Then, in July 2014, the first issue of the journal went online – and now it’s been 5 years, 10 issues among them 3 special issues, two different technical systems, uncountable book reviews, and hopefully many, many articles and reviews in the pipeline still. Congrats for bringing such a project to life!

Could you maybe first tell us a bit more what inspired you and your colleagues from the Royal Studies Network to publish (yet another) academic journal?

Ellie: The inspiration for starting the RSJ was the same forces that led us to start the Royal Studies Network—we had a group of scholars and researchers who were all working in royal studies, but there was no defined academic forum for the field. We started with the conference series, Kings & Queens, which led to the formation of the network as a way to build connections and collaboration in the field. There have been fantastic publications which came out from all of the K&Q conferences, like The Image and Perception of Monarchy from K&Q1, Royal Women and Dynastic Loyalty from K&Q5 in Clemson and the recent Dynastic Change volume from K&Q4. Yet these volumes can only contain a brief selection of all the exciting papers from our conferences (normally about 100 each year!). The idea for the journal was that it could provide a constant publication outlet for research in the field, which wasn’t necessarily tied to the conferences, and could feature book reviews to help people keep up with new research in the field as well. We had an exploratory meeting at a Kings & Queens conference to gauge interest in a potential journal and the RSJ just took off from there—I can’t believe it’s been five years already!

RSJ Blog: Back in 2014, you told us in an interview that you were really impressed how quick the idea of the Royal Studies Network took a life of its own, and that you were happy that already around 220 scholars from all over the globe were connected in this network. On Facebook, we just had a short notice from Dustin, the network’s secretary, that we’re now up to 500! Can you tell us a bit more about this growth, which projects the network and the journal did in the last five years, and where you still see potential – or, what you hope to do someday?

Ellie: It is incredibly exciting that we’ve passed the 500 member mark—and when you look at the membership list you can see that we’ve got a truly global reach, with RSN members spanning from Australia and New Zealand, to North America and North Africa and all over Europe. And yet, as always, I feel like we could work harder to be even more global—I’ve been really evangelizing for royal studies to be as global and as inclusive as possible. That’s where the growth is—I really want to bring in more researchers who work on monarchy in Asia, Africa, Polynesia and the Americas. There is some amazing research on these areas already, but I’d like to see it more deeply connected to the RSN and reflected in the contents of the RSJ as well. Additionally, I want to bring in more members who work on monarchy both in the Ancient/Classical world and in the modern era so that we can really get the full timespan of royal studies represented in our membership and publications. This broad spectrum is vital to moving the field forward. Looking at monarchy across time and space, as works like The Routledge History of Monarchy and A Companion to Global Queenship both aim to do and making connections between scholars working in different geographical and temporal areas gives us a very different, and much richer, perspective on monarchy and royal studies.


RSJ Blog: Talking a bit more about the field of Royal Studies – in which ways did it change, or where do you see current academic interests?

Ellie: Apart from the “global turn” as I’ve just been speaking about, there are a lot of exciting developments in the field. I think one of the most exciting elements is the interdisciplinarity of the field. You can see that in the programmes for the K&Q conferences—researchers from different disciplines are bringing new approaches to royal studies and I think by bringing scholars from different areas together you can get very exciting inspiration and collaborations. Researchers from history, archaeology, anthropology, sociology, art history, literature studies, law, medical history, economics and so many more fields all look at various aspects of royal studies. Crossover, or cross-pollination, from one field to another gives us fresh perspectives. Take for example current research in the study of the queen’s household—you’ve got scholars like Nicola Clark thinking about gender and space in the household of Henry VIII’s queens and their palatial accommodation, Diana Pelaz Flores using elements of social network analysis to demonstrate the connections and wide ranging influence of queens through their household in Late Medieval Castile and economic analysis of queens and their household expenses by Charlotte Backerra and Cathérine Annette Ludwig-Ockenfels in the Holy Roman Empire during the early modern era. This really demonstrates the power of bringing in different disciplinary approaches to generate new insights into the field—changing the way we look at queenship and the queen’s household.


RSJ Blog: Continuing on from this, do you think that the work of the RSN and RSJ has also pushed royal studies/monarchical studies more on an academic level as opposed to the popular history writing which has dominated for a long time in this field (especially in Austria and Germany)?

Ellie: Obviously there has always been a fascination with monarchy and royal figures of the past and present—we can see that in the vast output of material from popular culture, media and history works aimed at a non-scholarly audience. While I think we should embrace this material—indeed there is some exciting research in royal studies on the remembrance and representation of monarchy in popular culture and the press–we also hope that our own publications in the academic field of royal studies connects deeply with the scholarly community as well as being potentially accessible and interesting to a wider audience. I do hope that our research will continue to gain wider recognition as an academic field of study and at the moment, one of the areas that our Listings team is working on is to link the RSJ to more scholarly databases of journals so that we can further enhance our reach and scholarly standing in academia.


RSJ Blog: Both the network as well as the journal are great places also for doctoral candidates and ECRs – was this something planned from the start, or did it just happen along the way? In which way are ideas about these scholars at the start of their careers implemented?

Ellie: This has always been a key aspect of the RSN and RSJ, to highlight the work of graduate students and PhD/Early Career researchers and encourage the next generation of scholars in the field. I actually started the first Kings & Queens conference as a PhD student and we’ve always aimed to make the conferences, network and journal a welcoming and vibrant community for students and ECRs. We’ve done this by featuring their papers at the conferences, bringing them onto the journal staff to help them gain experience in academic publishing and by running the article prize specifically for graduate students and Early Career researchers. This is a tradition that I am absolutely passionate about continuing—the RSN should never feel like an exclusive ‘clique’ or a restricted area that only senior scholars have access to. We’re all about being on the cutting edge of research, which is showcased in PhD theses and the developing work of ECRs. Plus, by bringing junior and senior scholars together at the Kings & Queens conferences and in publications like the RSJ, you can get fantastic collaborations! What I’d like to do next is perhaps start a voluntary mentoring scheme, like some societies run at major conferences—this would be a great way to move the informal connections and support networks formed through the RSN to the next level.


RSJ Blog: That sounds fantastic! We’ll keep our eyes open for any announcements regarding this. Finally, what are you working on right now? Except for all the work you do for the RSN and RSJ?

Ellie: I’ve got a fair few projects on the go at the moment! In addition to editing the RSJ, I’m an editor on two book series, Gender and Power in the Premodern World (ARC Humanities Press) and Queens of England (Routledge)—both of these series are really growing at the moment with lots of new titles contracted, some of which will be out fairly soon. These series are both deeply connected to royal studies and I hope will provide yet more publication outlets for our growing field. I have a work of my own contracted in the Queens of England series, a monograph on Joan of Navarre which I have been working on for many years—I’ve given a few papers on her at past Kings & Queens conferences. I’m also deep into writing a short form monograph on queens and queenship for ARC’s Past Imperfect series which I’m very excited about. This book looks at queens and queenship across time and place, exactly what I was talking about earlier in terms of the “global turn” of the field, looking at the constants and variable of queenship over the longue durée. Currently I’m wrapping up the chapter on family—I’ve been thinking a lot about monogamous and polygamous court systems and what impact this has on the role of a queen both as a consort and a queen mother, or royal matriarch. I’m also working with Aidan Norrie, Danna Messer, Carolyn Harris and Joanna Laynesmith on a four-volume series on English consorts for the amazing Queenship and Power series at Palgrave Macmillan and have a few other “irons in the fire” as well. Never a dull moment—clearly I can’t get enough of queenship and royal studies!

RSJ Blog: We neither! Good luck, and we’re really exited about the next five years, your upcoming projects and more publications in these book series! Thank you for joining us!

Let’s talk about Royal Studies! (Video)

This little corner of the web is all about Royal Studies! The field, the network, the journal. Behind all this are amazing scholars, some of them coming together on the Kings & Queens conferences, some of them only connected via the Facebook group, following the activities on Twitter, Facebook, or the newsletter.

However, we do not only go to the Kings & Queens conferences but also to other gatherings like the IMC Leeds (for medievalists). Just recently, Kristen Geaman and Cathleen Sarti who are two of the people behind this blog and the marketing team have met for the first time in real life at IMC. Of course, we did a video.

Honestly, we’re not used to video interviews and you can see it – but if we are brave enough to post it, then so are you! Members of the RSN, get out, meet your friends from the network and talk about the network and Royal Studies! Please send any videos and questions to!
Under the video, you’ll find a list of possible questions to structure your videos! Although, we did also not really keep the structure – but take a look (sorry for the link, video is bigger than allowed upload size):

Kristen Geaman and Cathleen Sarti, IMC Leeds 2019

Here are some of the questions we discussed:

What brought you to royal studies, and how did you find out about the Royal Studies Network?

What do you enjoy most about the network?

Which new insights have you gained from your work connected to the network, or to royal studies?

What are you curious about?

What are you doing right now, and what are your next projects?

Kings & Queens 8 – Interview with Cinzia Recca

Cinzia Recca is a lecturer in Modern History at the University of Catania. Her book The Diary of Queen Maria Carolina of Naples, 1781-1785. New Evidence of Queenship at Court has been published in the Queenship&Power series in 2017. She is a well known participant of the Kings & Queens conferences, and other activities of the Royal Studies Network, and also the organiser for this year’s conference in Catania, Sicily. We talked with her about what is coming, and how to prepare for Sicily in June!

 Please make sure to include #KQ8 on social media, and follow the conference on the same hashtag if you cannot be there!

RSJ Blog: Hi Cinzia! Thanks for giving this interview and for welcoming the Royal Studies Network to Sicily for the first time! Could you please first tell us a bit more about the upcoming conference, and who is behind all the organisation?

Cinzia: Hi Cathleen, it is a real pleasure to answer your questions. I still remember my article in the first issue of RSJ, my interview for this blog, and it is very amazing how the blog grew more and more in only five years.

I have to confess that I am very thrilled about the upcoming conference; it was during the Portuguese edition July 2015 that I shyly proposed Catania as a possible venue for a future conference and immediately with enthusiasm the proposal was accepted for the 2019 conference .

So, I had 4 years to think about the organisation of the conference; in fact the first step was thinking about a topic. I had several ones in my mind but at the end resilience was the one that fascinated and intrigued me more than others. Nowadays this word is often used as the capacity to react in a positive way to traumatic events of life and so I imagine that examining it in depth, through a royal studies perspective, could be very interesting. The call for papers was a success and a high number of proposals were very interesting.

Another aspect that has been crucial for the organisation was to create a scientific committee, Marcello Fantoni, Fabian Persson, Zita Rohr and of course Ellie Woodacre kindly accepted my invitation to collaborate, helping me to select papers and structure the programme. I am very thankful for their  help. Then I thought that creating a mini video about Catania and the University could be an attractive  idea to involve people to participate so that during the last day of the seventh edition of Kings &Queens Conference in Winchester Ellie and I officially launched the call for paper showing the video.

From an organisational point of view,  I was aware that alone I could not manage anything.  I needed an organisational machine because I firmly believe in teamwork so that with the precious help of many persons that work at the University of Catania, we created a Conference website to give all the possible information requested and to register, so they simplified my work.

And last but not least, Officine Culturali , which is an Association in partnership with the University of Catania, is managing all the bureaucratic issues and during this last period  a great group of volunteer students is helping me  define the last things.

RSJ Blog: This does sound indeed like a well-oiled organisational machine! Let’s talk a bit more about all the “extras” we come to expect – and enjoy – from the Kings&Queens series? What is planned for Sicily?

Cinzia: This year we have an intense programme with numerous panels from ancient history to the contemporary period, analysing the theme also from a multi-disciplinary point of view.  Scholars of History, Literature, Art, Drama, Philosophy, and even Psychology will present their contributions. The Conference envisages also three plenary sessions with three great historians, Charles Beem, Francesco Benigno and Munro Price will discuss the themes from three different perspectives even if they are correlated.

As far as social activities are concerned, the Conference Venue will be the Palazzo Ingrassia and the Monastery of Benedictines, respectively of The Department of Educational Science and of Humanities. The Monastery is one of the biggest European religious buildings together with the monastery of Mafra in Portugal. The Monastery of Benedictines being a department site is open for visits and guided tours can be organised. So, the Conference offers a guided tour of the Monastery of the Benedictines on the first day. Sometimes, working inside this building I forget the magnificence and magic atmosphere of the past that you can breathe walking inside the Monastery. We will also have a special opportunity to spend time inside the two cloisters, on the occasion of lunches and for the social dinner.

During the last day of the conference, we are proposing a guided tour of Catania so that before the attendees go back home they could have a general idea of the main attractions of the city.

RSJ Blog: We are definitely looking forward to hearing about royal history, but also to enjoy Catania! Can you tell us a bit more about the Italian state of research in Royal Studies in the last few years? And also a bit about the long and complicated history of Sicily under different monarchical rules – just off the top of my head, I can think of Rome, Byzantium, Arabs, Staufer, Normans, Spain, and Italy – did I forget someone?

Cinzia: The Italian interest in Royal studies in the last few years has increased more and more. Ten years ago when I started my research on Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples, the interest for royal studies was already present but specific aspects of the Court/Kingdom were studied such as political, diplomatic fields, the crucial role of nobility, the magnificence of royal sites.  So the interest is gradually augmenting; this also is proved by the fact that during the first editions of King and Queens Conference I was the only Italian to participate while in the last editions the number of Italians increased. Actually, most of the scholars and historians are now expert in Medieval, early  Modern history and  History of Art.

I wish that the Kings & Queens Conference 8 in Catania could pique even more scientific curiosity and interest of royal studies from Italian historians and scholars.

The other question about the History of Sicily cannot be answered shortly. A very good example of the History of Sicily has been recently re-published by Lord John Julius Norwich, Sicily. A short History from Ancient Greeks to Cosa Nostra, Coronet, 2015. Lord Norwich returns to a subject that inspired his first book fifty years ago and he writes a richly nuanced Sicilian political history in a very interesting and attractive way.

More, I firmly agree with Francesco Benigno, who in the introductory chapter of History of Sicily edited with Giuseppe Giarrizzo, states that Sicily is an Isle but not isolated, it has been and it is still a bridge between Europe and Africa, between Western and Eastern. Sicily during the epochs  has been continuously a land of conquest, it was fought over by Phoenicians and Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans, Goths and Byzantines, Arabs and Normans, Germans, Spaniards and French for over a thousand years. All the rulers tried to keep it in their domains, so continuous struggles to conquer and keep the isle played a crucial role in the rise and fall of the world’s most powerful dynasties. And Sicilians belonged to all of them and every time they had to adapt to the new rulers, laws and way of life.  Resistance and resilience were of course two attitudes that the Sicilian population developed along the epochs.

 RSJ Blog: There is still so much to learn for me about Sicilian history! Aside from the conference, could you please also tell us a bit more about Catania and Sicily – there are probably a lot of people adding a few days to do some sightseeing, or just some relaxing at the beach! What should we not miss, which drinks are en vogue at the moment, what do we have to absolutely experience?

Cinzia:  During my course of History of Sicily during the early modern age, I often quote an excerpt of Journey to Italy of J.W.Goethe written in 1817:

Italy without Sicily leaves no image in the spirit. It is in Sicily that is the key to everything “[…]” The purity of the contours, the softness of everything, the soft reciprocity of colours, the harmonious unity of the sky with the sea and the sea to the land .. . those who saw them once, own them for life. 

Usually Sicily  was the last stop of the travellers who went on the Grand Tour since the mid- eighteenth centuy. There are so many attractions to see and visit in Sicily: discovering the precious ancient ruins, and see stunning sights such as in  Siracusa, Agrigento, Taormina, Piazza Armerina, Selinunte Palermo. Noto is amazing for its baroque buildings. Of course, too much to see and  probably a week could be not enough to visit everything.

But, even if the conference has an intensive programme  I should reccomend to plan time to visit Catania. Catania is the second largest Sicilian city and it has a population of around 300.000. Visiting Catania is quite easy, as the old town centre is relativley small.  An ideal starting point would be the main square, Piazza Duomo- Duomo Square and the Cathedral dedicated to Saint’Agatha, the city patron saint. The Cathedral stands with its baroque structure that incorporates some Roman columns taken from the amphitheatre, and where  three Aragonese king are buried: Frederik II, Louis and Frederik III. In the same square it is possible to observe Amenano Fountain and Elephant Palace, and La pescheria (fish Market).

Stesicoro Square with a Roman Amphitheater is also worth visiting as well as the main street of the old town Via Etnea (Etnea Street), La pescheria (Fish Market,) the old fortress of Castello Ursino, built by Frederik II of Hohenstaufen in the 13th century, Via Crociferi Street, the opera house  Teatro Massimo Vincenzo Bellini, dedicated and built to the memory of the famous composer.

For the lovers of the seaside, Catania offers several beaches, Playa with sand,  Scogliera with rocks and San Giovanni Licuti beach with lava sand and rocks.

And of course  I suggest enjoying the typical food and drinks: things such as tasting the Catanese specialities (arancino, cipollina, cartocciata, bolognese, granita …), taking a drink in the Theater quarter near Teatro Massimo Square. And if there is still time available, an excursion to the volcano Etna and the little villages close to the sea, such as Aci Trezza and Aci Castello are worth a visit, too.

RSJ Blog: Don’t forget to pack comfortable shoes! Sounds like you’ll be walking around quite a bit! Cinzia, thank you for doing this interview! Is there anything you’d like to add?

Cinzia: Thank you so much for giving me the possibility to present briefly the upcoming Conference and Catania, I wish all the participants to have a pleasant stay. See you soon!!

Interview with Brendan Cook and Jennifer Mara DeSilva

Brendan Cook is a Senior Instructor in Humanities and Cultural Studies at the University of South Florida who wrote his PhD on Thomas More’s Utopia and Lorenzo Valla’s On Pleasure. Working on Renaissance texts, especially neo-Latin literature, is one of his research foci. His translation of the correspondence of the Roman humanist Lorenzo Valla was published in 2014 by Harvard University Press. 

Jennifer Mara DeSilva is well known to the readers of this blog and of the Royal Studies Journal thanks to her work on ceremonial entries and on cardinals. She is an Associate Professor of History at Ball State University (Indiana, USA), and has written several articles about the papal Masters of Ceremonies and edited collections examining the reformist behaviour of early modern bishops and the coercive process of sacralizing of space in the premodern world.

RSJ Blog: Hi Brendan and Jennifer, it’s great to talk with you about your recent article in the Royal Studies Journal which constitutes also somewhat of a first for the journal: it’s a source edition. More specifically, you have translated the funeral oration for Cardinal Pietro Riario by Nikolaus of Modruš in 1474, and compared this also to the Latin transcription. Can you tell us a bit more about this source?

NIKOLA MODRU¦KI, Oratio in funere?, Rim, 1474. Source 

Brendan & Jennifer: A translation seemed especially valuable to us because this text is interesting from more than one perspective. Obviously, there is the insight it provides into the institutional culture of the fifteenth-century Catholic Church. We have a summary of the life and achievements of one of the most important figures in Rome, a cardinal and a nephew of the pope. And this story is presented by someone who is also an important part of that same institutional structure, and who is sets out very deliberately to celebrate his virtues and apologize for his perceived shortcomings. So we see how the elites in this particular organization want to present themselves. But even apart from this, the oration is fascinating as an example of how humanist rhetoric is becoming established within the Catholic hierarchy. Modruš is making remarkable use of the different elements of humanist Latin, be it diction, syntax, or rhetorical tropes. And in that sense, the text belongs to the history of Neo-Latin literature as much as to the history of the papacy. That is why we included a Latin transcription as well as the English translation. We hope that the English version can serve as a sort of commentary on the Latin for those who want to study it, giving a sense not just of Modruš’ meaning, but his style. It is a translation that tries to reproduce the effect of the original, even it sometimes employs different means.

RSJ Blog: The oration was given by the Croatian bishop Nikolaus of Modruš for the funeral of the cardinal Pietro Riario. First of all, who were these men, and why did a Croatian bishop give an oration for an Italian cardinal? What was their connection? And second, was this oration ever really given, probably at the funeral, or was it “just” written and published? What was the purpose of this speech or text?

Brendan & Jennifer: Great questions! Nikolaus of Modruš (c.1425/7-1480) was one of many educated European men, who moved from regional diplomacy to Roman curial administration over the course of his career. Through the early modern period well-traveled, educated, and intelligent royal or noble agents often found that their skills and energy suited working as a papal governor, in the court of the Rota, or in the College of Cardinals. Like many other successful humanists, lawyers, and ambassadors, he took clerical vows in order to be of further use to the pope, whose interests spanned Eurasia, and receive income streams under papal control. Although Nikolaus ended up as the bishop of Senj and then Modruš, he lived and worked in the Italian peninsula, as a familiar of both Pope Sixtus IV and his nephew Cardinal Pietro Riario, remaining close to the centre of power.

Pietro Riario’s wall tomb in the church of SS. Dodici Apostoli in Rome
Source: Wikimedia Commons

As with many publications, this oration had several purposes: memorialization of a generous patron, encouragement of future patrons, and identity-building. Undoubtedly, these three purposes were interconnected and functioned on behalf of, and were directed towards, far more people than just Pietro Riario and Nikolaus of Modruš. While the author was a witness to spectacular diplomacy and a mourner of great men, he was also a campaigner on behalf of educated men who needed income and depended on large curial households. We know that Niccolò Perotti, the bishop of Siponto and another member of Riario’s household, also wrote a eulogy that he performed during the obsequies. As there is no similar evidence for this text, we suspect that Nikolaus’ oration was meant to be a public statement, rather than a printed account of an act.

RSJ Blog: This oration was one of the earliest prints, officially still counting as incunabulum since it was printed before 1501. Can you tell us a bit more about the genre of the source, e.g. how it relates to the later funeral sermons; and about the circumstances of its publication? Italy was one of the earliest printing centres – of course after Mainz in Germany where Cathleen’s university is – but was it still somewhat unusual that the papacy took to print so quickly? In some ways, the new printing technology was a rival to traditional text production in the church.

Brendan & Jennifer: Rome has always been interested in activities that could increase authority and reputation, be it print, lavish spending, public ceremonies, or art. As you know, from the late fifteenth century the printing press played an important role in facilitating knowledge and cultural dissemination in Rome. With both a large resident population and a large transient population, print offered a way to inform and affect people whose attention was dispersed across many areas, factions, and national or institutional identities. Print could condemn schismatic cardinals, mourn a papal nephew, and encourage a new saint’s cult. While this did not entirely replace manual copyists or more expensive illuminators, it could spread a variety of information faster and farther than before.

Unfortunately, little is known about the circumstances surrounding the publication of Pietro Riario’s funeral sermon. As our introduction shows, Nikolaus of Modruš’ work was part of a larger interest in memorializing Roman elites in the late fifteenth century. However, since there are so few studies or catalogues of Roman printers’ output it is difficult to be certain about the impact of this type of text, or even its popularity among print shop customers. Nevertheless, at this time there were enough elite households with fledgling libraries and literate individuals with an interest in either Riario, Sixtus, or Nikolaus, that we might expect this sort of cultural memorialization.

RSJ Blog: Just out of curiosity – do you have any idea who read these eulogies?

Brendan & Jennifer: The oration was published seven times in twenty-five years: in Rome (five times, 1474-1500), in Padua (once, 1482), and in Rostock (once, 1476). While Rome was a diplomatic and curial hub, both Padua and Rostock were university towns and centres of regional administration. A quick internet search turns up two dozen copies preserved in libraries across Europe, the Americas, and Australia. Stefan Plannck’s reprinting in the 1480s is especially well represented. This suggests that the oration’s subject and its author had a much larger attraction than we imagine. Moreover, the fact that comparatively many copies of the text have survived, leads us to believe that the type of text (both oration and biography) and the quarto format (cheap and portable) appealed to contemporaries.

RSJ Blog: Pietro Riario was a nephew of Pope Sixtus IV (r. 1471-1484). Can you introduce us to this system of papal relatives as counsellors during the Renaissance? Why did popes choose to surround themselves with family instead of with people from within the church?

Brendan & Jennifer: Worldwide right now the topic of family support in leadership, and nepotism more broadly, is experiencing a revival of interest, but for scholars of the early modern Catholic Church it has always been a talking point. Although taking clerical vows was considered to cut one off from blood relatives, the reality was that reciprocal familial support was the bedrock of early modern society, both secular and ecclesiastical. The election of a new pope, roughly once a decade, could herald a change of leadership, strategy, and personnel. This administrative disruption coupled with an increase in wide responsibility demanded a cohort of unquestionably loyal counsellors and agents who could implement and oversee the pope’s agenda. While kinsmen attract the greatest attention, new popes depended heavily on members of their former household to fill offices, and raised up relatives to form households of their own that could recruit reliable men, who in turn would form similar bonds of loyalty that could work on the pope’s behalf. In the end, as this oration shows us, the family rose and fell together, which is why the household that supported the pope or cardinal is described as a familia (“family”) in Latin.

RSJ Blog: Editing a source, especially when translation is also part of this edition, means getting really close to it – doing a close reading, if you will. Was there anything you were surprised by, or is this oration a typical case of its genre?

Brendan & Jennifer: In some ways, it is surprising just how typical this oration is. It is surprising how completely a bishop, and a Croatian at that, has mastered so many elements of humanist rhetoric. And this is not just a matter of the presence of many familiar tropes, but even of the texture of the language itself. On a word-by-word and on a sentence-by-sentence level, this is a great example of the kind of classicizing prose that had become the standard in Rome at this time. And in one sense, we could expect that Modruš would make an effort to produce an oration like this. When you belong to an institution like the Curia, you take your cues from those above you, and Sixtus IV embraced the humanist agenda like no pope before him. But it is still a surprise to see how widely accepted certain ways of thinking and speaking have become. Modruš seems to take it for granted that this oration is partly an exercise in impressing his audience through his mastery of what would have been called the elegantiae, the graces of good Latin style. In other words, he treats elegant writing as an end in itself. He takes great care in balancing his periods in a variety of ways, and he leans on devices, such as chiasmus, that feel very natural in Latin, even if they are often hard to reproduce in a language such as English. And he calls attention to what he’s doing. All throughout the oration, he communicates his awareness of the conventions of the form with these metatextual references to the choices he has made in shaping his structure. So it is clear, on internal evidence alone, that his readers are also immersed in these conventions. This oration is the product of a culture where the conventions of humanist oratory are accepted to the point of being taken for granted.

RSJ Blog: Thank you again for you time and participation! What is next for you?

Brendan: As a full-time instructor, I publish very little. I have translated a very interesting epistle, sort of a long, autoapologetic oration by the Roman orator Lorenzo Valla (1407-57), and I would like to publish that. It would make sense to include the kind of lengthy introduction/commentary that we’ve included here.

Jennifer: My current work focuses on another papal family, the Borgia, which provided Popes Calixtus III and Alexander VI to the throne of St. Peter (1455-1458 and 1492-1503). Issues of support network and public positioning were integral to the family’s rise and continue to play a role in how we understand the Borgia today. This work expands the research that I presented at the Royal Studies Network’s Kings & Queens 7 conference in Winchester (UK) last summer.

RSJ Blog: Both projects sound very interesting and promising to uncover more about Renaissance culture. Hopefully, we get to read some of these results soon! Let us know when it’s published, and we’ll announce it in our Facebook group!

March 2019 Book of the Month

This month’s Book of the Month is an often-cited classic for Kingship studies which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year: Paul Monod’s The Power of Kings. Monarchy and Religion in Europe, 1589-1715 saw the light of bookshops in 1999, published by Yale University Press. It still remains influential reading for researchers of royal studies, and it definitely draws the eye with its cover image of Philippe de Champaigne’s painting of Le Vœu de Louis XIII’ (1638).

Paul Kléber Monod (Hepburn Professor of History at Middlebury College (Vermont) was inspired to write this book, according to his acknowledgements, by intense discussions with Linda Colley and David Cannadine in the late 1980s. He refers to the immense struggle of going outside one’s usual geographical range (Monod is an expert on British history, but included an astounishing range of European courts and national historiography in his work). One of the reviews by Teofilo F. Ruiz in the American Historical Review in December 2000 applauded Monod for aiming high and succeeding, and was sure that this book will be cited and discussed for many years to come. Ruiz was right about that – when I first began reading for my PhD in 2009 (10 years later), this was one of the books still forming current debates about monarchy, culture, state formation, and – of course – religion and sanctity. So, what makes The Power of Kings a modern classic work for royal studies?

One aspect is certainly the consequent (and quite early) use of visual and ceremonial sources – in addition to textual sources like publications, parliamentary debates, or private documents, Monod really looks closely at images, esp. paintings and artwork commissioned by monarchs, and at the performance of ceremonies. This approach works well both for royal as well as for church history. He identifies the long seventeenth century as a time of transformation from a sacred to a secularized legitimation of monarchy, both with over-emphasis (by monarchs and courts) of royal sacralization and broader scepticism of this by their audience.

Another aspect is probably the masterful spinning of a narrative encompassing most of European courts, incl. Russia and Poland-Lithuania, and, even more impressive, several research fields. Aside from royal studies and kingship studies, Monod included research on state formation and nationalisation, political thought, church history, and theology into his book.

Although details presented in the book, and even the overall argument and contextualisation, can be – and have been – criticised (see this review and the author’s response), the book in its entirety still inspires and stimulates, not least of all because it was one of the first books on political authority, once again taking religious feelings serious.

What are your experiences with The Power of Kings? Did it inspire your research, or do you think, it is just not current anymore? Let us know what you think in the comments below, or on Facebook. 

Interview with Stephen Lucey

Dr. Stephen Lucey is a professor of art history at Keene State College (New Hampshire, US), and teaches premodern as well as non-Western art history. His research focuses on the medieval Mediterranean world. His recent article in the Royal Studies Journal The Royal Chapel at Pyrga: Art, Agency, and Appropriation in Fourteenth Century Cyprus is an example of this.

RSJ Blog: Thank you for giving us this interview. In your article for the Royal Studies Journal, you write about the royal chapel at Pyrga on Cyprus – an architectural relic from the Lusignan rule over the island (1192-1474). Can you please introduce us (and our readers) to the problem connected with the dating of this chapel?

Stephen: I was first introduced to the chapel in a seminar at Princeton many years ago. At that time, there was very little bibliography associated with the monument and most was quite outdated. So too, I had only limited access to photographs, so it was difficult to get a sense of the fresco program as a whole. I slogged through writing a research paper upholding the 1421 date that was based on a now missing foundation inscription (recorded by a single source in the late nineteenth century) and “authoritative” stylistic studies that framed the chapel’s decoration as a “outsider” unrelated to better known and earlier examples of Cypriot painting.

Still, it was clear to me back then that there was a funerary context involved (see my argument in the article), but it was (is!) difficult to connect that with the death of Queen Charlotte de Bourbon (1388-1421/2). Though the date of her death might seem to support a connection, she is shown very much alive in the frescoes on the east wall. The dating was only one of the many unsatisfying “facts” about the chapel that appeared in the literature (and continued to be perpetrated for years to come). I am happy that I remained both vexed and tenacious – it has certainly been a long road but worth the endeavor.

RSJ Blog: So, even as a student, something about the historiographical work on this chapel struck you as somehow wrong! What struck us as most peculiar was how the mis-dating of the chapel to the early fifteenth century resulted in a completely different interpretation and assessment of the chapel’s art historical “worth” than the dating to the mid-fourteenth century. This also shows in many ways how subjective – despite all attempts otherwise – our interpretations can be, and the problem of objective judgement. Could you please expand a bit on this historiographical debate, and its meaning?

Stephen: I wouldn’t necessarily characterize it as an issue of art historical worth (for me at least) so much as affording it a meaningful context that can be supported by significant evidence – evidence that was simply lacking for the 1421 dating. So little artistic comparanda survives from early fifteenth-century Cyprus, and what there is is quite different in terms of artistic style. Scholarly interest in the chapel simply langoured until Jens Wollesen’s monograph of 2010 (see bibliography). He was the first to question the status quo. I attribute much of the apathy towards Pyrga to its Latin context – the key scholars working in Cyprus in the 1990s and 2000s were chiefly Byzantinists – and Wollesen was not of that ilk. So too, Pyrga’s ruinous state and the miserable assessment of its artistic merits were off putting – do recall that it is not part of the UNESCO set of Cypriot cultural heritage monuments.

It was a few years after the Princeton seminar that I was able to visit Cyprus and see the chapel firsthand. My immediate impression was that Pyrga’s frescoes were not at all as had been described though they are quite distressed. I have often felt that in art history it is the reading of style that can be the most subjective and misleading. So-called authoritative critiques of Pyrga’s frescoes began to seem both hyperbolic and dismissive. Even then, I was struck by how closely related the dominant style of Pyrga’s frescoes were to the great and earlier “warhorses” of Cypriot mural art – the churches at Asinou and Pelendri. Again, it took Wollesen’s work on style some years later to convince me that Pyrga was worth looking at yet again – and a number of years and numerous visits to familiarize myself with the artistic heritage of the island.

RSJ Blog: So, in a way, both the experience of your student-self that something didn’t really add up as well as the hands-on experience in Cyprus were essential for pushing this research forward, and to reach new insights. As an art historian, is it your experience that it is often the opportunity to see artworks “live” in their context that brings forth more questions and answers?

Stephen: There is no question that one must experience the actual object/monument in order to do serious research. As a teacher of global art, I am also impelled to travel and see artworks firsthand. Only then am I able to “recreate” through images (still and moving) and speech a vicarious experience for my students (with the hope that one day they too will seek to explore the breadth of human aesthetic achievement). Indeed, I am off to Peru this summer to garner “fresh” material for my “Indigenous America” lectures in my introductory art history course.

Stephen Lucey gathering material for research and teaching – it begs no question where he is this time 🙂

Back to the question at hand… I would also attribute my ability to reassess the Pyrga material to a growing bibliography on medieval Cyprus – in many ways the questions I was asking of Pyrga and Latin patronage were becoming au courant in the literature. And while I may be a scholar of the medieval Mediterranean, my “focus” is pre-second millenium CE. Still, I believe that my research on the early medieval church of Santa Maria Antiqua in Rome was a key factor in my interest in Cyprus. SMA’s fresco decoration is also in a poor state of preservation, and both the art and its audience bespeak a blending of Roman and Byzantine traditions.

RSJ Blog: What do the frescoes of the chapel, and the architecture of the chapel itself show us about Cyprus’ history?

Stephen: I think the chief lesson of the Pyrga chapel lies within the consideration of modes of “colonial” cultural appropriation as it applies to the late Middle Ages in the eastern Mediterranean. Early modern parallels (buzzword “colonial”) are difficult to sustain given the complexities of the history of the period and the cultures involved. Still, and beyond a doubt, the Lusignan court culture of Cyprus was acquisitive, varied in taste, but nonetheless very much aware of the import of its choices. I believe that the example of Pyrga presents some of the best information we have in that regard. Given a pan-Cypriot problem (plague), the rulers invoke both their own Latin Christianity and its ritual forms in conjunction with the intercessory power of indigenous, and ancient, prophylaxis and its visual manifestations à la maniera Cypria. We, or the social historians, still need to unpack how this can/cannot be framed in a larger “colonial” milieu of Crusader culture.

RSJ Blog: It is always great to end our interviews with a call to arms for more research! And in this case, there really seems to be much done in terms of de-constructing and re-constructing based on your new insights! Thank you for introducing us to some more of your research! As a final question, what are your new projects?

Stephen: For me, it’s back to early medieval Rome and a consideration of narrative cycles and their import for ritual activity: an invited chapter in Anne Heath and Gillian Elliott, eds. Art, Architecture, and the Moving Viewer: Unfolding Narratives ca. 300-1500 (Art and Material Culture in Medieval and Renaissance Europe Series) Leiden: Brill, forthcoming.

RSJ Blog: This does sound exciting, although quite a bit different than what you did in Cyprus. I really like how you also include the broader context and framing into your work. Good luck with early medieval Rome, and we are looking forward to reading it!