Research Projects

Power Strategies in Marriage and Concubinage in French Court Society, Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

Pascal Firges

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

Regine Maritz

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.

Security Strategies in Court Society: Short- and Long-Term Factional Politics During the Late Reign of Louis XIV

Stephanie Bode



Visiting scholarship holder for Master’s students (1.4.–30.6.2016) in the research group on “Practices of Power and Interpersonal Relationships at Dynastic Centres (1500–1800)’



The Student-in-Residence-Program offers students who consider applying for a PhD the opportunity to deepen and broaden their research experience. Visiting fellows are actively involved in one of the research groups at the GHI while still being allowed to work on their own research projects. The participation in the research group “Practices of Power and Interpersonal Relationships at Dynastic Centres (1500–1800)” meant that I attended team meetings and the reading group, both of which gave me the opportunity to discuss relevant research questions with experienced researchers and I greatly benefited from this exchange. As my own research topic was closely linked to the group’s research interests, I got very helpful advice for my own project. As well as being able to exchange thoughts and ideas, I was allowed to gain an excellent insight into the research process in general. For instance, I gained some insight into how to maximize the potential of a chosen research project, by using different methodologies. Regular meetings with Pascal Firges, head of the research group, gave me new inspiration and encouragement.

Furthermore, I very much appreciated learning more about various research topics in the field of historical scholarship. Although all the other projects within the research group were related to my own field of research in some way, they were an impressive testimony to the variety and complexity of research in general.

The Visiting Scholarship provided another great opportunity: I was allowed to work on my master’s thesis. Of course, a master’s thesis can hardly be compared to a PhD. However, during these three months at GHI, I was able to deepen and broaden my insight into the field of academic research. For me, this was an excellent opportunity to find out what would await me if I decided to apply for a PhD.

The impact of the access to the GHI library as well as to the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) on my research cannot be overstated. Marburg University’s library would clearly not have provided as many sources for my topic. Even more important than the access to research literature was the access to the stock of primary sources at the BnF. I was able to examine multiple correspondences at the Richelieu and Arsenal libraries, which proved to be of great value for my thesis as they revealed the courtiers’ factional politics.

Besides the very useful results I received from the sources at the BnF, I appreciated the fact that I could analyze primary sources on my own for the very first time – I no longer worked as a student assistant but as an independent historian. Working on these collections of historical documents gave me the opportunity to get more familiar with primary sources before beginning a PhD.

This experience has made it easier for me to consider an academic career in the long run. Being familiar with the administrative procedures at the BnF makes me feel much more confident for a potential doctorate. I am now able to assess what my work might look like, should I choose to pursue this career. While talking with other PhD candidates, I realized that many of them would have appreciated an opportunity like this before beginning their doctorate.

In sum, all my expectations of the program have been met. I had a fantastic time at the GHI, and participating in  the research group “Practices of Power and Interpersonal Relationships at Dynastic Centres (1500–1800)” for a three-month period proved very valuable for my research.

Narrating and Negotiating the Ruler’s Body: Beauty as Practice and Resource of Political Power in Early Modern Self-Testimonies

Monett Reißig


Visiting scholarship holder for Master’s students (1.7.–20.11.2016) in the research group on “Practices of Power and Interpersonal Relationships at Dynastic Centres (1500–1800)’



My stay in Paris during the academic year 2015/16 very much fostered my integration in the activities of the institute and, in particular, within the working group for the early modern period. Thanks to the flexibility of its members – especially Mr. Firges and Mrs. Maritz as the two main linchpins – I was able to participate, nearly every week, in the lecture group on courtly society in the early modern era. This enabled me both to keep up with this theme during my excursus in sociology at SciencesPo Paris and to get to know and exchange with many young researchers of the same field. Mobility grants for a diversity of PhD students at the GHI as well as the lecture group and its versatile thematic and methodological focus points provided personal distraction. 

The inclusion of my research project within the working group on courtly societies in the early modern period enabled me to successfully blend in the early modern era department. Alongside the lecture group, regular team meetings gave me the opportunity to discuss of progress and difficulties as well as to address formal and theoretical issues concerning my research project with the other members. This framework thus helped me to keep my research question and methodological focus in mind, as well as to broaden my sources in a targeted and adequate way but also to sufficiently narrow them. Indeed, Regine and Pascal suggested I include two original texts which I had overlooked. Thanks to the lecture group, I learnt from the PhD students’ and researchers’ own experience and could submit my own findings to their collective criticism, especially concerning important parameters of the early modern era, such as sociality, religiosity and mobility. This regular exchange of ideas also enabled me to locate my own perspectives and research questions within the realm of the research on early modern court practices and I could thus connect my own work with current and future research projects. I should also mention that the guidance I was given not only opened new perspectives but laid bare the limits of my work: what is the extent of my sources’ relevance for my research question? Which questions can I not answer without examining other epochal and regional focal points?

My stay at the GHI in Paris has been a very enriching experience, both personally and professionally. Besides from the valuable scientific guidance I received, I experienced the residency scholarship as a sort of simulation of a PhD. I learnt the amenities and challenges of scientific work, which include focusing exclusively on one’s research project, without for instance having to take up a side job to finance one’s studies. These positive experiences cemented and strengthened my once vague intention of pursuing a PhD. Apart from the analytical and methodological skills I acquired, I also learnt how to optimize my work methods to be more efficient when searching for relevant secondary literature and appropriate sources as well as when preparing and organizing a bigger work. This kind of experience does not only have a positive impact on the quality of one’s thesis – it can also hugely benefit the motivation of prospective researchers. The location and international orientation of the institute also contribute to the improvement of one’s language skills – as much for French as for English – which are essential for any researcher today. The format of the residency scholarship offers a fantastic opportunity to gain some insight into the work of a historian outside of university structures, become familiar with the fields of activity of such research institutes and question one’s personal aptitude and desire to pursue such a career.