Welcome to my blog!  I will be writing periodically
on my work, my thoughts on Tudor history, or
anything else I deem worthy of sharing on this
I welcome your comments and questions!
Click here to contact me!
                 How to be a Successful Queen? (9/17/2019)

In my forthcoming book, Queenship in Early Modern Europe, I explore the varous strategies
queens followed to create powerful and influential queenships.  So, what makes a successful
queen? As Early modern Europe was a male dominant society, queenly power was usually
legitimized by a woman’s kinship relationship to a man, whether father, husband, or son.  Not
surprisingly, the most successful queens were also those who maintained loving and
productive relationships with their husbands, who were the source of all royal power.  Queens
favored and loved by their kings could gain access to patronage, act as a political counselor,
influence foreign policy, and exercise control over the raising of their children.  Queens such
as Bona Sforza of Poland and Elisabeth Farnese of Spain both wielded a king’s prerogative
with their husband’s full approval.  As kings provided role models for their male subjects to
emulate, queens did the same thing for their female subjects, emulating such virtues as
modesty, chastity, obedience to male authority (at least outwardly!) as well as being a good
wife and mother.  As Early Modern Europe was a Christian society, queens gained prestige for
their religious works and observances, such as going on pilgrimages, distributing charity, and
founding religious houses, as did Anne of Austria of France, who founded the convent of Val-de-
Grâce.  A number of queens took their religiosity to the extremes, such as Marianna of Spain
and Maria of Portugal, who led extremely ascetic lives, as did a number of Holy Roman
Empresses.  Not surprisingly, most of the successful queens of Europe, such as Isabella of
Castile and Maria Theresa of Austria, took their religiosity seriously, and were ostentatiously
Queenship was a peripatetic vocation; most queens were not native to the kingdoms where
they were queen.  Most successful queens swiftly learned the language and adopted the
customs of their adoptive kingdoms, such as Anna Jagiellon, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia,
who was fluent in German, Czech, and Magyar, and Caroline of Ansbach, Queen of Great
Britain, who underwent a crash course in English language and culture.  Being fluent in
several languages was always helpful, as it was for Elizabeth I of Spain, who could converse
with all the ambassadors of Western Europe in their native tongues.  Even Marie Marie
Leszczyńska of France, who is usually considered a powerless non-entity, spoke Polish,
German, and Swedish with diplomats at court, something her husband, Louis XV of France,
was unable to do.  Aug. 6. 2019.
Bona Sforza
The Marriages of Henry VIII of England (12/17/2019)
Henry VIII (r. 1509-1547) was unique among his fellow European kings in his insistence that he
personally know his wives before marrying them (on the one occasion that he did not, it was a
disaster!)  While Henry’s marital predilections may seem reasonable to our modern
understandings concerning love and marriage, most of Henry’s contemporaries routinely
married foreign royal heiresses for diplomatic, economic, and territorial gains, rather than
sexual attraction or emotional connection, usually without meeting them prior to the
marriage. Nevertheless, regardless of emotional or sexual compatibility. most kings and
queens endeavored to provide for the succession in hereditary monarchies.
But what about the other aspects of a royal marriage, such as love and companionship?  Such
qualities did develop in some arranged marriages; but there were wide variations among
Henry’s contemporaries.  For instance, Spanish King and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (r.
1519-1557) and French King Francis I (r. 1514-1547) exemplified the two poles of approach to
royal marriage.  Both married for political reasons.  The Burgundian born and bred Charles V
only met his wife (and first cousin) the Iberian native Isabella of Portugal just days before
their marriage in 1526.  But they both set out to create a successful marriage that worked both
emotionally and politically, with Isabella providing a son and two daughters and later serving
as regent in Spain while Charles ruled the rest of his far-flung territories from his base in the
Netherlands.  In contrast, Francis I of France also married for political reasons but saw no
reason to create an image of domestic harmony as Charles V did.  Instead, Francis I sought
love and companionship outside the bounds of holy matrimony.  His first marriage, to Claude,
daughter of his predecessor Louis XII, brought him the previously independent duchy of
Brittany.  Only fourteen when the twenty-year old Francis married her in 1514, Claude was
literally bred to death, dying in 1524 after bearing a bumper crop of heirs. Six years later
Francis married Charles V’s sister Eleanor purely for diplomatic reasons and then completely
ignored her for the duration of their marriage, preferring the company of his mistresses to his
Henry VIII tried to emulate the companionate model exemplified by Charles V in most of his
marriages.  In 1509, soon after his accession, he married the Spanish princess Catherine of
Aragon, who had previously been married to Henry’s elder brother Arthur and had been
resident in England for eight years before the marriage, so Henry knew her prior to the
marriage.  The relationship was companionate for nearly two decades, but their inability to
produce a male heir was ultimately a deal-breaker; by 1527, Henry began proceedings to get
his marriage annulled.  But rather than choosing a foreign-born heiress as Francis I did with
his second wife, Henry had decided to marry Anne Boleyn, one of Catherine’s ladies in
waiting, whose sister Mary had once been his mistress.  Trained in the princely courts of
Burgundy and France, Anne Boleyn proved to be a tenacious courtesan, keeping Henry’s
interest for the six long years it took him to obtain an annulment.  
But the marriage did not work out.  While charming and charismatic, Anne was also
opinionated and acquisitive, while her inability to bear a male heir proved to be her undoing
as it had for Catherine.  While few historians believe Anne was guilty of the crimes she was
convicted of, including adultery, incest, and treason, her lack of queenly discretion greased
the wheels of what is universally considered a judicial murder.  Convicted by a jury of peers
on May 15, 1536, she was beheaded four days later by a French swordsman in the Tower of
Ten days after Anne’s execution, Henry married Jane Seymour, one of Anne Boleyn’s ladies in
waiting.  Quite unlike Catherine and Anne, both strong-willed women, Jane was shy and
demure.  To all appearances the marriage was a contented one, lacking the drama of Henry’s
marriage to Anne Boleyn.  The birth of her son the future Edward VI in October 1537 was the
crowning achievement of her queenship, but she died twelve days later of a puerperal fever.  
For his fourth wife, Henry chose a much more conventional path, marrying the Protestant
German noblewoman Anne of Cleves, whom had not met prior to marriage.  However, when
Anne arrived in England in early 1540, Henry did not like her looks or her charms, and only
went through with the marriage under protest.  Henry was either unable or unwilling to
consummate the marriage, which created the conditions for an annulment, which was
obtained in July of 1540.  By this time, Henry had already set his sights on eighteen-year old
Catherine Howard, who had been one of Anne of Cleve’s ladies in waiting. By now middle-aged
and overweight, Catherine was a trophy wife, young, carefree, and unbeknownst to Henry,
sexually experienced.  When news of her indiscretions both before and after marriage came to
light, Catherine met the same fate as Anne Boleyn, losing her head in February 1542 after
confessing to adultery.  But Henry found some contentment in his final marriage, to Katherine
Parr, a twice-widowed gentlewomen.  While it is doubtful that procreation was a motivating
factor, she fit all the other criteria that Henry desired in a royal marriage; he had known her
prior to their marriage and found her attractive and good company, at long last making the
companionate model work for him and the wife lucky enough to outlive him
Charles V and Isabella of Portugal
Queen Claude and Francis I
Eleanor of Austria
    A Queen and a King! The Gender-Bending Career of Maria Theresa of Austria (3/24/2020)

The words king and queen are gender specific; kings are men, and queens are women.  But on
June 25, 1541, Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria (1717-1780), the daughter and heir of Holy
Roman Emperor Charles VI (r. 1711-1740) was crowned King of Hungary in Pressburg (now
Bratislava, Slovakia).   As the first woman to inherit the various principalities that made up the
polyglot Habsburg dominions, which also included Bohemia, Croatia, and a number of other
smaller principalities, Maria Theresa’s accession required a more expansive understanding of
the term queen, such as what occurred in the Spain of Isabel of Castile and the England of
Elizabeth I of England, when these women inherited the office of king.  The problem with
Hungary, though, was that Maria Theresa had a husband, Francis Stephen of Lorraine, and the
Hungarians only crowned kings and queen consorts.  Even though she insisted that the
Hungarians accept her husband as co-ruler, this was largely symbolic; Maria Theresa had
inherited her father’s dominions, and she did not want to be crowned a consort.  So, the
Hungarian nobility kept Francis Stephen in the background while she underwent the crowning
of a king as a woman.  
This is not how Maria Theresa’s father Charles VI envisioned his daughter’s reign to unfold,
who envisioned that his son-in-law Francis Stephen would rule for his daughter after his death.  
But when he died, his heir was unquestionably his daughter.  By her own admission, Maria
Theresa was ill-prepared to inherit her father’s dominions when Charles VI suddenly died in
October 1740.  What did not happen was Francis Stephen taking charge of his wife’s
prerogatives, as William of Orange had done in England in 1689 and Frederick I in Sweden in
1720.  Instead, he stood aside as Maria Theresa faced the cabal of her father’s ministers, many of
whom were responsible for the deplorable state of Austrian affairs, which included a bankrupt
treasury and a dilapidated army.  
Maria Theresa began her reign without any substantive administrative experience, making her
first achievement the act of taking charge of affairs in all the Habsburg dominions without any
significant opposition.  Yet even though Maria Theresa had inherited male gendered kingly
power, she knew she was still ruling as a woman, and wished to be perceived as a good wife, so
one of her primary goals were getting Francis Stephen recognized as her co-ruler in all her
territories, to enhance his candidacy for the imperial throne, which was the cornerstone of the
Habsburg inheritance.  The motivation for this goes beyond the love she obviously bore for her
husband.  A male consort can provide a powerful form of legitimacy for a ruling queen, by
creating an image and perception of the royal family as a unit operating within prescribed
gender norms in which the husband/father was the head of the household.  In the first four
years of her marriage Maria Theresa cultivated this image of a domestic patriarchal paradise,
in which she played the role of a loving and submissive wife and mother, once she began to bear
children in 1737.  
After five years of wrangling, Maria Theresa was able to engineer Francis Stephen’s election as
emperor when a vacancy occurred in 1745.  But she declined to be crowned alongside him, as
imperial consorts often were, preferring to stay in the background as her husband had during
her Hungarian and Bohemian coronations.  The reason for this is not quite clear, but she may
not have wanted to be crowned a consort, which is why she underwent sole crownings in
Hungary and Bohemia.  But it also conformed to the gender dynamics that were an integral
part of her approach to queenship.  Formally, it was her husband, not her, who had been elected
Emperor, and she was more than happy to let him be the star of his imperial coronation, which
went a long way to bolster public perceptions of a harmonious family life.  
Playing the role of dutiful mother was another gender conforming means of creating queenly
prestige.  While kings projected a sense of paternalistic protection and concern, queens often
projected a more maternal like image.  Maria Theresa took the role of mother quite seriously,
bearing sixteen children, and strove to create an image of harmonious domesticity in numerous
family portraits meant to create positive public perceptions.  Maria Theresa also took the role
of wife very seriously.  Her physical and emotional attachment to her husband was a major part
of her public persona.  Had she been more capable in statecraft, he might have been the kind of
working partner Isabella of Castile enjoyed in her husband Ferdinand two and a half centuries
earlier.  But he did not possess the requisite political and military skills; Maria Theresa
frequently dismissed him from policy meetings when she did not agree with him.  But Maria
Theresa was careful not to emasculate her husband.  Instead, she made sure he received all due
honor as a sitting Holy Roman Emperor, even though within the Austrian monarchy he was a
de facto male consort, while she played the role of devoted and adoring wife until he died in
1765 at the age of 56.  
While Maria Theresa safeguarded her queenly reputation as a good wife, mother, and religious
devotee, Francis Stephen was a noted philanderer.  But Maria Theresa did not engage in public
spats about her husband’s infidelities as some queen sometimes did.  Instead, Maria Theresa
recognized and reinforced the perennial double-standard of royal sexuality, maintaining her
own impeccable reputation for marital fidelity.  Her sexual jealousy was undoubtedly sincere,
but it was also a reflection of her female body politic; one of the ways to soften the perception of
her possession of male gendered power was to tie it into her performance as a wife and mother
who played by the rules of contemporary gendered expectations for women.  But mild
expressions of jealousy was in fact an entirely conventional if not obligatory response.  The
gender dynamics of their marriage was a delicate balancing act, with Francis Stephen being
accorded all due respect and honor as her consort, but it worked for the duration of their
twenty-nine-year marriage.  With his death, Maria Theresa set aside the luxurious dress of a
queen for widow’s weeds and permanent exile from court festivities, free to create the ;legacyer
marriage in material culture as a harmonious and loving union.  
Maria Theresa exercised the office of king in the guise of a queen.  She recognized that through
the accident of birth she had come to possess sovereign power, but she had no intention of
challenging the patriarchal systems that dominated European monarchies.  Her queenship
succeeded because it embodied a form of ultimate womanhood as a loving wife and mother, and
grieving widow.  Like her contemporaries George III and Charlotte of Mecklenberg-Strelitz of
Great Britain, Maria Theresa and Francis Stephen do not excite the historical imagination, but
they knew how to play to contemporary expectations for a well-rounded royal family.
Sex and the Empress:  The Love Life of Catherine the Great of Russia (6/9/2020)

The sex life of Catherine The Great (1729-1796) was the subject of endless curiosity among her
contemporaries in Europe and generations of historians and biographers ever since. By her own
admission, she craved love, sex, intimacy, and male companionship.  By nature, Catherine, born
in Germany as Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst, the daughter of a minor German princeling, was a very a
social woman, who loved to talk to people, whether face to face or in epistolary form, and enjoyed
mixing informally behind closed doors with friends all her life.  Emotional connections were
especially important to Catherine, especially considering the lack of affection of her youth and
the abomination of her 1745 marriage to the future Tsar Peter III, the designated heir to Tsarina
Elizabeth Petrovna of Russia (r. 1741-1762), who had no interest in her sexually or emotionally.
But while her husband played with toy soldiers and tortured animals, Catherine nursed her
intellect and her ambition, making friends and influencing people while assimilating to Russian
culture as her husband never did.  Trapped in a loveless and barren marriage, while her husband
carried on with his mistress, Catherine never subjugated her desire for physical intimacy, as
most queens elsewhere in Europe routinely did in the face of sexless marriages.  
 When Catherine decided to look for love and intimacy after nine years of a childless marriage, it
also benefitted her politically.  But Catherine’s choice of sexual partners also reflected a specific
set of aesthetic and sexual concerns; Catherine preferred her lovers to be handsome, manly, and
possessing sexual prowess, while also possessing wit and the ability to converse with her.  
Catherine’s first lover, Sergei Saltyov possessed all these attributes, in addition to being
descended from the Romanovs.  It has long been conjectured that Saltyov was the father of
Catherine’s eldest son, the future Paul I, although her husband never challenged his paternity.  In
fact, the mania for dynastic legitimacy that drove Western European royal houses crazy was
largely absent from Imperial Russian court culture.  Peter was little concerned with Catherine’s
private life, while Elizabeth Petrovna was delighted with the arrival of a male Romanov heir, and
not at all concerned about his paternity.  Following Paul’s birth Catherine moved on to a Polish
nobleman Stanislaus Poniatowski, whom she enjoyed on both a physical and an intellectual level,
as both were bibliophiles. For Catherine, the price of an active and unrestrained sex life was
pregnancy; Poniatowski left Catherine pregnant before leaving Russia in August 1758., while
Elizabeth Petrovna’s official attitude was that Catherine’s daughter Anna, who lived less than
two years, was legitimate.  No one seemed to care what her husband Peter thought.  
 But once Elizabeth Petrovna was dead (January 1762), Peter III was no longer irrelevant; as his
antipathy grew malicious, Catherine feared she would be shipped off to a monastery, the usual
fate of cast-off Russian Tsaritas.  Catherine’s current lover, Gregory Orlov, played an
instrumental role in the coup that overthrew Peter III in July, 1762, after a disastrous six month
reign, which saw Catherine mount the Russian imperial throne as his replacement, even though
she had no hereditary claim to the throne.  Once in possession of male gendered power, after the
murder of her deposed husband, Catherine saw no reason to remarry and take a formal male
consort.  Instead, Orlov continued on informally, as Catherine constructed a sexualized political
culture in which there was always an officially recognized male favorite.  A similar form of
culture had also developed around Elizabeth I of England, a queen Catherine greatly admired.  
But Elizabeth I’s political culture was literary and epistolary, in which courtiers yearned for an
unattainable queen in metaphorical and allegorical ways.  In Catherine’s political culture,
however, the queen was attainable, while the sexual element was physical and intimate.  
 This pattern was set after Catherine tired of Orlov in 1774.  Alexander Vasilchikov, an ensign in
the Chevalier Guard Regiment, was the first lover she took on after she had become tsarina, and
the power dynamics between Catherine and her lovers shifted accordingly.  Catherine kept
Vasilchikov on a short leash, on call day and night for his services, and he was not allowed to
leave the palace without Catherine’s permission.  Catherine found his tenderness a bit cloying,
and after he was replaced by Gregory Potemkin, Catherine pensioned him off, and as she did with
all his predecessors, remained friends with him.  Potemkin was easily the most distinguished and
powerful of Catherine’s favorites, remaining an important and influential member of Catherine’s
administration long after he ceased to be her lover.  He had come to her attention during her
usurpation, and she recognized his abilities, advancing him through the ranks of the military as
well as her government.  Potemkin was brilliant, creative, charismatic, and shared Catherine’s
imperial vision of an expansive Russian state.  While their sexual relationship did not last long,
their intimate relationship continued to blossom, while she may have contracted a secret,
morganatic marriage with him in 1774; as several of her letters to him suggest.   
 Potemkin was well versed in the niceties of Catherinian political culture, finding his
replacements according to Catherine’s exact specifications.  Like Elizabeth I of England, as
Catherine got older, her lovers got younger.  There were twelve more after Potemkin before
Catherine took her final lover, Prince Platon Alexandrovich Zubov, who was 40 years her junior,
in 1789.  Even Potemkin underestimated Zubov, who came to dominate Catherine’s government,
amassing a huge fortune from an ever-grateful Catherine, who showered him with offices and
military commands.  By the time of her death, Zubov held the imperial court in his thrall as he
regulated access to Catherine, even snubbing her heir the Tsarevich Paul.  Zubov was on
campaign in Persia when Catherine died in October 1796, and Tsar Paul I recalled him to Russia.  
His fate; losing all the benefits of a favorite with the death of his royal patron.
 Catherine’s sexual history was much more reflective of the behavior of male kings rather than
the queens regnant of Early Modern Europe, who usually prioritized their queenly chastity.  
Catherine more properly belongs in the historical category of philandering kings, who often
mitigated the impact of their sexual proclivities by their strict and punctual religious
observances; Catherine played the role of libertine tsar and pious tsaritsa simultaneously.  In
fact, this conflation of the masculine and the feminine within Catherine’s imperial persona ranks
among her more underrated achievements
Catherine the Great
"straddling" Europe
Catherine with Peter
III and the future Paul I
statue of Catherine and Potemkin
at Novgorod