Conference Abstracts and Bios

CONFERENCE ORGANIZERS (in alphabetical order)


Janet Dickinson is Senior Associate Tutor in History at Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education. She is also Lecturer for New York University in London. Her research focuses on the nobility and the court in early modern England and Europe and she has published a number of chapters on these subjects. Her book, Court Politics and the Earl of Essex was published in 2011. Most recently, Janet has been working on an Anglo-Dutch project, ‘Maritime Archaeology meets Cultural History’, focusing on the extraordinary objects retrieved from a 17th century shipwreck off the Dutch island of Texel.


Erika Graham-Goering is lecturer in late medieval history at Durham University (UK) and FWO senior postdoctoral fellow at Ghent University (Belgium). Her research focuses on lordship and power in France during the Hundred Years’ War, including issues of hierarchies and networks, succession, gender, and collaborative authority. She is the author of Princely Power in Late Medieval France: Jeanne de Penthièvre and the War for Brittany (CUP, 2020) and Aux origines de la guerre de succession de Bretagne: documents (1341–1342) (PUR, 2019), with Michael Jones and Bertrand Yeurc’h.


Anu Lahtinen is Associate Professor of Finnish and Nordic History at the University of Helsinki. Her fields of expertise include Finnish and Nordic history, especially the history of elite networks, and long-term social history and gender history. Her recent publications include a biography of Baroness Ebba Stenbock (ca. 1550-1614) and co-written articles with Terhi Katajamäki: “Sealed with tears: material and social meanings of a royal letter by Countess Palatine Anna (Vasa) (1545–1610)”, in Prace Polonistyczne (2021), and “Anna Vasa (1568-1625), Lutheran Sister of the Catholic King”, in Women Reformers in Early Modern Europe (2022).


Dustin M. Neighbors is a postdoctoral researcher for the Fashion History Lab project at Aalto University, as well as a visiting postdoctoral researcher with the Department of Philosophy, History and Art Studies at the University of Helsinki. As a historian of England and northern European history utilising digital research tools, Dustin specialises in the history of monarchy and court culture, with an emphasis on the performativity of gender, political culture, elite practices and activities (i.e. hunting), and crafting spectacles within the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He has published in Liminalities: Journal for Performative Studies and the Royal Studies Journal. He is currently lead co-editor of an edited collection on Notions of Privacy at Early Modern European Courts: Reassessing the Public/Private Divide, 1400-1800 (AUP, 2023).


Anastasia Utke has recently completed her PhD at Royal Holloway University, London. Her work focuses on the portrayal of Tudor history in museums, galleries, and the wider body of public history. She has previously a BA in History and Anthropology from Eastern Washington State University, USA, and a MA in Museum and Gallery Studies from Kingston University, UK.

KEYNOTE SPEAKERS (in order of appearance)


Royalty and disability: Strategies for coping and concealment at early modern courts


The early modern prince was God’s representative on earth, the wise father of his people, the heroic manly warrior who led them into battle. He was typically portrayed on horseback, modelled on the Roman emperors; in court festivities he frequently played the part of Apollo, Hercules, or Nimrod. As a sign of his strength and potency, he needed to father sons and so enable the dynasty to continue. Portraiture, statuary and costumes, religion, occasional poetry and ceremonial were used to present him as a dazzling human being elevated above his subjects. But what if the prince was either physically or mentally disabled? What attempts were made to cure him? And, if he remained in some way impaired, how was this managed? How was disability covered up and compensated for?


The examples discussed will range from physical disability through physical and mental illness to mental impairment.


A different set of problems arose with the disabled princess. Beauty and fertility were necessary qualities and the absence of either made her a failure as a bride and as a consort.


Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly is Professor of German Literature at the University of Oxford and Emeritus Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford. She works on court culture from the Renaissance to the present day, on German literature, gender questions and cultural history. Among her books are Melancholie und die melancholische Landschaft (1978), Triumphal Shews. Tournaments at German-Speaking Courts in their European Context 1560-1730 (1992) and Court Culture in Dresden from Renaissance to Baroque (2002). She has edited The Cambridge History of German Literature (1997), Spectaculum Europaeum. Theatre and Spectacle in Europe, (1580-1750) with Pierre Béhar (1999) and Europa Triumphans. Court and Civic Festivals in Early Modern Europe with J.R. Mulryne and Margaret Shewring (2004). Her most recent books are Beauty or Beast? The Woman Warrior in the German Imagination from the Renaissance to the Present (2010), Queens Consort, Cultural Transfer and European Politics 1550-1750 with Adam Morton (2016) and Projecting Imperial Power: New Nineteenth Century Emperors and the Public Sphere (2021). In 2012 she was elected a Fellow of the British Academy and holds honorary doctorates from the National University of Ireland and the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich. Since 2017 she has been President of the Society for Court Studies.

Gender and materiality: Courtly clothing from commission to consumption


This keynote will take a look at both bodies and materiality from the perspective of those who were serving the court. Servants´ clothes were a necessity which covered the body but which also could evoke emotions such as shame or pride, or force protest. Clothes were also a commodity with a market value as well as an important and costly symbol of power and social hierarchy. A special attention will be given to liveries and how they functioned to depersonalize servants and turned them into just another high status luxury object.


Svante Norrhem is since 2014 Associate Professor at Lund University. In his research he has worked with gender, sexuality, materiality, museum practice, political culture and diplomacy. The main focus has been on early modern Sweden and Europe, but he has also studied LGBTQ+ history during the 20th century. His work often includes international comparison and transnational movement.


His most important publications concern women’s political, financial and cultural agency; political culture, diplomacy and gender; and gender, materiality and museum practice. Currently he leads a project which studies aristocratic households as learning institutions. It involves studies of servants’ training, their career possibilities as well as how materiality—among other aspects—could be part of servants’ socialization into being ‘a god servant’.

Growing up and growing old: Living at the court of early modern Swedish royals


The closing keynote deals with the life course and life-cycle of people living at the court of early modern Swedish royals. The presentation explores examples of young people who came to the court to serve and to be educated or to build the career, as well as of elderly, already ailing persons present in the court. The focus will be on how coming of age and ageing affected expectations set for the members of the court, and how bodily appearance and ability were commented on.

Anu Lahtinen: see organizer biographies, above

PAPERS AND PANELISTS (in order of appearance)


The Duchess of Étampes: Reading the body of the political royal mistress


Already under Charles V of France (1338-80) rank had been carefully established, with closeness of relationship to the king serving as the basis for an elaborate court hierarchy. As the court became increasingly complex over the following centuries further taxonomies were developed that made the various bodies gathered at court legible. 


Drawing on the recent spate of scholarship on the French royal mistress the proposed paper explores how Anne de Pisseleu d’Heilly, mistress of François I (r. 1515-1547), a woman with no family relationship to the king, become an influential political advisor. Powerful women were not unusual at François’s court, but their bodies—their physical presence—made sense with reference to their family relationships; mistresses too were a perfectly legible phenomenon. But a powerful royal mistress who dealt with international ambassadors was not. A number of networks of interpretation converged around 1540 to make Étampes’s position legible. I propose that new ways of representing female figures from classical mythology introduced to France by the Italians artists renovating Fontainebleau and other chateaux were particularly influential in giving meaning to Étampes’s body.


Tracy Adams is a professor in European Languages and Literatures at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. She has also taught at the University of Maryland, the University of Miami, and the University of Lyon III. She was a Eurias Senior Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies 2011-2012, an Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in the History of Emotions Distinguished International Visiting Fellow in 2014 and a fellow at the Herzog August Bibliothek fellowship in Wolfenbüttel, Germany, in 2016. She is the author of  Violent Passions: Managing Love in the Old French Verse Romance (2005), The Life and Afterlife of Isabeau of Bavaria (2010), Christine de Pizan and the Fight for France (2014), The Creation of the French Royal Mistress from Agnès Sorel to Madame Du Barry (2020), co-authored with Christine Adams, and Agnès Sorel and the French Monarchy(2022).

‘A princess, or a prostitute’: The representation of Maria Fitzherbert


In the winter of 1785 Maria Fitzherbert (1756-1837) married George, Prince of Wales, later George IV (1762-1830). This marriage was considered invalid because Maria was a commoner and a Roman Catholic, and the pair had not sought the necessary permission of the monarch. Nonetheless, her affair with the Prince of Wales was certainly well known, and the question of their marriage was of huge public interest for the remainder of their lives. Maria spent the next 45 years of her life as a curious hybrid of wife and mistress, walking a fine line between potential respectability and public licentiousness. The negotiation of this mixture of favourite, mistress, and wife of the Prince of Wales is reflected strongly in Maria’s visual identity throughout this period. Through comparison of the contrasting ways in which Maria was portrayed, in commissioned portraits and in visual satire and caricature, I will evaluate the difference between her regulated representations and the vilified depictions that the public consumed. This paper will highlight the ramifications of a highly public sexual profile on women during the late-eighteenth-century, and consider the ways in which visual culture could be used to negate, or contribute to, this sexualised perception.


Mirabelle Field is a PhD Candidate in Art History at the University of Auckland. Her thesis examines the visual representation of the mistresses of King George IV (1762-1830), through the lenses of celebrity culture, erotic capital, and reputation.

‘Shewed like a great bellied Woman’: Mary of Modena and Catholic queenly agency


Public rituals of fertility and childbirth were key to the consort’s role, from the announcement of her pregnant condition and prayers for her health to her lying in. In 1688, the queen’s pregnancy raised the possibility of a Catholic succession to the throne of England, Scotland, and Ireland. With such high stakes attached, Mary Beatrice of Modena’s performance of pregnancy drew the ire of those who claimed it was exactly that: an act. This paper examines the active role that Mary Beatrice played in the controversy of her son’s birth primarily through its representation in prints and her own art patronage. It highlights the queen’s own commitment to conceiving as evinced through Catholic ritual and display, and discusses the deliberate use of Marian imagery to draw links between the queen and the Virgin Mother of God—an image that was both empowering and provocative.


The paper argues that not only did the queen’s disputed pregnancy and labour lead to the visualisation of her pregnant body throughout England and continental Europe, but with it she achieved the very thing for which she had been striving for since her marriage to the heir to the English throne fifteen years earlier in 1673: a son who would be brought up in the Catholic faith. In this discussion, it illuminates Mary Beatrice as a central and conscious player in the dynastic game.


Susannah Lyon-Whaley is a third-year PhD candidate in Art History at the University of Auckland under the supervision of Associate Professor Erin Griffey and Dr. Sophie Tomlinson. Her doctoral thesis examines Catherine of Braganza and the visual, literary, and material culture of nature. She has a Masters in English Literature and has published articles in Journal of New Zealand Literature, Ka Mate Ka Ora, Backstory, and most recently in The Court Historian.

‘The picture of ye Queene when she was wth childe’: Pregnancy in English/British elite portraits c.1554–1640


Pregnancy—resulting in the production of healthy legitimate children—has always been central to the role of noble and royal women; it maintains familial and dynastic continuity. While both conception and obstetric success could be problematic—and were acknowledged as such—many early modern women did spend their adult years successively with child. Until recently, however, art historians have been surprisingly un-curious about the significance of this for pre-contemporary portraiture.


It is, of course, rare to find evidence for the precise circumstances in which an early modern portrait was commissioned, and thus for the decisions that informed its content and appearance. My research addresses painted portraits of early modern elite British women who were depicted at a time when they were pregnant—whether that pregnancy was made visible in the portrait or not. Some examples appeared in my 2020 London exhibition Portraying Pregnancy: from Holbein to Social Media, and in its accompanying book. 


Taking this work forward, this paper will first explore images of queens Mary I, Anna of Denmark and Henrietta Maria that were made when they were known (or thought) to be pregnant, before considering some newly identified pregnancy portraits of other Court women. 


Karen Hearn, FSA was the Curator of 16th & 17th Century British Art at Tate Britain, London, from 1992 to 2012. She is now an Honorary Professor at University College London. She publishes and teaches on art made in Britain between 1500 and 1710 and, particularly, on the British-Netherlandish cultural links of that period.


In 1995, she curated the major Tate exhibition Dynasties: Painting in Tudor & Jacobean England 1530–1630, for which she received a European Woman of Achievement Award. At Tate Britain, she later curated Van Dyck & Britain (2009) and Rubens & Britain(2011-12). At the National Portrait Gallery, she curated Cornelius Johnson: Charles I’s Forgotten Painter (2015), and she is now working on a full-scale monograph on this Anglo-Dutch portraitist.


Having previously coined the term ‘pregnancy portrait’, her 2020 exhibition at The Foundling Museum in London, Portraying Pregnancy: from Holbein to Social Media, accompanied her book of the same title. 

Faking pregnancy: The significance of childlessness for two Scottish medieval queens


Scotland faced political instability and a succession crisis in the 1290s, following the unexpected death of Alexander III in 1286. Alexander was predeceased by all three of his adult children from his first marriage and his premature death left Scotland without a clear heir. In the next century, David II remained childless in both his first and second marriages. In narratives about these pivotal moments of uncertainty, two chronicles allege that Alexander III’s second queen, Yolande de Dreux, and David II’s second queen, Margaret Logie, faked pregnancies in order to produce the desperately longed-for heirs. 


This paper considers the significance of childlessness and fertility for medieval queens. The chronicles claim that Yolande and Margaret lost their positions at the Scottish court because they manipulated their reproductive roles and jeopardised the legitimate succession to secure their own uncertain futures, respectively, after Alexander III’s death without an heir and amid David II’s efforts to escape his childless marriage and marry someone else. This paper will argue that the chronicle accounts preserve the ambiguity around determining pregnancy and reproductive outcomes in the Middle Ages. I will suggest that queens productively employed and were affected by this uncertainty and the pressure for fertility.


Emma Trivett finished her PhD in medieval history at the University of Edinburgh in October 2021. Her thesis, titled "'It was greatly feared that the queen was barren': Perceptions and Management of Royal Fertility in Thirteenth- and Fourteenth-century England and Scotland", is a gendered analysis of royal infertility, including childlessness as well as other problems with fertility. Her work focuses on royal couples’ joint management of their fertility, and she is interested in the significance of (in)fertility for medieval kingship and queenship.

Royal women and birth: Panorama of differentiated situations according to space and the anthropological position of the actresses in the pre-modern era (France – England – Ottoman Empire)


Childbirth for modern princesses is paramount, whether one is in France, England or the Ottoman Empire. However, differences can be noted: depending on whether you are an Ottoman or French princess, a king's wife or his mistress, the need for a child does not have the same political reasons. Polygamy, homogamy but also the political situation thus play on the question of the desired (or not) conceptions of children, leading royal women to use different strategies according to their status and the matrimonial rules of the spaces they occupy. How do fears, hopes and secrets play a role in the way those women are viewed and see themselves? How do they live their pregnancy or the lack of them in their different courts? Through a statistical study, but also private sources, I hope to show both the different motivations of a princess to give birth, but also some of the emotions that this can generate—for them but also for their realms.


After a bachelor’s degree at Paris-Sorbonne, a master at Rennes 2 and one at EHESS in Paris, Julie Özcan is currently doing a PhD under the supervision of Fanny Cosandey at the EHESS about feminine power and monarchical systems in France, England and the Ottoman Empire (1550-1720). She participated in several symposiums this year and a number of them will be published in 2023. She also works with different scientific projects including Gens de la Bourse and

From preconception to birth at the Stuart court: Théodore de Mayerne’s case notes for Henrietta Maria’s first pregnancy and stillbirth in 1628/29


Dynastic succession positioned the female body at the heart of politics, vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the reproductive body and genetic fortune. Henrietta Maria, the Bourbon princess who married the Stuart king Charles I, understood this acutely. In May 1629±not March as has been widely cited—Henrietta Maria experienced a still-birth, a boy named Charles James. She was attended by her French physician, Théodore de Mayerne. The prevailing narrative of Henrietta Maria’s future maternal successes—giving birth to eight children, two of whom would become kings of England—tends to overlook the significance of this event. 


This paper examines the theme of courtly embodiment through one queen’s experience of pregnancy and childbirth and the court physician who carefully managed it. Taking a medical approach to court history, it follows Henrietta Maria’s first pregnancy from preconception to birth using Mayerne’s case notes. Written in Latin, Mayerne’s notes on Henrietta Maria’s pregnancy do not appear to have been previously consulted by scholars. These notes include a range of treatments—from prescription baths to topical stretch mark ointments and orally administered medicines—and record prenatal health advice, birthing delivery methods and postpartum care. The notes also provide evidence of how pregnancy was diagnosed, how conception dates were calculated and how stillbirths were managed in the early modern period. And finally, they offer palpable insight into the queen’s relationship with Mayerne and her indomitable character.


Erin Griffey is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Auckland and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. She holds a PhD from the Courtauld Institute of Art, London. She is a specialist in early modern visual and material culture and is particularly interested in aspects of adornment and display. She has published widely on the Stuart court, including On Display: Henrietta Maria and the Materials of Magnificence at the Stuart Court (Yale University Press, 2016). Her other books include four edited collections: Envisioning Self and Status: Self-Representation in the Low Countries 1400-1700 (Association for Low Countries Studies, 1999); Henrietta Maria: Piety, Politics and Patronage (Ashgate, 2008); Sartorial Politics at the Early Modern Court: Fashioning Women (Amsterdam University Press, 2019) and Early Modern Court Culture (Routledge, 2022). She continues to do research on Henrietta Maria and is also writing a monograph on beauty culture in early modern Europe with the provisional title, Facing Decay: Beauty, Wrinkles and Anti-Aging in Early Modern Europe.

The stuff of love: Materializing the beloved’s body at the Italian court


This paper examines the role of the absent body in the relationship between Luigi II ’Este (1648-1698), Marchese of Scandiano and Montecchio, and his mistress, Anna Maria Cagnolati (b. 1667). While most courtly affairs were predicated on physical proximity and corporeal intimacy, Luigi and Anna Maria were often apart due at first to his family’s disapproval and then to Anna Maria’s marriage to a Bolognese widower. Over the course of their affair Luigi and Anna Maria wrote over 300 letters to one another, and often included gifts to physically manifest their absent bodies. Anna Maria described kissing Luigi’s portrait and told of being comforted by his painted presence during an illness. She repeatedly asked for lengths of cloth in order to fashion dresses for her body and sent Luigi several homemade measuring tapes that recorded the dimensions of her arms, legs and waist. For his part, Luigi described of his love as something that took physical hold of him, causing trembling hands or rapid breaths, and marked his letters with amorous wax seals. Although they were often physically separated, this essay argues that the couple used paper, ink, and wax to forge material connections that manifested their corporeal presence.


Maria F. Maurer received her PhD from Indiana University in 2012 and is currently an Associate Professor of Art History at The University of Tulsa. Her book, Gender, Space and Experience at the Renaissance Court. Practice and Performance at the Palazzo Te was published by Amsterdam University Press in 2019. Her work on gender and sexuality in the arts of the Italian courts has been published by Renaissance Studies and in essay collections such Donne Gonzaga a Corte. Reti istituzionali, pratiche culturali e affari di governo, edited by Chiara Continissio and Raffaele Tamalio (Bulzoni, 2018) and Women Artists at the Courts of Early Modern Europe (c.1450-1700), edited by Tanja Jones (Amsterdam, 2021).

Catholic bodies in motion at the Elizabethan court


This paper traces the movements of English Catholic bodies around and within the Protestant court of Elizabeth I. English Catholic bodies existed at court in official and unofficial capacities, as courtiers, musicians, family members, and petitioners. In 1593 the English government passed legislation that restricted Catholics' mobility to within a five-mile compass of home, unless they had a license to travel beyond that limit. In the countryside, this meant that Catholics did not travel very far beyond the boundaries of the manor or parish in which they lived. Yet Catholics could move around cities without travel licenses since the five-mile compass allowed them to go to nearly any point in the city. Catholic bodies moved around London and the court to socialize, work, and petition, all of which took them into proximity with the court. For example, the courtier Elizabeth ‘Bess’ Throckmorton, socialized with her Catholic relatives including her uncle John Throckmorton who lived in Milford Lane near the Middle Temple. Petitioners engaged with the court when they appeared in person before the Privy Council, thereby placing Catholic bodies in the interior spaces of the court, whether the court was in London or elsewhere in the realm. This paper connects the physicality of movements with the court even by people whose bodies were supposed to be restricted from those spaces.


Susan M. Cogan is an Associate Professor of History at Utah State University in the USA. She has published on English Catholic nobility and gentry, mobility, and architecture. Her book, Catholic Social Networks in Early Modern England: Kinship, Gender, and Coexistence, was published by Amsterdam University Press in 2021. Her current projects include an article on gendered mobility and the English court, a book on English Catholic material culture and a book examining expressions of English colonial power through gardens and landscapes in Ireland and Maryland, provisionally titled Landscape and Power in the Early Modern British Atlantic.

‘As you make your grave, you must rely on it’: 18th-century sepulchral media as means of noble integration at Munich’s court


In early modern court society, death and corpses—foremost royal ones—played an essential performative role in perpetuating the monarchy’s ideological claims to power. Monuments figured amongst the most salient means of ensuring continuing legitimacy of the dynastic rule. Therefore, the contemporary theory states unsurprisingly, ‘[l]es statües sepulcrales [...] servent cependant à [...] ceux qui restent’. However, recent research has often focused merely on the ruler’s sepulchral representation, even though noble memoria symbolising manifestations were integral to aristocratic behaviour. Memorial media, understood as ‘total social phenomena’, presented court-related nobles with an opportunity to appropriate the social spaces in the residence city, thus, visualising their closeness to princely power and their role within court society.


I will attempt to enlighten the problematic relationship between attachment to noble family memorials in local patronage churches and the inscribing of personal careers into the residence’s sacral topography based on the Bavarian high nobility. This selection permits me to evaluate the hypothesis, the Wittelsbacher were faced with a not strongly integrated court nobility, critically. Conceptualising the proximity of sacred spaces to the court and the integrative power of memorial media will allow me to examine the sepulchral remains within the five most exclusive of Munich’s churches.


Maximilian Diemer is undertaking a double-degree Master of Arts of the German-French university in History at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and the EHESS, Paris.

‘The riddle of the world is dead’: Murder, memory, and the Duke of Buckingham’s body


On 23 August 1628, George Villiers, first Duke of Buckingham (1592-1628) was assassinated. The death of the royal favourite is well rehearsed in Stuart histories as a turning point in the reign of Charles I. Buckingham’s death had a powerful effect on Charles’ perception of popular opinion, marking the informal beginning of his Personal Rule. However, Buckingham’s death was also a turning point for Katherine Villiers, Duchess of Buckingham (1603-1649), given the sudden and traumatic loss of her husband and her new status as a widow. While courtiers vied for power in the vacuum created by Buckingham’s unexpected death, the Villiers family were threatened by the loss of royal favour if they did not maintain their position. This paper explores how Katherine led the commemorative campaign to construct a positive version of Buckingham’s posthumous memory and fashion her own identity through the visual performance of mourning. She erected a magnificent monument in the Henry VII Chapel at Westminster Abbey where Buckingham was privately buried, when neither a heraldic funeral nor monument were offered by the Crown. Katherine also harnessed Buckingham’s likeness— his body and his memory—in a series of mourning portraits that she commissioned to bolster her and her children’s position at court. This paper offers new perspectives on Buckingham’s murder and its aftermath by exploring the primary visual and material responses to his death.


Megan Shaw is a PhD Candidate in Art History at the University of Auckland. Her thesis is a cultural history of Katherine Villiers, Duchess of Buckingham (1603-1649) which explores royal favour and visual culture at the Stuart court.

From exile to heritage of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth: The secret burial and ‘resurrection’ of controversial royal bodies


Some former royals of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth were forced to leave the country and died in exile. Due to political circumstances, the return of their bodies was covered in a vail of mystery and their burials were done in secret—without the appropriate honour normally due to members of the royal family. This paper interrogates the case studies of two of such royals at different times in history: Queen-widow Maria Kazimiera Sobieska (died in Blois in 1716) and king Stanisław August Poniatowki (died in St. Petersburg in 1798). It will discuss the covert journeys their royal bodies had to take to find their final resting place in Poland, and how their bodies were brought ‘back to life’ for political propaganda and the building of a nation. The Sobieski’s decaying bodies were put on display in the 1730s to support the ambitions of Stanisław Leszczyński—candidate to the throne. Poniatowski’s constant reburial left little ashes to scatter on the grounds of his former royal residence, now the Royal Łazienki Museum, in 1988. I will show that a royal body can find new meaning and serve its country again, well after its death and dismissal.


Esther Griffin van Orsouw got a LLM in Labour Law from the University of Tilburg (NL) and, after working several years as a lawyer, an MA in Art History from the Open University of the UK. Currently, she is a PhD candidate at the University of Warsaw and a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow of the European Training Network PALAMUSTO. Her research focusses on collecting practices and spaces in 17th- and 18th-century Europe, with the Sobieski family as a point of departure. Identity building, network theory, gender and digital humanities inspire her work. Esther is also interested in building bridges between the heritage sector and academia.

The three burials of Gaston de Foix: Corpses and courts, Milan, 1512–22


At news of the death of his young French kinsman, Gaston de Foix (1489-1512), his uncle, Louis XII of France, is said to have remarked that ‘he would have lost the whole of Italy [rather] than Gaston’s life’. Commensurate with this affection, the corpse received a fully stage-managed burial with full ducal honours. However, with rapid regime change and the establishment of successive Swiss and Franco-Milanese courts, the corpse had a turbulent afterlife. This paper will compare Gaston’s most stately and formal first burial with his subsequent disinterment by the Swiss in 1512 and later reburials by the French.


While later generations appropriated Gaston’s image to explore ideas about French identity, colonial and martial power, this paper will consider the immediate aims of each of Gaston’s funerals. How did each court and patron use Gaston’s dead and decomposing body to express ideas about French rule within the framework of theatrical funeral ephemera and more permanent memorials? More importantly, how was the corpse used to express ideas about the patrons’ own Milanese ambitions and courts?


Philippa Woodcock is a lecturer in History at the University of the Highlands and Islands. She is an Assistant Editor of The Court Historian and sits on the Committee for the Society of the History of War. Her recent publications and research focus on errors and emotions in diplomacy, including socially aggrandising baptisms and damp squib fireworks.

I’m still here: The court and the presence of royal bodies after death


Death is a demarcation between different worlds, but in early modern society the dead continued to be part of the living world to some degree. In particular, this applied to royal persons who passed on. They may have shuffled off this mortal coil but they did stay present on the political stage. The court was the stage and courtiers the main organisers of prolonged and sometimes complex afterlives of royal corpses.


There are several reasons behind the continued presence of royal corpses. In some cases, it was a great show of marital grief. In almost all cases it was deemed necessary to display royal bodies to the public to manifest how the dynasty continued, even if it did not. Royal magnificence was upheld emphasizing continuation and strength. To some degree the royal body was part of an everlasting monarchical machinery run by the court. 


The continuance of royalty after death went through several stages. The first was the moment of moment of death and the ceremonial context. Next followed the opening of the body by physicians. After that the body was put on show, often using make up to disguise the onset of decay. In some instances, such as Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, the body was viewed in private for a long period of time through continued opening of the coffin. A last stage is represented by later openings of coffins and the observation—in some cases interactions—with the by now long dead royal body. You could still perform your royal duties after death. Your corporeal presence did not require life to be meaningful. It was still the key prop in the courtly display.


Fabian Persson is Associate Professor in the department of Cultural Sciences at Linnæus Universitet, and serves on the UK Executive Committee of the Society for Court Studies. His books include Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court: Power, Risk, and Opportunity (2021) and Survival and Revival in Sweden’s Court and Monarchy, 1718–1930 (2020).

Understanding embodied material practices of ephemeral objects in the Mughal court (16th–18th centuries)


The Mughal court in India had been an early modern political space hosting several material practices of ephemeral objects and their embodied socio-cultural and religious significance associated with their materiality. A close reading of textual sources from this period such as court chronicles, biographical accounts, foreign travel accounts, administrative and household manuals from this period manifests the convergence of these material practices with bodily performances demonstrated by the individuals and the communities who frequented these Indo-Islamicate spaces. The paper, thereby, locates itself at this intersection and endeavors to study the ways in which sensory objects of shared aesthetics and ephemeral materiality such as perfumes and illuminants were employed to enhance the spatial setting and symbolic significance of the court and as a consequence, influenced the physical exercises and the bodily health of the ones present there. In doing so, it investigates the episodes of courtly accidents of fire breakouts, material losses, physical injuries, body burns and unexpected deaths enabled by these material practices in these settings and the process of recovery and healing. Finally, it focuses on the ceremonial usage of these materials in courtly rituals like celebration of birth ceremonies, wedding ceremonies and death anniversaries to understand the participative co-dependence between objects and bodies in the Mughal polity.


Amrita Chattopadhyay is a PhD Research Scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University in the Centre for Historical Studies. Her research interests focus on Mughal history, material culture, olfaction, perfume and other sensory objects, maritime studies of medieval India and the early modern world. Her current PhD thesis looks at Mughal Material Culture: Objects of Value, Consumption and Circulation. Her forthcoming articles include ‘Perfumes in Early Modern India: Ephemeral Materiality and Aromatic Mobility’ in Anne Gerritsen and Burton Cleetus ed., Histories of Health and Materiality in the Indian Ocean World: Medicine, Material Culture and Trade, 1600-2000 (Bloomsbury, 2022).

Adornments of the court: beauty and enslavement in the Mughal world


This paper takes up the question of beauty and the erotic, to consider how the bodies of enslaved individuals serve, within written accounts of the Mughal court, both as a location for aesthetic appreciation as well as a potentially disruptive force constituting a moral peril for elite men. Drawing on Persian-language court chronicles, memoirs, and collections of anecdotes and witticisms, I will explore the complex dynamics at play in descriptions of such figures, alongside considering how their reception was inflected by such factors as gender and ethnicity. On the one hand, enslaved women and men, including eunuchs, were sometimes portrayed as adornments of elite life, as indicators of wealth as well as the source of enjoyment within the courtly milieu, inspiring everything from the sophisticated recitation of poetry to lewd jokes. On the other hand, they are also regularly represented within the sources as threats to sexual temperance and chastity (pāk-dāmanī). In assessing how contemporary accounts describe this dynamic, this paper will help to delineate both a fuller picture of the experiences of the enslaved in this period and how their physical presence informed the dynamics of court life.


Emma Kalb is a historian whose research interests center on themes of slavery, service, gender, and sexuality in early modern South Asia. Her current project focuses on eunuch slavery during the Mughal period (1526-1857), arguing for its critical importance for our understanding of elite life in early modern South Asia and the Islamicate world. The project explores how eunuchs were central both to the social life of elite households, particularly as mediators of interaction and access, as well as occasionally high-ranking imperial servitors whose lives speak to the complex incorporation of castrated slaves into the ranks of the Mughal elite. She is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies, University of Bonn.

Courtly encounters and performative corporeality in islamicate South Asia, 1591–1621


The early modern court was the site for contesting monarchical authority through diplomatic encounters. This paper studies the production of courtly spaces for diplomatic negotiations orchestrated by embodied practices of corporeality and mediated by ceremonial objects such as stylized carpets (farāsh-i ārāstagī), royal mandates (farmān), and robes of honor (ḵẖilʻat). Extending Flatt’s argument (2020) that courtly skills required the mobilization of the participant’s body in a set of corporeal practices in tandem with the manipulation of particular objects, I conceptualize diplomacy as the performance of bodily encounters between envoys recruited from courtiers versed in such practices. This paper argues that, in the Perso- Islamicate courts of South Asia, diplomatic performance was corporeal, contingent on context, and transmitted through constantly evolving practices of courtly comportment. It delineates the conventionalization of certain physical gestures during diplomatic interactions through a critical analysis of inshāʼ (epistolography), ʻarẓ-dāsht (report), wāqiʻāt(memoir) written by Mughal courtiers who served as envoys to the Deccan in the early-seventeenth century. In doing so, it critiques Connerton’s thesis (1989) that underscores the role of collective memory in the transmission of bodily practices within courtly societies and reiterates the importance of texts in constructing forms of embodied behavior and appropriate diplomatic conduct.


Shounak Ghosh is a fifth-year doctoral candidate at Vanderbilt University. His research examines diplomacy as a language of power and an expression of competitive statecraft in the early modern Perso-Islamicate world. Through a critical engagement with Persian manuscript collections and archival documents in various textual genres, his project investigates the changing meanings ascribed to diplomatic practices such as ambassadorial performance and material cultures of courtly interactions. His research interests center around imperial rivalries and the global history of early modern diplomacy.

Part of parturition: Visualizing royal childbirth in early modern North India


Early modern social conventions dictating conduct in the Timurid-Mughal household prohibited men who were not close family members from interacting with the women, unless it was for medical conditions. In cases of minor diseases and even childbirth, if the physicians could not examine the female patients directly, they would depend on either midwives or female servants to provide a correct account of the disease and prescribe the cure accordingly. Visual representations of parturition and post-natal scenes depict multiple individuals within and outside the birthing chambers. While the midwives and high-ranking female members of the court surrounded the new mother, a range of stakeholders including the emperor, key courtiers, divinators, musicians, dancers, foreigners, and commoners waiting to celebrate the birth of the heir populated the scene. How does an act that theoretically restricted the presence of male medical practitioners (apart from emergencies), become the site of a crowded celebratory event, especially as envisaged by the court painters? I will compare visual representations of royal childbirth, with the descriptions from medical (ṭibbiyā) texts, to create a detailed picture of those allowed within the birthing chamber and their assigned roles, especially the medico-legal importance of midwives during childbirth. Using this comparative methodology, I will comment upon the celebration of successful childbirth, and the embodied experiences not only of the mother but those who supposedly witnessed the immediate aftermath of the birth of the royal heir.


Sonia Wigh is a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh. She recently received her doctorate from the Department of History, the University of Exeter for her project titled ‘The Body of Words: A Social History of Sex and the Body in Early Modern South Asia’. Her research focused on the history of sexuality, medicine, and body in early modern South Asia. While at Exeter, she taught the FLC Hindi/Urdu course. She has previously taught at Hindu College, University of Delhi. Her published works include ‘Politics, Patronage, Polyvalence: Mirza Raja Jai Singh in Biharilal’s Satsai’ in Social Scientist 43 (2015). She has occupied key editorial positions in Ex-Historia (PGR run journal at Exeter) and Studies in History (Sage Publications). Her current interest includes issues of multilingualism, body in art, and the art of translation.

Horns and helms: Gendered headdresses and the frontiers of the medieval body


Ten years ago, about twenty historians discussed “Extremities and excrescences of the body” in medieval art and literature in the 20th issue of Micrologus. Notwithstanding the quality of those articles, we must acknowledge today that most of them were genderblind. Reflecting further, the gender perspective proves particularly relevant in relation to two of the addressed topics: headdresses and theriomorphism. Indeed, the late Middle Ages see the development in courtly activities of the most impressive headdresses: noble men display massive—and often animal-like—helm crests whilst their wives attire themselves with what is now known to us as ‘horns’. However, text and iconography inform us that, while the first practice no longer worries male moralists and preachers, those men harshly condemn the women’s horns, considering they call for pride and lust, distort their God-given body and make them look like beasts. Focusing on texts and images produced in Northern France in the 14th and 15th centuries, this paper explores the ambivalent conceptions of body and appearances in medieval courts. Wondering how far one can expand and remain, precisely, one; we’ll see that the double standard regarding theriomorphism reveals a gendered (im)possibility of extension and transgression of the human body.


Clémentine Girault is a third year Ph. D. candidate in Medieval History, working under the supervision of Prof. Didier Lett (Université Paris Cité) and Assoc. Prof. Pierre-Olivier Dittmar (EHESS). Beside her research activity, she is also a teaching assistant and a member of the committee of the journal Images Re-vues. Her studies focus on the intersection of gender and animality in late medieval didactic literature.

Gendering the royal body: fashion, sexuality, and scandal in the Castilian court at the end of the Middle Ages


Towards the middle of the fourteenth century clothing began to undergo changes that followed each other in a vertiginous way, adapting to the ephemeral and capricious character that taste, style and gendering trends acquired then. It was precisely at that moment when Castilian chronicles started to incorporate descriptive passages in which the garments, looks and jewels that the monarchs exhibited during their public appearances and ceremonies were described with some thoroughness. On some occasions, with the explicit surprise and disgust of the chroniclers who even accused certain queens and their court ladies of sexual scandal and gender transgression. The present paper analyses the styles and the basic wardrobe of fifteenth-century Castilian queens through the testimonies and accounts preserved in chronicles, economic accounts, and inventories. The information provided on clothing protocols, the moral hazards of fashion, as well as the emergence and development of the fashion trade, and the queens’ textile and colour preferences will also be examined.


Diana Lucía Gómez-Chacón received her doctorate in Art History at the Department of Art History I (Medieval Art) of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid in 2015, with the doctoral thesis El Monasterio de Santa María la Real de Nieva. Arte y reforma dominicana en tiempos de Catalina de Lancaster y María de Aragón (1392-1445), supervised by Javier Martínez de Aguirre, and was awarded the Extraordinary Doctorate Award (2017). Since 2020 she is Assistant Professor (Profesora Ayudante Doctora) at the Department of Art History of the UCM and is currently responsible for the INNOVA-Teaching project Ecología y sostenibilidad en la Edad Media: arte, ODS e innovación docente, funded by the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, which brings together the Faculties of Geography and History, Commerce and Tourism and Education of the UCM. She has held scholarships for the Initiation of the Research Activity of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, and from the Training Program for University Professors of the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports. Within the framework of the latter, she carried out research stays at The Warburg Institute in London and at the Dipartimento di Storia dell’Arte e Spettacolo of the Università La Sapienza in Rome. Currently, she is member of the research group Architecture and Integration of the Arts in the Middle Ages at the Department of Art History of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, directed by José Luis Senra, and of the consolidated research group Analysis and Documentation of Architecture, Design, Fashion & Society of the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, directed by Manuel Blanco Lage.

Beyond celestial and mortal: Engendering love, courtship and marriage in Kālidāsa’s Vikramorvaśīya


There have been several investigations and re-investigations of gender relations in early India, in many instances this has led to a shift from simplistic generalisations to a more nuanced understanding of gender relations, especially in the courtly context. Works of scholars including Kumkum Roy and Daud Ali have opened discussions on gender and courtly emotions, respectively. A gendered understanding of courtly emotions can help understand the power structures as well as social hierarchies which impact the political structures, and vice versa.


Kālidāsa’s kāvyas play a prominent role in modern perceptions of ancient Indian history. They were one of the earliest to be translated into various European languages from Sanskrit. Kāvyas are a literary art in Sanskrit, which include poetry and prose. This paper intends to focus on Kālidāsa’s Vikramorvaśīya, especially on the female protagonist Urvaśī, a celestial being who falls in love with Vikramāditya, a mortal king. Urvaśī’s relationships beyond kinship and marriage such as that of her sakhī or friend which play a crucial role, also come under the purview of this work. The paper attempts a literary analysis through a gendered approach in order to gain an entry point in fathoming the socio-sexual perceptions in the early Indian context.


Aishwarya Kothare is an M.Phil. research scholar at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. She completed her Masters in Archaeology from Deccan College (2017), and in Ancient History from Jawaharlal Nehru University (2019). Her research interests involve social and cultural histories, with a focus on issues of gender in early Indian contexts. Her recent publications include, ‘Perceptions on Temple Prostitution in Early Medieval India’ (2021) and ‘The Bold, the Beautiful and the Adulterous: Representations of the Abhisārikā Nāyikā in the Śukasaptati’ (2020).

The inseparability of body and mind in Chrétien de Troyes’s Yvain


This paper will explore the way in which the body and the mind are shown to be inseparable in Chretien de Troyes’ Yvain. Throughout the text, both Yvain’s body and mind are put to the test as he tries to balance his inner (i.e., intellectual and spiritual) self and his outer (i.e., physical) self. Moreover, Yvain is further tested as he attempts to balance his public and private duties as a knight, but he struggles to maintain this balance, resulting in his brief episode of madness which is seemingly healed by a magical ointment placed on his physical body, an ointment ‘que si grant rage n’est en teste, qu’il ne l’en ost’ (‘that could drive from the head any madness, however great’). This paper will also examine the way in which Laudine shows a similar, parallel struggle between public and private duties within her role as a queen and lady of the court, and the way in which her inner grief is often characterized by self-inflicted violence on her physical body: ‘Por coi detort ses beles mains, et fiert son piz et esgratine?’ (‘Why does she wring her beautiful hands and strike and scratch at her breast?’). By exploring the connection between body and mind in both Laudine and Yvain, this paper argues that in Chretien’s Yvain, just as the body and mind are inseparable and need to be kept in balance for mental health, husband and wife are also inextricably linked in marriage, in which the public and private duties have to be balanced—especially in the case of a husband and wife within the royal court, whose actions affect the kingdom around them. However, my paper will not associate the body or mind with a specific gender, such as associating the husband with the mind and the wife with the body; instead, I argue that both Laudine and Yvain must balance both body and mind, while also balancing their public and private duties as a married couple within the royal court.


Lourdes Mazlymian received her Bachelor of Arts at the University of Toronto and her MA in English Literature at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario Canada. She is currently a PhD candidate at Queen’s in Medieval Literature, working on her thesis, which focuses on mental health and depictions of mental illness in medieval romance, and she recently taught a course on women writers of the Middle Ages. She is most interested in medieval depictions of trauma, anxiety and depression, the complex relationship between the body and the mind, and how the concept of body and the mind intersects with concepts of public and private spaces.

Margaret of Parma: The emperor’s illegitimate daughter and her reputation


Margaret of Parma (1522-1586) was the illegitimate daughter of Emperor Charles V. During her lifetime, she was lauded for being a formidable Habsburg princess and ridiculed for being a bastard, as well as admired for extraordinary wit and strength, and laughed at for having a moustache. She was praised for her masculinity and suspected of being lesbian. This paper discusses how illegitimate birth, giving birth to the pope’s great-grand- sons and her allegedly masculine appearance shaped Margaret’s reputation. Margaret spent her childhood in a noble household in Brussels. At the age of eleven she was taken to Naples to be accustomed to Italian manners before her marriage to the duke of Florence. Her first husband was assassinated within a year of their marriage, and she then married the pope’s grandson, Ottavio Farnese. In 1559 her half-brother Philip II of Spain appointed her the governess of the Low Countries. Margaret’s extraordinary life gives several examples of how a woman’s reputation was shaped when moral codes met the realities of court life in different settings.


Tupu Ylä-Anttila received her PhD from the University of Helsinki in 2020, with a thesis entitled, ‘Habsburg Female Regents in the Early 16th Century’.

Beyond the realm of the haram: A case study of the Mughal administrator I‘timad Khan Khwajasara


Despite being instrumental in the making and unmaking of polities, the medieval Indian eunuchs, earlier stereotyped into a single homogeneous category of haram superintendents, have not received sufficient scholarly attention, quite unlike their Ottoman and Safavid counterparts. This paper traces the history of the Mughal royal eunuchs and takes a glance into the life of the Mughal administrator I‘timad Khan Khwajasara, whose career reached a zenith during emperor Akbar. The paper explores the factors that might have contributed to the khwājasarā’s escalation along the socio-political ladder, and is also an attempt towards shifting the paradigm from a macro to a micro history of medieval eunuchs. Though well adopted in the study of contemporary Islamic polities, especially the Ottomans, this methodology of looking at the stories of individual eunuchs remains relatively unexplored in the context of the Mughals. The seminal case of I‘timad Khan Khwajasara has been chosen for the purpose as it marks the commencement of an era that witnessed continuous and active eunuch participation beyond the realm of the haram, the culmination point of which was perhaps when, in the eighteenth century, a eunuch officer practically reigned supreme from behind the figure of the Mughal emperor.


Shreejita Basak is currently pursuing a PhD in medieval Indian history at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi, India). She is interested in the social history of medieval India, particularly that of the Mughals, and studies the aspects of gender and service. She has submitted her MPhil dissertation titled ‘Between Servitude and Dominance: A Study of Eunuchs in Mughal India’, and is currently working on her PhD thesis titled ‘Urban Servants in Mughal India: Labour, Status and Remuneration’.

The constant inconstant: Elizabeth I and her body natural


The 44 year reign of Elizabeth I was remarkable in many ways, but perhaps most of all for the survival of the queen herself, a monarch without an heir, upon whose bodily existence the realm’s stability depended. It is therefore unsurprising to find that her subjects’ attention focused to an unusual extent upon the queen’s body, its physical health, the potential it held to produce an heir and its changing appearance. Contemporary understandings of female bodies as imperfect and weak, unstable and prone to inconstancy opened up possibilities for criticism, adapted by Elizabeth herself as a way of navigating the pressures upon her. The bodily presence of the queen within her court was carefully constructed to form part of an ongoing exchange with her subjects, with dress and bodily movement manipulated as part of a daily performance of authority. Physical proximity to the queen’s body was carefully managed and controlled. This paper will address Elizabeth’s body as a site of particular anxiety during the latter part of her reign as the possibility of childbirth receded and the unresolved succession concentrated attention on her mortality and introduced fresh complexities into her interactions with her courtiers. It will also consider the posthumous treatment of Elizabeth’s body and her funeral effigy, both continuing to engage the attention of onlookers today.


Janet Dickinson: see organizer biographies, above

Bodily performance and experience in a poetic account of a Portuguese royal bullfight: Manuel de Leāo’s Triumpho Lusitano (1688)


Manuel de Leão’s account of the bullfights during king Peter II’s wedding celebrations in 1687 is a remarkable source for analyzing the bodily performances and experiences inherent to Portuguese court rituals. The author’s verses are populated by a varied cast of characters: the counts of Atalaia and Avranches, their horses and lackeys, several bulls, bull-fighters on foot, popular dancers, dogs and mules, an allegorical court of Neptune, the royal guard and its officers, and the audience itself (including the royal family).


None of the participants is a passive object of the description: since most motions are portrayed as being triggered by an actor’s perception of another’s behavior, both human and non- human characters are active subjects with distinct ways of being-in-the-world which the author inhabits sequentially in order to advance the narrative. These descriptions of successive actions and reactions are filled with embodied signs that locate the actors in a series of socially- meaningful oppositions: brute/gracious, impulsive/restrained, popular/courtly, masculine/feminine...


My purpose is to deconstruct this portrayal of bodily performance and experience through three main questions: a) how does the author characterize and differentiate the participants’ bodies? b) how does the participants’ embodied perception of the environment and other actors’ bodily expressions inform their behavior? c) drawing on other sources, how do contemporary practices and discourses condition the participants’ self-presentation, as well as its reception and literary portrayal?


André Godinho is a PhD student at the Instituto de Ciências Sociais da Universidade de Lisboa. His main research interest is public rituals, and his doctoral thesis focuses on the role of the body in the staging and reception of these occasions in Portugal during the 16th and 17th centuries. He has participated in several conferences and is a member of two international research projects: “RITUALS. Public Rituals in the Portuguese Empire (1498-1822)” and “RESISTANCE. Rebellion and Resistance in the Iberian Empires, 16th-19th Centuries”.

The sexuality of the tyrant: The politicisation of sexual violence at the court of John Lackland

John Lackland was particularly blamed by his contemporaries for his predatory behaviour towards the daughters and wives of his barons. The Plantagenet court is complex and multiform because it is itinerant and involves a diversity of actors. It is a place of public sociability where bodies encounter each other and where power dynamics are exacerbated. Power sometimes generates predation, one of its expressions is sexual violence.

My presentation questions the body as a political actor and the politicisation of sexual assault in the curial system at the beginning of the 13th century. The purpose is to make a comparative study between the literary representation of the body of the aggressor and that of the agressed.

My paper is structured around three axes : first, a study of the corporeality of the predatory king as a codification of the tyrant's sexuality in narrative models; then an examination of the mentions of victims in literary texts: an individualisation of the assaulted body or a symbolisation of an assault on the integrity of the aristocratic body; then a methodological question: how can we identify the predatory behaviour of the sovereign in the sources of curial practice?

Émilie Margaix is in the third year of her doctoral contract at the CESCM laboratory in Poitiers. Her research focuses on the relationship between royal power and the management of female inheritance in Plantagenet spaces (by addressing questions of matrimonial strategies, but also questions of custody and the means of expression of female power). She was part of the organising committee for the 6th edition of the international doctoral journées d’études ‘Transitions’, on ‘Absence in the Middle Ages’ (Poitiers, 2021). She is a member of the scientific committee for the 7th edition, whose topic is ‘Authenticity in the Middle Ages’ (Liège, 2022). She also participated in the organisation of the PhD journées d’études of the Janua association: ‘Space(s) and Power(s)’ (Poitiers, 2022). She also presented on ‘Absent words and present influences: the example of noble heiresses in 12th century England’ at the thematic journées (Universitiés Poitiers-Limoges, 2021) on ‘Speech: human tool, social stake, object of study: Relations between speech and society in the light of the human sciences’. She currently teaches at the University of Poitiers as a lecturer in seminars on research methodology; the kingdoms of France and England; and on sexuality and gender.


Sickness and politics at the courts of Henri IV and Louis XIII, 1589–1643

Court studies frequently remain excessively centred on the monarch’s person and consequently, studies of sickness, medicine and power at the court have up till now mostly sought to shed light on the king’s health and his relationship with his medical personnel. These issues, however, belong to a greater context in which courtiers — as much as the king — maintained a complex relationship between their health and their political life. Indeed, we know that health problems, whether invented or real, were a constant source of suspicion. How did the king use his medical personnel to discover who was really sick and who was pretending, and how did courtiers use their own doctors and surgeons to convince the king and the court that their sickness was real? 

At the same time, the role played by the doctors of princes and courtiers in explaining and projecting the authenticity of their patrons’ sicknesses reveals the complicity that existed between courtiers and their doctors. This in turn explains the heavy involvement of doctors in the political affairs and conspiracies of the early Bourbon courts. By moving away from the monarch’s perspective this paper will demonstrate the extent to which health was at the heart of court strategies of power, and thus the extent to which sickness remained in the first half of the seventeenth century a major preoccupation of court life.

Marc W.S. Jaffré is a lecturer in early modern history at Durham University. His research is motivated by an interest in understanding the relationship between human experience and the state, and how culture is represented and performed. His forthcoming monograph on the court of Louis XIII of France examines the institutional, political, cultural, economic and military development of the French court. It emphasises the role played by courtiers, financiers and merchants within this development in a challenge to the more traditional top-down approach frequently used in court studies. He has written a number of articles on the courts of Henri IV and Louis XIII and is currently coediting a volume on marginalised voices in French fesitval culture. Before joining Durham University, he held lectureships at the University of St Andrews and Balliol College, Oxford.


The ailing and failing body of the Duchess of Aarschot: The responsibilities of personal physicians in the 17th-century Low Countries


Between 1624 and 1632, Anne of Croy, duchess of Aarschot (1564-1635) and widow of the princely count of Arenberg, assembled a set of instructions, detailing the responsibilities of her most important courtiers. In this remarkable document we find the instructions to doctor David de Wolff, her personal physician, dating from 1627 when the duchess’s health was failing and she began to have trouble walking. These instructions were later supplemented with specific commands concerning the event of her final illness and death.


Wolff had the most intimate access to the Duchess and, in her final illness, had to watch over her physical as well as her spiritual integrity. After her death, it was his responsibility to ensure that her body was properly embalmed and prepared for burial. Those tasks required total dedication: honour, loyalty and service are central themes throughout the text. His rewards were good wages, good living conditions and a lifelong pension.

These comprehensive instructions provide an insight into the life of a physician at a small court, as well as into contemporary ideas about health, food or exercise. They show how the integrity of ailing and failing bodies was a central preoccupation of aristocratic women.

Mirella Marini is an independent scholar currently based in France. Her research focuses on noble women in the Low Countries, aristocratic funeral rituals, diplomacy and dynastic identity in the early seventeenth century. She co-edited Dynastic Identity in Early Modern Europe: Rulers, Aristocrats and the Formation of Identities (Ashgate, 2015) and recently published ‘The Dynastic Diplomacy of the Princely Count of Arenberg at the Stuart Court in 1603’ (The Seventeenth Century, 2021).


Physicans, barber surgeons, midwives, herbalists and traditional healers: Medicine at women’s courts in the 18th-century Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

The world of XVIII century women’s nobles courts in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth still can be treated as an interesting and—what is even more important—little-known research subject. Organization of the medical service and the specific of the health care at local courts is one of those almost unknown issues, that are still valuable for recognition. Proposed research is based on profound analysis of different sources, such as noble court accounts, diaries, correspondence, medical handbooks and prescriptions. Preserved results of the post-mortem examinations may also be treated as valuable source. The main goal of the research is to define specific of the medical service at magnate’s courts, their preparation and a level of knowledge. Interesting will be also to explain specific and effectiveness of used treatments and medical advices. As a crucial problem can be also treated the influence of the August II Wettin’s court and it’s medical culture (reception at magnate’s courts). Perception of the treatments and remedies used at this time in Western European countries, and tendency to hire foreign medics will also be examined.


Bożena Popiołek is professor in the Institute of History and Archival Studies at the Pedagogical University of Cracow, and Member of The Department for Court and Elite Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences. She is the grant holder on ‘Women’s noble court in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the Saxon times. Structure, people, culture, functions’ (2021-2025), and author of the book Benefactors and clients. The specificity of female patronage and client relations in the Saxon era (Warsaw, 2020).

Anna Penkała-Jastrzębska is assistant professor in the Institute of History and Archival Studies at the Pedagogical University of Cracow. She is a contractor on the grant “Women’s noble court in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the Saxon times. Structure, people, culture, functions” (2021-2025), and author of the book ‘To marry a foreigner ...’. Migrations and the marriage policy of the nobility of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Mühlhausen/Thür, 2021).


Some reflections on homoeroticism and homosexuality from the Baburnama

The Mughal ruler, Babur’s (1483-1530) autobiography, Baburnama, is renowned for more than one reason among scholars. One of its almost unanimously agreed upon aspects is its remarkable candour in the narration of events in the protagonist’s life, including, his vulnerabilities. In this respect, a personal episode of Babur which occurred around 1499-1500 CE is particularly interesting wherein the author tellingly describes his infatuation with a market boy. He also comments, more than once, on the practice of keeping catamites prevalent at the time.


Queer theorists such as Annamarie Jagose (1996), and historians of sexuality such as Valerie Traub (2008), have argued for the contextualisation and historicisation of sexuality—one cannot expect a seamless and immutable continuity in the norms of sexuality from the past to the present. What do the above-mentioned episodes in the Baburnama tell us about the practice(s) of homoeroticism and homosexuality (pederasty?) prevalent in Timurid central Asian courts? Does Babur’s personal episode simply depict an ornate Persian convention of homoerotic literary allusions, or does it tell us about the practice(s) of the time? The paper argues that norms of sexuality were remarkably libertarian in early modern Mughal/Timurid central Asian courts and that the practice of homosexuality (or pederasty) wasn’t held in contempt as it subsequently came to be with the advent of European colonialism and the resultant ascendance of Victorian morality.


Anuj Sah is a doctoral student at the Centre for Historical Studies (CHS), Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He has completed his Masters in modern History from CHS, JNU (2021), and BA (Hons) History from the University of Delhi (2019). His chief interests lie in the study of the society and culture of early modern India with a focus on sexuality and queerness. For his Ph.D. dissertation, he is working on male homoeroticism and same-sex desire in early modern northern India, c. 1500-1800 CE. With his research, he hopes to contribute to the hitherto neglected historiography on same-sex love and queerness in South Asia.


Bodies perceived and gendered: Mughal eunuchs as a third biological sex


The court of the early Mughals was a peripatetic one (Lal 2005). As Mughal rule consolidated under its third ruler, Akbar (1556-1605), the court brought within its jurisdiction the sphere of sexuality. Courtly ideology gendered nobles and royal females with norms of chastity and sexual abstinence. And among this Mughal nobility, one must remember, were not only noblemen but also eunuchs. The historiography on Mughal eunuchs is remarkable for the variety of studies undertaken. We have not yet, however, sufficiently probed into the theme of gender and sexuality in context of the eunuchs.


Gender and sexuality theory has, for a while now, concluded that not only ‘gender’ but even ‘biological sex’ is socially determined (Voss and Schmidt 2000). In other words, certain bodies are first recognized as a particular biological sex to only be organized (gendered) then. I propose to argue, by studying Mughal eunuchs from this lens, that castration produced a third biological sex that was gendered by courtly zeitgeist in ways not unlike those experienced by other sexes. I shall do this by evaluating the process of gendering as regards Mughal eunuchs, to then be able to conclude about their separate identity as a biological sex based on this. I also aim to demonstrate the centrality of sexuality in this process of gendering. Did eunuchs have to follow norms of chastity and sexual abstinence? If so, what ramifications does this have on our understanding of their assumed ‘worldly’ detachment/‘asexuality’?


Rakshit Malik is a scholar of Mughal Body History. Having completed their MA in Medieval Indian History from the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Rakshit is now preparing for a Ph.D. In doing this, they are not only learning Persian and Urdu but also presenting related research papers, such as ‘Sexuality and Mughal Zeitgeist: A masqueraded assent to sexual transgression?’ at Cambridge Gender and Sexuality History Workshop; and ‘Gendering and Ungendering: the resilience of the body at the consolidated Mughal court’ at University of Glasgow’s conference on ‘gender and resilience.’ Rakshit also passionately writes and speaks on the intersection of disability and sexuality. Particularly, they are interested in themes such as ‘disability and dating,’ ‘disability and contraception,’ ‘disability, love, and longing,’ ‘disability, desire, and romance,’ and ‘disability, emasculation, and Islam’. In doing so, they have delved into personal experiences, historical studies, and exegesis.


At the intersection of royal courts and quotidian bazaars: A study of the relationship between courtesans and the Mughal elite


As a multi-layered female entertainer and an ‘aesthetic worker’1, the figure of a tawa’if (high ranked courtesan) served as a paradox in the patriarchal structure of pre-colonial India. Markers of elite culture and urbanism, these performers were an integral part of the Mughal state’s cosmopolitan bureaucratic culture in the eighteenth century (Alam and Subrahmanyam 1998) and thrived during this period of social and political reconfiguration. Inhabiting the ‘twin realms of pleasure and leisure’ (Feldman and Gordon 2006), tawa’ifs played a critical role in shaping the urban culture of Delhi—the seat of imperial power. This paper proposes to explore the intimate and sexual liaisons between the courtesans of the Bazaars and the Mughal imperial court. Attempts shall be made to study how the former interacted with the Mughal elite and successfully negotiated the ‘masculine’ public domain. Situating them amidst the dynamic political milieu, the paper tries to showcase how associating with courtesans came to be considered as a marker of prestige and power among the hierarchical order of the Mughal nobility. The paper also examines the courtesans’ sexualities and connections within the court and looks at how the ‘private’ space of those involved closely intersected with and spilled over into the ‘public’ in various forms.


Noble Shrivastava is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Historical Studies (CHS), Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She completed her Masters in Medieval History from CHS, JNU (2019) and BA (Honours) in History from the University of Delhi (2017). Her research interests lie in the fields of social and cultural history of the early modern period, gender studies, history of public performers and ethnomusicology. For her PhD dissertation, she is working on the lives of courtesans in Delhi during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and hopes to contribute to our understanding of intersecting histories of gender, class and sexuality in early modern north India.

The sexual life of Queen Mary II of England


The sexual life of Queen Mary II of England has not often been interrogated in histories of her rule. The overall topic of this paper will be Mary’s lack of children, broadly. Within this, it will seek to understand her sexual practises and attitudes to procreation in the context of her place in the Stuart dynasty both as princess and as regnant queen. In doing so it references other women in her family, most notably her sister Anne, considering the potential that hereditary illness prevented Mary’s fertility.


In analysing this facet of Mary’s life, the paper explores linked subjects such as Mary’s sexuality. Her relationship with her husband William III of Orange will be analysed, as well as both of their potentially sexual or romantic relationships with same-sex favourites and confidantes at court. The sex life of an early modern queen is, of course, difficult to understand. Thus, the paper will use multiple methodologies such as textual analysis and the methodology of gossip to garner information from mostly written sources. 


The corporeality of Mary’s body as a queen will ultimately be considered in questioning of how her lack of children and childbearing affected the public’s perception of her, throughout her life and into her unexpected death. It will do so through the understanding that sex was a complex feature of early modern royal life, especially for women.


Holly Marsden is completing her PhD at the University of Winchester and Historic Royal Palaces, in collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery and Royal Museums Greenwich. Her thesis examines the multiple identities of Mary II in the context of queenship, culture and politics in the seventeenth century. She previously undertook her MA in Queer History at Goldsmiths, University of London and is passionate about accessibility and inclusion within heritage spaces, galleries, museums, and academic institutions. She is a founding contributor to the ‘Team Queens’ academic collective and previous projects include working with Historic Royal Palaces on their ‘Queer Lives’ immersive theatre tours.


‘You have poisoned the most beautiful day of my life’: A drama at the Swedish court, 1775–1782


In February 1772, Gustav III and his mother Dowager Queen Lovisa Ulrika discussed the consequences of the affair between the Danish Queen Consort Caroline Mathilde and the royal physician and favourite Struensee. Lovisa Ulrika commented that given the characters of those involved, events were likely to turn into a play, with all of Europe as the audience. A few years later, there was a conspiracy in Sweden to stage a similar performance. Though unable to prevent it, Gustav III soon managed (as I will argue) to take control and produce a drama with an outcome very different from events in Denmark. Fundamental for its political impact, sens moral and enduring success was a redefinition by the King of the bodies of the royal family. In 1775, he perceived the (supposedly) pregnant body of his sister-in-law as carrying the next generation of the Swedish royal bloodline. Three years later, Gustav defined his own, the Queen’s, and their son’s bodies as sources for his own happiness, as the acts of his drama demonstrated. The suggested paper will discuss how performed emotions related to these bodies were deliberately used by Gustav to neutralize two threatening stereotypes—that of the cuckolded king, and the king dominated by a woman—and to gain the sympathies of his contemporaries.


Merit Laine is Associate Professor of Art History at Uppsala University, and has held positions as curator at the Swedish Royal Collections and at Nationalmuseum, Stockholm. Her main area of research is visual culture in 17th and 18th century Sweden, centered on the Queens Hedvig Eleonora (1636-1715) and Lovisa Ulrika (1720-1782). Her current project, The Visual Strategies and Court Culture of Adolf Fredrik of Holstein-Gottorp (1710-1771) and Lovisa Ulrika of Prussia (1720-1782), King and Queen of Sweden investigates and reassesses the political and cultural partnership of this royal couple. She is also preparing a project on woven tapestries in Swedish court culture, from the Renaissance to c. 1980, and has published articles on this subject.


Tortured bodies in the papal court of Urban VI (1378–89)


Torture was widely used in medieval legal system, especially in the investigation of serious crimes. Vivid descriptions of torture and a judge’s reflections on its application are, however, extremely rare. Equally rare were the cases when the persons tortured were cardinals and the one ordering torture the pope. Such a combination did, however, take place in the papal curia of Urban VI during the Great Western Schism.


The Roman pope Urban VI, elected in 1378 but soon challenged by Clement VII in Avignon, was infamous for his difficult and unyielding personality. As the crisis of the Schism dragged on, he became increasingly suspicious and paranoic of his own curia. In 1385 at the Castle of Nocera, he ordered the imprisonment, interrogation and torture of several of his own cardinals. Urban appointed Dietrich von Niem, a German curial in his service, to one of the interrogators. Later, writing the history of the Schism (De Schismate) in 1410, Dietrich described the adverse conditions where the cardinals were kept and his own revulsion caused by the torture of these old men.


In my paper I focus on Dietrich’s descriptions of corporal punishment, suffering and torture, and his own reflections about how legitimate were such actions by a ruler against his own court—especially as the ruler was the pope.


Reima Välimäki is a postdoctoral researcher at Turku Institute for Advanced Studies (TIAS). He obtained his PhD in Cultural History at the University of Turku in 2016. His doctoral dissertation was on late medieval heresy and the German inquisitor Petrus Zwicker, and he did his research in the Finnish Doctoral Programme of History and in the Academy of Finland project Modus vivendi: Religious Reform and the Laity in Late Medieval Europe. During his doctoral studies, he spent one academic year as a visiting scholar at the Bergische Universität Wuppertal in Germany and several research periods at the Finnish Institute in Rome. From 2016–2018 he was a part-time secretary of the Institutum Romanum Finlandiae Foundation. In addition, he actively engages in public history: since 2015, he have worked as the historical expert of the Medieval Market event in Turku, and he has recently taken part in two public history projects: Vihan pitkät jäljeton the long history of hate speech (2017–2018), and Vammaisuuden vaiettu historia on disability history (2017–2019).


The spectacle of the abject: Louis XIII’s suffering body


From a young age King Louis XIII of France suffered from enterocolitis. This debilitating illness not only limited his ability to carry out his kingly duties, by its very nature it also affected the dignity and even the integrity of the royal body. How could Louis XIII continue to perform kingship when he frequently had to take to his bed? How could he maintain the pretense of majesty when the degrading symptoms of his illness weakened his natural body? This paper will analyze in detail the physical appearance of the king in the last weeks of his life and agony. Bedridden, Louis XIII had become extremely thin and his body was racked by constant diarrhetic cramps. However far from hiding from public view he willingly offered the repulsive spectacle of his foul-smelling body: he asked for his bed to be moved to the middle of his bedchamber and for the doors to be kept open. Whereas he had been at pains throughout his life to preserve his intimacy, he now went as far as to bare his body to expose its degeneration. This paper will explore the diverse motivations behind this apparently contradictory behaviour, from a desire to preserve royal dignity and modesty to an acceptance of the ultimate humiliation of the flesh in a desire of imitatio Christi, and a paradoxical reassertion of kingly majesty in the control over representation.


Marie-Claude Canova-Green is Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Goldsmiths. She has research interests in early modern European court entertainments and other forms of large-scale public spectacles, and has published widely on the topic. In particular she has edited a four-volume collection of French seventeenth-century ballet libretti, as well as several volumes of collected essays on early modern festivals, notably Writing Royal Entries in Early Modern Europe (with Jean Andrews) and The Wedding of Charles and Henrietta Maria. Celebration and Controversy (1615) (with Sara Wolfson). She has also published monographs on La Politique spectacle au grand siècle. Les rapports franco-anglais, Molière’s comédies-ballets and more generally French drama across the centuries, as well as on aspects of royal performance, in particular Faire le roi. L’autre corps de Lois XIII (Fayard, 2018). She is currently working on a monograph on Anne of Austria entitled Montrer la reine.


Pregnant, in pain, and dead: The necessary body of the queen in early Portugal


Historians may debate who was the first queen of Portugal—Teresa, daughter of Alfonso VI of León, called queen between 1118 and her death in 1130, or Mafalda, the wife and queen of Afonso Henriques from 1146 to 1156—but they can not deny how these two women’s bodies served to legitimate Portugal in its earliest years. In this paper, I address three elements of Teresa’s and Mafalda’s queenships. The queens’ pregnant bodies (between them, at least ten pregnancies) provided verifiable evidence of a promised lineage, sexuality, and danger. In Mafalda’s case, pregnancy and childbirth were so traumatic that she acquired special relics for protection. She sought help from the monks of the royal monastery of Santa Cruz—help denied because women’s bodies were unwelcomed in that male space. Teresa also sought medical advice, and her female body was also assessed as sinful, in stark tension with the requirements of lineage building and rulership. In death, both women’s bodies were carefully appropriated—Teresa’s translated to Braga, authenticating her son’s rule. Mafalda was buried in the same Santa Cruz that denied her access in life. There, a sort of cult built up around her memory, enhancing monarchical status. These examples come from the foundational court of Portugal but offer ways to develop a theory of gendered embodiment at other medieval courts.


Miriam Shadis is an Associate Professor of History at Ohio University, in Athens, Ohio (United States.) She is the author of Berenguela of Castile (1180-1246) and Political Women in the High Middle Ages (Palgrave, 2009), and a number of essays on French and Iberian elite women. She is currently working on a monograph on the first queens of Portugal.


Isabelle of Aragon, once and future queen of France


The first wife of Philip III of France, Isabelle of Aragon (d. 1271) is a personality often ignored by modern historians of Capetian queenship and politics. A royal consort for less than five months, which were spent entirely away from France, she is most remembered in passing as the mother of Philip the Fair of France. Despite this, Isabelle’s death has a unique status in the French material. Most queenly deaths receive a note or line but we have a particular wealth of information on Isabelle’s perinatal death, following a riding accident in southern Italy and an early-term delivery of a son, surrounded by the Crusading court of her father-in-law and husband. In this paper, I consider contemporary and later chronicles, archival evidence, and funerary art, to propose that the travails of her body and the suffering they imposed on her husband illuminate how considerations over the health of the body politic and of the monarchical couple were enmeshed with matters of identity and personal salvation. Finally, I argue that her death–—not her feats—is a key operation in the construction of Isabelle’s brief queenship, with her passing and burial functioning as the inaugural rite of her new status.


Juliana Amorim Goskes received her PhD in History from NYU this spring. Her dissertation, entitled ‘Performance of a Lifetime,’ analyzes the death and commemoration practices of late Capetian and early Valois queens, with a focus on the intersection of embodiment, materiality, and temporality. She is now a Belle da Costa Greene Curatorial Fellow in the Morgan Library and Museum, working on a project with the Library’s collection of single leaves and manuscript cuttings.


Weddings and deaths, weddings despite deaths: dynasty, ritual, and emotion


Princely weddings in medieval and early modern periods were occasions of exuberance and extravagant splendour, striving to present a massive feast of joy and merriness. Yet, despite the meticulous organisation, lethal accidents or disasters still happened. One does not have to think of the most ominous and extreme case, the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre, to find examples of tragedies inflicting the royal nuptials.


In what way was death or other afflictions present during wedding festivals? Did it always have a negative effect? What was the prevention of or reaction to it? Can these accidents tell us something about the dynamics of a particular court? And how was it reflected in subsequent literary and propagandistic writings?


My paper will try to offer an answer to these questions, arguing that death could have had an ambiguous value, many times used to positive effects. Furthermore, I will try to problematize a relationship of sorrow and joy, that was often blurred and overlapping, used to ease the tensions or highlight the expectations connected with the interdynastic union, eulogise or defame it. Overall, this analysis not only sheds light on the role of emotions in court festivals but it would try to lay bare connections between the two major rites of passage in the court life cycle, marriage and death.


Patrik Pastrnak recently finished his D.Phil. at New College, Oxford, looking into the wedding journeys of up to twenty Habsburg brides and grooms in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Currently, he is a postdoctoral researcher at Palacky University Olomouc, Czech Republic. His main area of expertise is princely weddings in the medieval and early modern period, but he is interested in royal, court, and queenship studies, and Neo-Latin literature, mostly in Central Europe and Italy, but also beyond.

The grieving court of Henry I


The wreck of the White Ship in 1120 claimed the lives of hundreds of young nobles and courtiers, as well as Henry I’s only legitimate son. This paper analyses the reaction of the Anglo-Norman court to this disaster as described by contemporary history writers, for example Orderic Vitalis. History writers often remarked on relatives’ attempts to recover the missing bodies of the victims, but they also vividly describe the court in the days after the disaster. The news was initially kept from Henry, and courtiers are pictured grieving in secret. Only when Henry was told, the writers say, was the court, and the country, allowed to openly grieve. Their varied descriptions of Henry’s physical reactions (including fainting and weeping) and the actions of his courtiers (removing him into his chamber) allow us to observe the interplay between private and public emotions, as well as emotional demands upon the king’s body. He was expected to show his grief as a bereaved father, but at the same time compose himself as a competent king. This paper studies how emotions were embodied and performed in the royal court from the perspective of contemporary history writers.


After completing an MSt in Medieval Studies at the University of Oxford this year, Harriet Strahl will be starting a PhD in History at Durham University in autumn. Her MSt dissertation concerned emotions in the aftermath of the wreck of the White Ship in 1120. Her research interests focus on history writers throughout Christendom in the twelfth century, and in particular, their concepts of time and the future.


Courtly sex in the eyes and ears of others


The court papers of the decades-long legal battle in which Françoise de Rohan sued Jacques de Savoie, Duc de Nemours, for breach of promise of marriage include eyewitness reports from four servants repeatedly witnessing the unperturbed couple ‘engaged in the marriage act’. Bedrooms in Renaissance châteaux connected directly other rooms: garderobes with beds for servants; galéries; cabinets; spiral stairs. In the absence of hallways, courtiers and servants were obliged to walk through them, regardless of the activities of the bedroom's titular resident. Their great size (c.100m2) meant they normally accommodated many activities, some simultaneously. Historical accounts, legal depositions, and realistic fiction report love-making observed. On the wedding night of the future Henri II, his father, François I visited while the couple was in bed; before they got up in the morning, Pope Clement VII visited. The nouvelles of the Heptameron provide examples of nobles' sex heard or seen by others, treated as nothing unusual. 

This paper, focused on sixteenth-century France, puts evidence of public sex into a larger framework of my work arguing that the expectation of being alone or unobserved was an outlier in the Renaissance and that in that sense, privacy rarely existed in the period.


Marian Rothstein is professor emerita of French and the author of The Androgyne in Early-Modern France: Contextualizing the Power of Gender (Palgrave-MacMillan, 2015), Reading in the Renaissance: ‘Amadis de Gaule’ and the Lessons of Memory (University of Delaware Press, 1999), and numbers of articles on different aspects of early modern French elite culture. Relevant to this conference, she has given a lecture to the Columbia University Seminar on the Renaissance entitled ‘Considering Privacy,’ and ‘Perimeters of Privacy for Noble Ladies,’ at the Conference on Early Modern Privacy, Centre for Privacy Studies, University of Copenhagen, 2019.

Sex and the single girl?: Embodying sex in fifteenth-century French court culture


In 1962, Helen Gurley Brown penned a trail-blazing advice manual that encouraged women to become financially independent and experience sexual relationships before or without marriage. It was upon the suggestion of her husband, David Brown that she write a book about ‘how a single girl goes about having an affair’. Flicking through this mid-twentieth century feminist treatise, it occurred to me that Gurley Brown’s book might just have easily been birthed from the fifteenth-century quill of Agnès Sorel. Indeed, Gurley Brown’s chapter headings raise just about all of themes and variations of Agnès’s vocation and career trajectory. Gurley Brown’s ideas were controversial and her feminist legacy has been much contested, adjudged as both ‘progressive and retrogressive’ when it comes to the feminist movement. Modern scholars and biographers single out Agnès Sorel as a trail-blazer: the first publicly-acknowledged maîtresse-en-titre of a French king. As is the case for Gurley Brown, Agnès Sorel’s legacy and actual influence is complicated and much contested. For some, she was a female favourite who wielded significant and durable political influence. This paper examines how the liaison between Agnès and Charles VII, one across unequal partners, was both a private and public affair. It demonstrates how Agnès’s residual legacy, rather than any verifiable political influence she might have exercised during her relatively short six-year tenure, exposed a fault line in the political strength of the consortium coniugali, opening a breach that eased the rise of the politically self-aware Grandes Favorites of the early modern period.


Zita Eva Rohr is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, an Honorary Research Fellow at Macquarie University in the Department of History and Archaeology, and an Honorary Lecturer in the Department of History at the University of New South Wales. She is working currently on a longue durée inter-generational study, Anne of France and her Family, 1325-1522: A Genealogy of Premodern Female Power and Influence to be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2024. In 2004, Zita was honoured with a knighthood by the French Minister for Youth, National Education, and Research and admitted to the Ordre des Palmes Académiques for services rendered to French culture, language, and education.

Holding court at Windsor: The physical and social structures of court under George III


The prevalence of his “Farmer George” persona often obscures the nature of courtly lifestyles that George III facilitated outside of London among his closest aristocratic courtiers and throughout the wider royal household. In the late eighteenth century, when the King and Queen assembled their large family and circle of attendants at Kew, Windsor, and later Frogmore, they likewise convened a community at court with distinctive spatial features and social structures. The study of “bodies in courtly lifestyles,” as this conference seeks to understand, is a helpful approach to the circles of sociability that, from the 1780s, were more frequently gathered in settings beyond St. James’s Palace.


Time spent living in the countryside established an integrated network of courtiers supported by shared interests in the period’s rural and leisured pursuits, including hunting, architecture and landscape design, music, country house tourism, and the enlightened study of subjects like botany, agriculture, and astronomy. Themes concerning the royal household’s spatial accommodation and the social hierarchies instilled in royal routine at these alternative courtly venues further aid discussions of the variety of social identities cultivated at this court as well as the nature of late-Hanoverian kingship at its helm.


Amanda Westcott is a second-year doctoral candidate in History at the University of Oxford. Her research concentrates on the court of George III in the late eighteenth century and its activities outside of London, particularly the exclusive circle of aristocratic courtiers who shaped court culture during this period, as the king and queen regularly travelled to Weymouth and established alternative courtly venues at Kew, Windsor, and Frogmore.

Dianas of court: The bodiliness, performativity, and culture of female hunting in Northern Europe, 1500–1700


As a pastime, a ritualised behaviour, and a means of survival, the practice of hunting was embedded in early modern European culture and society. Hunting was also an important activity within court cultures because it facilitated sociability, reinforce prestige and status. However, the pursuit of hunting was not merely a recreational activity, it required physical strength, knowledge, and expertise. The hunt was also a significant cultural practice that shaped the social political, and diplomatic interactions, and often served to project and exact royal and noble authority—authority over land, animals, estates, and people. Yet it is unclear whether these features of hunting existed for women, despite the cultural salience of the hunter-goddess, Diana. In fact, Diana was a significant figure portrayed, described, and depicted in the court ceremonies, historical accounts, art, and objects throughout Europe. With Diana as the ideal and acceptable figure of a female warrior, many early modern royal and noble women were associated with Diana for various reasons. However, the portrayal of female hunting is different from the physical act of hunting.


With this in mind, this paper will examine the physical demands and practices of hunting as a means of identifying its impact on women’s identity, agency, and experiences in early modern Northern Europe. Primarily focusing on England, Sweden and Denmark, this paper will incorporate the case studies of noble women hunting, including Queen Elizabeth I of England (1558-1603), Queen Kristina of Sweden (1626-1689), and Sophie Amalie of Braunschweig-Lüneburg (1628-1685) in Denmark. By examining the experiences of these royal and noble women engaged in hunting activities, we are able to determine how women demonstrated their hunting knowledge and skills and understand how their participation in the hunt was not just a physical exercise, but also a physical performance of courtly ritual, social identity, and political communication. In exploring hunting, the physicality and performance of hunting for women, we will consider the seasons of hunting, the geography of hunting, and the architectural structures used for hunting in early modern Northern Europe. The significance of this research is that it reveals the ways in which gender and power intersected, particularly through the bodily performance and courtly rituals of hunting.


Dustin M. Neighbors: see organizer biographies, above

The performance of power relations: Early Henrician courtly dance


In the early Tudor state, courtly dance was a construct of performative politics. Scholars have examined how dancing reflected Tudor gendered relations, yet its capacity to capture and transmit the Henrician court’s evolving politico-cultural preferences remains largely unexplored. My study illuminates a major transformation in the uses of courtly dancing from 1501 through 1527, a period when chivalric romanticism clashed with and then accommodated Renaissance classicism to fashion a new courtly, cultural hybrid. This paper argues that the courtly dance acted as a vehicle for the performance of power relations between the sexes, which shaped the evolving gendered hierarchies among the elite and informed perceptions of Tudor monarchical authority. The project employs three case studies—the wedding of Prince Arthur Tudor and Katherine of Aragon in 1501, the Chateau Vert pageant in 1522, and the Anglo-French alliance in 1527—to analyze the relationship among courtly cultural preferences, their corresponding depictions, and efforts to actualize those depictions through gendered interactions, body performativity, court conduct, and cultural symbolism. As the first study to place these modes in conversation, my paper demonstrates how attending to the complexities and dynamics of early Henrician courtly dance can enable deepened understanding of the transforming political culture and performative politics in late medieval and early modern England.


Kristen Vitale is a Ph.D. candidate in History at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut. Working under the direction of Brendan Kane, her research focuses on early Henrician spectacle, court culture, and performative politics in the early Tudor state. More broadly, she focuses on the politico-cultural syncretism and interactions between the courts of Late Medieval and Early Modern Western Europe and the Southern Mediterranean regions.