Journal of the Northern Renaissance

~ Radical Open Access ~

Estelle Paranque, Nate Probasco, and Claire Jowitt (eds), Colonization, Piracy, and Trade in Early Modern Europe: The Roles of Powerful Women and Queens (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017)

Reviewed by Nadia T. van Pelt

Estelle Paranque, Nate Probasco, and Claire Jowitt (eds), Colonization, Piracy, and Trade in Early Modern Europe: The Roles of Powerful Women and Queens (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), ISBN 978-3-319-57158-4, 255 pp. £84.99.

[1] Colonization, Piracy, and Trade in Early Modern Europe is a welcome new addition to the Palgrave Macmillan ‘Queenship and Power’ series. The edited collection under review adds to a quickly growing corpus of discussion foregrounding the gendered reading of early modern power play. The book seeks to address early modern women going against the grain of their times by asserting authority in situations of warfare, diplomacy and trade, but also in piracy and colonization; areas that scholarship has traditionally associated with ‘masculine’ spheres of power and influence. This edited volume offers a number of case studies exemplifying how not only queen consorts and regents across Europe, but also women from more humble backgrounds, entered these spheres and showed themselves competent rulers, diplomats, and patrons of overseas exploration.

[2] The book is divided into three sections. The first, ‘Demonstrating Power’, comprises three chapters, each concerned with the power play of illustrious queens, establishing their dominance over colonized areas. In the first case study, Jonathan Woods addresses Mary I’s and Mary of Guise’s ‘struggle to control Ireland’ (p. 7). Ireland had been conquered by Henry VIII as early as the 1530s, and his daughter Mary sought to maintain Tudor sovereignty in these parts. Woods’ study argues that Scottish migration to Ireland, and ‘the expansion of military networks from Scotland into Ireland’ prevented the English queen from uniting the people of Ireland under the English flag (p. 17). Woods shows a Mary I who ‘[w]ielded full sovereignty, as any king would have’ but was frustrated in her efforts by the ‘decentralized structures of the Gaelic world’ (p. 30). In the chapter that follows Nate Probasco studies Catherine de Medici’s politics of religion during the period of her regency in France. He observes that in order to avoid religious wars in France and to ensure the power of her family, Catherine invested significantly in relocating French Huguenots and Lutherans to Florida in North America, and Moldovia in Eastern Europe (p. 60). By doing so, Catherine showed herself a no-nonsense ruler, a powerful rival to the Habsburgs, and an ally to King Philip II of Spain (p. 58), but importantly also, a strategic colonizer who knew how to make careful use of maritime expansion. Estelle Paranque investigates the rulership of Isabel Clara Eugenia as Governor of the Spanish Netherlands between 1621-1633. Paranque notes that Isabel, who was the Infanta of Spain and wife of Albert VII, Archduke of Austria, had been the ‘co-sovereign of the Habsburg Netherlands’ whilst her husband was alive. On his death, however, she was demoted to ‘Governor’, which, despite the title’s suggestion of a less than grand administrative role, meant that she had become the ruler of the Spanish Netherlands. Paranque’s research firmly establishes Isabel as a representative of Spain and strong ‘wartime leader’ who had the status and ability to make diplomatic decisions independently from her Spanish king, and could be depended upon to further the interests of the Empire (p. 86).

[3] The second section, ‘Diplomatic Strategies’ builds on the parameters set in the first section, and explores the political styles and tactics in international trade of lesser known female rulers and diplomats. Lisa Hopkins in her chapter on Caterina Cornaro, the last queen of Cyprus, explores her rivalry for the throne with her sister-in-law, Carlotta de Lusignan. Caterina, who was of Venetian origin, married James II to form an alliance between Venice and Cyprus, in which, Hopkins observes, ‘Venice definitely intended to be the senior partner’ (p. 101). When James II died, five years into his marriage, and his son following him shortly after, James’ illegitimate children as well as his sister Carlotta found themselves candidates for succession, but Venice favoured Caterina, who ended up reigning for 15 years (p. 102). Hopkins contrasts Carlotta’s pragmatic approach in which she tried to buy favour with potential allies, using Cyprus’ resources, with Caterina’s employment of iconography and symbolism as a propaganda tool (p. 112). In the chapter that follows Valentina Caldari explores the role played by María Ana, the Spanish Infanta, in her marriage negotiations with Charles, son of King James I of England. The introduction to the book promises a study of two seventeenth century European princesses, María Ana and Henrietta Maria of France in their taking matters into their own hands when it came to securing English matches (p. 8). It appears however, that unfortunately the study of Henrietta Maria has not made it into the final draft of the chapter. In her study of María Ana, however, Caldari makes explicit the implied stakes of a match between two powerful forces: religious belief, but also trade and commerce and the joint hunt for pirates (p. 130). She observes that the match, that was officially off the table in 1624, hinged on the Infanta’s power to exert influence over the English Prince in matters of business and colonization (p. 129). In her excellent chapter Junko Thérèse Takeda explores the diplomacy of Madame Petit, a courageous early-eighteenth-century French woman who acted under the title of ‘representative of the princesses of France’ in Persia (p. 142). Petit had invested in the travels of Jean-Baptiste Fabre, who was on a French mission to Persia, and followed him abroad when it turned out that he could not pay her back. When Fabre died in Yerevan, Petit showed herself an entrepreneur and autonomous diplomat in Persian-French trade relations. Takeda observes: ‘… Louis XIV’s aspirations to and claims of a centralized governance, remained un-centralized and chaotic. Slowness of communication to and from Versailles’ forced diplomats like Petit ‘to make decisions and act independently of the crown’ (p. 160). Her actions defying gender, political, social and religious conventions may have been acceptable and even laudable in Persia, but once back in France, Takeda observes, Petit was vilified, presented as a prostitute, and financially ruined (p. 157-9).

[4] Where the first two sections covered inter-European relations, the Hugenot migration to the Americas, as well Madame Petit’s diplomatic work in Persia, the third section has a strong Anglo-centric focus, and is notably interested in literary works, in which trade and colonization marked opportunities for contact with cultures outside of Europe. As expected, Queen Elizabeth I as a patron of piracy and maritime expansion plays an important role in this section. Carole Levin and Cassandra Auble present a study on the meanings of turquoise in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, and establish the precious stone as ‘economically valuable’ and ‘exotic’ (p. 184, p. 180). They also address turquoise jewellery possessed by sixteenth-century queens, and the statements that they made by wearing these precious stones. Elizabeth I for one, Levin and Auble observe, wore turquoise as a diplomatic message suggesting ‘openness to trade and expansion of the empire’ (p. 184). Erzsébet Stróbl’s study argues that the Hungarian poet Stephen Parmenius’s Latin poem De Navigatione (1582) can be seen to have presented Queen Elizabeth I as a leading colonial power on the European political stage. The work was written three years before Walter Raleigh’s first attempt to colonize America, and presented readers with ‘a humanistic, Protestant justification about English territorial expansion’ (p. 215). Stróbl argues that the theme of English colonization is ‘filtered through the sensibilities of a Hungarian who as a foreigner reflects on his own experiences within England as well as that of his home country’ (p. 215). Finally, Claire Jowitt explores the notion of maritime expansion and its relation to English rulership by addressing the figure of the sea captain in Thomas Middleton’s The Phoenix (1603-04). Jowitt observes that the play ‘invokes Sir Walter Raleigh’, Queen Elizabeth’s famous explorer. Furthermore, the play, performed at a time in which the succession of James I meant a change from Tudor to Stuart rulership, appears to support ‘James’s outlawing of the privateer in contrast to Elizabeth’s state-funded pirates’ (p. 242). It appears that the play sought to present its view on colonial expansion and entrepreneurship so as to both respect the former queen’s policies, but also to keep in mind that the new king was the actual ruler that playmakers and their audiences needed to take heed of.

[5] The book contains an ambitious collection of scholarship. One of the risks inherent to an edited collection concerned with a topic as broad as early modern women’s involvement in international trade, piracy and colonization, is that it may be perceived as unfocused in its selection of case studies by some of its readers. The book under review however resists this pitfall by working from the premise that women actively involved in these spheres formed a small minority among early modern queens, princesses, and non-royal women of influence. This suggests that the selection of case studies, in all its variation, is much more pointed than it appears to be at first sight. This edited collection is likely to appeal to scholars of royal studies and early modern diplomacy, and students of (political) history and gender studies.

University of Leiden, November 2017

Next Post

Previous Post

Leave a Reply

© 2023 Journal of the Northern Renaissance

Theme by Anders Norén