Lucy K. Pick

title.none: Earenfight, Queenship and Political Power (Lucy K. Pick)

identifier.other: baj9928.0608.010 06.08.10

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Lucy K. Pick, University of Chicago,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Earenfight, Theresa, ed. Queenship and Political Power in Medieval and Early Modern Spain. Women and Gender in the Early Modern World. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005. Pp. xxviii, 210. $89.95 0-7546-5074-X. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.08.10

Earenfight, Theresa, ed. Queenship and Political Power in Medieval and Early Modern Spain. Women and Gender in the Early Modern World. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005. Pp. xxviii, 210. $89.95 0-7546-5074-X. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Lucy K. Pick
University of Chicago

The absolutist monarchs of Early Modern Europe created a fantasy of a mighty single male ruler, coterminous with the state, that still lingers today, decades after Norbert Elias showed us how contingent even the power of the paradigmatic absolute king, Louis XIV, was on the nobles and court that surrounded him. This myth of the all-powerful male king was projected backwards by historians onto the Middle Ages and is still evident today in monographs that continue to emphasize the king's power, ignoring the press of the nobles, favourites and family that surrounded him and in genealogical charts that seem to show each king springing Athena-like from the head of his father, no intervention from any woman needed. This myth of the absolute king seems to be connected to another, just as pervasive, that of the complete distinction between and separation of public and private spheres of action. In this telling, the queen, royal intimates, and nobles represent private power construed in various ways as problematic or even illicit (viz. in the famous tag about feudal power that describes it as "public power exercised privately," that is, at the hand of the nobles rather than the king), while the king, as bearer of wholly public power, is a positive force who points the way to the formation of the modern state.

Theresa Earenfight and the contributors to her volume on queenly power in medieval and early modern Spain tackle these myths head on by analyzing the sources of queenly power and the means by which this power was exercised. In an excellent introductory article that is a must-read for anyone interested in the workings of royal power anywhere at any time, Earenfight sets out some of the theoretical paradigms of the subsequent discussion. Following Foucault's definition of power as a force that exists at the moment it is exercised, she argues that monarchy can be construed as a multiplicity of different power relations that are not independent of each other, but exist within a network. Monarchy is not simply rule by one person; it is both a political structure in which multiple actors have roles, albeit unequal ones, and a "powerful kin group organized as a dynasty" (xxii), and thus in its very essence it blends the public and the private. The relationship of king to queen is that of an unequal political and dynastic partnership. The nature of this partnership depends, according to Earenfight, on the interplay of three different factors which can themselves vary from time to time and place to place: first, on prevailing political ideologies about who may rule and how; second on institutions constituted to express that ideology or in response to it; and finally on the uncontrollable accidents of birth and death within the royal family that may leave more or less scope for a women to rule. Earenfight sensibly leaves out accidents of personality from her equation. Of course personality affects how individuals, both kings and queens, will respond to the situations in which they find themselves. But it is the factor that is hardest to measure from this historical distance and crediting "personality" for the power of individual queens has too often been the sloppy way some historians have explained the phenomenon of female rule: kings have institutional authority while queens have, maybe, personality. This binary of authority and personality simply reifies further the distinction between private and public that Earenfight and her collaborators question here.

The basic task of uncovering and describing the actions and scope of women of power in the Middle Ages has only just begun. The articles in this volume all contribute to this ongoing process of collection and description of evidence. But the best of them go beyond describing the particular, by connecting the actions of their female subjects to the themes of power Earenfight introduces in her introduction, and it is these contributions that I will discuss in the remainder of this review.

Several articles focus on institutional forms supporting queenly power that developed as a response to accidents of family and dynasty. The institution most familiar to readers will be that of the regency. Ana Echevarria explores the regency of Catalina of Lancaster for her son, Juan II in "The Queen and the Master: Catalina of Lancaster and the Military Orders". She concentrates especially on the limits to Catalina's power posed by the ambitions of her co-regent, Fernando of Antequara (later king of Aragon) and demonstrates how control of the military orders was used by both in their contest for rule. A similar kind of power struggle over regency, this time between a queen mother and an illegitimate royal uncle, is described by Eleanor Goodman in "Conspicuous in Her absence: Mariana of Austria, Juan José of Austria, and the Representation of her Power".

A less familiar role than regent is that of governmental lieutenant. Earenfight explains in "Absent Kings: Queens as Political Partners in the Medieval Crown of Aragon", how the institution of governmental lieutenant was an invention of the Aragonese kings designed to allow the king to exert power at a distance by means of a trusted relative, possibly a brother or a son. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, this role was given for longer and longer periods to the queen and so, for instance, Maria of Castile, wife of Alfonso IV, served as lieutenant over different regions, mostly in Catalunya, for a total of twenty-four years. Like the other queen-lieutenants, Maria could call parliamentary assemblies, supervise secretaries, use the royal seals, and both order and sign royal writs. The close relationship of these queens-lieutenant with their kings made them ideal candidates for these positions. Núria Silleras-Fernández concentrates on one of these queen-lieutenants in "Spirit and Force: Politics, Public and Private in the Reign of Maria de Luna (1396-1406)". Silleras- Fernández shows us how deeply interpenetrated were the spheres that we might distinguish as public and private by examining the connections between Maria de Luna's family background and personal wealth; her management of the family estates while her husband and son were absent in Sicily, including her struggle to secure her husband's claim to the throne on the death of his brother and her subsequent rule of Aragon until her husband's return; her role as queen-lieutenant of Valencia; and her efforts to further the interests of her own bloodline and to maintain the dynastic succession.

Mark Meyerson looks at another side of Maria de Luna's efforts to maintain her personal finances, along with her predecessor Elionor of Sicily, in "Defending their Jewish Subjects: Elionor of Sicily, Maria de Luna, and the Jews of Morvedre". Both of these queens were instrumental in protecting the Jews of Morvedre from the depredations of crown, church, and nobility but, as Meyerson makes it clear, their motive was not to be merciful but rather to protect their own financial assets since they had the right to the taxes due from the town. Meyerson's account shows us how fragile the balance of power was between all of those who had a stake in the state of the Jewish community in Morvedre, including the Jews themselves.

Finally, several articles focus not directly on the political actions of the queen but on how she was represented and show she represented herself in text and image. Peggy Liss in "Isabel of Castile (1451-1504), Her Self-Representation and its Context", shows us how Isabel deployed both feminine and masculine iconography, representing herself sometimes as Mary, and at other times as a sword-wielding maintainer of royal justice. Liss shows us how Isabel identified with Spain's supposed messianic mission to be the final Christian empire, and she situates Isabel as a precursor of Elizabeth I of England. In "Choice and Consequences: The Construction of Isabel de Portugal's Image", Jorge Sebastían Lozano juxtaposes a different Isabel's creation of her own image through consumption and display of jewellry, clothing, and furnishings while she served as regent in Spain for her absent husband Carlos V, with his own efforts to depict her as a suitable consort for himself after her death in portraits commissioned from Titian and very possibly hung alongside his own. Eleanor Goodman's study of Mariana of Austria and Juan José of Austria, likewise focuses on representation, describing how Juan José, having ousted Mariana, depicted himself prominently in her favoured monastery of the Descalzas Reales. Significantly, Goodman shows that the preference in the Descalzas Reales, a palace monastery inhabited by the women of the royal family, was for group portraits of the royal household, giving the visual lie to the myth that the king stands alone, even in the seventeenth century.

These articles, taken collectively, suggest avenues for future investigation. They firmly establish the power of the queen, but leave open the question of how a deeper understanding of her roles might cause us to revise our understanding of the power of the king. This is a crucial next step. Studying medieval queens does not simply add new actors to the historical stage; it should cause us to rethink fundamentally our notion of royal power as a whole. Likewise, Earenfight suggests in her introduction that opportunities for royal women in the Iberian peninsula were qualitatively different from those north of the Pyrenees. I wonder if this is so. It is to be hoped that scholars who study other regions will take up the challenge this book offers to rethink their understanding of royal power dynamics. This is not, then, the last word on the power of the medieval and early modern queen. But hopefully we can now leave "personality" as an explanatory motive for prominent royal women to the historical novelists.