When I was in graduate school at Fordham, I worked as a research assistant to Nancy Stuart Rubin on a biography, Isabella of Castile: The First Renaissance Queen (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991) http://nancyrubinstuart.com/bookshelf/isabella-of-castile. Nancy struggled over that title and the question of whether Isabella was a medieval or renaissance queen. Over more than a few conversations with really strong coffee, we went back and forth, teased out the differences, and looked around for good examples that typified medieval and early modern queenship. It was easy when we looked at the extremes–Clothilde and Marie Antoinette, for example. Nancy finally decided that there was something genuinely “renaissance” about Isabella. But the fifteenth century is tricky. Her court was filled with some of the best Italian humanist authors, she and Fernando together governed a realm that spanned the western Mediterranean, her religiosity was very much a product of renaissance theology, and her reign inspired new works on political theory that would prove influential in the sixteenth century. True as all that is, the medievalist in me, especially one studying Spanish queens, could see many of those traits as typically medieval.

This conundrum was still with me this week as I put together the updated bibliography on medieval queens and queenship. And it resonates in my own work on Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536). She was born in the Middle Ages but her court in London was decidedly early modern, filled with court masques and Thomas More’s Utopia and Juan Luis Vives’s On the Assistance to the Poor. Does she belong in a bibliography of queens of the Middle Ages? Or early modern queens? Mary Tudor, Mary Stuart, Elizabeth I, and the wives of Philip II of Spain seem comfortably early modern, but what about Louise of Savoy (1476–1531), Anne of France (1461-1522), and others who literally straddle the conventional chronological divide at 1500?

These questions were very real to me as I worked my way through a mountain of new work. What should I do about the sixteenth century? Was there a logical reason to include or exclude it from a bibliography on medieval queens? My expertise falls off dramatically around 1600, and the bibliography is already VERY LONG.

For example, I struggled to decide what to do with two works by Estelle Paranque:

  • “Catherine of Medici: Henry III’s inspiration to be a Father to his People”, in Royal Mothers and their Ruling Children: Wielding Political Authority from Antiquity to the Early Modern Era, eds. Elena Woodacre and Carey Fleiner, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).
  • “The Representations and Ambiguities of the Warlike Female Kingship of Elizabeth I of England”, in Medieval and Early Modern Representations of Authority in Scotland and Great Britain, eds. Katherine Buchanan and Lucinda Dean, (London: Routledge, 2016).

In the end, neither was included, but that made me think harder about questions of continuity and change in terms of queenship. I may never fully settle this, and for now I’ve established a very fuzzy temporal zone where the line is drawn right around 1520, the point when the Habsburg empire has its growth spurt and when Martin Luther shook up the papacy and secular politics. But I’m not so sure that 1520 as a border make sense for queens.

What do you think?

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