Volume 1 Issue 1 (Sep 2014)

Interview with Cinzia Recca

Maria Carolina and Marie Antoinette: Sisters and Queens in the mirror of Jacobin Public Opinion

Cinzia Recca is a research fellow in Modern History at the University of Catania. Her book “Sentimenti e Politica. Il diario inedito della regina Maria Carolina di Napoli (1781-1785)” regarding the personal diary of Queen Maria Carolina of Naples has just been published in 2014 and will soon be translated into English. Her current research is aimed at a re-writing of the biography of Queen Maria Carolina of Naples through the analysis of unpublished documents.

RSJ Blog: Hi Cinzia, thanks for doing this interview! You’ve just published an article in the first issue of the Royal Studies Journal about Maria Carolina of Naples and Marie Antoinette of France. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

Cinzia: The historical figures of Marie Antoinette of France and Maria Carolina of Austria have been misunderstood for a very long time. Even after more than two hundred years since Marie Antoinette’s death, some history books still describe her as a silly and superficial woman, who with her fancies, quickened the end of the Ancien Régime and drove the Parisian people to rebel. Notwithstanding this wide spread opinion, Marie Antoinette was a strong and resolute woman, for this reason she still causes animated debates among scholars. The innumerable biographies edited between the nineteenth century and the present day, testify indeed, to a perennial interest in the last Queen of France. While the first Queen has been reconsidered inside the historiographical field, not completely defined yet, the second one hasn’t had a balanced, calm and impartial judgment yet.

Marie Antoinette and Maria Carolina
Marie Antoinette (left) and Maria Carolina

The interest in Maria Carolina of Naples derives from the necessity to reopen a historiography, which in the past lacked influential interpretations and which needed to be more updated and up to the restored historiographical standards of the Reign of Naples. In fact, during the nineteenth century and part of the twentieth, this regnant Queen’s figure was judged according to two different stereotypes that were to influence the future historiographies of the Queen: the first one, nationalistic ( let’s think, for example, of the opposing interpretations by the “Central European” historians, like Baron Helfert and Earl Corti, the French ones like Gagniere e Bonnefons and the Italian Botta, Cuoco, Colletta, Pepe, Palumbo, Croce, and the more moderate ones by the English Jeafferson and Bearne); the second one, antifeminist, ante litteram, spread everywhere and strongly present in some works by the above mentioned authors.

The Empress Maria Theresa said of her that “among my daughters she is the most similar to me”, but about this Queen and this lady, it was necessary to rewrite her history to give the reader a less nationalistic and male chauvinist panorama.

RSJ Blog: Could you tell us more about all the Habsburg sisters?  Did they all have a close relationship? Or just Maria Carolina and Marie Antoinette?

Cinzia: Maria Carolina had a sincere and loving relationship with all her brothers and sisters: Maria Amalia, sweet and charming, was the mature and reassuring older sister who was an example to follow. Even throughout most of their lives as wives they remained on good terms: they used to exchange portraits, letters and gifts. Maria Carolina had also a good, confidential and durable relationship, with the Archduke Leopold whom she considered her favourite brother. Several were the letters that they exchanged after their respective marriages: a correspondence that testifies on the one hand to the confidence of Leopold towards his younger sister about the intelligence and the ability to educate their respective children, on the other hand a solid and long-lasting presence of an older brother to whom to refer in moments of indecision and crisis, both familial and institutional. However, there is a correspondence between Maria Carolina and her brother Emperor Joseph II which testifies to the family ties between the two, confirming the wise Habsburg policy implemented by the Queen who asked for recommendations and opinions on proposals and guidelines that came from the Spanish royal family and British ministers, in order not to make decisions contrary to the interests of Austria. Having been brought up with a sister who was three years younger, Marie Antoinette, almost like a twin, favoured the emotional relationships with the latter. And having shared their childhood, in fact, favored the establishment between the two sisters of a solid loving bond that accompanied them troughout their lives, as is testified by the letters through which they communicated even after they married. So that after the French Revolution and the execution of her sister Marie Antoinette, Queen Maria Carolina swore eternal hatred first for the French revolutionaries, and then for Napoleon.

RSJ Blog: In the article you discuss several hate pamphlets against Maria Carolina and Marie Antoinette. Who were the author(s) behind these pamphlets against the two Queens?

Cinzia: It depends on the year of publication of the pamphlets. Before and during the Revolution, the majority of the authors of these texts were of course anonymous. Political enemies such as the Duke of Orleans could have sponsored them. Also booksellers and unscrupulous printers, greedy blackmailers (such as Boissiere who published, Image Des Amours Charlot and Toinette) offered their editions to discredit the King’s Finance. All authors had in common one purpose: to attack the most outrageously, filthy and obscene Monarchy, especially the figure of the Queen considered the cause of the ruin of the country in the interest of Austria.


RSJ Blog: Very interesting! Could you also tell us a bit more about the role the Habsburg family and their influence during the time of the French Revolution in Europe?

Cinzia: Well it is not easy to answer to this question with few lines, but I will try. The Empress Maria Theresa had extended family power in Europe with her marital diplomacy, the marriages of Maria Carolina and Marie Antoinette are two examples. So after the death of their beloved mother, the Habsburg had inherited a position of power even leadership in Europe, which was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. The French Revolution of 1789 represented a mortal danger for them, during this period they were more worried than the most European dynasties by the need to defend their extensive territories. Therefore in the years immediately after the French Revolution and also after, during the Napoleonic period, the Habsburg were involved in a series of wars against their old enemy, France, that lasted almost a quarter of a century and finished with the Treaties of Vienna in 1815.

bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube

RSJ Blog: Quite a time of change! Is there anything new you are working on that you would like to share?

Cinzia: I have to confess to you that it is a quite busy time for me. I recently finished translating into English and up dating my book regarding the personal diary of Queen Maria Carolina which, I hope will soon be published. I am starting a monograph regarding the Habsburg shadow in the Kingdom of Naples, analysing and focusing the attention on the precious suggestions contained in un-published letters that Emperor Joseph II and Grand Duke Peter Leopold sent to their sister during the pre-French-revolutionary age. And in the meantime, I am starting to investigate the crucial role that ‘the Winspeares’ a noble family and native of the county of Scarborough had acquired in the Kingdom of Naples during the Eighteenth century.

RSJ Blog: And finally, will we see you this summer at the Kings & Queens IV conference in Lisbon? If so, what will you be presenting?

Cinzia: Yes, I will be very happy to join you at the next Kings & Queens conference in Lisbon, when I read a paper entitled ‘The reversal of dynasties’ during the era of the House of Bourbon in the Kingdom of Naples regarding the history of the Neapolitan branch of the Bourbons showing how the balance of power and alliances changed within the House before and after the arrival of Maria Carolina of Habsburg –Lorraine.

RSJ Blog: Thank you again, and see you in Lisbon!

Interview with Nadia Thérèse van Pelt

Teens and Tudors: The Pedagogy of Royal Studies

RSJ Blog: Hi Nadia, thanks for doing this interview! First, your article presents us with results from an experiment in the classroom with a Tudor play. Could you tell us a bit more about this?

Nadia: The Teens and Tudors project came forth from my PhD on spectator risk management in early English drama, which I have completed at the University of Southampton in 2014. I was very keen to make part of a chapter of my thesis accessible to a wider audience through outreach, and decided on Heywood’s Play of the Weather as the project’s main focus, especially due to the fascinating socio-political context in which it was originally performed: the court of Henry VIII. Of course I’m not the first one to offer a staged reading of Heywood’s play; the Teens and Tudors project has been influenced by Staging the Henrician Court, an interdisciplinary project led by Professor Thomas Betteridge and Professor Greg Walker between 2008 and 2010. I was really excited about their project and website, which contains some very excellent teaching aids, such as video clips, articles and a discussion forum. With Teens and Tudors I wanted to contribute to existing studies by investigting how we can use staged readings or research performances as an exciting outreach tool for secondary schools, and of course as a teaching method at university level. The age of the actors in my project is relevant in that where staged readings tend to be performed by adult actors, I wanted to see whether the play, which was originally performed by schoolboys in 1533, would be better understood if the reconstruction were performed by teenagers in the same age category.

Linking Heywood’s play to the performance context of the Tudor court, meant that I could offer students a close reading tool that relied on getting to know the politics, gossip and lay-out of the Henrician court. I would project a lay-out plan of the Henrician great hall, and would use the actual space of the classroom (rid of tables and chairs) to help students decide where in the space lines from the play would be best uttered, and if the positioning in the room would have had any political implications in 1533. Furthermore, this set-up enabled us to discuss issues around gender, satire, and the dangers of performing drama that actors would have faced.

I have worked with 3 fifth form groups at a grammar school in The Hague, of which all students were non-native speakers of English. I was really impresed with how quickly they picked up on Heywood’s language, and especially the puns. I am very grateful for the school’s cooperation, and of course of the support and advice given by ICLON, the University of Leiden Graduate School of Teaching, and the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Culture at the University of Southampton.

RSJ Blog: Great! Now, you’re bridging the gap between gymnasium and university with this project – where is your focus? Is it more about bringing new pedagogy to the classroom? or about doing research on classroom dynamics for the university?

Nadia: That’s a good question! In fact, I find that addressing the bridge between school and university is very necessary and rewarding. I am a lecturer at the University of Leiden, so I usually teach university students. However, I do find that fifth and sixth form pupils are very capable of engaging with literature that it slightly more ‘out of the box’, in terms of the ‘standard’ curriculum for literature. I also found that certain prescribed authors tend to intimidate teenagers, for example, Shakespeare. The last thing I want to do is ‘freeze’ the students’ creativity of mind by offering them a text that that intimidates them before they have even started reading. The beauty of using Heywood of course, is that he is obscure enough for students not to have heard of his work, so that they enter the workshops more openmindedly.

In terms of method, my project has been two-fold. On the one hand I wanted to unite a theory used in language teaching called Total Physical Response Theory (TPR) in which the movement of the body is used to remember information, and Cognitive Theory linked to the late medieval and early modern ways of using drama as a teaching tool. At the same time I was very interested in testing how classroom dynamics could be changed and history and literature could be made more accessible to students who do not find it easy to use older sources, because they find themselves lost in the works, or easily distracted.

RSJ Blog: That sounds great. Could you recommend anything for teachers – be it at the university or the gymnasium for recreating this experience?

Nadia: Last month, I have given a workshop for teachers at secondary school and sixth form level at the national Good Practice Day hosted by the University of Leiden Graduate School for Teaching (ICLON). We discussed how TPR can be used in the classroom, not just for teaching playtexts, but also as an approach to novels and historical sources. For the latter it is good to keep in mind that although we historians are left with the written records of events, most aspects of medieval and early modern life were ‘played out’ in public. I am thinking of judicical matters, such as trials and executions; religious ritual or ceremony; educational, traditional, commercial, political, and festive activity. As such, situations such as these can be easily visualised for the classroom context, both at the university and at sixth form college level. For the latter group it is even more important to be made aware that historical records are not dull and difficult exercises of solitary reading, but rather a record of highly exciting public events that happened in past communities. Students need to be made more aware than ever, that persuing a degree in the Humanities is worth their while, and can open up new worlds.

RSJ Blog: Thanks so much for your time! and good luck with your research.

Interview with Carole Levin

Elizabeth’s Ghost: The Afterlife of the Queen in Stuart England

Carole Levin is the Willa Cather Professor of History and Director of the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program at the University of Nebraska as well as author of this article in the inaugural issue of our journal. She specializes in early modern English women’s and cultural history and has written extensively on the English Renaissance and Elizabethan England. At the moment she is a Fulbright Scholar at the University of York, UK.

We asked her to tell us a bit about the article and her current work.

RSJ Blog: Hi Carole! Thanks for doing this interview. First, please tell us a little more about the Elizabethan ghost story? It sounds fascinating.

Carole: In my essay, “Elizabeth’s Ghost,” that I am so honored was in the premiere issue of the Royal Studies Journal, I ended with a kind of ghost story about Queen Elizabeth that ironically was when she was still alive but on her deathbed. A lady-in-waiting, Elizabeth Guilford, who was sitting with her, decided to get up and take a break, given the queen was asleep, and walked into some other rooms. She was shocked to see Elizabeth walking in the room ahead of her but when she went on the queen vanished, and when she returned to Elizabeth’s chamber, the queen was still in bed.

But I had another ghost story about Elizabeth I did not use in the essay, as its source was later than the Stuart Age, the topic of my essay. A few centuries after Elizabeth’s death a Spanish monk wrote that after she died her ghost would wander about London, shrieking, “The sovereignty of the kingdom was for forty years, but hell is forever.” Either as a ghost Elizabeth forgot how long her reign was – or the monk did not have the correct information.

RSJ Blog: Spooky! Besides appearing as a ghost, how does a dead queen, such as Elizabeth I, influence politics long after her time on the throne? Also, seeing that you’re an expert on Elizabethan England, yet your article deals mostly with Stuart England, were there any particular difficulties you encountered?

Carole: I love this question, as it goes to the heart of the work I’m now doing.

As a strong unmarried woman ruling alone, Elizabeth is a great example even today of what women can do in terms of being powerful, and their involvement in politics, and her image really resonates. In the United States in 2008 the Washington Post reported that the presidential primaries were so intense people were dreaming about the candidates.  One woman described a dream she had:

“I was at a Hillary Clinton press conference. When she appeared we were all stunned. She was wearing a gown reminiscent of Queen Elizabeth I — a tight bodice with bubble-like bustles completely surrounding her waist like petals on a flower, and voluminous sleeves.”

But I am also very interested in how her image was used in the century after her death to make contemporary political points about Protestantism and nationalism.  And yes, before now my work has centered on Elizabethan England so in this new research project I am learning so much about the Stuart period. It is fascinating but a lot of work! The article is part of a larger project on how the representations of earlier queens such as Elizabeth – but others as well – were used in the Stuart Age.

RSJ Blog:So, all about empowering women! 


Right on this topic: you are also an editor for the book series Queenship and Power (Palgrave Macmillian), could you please tell us more about it?

Carole: I am so proud of the queenship and power series with Palgrave Macmillan that I co-edit with Charles Beem. About a decade ago I started thinking that I would like to start a series on queenship and power as this was such a dynamic area of research, and one dear to my heart. I had read Charles’ book, The Lioness Roared, and thought it was superb so I asked him to be my co-editor, and it was the best decision I could have made. Charles is not only an excellent scholar but wonderful at working with authors and such a great collaborator on this project. Here is the description of the series:

This series focuses on works specializing in gender analysis, women’s studies, literary interpretation, and cultural, political, constitutional, and diplomatic history. It aims to broaden our understanding of the strategies that queens – both consorts and regnants, as well as female regents – pursued in order to wield political power within the structures of male-dominant societies.

We already have over twenty-five books in the series, and they are all first-rate.

RSJ Blog: Back to your article and Queen Elizabeth: Why do you find studying Elizabethan England so fascinating?

Carole: I have to confess that I do find Elizabethan England endlessly fascinating, and I have for many years and expect to for the rest of my life. Elizabeth herself is such a multi-faceted person and there is so much in this time period that is both strange and different and yet resonates strongly with today.  That really came home to me when I did the book Dreaming the English Renaissance (Palgrave Macmillan 2008), and saw some dreams that are so universals while some ways dreams understood so different from today.

RSJ Blog: Multi-facetedness is sure an argument, but what other epoch would you like to explore when you want to take a vacation from early modern England?

Carole: There is still so much to explore in sixteenth and seventeenth-century England, but there are aspects of medieval history that are fascinating to me as well.

RSJ Blog: We are coming to the end of this interview – so we would like to hear about what you are working on right now?

Carole: My new book project is called Boadicea’s Daughters: Representations of British Queens in Early Modern Nationalist and Religious Discourse and Fantasy. I am looking at how the first century Celtic queen who fought the Romans was rediscovered in the Tudor period, and comparisons made between her and Queen Elizabeth’s in Elizabeth’s reign, and how both they, Anne Boleyn, and Mary I were represented during the Stuart age. I’m fascinated in the ways these queens are used to promote Protestantism and the rule of queens.

RSJ Blog: Thank you very much for this interview!