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POLITICAL CULTURE AND POLITICAL DISCOURSE IN THE LETTERS OF QUEEN MARÍA OF CASTILLA Theresa Earenfight Seattle University Medieval queens -whether they ruled in their own right, governed in a limited capacity, or took no part in governance- have been the subject of an extensive and wide-ranging body of political theory. Lawyers , monks, urban magistrates, poets, even the kings themselves engaged in a lively discourse, at times in favor of but mosdy against, rule by women (Bändel, Beaune, Elias de Tejada, Huneycutt, Martindale, Nelson, Searle, Stafford, Wood). Noticeably absent from this discourse are the queens themselves. They have been ignored, less by their contemporaries than by generations of historians who regarded them as marginal and unimportant. We take for granted, however, that the king's ideas are crucial to the political culture of the kingdom and a key element of political discourse. Kings' words are deemed consequential to the res publica and their letters have been collected, edited, translated, and analyzed. But what did queens have to say about the events of their age? Did their actions and their ideas influence the political culture in general, and attitudes toward women and power in particular? To examine what queens said and wrote, we turn to two groups of sources, their speeches and their letters. Public speeches and pronouncements are very scarce and only a handful have been collected and edited (Albert and Gassiot, Marcus, et ai, Teague). Letters are more numerous but they pose particular problems, whether treated as a literary genre (Cherewatuk and Wiethaus, Ferrante, King and Rabil, Stanbury) or a source for women's history (Crabb, Hanawalt). There are very few modern editions of queens' letters, and, for the most part they tend to be those ofqueens who ruled in their own right (Harrison, La corónica 32.1 (Fall, 2003): 135-52 136Theresa EarenfightLa coránica 32.1, 2003 Clemencín, Marcus, et al). Scholars have used queens' letters to dramatize or sentimentalize their lives, most memorably in the case of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland in the sixteenth century (Davison). Or their letters are considered more literary or devotional than political (Marcus, et al), or as reflections of private, familial concerns that may or may not have touched the political sphere (Crawford). My aim in this study is to consider a queen's letters as political documents, to broaden and deepen our theoretical understanding of both queenship and the political culture ofmonarchy. I regard a queen's letters as integral components of the public political discourse of her age and vitally important to understanding medieval politics in both theory and practice. Recent research into queens as political actors has brought a clearer understanding of how queens fit into the political culture of their age (Chibnall, Duggan, Facinger, Lehfeldt, Parsons ) . Barbara Weissberger analyzed the letters of Isabel of Castilla to her confessor Talavera, examining her rhetorical strategies and her conscious use of gender stereotypes to undermine Talavera's attempts to control her (Weissberger 1998). Dawn Bratsch-Prince looked at Violant de Bar's letters for her attitudes toward motherhood and the politics of dynastic succession at a time of political instability (BratschPrince 1994). Even though politics is the theme of these works, the letters themselves are not considered political documents, even for those queens who ruled in their own right. A.N. McLaren's recent study of political culture in the reign of Elizabeth I is devoted almost entirely to a discussion of the men who wrote to her, talked about her, criticized her right to rule, carried out her orders, and tried to convince her to marry or go to war, but it is strikingly thin on her own vociferous epistolary contributions to the political discourse of the day. Why is this so? I believe that because we too narrowly construe monarchy, we adhere too closely to outmoded notions of a gendered monarchy. It is true, of course, that most queens did not rule in their own right and that the actions of kings were privileged over those of queens, but to regard a queen's actions and letters as incidental to politics is to misunderstand medieval monarchy. We may talk about monarchy as a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-4261
Print ISSN
0193-3892
Pages
pp. 135-152
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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