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

by Dr. Charlotte Backerra (Göttingen)

Workshop Two: Resources

The workshop on ‘Resources’ was the second of three virtual workshops of the international project Examining the Resources and Revenues of Royal Women in Premodern Europe. In this project, we are focused on the economic means and agency of royal women, such as empresses, queens, and other sovereign rulers or consorts, from different medieval and early modern countries such as Bohemia, England, France, Holy Roman Empire, Poland, Portugal, or Spain. The workshops, held in 2021 and early 2022, connected researchers from all over the world who presented sources and case studies relevant to the specific topics of each workshop.

For the second workshop from 8-9 September 2021, the general themes were dower, dowry, and accounts. Generally, the resources of a premodern woman and especially consort were based on marriage contracts and inheritance certificates. In most marriage contracts, dower, dowry, widerlage, morgive, and pin money were specified. Sources on financial inheritance are testaments and inventories, which allow us to trace inheritances given to a woman, for example by her mother, father, brothers and sisters, or members of the wider family.

Handwritten plaque, image supplied by the Examining the Resources and Revenues of Royal Women in Premodern Europe project

Resources consisted of lands, monetary income, and material possessions. In terms of lands, the woman could have lordship, rule over lands, or at least administer lands in her own right, which gave her the opportunity to build a network of personnel and affiliations (see workshop 3). Monetary incomes were based on the one hand on these lands in terms of taxes, dues, duties, and/or tolls. On the other hand, women might get other payments as part of their dower or pin money or as a result of investments made with their own money. Material possessions could be received as part of the morgive, as inheritance, as gifts at life-turning points such as the wedding, a child’s birth, or were bought by women from their own money. Assets such as jewellery, precious stones, silk or other cloths, furniture, silverware, and books were in most legal systems part of the personal wealth of a woman and could be pawned to pay off debts etc.

As we have seen before, different groups or people could provide a woman’s resources: the natal family (father, mother, brother, uncle) via dowry or inheritance, the married family (husband, father-in-law, other in-laws) in terms of dower, and the husband for morgive and petty/ pin money. Conflicts over resources could therefore involve all these actors and groups, depending on the individual situation of each woman.

Even though legal traditions regarding nuptial provisions and treaties were introduced even in medieval times and strengthened throughout the premodern period, conflicts often arose either because of lack of funds or because of different legal traditions. One must keep in mind that premodern royal women often married transnationally, i.e., across legal and cultural borders. Regarding the dower, dowry, morgive, and similar payments, most problems arose when these payments were not made or the sums were paid to late, as Rocío Martínez López discussed for Empress Margarita and archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria. In other cases, the payment was made in kind or in lands instead of in cash, e.g., for Landgravine Juliane as Charlotte Backerra noted in her paper. Different legal cultures or customs present serious challenges, as Maria Dávila showed for marriages between Portugal and Habsburg and Rubén González-Cuerva for those within the Habsburg dynasty between the Spanish and Austrian branches. Similarly, different legal and cultural ideas existed of who was allowed to hold crown’s land or to distribute these lands, with differences for hereditary or parliamentary monarchies, as Katarzyna Kosior noted for Bohemia, and marked by terms such as king’s lands, queen’s lands, and monarchy’s/ dynastic lands, which were presented by Ana Maria S.A. Rodrigues and Manuela Santos Silva for the Portuguese queens’ lands and by Jan Vojtíšek for Bohemia. The third type of conflict arose when there was more than one queen or princess, for example a widowed queen-mother or the wife of a former ruler. In some cases, there were just not enough lands or resources for everyone, and it all depended on the lands and resources available (royal lands, queens’ lands, etc.) to distribute. Furthermore, Anaïs Waag showed in her paper that in these cases the right of possession by a widowed woman had to be balanced with a consort’s right to resources according to her status.

For all the topics already mentioned, the participants of the workshop looked at normative and praxiological sources, i.e., sources related to actual practice regarding a royal woman’s resources. Normative sources in this regard are marriage contracts, last wills and testaments, donations, conferrals, or grants, or charters, for example city charters of cities belonging to the Queen’s land or the ‘Book of Donations’ with all documents pertinent to the transfer of lands and resources to Landgravine Juliane by her husband. Praxiological sources are account books, which were discussed by Cathérine Annette Ludwig-Ockenfels for Anna Maria de Medici, bills, legal files and court cases involving conflicts over resources, instructions to personnel, letters between the persons involved or inventories drawn up after death.

As mentioned above, some general fields of questions came up in the workshop. The first related to marriage and lifecycles in general, so the impact of multiple marriages, of paid or unpaid dowries and marriage portions, of gaining and holding assets at various stages of a life as girl, wife, mother, or dowager. The second complex of questions revolves around differences, either due to diverging laws and customs of territories or dynasties, to the involvement of natal and married families, or to sibling relations and differences between the treatment of brothers and sisters.

Going beyond the questions discussed in the workshop, there are other open questions related to the topic of ‘Resources’ of premodern royal women, most importantly the ever-present differences between norm and practices, which might not be visible in the surviving sources. Other questions are related to the persons involved, such as the question of a high noble or a royal woman’s economic education, and of a woman’s formal or informal responsibilities for a dynasty’s or realm’s finances and economy. Another area which needs more exploration is the impact of monarchical systems, i.e., parliamentary, elected monarchy vs. dynastic, hereditary monarchy, and the ideas of dynastic or national property.

The discussion on economic resources and agency of premodern royal women continued with the third workshop on ‘Administration & Affiliations’. In September 2022, the project participants met for a hybrid conference at the University of Winchester to conclude the first phase of the project and to discuss further plans for research. Further blog posts by Cathleen Sarti and Elena Woodacre discuss these events.

This post is the second 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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