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García-Fernández and Cernadas Martínez, eds., Reginae Iberiae: el poder regio femenino en los reinos medievales peninsulares (Morras)

  • 11 Aug 2017 9:31 AM
    Message # 5024968
    Janna Bianchini (Administrator)

    García-Fernández, Miguel, and Silvia Cernadas Martínez, eds. Reginae Iberiae: el poder regio femenino en los reinos medievales peninsulares. Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, 2015. 323 pages. ISBN: 978-84-16183-88-3.

    Reviewed by María Morras

    Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona / Magdalen College, Oxford

    At the crossroads of history, literature, art, and sociology, gender studies and the history of women have found in the last decades a fertile field in the medieval and early modern periods. For obvious reasons, exceptional figures have received most of the attention. The declared purpose of much recent research on royal women has been to define a model of queenship—a term whose Spanish loan translation as ‘reginalidad’ (proposed by Silleras-Fernández 2003, 2005) has been widely accepted. Before the explosion of gender-oriented studies, some important early monographs on regents and queens were published (on María de Molina, Gabrois 1967; on Urraca, Reilly 1982; on Catalina of Lancaster, Echevarría 2002). However, the gender-informed approach had its trigger in a series of provocative and stimulating works by B. Weissberger (2004, 2008) on Isabel I, the most outstanding of Europe’s late medieval queens in terms of power and character. The most noticeable difference between these and subsequent studies is the co-monarchy that, at least in appearance, Isabel succeeded in forging, whilst her predecessors chose or had to govern as regents or in place of an absent king: that is, in Castile, Berenguela (1180–1226), mother of Fernando III (Shadis 2009; Bianchini 2012; Martínez 2012), Catalina de Lancaster (1373–1418), mother of Juan II (Echevarría 2002); in the Crown of Aragon, María de Luna, lloc-tinent for Martí I (1358–1406) (Silleras-Fernández 2008), and María de Castilla for Alfons V (1401–1458) (Earenfight 2010). The case of Navarre is more varied, and has been the object of a comprehensive study (Woodacre 2013a). Besides these monographs, numerous papers have added to our knowledge of the political action and self-representation strategies of medieval and early modern Iberian queens. If we do not have a complete picture that allows drawing some parallel and evolutionary lines, we are in the process of gathering the pieces to the puzzle.

    The collection edited by García-Fernández and Cernadas Martínez (both still progressing in their doctorate), a subset of the proceedings of a conference held in May 2014, testifies to the activity in the field and the potential it still holds. The twelve papers deal with various aspects of how queens in Portugal, Castile, Aragon and Navarre exerted power. The chronological scope is also ample, beginning in the eleventh century, though with the inevitable stress on the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The editors have chosen to preserve the papers in the original language (all written in peninsular languages except for two), thus reflecting the broad geographical focus of the collection. Unfortunately, this may be a deterrent for some readers. To stress the diversity of the papers, they have not been ordered by geographical or thematic criteria, but rather by chronology. Still, a reading that contemplates the evolution of strategies and degrees of power wielded by the various queens is not feasible, as the papers tackle different issues and diverse areas. They can be grouped into three categories: (1) on representation in arts and literature, (2) on individual episodes in a queen's life, and (3) on strategies to build up networks of power, whether through dynastic ties or by means of patronage (both spiritual and material). Since the reader can find a stricter summary in other reviews (La Cruz 2016, Woodacre 2016), these categories will be used to discuss the articles in general.

    On the subject of representation, the favored object of analysis turns out to be visual culture in Portugal. Burials are examined in two papers. The first is a comparative study of burials of royal women between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries by Sonsoles García González. After an overview of the historiography and textual sources, García González examines the sarcophagi of Las Huelgas. The next paper, by Joana Ramôa Melo, focuses on the earliest example of a recumbent effigy on a tomb, alternatively identified with Urraca (d. 1220), mother of Afonso II of Portugal, or Beatriz Afonso (d. 1300), wife of Afonso III. Rosário Morujão highlights the variation in the design of queenly seals, which in Portugal—interestingly enough—are related mainly to noblewomen coming from Castile and Aragon; the only examples come from Mécia Lopes de Haro, Beatriz de Guzman, Isabel of Aragon, and Leonor Teles from the first dynasty of Avis. Lopes de Haro's format shares iconography common to many European queenly seals of the period, while Beatriz de Guzman's depicts her on horseback, a model far more common for medieval kings than queens. The category of representation is concluded by Díaz Marcilla’s comparative look at the Lancaster queens, Filipa of Portugal and Catalina of Lancaster. Marcilla's conclusion is that while the former insisted on appearing as a model of piety, the latter was instead characterized in maternal terms. But the explanation is quite easy to grasp: whereas Filipa was a queen consort, Catalina ruled as regent in her son's name during Juan II's minority.

    This begs the question of the relative weight of dynastic traditions and historical and personal circumstances on a queen’s success at promoting her image as a guarantor of peace and dynastic rights. The contrasting cases of Isabel of Aragon (1271–1336), the Rainha Santa of Portugal; of Maria of Portugal (1342–1373), wife of Infante Fernando of Aragon; and of Leonor de Alburquerque (1374–1435), queen and mother of the infantes of Aragon, are illuminating. The first one crafted an image based on sainthood, blurring for posterity the fact that she sided with their son in the civil war against D. Dinis; the decisiveness and authority of her actions dispels the image she cultivated of a meek and devoted woman, as Romão Melo amply shows. By obscuring her wielding of power, Isabel succeeded where Leonor de Albuquerque and María de Portugal failed. Embroiled in civil wars and dynastic rivalries too, as Rossi Vairo shows, the former could not carry out the role of peacemaker and mediator between her sons, powerful in Aragon and Navarre, but rivals in their efforts to control Castile; the latter was a victim of the confrontations between her husband, Fernando, and his stepbrother, King Pere IV of Aragon, to the point that she became nearly invisible. Cantarell’s article recovers her from oblivion and emphasizes her difficult position as the conflict between Portugal, Castile and Aragon entangled—once again—the peninsular dynasties.

    This leads us to the last and largest group of papers. As queens usually wielded power by employing influence, it is only natural that creating networks based on patronage and family ties should be one—if not the main—way to exercise it. To weave such networks, noble and royal women had several means at their disposal. Bianchini's contribution on the infantazgo, a series of royal territories bestowed on infantas over the course of the central Middle Ages in León-Castile, shows—beyond doubts about its precise legal character—how it helped to build up ties between them and the crown, providing a sense of enduring dynastic identity for single, widowed, and married infantas and making it possible for them to foster younger generations. Closely related to this procedure, and common to all Christian kingdoms, was the process of cultivating a dynastic spirituality: sharing preferences for certain orders, patronizing convents and monasteries, and supporting observant reform initiatives. Even if certain cases, such as the adherence to strict Franciscanism demonstrated by the descendants of Jaume II, Sancha and Jaume, are exceptional in their coherence and extremism, as Ensenyant analyzes, they correspond to a context in which secular people desired to participate actively in the construction of a new spirituality. Usually, however, piety was expressed by protecting orders or convents and monasteries in areas associated with the royal family; this kind of patronage would soon be

    imitated by the nobility, as Prieto rightly observes about Castile. Closer to courtly modes, and also related to instruments used by kings, is the use of the queen’s household (casa, cámara) and of artistic and cultural patronage. Pelaz describes how María of Aragón (1406–1454), queen of Castile, and her successor, Isabel of Portugal (1447–1496), managed to establish a close-knit network of alliances by marrying their ladies-in-waiting and servants into related families. This had two goals: to strengthen the queen’s position as the epicenter of power and patronage, and to secure channels of communication and bonds of collaboration with the king’s household. Finally, Carvajal explores patronage of books by Castilian and Catalan queens before Isabel I, providing a general overview which suggests that queens’ role in the introduction of literary trends might have been greater than previously suspected.

    This brief analysis of the volume does not do justice to a valuable set of articles which furthers other two outstanding collections of articles on queens in Mediterranean countries (Earenfight 2013, Woodacre 2013). Considered globally, they posit some issues which will deserve attention in the future. For instance, to what extent did queens have control over their representation? Did it vary according to their marital status or because of individual idiosyncratic circumstances? Is there a cogent pattern of self-representation before Isabel I? How much did its characteristics depend on dynastic traditions? Which strategies were successful in attaining and wielding power? Is there, say, a Trastamaran or Lancaster model of queenship? How much does it (or they) differ from models of kingship? There is much still to be researched, and information to be gathered to be able to start the comparative look this book invites, but partial studies like the ones collected here indicate some of the lines to be pursued. A collective bibliography, and especially a glossary of names and places, would have aided immensely in making this volume a starting point for that purpose.


    Bianchini, Janna. The queen's hand: Power and authority in the Reign of Berenguela of CastileUniversity of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.

    Earenfight, Theresa. The king's other body: María of Castile and the Crown of AragonUniversity of Pennsylvania Press, 2010.

    Earenfight, Theresa. Queenship in medieval Europe. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

    Earenfight, Theresa, ed. Queenship and Political Power in Medieval and Early Modern SpainRoutledge, 2017.

    Echevarría, Ana. Catalina de Lancaster: reina regente de Castilla, 1372-1418. Nerea Editorial, 2002.

    Gabrois de Ballesteros, Mercedes. María de Molina: tres veces reina. Vol. 1411. Espasa-Calpe, 1967.

    Salvador Martínez, H. Berenguela la Grande y su época (1180-1246). Ediciones Polifemo, 2012.

    Silleras-Fernández, Núria. "Queenship en la Corona de Aragón en la Baja Edad Media: estudio y propuesta terminológica." La corónica: A Journal of Medieval Hispanic Languages, Literatures, and Cultures 32.1 (2003): 119-133; trans. "Reginalitat als regnes hispànics medievals: Concepte historiogràfic per a una realitat històrica". Butlletí de la Reial Acadèmia de Bones Lletres de Barcelona 50 (2005): 121-142.

    Silleras-Fernández, Núria. Power, piety, and patronage in late medieval queenship: Maria de Luna. Palgrave MacMillan, 2008.

    Shadis, Miriam. Berenguela of Castile (1180-1246) and political women in the High Middle Ages. Springer, 2009.

    Weissberger, Barbara F. Isabel Rules: Constructing Queenship, Wielding Power. U of Minnesota Press, 2004.

    Weissberger, Barbara F., ed. Queen Isabel I of Castile: power, patronage, persona. Vol. 253. Tamesis Books, 2008.

    Woodacre, Elena. The queens regnant of Navarre: succession, politics, and partnership, 1274-1512. Springer, 2013.

    Woodacre, Elena, ed. Queenship in the Mediterranean: Negotiating the Role of the Queen in the Medieval and Early Modern Eras. Springer, 2013.

    Other reviews:

    Lacruz, Ana Zúñiga. Rilce. Revista de Filología Hispánica 33.1 (2016): 409-12; Medina, Inés Calderón. Cuadernos de Estudios Gallegos 63.129 (2016): 451-455; Woodacre, Elena. The Medieval Review (2016) <https:///


    Last modified: 11 Aug 2017 9:35 AM | Janna Bianchini (Administrator)

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