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The Empress, the Queen, and the Nun: Women and Power at the Court of Philip III of Spain.

Magdalena S. S[acute{a}]nchez. The Empress, the Queen, and the Nun: Women and Power at the Court of Philip III of Spain.

Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. xii + 267pp. illus. $39.95. ISBN: 0-8018-5791-0.

Early modern political and diplomatic history has only recently rediscovered the powerful women for whom political activity was an integral part of their identity. While historians have lauded the political prowess of Charles V and Philip II, the Habsburgs, in particular, relied heavily on their female relatives to act as political agents, regents, and even sole rulers of Spain and their other European possessions. Unfortunately, studies of early modern politics have relegated these women to footnotes in the grander careers of Habsburg kings. However, Magdalena S[acute{a}]nchez's new work has done much to rectify this, redefining politics to include women, and in the process bringing Habsburg women back to the forefront of early modern politics.

S[acute{a}]nchez's impressive work significantly reassesses political life at the court of Philip III of Spain (1598-1621). Traditional analyses of the period have focused on Philip's favorite, the Duke of Lerma, who supposedly controlled all political decision making at Philip's court. However, Philip's court was also home to a powerful group of Habsburg women whose political agendas frequently clashed with those of Lerma. S[acute{a}]nchez asserts that Empress Mar[acute{i}]a, Queen Margaret of Austria, and Margaret of the Gross acted as "unofficial agents" of the Austrian Habsburgs at Philip's court, constantly working to further the dynastic aims of their Austrian relatives. From 1581, Philip's aunt, the Empress Mar[acute{i}]a, widow of Emperor Maximilian II, lived in Madrid at the convent of the Descalzas Reales. The daughter of Charles V, the Empress Mar[acute{i}]a was intimately familiar with the politics of the Spanish court, having served as coregent of Castile from 1548 to 1551. Although the Empress made the convent her home, she acted as a conduit in negotiations between the Spanish court and the Austrian Habsburgs, intervened on behalf of friends and relatives, and provided political advice to Philip at their frequent meetings. Philip's wife, Queen Margaret of Austria, successfully negotiated aid for her brothers the Archdukes Ferdinand and Leopold of Styria, used her religious patronage to strengthen her political influence, and pressured Philip to rely less on Lerma. The final member of the female triumvirate was the Empress Mar[acute{i}]a's daughter, Margaret of the Cross, a nun at the Descalzas Reales. Margaret of the Cross's reputation as a devout virgin won her such respect that ambassadors sought out her aid in their petitions to the king, and from her convent cell she intervened on behalf of her brothers, the Emperor Rudolf II and Archduke Matthias. While Lerma sought to curtail Spanish involvement in Central Europe, the women at Philip's court constantly reminded the King of his ties to his Au strian relations and his responsibilities to them.

S[acute{a}]nchez's argument relies on three innovative reexaminations of court politics. First, she significantly expands the notion of the court, revealing how court politics were not constrained to the narrow world of Philip, Lerma, and their foes. Beyond the world of conciliar government, family members, friends, clerics, and ministers pressed their political agendas while hunting, dining, and strolling through the gardens. Second, in the process of expanding the court beyond the world of ministers and councils, S[acute{a}]nchez also demonstrates the fluidity of court factions, as these women employed men of diverse interests to achieve their goals. Finally, she underscores how these women employed a variety of mechanisms, many traditionally feminine, to assert their influence with Philip and other powerful men. In meetings with Philip, they relied on the power of their familial ties to press their demands. In the interactions with others, they used their reputations for piety as a means to express their political voice, and, when necessary they used the powerful rhetoric of illness and melancholy in order to draw Philip's attention away from Lerma.

The most controversial aspect of S[acute{a}]nchez's work is her definition of political activity. Some may argue that her definition blurs the boundaries between politics and familial relations in uncomfortable ways. However, her work fits clearly within the newer conceptions of political activity employed by both political scientists and anthropologists, and more precisely articulates the inextricable ties between political and familial relations during the early modern period. Magdalena S[acute{a}]nchez, through clear prose and innovative thinking, has provided a refined vision of Spanish history early modern women's history and diplomatic history.
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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2000
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