Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Lady Margaret Beaufort: The Kingmaker

Lady Margaret Beaufort (born 31 May 1443)


In 1485 Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond, defeated Richard III at Bosworth Field, ending thirty-three years of civil war. He was immediately proclaimed king: his victorious supporters shouted "God save King Henry" after the battle, while Thomas, lord Stanley, placed Richard's crown on the head of the new "king."

A sixteenth-century portrait of
Lady Margaret Beaufort,
as a widow, at prayer
The fifteenth-century political crisis in England that resulted in thirty years of civil war had pitted cousin against cousin in a struggle for the crown. The so-called War of the Roses had begun in 1455 with a rebellion against King Henry VI by Richard, duke of York.

The chief opponents in this civil strife were cousins, all descendants of Edward III. (Indeed, Philippa Gregory has linked her novels about this period under the series title "The Cousins' War.")

As these cousins and their numerous supporters struggled, first one branch of the family, then the other, controlled the throne of England. While Henry Tudor's victory at Bosworth seemed to put an end to the bloody contest between Lancaster and York, the new king still faced something of a dilemma. 

While the rival claimants to the English throne had fought it out on the battlefield, the contest had also raised questions of a woman's place in the royal succession. The Lancastrians had argued their superior claim to the English throne by excluding inheritance through the female line, while the Yorkists had made their claims to the throne through the female line.

But in 1485, after his victory at Bosworth, if the new Tudor king wanted to justify his right to the throne, he would have to do so through a woman, his mother, Margaret Beaufort.* But, while justifying his claim to the throne through a woman, Henry VII would have to deny another woman, his wife, Elizabeth of York, the right to make the same claim.

Although Margaret Beaufort would never become queen of England in her own right, she nevertheless would go on to wield considerable political power in the role she assumed as "the king's mother." Indeed, an alternative history of the Wars of the Roses might be written--for the more familiar and obvious battles of fathers and sons we might well substitute the equally bloody battles fought by mothers on behalf of those same sons. We've already looked at the role of one of those powerful women, Cecily Neville, duchess of York (who, remember, styled herself as "queen by right")--now it's time to look at her Lancastrian opposite, Margaret Beaufort.

Margaret Beaufort was the only child of John Beaufort, duke of Somerset, and his wife, Margaret Beauchamp. Through her father, Margaret Beaufort was the descended from King Edward III, and the Tudor claims to the throne of England came through her paternal line. Yet Margaret's mother was also a considerable force in her daughter's life. 

The daughter of Sir John Beauchamp of Bletsoe, Margaret Beauchamp had been an heiress in her own right; following the death of her husband, the dowager duchess had control not only of her own possessions but those of her husband as well, thus insuring her independence. More importantly, Somerset had arranged that, in the event of his death, the rights to his daughter's wardship and marriage were to be left in the hands of her mother.

Although Henry VI had revoked this agreement after Somerset's death in 1444, Margaret continued to live with her mother; unlike many wealthy heiresses, she remained under her mother's care and guidance until 1453, when her wardship was transferred to Jasper and Edmund Tudor. She sustained a strong identification with her mother and her maternal lineage throughout her life.

Lady Margaret Beaufort's tomb effigy,
Westminster Abbey
Margaret Beaufort's "War of the Roses" was fought initially on a matrimonial battlefield. She was married four times, each alliance a politically expedient skirmish in her war of succession.

The first of these unions was in late January or early February of 1450, when William de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, married his seven-year-old son John to the six-year-old Margaret. Suffolk, a Lancastrian supporter of Henry VI, had been awarded Margaret's wardship (though not custody--as I noted above, she remained under her mother's care) by the king as acknowledgement for the "notable services" he had performed. As Margaret Beaufort's biographer Linda Simon notes, this marriage was not without implications for the succession:
As a staunch Lancastrian, unwilling to consider the claims of the family of York, [Suffolk] believed that there was only one real heiress. Margaret Beaufort was a potential queen, and if his ward did not claim the crown for herself, she must pass that glorious inheritance to her son.
Suffolk suffered almost immediately for his presumption; he was indicted for treason, chief among the accusations against him that he had attempted to secure the English throne for his son by marrying the boy to Margaret, "presuming and pretending her to be next inheritable to the crown." (Although the two children had been married, Margaret had not been removed from her mother's guardianship. Later in her life, Margaret Beaufort would never acknowledge this marriage.)

Henry VI dissolved Margaret's marriage to Suffolk's son in 1453. He then granted the wardship and marriage of the nine-year-old girl to his half-brothers, Jasper and Edmund Tudor, the sons of another woman whom we have already discussed, Katherine of Valois (as queen of England, she was the mother of Henry VI; by her second marriage, she was the mother of the Jasper and Edmund).

This move once again had dynastic significance. As Michael Jones and Malcolm Underwood suggest, "Henry's initial intention in dissolving Lady Margaret's marriage with John de la Pole may have been to nominate his half-brother, Edmund Tudor, earl of Richmond as his heir, in the right of Margaret Beaufort." A twelve-year-old Margaret was married to Edmund Tudor in 1455; by November of 1456 Edmund Tudor was dead, his adolescent widow six months pregnant.

Margaret gave birth to her only child, Henry Tudor, on 28 January 1457. In their biography of Margaret Beaufort, Jones and Underwood note that her "chief concern" throughout her life was to protect her son's interests. To this end, the thirteen-year-old widow participated actively in arrangements for her next marriage, to Henry Stafford, a staunch Lancastrian.

Discussions for the match began in March 1457, the ceremony taking place on 3 January 1458. Margaret's decision about the alliance was to prove a good one. After Edward IV came to power in 1461, Stafford was reconciled to the Yorkist king, securing a pardon for both himself and for his wife. Wounded fighting for Edward IV and the Yorkists at the battle of Barnet, Stafford never recovered; he died in 1471.

Within the year, in fact before the arrangements for Stafford's burial were complete, Margaret married for a final time. Her strategy at this point is clear; she married a Yorkist supporter, Thomas Lord Stanley. Once more her marriage reflected her carefully calculated decision.

In the mean time, after his mother's marriage to Stafford, Henry Tudor had become the ward of the Yorkist William Lord Herbert, who intended to marry the young Henry to his own daughter, obviously recognizing what Jones and Underwood call Henry's "long-term political future." But in 1469, Henry Tudor's fortunes changed dramatically after Herbert's defeat by Lancastrian forces and with the brief restoration of Henry VI. Margaret's interest was, "first and foremost," the safety of her son, with whom she was reunited in London.

But after the Lancastrians were defeated at Barnet, Jasper Tudor and his nephew fled first to Wales, then to France. Edward IV was returned to the throne, but as Stanley's wife, the Lancastrian Margaret Beaufort was intimately involved with the Yorkist court. In 1479, for example, she carried the king's youngest daughter to her christening, while in 1483, during Richard III's coronation, she carried Queen Anne's train, "taking precedence over all other peeresses, even over King Richard's sister."

Within the year, however, Margaret Beaufort took the "calculated but highly dangerous step" of supporting, perhaps even initiating, the rebellion of Henry Stafford, duke of Buckingham against King Richard. The Tudor historian Polydore Vergil was later to conclude that she "was commonly called the head of that conspiracy." Head of the plot or not, her "astonishing role in the conspiracy of 1483" is discussed at some length in both of the recent biographies written about her; in their discussion of Margaret's role in events, Jones and Underwood conclude that her participation demonstrated her "ruthless practice of realpolitik." After the insurrection failed, Richard initiated efforts to pass an act of attainder in Parliament against Margaret Beaufort, "mother to the king's great rebel and traitor, Henry, earl of Richmond." 

Richard charged that she had "conspired and committed high treason, especially by sending messages, writings, and tokens" to her son, and that she had "conspired and imagined the destruction of the king" by supporting Buckingham's treasonous rebellion. But, because of the "good and faithful service" of her husband" and "for his sake," she was spared the act of attainder. Her person and her considerable property were to be controlled by her husband, however; Stanley was to keep his wife "so straight with himself" that she could neither communicate with her son "nor practice anything at all" against the king.

Margaret's effort to defeat Richard did not end with Buckingham's defeat. Later in the same year, her efforts to bring Richard III down led to a coup d'etat of a different sort. Margaret's new strategy continued the war she had waged on the matrimonial battlefield, but this time her her effort was to arrange a marriage between her son and Edward IV's daughter Elizabeth. 

Plans for such a marriage had first been considered while Edward IV was still alive, but at that point Margaret had warned her son not to return to England from the safety of France even if Edward offered such a marriage. Richard III, too, had suggested a marriage between Henry Tudor and one of Edward's daughters. But after the failure of Buckingham's rebellion Margaret herself pursued the alliance, sending her personal physician to Edward IV's widow, Elizabeth Woodville, then in sanctuary at Westminster with her daughters. Between them, the two women arranged for the marriage of the "Lancastrian" heir Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York, the oldest surviving heir of Edward IV; in Brittany, Henry Tudor pledged himself to the match on 25 December 1483. 

Once her son became king of England, Margaret Beaufort could abandon her matrimonial strategy for a new tactic. She had waged her battle on Henry's behalf by successful marriages, her own and then his. Now she could continue to act on her son's behalf--and her own--as "my lady the king's mother."

At the beginning of her son's reign, Margaret was accorded an honor that was "semi-regal," and she easily dominated both her son's royal household and his queen. One Spanish observer noted that Elizabeth of York "was kept in subjection" by "the king's mother"; another, commenting on the influence of "the king's mother," wrote that "the queen, as is generally the case, does not like it."

Margaret's arrangements for the royal household extended even to the birth of a child, her plans compiled in her "Ordinances as to what preparation is to be made against the deliverance of a queen as also for the christening of the child of which she shall be delivered." She directed the arrangement of the "lying-in chamber," the procedure for the queen's retirement to await the birth, the composition of the queen's attendants, and the baptismal ceremony.

She established rules for the management and staffing of the royal nursery. Following the birth of her grandson Arthur in 1486, she took over his care. Her role in the lives of her grandchildren extended to her arrangements for their education. After Elizabeth of York's death in 1503, Margaret developed a particularly strong relationship with Henry, heir to the throne after Arthur's death, and was she instrumental in the marriage alliances of her granddaughters Margaret and Mary.

Meanwhile, within the royal households, she lived in close physical proximity to her son. At the residence of Woodstock, for instance, her rooms were linked to his by a shared "withdrawing" room "that belongs to the king's chamber and my lady, his mother's." In the Tower, her rooms were next to her son's bedchamber and council chamber. This physical closeness continued to the end of Henry's life; in 1508, when he was seriously ill, his mother "was in almost constant attendance": Jones and Underwood indicate that "makeshift lodgings were hurriedly erected at Richmond to house her servants as she watched over her son." A year later, as he lay dying, Margaret, "now based in her London house of Coldharbour, made regular journeys by barge along the Thames to the palace of Richmond."

The "king's mother" had a dominant place not only in her son's household but in his kingdom, where her political advice and experience were critical. Henry appointed many of his mother's trusted household officials to positions in his service. The two also shared legal advisors; Jones and Underwood note that "an overlap often existed between the councils of Margaret and her son," with these advisors and even decisions "sometimes passed from one to the other." In 1498 the Spanish ambassador to the court observed that Henry was "much influenced by his mother," and, indeed, that her authority exceeded that of many of his own advisors. 

Margaret's interest in and influence on Henry's foreign affairs were also considerable; she maintained "friendly" contact with the Yorkist Margaret, duchess of Burgundy, who posed a constant threat to the new Tudor king, for example, and she negotiated at length with the French king on her son's behalf. Most significantly, in the last years of his reign, Henry VII delegated power to his mother's council as a way of relieving the "enormous burden of work" on his own counselors. From 1499 to 1507 Margaret presided over this court, "her powers" and her authority judged to be "considerable," her role unprecedented: in this position, Jones and Underwood conclude, she "broke new ground."

While she spent a great deal of time in the royal court, the "king's mother" also maintained her own household, Collyweston, a kind of "city of ladies" that "represented a separate court establishment in its own right, particularly for the numerous aristocrat and gentry women who boarded there." Among those women were the queen's sister, as well as several other "ladies, wards, suitors and scholars." The "king's mother" negotiated marriages for many of the young women whose rearing she supervised, such political marriages benefitting her son, while at the same time demonstrating her own influence and authority.

As he lay dying in 1409, Henry designated his mother as the chief executor of his will. The "culmination of her ceremonial role" within her son's court is indicated by her part in the organization of the burial of her son Henry VII and of the coronation of her grandson Henry VIII; one contemporary account notes that the council arranging these ceremonies was headed by "the mother of the said late king." In both the funeral and the coronation, she was given precedence in the ceremonies. Her "political status" was also "enhanced," if that is possible, by her role in the interim council that governed until Henry VIII's coronation. "My lady the king's grandam," as she then became, "gave instructions for [her grandson's] marriage to Catherine of Aragon and for his coronation."

In their assessment of Margaret Beaufort's role during her son's reign, Jones and Underwood note that Margaret enjoyed a "degree of influence" that gave her "a dominating position within the realm." Throughout the twenty-four years of Henry VII's reign, from his victory at Bosworth in 1485 until his death in 1509, the "king's mother" participated "in every aspect of Tudor ceremony, government and administration and fought for the safeguarding of the dynasty." Hers was, they conclude, "a formidable achievement," even a "partnership."

For a quick overview of Margaret Beaufort, see Michael Jones's excellent essay, "Lady Margaret Beaufort," originally printed in History Today, click here. There are two excellent biographies of Margaret Beaufort: Linda Simon's Of Virtue Rare: Margaret Beaufort, Matriarch of the House of Tudor and Michael Jones and Malcolm Underwood's The King's Mother: Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby.

In addition to her political role, Margaret Beaufort was an educated and pious woman. Throughout her life, she was a great supporter of a variety of religious orders and their institutions, including the Benedictines, Franciscans, Dominicans, and Carthusians. She was a great benefactress to both Oxford and Cambridge colleges, she was a patron of the English printers Richard Pynson, William Caxton, and Wynkyn de Worde (who all printed books at her request), and she was, herself, a a writer. She translated into English one book (the fourth) of the Imitation of Christ (it was printed by Richard Pynson), and  her The Mirror of Gold for the Sinful Soul  was an English version of a French translation of a Carthusian devotional work, the Speculum aureum peccatorum. A selection of her letters and translations are found in Donald W. Foster's Women's Works: Volume 1, 900-1500.

Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford,
founded in 1878
and named in honor of Lady Margaret Beaufort

*This post has been adapted from The Monstrous Regiment of Women: Female Rulers in Early Modern Europe (Palgrave Macmillan).



Saturday, May 30, 2015

Jane Seymour, "Bound to Obey and Serve"

Jane Seymour, queen of England (married 30 May 1536)


Jane Seymour, born about the year 1508, was the third wife of Henry VIII. 

Jane Seymour, 1536,
portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger
When she married in 1536, she selected "bound to obey and serve" as her motto. She did obey and serve, giving birth to the king's longed-for son, Edward, on 12 October 1537. She was dead twelve days later--her days of obeying and serving ended on 24 October 1537. 

She was probably twenty-eight years old.

There are two credible biographies of Jane Seymour, but they both suffer because there is really not that much surviving primary-source information about her--thus both books tend to be more about the men surrounding her than about the woman herself.

If you can overlook the title, Elizabeth Norton's Jane Seymour: Henry VIII's True Love is fine, and there are inexpensive used copies available. David Loades is a very respected Tudor scholar, but his biography, Jane Seymour, suffers from the same problem--not enough information about Jane herself.

You may be better off with one of the multiple biographies of Henry VIII and his six wives, for example Antonia Fraser's The Wives of Henry VIII.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Anne-Marie-Louise d’Orléans, duchesse de Montpensier: If She Had Behaved Herself, She Might Have Been a Queen

Anne-Marie-Louise d’Orléans, duchesse de Montpensier (born 29 May 1627)


Anne-Marie-Louise d’Orléans, duchesse de Montpensier, known to her contemporaries as la grande mademoiselle, was a princess of the royal blood, the daughter of Gaston d’Orléans and Marie of Bourbon (m. 1626), who was the heiress of Henri de Bourbon, duke of Montpensier.*

La Grande mademoiselle,
painted c. 1650-75
As her recent editor, Joan DeJean, explains, Montpensier was “the richest woman in France, wealthier than almost any French prince,” and “probably the wealthiest woman in all Europe.”

In addition to this great wealth, she was “the most noble of any contemporary French princess,” the granddaughter of Henry IV of France and the niece of Louis XIII, his son. From the moment of her birth, on 29 May 1627, the choice of her husband was “the foremost question on her contemporaries’ minds.”

Among the many possibilities for a “suitable” husband were Philip IV of Spain, the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III, and Charles Stuart, who would eventually become Charles II of England, but perhaps the most frequently discussed candidate was Montpensier’s first cousin, who in 1638 would succeed his father, becoming Louis XIV.

And yet, despite her royal blood and her enormous wealth, Montpensier did not marry one of these glittering prospects--in fact, she did not marry at all. Instead of the politics of marriage, she involved herself in the politics of the nation.

In 1648, when she was just twenty-one years old, she engaged herself in the series of French civil wars known collectively as the Fronde. During the second phase of the civil wars, the so-called Fronde of Princes, Montpensier took command of one of the armies on the rebels’ side. Like Joan of Arc before her, she took the city of Orléans. In July of 1652 she was in Paris during the battle of the Faubourg Saint Antoine; commanding the Bastille and its adjoining walls, she opened the gates of Paris to Louis II de Bourbon, prince de Condé, and his army, then saved the rebel leader and his troops by turning the guns of the Bastille against royal forces. 

From a spot just outside the walls of Paris, Louis XIV and his Italian advisor, Cardinal Mazarin, watched la grande mademoiselle; Mazarin is reported to have remarked that when she “redirected the cannon, she ‘killed’ her husband”—that is, any chance that might have remained for that much-discussed marriage with Louis XIV. As armed hostilities drew to an end, Montpensier acted as a mediator between the king and the rebel parties, but in 1652, along with “all the rebel leaders,” her father among them, she was exiled from court, allowed to return only in 1657. 

By the time Montpensier rejoined the court, she was thirty years old. Three years later, in 1660, she began a brief exchange of letters with Françoise Bertaut de Motteville, an attendant at the court of the dowager queen of France, Anne of Austria. Motteville’s mother had been born in Spain, like the Habsburg Anne, and had accompanied her to France at the time of her marriage to Louis XIII.

In her first letter to Motteville, Montpensier envisions establishing a "rural Republic" where she would reign as queen--she writes that the idea of utopian retreat first began to take shape in her imagination after she overheard Motteville’s conversation with a friend.

“Finding myself next to you the other day at the queen’s [Anne of Austria's] when you were speaking with one of your friends about the joys of the secluded life,” Montpensier writes, “I thought that your conversation had never been more charming and agreeable.” Since that time, she has “spent many hours thinking about it,” and she writes to Motteville to offer a few “principles” that will make such a life “both entertaining and beneficial.” Thus begins the correspondence that takes place over the course of year, from May of 1660 to August of 1661. 

This 1660 painting, with a tiny shield,
may represent the duchess
as an Amazonian warrior?
But theirs is to be no city of ladies, in which Christine de Pizan had envisioned the gathering of a community of women of all social classes.

Montpensier’s imagined republic is to be peopled by those “of the highest rank of both sexes.” While thus admitting both men and women to her retreat, she does propose one condition: “I would rather there were no married people and that everyone would either be widowed or have renounced this sacrament, for it is said to be an unfortunate undertaking.”

In her response to Montpensier’s first letter, Motteville warms to the prospect of a secluded retreat, but she chides Montpensier—gently, to be sure—about her assumption that she will rule over it. “I see clearly how it is,” she writes, 
you were born to rule and to wear a crown, and it is so logical for things to be this way that I am not surprised that, without even giving it a second thought, you have established yourself as our sovereign. This power, noble Princess, is rightly your due; other honors await you, and you could choose to rule any of the peoples of Europe, but if your philosophy induces you to choose our forest rather than an empire, I am sure that the bliss of your isolated subjects will be so great that all the kings in the world will have reason to envy them.
For her part, Montpensier only hopes that she is “worthy of being governed by the greatest princess in the world.”  

However graceful and flattering Motteville’s compliment, when she and Motteville began their correspondence, Montpensier was thirty-three years old. She was still la grande mademoiselle. And like the legendary Amazons, to whom she and her fellow frondeuses had been compared, Montpensier had armed herself and gone to war; like the Amazons, too, she would establish her own kingdom, at least in her imagination. But there the similarities end. 

Totally free to dream any kind of republic she wanted, she envisions not an Amazonian kingdom of warrior women but a pastoral idyll, where she occupies herself by painting, drawing, reading, listening to music, and herding sheep. She gives up the breastplate and lance she had worn during the Fronde for, in her own words, “shepherds’ staffs and wide-brimmed hats.”

The only question of substance she and Motteville debate is whether or not marriage should be allowed in their republic—Montpensier says no, while Motteville suggests that the duchess will, in the end, have to allow it. “I think that in the end you will be forced to allow the time-honored and legitimate custom called marriage,” she writes, since so few of the shepherds and shepherdesses would be able to achieve celibacy, even given the model of Montpensier’s “perfection.”

For her part, the duchess is certainly aware of the absolutist politics of her cousin Louis XIV, and she isn’t averse to a little absolutism of her own in her “rural Republic.” Surprised at Motteville’s defense, however weak, of marriage, Montpensier responds that “in this matter” she will “put to use the authority given to me by the blood of all the kings” from which she descends: “I will maintain with confidence that I think everyone should defer to my conviction, that my opinion should prevail. Lastly, as my fathers used to say, such is my pleasure and too bad for those who do not find it to be theirs.” “Nonetheless,” she adds, “to show that I do not act so absolutely, I will try to prove to you that it is not unprecedented to see people adapt their inclination to the taste and humor of those on whom they depend.” 

Their focus on marriage is not frivolous, for both women recognized that marriage was an institution that destroyed women’s freedom and opportunity. It is a destiny that Montpensier herself had sedulously avoided, and as she draws this letter, the third in the series, to a close, she lifts the curtain on her imaginary world just a bit, allowing a brief glimpse at the real world of the seventeenth-century woman. Montpensier describes marriage as “this dependence to which custom subjects us, often against our will and because of family obligations of which we have been the victim.”

Marriage “is what has caused us to be named the weaker sex”: “Let us at last deliver ourselves from this slavery; let there be a corner of the world in which it can be said that women are their own mistresses and do not have all the faults that are attributed to them; and let us celebrate ourselves for the centuries to come through a way of life that will immortalize us.” 

In her response to this letter, Motteville, hitherto the defender of marriage, pleads to be allowed “to be one of the soldiers” in Montpensier’s army; she wants to face the “ranks” of their “enemies” so that she too can “inflict a small blow” against the tyranny of marriage. But even as she builds this fanciful image, Motteville, who as a teenager had been married off to a ninety-year-old man, reveals the harsh reality behind the metaphor: 
I know that the laws that subject us to [men’s] power are hard and unbearable; I know that men have made them unfair for us and too advantageous for themselves. They take away from us dominion over the sea and the earth, the sciences, merit, power—that of judging and being the master of human lives—and dignity in all situations, and with the exception of the distaff, I know of nothing under the sun that they have not appropriated; even though their tyranny has no just basis.
To illustrate her sense of loss, Motteville embeds a brief history of women in her letter, focusing in part on great female rulers. “The history books are full of women who have governed empires with singular wisdom, who have gained glory by commanding armies, and whose abilities have given rise to great admiration,” she tells Montpensier, naming Isabella of Castile, Elizabeth Tudor, Margaret of Parma, and Catherine de’ Medici.

It seems significant, however, that when Motteville summons up the names of female rulers, she fails to include Anne of Austria, who had been regent for son, Louis XIV, and who had controlled the government of France for more than eight years. The dowager queen regent was still alive when Motteville and Montpensier were dreaming their dreams of a utopian retreat, and both women were on intimate terms with her: she was Montpensier’s aunt, and Motteville was her attendant at court and had served her for more than twenty years.

But, in the end, even the debate about marriage is moot. The two women give up their dream of a “famous Republic.” In her last letter to Motteville, dated 1 August 1661, Montpensier writes that she is living quietly and in seclusion. “I do almost exactly what I would do if we were already in our retreat,” she tells Motteville, adding, “I read and I work at my needlework.” Her “most agreeable hours,” she writes, “are spent dreaming” about their plan.

Four letters exchanged between the two correspondents were published by Motteville as Recueil de quelques pieces nouvelles et galantes, tant en prose qu’en vers (Cologne, 1667). Now, these four letters, as well as four additional letters, have been published under Montpensier’s name in Jean DeJean's Anne-Marie-Louise d’Orléans, Duchesse de Montpensier, Against Marriage: The Correspondence of La Grande Mademoiselle, from which I have quoted here. Montpensier's memoirs, which cover her life until 1688, are available at Google Books by clicking here. Peter Yarrow's new affordable translation for the Modern Humanities Research Association is available in print.

Motteville’s five-volume memoir of her life at court was published in the nineteenth century as Mémoires pour server à l’histoire d’Anne d’Autriche, épouse de Louis XIII, roi de France; you can find this at Google Books by clicking here. An abridged translation of Motteville’s memoirs was published by Katherine Wormeley as Memoirs of Madame de Motteville on Anne of Austria and Her Court; print-on-demand copies of this translation are available at Amazon.

*This post has been adapted from Debating Women, Politics, and Power in Early Modern Europe (Palgrave Macmillan).



Thursday, May 28, 2015

Anne Brontë, English Novelist

 Anne Brontë (died 28 May 1849)


Less well known than her two older sisters, Charlotte (Jane Eyre) and Emily (Wuthering Heights), Anne Brontë is also a poet and novelist--a quite extraordinary novelist, in fact. 

Anne Brontë, detail from the
portait of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne
by Branwell, c. 1835
Born on 17 January 1820, Anne published her poetry, pseudonymously, in an 1846 volume with her sisters, Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. Although she died young, at the age of just twenty-nine, she also published two novels, Agnes Grey (1847) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848).

Anne's first novel details the story of a young governess, reflecting her own experiences as a governess at Blake Hall, for the Ingham family, in 1839--a disastrous experience, and a position from which she was summarily dismissed.

Her second post as governess was for the Robinson family of Thorp Green Hall. After an initial period of difficulties, this experience went much better, and she was employed with the Robinsons for five years, from 1840 to 1845. (Anne helped secure her brother, Branwell, a role as tutor for the Robinson family--after he began a relationship with the wife, Lydia Robinson, he was dismissed, and Anne resigned.)

Anne Brontë's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was an extraordinarily successful novel--its initial printing, in June 1848, sold out in a few weeks after it appeared. In August, a second edition was published incorporating many of Anne's corrections of typographical errors in the first printing.

The novel's focus on the plight of women in the nineteenth century was--and remains--shocking. The novel's heroine, Helen Graham, is married to a violent and abusive alcoholic. In violation of the law, which makes it illegal for a woman to leave her husband, she leaves her marriage and tries to live her own, independent life.

The difficult material of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was noted by many critics, including Anne's sister. Even before her sister's death, Charlotte Brontë wrote to the editor William Smith Williams (who worked for Charlotte's publisher at Smith, Elder), "That it [The Tenant of Wildfell Hall] had faults of execution, faults of art, was obvious, but faults of intention of feeling could be suspected by none who knew the writer. For my part, I consider the subject unfortunately chosen--it was one the author was not qualified to handle at once vigorously and truthfully. The simple and natural--quiet description and simple pathos--are, I think, Acton Bell's forte. I liked Agnes Grey better than the present work."

After Anne's death, Charlotte prevented republication of the novel. On 15 September 1850,  she wrote to Williams, "Wildfell Hall it hardly appears to me desirable to preserve. The choice of subject in that work is a mistake, it was too little consonant with the character, tastes and ideas of the gentle, retiring inexperienced writer." 

The novel was not republished until 1854, shortly before Charlotte's death, and then in a severely edited version that removed anything that might be considered objectionable. This "mutilated text" remained the edition of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall until 1992, when Oxford University Press restored Anne's original edition, with the corrections she made to the second edition.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Elizabeth of Hungary: The Miracle of the Roses

Elizabeth of Hungary (canonized 27 May 1235)


Born on 7 July 1207, Elizabeth of Hungary became a saint in a family of saints--her maternal aunt was canonized as St. Hedwig of Silesia, her cousin was St. Agnes of Bohemia, her great-niece was St. Isabel of Portugal, and her husband Louis IV of Thuringia was venerated as a saint, although he was never canonized. 

A late fifteenth-century altar illustration
of Elizabeth of Hungary caring
for the poor and sick
The daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary and Gertrude of Merania, Elizabeth was married in 1221, at the age of fourteen, to Louis IV, landgrave of Thuringia (a landgrave was a title of nobility in Germany). Although the young woman was already devoted to a life of charity, she was highly influenced by the the ideals of the Franciscans, who arrived in Thuringia in 1223.

In 1226, while her husband was attending the imperial diet of the Holy Roman emperor Frederick II, Elizabeth managed the affairs of state in his absence. She continued her charitable work, which included the construction of a hospital for the poor near the castle of Wartburg. 

Louis died in Italy in September of 1227, on his way to the Holy Land, as part of the Sixth Crusade (led by Frederick), leaving Elizabeth a widow just months after she turned twenty.

After her husband's death, Elizabeth devoted herself to a holy life, probably as a third-order Franciscan, building yet another hospital, this one at Marburg.* She died in 1231, just twenty-four years old.

During the brief years of her marriage, Elizabeth gave birth to three children: a son, born in 1222, who would succeed his father as landgrave of Thuringia; a daughter, Sophie, born in 1224, who would marry the duke of Brabant; and a daughter Gertrude, born in 1227, who became abbess Aldenberg. Like her father, Gertrude never became a saint, but she was beatified by Pope Clement VI in 1348.

One of the miracles associated with St. Elizabeth of Hungary is the "miracle of the roses." As the story is told, Elizabeth was taking bread to the poor when she met her husband, who was out hunting, in the forest. Members of his hunting party suspected that Elizabeth was stealing--but, when she was asked to open her cloak to reveal what she had concealed, a miracle occurred. When she revealed what she was hiding, the bread has been transformed into red and white roses.

There are several devotional biographies of Elizabeth of Hungary. Perhaps the best is Lori Pieper's The Greatest of These Is Love: The Life of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. For a more scholarly account, Kenneth Baxter Wolf's The Life and Afterlife of St. Elizabeth of Hungary: Testimony of Her Canonization Hearings offers primary texts for a view of the politics of becoming a saint and for the testimony of ordinary people who found inspiration in her life.

The Miracle of the Roses,
nineteenth-century stained glass,
St. Peter's Basilica, Ottawa
*A tertiary or third-order Franciscan is someone who, for a variety of reasons, may not take formal vows to join the religious order but who, as a lay person, lives outside the convent according to the ways of life of those who live inside.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Alse Young, Executed for Witchcraft

Alse Young (executed 26 May 1647)


Alse Young, of Windsor, Connecticut, was the first person known to have been executed for witchcraft in colonial America. There are not many details: Massachusetts Bay Colony's governor, John Winthrop, noted in his journal that “One of Windsor arraigned and executed at Harford as [for being] a witch,” while Matthew Grant, the town clerk of Windsor, recorded in his diary that “Alse Young was hanged.” 

An English woodcut of a witch, 
from A Most Certain, Strange, and True Discovery of a Witch,  
printed by John Hammond (London), 1643
What she did, exactly, isn't known. She was married, perhaps to a man named John Young, a carpenter, and she had a daughter, Alice. Alice Young Beamon, Alse Young's daughter, would also be accused of witchcraft, some thirty years after her mother's death, about 1677 . . . (She seems to have survived the accusation and lived until 1708.)

Monday, May 25, 2015

Madam C. J. Walker, American Entrepreneur

Sarah Breedlove, "Madam C. J. Walker" (died 25 May 1919)


Born in Louisiana on 23 December 1867, Sarah Breedlove was the first child of her parents, Owen and Minerva Anderson Breedlove, who had been enslaved, to be born into freedom. Orphaned at the age of six or seven (accounts differ), Sarah Breedlove worked with her sister in the cotton fields and, at age fourteen, she married, as she said, to avoid the mistreatment she suffered at the hands of a brother-in-law.

Sarah Breedlove, Madam C. J. Walker,
c. 1805-19
After the death of her husband in 1887, Breedlove moved to St. Louis to join her three brothers, who owned a barber shop. There she worked as a washerwoman, and although she made very little, she used what money she had to provide an education for her daughter A'Leilia, who had been born in 1885.

Suffering from a series of scalp ailments, Breedlove began experimenting with a number of hair products, some commercially produced and some home remedies. Eventually she moved to Denver, married Charles Joseph Walker, founded her own company, the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company, and started production of her own line of products, including Madam Walker's Wonderful Hair Grower. 

While she became a very wealthy woman, Sarah Breedlove also contributed to numerous social and educational causes, including the YMCA, the NAACP anti-lynching campaign, and the National Association of Colored Women, among others. For a focus on her philanthropic work, you can read the entry on Madam C. J. Walker, part of the Philanthropy Hall of Fame at the Philanthropy Roundtable website, by clicking here. There is also an official website: Madam C. J. Walker, 1867-1919: Entrepreneur, Philanthropist, Social Activist.

There are many good biographies, including some for young readers, but you might want to start with the biography written by Sarah Breedlove Walker's great-great granddaughter, A'Leilia Bundles, On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker.

By the way, although she is much less well known than Madam C. J. Walker, the American businesswoman Annie Malone offered Sarah Breedlove an important model of entrepreneurship and social conscience--Breedlove began her hair-care career selling Annie Malone's products, designed specifically for African-American women. Like Breedlove, Malone was also a noted philanthropist, her production plant offering the local community facilities for a variety of religious and educational purposes. Malone also became an important contributor to the YMCA, Howard University, and the St. Louis Colored Orphans Home. to learn more about Annie Malone, you can start by clicking here.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Victoria, Queen of England, Empress of India

Victoria, queen of England and Ireland, empress of India (born 24 May 1819)


The last of the Hanoverian monarchs, Queen Victoria, born 24 May 1819, ruled the United Kingdom from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. 

Queen Victoria, 1882
Her reign is still the longest in British history--sixty-three years and seven months--but Queen Elizabeth II is closing fast . . . (Although the exact date is debatable, Elizabeth II will overtake Queen Victoria some time in September 2015.)

If you'd like a quick biography, here's a link to her page on The Official Website of the British Monarchy. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Margaret Fuller: American Journalist, Transcendentalist, Feminist

Sarah Margaret Fuller (born 23 May 1810)


Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Margaret Fuller was given a rigorous education by her father, a politician and lawyer. Unlike many men of his time, Timothy Fuller trained his daughter as he would a son--though Fuller would later blame her father's demands and expectations for her "nervous affections," the nightmares, sleepwalking, migraines, and depression that plagued her throughout her life.

An 1846 daguerrotype of
Margaret Fuller
After her father was elected to the U.S. Congress, Fuller attended a series of schools to continue her education, including the Port School in Cambridgeport (1819), the Boston Lyceum for Young Ladies (1821-22), and the School for Young Ladies in Groton (1824-26), but at the age of sixteen she returned home to continue her education on her own in a course of study she outline for herself--she read widely, focused on teaching herself modern languages, and continued the study of the classics her father had begun.

Two crucial events occurred in 1835: Fuller's father died, and she made the acquaintance of Ralph Waldo Emerson. The family's dire financial circumstances after Timothy Fuller's death led to Margaret Fuller's first career, as a teacher. Her first position was at Bronson Alcott's Temple School, Boston (1836-37), then at the Green Street School, in Providence, Rhode Island (1837-39). 

Back in Boston, Fuller then launched a series of "conversations" for women at the noted educator Elizabeth Peabody's West Street bookshop. These conversations were by subscription--the first of them was held on 6 November 1839, the last in 1844. These were a series of discussions, organized and conducted by Fuller, on literature, education, religion, and art, all of which aimed at improving women's lives and allowing them a greater participation in the exchange of ideas, opinions, and views. They also raised the "great questions" facing women: What are we born to do? What are we capable of doing? In Boston she joined the Transcendentalist movement, which included among its notable members Elizabeth Peabody and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Fuller also began her career in journalism, editing the Transcendentalist literary and philosophical journal, The Dial, from 1840 to 1842. In 1843, The Dial published her essay "The Great Lawsuit. Man versus Men, Woman versus Women," one of the first great feminist texts by an American writer.

In 1844, she moved to New York to write for Horace Greeley's New-York Daily Tribune. She also produced a travel diary,  Summer on the Lake, recording her travels in the Great Lakes and Wisconsin territories.

Expanding on "The Great Lawsuit," she published Woman in the Nineteenth Century, now her most well known work, in 1845. In this extraordinary extended essay, Fuller urges women to educate themselves in order to gain a measure of independence outside the domestic sphere. She also argues for women's equality, analyzes the institution of marriage, and advocates for a reform of property laws.

In 1846, Fuller left the United States for Europe, traveling as a foreign correspondent for Greeley. While in Europe and writing for the Tribune, she met Thomas Carlyle, William Wordsworth, and George Sand.

In Italy, Fuller reported on the revolution, met and married Angelo d'Ossoli, and had a child. She died in a shipwreck on returning to the U.S., just off the coast of Fire Island, New York.  

For Judith Thurman's New Yorker essay on Fuller, which includes a heartbreaking account of Fuller's death at sea, click here. The occasion of Thurman's essay is the publication of two biographies of Fuller, John Matteson's The Lives of Margaret Fuller: A Biography, and Megan Marshall's Margaret Fuller: An American Life.

There are many printed editions of Fuller's work available, but I've linked here to online editions available via the American Transcendental Web.

(If you're interested, there is a wonderful biography, also by Megan Marshall, of Elizabeth Peabody and her sisters: The Peabody Sisters: The Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism.)

Friday, May 22, 2015

An Extra Post for 22 May: Remembering Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra

Zenobia, the Warrior Queen (b. c. 240 CE - d. after 274)


While there are many reasons to lament the fall of the Syrian city of Palmyra to ISIS fighters, there may additional notes of sadness for those of us who are familiar with the third-century Zenobia, the queen of Palmyra, noted for her revolt against the empire of Rome. 
A coin issued by Zenobia, 271-72;
left, Zenobia as "augusta";
the reverse, with Juno Regina

The historical Zenobia claimed descent from both Dido, queen of Carthage, and from the famed Cleopatra, both of whom she regarded as models for her role as queen. 

After the assassination of her husband in 267, Zenobia assumed power in the name of her infant son, designating herself as Augusta

But she was not content merely to hang on to the throne for a male heir--she went to war to expand the Palmyran empire. In 269 she conquered Egypt and claimed the title of queen of Egypt for herself. She extended her territory into Asia Minor, conquering parts of Anatolia, the Roman provinces of Palestina and Syria, and Lebanon. She also declared herself and her empire independent , no longer a client state of Rome.

Initially her new empire was recognized by the Roman emperor Aurelius, who was fully occupied fighting in Gaul. But once he had reestablished Roman power there, he turned his attention to Zenobia.

A view of Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage site,
before its fall to ISIS
Zenobia's forces met the Emperor Aurelius on the field of battle near Antioch. 

About his conflict with this remarkable woman, Aurelius wrote, "Those who speak with contempt of the war I am waging against a woman, are ignorant both of the character and power of Zenobia. It is impossible to enumerate her warlike preparations of stones, of arrows, and of every species of missile weapons and military engines."

In the summer of 272, Zenobia's armies were defeated, and she was captured. She was sent to Rome and endured the humiliation of being paraded through the city in Aurelius's 274 triumph.

Her ultimate fate is not clear. Some claim that she followed her model, Cleopatra, in committing suicide, others than she starved herself to death. Some claim she was beheaded, others that she remarried and quietly settled down to an "appropriate" life as a Roman matron.

The Romans sacked and destroyed Zenobia's capital city, Palmyra, in 274.

Among the extraordinary women whose history she relates, Christine de Pizan writes about Zenobia in The Book of the City of Ladies. But rather focusing on the defeat of Zenobia, as her male predecessors have done, Pizan ends her narrative at the moment of Zenobia's triumphs.

Another view of the ancient city of Palmyra

[For my scheduled post for 22 May 2015, on another warrior woman, Françoise de Cezelli, click here.]

Françoise de Cezelli, the "Joan of Arc of Languedoc"

Françoise de Cezelli (born 22 May 1558)


Born in Montpellier, the capital city in the Languedoc region of France, Françoise de Cezelli was the daughter of a silk merchant, Jean de Cezelli, and his wife Catherine de la Croix de Castries, the daughter of a noble family.  

Re-erected statue of Françoise de Cezelli,
Leucate

The 1899 statue in Leucate,
before its removal in 1942
In 1577,  Françoise was married to Jean de Boursiez, seigneur de Pantnau de Barri. The couple had five children, and at some point Boursiez became the governor of Leucate. In 1590, after her husband was captured and by the Spanish who were besieging Leucate, Françoise de Cezelli organized the city, encouraging the resistance while on the front lines of the defense.

Although she was offered her husband's life if she would surrender, she responded, "La ville est au roi et mon honneur à Dieu. Je dois les conserver jusqu’au dernier soupir"--"The city belongs to the king and my honor to God. I will defend them with my last breath." Her husband was executed, but the Spanish were eventually forced to abandon the siege of Leucate.

In return, the grateful French king, Henry IV, rewarded Françoise de Cezelli by appointing her as governor of Leucate. She served for twenty-seven years, until her son, Hercule, was old enough to take up the position. 

Françoise de Cezelli died on 16 October 1615 and was buried, with her husband, in the Church of St. Paul of Narbonne. In Leucate, she is identified as "La Jeanne d'Arc du Languedoc."

A bronze statue was erected in her honor in 1899--but it was sent by the Vichy government to Germany to be melted down in May 1942. A new statue in her honor was erected on 17 August 1975.

Information about Françoise de Cezelli is hard to find in English; there are several good sites about her, if you can read a bit of French (try here and here, for example).

A plaque in Montpelier,
marking a place where Françoise de Cezelli
once lived.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Mechthild of Magdeburg and the "Flowing Light of the Godhead"

Mechthild of Magdeburg (Asteroid 873 Mechthild discovered 21 May 1917)


Because we do not know exactly when the Beguine mystic Mechthild of Magdeburg was born or when she died, I have chosen today to post about her--on this day in 1917, the German astronomer Max Wolf discovered an asteroid, named and numbered 873 Mechthild, after this thirteenth-century woman.

A nineteenth-century representation
of Mechthild of Magdeburg,
Church of St. Gordian and Epimachus,
Merazhofen,
What we know about Mechthild's life comes from the work for which she is principally known, The Flowing Light of the Godhead. The biographical details are few--she seems to have been born between 1207 and 1210, the child of a noble family, since she refers to court life and customs. She has a brother, Baldwin, who joins the Dominican order and who receives an excellent scholastic education, though Mechthild refers to herself as a "simple spiritual creature" (her work is notable in that, unlike most of the spiritual writing of her contemporaries, it seems to have been written in the vernacular rather than Latin).

Mechthild also tells us that she began her remarkable visionary life at the age of twelve--and that, for the next thirty-one years, "the loving greeting" from the Holy Spirit came to her "every day."

In her work she also reveals that when she was a young woman (perhaps about 1230) and "through God's word," she went to Magdeburg to live a life of "renunciation of the world." There she joined a Beguine community and seems also to have grown into a position of leadership within this community.

As I have written in an earlier post, the Beguines were a lay religious movement--Beguines were not associated with any religious order, nor did they live in any officially sanctioned community. They lived an ascetic, spiritual life, devoting themselves to poverty and chastity, working among the poor and ill and modeling their lives on the life of Jesus. To be a Beguine was to live a potentially dangerous life--in a few days I will post on Marguerite Porete, a French Beguine who was burned at the stake for heresy in 1310.

Mechthild writes that she "painfully conquered the body for twenty years"--always tired, weak, and ill, she devoted herself to "sighing, weeping, confession, fasting, watching," following in her life the "glorious suffering" of Jesus. It is at this point, after twenty years of rigorous self-discipline, that her confessor tells Mechthild what God expects of her:
Then he [her confessor] commanded me to do that about which I often weep for shame when I look at my unworthiness: write this book out of God's heart and mouth. This book has thus come lovingly from God and not from the human senses.
For the next fifteen (or so) years, Mechthild records her visions, conversations with God, and revelations. At some point, probably about 1270, she puts aside her "homeless life" and joins the monastery at Helfta, joining the remarkable Gertrude of Hackeborn, her sister Mechthilde of Hackeborn, and a woman we have met before, Gertrude the Great.

Helfta, where Mechthilde of Magdeburg lived at
the end of her life

The reasons for Mechthild's move are not clear--but she was old, she had become blind, and, perhaps more critically, increasing restrictions were being placed on Beguines in Germany and the Low Countries, and Mechthild's own religious claims and her criticisms of the institutional church had made her vulnerable. The date of her death is not certain--there are a wide ranges of dates suggested, from 1282 to 1297.

One of the best accounts of Mechthild as a visionary is Bernard McGinn's, in vol. 3 of his history of western Christian mysticism, The Flowering of Mysticism: Men and Women in the New Mysticism, 1200-1350. There is a very affordable edition of The Flowing Light of the Godhead, but you can find a good, manageable chunk in Henry Carrigan's Meditations from Mechthild of Magdeburg.





Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sigrid Undset, Nobel Prize Winner

Sigrid Undset (born 20 May 1822)


Today is the birth day of Norwegian writer Sigrid Undset, who won the 1928 Nobel Prize in Literature. 

Sigrid Undset, 1928
The most well-known of Undset's novels comprise the trilogy known as Kristin Lavransdatter, published between 1920 and 1922. This epic historical series focuses on the life experiences of a fourteenth-century Scandinavian woman, the title character Kristin. The series generated controversy--and Nobel attention--for its frank descriptions of female sexuality. (Undset's work also illustrated her engagement with literary modernism.)

Her next series, known collectively in English as The Master of Hestviken, was published in two volumes (1925-7), but it appeared as a tetralogy in its English edition. It is also set in medieval Norway, and connects up with the earlier books by incorporating Kristin's parents at the end of the final volume of this later work.

To access a great deal of information about Undset, the first place to start might be the Nobel website; there you will find information about the 1928 prize, the award-ceremony speech, Undset's autobiographical account of her life, the entire text of Undset's speech at the Nobel banquet, a bibliography, and "other resources."

But maybe the best thing to do is get a copy of the three-volume Kristin Lavransdatter, available in Tina Nunnally's excellent new English translation for Penguin (you can buy all three novels in one volume or separately, The Wreath, The Wife, and The Cross--I've linked to the one-volume version here. Be cautious--a number of readers indicate that the Kindle version is not Nunnally's translation but from the first English translation by Charles Archer in 1927.)

And, just in case you're interested, after Undset's "scandalous" conversion to Catholicism in 1924, she wrote a biography of the fourteenth-century mystic and theologian Catherine of Siena, about whom I posted last month. Undset's life of the Catholic saint is also available in an affordable paperback edition. (Like Catherine of Siena, Undset lived as a third-order Dominican.)

One further note: during the last semester I taught, I was fortunate to have in class two young women from Norway, studying abroad in the U.S. Their project on Kristin Lavransdatter inspired several class members to buy the book for their summer reading. Thank you, Cornelia and Hilde!


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Anne Boleyn, "The Most Happy"

Anne Boleyn, queen of England (executed 19 May 1536)


Anne Boleyn's story is so well known that I won't add much here--except to point out the deep irony of the motto she selected for her coronation on 1 June 1533, "le pleuse heureuse" ("the most happy").

She was executed at the Tower of London on 19 May 1536.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Gertrude Käsebier: "Yoked and Muzzled"

Gertrude Stanton Käsebier (born 18 May 1852)


The American photographer and photojournalist Gertrude Stanton was born on 18 May 1852, thirty years to the day after famed Civil War photographer Matthew Brady. Born in Fort Des Moines, she moved to the Colorado territory with her mother, Gertrude Muncy Shaw Stanton, in 1860--her father, John W. Stanton, had opened a saw mill in Eureka Gulch at the start of the 1859 Pike's Peak Gold Rush. His business had prospered, and he was elected the first mayor of Golden, the territorial capital.

Gertrude Käsebier, c. 1908 
But by 1864, the family had relocated to Brooklyn, New York--sources disagree on the reasons for the move, some claiming it was because of the Civil War, others that the move was because of John Stanton's death. Whatever the case, Gertrude Stanton seems to have moved into her grandmother's home in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

She attended Bethlehem Seminary for Women between the years 1866 (or 1868--again, sources vary) and 1870--this "seminary for women" had been founded in 1742 as the first boarding school for women in the North American colonies. (The Bethlehem Seminary for Women became the Moravian Seminary and College for Women in 1913; in 1954 it joined with the men's Moravian College and Theological Seminary to form the co-educational Moravian College.)

Stanton married Eduard Käsebier, a German immigrant, on 18 May 1874, her twenty-second birthday--it was not a happy union. Käsebier was a successful businessman, and the marriage gave Gertrude stability and three children, but she was later to say, "If my husband has gone to heaven, I want to go to hell. He was terrible . . . Nothing was ever good enough for him." Because divorcing was not only difficult but scandalous, the couple did not divorce, but they lived apart after 1880.

Despite her husband's "terribleness," Eduard Käsebier not only supported his family but supported Gertrude when she enrolled in the Pratt Institute in 1889 or 1889 (again, sources vary)--she was thirty-seven years old, the youngest of her three children then about age nine or ten. Although she had originally intended to become a painter, her attention turned to photography. 

In 1894, after finishing her course of study at the Pratt Institute, she traveled to Germany and France to further her artistic education, leaving her son with her husband. She took her two daughters with her--in Germany, she left them with her husband's family, in Wiesbaden; in Paris, she enrolled them in French schools. But by 1895 she had returned to Brooklyn--her husband was ill, the family's finances strained. She apprenticed at a photographic studio, and then opened a portrait studio on Fifth Avenue, in New York City, the next year. 

"Yoked and Muzzled--Marriage," c. 1915
Her business was a success--commercially, artistically, and creatively. Interestingly, given her own dissatisfactions with marriage (and motherhood), many of her most successful photographs presented highly idealized pictures of mothers and children. Certainly her personal views about marriage were reflected in at least in one photograph, "Yoked and Muzzled--Marriage." 

Aside from her portraits of the rich, wealthy, and famous, and her studies of mothers and children, Käsebier is also noted for her series of portraits of Native Americans, members of Buffalo Bill's Wild West troupe. She began her photographs in her studio but then continued the series on the plains. Her photos of Native American subjects are notable for not relying on costume or cliché, many of them now part of the Smithsonian Anthropology Archives.

Chief Flying Hawk, 1898
Over the course of her career, Käsebier exhibited and published widely--her photographs appeared in the progressive monthly World's Work: Magazine of the Arts and Public Affairs, in Everybody's Magazine, in Muncey's, in Scribner's, and in McClure's. She promoted professional organizations and encouraged women to enter the field of photography.

Eduard Käsebier died in 1910. Gertrude Käsebier continued to work, finally closing her studio at the end of the 1920s (sources gives dates ranging from 1926 to 1929); she died on 12 (or 13? sources vary) October 1934.

A good biographical essay is available at the International Photography Hall of Fame website and at the Library of Congress website. There is a wonderful gallery of images available through the Metropolitan Museum of Art website.


Käsebier's "Blessed art thou among women,"
c. 1899, was issued as a U.S. postage stamp in 2002