Wednesday, December 28, 2011

William Monter's "The Rise of Female Kings in Europe"

William Monter is professor emeritus of history, Northwestern University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Rise of Female Kings in Europe, 1300-1800, and reported the following:
This book is relatively short, and a reader is almost halfway through it by the time (s)he reaches page 99. Once past the second chapter, which attempts a general overview of the subject, it’s probably better to jump ahead to the illustrations grouped after page 121.

The book attempts the first general history of female sovereignty in a bygone era when divine-right hereditary monarchs were expected to govern. Its organization revolves around the problems that arose when a dozen European monarchies encountered thirty ‘female kings’ – we have no special word for them. These women were also expected to be queens, i.e., to reproduce the ruling dynasty. Because marriage was necessary for legitimate heirs and wives were expected to obey husbands, female kings faced formidable dilemmas in fulfilling their political and biological responsibilities. Unsurprisingly, several of them failed to do either, let alone both. Perhaps unexpectedly, several female kings governed successfully in various parts of Europe after 1300 – but not before then, and not in other parts of the world after then. Four European women ruled major states for at least thirty years. More importantly, their autonomy as rulers increased over time. However, “modernity” did not bring “progress”; no woman headed any European government between the death of Catherine the Great and the election of Margaret Thatcher.

As for page 99, its best part is the first three sentences of the final paragraph. Here they are:
Europe’s two earliest long-serving female regents, Margaret of Austria and Mary of Hungary, offer an interesting set of comparisons and contrasts. Both of them governed as childless widows, and each supervised a young niece who eventually occupied her position. On the other hand, it was already something of a commonplace in the sixteenth century that the first “governed the Low Countries with sweetness and the other with rigor.”
Learn more about The Rise of Female Kings in Europe, 1300-1800 at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue