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  • Queenship and Political Power in Medieval and Early Modern Spain
  • Barbara F. Weissberger
Theresa Earenfight , ed. Queenship and Political Power in Medieval and Early Modern Spain. Women and Gender in the Early Modern World. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Publishing, 2005. xxviii + 210 pp. index. illus. bibl. $89.95. ISBN: 0–7546–5074–X.

In the introduction to this interesting volume, editor Theresa Earenfight calls for a more inclusive, relational view of monarchy in the medieval and early modern periods. Spain is the basis for her compelling argument, because, to a greater extent than in Northern Europe, Spanish monarchy was a partnership between a king and his queen, "a complementary dynamic . . . predicated on a relationship of political unequals that was fundamentally contractual rather than consensual" (xvi). Although theoretically subordinated to the king, on a practical level the queen wielded considerable power in the various official and unofficial roles available to her. The goal of the essays Earenfight has collected is to support this idea that the queen and king in medieval and early modern Spain were real "partners in politics."

The ten essays document a wide range of queenly rule and representation in the Iberian Peninsula from the thirteenth through the seventeenth centuries. Although attention is evenly divided between Castilian and Aragonese queens, the latter are better served. This is due in part to the more cohesive time frame involved, roughly from 1200 to 1470, which gives a sense of the familial and dynastic forces that shaped queenly power in Aragon (the inclusion of dynastic charts would have made this even clearer). In addition, one Aragonese queen, María de Luna (1396–1406), enjoys the attention of two contributors. Mark Meyerson discusses her protection of the Jews of Morvedre from inquisitorial and episcopal exploitation and persecution, and Nuria Silleras-Fernández analyzes her success as lieutenant-general of the Crown of Aragon and the Kingdom of Valencia at a particularly troubled moment in their history.

Theresa Earenfight's essay focuses on two Aragonese queens who governed vigorously as queen-lieutenants for a total of forty years: Maria of Castile (1421–23 and 1432–53) and Juana Enríquez (1461–77). According to Earenfight, the office of queen-lieutenant in the kingdom of Aragon was unique in premodern Europe because by definition its holders were expected to govern. The skill with which [End Page 541] Maria and Juana rose to the occasion (usually in the absence of their husbands) amply illustrates women's ability to rule, contradicting the prevailing gender ideology.

The last section of the book shifts focus from the political participation of queens to the literary and artistic representation of their power. The first of the four essays is also Aragonese in focus. Marta VanLandingham examines the representation of Violant of Hungary (1235–51) in the autobiographical Llibre dels Feyts written by her husband, Jaume I. The blatantly self-aggrandizing nature of Jaume's work makes all the more striking his self-avowed dependence on Violant's active support and counsel. The last essay dealing with an Aragonese queen, by Theresa Haluska-Rausch, constitutes a useful caveat to the positive assess-ment of queenly power that dominates the book. The brief marriage of Marie de Montpellier (1204–13) to Jaume's father, Peter II of Aragon, was conflicted from the very beginning. Peter did his best to divest Marie of her wealthy seigneury, but the queen managed to retain her inheritance, going so far as to travel to Rome to plead her case before the pope.

The remaining three essays in this section deal with the representation of Castilian queens. Peggy Liss's wide-ranging essay on Isabel I of Castile locates the key elements of the queen's sense of mission and propagandistic self-fashioning in the Castilian chronicle tradition. She demonstrates how deeply Isabel identified with "the supposed existence since time immemorial of blessed Spain . . . a holy land inhabited by an elect people" (124). The biblical and messianic paradigm of an idyllic past lost through sin and its divinely-ordained restoration served Europe's first powerful queen regnant well.

Isabel of Portugal (1503–39) became queen and empress as a result of her marriage to Charles V...


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