Regina Schulte, ed. The Body of the Queen: Gender and Rule in the Courtly World, 1500-2000. New York: Berghahn Books, 2006. xii + 364 pp. $28.50 (paper), ISBN 978-1-84545-159-2.
Reviewed by Aeleah Soine (Department of History, University of Minnesota)
Published on H-German (January, 2007)
Paradoxes Fit for a Queen
If the king has two bodies, as Ernst Kantorowicz originally claimed, then how many bodies has the queen? More importantly, how are these bodies constructed, transgressed and visually represented? These provocative questions were the impetus for the collaborative dialogue among the fourteen contributors to this collection of essays, which was originally published as Der Körper der Königin: Geschlecht und Herrschaft in der höfischen Welt seit 1500 (2002). While attention to the queen's body, or bodies, has grown in recent historiography, Regina Schulte articulates this book as a response to studies that posit a dichotomy between masculine political bodies and feminized natural bodies (p. 2). Rather, she suggests that "the body of the queen" be understood as a holistic framework for understanding how the "political and natural bodies of the queen were inextricably intertwined" (p. 3). Her nuanced depiction of the paradox created by the simultaneous presence of royal bodies as both natural and political entities sets an intriguing theoretical and methodological foundation for a diverse set of case studies.
The content of the book is arranged chronologically with the greatest density in the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. Most of the chapters focus upon well-known English queens, though French and Habsburg monarchs are also well represented. The English queens are set apart in this collection for several reasons, but one of the most important is that those highlighted were female sovereigns rather than the wives of kings. While queens consort derive their power and legitimacy primarily through their feminine roles in marriage and maternity, queens regnant had to integrate their natural female bodies explicitly with the masculine political body of the monarchy. Elizabeth I serves as the book's main touchstone for examining queens regnant. Schulte describes her own intellectual entrance into the topic with her observation that "it was the body of a queen--Elizabeth I--that revealed the full implications of the concept of the dual royal body" (p. 2). Rachel Weil best captures this paradox inherent in Elizabeth I, calling her "both 'king and queen' at once, sometimes using her sex as an ideological and diplomatic tool" (p. 93).
Not all queens regnant avoided marriage and motherhood as did Elizabeth I. Schulte uses the examples of Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa and British Queen Victoria to illuminate the experiences of two queens regnant who were also royal mothers. Despite the many historical and personal differences between Maria Theresa and Victoria, Schulte shows the subtle differences that, similarly, set them apart from their daughters. While the natural and political bodies of Maria Theresa and Victoria would have experienced a gradual and strategic melding similar to Elizabeth I, Schulte describes a geographic distance between those bodies of their daughters, the princesses Marie-Antoinette and Vicky respectively. As she states, the empress could only imagine and request images showing her "the result of the transformation of the childish body natural of the Austrian princess into the body political of the French dauphine" (p. 157). On the other hand, the bodies of the princesses could also serve as an outlet for their mothers' own self-reflections on royalty, maternity and marriage. Victoria's letters make clear her vicarious curiosity in foreign customs and daily details that she would not have experienced as a queen regnant, but that left her daughter feeling homesick and lonely as a princess consort (p. 173). These differences reflect varying strategies for shaping both the physical and political bodies for women inheriting versus marrying the throne. For the former, the gendered physical body suited for marriage and maternity were marks of frailty that needed to be reconciled with the political body of the monarch. For the latter, the female body was its own source of legitimacy and power. Yet, Rachel Weil adds, the mortal body of kings or queens could be a powerful political weapon for queens regnant as well as queens consort. Using Queen Anne as her primary example, Weil argues that the monarch's mortal body "was a product of politics as much as biology" (p. 99). She uses the example of Anne's "tenderness" as both a rationale for intervention into her rule and as a means of admonishing her from guilt when things went awry. In addition, Anne herself manipulated the discourses surrounding the frailty of her body, using her bedchamber as a space for conducting political affairs under the guise of protecting the privacy of her female body.
By contrast, Horst Wenzel follows a queen consort and pregnant widow, Elisabeth, who used her maternal body as the impetus for a plot to steal the royal crown, ensure the succession for her child and prevent her arranged marriage to a Polish aristocrat seeking the throne. Elisabeth's predicament affirms the centrality of maternity and marriage that Jill Bepler sees in early modern funeral commemorations of the aristocracy. While Bepler's evidence confirms that women's physical bodies were central to their capacity for agency and legitimacy as royal figures, women who failed to fulfill their roles as wives and mothers could easily be left out of funeral records and forgotten from the history. Wenzel suggests, however, other ways that queens consort could use their maternal roles as a means to intervene in the body politic. This is a theme that becomes particularly strong in the nineteenth century. As Catherine Brice argues, even politically weak queens "participated in the creation of the royal public image," such as in the case of Victoria, or were "adept to manipulating her public image," as in the case of Margherita of Savoy (p. 198). By the nineteenth century, appeal to mass culture and the new visual medium of photography were particularly modern tools of royal power that promised to shift the location of the queens' political and natural bodies.
The visual orientation of the book is quite clear at the outset: the list of illustrations is three pages long, with many images serving more than one chapter; an art historian is among the contributors; and the arguments posed in the individual chapters are often dependent upon the analysis of visual images. These visually oriented methodologies are particularly suited to the topic at hand as they effectively demonstrate that the "body of the queen" is not only an intellectual framing, but also functions as a physical artifact rich with imposed and self-fashioned gender constructions. In particularly lucid examples, Susan Frye and Louis Montrose grapple with portraits of Elizabeth I as a young princess and aging queen respectively. Both argue that the commissioned paintings of Elizabeth I reflect the masterful integration of her political and natural bodies in a way that allowed her to exude both femininity and political vigor in her self-representation. In another compelling chapter, Juliane Vogel uses the visual imagery of Habsburg Empress Elisabeth's natural body being sewn into a gown representing her political persona in order to demonstrate how the queen's bodies could evoke a sense of royal legitimacy by melding into one another (p. 232).
Still, these visual methods are not always so compelling. Although part 4 is meant to engage with the theme of "Visual Metamorphoses," the contributions integrate visual representations less effectively than earlier chapters. In these chapters on the twentieth century, the visual media serve to eclipse rather than illuminate the bodies of the queen. In fact, the chapters do not really engage with European queens at all. More accurately, these chapters seek to find queens in visual media that have been long severed from their original subject. Whether the subject is a bust in a museum or a film in the theater, these reflections of female royalty develop, as Claudia Berger describes, as "figures of alterity in the European modern imagination" (p. 281). While she is undoubtedly correct, these final chapters seem to lack the provocative synthesis of the physical and political that is more adeptly demonstrated in other chapters. Alexis Schwarzenbach's piece on the "imagined queens" of the silver screen grapples with the interesting contemporary synthesis of stardom and royalty, but fails to recognize the further complexities that come from a system controlled by heredity and marriage in addition to beauty, money and fame. Part 4 seems to argue that "real" queens have been replaced by "imagined" queens in the twentieth century, but this assertion remains unconvincing. Elizabeth II and Princess Diana are just two examples of female royals who have captured the spotlight and evoked public discourses over fashion, death, infidelity, motherhood and the legitimacy of the monarchical institution. The last century may have become an epoch of Hollywood royalty, but it did not bury public fascination with the monarchies that hold imperial and national sentiments.
In all, the diversity of examples presented in this collection is admirable even if the book suffers from a sense of incoherence that undermines the force of its central questions and scholarly contributions. The essays that focus on the twentieth century are interesting on their own merits but fail to contribute much to the overarching intellectual project. Their discussions of "the queen's body" feel forced in their connection to the major themes presented in Schulte's introduction. Parts 1 and 3, illustrating the fifteenth through sixteenth and nineteenth centuries respectively, provide much more nuanced and analytically rich perspectives on the self-consciously gendered construction of European monarchies and the inner tension among gendered bodies negotiated by the monarchs themselves. The primary contribution of this book is to remind scholars of the complex nature of gendered bodies not only among but also within individual monarchs. While early modern succession crises and gender anxieties served to emphasize and isolate the gendered body of the monarch as the foremost ingredient of legitimate rule, these case studies have effectively demonstrated the interplay of multiple bodies that made possible the perpetual myth of the sacred royal body. This body could be distanced, when necessary, from the human failings of men and women who wore crowns. For queens in particular, this distancing and converging of political and physical bodies was at the center of their representation and legitimacy, because femaleness itself could be deployed as both a source of power and of frailty.
. Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King's Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Theology (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957).
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Aeleah Soine. Review of Schulte, Regina, ed., The Body of the Queen: Gender and Rule in the Courtly World, 1500-2000.
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