Power Strategies in Marriage and Concubinage in French Court Society, Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
My present research project engages with “Power Strategies in Marriage and Concubinage in French Court Society (Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries)”. In this project I am analysing the specific role marriage and concubinage played in practices of power at the French court. How did these types of interpersonal relationships function at times when aristocrats were building their careers at court, or when they tried to gain wealth or influence? How did they impact on aristocratic families’ bids to improve their status and their political clout?
In early modern nobility, marriages were in the first place family alliances, concluded for the mutual benefit of two families or family branches. Therefore, marriage left little space for individual agency in choosing a spouse. This was quite different in extra-marital relationships, where it can be safely assumed that at least one of the persons involved had deliberately chosen to engage in the liaison. Thus, while marriage was a strategic alliance, concluded with the view of producing heirs, the raison d’être for concubinage lies mainly in the emotional inclinations of those involved.
However, only because the emotional aspects may have played a more important role in concubinage than in marriage, does this exclude strategic considerations and family politics? Concubinage in early modern court societies is hard to imagine without aristocratic families at least tolerating such adultery. But why would they tolerate what even the enlightened authors of the Encyclopédie considered “after homicide the most punishable of all crimes”?
The answers to such questions will contribute to a better understanding of the internal mechanisms of power in dynastic societies, as well as the interplay of politics and gender relations. There are few pre-modern social contexts in which the interactions of female and male agency become more evident than in the court societies of the ancien regime.
Configurations of Gender at the Early Modern Court, 1580-1650
My thesis carries the working title “Configurations of Gender at the Early Modern Court, 1580-1650”. It aims to analyse the gendering of the court in this particular time span and link these findings to the broader development of the court as a political entity. For this purpose I proceed on a number of different levels, taking into account the gendered aspects of the spatiality of the court, gender and power in (extra-)marital and parental and filial relations, as well as the gendered aspects of the representation of the ducal family. The main case study for my research is the court of Stuttgart under the dukes Friedrich I. (1557-1608) and his son Johann Friedrich (1582-1628), which provides a fertile setting for this investigation. Friedrich I. was a regent eager to reign more independently of the estates, and his bid to create a new mode of rulership extended well into his family life. He took a number of mistresses, which led to a troubled relationship with his wife Sibylla von Anhalt (1564-1614), who nevertheless bore him fifteen children, of whom ten survived into adulthood. The repercussions of Friedrich’s extramarital affairs were felt even after his death, when his son Johann Friedrich took up his reign. For the young duke Johann Friedrich immediately imprisoned a number of women, who were believed to have had affairs with his father. While most of them were let go quite soon thereafter, one among them was held by the duke for six years, and only escaped her ordeal through pleading her case with the Reichskammergericht. This complex and contested family constellation, documented by great numbers of letters and court documents, is being investigated for the gendered concepts of personhood and fledgling statehood that came to be shaped and expressed within its structures. My work aims to enhance our knowledge of how and why advancing state-building processes intensified and relied on the increasing institutionalisation of gender difference.