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  • English Queens and the Body Politic in Calderón’s La cisma de Inglaterra and Rivadeneira’s Historia Eclesiastica del Scisma del Reino de Inglaterra
  • María Cristina Quintero

Politics has often borrowed its metaphors from the body, as demonstrated by frequently used terms such as “head of state” and “the body politic.” In medieval and Renaissance Europe, the most prominent manifestation of this corporeal imagery of power can be found in the notion of the king’s mystical body:

For the King has in him two Bodies, viz., a Body natural, and a Body politic. His Body natural (if it be considered in itself) is a Body mortal, subject to all Infirmities that come by Nature or Accident, to the Imbecility of Infancy or old Age, and to the like Defects that happen to the natural Bodies of other People. But his Body politic is a Body that cannot be seen or handled, consisting of Policy and Government, and constituted for the Direction of the People, and the Management of the public weal . . .

(Qtd. in Kantorowicz 7)

In addition to the political referent, the body as metaphor also had clearly gendered connotations. The mystical dual body—with its visible mortal component and the invisible, ideal body politic—referred only to kings, never to women in power. Indeed, contemporary views on women seemed to anchor them, as daughters of Eve, only in the realm of inescapable corporeality. Women represented [End Page 259] the antithesis of spirit and an exaggeration of the “body natural,” as it were. The present study entails a consideration of the strategies deployed in portraying the relationship of the queen’s body to political power (the body politic) in two texts: Calderón de la Barca’s La cisma de Inglaterra (1627) 1 and the immediate source for the play, the first volume of Pedro de Rivadeneira’s Historia Eclesiastica del Scisma del Reino de Inglaterra (1588). 2 In both the play and the earlier chronicle, the modern reader is provided with a distinctively Spanish perspective on a defining moment of English history, namely the cataclysmic events that led to the definitive break between England and Papal Rome. The dialectic between two genres—drama and “history”—dealing with a specific historical event that would have singularly painful consequences for Habsburg Spain represents a privileged example of how nations appropriate history to forge convenient ideological narratives. Within these invented narratives, we can identify collectively accepted conceptions on the relationship between gender, sexuality, religious orthodoxy, and monarchical power. There is in these texts a convergence of Renaissance discourses pertaining to women and the role of these discourses in promoting the ideology of absolutist (and masculinist) supremacy. At their most basic, Rivadeneira’s chronicle and Calderón’s La cisma reproduce the deep ambivalence felt by seventeenth-century Spaniards toward women and their claim to a political identity. 3 This ambivalence was of course not unique to Spain, but rather an extension of the misogynist gender ideology of the times. [End Page 260]

The intense discomfort with women and their public role is reflected in Spanish treatises of the Golden Age, notably Juan Luis Vives’s De institutione feminae christianae (1524). This work was commissioned by none other than Catherine of Aragon in part for the purpose of educating her daughter Mary, whose tutor Vives would become. Throughout the work, the humanist vacillates between promoting the education of women on the one hand; and on the other, voicing deep skepticism about women’s nature, a nature which he judges too weak and unstable to be suitable for public life. Vives’s dilemma becomes particularly evident and thorny when he discusses women who played a visible political role in Spain and abroad. Thus, he praises the considerable erudition of Isabella I and her four daughters, including Catherine (Vives’ patron) and her sister, Joan the Mad. Nevertheless, he tempers what for the time might seem an enlightened assessment of women’s abilities by repeatedly returning to and emphasizing more acceptable, traditional feminine roles. 4 For example, Vives asserts that what made Isabella’s daughters truly exemplary figures was not their erudition or political savvy, but rather the passive feminine virtues of chastity...

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pp. 259-282
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