Participants and Papers

Nadine Amsler

Universität Bern

Wet Nurses and the Power of Milk Relationships at Court


To delegate the breast feeding of infants to a wet nurse was widespread practice among Ancien Régime elites. A wet nurse was hired to breastfeed an infant for an agreed period of time; she could be dismissed whenever parents were dissatisfied with her services. If a wet nurse succeeded in building a stable nursing relationship with the infant, this relationship could be of great emotional intensity. These “milk relationships” often persisted after an infant’s weaning, sometimes into his or her adult years.
This paper will focus on milk relationships and ask how they fit into the larger picture of social and political relationships at early modern courts. It will show that the close physical relationship between wet nurse and nursling sometimes resulted in a lasting emotional bond that made wet nurses receive royal favour once their former nurslings had ascended to power. Milk relationships could thus result in real economic and/or political benefits. They can, however, only be aptly described if their bodily and emotional dimensions are taken into account.
The paper will first focus on medical and moral discourses about the necessary qualities for wet nurses destined to nurse royal offspring. How did courts discuss the pre-modern medical idea that human milk transmitted character attributes? The second focus of the paper will then be on concrete bodily practices of milk relationships and their consequences at early modern French and German courts. What made a milk relationship durable, and how did wet nurses and nurslings benefit from it? By investigating these questions, the paper aims at shedding new light on the meaning of bodies and embodied relationships at early modern courts.

Biographical Note: Nadine Amsler is postdoctoral fellow at the Goethe University Frankfurt. Her research interests include gender history, court history, and early modern Chinese history. She is the author of Jesuits and Matriarchs: Domestic Worship in Early Modern China (University of Washington Press 2018). Her current project is entitled Wet Nurses at Princely Courts: Bodies, Maternity, and Dynastic Reproduction (Seventeenth to Eighteenth Centuries) and is funded by an SNSF grant.

Pernille Arenfeldt

American University of Sharjah

Gendering Politics at the Courts of Sixteenth-Century Germany


This paper proposes an empirically informed revision of two trends in the historiography on early modern courts. It challenges (i) the persistent influence of the Aristotelian dichotomy of polis and oikos that has resulted in an exaggerated politicization of men’s lives and a corresponding de-politicization of activities performed by women, and (ii) the attempts to re-inscribe women into court and political history through the concept of “informal politics”. While the notion of informal politics may help render dimensions of some women’s political participation visible, it ultimately confirms a gendered definition of “formal politics” and reflects an essentialist conception of women. This essentialization conceals fundamental differences between the positions women held within early modern court societies and it obscures our understanding of both the court and the dynasty as gendered networks. Until a few decades ago, the vast correspondences that survive from women affiliated with the courts remained largely unexplored or, when referenced in recent research, were filtered through nineteenth-century “petite histoire”. The arguments presented in this paper are informed by a (re-)reading of thousands of unpublished letters exchanged between aristocratic women affiliated with the courts across the German-speaking territories during the second half of the sixteenth century. The material reveals that women at the courts, especially the female consorts, considered themselves to hold distinct offices associated with legitimate authority, and that they were acutely aware of the political significance of their everyday actions.

Biographical Note: Pernille Arenfeldt is Associate Professor of History at the American University of Sharjah (United Arab Emirates), obtained her PhD at the European University Institute (Florence) and held the Marie-Jahoda Visiting Chair in International Gender Studies at the Ruhr-University Bochum in 2011. Her research interests are women and gender in early modern Europe and in the contemporary Middle East. Publications concerning early modern courts include “‘The … Queen has … Sent Nine … Frisian Cows …’. Gender and Courtly Practices in Sixteenth-Century Germany” (in Musik-Kultur-Gender, Boehlau Verlag 2013) and “Wissensproduktion und Wissensverbreitung im 16. Jahrhundert. Fürstinnen als Mittlerinnen von Wissenstraditionen” (in Historische Anthropologie 2012).

Giulia Calvi

New Europe College in Bucharest

Translating Court Cultures. Medical practice, Scientific Knowledge, and Political Information between the Ottomans and the Medici (1682-1688)


The paper calls attention to the Medici court and the Ottoman Empire in the late Seventeenth century. It focuses on the correspondence between a young physician, Michelangelo Tilli, the secretary of Granduke Cosimo III in Florence and doctor Francesco Redi, head court physician. In response to a request made by the Sultan’s court to the Florentine one, Tilli had the official charge of treating Pasha Mussaip, the Sultan’s son in law and general of the Turkish fleet during the Habsburg Turkish war and the siege of Vienna. Tilli travelled from Constantinople to reach the Pasha’s court in Belgrade, and then back across the Balkans. The correspondences outline practices as diverse as medical treatments, botanical observation, antiquarianism and political information in the perspective of a global circulation of communication and knowledge between courts. Translation between languages and cultures is a crucial feature informing these practices, as are diplomatic networks (dragomans, baili, “giovani di lingua”), renegades and slaves.

Biographical Note: Giulia Calvi was Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Siena and Professor of Gender History in Europe and the World at the European University Institute in Florence. She is now senior researcher in the ERC funded project Luxfass at New Europe College in Bucharest and co-editor of Le donne Medici nel sistema europeo delle corti (Polistampa 2008) and “Connected courts. Violante Beatrice of Bavaria in Florence and Siena” (in Medici Women. The Making of a Dynasty in Grand Ducal Tuscany, Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies 2015). She recently published “Translating imperial practices, knowledge, and taste across the Mediterranean. Giulio Ferrario and Ignatius Mouradgea d’Ohsson” (in Women, consumption and the circulation of ideas in South Eastern Europe, Brill 2018).

Aurore Chéry

Laboratoire de recherche historique Rhône-Alpes

A New Vision of Sexuality and Power at the French Court Through Two Famous Letters From Joseph II


In April 1777, Emperor Joseph II visited Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. His arrival is generally linked to the question of the sterility of the couple who, married in 1770, still had no children. During this stay the emperor wrote two famous letters to his brother Leopold, Grand Duke of Tuscany, in which he described with great crudity the sexual relations of his sister and brother-in-law. And since the couple had their first child the following year, Joseph was credited with explaining how to do it. This paper re-examines these letters and give a new meaning to the journey of Joseph II. To this end, the focus will mainly lie on the study of gender issues. On the one hand, Joseph II’s intervention is crucial because, until then, as Empress Maria Theresa was a woman, it had been impossible to discuss openly with her questions of male sexuality. However, this was a crucial aspect of the problem since medical questions about masculinity, based on Dr Tissot’s Onanism, had become a major concern in most European courts. Finally, the paper will show how the model offered by Louis XVI in fact lays the foundations for a demonization of the foreskin that developed fully, only from the 1830s onwards, in the work of Claude-Joseph Lallemand.

Biographical Note: After a PhD thesis on the image of Louis XV and Louis XVI at the University Lyon 3 and a Post doc at the CNRS Aurore Chéry is currently an associate researcher at the LARHRA. She is presently preparing a biography of Louis XVI to be published in 2019.

Jeroen Duindam

Universiteit Leiden

Why Global Comparison? The Example of the Court

Global history is booming. Nevertheless, it is a field under construction, where specialists of regions and periods struggle to define methods that match the exacting standards of their research traditions. After the first generation of ‘big history’, a more empirical perspective focusing on global connections has become dominant. As a consequence, comparison has frequently been characterized as outdated – or worse: as a form of intellectual ‘othering’. This talk will argue that comparison, in a redesigned form, is an indispensable complement to the dominant trans-entangled-connected-croisée approach. How can global comparison improve our understanding of courts, dynasties, and rulers? Can it effectively move from the birds’ eye view to a micro perspective? Do divergences in the nature and quantity of sources undermine comparative efforts? This talk will show how the global approach can subvert common definitions and lead to a more precise understanding of patterns at court by following  several themes of our conference: family and household (patterns of descent and the shape of ruling houses); gender (matrilineality, polygyny, and shifting gender roles); emotions (the position of the prince; father-son conflict).

Biographical Note: A long-time student of rulers, courts, and elites, Jeroen Duindam (1962) was appointed at Utrecht University in 1991; in 2008 he accepted the Chair of Early Modern History at Groningen University, two years later he moved to Leiden. Three monographs Duindam produced between 1995 and 2016 have helped in shaping the comparative study of courts and rulers: Dynasties. A Global History of Power 1300-1800 (Cambridge 2016), Vienna and Versailles: The Courts of Europe’s Dynastic Rivals 1550-1780 (Cambridge 2003) and Myths of Power: Norbert Elias and the Early Modern European Court (Amsterdam 1995). A Very Short Introduction on Dynasty in world history will be submitted to Oxford University Press in December 2018.

Leonhard Horowski

Humboldt-Universität Berlin

Useful Ink-Shitters and Decorative Excellencies: The Difficult Relationship Between Ministers of State and Courtiers in Brandenburg-Prussia and France, ca. 1650-1800


“You dog, you are a scribe and an ink-shitter; if I let my lackeys beat you, I cannot be hanged for it, I will still be a Count”
Count Georg Friedrich von Waldeck, Brandenburgian Privy Councillor, to his colleague Dr Friedrich Jena, 1656

The notion that early modern ministers of state were useful functionaries and thus the very opposite of ridiculously parasitic courtiers is something traditional historians of Ancien Régime France and Brandenburg-Prussia could have agreed on, even though these states were otherwise assumed to have been polar opposites. Once new research had shown that both groups were in fact part of the same system of power and status in both states, simply reversing the judgement became as tempting as it would be misleading. It is true that both France and Brandenburg-Prussia developed what one may only semi-facetiously call relatively absolutist systems, and that both states set out to do so with an élite clearly divided into an old chivalric and a new judicial nobility. Yet their subsequent trajectories do not only provide us with two interesting variations on the theme of élite integration. More importantly, this paper will argue that a closer look at these processes will disprove the currently dominant interpretations of both cases. In France, cooperation, passing and (decreasing) intermarriage between noblesse d’épée and noblesse de robe, far from proving their alleged fusion, were in fact the necessary consequences of what remained a sharp functional differentiation right up to 1789. Instead, it was Prussia which saw an actual fusion of both groups into a social élite that was not only much more court-orientated than hitherto assumed, but also (and somewhat ironically) both less military and less socially open than its French counterpart.

Biographical Note: Leonhard Horowski, born in 1972, studied History, Political Science, and English Literature at Freie Universität Berlin and Durham University before obtaining a PhD in History at Technische Universität Berlin in 2003, for his thesis on the Court of Versailles (Die Belagerung des Thrones, forthcoming as Au coeur du Palais. Pouvoir et carrières à la Cour de France, 1661-1789 at Presses Universitaires de Rennes). He was a lecturer at TU Berlin and has since received fellowships and scholarships from a number of institutions. He is currently finishing his habilitation thesis on Prussian ministers of State (ca.1650 to 1820) at Humboldt-Universität Berlin. His book on European court society, Das Europa der Könige (Rowohlt 2017), was shortlisted for the non-fiction prize of the Leipzig Book Fair.

Karl Kügle

University of Oxford

The Duchess Virago: Gender, Religious and Cultural Politics, and Their Narratives, in Fifteenth-Century Savoy


The paper focuses on the performance of female rulership in early fifteenth-century Savoy, and its depiction in Savoyard historiography around 1500 and in the modern period.
The 1434 wedding of Anne of Lusignan (1417-1462), royal princess of Cyprus, to Louis of Savoy (1413-1465) was one of the most celebrated events in European courtly society during the early fifteenth century. Under Duke Louis’s and Duchess Anne’s subsequent rulership, the Savoyard court arguably experienced one of its cultural and political high-water marks. The election of Amadeus VIII to the papacy (1439), the acquisition of the Shroud of Turin (1453), and the ongoing association of the court with some of the foremost literary and musical figures of the age (Martin le Franc, c.1410-1461; Guillaume Du Fay, 1397-1474) illustrate the complexity and ambitiousness of Savoyard religious and cultural politics.
Such brilliance stands in striking contrast with the image of the ducal couple in Savoyard and modern historiography, where they are painted in the starkest of terms – Anne as a ruthless spendthrift, Louis a weakling dominated by his foreign wife at the expense of his loyal Savoyard subjects. While their damnatio memoriae can in part be explained by later developments, it also provides an opportunity for re-examining xenophobia and misogyny as tools of statecraft in the hands of late-medieval and early-modern chroniclers and their patrons. Unpicking the particulars of the Savoyard narrative moreover invites us to take a fresh, revisionist look at the cultural and religious patronage of Anne and Louis in the context of European dynastic and familial politics of their time.

Biographical Note: Karl Kügle is ERC Research Professor in Music and Senior Research Fellow of Wadham College in the University of Oxford, as well as Professor in the History of Music before 1800 at Utrecht University (The Netherlands). As the PI of the ERC Advanced Grant project “Music and Late Medieval European Court Cultures” (, his current research focuses on the nexus between cultural performances (including but not limited to sounds and music), religion, and politics in late medieval Europe. Earlier work included, among other things, studies and facsimile editions of the music manuscripts Ivrea 115 (1997) and Turin BNU J.II.9 (1999 and 2012), both closely associated with courtly and ecclesiastic cultures in late medieval Savoy, northern Italy and France.

Philip Mansel

Society for Court Studies

The Reins of Power: the Politics of the French Royal Stables, from Henri III to Louis XVI


By their practical functions, as well as through individual officials’ ambitions, household departments could play a political role. The French royal stables, for example, not only provided transport, entertainment, exercise and ceremonial splendour for the king and the court, and helped improve standards of horses and horsemanship in France, but also, on occasion, provided kings with means of escape from their enemies. The royal stables helped Henri III escape from Paris in 1588 (he had placed his stables on the other side of the Louvre from the city of Paris), and Louis XIV in 1649. Louis XVI failed to escape from Versailles in 1789 or to reach Montmedy in 1791, partly due to failings in the royal stables. Thanks to effective organisers and horses, Louis XVIII made successful escapes from Paris in 1791 (when Comte de Provence) and 1815, as did Louis Philippe in 1848. The July monarchy, however, had been weakened by the death of its heir the Duc d’Orleans in a carriage accident in 1842. The fate of French monarchs often depended on their carriages and horses.

Biographical NotePhilip Mansel specialises in the history of courts and monarchies. He was a co-founder of the Society for Court Studies in 1995 and editor of its journal The Court Historian from 1996 to 2016. He is currently President of the Comité scientifique of the Conseil de recherche du Château de Versailles and a Fellow of the Institute of Historical Research, London. His books include Louis XVIII (Blond & Briggs 1981), The Eagle in Splendour (George Philip 1988) on the court of Napoleon, a history of the court of France from 1789 to 1830 (Cambridge University Press 1989), Prince of Europe (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2003), and Dressed to Rule (Yale University Press 2005), a study of court dress from Louis XIV to Elizabeth II. His biography of Louis XIV will be published in 2019.

Regine Maritz

Universität Bern

Making a difference: Gender, power and rulership at the court of Württemberg, c. 1580-1630


Whilst many studies have provided insight into the myriad ways in which gender difference impacted specific actors’ access to the practice of power, it is also important to develop new perspectives on gender as a signifier of power relationships (Scott) at the early modern court. Discussions of good rulership often referred to marital relationships, as a primary way of imagining the dynamics of power between the ruler and the ruled. This imagined figuration could take many forms in various cultural contexts, but often a well-ordered, hierarchical marital relationship could communicate a healthy form of governance, whereas discourses of excessive sexual promiscuity and marital discord could stand for a departure from the God-given order of rulership and even for despotism. Hence, in the context of the ruling dynasty the negotiation of gender difference was a highly political affair. This paper argues that attention to how meaning was attributed to gendered roles and practices at court can provide us with new insights about dynastic forms of rule. Using the court of Württemberg and the strained marital relationship of Duke Friedrich I and Duchess Sibylla as an example, the paper will explore two aspects of this dynamic.  It will analyse the emotional labour Sibylla invested into the maintenance of a representationally functional relationship with her husband. Secondly, the aim will be to tease out the flexibility the language of gender brought to dynastic negotiations of succession and regency, not only because of its vigour as an argument for good rulership, but also through its ability to expand and contract in relevance in response to specific dynastic situations.

Biographical Note: Regine Maritz studied History and International Studies at the Queen’s University of Belfast and the University of Cambridge. She was the Robert Owen Bishop Scholar of Christ’s College Cambridge in 2012, and began research for her PhD entitled ‘Gender as a Resource of Power at the Early Modern Court of Württemberg, c. 1580-1630’ under the supervision of Prof. Ulinka Rublack in 2013. Concurrently Regine was a researcher on the project ‘Interpersonal Relationships and the Practice of Power at Dynastic Centres, 1500-1800’ at the German Historical Institute in Paris. She passed her viva voce examination in January of this year and has since been employed at the University of Bern as a research and teaching fellow. In January 2019 she will take up a postdoctoral position at the Centre Roland Mousnier of the Sorbonne University.

Lana Martysheva

Université Paris-Sorbonne

The Shifting Political Roles of Court Clerics


The presentation will bring into focus the variety of political roles played by court members by focusing particularly on the seemly paradoxical case of the Catholic clerics gathered around the formerly Protestant French King Henri IV. The extraordinary dimension of the Catholic engagement for the king permits to reveal the capacity of court members to embrace atypical functions in times of crisis in order to reinforce the endangered king’s power and legitimacy. Some of their measures were widely publicized, others stayed discrete. Thus the court as the power and representational centre permitted the king and his entourage to adopt different levels of visibility. By paying attention to and comparing the choices made in favour of discretion or publicity, it is possible to question in a new way the conceptions and the exercise of monarchic power in sixteenth century France. The paper focuses on the period of crisis as it permits to highlight the flexibility of the court members, their willingness to protect the monarchy and its limits. The study is extended to the period of stabilisation in order to better seize the moving character of the political roles at the court.
The reflection on the politically engaged court clerics suggests a larger palette of power practices than the traditional one, centred on such issues as participation at the king’s council or diplomatic missions.

Biographical Note: Lana Martysheva defended her thesis “Betting on the Heretic. The royalist prelates and the legitimation of Henri IV” at the University of Sorbonne in 2018. She investigated the end of the French Wars of Religion from a new perspective focusing on lesser known actors, who played a crucial role in the legitimation of the first Bourbon. She is affiliated to the centre Roland Mousnier. Her research interests are Early Modern political and religious history, symbolic communication, court history, rituals and ceremonies. Her publications include “Représenter un événement : l’absolution romaine d’Henri IV” (in Revue Mabillon 2014)  and “Autour d’Henri IV : construire un front, dessiner une continuité” (in Enquêtes 2015).

Elisabeth C. Natour

Universität Regensburg

(Un)heard Practices of Power: Toward a Musical History of Court Politics


Although intrinsically connected ever since antiquity the foundations of musical and political theory came especially close at European princely courts of the early seventeenth-century surfacing in the practical cultural politics of their elites.
Despite the rich musicological research in court music over the last decades the relevance of music as part of the politics of power has hardly been incorporated in the historiography of the early modern court so far. Yet an analysis of the intentional uses of music based on source material concerning major musical-political events can offer valuable insights into how the contemporaries believed politics and policies to be effectively communicated at court.
The paper will concentrate on Vienna of Ferdinand III and London of Charles I to assess the functions music fulfilled at those courts. At both courts music was richly celebrated and given the mere splendour of chapels, musicians and musical instruments held in high esteem, albeit with very different agendas. Close connections between the political programme and the musical style can be established for both courts.
The paper will do so by focusing on how Ferdinand III’s political and musical image converged in one of the monarch’s own compositions, the drama musicum of 1649. It will then turn to the music of Charles’ favourite composer and personal guard William Lawes, and his efforts to make divine rule audible.

Biographical Note: Elisabeth C. Natour studied at Oxford and completed her doctoral dissertation at Heidelberg, where she was subsequently employed as postdoctoral researcher. She currently works on her second book on the subject of „Music, Politics and Communication at early 17th Century European Courts“. She is a research assistant at the History Department of Regensburg University. Her research interests comprise: music and politics in early modern Europe, political thought – especially resistance theory, cultural politics and the history of cultural transfer and comparison, and courtly elites. Her publications include Die Debatte um ein Widerstandsrecht im frühen elisabethanischen England (Duncker & Humblot 2016) and „Die frühen elisabethanischen Theologen und ihr Verhältnis zur Macht“ (in Intellektuelle in der Frühen Neuzeit, Akademie Verlag 2010).

Dries Raeymaekers

Radboud Universiteit

Dynasty and Bastardy. The Fate of Illegitimate Royal Children in European Courts, c. 1500-1800


A fundamental question pertaining to the development of monarchical states is: how did ruling dynasties legitimise their claim to power? In hereditary monarchies across Europe, the acceptance of dynastic authority hinged on the sacrosanctity attributed to the blood royal. It is surprising, then, that hardly anything is known about the extent to which the presence of illegitimate offspring affected the legitimacy of the ruling house. As the impure fruits of fornication, ‘royal bastards’ were believed to infect the dynastic bloodline with the foulest of sins. In a system of rule that staked its claim to power on the purity of the lineage, such perceived contamination shook the very foundations on which the dynasty’s authority rested. What, then, were the political consequences of bastardy? To what extent did it affect the stability of the court, the dynasty, and by extension, that of the entire realm? This paper proposes a new methodology to study the impact of bastardy on the European dynastic system of rule. Contemporary sources suggest that the distrust of ‘royal bastards’ was a widespread trait of early modern society. A venomous critic in this regard was the Duc de Saint-Simon, according to whom the illegitimate children of Louis XIV constituted ‘the most imminent threat to the monarchy’. However, the uncritical reception of Saint-Simon’s writings has resulted in a historiographical ‘black legend’ in which all bastards tend to appear as dangerous enemies of the Crown. This perception has obscured the fact that many bastards devoted themselves willingly to the service of the dynasty. This paper proposes a fundamentally different interpretation in which illegitimate royal offspring constituted a vital source of ‘dynastic capital’.

Biographical NoteDries Raeymaekers studied History at the Catholic University of Leuven and defended his doctoral dissertation on the Habsburg court of Brussels in the reign of Albert and Isabella (1598-1621) at the University of Antwerp in 2009. In 2010 he was a Fulbright Scholar at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA. He received a Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Flemish Research Foundation and worked on a project in Antwerp on princely favourites and the ‘politics of access’ at the Habsburg Court of Brussels in the 17th century. Since 2012 he teaches Early Modern Political and Cultural History at Radboud University. In 2015, he received the University Teaching Award. His current research focuses on the political role of illegitimate children in European princely dynasties.

Giora Sternberg

University of Oxford

Protestations as a Means of Resistance in Bourbon France

Biographical Note: Giora Sternberg began his academic studies at Tel Aviv University. Following a DPhil in History at the University of Oxford and three years at the Harvard Society of Fellows he took up his current position as Associate Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Oxford and Ellis-Barnard Fellow and Tutor in Hertford College. His publications include Status Interacting during the Reign of Louis XIV (Oxford University Press 2014) and “Manipulating Information in the Ancien Régime: Ceremonial Records, Aristocratic Strategies, and the Limits of the State Perspective” (in The Journal of Modern History 2013). His current research project, “Writing Acts: The Power of Writing in the Ancien Régime”, is under contract with Oxford University Press.

Tom Tölle

Universität Hamburg

Courts, Politics, Corporeality: Reflections on a History of Court Politics With the Ailing Bodies Put Back In


It is something of a truism that matters surrounding the princely body as well as other dynastic bodies were deeply politicized in early modern court societies. But to what extent has this truism changed how historians understand court politics? My contribution suggests that many political historians, even if they have acknowledged the role of premature death, illness, or failing reproduction, have not made corporeality a central part of their analyses. Instead, bodies appear as foci of ‘dynastic accidents’. Like an appendix to early modern statecraft they are often considered a remnant of Europe’s feudal past only noticed when in crisis.
It compounds the problem that the historiography has had a tendency to nod to the role of corporeality, but to leave its discussion to specialist scholarship, be it in the history of gender and sexuality, the history of the body, or the history of symbolic communication. Recently, authors from cultural historians of politics (Finucci, Azzolini) to political historians (Pečar, Horowski) and comparative or world historians (Duindam, Faruqui) have begun to reinvestigate dynasty as a central category in early modern politics. Bringing this scholarship back into conversation with court history reintroduces commensals, court physicians, envoys, and midwifes where they belong: at the centre of early modern politics.
If historians aim to understand court politics as subjects at the time understood it, they will have to take into consideration that it was as much a matter of impotent princes, pregnant women, and frail heirs as of statesmen and administrators.

Biographical Note: Tom Tölle is a historian of early modern European politics, in particular the history of dynasty and, more recently, the history of archives. He received his MPhil with distinction from Cambridge University in 2011 and has recently completed a PhD about a set of major European dynastic crises around 1700 at Princeton University. Currently, Tom is a Postdoc at Hamburg University in Prof. Markus Friedrich’s project on noble archiving (funded by the German DFG).

Mirko Vagnoni

Université de Fribourg

The Mise-en-scene of the King’s Body at the Angevin and Aragonese Courts of Naples and Palermo (1266-1343)


The presentation will draw from the cooperative research project “Royal Epiphanies. The King’s Body as Image and Its Mise-en-scene in the Medieval Mediterranean (12th-14th centuries)” at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) (, which aims to revive the traditional debate on the royal body and its function within Mediterranean society during the mid and late Middle Ages by examining it as an integral part of a much wider context of communication strategy and mise-en-scène of the royal power in society. In other words, the intention is to place greater attention on royal bodily representation in written and figurative sources produced in the frame of the court to study how the public rendering of the royal body and its iconographic representation dynamically interact and condition each other in the courtier debate on monarchy. The research is mainly investigating these aspects: visibility or invisibility of the king’s body; material frames for the king’s body presentation; physical features of the king’s body (beauty, use of specific types of beards and hair); ostentation of particular kinds of garbs and symbols of power. In the context of this larger research project, the aim of the presentation will be an analysis of royal body at the Angevin and Aragonese courts of the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily (1266-1343). The focus will lie on a debate and comparison of the methodological approach envisaged in the context of the research project, as well as its first provisional outcomes.

Biographical Note: Mirko Vagnoni studied Medieval History at the Universities of Siena and Florence and was postdoc researcher at the German Historical Institute in Rome, the University of Munich, the Medieval Institute at the University of Notre Dame in the USA, the University of Kassel, the Notarial Archives of La Valletta and the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, where he is currently a senior researcher in Medieval Art History. His research interests concern the representation of power, particularly royal iconography and sacrality in the kingdom of Sicily (12th-14th centuries). His publications include “Le rappresentazioni del potere. La sacralità regia dei Normanni di Sicilia: un mito?” (in Caratteri Mobili 2012) and Dei gratia rex Sicilie. Scene d’incoronazione divina nell’iconografia regia normanna (FedOAPress – Federico II University Press 2017).

Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly

University of Oxford

Religion and Confession as the Bedrock of Monarchy and Court

The legitimacy of the monarch rested on his – more rarely her – role as God’s anointed representative on earth. This determined the ceremonial of the coronation and of the royal entry and was the reason for the king’s supposed ability to cure by touch. The relationship between monarch and subject was modelled on the relationship between God and His faithful.  This was expressed on public occasions by ruler and people joining in worship, by the people praying for the safety of their ruler and thanking God for it in the Te Deum. The central emotions of love and fear which subjects were required to feel for their sovereign mirrored the emotions to be felt by the believer for the deity. Confessional difference disturbed this relationship after the Reformation, so that Protestant electors had a problem in participating in the coronation of a Holy Roman Emperor, the French king made war on his own subjects and the king of England was sentenced to death by his own people.
On the level of the court, religious worship structured its daily life and regulated the behaviour of the consort in particular. She was the one who was expected to convert when a dynastic alliance joined members of divergent confessions, for one of her principal duties was to practice her religion publicly and visibly as a ‘pillar of prayer’ (Betsäule). She was expected to accept as God’s will the travails of her own fertility or lack of it.

Biographical Note: Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly is Professor of German Literature at Oxford University and Emeritus Fellow of Exeter College Oxford. In 2012 she was elected a fellow of the British Academy. From 2013-2016 she led the HERA-funded project ‘Marrying Cultures: Queens Consort and European Identities 1500-1800 ( She is currently a fellow of the Institut des Études Avancées de Paris. Among her books are Triumphal Shews. Tournaments at German-Speaking Courts in their European Context 1560-1730 (Mann 1992), Court Culture in Dresden from Renaissance to Baroque (Palgrave 2002), and Queens Consort, Cultural Transfer and European Politics, c.1500-1800 (Routledge 2015). She has co-edited Spectaculum Europaeum. Theatre and Spectacle in Europe, 1580-1750 (Harrassowitz 1999) and Europa Triumphans. Court and Civic Festivals in Early Modern Europe (Ashgate 2004).