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September 20, 2006

Queens in History: Queenship in Europe 1660-1815: The Role of the Consort - (Ed.) Clarissa Campbell Orr

Posted by Jeremy Black

Queenship in Europe 1660-1815: The Role of the Consort
edited by Clarissa Campbell Orr
Pp. xvii+419. Cambridge University Press, 2004
Hardback, £60

Queenship in Europe is a handsomely-produced work that offers a rich variety of essays prefaced by a valuable introduction that effectively sets the scene. There are essays on the situation in Savoy, Sweden, France, Austria, Russia, Spain, Württemberg, Poland, Prussia and Denmark.

Robert Oresko displays his characteristic mastery of dynastic links and politics, and, more specially, of the house of Savoy in his discussion of Maria Giovanna Battista of Savoy-Nemours, who, in 1675, became Regent of Savoy-Piedmont. Lindsey Hughes adds an effective essay on Catherine I to her biography of her husband Peter the Great. Thanks to Petrine Westernisation, the uneducated and barely-literate Catherine was not at a great disadvantage among the Russian ladies of the Court in matters of the new culture and refinement.

In Spain, Charles Noel argues that the power of the Bourbon consorts rested on the ill-health and personality of Philip V and Ferdinand VI. In a sympathetic portrayal, John Rogister shows how Marie Leszczyńska, Louis XV's wife, was able to assist the dévot party at Court without compromising her position.

Religion also emerges as important in Helen Watanabe-O'Kelly's account of Christine Eberhardine, wife of Augustus II of Poland (she remained a Lutheran when her husband converted to Catholicism), and of her daughter-in-law, Maria Josepha. As Queens of Catholic Poland and Electresses of Lutheran Saxony, they faced particular problems. Maria Josepha was not just Catholic, but was also brought up in the tradition of Habsburg piety.

A different type of "intercultural transposition" emerges in Marc Rivière's discussion of Louisa Ulrica, sister of Frederick the Great and Queen of Sweden. She is seen as blending Prussian political assumptions, French cultural values, and reluctantly-acquired Swedish social norms.

Peter Wilson's assessment of the situation in Württemberg indicates the possibilities of female political power within the Empire, but also its limitations and the strength of contemporary norms.

Andrew Hanham assesses George II's wife Caroline in terms of an accomplished but complementary partner in a joint dynastic strategy to adopt the Hanoverian union to English soil. Space does not permit a discussion of each of the contributions, but I hope this has whetted the appetite of readers and that the book is rapidly paperbacked.

Jeremy Black is Professor of History, University of Exeter.

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