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Women on the Move: Gender, Dynasty, and Modes of Cultural Transfer in Premodern Europe

The Sixty-First Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America
26-28 March 2015, Berlin

UPDATE: This event has already happened. Click here to read the Conference Report.

Sponsor: Associate Organization/Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel (Organiser: Mara Wade, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

Panel: Women on the Move: Gender, Dynasty, and Modes of Cultural Transfer in Premodern Europe

Chair: Dr Jill Bepler, Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, Germany
Commentator: Professor Giulia Calvi, University of Siena, Italy
Organiser: Dr Elise Dermineur, Lund University, Sweden

Dynastic marriage has always been a vehicle for cultural transfer between European territories whenever a crown prince or king takes a consort from another country. The new spouse, often from a foreign power, often spoke a different language, might have been from another religious confession, and might have been brought up in a different fashion. But she also moved in her new court with her own cultural baggage, cultural traditions and cultural norms, often with her own artists, chaplains and ladies-in-waiting. What kind of cultural role did she play at her new court? What were the conditions for her to play a role as cultural agent or catalyst? How did the cultural transfer between her own tradition and her new life as a consort work in practice?

This panel focuses on the cultural transfer between two or more European courts with special reference to women as agents or catalysts of cultural influence and transfer.

Panel Agenda

  1. Margaret of Austria in Florence, 1536
    Dr Catherine Fletcher, Lecturer, University of Sheffield, United Kingdom

    This paper considers the role of Margaret of Austria, illegitimate daughter of Charles V, in her short period as consort to Alessandro de’ Medici, duke of Florence. Their betrothal was agreed by Charles and the Medici patriarch Pope Clement VII in the 1529 Treaty of Barcelona, when the bride was not yet seven years old, and Margaret travelled to Italy in 1533 to be educated in Naples. She and Alessandro were married in 1536, but only six months later Alessandro was assassinated. Through a detailed study of the Medici wardrobe accounts for the brief period of their marriage, this paper will assess Margaret’s role as an agent of cultural transfer to Florence both in terms of her household and the material culture of her court, and will consider to what extent she may have paved the way for her successor as duchess-consort, Eleonora of Toledo.
  2. Anne Boleyn on the Move
    Dr Deanne Williams, Associate professor, York University, Canada

    While much attention has been devoted to the tragic final year of Anne Boleyn’s life, this paper explores the very beginning of Anne Boleyn’s story: her girlhood. The formative years that Anne spent at the French royal court, and, before that, at the court of Margaret of Austria in the Netherlands, prepared Boleyn for her own glittering marriage and place at court, but they also shaped her cultural preferences and intellectual interests. Recovering Boleyn’s girlhood produces not the hotbed of flirtation that was imagined by her detractors and perpetuated in the popular imagination, but instead a picture of sober application to the study of French as well as Latin, music and literature, and of lifelong bonds with royal girls and women, forged over books and music. Paying particular attention to the French manuscript of motets that Boleyn most likely acquired in France and brought back with her to England (now Royal College of Music MS 1070) this paper recovers Boleyn as a catalyst of cultural influence and transfer, and places her at the center of networks of learned female friendship that extend across nations, dynasties, and generations.
  3. A Cosmopolitan Queen: Cultural Transfer at Luise Ulrike’s Court
    Dr Elise Dermineur, Lund University, Sweden

    In this paper, I focus on Luise Ulrike, princess of Prussia and queen of Sweden (1720-1782), sister of Fredrik the Great (1712-1786) and mother of Gustav III (1746-1792). Born a Prussian princess, she received her education in the French language. In 1744, she married a German prince, Adolf Friedrich of Holstein-Gottorp, recently elected crown prince of Sweden, and moved to Stockholm. I am specifically interested in the cultural transfer that occurred when Luise Ulrike moved to her new court and encountered a new world. Paying particular attention to the various Prussian and French artefacts, furniture, books, theatre plays, paintings, decorative ornaments, etc. described in details in Luise Ulrike’s correspondence and brought to court over the years, I will examine closely her role both as cultural agents and catalyst pointing out not only her own actions, choices and taste but also and more largely, the mechanisms and significance of this cultural transfer, suggesting a general framework.

Short Biographies of the Presenters

Dr Catherine Fletcher

Lecturer in Public History, University of Sheffield, UK
Department of History | | +44 114 222 2615

Dr Fletcher joined the History Department at the University of Sheffield in September 2012. Her first degree was in Politics and Communication Studies from the University of Liverpool and she later worked for the BBC Political Unit, including as a researcher and TV producer. In 2004 she returned to full-time academic life to study for a Ph.D. in History, which she completed in 2008 at Royal Holloway, University of London.

She have held fellowships at the Institute for Historical Research, the British School at Rome and European University Institute. Before moving to Sheffield she was Lecturer in Early Modern History at Durham University.

Her first book, Our Man in Rome: Henry VIII and his Italian Ambassador, was published in 2012. Written for a broad audience, it tells the inside story of Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon from the point of view of Henry’s ambassador in Rome. It was published in paperback in 2013 retitled The Divorce of Henry VIII: The Untold Story.

Selected Publications

Our Man in Rome: Henry VIII and his Italian Ambassador (Bodley Head, 2012).

‘Performing Henry at the court of Rome,’ in Henry VIII and the Court: Art, Politics and Performance ed.Suzannah Lipscomb and Thomas Betteridge (Ashgate, 2013), 179-96.

‘ “Uno palaço belissimo”: town and country living in Renaissance Bologna,’ in Perspectives on the Early Modern Italian Domestic Interior, 1400-1700, ed. Stephanie Miller, Elizabeth Carroll Consavari, and Erin Campbell (Ashgate, 2013), 19-32.

‘ “Furnished with gentlemen”: the ambassador’s house in sixteenth-century Italy.’ Renaissance Studies 24 (2010), 518-35.

‘War, diplomacy and social mobility: the Casali family in the service of Henry VIII.’ Journal of Early Modern History 14 (2010), 559-78.

Selected media contributions

  • The Invention of Italy, BBC Radio 4, 14 October 2013
  • In Our Time, BBC Radio 4, ‘The Medici’, 13 December 2013; ‘The House of Borgia’, 22 November 2012
  • Historical adviser, BBC2 television adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (ongoing).

Dr Fletcher is currently working on the life and court of Alessandro de’ Medici, ruler of Florence 1531-37.

Dr Deanne Williams

Associate professor, Department of English
York University, Canada |

Deanne Williams’s research focuses on Medieval and Renaissance literature, especially Shakespeare. She is the author of The French Fetish from Chaucer to Shakespeare (Cambridge, 2004), which won the Roland H. Bainton Prize for best book in literature from the Sixteenth Century Society and Conference. She is co-editor, with Ananya Jahanara Kabir, of Postcolonial Approaches to the European Middle Ages: Translating Cultures (Cambridge, 2005), and, with Kaara L. Peterson, of The Afterlife of Ophelia (Palgrave, 2012). She has also published articles on a wide range of topics, including Shakespeare adaptations, the history of feminist scholarship, and the reception of classical and medieval literature in the Renaissance. In 2003, she won the John Charles Polanyi Prize for Literature, and she has received research fellowships from Trinity College, Cambridge, Clare Hall, Cambridge, the Huntington Library, and the Folger Shakespeare Library. Her new book, entitled Shakespeare and the Performance of Girlhood, is forthcoming from Palgrave in 2014.



Shakespeare and the Performance of Girlhood. Palgrave Shakespeare Studies, 2014.

The French Fetish from Chaucer to Shakespeare. Cambridge University Press, 2004. Paperback, 2006.
Winner of the Roland H. Bainton Prize for Best Book in Literature from the Sixteenth Century Society and Conference.
Reviewed in Speculum, University of Toronto Quarterly, Studies in English Literature, Anglia, The Year’s Work in English Studies. Chapter Five reprinted in Shakespearean Criticism, 2005.

Edited Collections:

The Afterlife of Ophelia. Co-editor, with Kaara Peterson. Palgrave, 2012.
Reviewed in Choice.

Postcolonial Approaches to the European Middle Ages: Translating Cultures. Co-editor, with Ananya Jahanara Kabir. Cambridge University Press, 2005. Paperback, 2007.
Reviewed in Modern Philology, Choice, Notes and Queries, Arthuriana, Early Medieval Europe, Year’s Work in English Studies.

Current and Forthcoming Research


Girls and Their Books in Early Modern England. Book project that brings together girlhood studies, the history of the book, and the history of reading.


Editor and contributor, Girls and Girlhood in Adaptations of Shakespeare.
Special issue for award-winning peer-reviewed online journal, Borrowers and Lenders. The Journal of Shakespeare and Appropriation. Forthcoming, Fall 2014.

Co-editor, with Richard Preiss, University of Utah, and contributor, Childhood, Education, and the Stage in Early Modern England. Edited volume of essays to be published by Cambridge University Press. Forthcoming, 2015.

Dr Elise Dermineur

Senior Research Fellow
Lund University

Dr Dermineur is a Post-doctoral researcher at the University of Lund. She completed her Ph.D thesis - Women in Rural Society: Peasants, Patriarchy and the Local Economy in Northeast France, 1650-1789 - at Purdue University in 2011, and was a Max Weber research fellow at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy in 2011/12. Dermineur is currently transforming her Ph.D into a monograph, and has published a range of articles in journals including the Journal of Social History, the Journal of Interdisciplinary History and Proceedings of the Western Society for French History.

Working with Professor Svante Norrhem Dr Dermineur focuses on Luise Ulrike’s European network, including her family members and the philosophers and artists associated with them.

Professor Giulia Calvi

University of Siena

Professor Calvi is a professor of early modern history at the University of Siena (associate professor from 1989 to 2001; full professor from 2002 to 2004). Since 2003 she is a member of the advisory committee of Villa I Tatti, The Harvard Center for Italian Renaissance Studies and has served on the editorial board of “Storica” since 2002. In 2001 she was visiting professor at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. Her main publications are in the field of Italian and European social history; the history of public health and of healing practices in early modern societies; family and legal disputes; social and cultural representation of gendered identities in Europe; sumptuary legislation and consumption; gendered practices and models of political power. She is presently part of a comparative research project on women of the European courts based on political and private correspondence with a focus on the Medici dynasty, and of a national research project for a comparative analysis of the political and symbolic discourse on power in Mediterranean Europe and the New World. In 2012 she has been invited to be the 58th holder of the Chair of Italian Culture in the Department of Italian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley for her work on early modern Italian cultural and social history from the perspective of gender.

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