The Past, Present and Future of Court Studies
What is court studies? Easy, one may think – it is the study of the court. Kings and queens, castles and palaces. But what about their servants? Their animals? What happens when this court goes on the move – where might it live, how might it travel? What is a courtier? As the list goes on, one might even begin to wonder, what actually is the court?
The Society for Court Studies was founded to explore all of these questions – not necessarily to resolve them, as often the most innovative, interesting research raises more questions than it answers. Court studies is an interdisciplinary field, including scholars of art, music and literature, as well as political, social, cultural, and architectural historians. More recently, court studies has also embraced scholars of gender, sexuality, and race. ‘The court’ was therefore not just the home of a king or queen – it was a rich and diverse world, a microcosm of life and culture. So, if one suspects that something might fall under the umbrella of court studies, it probably does.
Since the establishment of the Society in 1995, the field of court studies has developed in line with broader trends in historical research. Court scholars have therefore begun to explore marginalised histories in more depth, particularly with regard to women and gender. The political influence of women has long been recognised, and continues to be explored by court scholars – see, for instance, the recent articles in The Court Historian by Erin Griffey, on Henrietta Maria’s household and patronage, and Fiona Pogson, on Elizabeth Wentworth’s role in Ireland.[i] Crucially, though, the influence of constructions of gender on men has also been recognised, by scholars such as Stephanie Koscak, in her work on royal masculinity and Frederick, Prince of Wales.[ii] The examination of women and gender has also lead to a reassessment of notions of public and private at European courts, discussed in a special edition of The Court Historian, entitled ‘Privacy and the Private within European Court Culture, 1500-1800’, forthcoming in early 2023.
Work on LGBT histories and the court has also developed in recent years. The homosexual (or homoromantic) relationships of male court figures, such as James I and the Duke of Buckingham, are well known, but it is only more recently that the relationships of women have received similar attention. Such work has been popular with public audiences – see, for instance, the 2018 film The Favourite, which explored the relationships of Queen Anne with the Duchess of Marlborough and Abigail Masham, and was informed by the work of Hannah Greig.[iii]
Questions of race and the court have also gained more prevalence in recent years, as research by scholars such as Miranda Kaufmann has shown that early modern European courts were much more diverse than was hitherto thought.[iv] Such ideas have been brought to a popular audience by programmes such as Bridgerton, with its multi-racial casting, as well as increased use of ‘colour-blind’ casting. This is not always well received, as the public backlash to Channel 5’s casting of Jodie Turner-Smith as a black Anne Boleyn revealed. Further work on race and the court, available as open access to both the public and academics, could therefore be a positive contribution to this ongoing, and often acrimonious, conversation.
Such developments do not mean that the traditional concerns of court scholars have been forgotten, though. As is evident from recent volumes of The Court Historian, diplomacy and ritual remain hot topics, with scholars such as Jiří Kubeš and Tülay Artan bringing fresh perspectives to popular themes.[v] Moreover, as the field expands geographically, fruitful comparisons can be drawn across national boundaries. Since Eastern Europe has often been overlooked in supposedly pan-European analyses, Katarzyna Kosior’s recent work on the sixteenth-century Polish-Lithuanian court had shed further light on the nature of early modern European monarchy, and raised interesting points of comparison with the French Valois.[vi] Similarly, Liesbeth Geevers has written extensively on monarchy and dynasty in both Habsburg Spain and Safavid Iran. Such conversations will be continued and developed in an upcoming special issue of The Court Historian in 2023, entitled ‘Privacy and the Eastern European Courts’, edited by Dustin Neighbors and Oskar Rojewski.
Back in 1996, the founders of the Society proclaimed that ‘court history is at a crossroads’.[vii] Now, over 25 years later, court studies continues to encounter new challenges, and explore new avenues. The purpose of this blog is therefore to showcase new and developing research within this ever-expanding field. From The Court Dispatch, to The Court Historian, we have now reached The Court Observer. We hope that our readers, both members and non-members alike, are excited for this new chapter in the Society’s history, as we look to the future of court studies together.
By Rosie Cousins (Editor), University of Leeds, UK.
Rosie is a PhD candidate in the School of History, University of Leeds, funded by the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities. Her research explores diplomacy, counsel and patronage in the mid-Elizabethan polity.
[i] Erin Griffey, ‘Restoring Henrietta Maria’s English Household in the 1660s: Continuity, Kinship and Clientage’, The Court Historian, 26(3) (2021), 189-209; Fiona Pogson, ‘Elizabeth Wentworth, Countess of Strafford, and her Role in the Vice-Regal Household in Ireland’, The Court Historian, 26(2) (2021), 175-188.
[ii] Stephanie Koscak, ‘Rituals of Royal Masculinity in Eighteenth-Century Britain: Frederick, Prince of Wales, Takes a Mistress’, The Court Historian, 26(1) (2021), 71-92.
[iii] Greig has published extensively on eighteenth-century court and society – see, among others, ‘As Seen on Screen: Material Culture, Historical Accuracy and the Costume Drama’, in Anne Gerritsen & Giorgio Riello (eds), Writing Material Culture History (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), pp. 303-10.
[iv] Miranda Kaufmann, ‘Courts, Blacks at Early Modern European Aristocratic’, in Eric Martone (ed.), Encyclopaedia of Blacks in European History and Culture, Vol. I (London: Greenwood Press, 2008), pp. 163-166; Miranda Kaufmann, Black Tudors: The Untold Story (London: Oneworld Publications, 2017).
[v] Jiří Kubeš, ‘Imperial Envoys at the English and British Court (1660–1740): Reception Ceremonies and Disputes over Titles’, The Court Historian, 27(1) (2022), 42-60; Tülay Artan, ‘The First, Hesitant Steps of Ottoman Protocol and Diplomacy into Modernity (1676–1725)’, The Court Historian, 26(1) (2021), 29-43.
[vi] Among others, see Katarzyna Kosior, ‘Henry Valois’ Court and Elective Kingship in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, 1573-1574’, The Historical Journal, 64(4) (2021), 865-890; Liesbeth Geevers, ‘Dynasty and State Building in the Spanish Habsburg Monarchy: The Career of Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy (1588-1624)’, Journal of Early Modern History, 20(3) (2016), 267-292; Liesbeth Geevers, ‘Safavid Cousins on the Verge of Extinction : Dynastic Centralization in Central Asia and the Bahrāmī Collateral Line (1517-1593)’, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 58(3) (2015), 293-326.
[vii] ‘Editorial’, The Court Historian, 1(1) (1996), 1-3.