Moving Elites: Women and Cultural Transfers in the European Court System
Title: Moving Elites: Women and Cultural Transfers in the European Court System
Series/Report no.: EUI HEC; 2010/02
The overall evaluation of the formation of political decision-making processes in the early modern period is being transformed by enriching our understanding of political language. This broader picture of court politics and diplomatic networks – which also relied on familial and kin ties – provides a way of studying the political role of women in early modern Europe. This role has to be studied taking into account the overlapping of familial and political concerns, where the intersection of women as mediators and coordinators of extended networks is a central feature of European societies. The focus on informal power and influence has been of great concern to the study of gender and women’s history in early modern European societies, making visible the manifold indirect ways of exercising political roles through religious patronage, familial connections, ritual practices and rhetoric. However, because of their lineage and upbringing, women from princely dynasties were political creatures who had been prepared to fulfil important functions of government as consorts, regents and governors as well as that of ruling in their own right. They exercised formal powers connected to their legal status which gave them precise jurisdictions connected to their life cycle: as adolescent brides, wives, mothers and widows, the exercise and prerogatives of power changed. Positioning women at the centre of court life and in the complex dynamic of state formation encourages us to rethink the ways in which women accessed and exercised political power. A gendered history of the courtly world has not yet been written. While courts have been overlooked in their capacity to integrate “migrating” foreign princesses, female courts have been neglected as spaces where the young members of aristocratic families were integrated through service, ritual and arranged marriages, into wider European networks of alliance. The cultural, linguistic, performing, artistic space of female courts thus functioned as a powerful – and empowering – element of political integration in Europe. Women rulers were viewed both in terms of moving elites and as the movable element in the framework of international politics. Only as rulers in their own right they did not migrate into foreign dynasties, but remained in their home countries eventually choosing to integrate foreign incoming husbands. Language, agency, self-reflexivity and the complex process of self-fashioning required by crossing borders, entering into a foreign dynasty and integrating into a new and distant court culture, while in time promoting integration, are the central questions the workshop aimed to address.
Subject: Women rulers; European courts; Political power; Dynastic families
Proceedings of an International Workshop (Florence, 12-13 December 2008)
Type of Access: openAccess