Early Modern Habsburg Women, European Diplomacy, and Religious Patronage

Society for the Study of Early Modern Women
Society for Austrian and Habsburg History 2
Saturday, January 7, 2012: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Houston Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Joseph F. Patrouch, University of Alberta
Martha K. Hoffman, independent scholar

Session Abstract

                The Habsburg Dynasty played a central role in the evolution and definition of the political and religious maps of early modern Europe through the contributions of all of its members. From this perspective, the Habsburgs comprised a political community that transcended geographic and temporal boundaries and its female members a network within this community. Habsburg women created and handled the intricacies of dynastic politics through a substantial set of values, strategies, and traditions. Whether through religious and cultural patronage, the adoption of etiquette and ceremonial that affirmed their Habsburg identity or their assumption of formal authority through dynastic right, these women exerted significance political influence in the Imperial, Italian, and Spanish courts, and shaped diplomatic and religious outcomes on the broader European stage.   

                Archduchess Magdalena of Austria (daughter of Emperor Ferdinand I and his wife Queen Anna Jagiellon), the subject of Julia Hodapp’s paper, founded the religious community of Hall in the Tyrol, a decision which in the context of the mid-sixteenth century Europe had substantial impact on local, dynastic, and international politics. In common with other Habsburg women, Magdalena possessed significant freedom of action and displayed substantial agency: she negotiated her position with her father and the Jesuits, and did not hesitate to work in tandem with her sisters, her brother (Emperor Maximilian II), and even the Pope. Numerous Habsburg women in the Northern Italian territories discussed by Blythe Raviola also displayed their political acumen during the Thirty Years War. Through their multiple roles as princesses, consorts, or regents, the descendants from the Spanish and Austrian branches of the dynasty mediated between political rivals, and advanced and supported their family’s interests in their courts of birth, those adopted by marriage, and in a pan-European context. The Austrian Archduchess Mariana of Austria, examined in Silvia Mitchell’s paper, exemplifies one of the many instances in which Habsburg women exercised formal political authority through dynastic right, in this case as mother of King Carlos II of Spain. Mariana of Austria actively governed the Spanish monarchy as regent, challenging the idea that she was dominated by her favorites; her political partnership with the Marquis of Aytona reveals her hand in shaping Spain’s foreign and domestic policy in the later seventeenth century.

                Based on substantial archival research in numerous European archives, the panelists’ papers challenge the idea that aristocratic and royal women’s function was mainly to reproduce, that they were pawns in the politics of dynastic marriages, or that diplomacy was exclusively a male endeavor. These important case studies from the Imperial, Italian, and Spanish courts demonstrate that Habsburg women often acted independently and with substantial freedom of action, and that male members of their families not only accepted their influence, but relied on their support. Collectively, they offer an ideal framework to escape the narrow assumptions of nationally-based histories and document the contributions of female members of the Habsburg Dynasty in the making of the political and religious maps of early modern Europe.