Thursday, August 15, 2019

Was female rule unacceptable in early modern Europe?

This narrative will be investigating the political and royal policies of early modern Europe and it's reasoning behind preferring (and insisting) that only male royal blood lines should maintain the throne. I shall be researching how Queen Elizabeth 1st was able to take the throne as a single female, as well as (despite never being able to take the throne herself) the years that her sons ruled is now known as the ‘age of Catherine De Medici'. It will be necessary to look at religious opinions and political laws, as well as literary opinions from the 16th and early 17th century (in some cases earlier) across early modern Europe, England and Scotland, regarding women and their place in society and how that relates to women in positions of power Early modern Europe was segregated by extreme religious fault lines. With England, Scotland, Germany, The Netherlands and France fighting (both politically and literally) for superioty of their chosen religion, these were; Calvinism, Lutheranism, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, with a small minority of Anglican followers also. The majority of Spain, Portugal and Italy remained virtually wholly Roman Catholic, which lead to many wars and disputes with bordering nations. The Royal policy of the time was to use marriage to cement literal boarders between neighbouring countries in an effort to create great nations, and also to make intangible connections that cemented power between nations creating beneficial alliances. Political and social opinion of women at the time was largely due to the writings of St. Paul in the New Testament regarding Adam and Eve, and how Eve carried out the first human sin, disobeyed God and tempted Adam with the apple. This therefore made Eve responsible for the fall of mankind, and left women being seen as the source of all evil and sin. Coupling this with Aristotle's premise that a woman was an inferior version of the perfect male form, meant that the opinion of women was not something to be fought against, it was simply irrefutable fact. Because of this, religious political and social opinion of women in early modern Europe, women were only seen as valuable for their usefulness in connecting families through marriage or continuing family legacies through childbirth. Therefore families could effectively marry their daughters off like chattel. Women in early modern Europe were seen as feeble and weak minded, unable to be decision makers, and think for themselves. They (women) by religious opinion were created by God for man. Therefore giving man the right to rule them. As Martin Luther put so plainly; ‘Women are created for no other purpose than to serve men and be their helpers. If women grow weary or even die while bearing children, that doesn't harm anything. Let them bear children to death; they are created for that. ‘ Even women in positions of power were aware that they were not comparable to men. As Queen Elizabeth recognised, ‘I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a King'1 Queen Elizabeth the first, was arguably one of the most famous female rulers in our history, yet her road to power was a difficult one. Elizabeth's rule while she was alive, and even after her death, has been shadowed by questions regarding the legitamacy of her right to the throne. The Catholic populace never fully accepted her, as her father Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church to divorce his first wife: Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn (Elizabeth's mother). However Henry VIII and Catherine (his first wife) had a daughter Mary, Henry VIII went on to have Elizabeth with his second wife and a son: Edward with Jane Seymour his 3rd wife, and despite Catholic beliefs regarding divorce, (which made Elizabeth illegitimate, but not Mary or Edward) the only surety was that Henry's male heir was going to take the throne first. After Edward took the crown Mary was to follow closely succeeded by Elizabeth. The only other candidate that could possibly take a rightful place over Elizabeth was Mary Stuart, who was currently Queen of Scotland and Queen of France (by marriage), and with the ever looming threat of a two-pronged assault on England by the French and the Scottish, Elizabeth became the necessary and logical choice as the English people were at the time seen to be more ‘nationalistic than catholic' (and an exceptional ruler she went on to be), managing to influence both Roman Catholic's and Protestant's into a compromise, which arguably stopped England from falling into a religious war, as was the case in France. But it also conveyed to her public that she was able to accept both faiths and allow them to coexist in the efforts of peace, a feat that had not been accomplished so logically or peacefully by her male predecessor's. France was plagued by its own political difficulties and religious disputes, and having a female singularly ruling was intolerable to them, and with the medieval ‘Salic Law' still in force (of which some of its policies are still in use today) the French were able to regulate who took to the throne and who maintained power. Salic law was clear, however; it decreed a purely French solution. (Elsewhere, in countries where Salic law did not apply – Scotland, England, Spain†¦ women undoubtedly had the right to succeed to the crown, although their rights in other areas were very limited. )2 As Queen Elizabeth found herself when trying to deal with her Generals and war strategists, many of whom ignored her input refusing to consider that she would have any useful insights into battle planning. Salic law was particularly relevant to Catherine De Medici, as it kept her from the throne after the death of her husband. Catherine then put her sons on throne, where she was virtually able to rule by defacto for many years, due to her sheer iron will and the strong maternal hold she had over her sons – even when her son Francis II died, his wife Queen Mary (Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots) fled back to Scotland rather than be dominated by her mother-in-law. Even with Queen Elizabeth being in power in England, and Catherine De Medici's virtual rule in France there were still many who felt that female rule was unlawful. But this started a debate in the early 16th century as to whether female's born of Royal blood and extensively educated were able to overcome the short fallings of their gender. Were Queen Elizabeth and her sister Queen Mary, as well as Mary Queen of Scots and Catherine De Medici able to break these notions and change history? To conclude as to whether women were acceptable Queens able to fully rule, the answer is clearly no. Female rule in early modern Europe was unacceptable. Men did see women as more feeble, both physically and mentally, and assumed that they were automatically superior. Women were nothing more than the child bearers, a point exemplified by marriages that were able to be absolved if no children were born (regardless of religion). It would appear that one of the factors of fearing female rule would be felt by the current King preparing to hand power to his daughter, the King (from any nation) would be aware that opinion of females was poor, and that the new ‘queen' would need to take a husband to guide and assist her. Which then leads to the question of whom should marry the future queen? Her right to power would automatically revert to her husband – very probably a Prince or King from another nation, which would leave the current King to foresee the fall of his Kingdom to a foreign land. France kept with the extremely old salic law, that was first made policy in medieval time's to make sure that only males of French blood from royal lines could ascend to the throne. But it would seem as was the case across Europe and England that Salic law, and English/Catholic opinion and preference on female rule only counted if it suited. If the alternative ruler was unpalatable (for instance Mary Queen of Scots) then the nobles and governments would find alternative methods to crown their ruler of choice. The debate of female rule was never about what was best for France, England or whomever, but quite plainly about those in power keeping that position for as long as possible at whatever the cost. Historic and modern literature written about Queen Elizabeth I, Catherine De Medici, Queen Mary I and Mary Queen of Scots can paint a picture of a very manipulative, autocratic and sometimes capricious class of Queen, but with the severe adversities they faced I feel that as independents they were utilizing their femininity, as well as their individual strong wills and education to keep a firm control. These famous rulers from our history did bring about change, and they forever altered the face of Royalty as well as assisting (even if only selectively) the view of women across the world.

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