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Frequently Asked Questions


A Queen Consort is the wife of a ruling monarch. In our period, she usually originates from another territory from that of her husband.

She was most generally of royal or noble birth. Her marriage to the King served as a political and dynastic union essential to maintaining the power, status and prestige of both realms joined by the union.

In this context, marriage served multiple purposes:

  • To continue the royal line. A consort’s main role was to produce several male children – ‘an heir and a spare’. Given that lineage passed down the male line, securing a clear line of succession for the crown was essential to a realm’s stability. Where succession was unclear – where no heir existed – considerable turmoil, even civil war, could follow.
  • To forge alliances between two or more kingdoms. Marriage could be a way in which the balance of power in Europe was altered, a form of dynastic chess in which the Queens were pawns moved around the continent. Forging unions with other powerful kingdoms was a necessary part of dynastic politics.
  • Financial. The Consort generally arrived with a dowry. These varied in size, but could be a substantial life-line to a cash-strapped king. They may also have included new territories, and the Queen Consort consequently created avenues by which empires and trade routes could be expanded.

The aims of our project are to learn how culture was transferred between European kingdoms through the person and the court of the consort.

Studying these exchanges helps us to draw important conclusions in two areas: culture; and politics.

Culture

  • Each Consort may have brought with her a chaplain, artists, musicians, cooks, and collections of books and artefacts which were foreign to her new kingdom. She thereby brought a significant injection of culture.
  • By tracing the effect which these cultural transfers had on the kingdoms involved, in art, music, architecture, fashion, literature and religious culture, we hope to peel back the modern map of Europe – in which national boundaries can appear fixed – to highlight the fluidity of exchange which dynastic culture facilitated.
  • Doing this helps us to create a more nuanced picture of national pasts and national identities.

Politics

  • Highlighting the role(s) which Consorts played in culture also allows us to re-evaluate the place of women in politics.
  • Although largely excluded from the formal mechanisms of political power, by creating cultural arenas at court the consort could exert forms of indirect and soft power – attracting the great and the good to plays, masques, and festivities was an excellent environment in which to create factions and apply pressure to secure political ends.
  • Often the agency of women in these contexts has been less visible in the study of the past, but in the world of the court – driven as it was by spectacle, intrigue, rumour and subtle mechanisms of power – they were often the agents who which determined the direction in which national political currents ran.

This varied hugely between nations. However, a general rule of thumb may be observed:

  • A distinction must be made between a Queen Consort, a Queen Regent and a Queen Regnant:
    • A Queen Regnant is a Queen in her own right, having inherited the throne after the death of the previous monarch. Britain was one of the few territories that allowed a woman to succeed to the throne.
    • By contrast a Queen Consort, although having the same rank and equivalent titles as the King, is solely dependent on him for her position. If he died, she generally became a Queen Dowager.
    • If she had an underage son when her husband died, she could become a Queen Regent until her son came of age. The power of the Regent varied enormously in various territories and periods.

The precise terms governing the Consort’s life at court were generally negotiated in the marriage contract.

  • Queens Consort rarely shared the King’s military and constitutional powers.
  • They might have a considerable measure of independence, however.
    • There are many instances of Queens who professed a different Christian denomination being awarded the dispensation to practise their faith in a private chapel at court.
    • Queens Consort also generally ran their own Courts, and consequently acted as significant patrons of the arts and culture.
    • They could also – through extensive networks of correspondence – act as conveyors of news, brokers of power, and exert considerable diplomatic influence in realms across Europe.
    • Their heavy involvement in the marriage negotiations of their own children also accorded them a significant measure of political power in dictating the future of their adopted realm and their own dynasty.

The court is the institution comprising the extended household of the monarch.

The institution was very mobile and moved with the monarchs between their various residences.

It included the royal family, their attendants, prominent nobles (and their attendants), and those involved in the running of government. Its members could run into hundreds.

The Court served many functions:

  • The site of the day-to-day running of a realm.
  • The site of diplomacy.
  • The site in which justice was dispensed.
  • A representation of the monarchy’s majesty and power to his/her subjects.
  • The central showcase of the arts. Entertaining the Court was crucial, and it was therefore the conduit for patronage in art, music, theatre and other arts.

Given that the period 1500-1800 was an era in which influence was determined by the amount of access one could gain to the monarch, the court was the centre of noble culture. Having the King or Queen’s ear could facilitate the advancement of one’s own career (or political agenda).The highest avenues of this influence were the offices of the King/Queen’s household.

The Court – as the arbiter of fashion and taste – was governed by strict rules of etiquette and codes of honour. These varied greatly between courts and nations.

Queens and Dowager Queens always had their own courts.

Cultural transfer occurs when a body of materials or ideas crosses existing boundaries. The acts of translation and interpretation which inevitably follow when values, beliefs and practices are shared across cultural and linguistic borders tell powerful stories about the formation of national identities and histories.

In our project, cultural transfer relates to the Queen Consort bringing foreign artistic, literary, and cultural items and ideas to her new kingdom, and the impact which this may have had on that kingdom. Sometimes this is reciprocal: she sends ideas, personnel and artefacts from her new court back home.

On the surface, this could appear straightforward : the Consort may, for instance, bring a large library with her, containing aspects of literature/philosophy/political debate unfamiliar in her new kingdom. By tracing the impact of that collection, it may be possible to see whether it sparked previously unseen debates about politics or philosophy in that kingdom. We can also see how growth in one culture can be partly the result of interaction with another. The same effects may be traceable for music, dress, manners, and many other aspects of culture depending on the success of the Consort in question.

Tracing these interactions allows us to show how boundaries which may seem at first to be clearly demarcating a monolithic entity – Nation, Country, National Identity – are actually permeable and porous.

It also allows us to understand that cultural phenomena and political identities or ideologies are hybrid and composite: the transfer of a large volume of cultural practices can have a significant impact on existing norms, leading to the formation of new cultural paradigms, practices and models.

The extent to which these were absorbed into the ‘national’ consciousness is an important question. It raises a significant question about the categories with which we understand our own heritage and identity. Given the prevalence of cultural transfer in Courts of early modern Europe, to what extent can a given artistic practice or body of knowledge be termed ‘British’, ‘German’, ‘Swedish’ and so on?

HERA – Humanities in the European Research Area – is the body which has funded our research.

HERA is a partnership between 21 Humanities Research Councils across Europe and the European Science Foundation (ESF),

Its objective is to firmly establish the humanities in the European Research Area and in the European Commission Framework Programmes.

Our project was one of 18 funded in the Cultural Encounters programme for the period 2013-1016. The successful projects were launched in September 2013.

For more information, please see the HERA 2012 brochure to be found at www.heranet.info

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