- Warnings to the Kings and Advice on Restoring Spain: A Bilingual Edition, and: The Correspondence between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes
Since 1996, The University of Chicago Press series The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe has issued over fifty modern English translations of texts by and about early modern women. These volumes have proven to be an invaluable resource for scholars and students of the period and, based on the two fine texts under consideration here, the well is clearly very far from running dry. María de Guevara's Warnings to the Kings and The Correspondence between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes are completely different in tone, content, and intention. One is a bold assemblage of finger-wagging addresses to the monarchs of Spain, while the other is a complex series of philosophical exchanges between a princess and a philosopher. These two texts thus exemplify what we have learned from this series over the years: that there simply is no one way to characterize the sound of this Other Voice.
The voice of María de Guevara (d. 1683) is full of pride. She exults in her nation, her family, and herself, and this pride shines through every line of the four texts presented here. Each text participates in a traditional, conservative genre, and Guevara adheres to a nostalgic, xenophobic view of Spain's historic strengths as contrasted with the nation's current weakness and decline. The difference here is the way in which Guevara inserts powerful women, especially herself, into the center of the discussion.
Very little is known of María de Guevara's life prior to her writing herself into history with Memorial of the House of Escalante (1654). This detailed genealogical treatise served to validate Guevara's insistence that the king repair her family's finances, while also functioning as the vehicle for her initial self-presentation as an author, expert, and patriot. The Report on the Day's Journey that the Countess of Escalante Made to the City of Vitoria to Kiss Her Majesty's Hand (1660) is an anonymous text, probably commissioned by Guevara and then sent to the king. But in lieu of reading how Guevara had been impressed by the brilliance of the queen, we learn that "the queen enjoyed having encountered the countess" (119). Guevara additionally reports that she overhead two soldiers telling her maidservants that, "Your lady . . . is worth two men" (121). This mathematical formulation, in which a strong woman is worth two men, is a constant in Guevara's writings. And while her two advice treatises continually emphasize the manly virtues of pure-blooded Spaniards, they just as often point out how women embody these virtues to a far greater degree than their male compatriots. [End Page 910]
Treatise and Warnings by a Woman, Concerned for the Good of her King (1663) is addressed to Philip IV, advising him on how to rule wisely and well. First, he needs to rid himself of bad advisers and foreign elements, especially the Moors, Jews, and New Christians who are infiltrating the court. Guevara admits the king might wonder, "who is a woman to meddle in this?" But then, having posed the question, she dismisses it. After all, she points out, "I have read so much, I pride myself on being curious, and I dare speak to you in this manner" (51). Guevara argues that since Spain is in crisis, and time is running short, her cowardly soldiers should immediately be replaced by "troops of women": "Would that I were an Amazon at this moment, and that everyone in Spain were an...