Examining the Resources and Revenues of Royal Women in Premodern Europe Workshop One: Land

by Dr. Katia Wright (AGC Museum, Winchester)

Workshop One: Lands

On 19 and 20 May 2021, scholars gathered together online from across the globe to attend a workshop regarding the question of royal women’s lands. This was the first of a series of workshops organised by the Examining the Resources and Revenues of Royal Women in Premodern Europe project, which analyses the economic revenues and agency of royal women across Europe. These workshops, which culminated in a conference in September 2022, marked phase one of the project, and were designed to highlight key areas of ongoing research and to raise questions regarding royal women’s finances and resources. This initial workshop focused on lands and landownership as nearly all royal women from queens to duchesses, empresses to princesses, had access to some form of landed income across their lifetimes. The papers presented at the workshop covered a wide range of areas and time periods across premodern Europe and highlighted key issues to be addressed in the following workshops and important questions for the project to answer.

‘Lands’ covers a vast subject surrounding queenly resources, which overlaps with the majority of royal women’s finances across premodern Europe. All women received income from property in one form or another: as rent, taxes, or various resources such as produce, timber, or even gunpowder, which could be utilised or monetised as necessary. In many instances, the properties held by queens, either through grants from a monarch or through inheritance, were the main source of income, provided to fund a queen’s extensive household and expenses, alongside other revenue streams. However, these holdings were not just a source of revenue but also a place to live for many of these women, providing an escape from the ruling court, nurseries for their royal children, and dower houses for royal widows. As such, some royal women left their mark on these properties, highlighted in the names of some holdings, such as Queenhithe in London, and the building works carried out at their directive.

Map of the Barony of Retz part of Joan of Navarre’s disputed dowery, supplied by the workshop organisers, via Pintrest

Beyond the physical, tangible benefits of landownership, the estates held by these women also provided a source of political and economic power. Exercising their authority over their holdings enabled queens and other royal women to provide patronage and to develop a network of officials across the country, cementing their political position at the ruling court. As such, these properties placed royal women in a unique position, as often married women who managed their landed portfolio like a male magnate. This exceptional position emphasises how their distinct and close connection to the monarch or ruler placed these royal women in a situation unlike any other elite woman in the country, highlighting the importance of their queenship within the workings of the monarchy itself. Nevertheless, studying such a subject reveals the diverse experiences of these royal women as lords of estates and wives, mothers, and daughters of rulers across Europe, and the adversities they sometimes endured.

Throughout the papers presented in this first of three workshops, key themes and discussions appeared that span the geographical and chronological scope of premodern Europe. Sources of queenly properties, and their wider administration, appear to be a sustained issue across European studies. Jessica Nelson’s paper assessing the landed resources of Scottish queens in the twelfth and thirteenth century highlights the complications of locating and accessing relevant records, and the problems of reliability in using cartulary records which could include errors or embellishments. Coupled with the question of survivability, these difficulties with the sources all impact how much can be discerned about a royal woman’s estates, finances, and personal involvement in her administration.

Difficulties with the sources is continued with Gabrielle Storey’s paper regarding the dowers of England’s Angevin queens, which noted the complications of studying royal dowers that spread across multiple kingdoms, in terms of both the sources and their management. This issue is compounded in the case of Joan of Navarre, who was granted dower in both Brittany and England, and who consistently fought to defend her rights and income from her dower properties in both countries across her lifetime, as presented by Elena Woodacre. Such experiences were not limited to France and England, as Anna Jagosova’s research on Elizabeth of Luxembourg revealed, whose rights to her lands in Hungary and Bohemia were continuously questioned. Such discussions highlight the extent in which royal women acted to protect their estates, further emphasising their importance as both an economic and political resource.

A queen’s rights to her properties could also be in question during periods of political turbulence and Michele Seah discusses this in her research of three English queens during the Wars of the Roses. In this Seah questions whether queens such as Margaret of Anjou regained her original dower lands during Henry VI’s short restoration, and notes that queenly finances overall, and not just their lands, were at risk during periods of political turmoil.

Katia Wright, and Ana Maria Rodrigues and Inês Olaia’s papers took a more extended approach, revealing the continuities and changes of queenly properties that took place across fourteenth century England and sixteenth century Portugal. Both papers discussed the complexities of funding multiple queens from the crown’s estates and revenues, highlighting the importance of landed income for these royal women. Queenly competition, as it were, raises questions as to how monarchs addressed such an issue, and what impact this had on the queens themselves, their overall finances, and their residual economic power.

Beyond these complexities, royal women were granted various types of holdings, from towns to mills to castles. Manuela Santos Silva takes a broad approach to her paper, discussing the different types of authority and jurisdiction Portuguese queens enjoyed across the medieval period in their various holdings. Such discussions reveal the detail within the administration of royal women’s estates, highlighting their authority but also the nature of medieval estate administration that also needs to be considered when studying such a vast subject as the matter of royal women’s lands.
These numerous papers sparked questions and discussions covering an array of subjects in relation to royal women’s property. Some of these included the holding of property, changes to dower, terminology, and the need for a way in which to understand these various European customs in relation to a royal woman’s finances and property. Several papers highlighted questions of legitimacy, and the vulnerability of the queen within her lands. Discussions revealed the queen’s unique position as a landowner, alongside the ease in which her lands could be seized and the lengths she had to go to defend her rights to them. Further subjects included the composition of a queen’s estates, and the continuities in some countries and variations in others. Later discourse centred around the actual income from these properties, through taxes and rent, and the struggles queens experienced in attempting to maintain this income on a regular basis.

Discussions developed beyond this regarding lands and resources, and the idea of lands versus resources, questioning what was more important and whether there was change in the wake of the evolution of the merchant class. Overall common threads were identified, and clear questions need to be answered highlighting the work that needs to be done to further understand the diverse subject of the queens’ lands, let alone the wider subject of queens’ resources. Lands, and their importance in understanding economic agency and activities, provide a useful place to start this project into the wider resources and revenues of European royal women. These discussions were continued in two more workshops assessing ‘Resources’, ‘Administration and Affiliations’, culminating in the ‘Queen’s Resources Conference’, in September 2022, concluding this primary phase of the project and initiating plans for continued research and potential outputs.

This post is the first in a series reflecting on the recent Queen’s Resources workshop series and conference. Part of the Examining the Resources and Revenues of Royal Women in Premodern Europe project.

Past & Present is pleased to support this event and supports other events like it. Applications for event funding are welcomed from scholars working in the field of historical studies at all stages in their careers.

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