Interview with Theresa Earenfight
Theresa Earenfight is a professor of history at Seattle University. She is the author of The King’s Other Body: María of Castile and the Crown of Aragon (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009) and Queenship in Medieval Europe (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). She is currently working on Catherine of Aragon and a database of royal pregnancies in Europe.
RSJ Blog: Hi Theresa, thanks for doing this interview for our readers at the Royal Studies Journal Blog! First of all, could you tell us a bit more about how you became interested in medieval and early modern queenship?
Theresa: I loved the history of queens since middle school, especially those rousing popular biographies that I devoured like a genteel bodice ripper, but with real people, not fictional heroines. In grad school, I worked with Joe O’Callaghan, whose work on Spanish kings got me interested in monarchy, specifically the fifteenth century Crown of Aragon because of its fascinating federative character. Well, Alfonso V (1416-58) spent most of his time after 1432 conquering and governing the kingdom of Naples, which left the peninsular realms kingless. At first I thought, oh, it must be ruled by his brother or a high-ranking prelate. Wrong on both counts. I was actually surprised to find out first, that Queen Maria (sister of the king of Castile) was in fact running the realm and second, that she faced no serious pushback from the nobles and clerics in Spain. None. Not a peep of the sort of hostile criticism that contemporary French queens faced. That really surprised me, and I’ve been trying to figure out the dynamics of monarchy ever since.
RSJ Blog: Currently you are working on an article comparing medieval attitudes about three queens: Maria of Castile, Isabel of Castile, and Catherine of Aragon. Have you found any interesting commonalities about what writers said about these queens, some who had children and some who did not?
Theresa: The cross-generational commonalities are striking, and I think it is due largely to the political culture of Castile where they were all raised. They were all educated similarly and they all read, or were exposed to, many of the same writers. Some of this literature is misogynistic (there is a strong “querela de mujeres” strand) but much of what they read, or at least what their libraries contained, was strongly supportive of women in monarchy. I think this shaped Maria of Castile first, who simply stepped into the breach when Alfonso moved to Naples and stayed there. Isabel was stewed in this, but she was not supposed to reign, and only after the death of her brothers did she seize the throne and negotiated a deal with Fernando making him king-consort, not king-regnant in Castile. That is important, for both her own sovereignty and that of her daughter, Catherine and Catherine’s daughter, Mary Tudor. I’m not sure how children play into this directly, but that is something definitely worth studying. The idea of a childless queen was very much a concern for Maria of Castile, but as far as I know, there was little commentary on this in her lifetime. Alfonso was chided often for leaving his peninsular realms “like a widow,” which is a fascinating criticism. Isabel, of course, used her maternal status skillfully, as Liz Lehfeldt has very convincingly shown. Catherine of Aragon is the most famous of the three for her six pregnancies and only two live births, a son who died soon after birth and, of course, a daughter Mary. I’ve been reading lately some excellent new work on the literature of the period relative to women by Núria Silleras-Fernández and Emily Francomano, so this part of my work is still very much in progress.
RSJ Blog: You are currently writing a biography of Catherine of Aragon. How much of a role did her inability to have a son play in her divorce from Henry VIII?
Theresa: It was fundamental. Had their son, Henry, lived (he died a few months after his birth), I wager that their marriage would have survived. King Henry would probably still have had a number of affairs, but with a male heir, there would have been no reason for the divorce. So, I think that the English Reformation would have taken a rather different direction had the baby lived.
RSJ Blog: Some medieval kings did not divorce their childless wives. Why was Henry VIII different?
Theresa: I think it’s both personal and bureaucratic. He was a spoiled man with advisors who gave him what he wanted. But it’s more than his corrosive personality. The Tudors had a serious legitimacy problem, starting with the Battle of Bosworth Field, and then getting worse with two pretenders (Perkin Warbeck and Lambert Simnel), so Henry had a strong impulse to prove that the Tudors were blessed by God. First Cardinal Wolsey and then Thomas Cromwell worked to give Henry what he wanted, although Wolsey ultimately paid dearly for his failure. But the Protestant Reformation’s anti-papal rhetoric provided a legal foundation for Henry to divorce and he happily took the bait.
RSJ Blog: In 2013, you presented some preliminary ideas on developing a database for royal genealogy, focusing on pregnancies and births – can you tell us a bit more about where this project is now?
Theresa: It is still in the development stage. I have been accumulating evidence for the database, but this is a much bigger project than I first envisioned and it needs an international team to do the research into genealogies, family histories, chronicles, and medical records (if they exist) to put all the facts together. My next step is to assemble that team of scholars to put our heads, and our sources, together to fill in the blanks. Eventually, the database will be open-source with an option for credentialed scholars to contribute.
RSJ Blog: With this project, you are working on the border of queenship studies and medical history – can you tell us a bit about the sources you use, and if there are any special difficulties?
Theresa: The sources are very tricky. Even for an early modern queen like Catherine of Aragon, at a court as well documented as the Tudors, the sources for the history of medicine are sketchy. We have knowledge of the court physicians, but very little is said or known of Catherine’s pregnancies, and until recently some pregnancies were considered dubious. This is due, in part, to a secrecy about her later pregnancies and miscarriages. But it is also due to the way that the physicians and midwives at court kept, or did not keep, records. For Maria of Castile, I know when she had her first menstrual period only because she wrote to her mother telling her about it. Maria’s health has been the subject of speculation, but very little real study by someone with expertise in the history of medicine. And there is a lot of ignorance and misogyny embedded in the hypotheses, most of which blame her for “infertility” when, in fact, she and Alfonso lived apart for most of their marriage. Yes, he had three illegitimate children, but what some scholars call her infertility may well have been simply the absence of sexual intercourse.
RSJ Blog: This summer, you raised also some interesting questions about periodization of queenship on your blog. Could you please elaborate a bit on this? In what ways does it actually play a role, if we define something as early modern or medieval?
Theresa: I am still struggling with this question, even more so now that I’m working on Catherine of Aragon who straddles the conventional periodization of medieval and early modern. There seem to be so many ways that queens face similar challenges and opportunities across time—they are defined by their fathers or husbands, they are expected to bear children, they get beat up for the same sort of sexual issues, they are second choices in the hierarchy. But after 1600, it seems something really does change and I think it’s a new political world after the rise of secretaries. But then again, I wonder if it’s not all that different from the earlier conversations queenship scholars had about the 11th and 12th centuries and the thesis on how women fared with the rise of bureaucratic kingship. I wonder if in the early modern period, region and religion matter more than time periods, if as the Reformation took shape, those monarchies in Protestant realms differed in important ways from those of Catholic ones. There are several ways this question could be investigated. One thing we know very little about is royal women in the Islamic world. There are some studies, but Muslim women need to be studied comparatively. And this makes me want to change the question a bit, to consider regional differences in a Braudelian way, as in the Mediterranean or the North Atlantic. Elena Woodacre’s recent collection of essays on queens in the Mediterranean does this well, but that was just the beginning.
RSJ Blog: At the moment, much of queenship studies are concentrated on medieval and early modern Europe – do you have any insights what goes on beyond these borders, e.g. within Extra-European queenship studies, or in regards to modern queenship?
Theresa: I think we need to look beyond Europe, especially Asia after 1300, when Marco Polo and other traders opened Europe up to another set of influences, and the Americas after the Columbian voyages. Cultural points of contact may well have shaped the practice of monarchy in Europe, but until we do that work, all we can do is speculate. The differences between Asia, the Americas, and Europe complicate comparisons, but the more we know about how royal women around the world exercised authority and power, the sharper and more focused our comparisons can be.
RSJ Blog: Thank you so much! We look forward to your future work.
Interview with Sara Wolfson
Queen Henrietta Maria (1609 – 1669)
RSJ Blog: 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.
RSJ Blog: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.
RSJ Blog: If you can, how would you best describe Queen Henrietta Maria’s character?
Sara: Steadfast, loyal and vivacious.
RSJ Blog: 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.
RSJ Blog: 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.
RSJ Blog: 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.
Interview with Lucinda Dean
RSJ Blog: Hi Lucy, thanks for doing this interview. First, let us start with how you became involved in Royal Studies? What is your educational background and what made you decide to research royal ceremonies?
Lucinda: Well, in regards to the first question, I put together a Scottish panel for the first Kings and Queens Conference that Ellie and Shaun organised at the University of Bath, and it was here that Ellie introduced the concept of the Royal Studies Network. I signed up right away – the conference saw the bringing together of such a diverse range of exciting and interesting scholars looking at so many aspects of ‘Royal Studies’ and I wanted to keep in touch. I then spoke at the second conference at Winchester, where Ellie announced the Royal Studies Journal concept and I have been involved from the outset, primarily on the copyediting team and I’m very much looking forward to continued involvement with these two brilliant initiatives. I have also had a further panel accepted to the third conference this year, which I’m greatly looking forward too.
In answer to the second part, it was rather a convoluted journey to the study of royal ceremony for me. I have always loved history and history of art, but after completing ‘A’ levels I shied away from academia and jumped straight into the world of work, where I worked in the catering trade as a deputy restaurant manager. However, at about twenty-one I decided that I did – as my mum had always said I would – want to go into higher education; although initially it was my passion for creative writing that drove my choice of university and I did a joint creative writing and history degree at the Kingston University. After a tentative start I came out with a First and, while I had loved every minute of both subjects, as the degree had progressed I realised (with some encouragement from my wonderful supervisor for independent research project and dissertation, Dr Marisa Linton) that history was the field I wanted to pursue into postgraduate study.
I had done my dissertation on the early Medici in Florence and the interlocking of power, politics, religion, art and display became the root of my MA dissertation looking at Louis XIV. This study considered the representation of authority of Louis through artistic means and, more interestingly, how this image was flipped around and used by Louis’s critics to attack him. When looking at continuing my studies to PhD level, I knew I wanted to continue looking at similar themes but also that I wanted to move both back in time and away from France in focus. I had always had a passion for Scottish history (my father is proudly half Scottish and I spent many a happy school holiday exploring Scottish castles!) and the original PhD proposal was to look at representations of the Scottish royal image more generally; the decision to focus on royal ceremony specifically came part way through my first year of research at the University of Stirling and I haven’t looked back since!
RSJ Blog: Wow, that sounds great. Now, is there a particular royal ceremony that especially fascinates you? Was this also a point of interest for you during your master’s degree?
Lucinda: All ceremony fascinates me – particularly the interplay of ceremony within its wider political context both at a local level and on the international stage – however, if I had to pick a particular ceremony, I think that perhaps rather morbidly I am most fascinated by funerals and memorial of the dead.
As noted in my above answer, ceremony was not central to my MA studies; however, while I didn’t focus on it extensively, the theatre of display and ceremony in the court of Louis XIV certainly intrigued me greatly – particularly how the most menial activities were given such gravitas under the guise of ceremonial.
RSJ Blog: Great! Currently, is the Scottish Monarchy your specialty? What drew you to the ceremonies of the Scottish Monarchy?
Lucinda: I have flitted about a bit in regards to country and time period in my research, and have interests that span in many directions; however, the ceremonies of the Scottish monarchy have definitely become my speciality and I have many plans that all suggest a continuation of this trend!
When I was looking into moving on from MA research to PhD – as previously mentioned – I knew I wanted to change to study Scotland and I wanted to continue in the study of themes connected to visual, oral, written representations of authority. In the histriographical research in the early days of the PhD I found that there were numerous gaps in regards to such themes in Scottish history, but perhaps the biggest and most perplexing gap to me was that in regards to ceremony – even the key ceremony of coronation was sadly underexplored. There were isolated chunks of research. For example, the inauguration of Alexander III (1249) has received abundant research, and the sixteenth century is generally better served, particularly in regards to the study of weddings (but the coverage is still sporadic). Yet, there was nothing that gave a comprehensive overview of the continuity and change found across the centuries. So, possibly biting of a bit more than one person can chew, I set off on a mission to provide such a study covering just short of 400 years covering funeral, inauguration/ coronation, and weddings/ consort coronations.
RSJ Blog: How did you approach your research from an interdisciplinary perspective? Was this approach more useful in understanding ceremonial traditions of the Scottish Monarchy?
Lucinda: My study was interdisciplinary in the sense that it drew upon political, economical, social and cultural history, as well as history of art, literature, liturgical studies, music, sigillography, architecture and archaeology, and even spatial analysis (thanks to the study a friend is undertaking as Stirling) and anthropology – although the latter two are areas into which I only dabbled my toes and would certainly like to venture more in regards to looking at ceremony in the future. In some ways, this could perhaps be deemed the route that many historians take – particularly when researching themes such as ceremony – and therefore it could be questioned whether this interdisciplinary or not. However, ultimately, I think that historical research has diversified so much that in many ways we are all working in a far more interdisciplinarian manner.
In regards to how this approach assisted my understanding of ceremonial traditions in Scotland, it was crucial. These ceremonies have to be placed within their political and social context, and need to be understood as part of the landscape in which they occurred to truly assess what drove certain developments and what led to the retaining of certain traditions. Moreover, as I know can be a problem in the medieval era for many historians, source survival for Scotland is quite poor – particularly in comparison with records that have survived in France and England – and this demanded an open approach to the variety of source materials that would need to be used.
RSJ Blog: And lastly, what is next for your research? Do you have any upcoming projects in mind?
Lucinda: So many potential projects!! Having only finished my PhD in September last year and passing my viva with minor corrections in December, I am currently in the grey area between PhD-hood and fully fledged academic, so there is quite a lot of uncertainty just now about the exact direction I’m headed. However, I am in the process of co-editing a volume with a colleague from the University of Stirling which was inspired by a conference that we ran in August 2012 on the theme of representations of authority, and I am keen to organise another conference. I’m also looking to propose a monograph to be developed from the first to chapters of my thesis on royal ceremonies of death and succession in medieval and early modern Scotland in the near future to the St Andrews Scottish History Series.
There are several avenues I would like to explore in future research (although the order in which they occur will be entirely funding/ post-doctoral post/ job dependent), but these include: creating a digital recreation of one or more of the ceremonies to try and get this research into a form more accessible to a wider public; a continuation of the sidelined research I have already done into royal baptisms and traversing the realm; and a project expanding out from my third chapter on weddings to look at the ceremonial of ambassadorial interactions more broadly, kings abroad, and the impact of foreign entourages in Scotland.
Essentially, my thesis was the tip of an enormous iceberg that should keep me busy for the foreseeable future!