Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Margaret More Roper, Translator and Editor

Margaret More Roper (31 December 1525)

Because the exact date of Margaret More's birth and death are unknown, I am writing about her today, as my last post of the year, on the date that her father, Sir Thomas More, was appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. This is not one of Thomas More's more notable titles or offices--I am just using it, and him, as a reason for writing about his daughter.*
Margaret More Roper, c. 1535-36,
a miniature by Hans Holbein the Younger

Margaret More was the firstborn child of Thomas More and his first wife, Joanna Colt, who was just eighteen when she gave birth to her first child in 1505, probably between late August and October. Joanna was only twenty-three years old when she died in September 1511, after six years of marriage and the birth of four children.

Within a month, More had remarried. His second wife was a wealthy widow, Alice Harpur Middleton. Alice was the butt of many cruel jokes, insults, and caricatures, not only made by More's friends and associates but by More himself. Perhaps the best assessment of this relationship is historian John Guy's half-hearted (?) claim that "Margaret's father, we must conclude, loved her stepmother in his own way. . . ."

After More's marriage to Alice, who brought her daughter into the household, More began the process of educating his children, teaching them himself whenever his increasingly demanding duties allowed. In 1518, he carefully selected a tutor for them: his daughters, Margaret, Elizabeth, and Cecily; his son, John; and an adopted daughter, Margaret Giggs. (Alice Middleton was several years older than Thomas More, and by 1518, her seventeen-year-old daughter, also named Alice, was married.) The children were all taught the same curriculum: Greek, Latin, logic, philosophy, theology, astronomy, geometry, and mathematics. Well, almost the same--John studied rhetoric, the art of public speaking, something that the girls would not need. 

While humanist scholars, like More, supported education for women, there was a moral--and gendered--value to it. Many viewed education for women as, in the words of publisher Richard Hyrde, "a bridle" against "vice." The Spanish humanist Juan Luis Vives, who traveled to England and devised an educational curriculum for Henry VIII's daughter, Mary, wrote that a "woman is even as man is a reasonable creature," one whose "wit" was capable of "both good and evil." Education was a way her wit "may be altered and turned."

More himself agreed that both men and women were "equally suited for the knowledge of learning by which reason is cultivated," but added that it was especially important for "excellent matrons and honorable girls" as a sure basis for their religious faith.

But in 1521, when she was just sixteen, Margaret More followed the more conventional course for a young woman in the sixteenth century, no matter how intelligent and capable, and no matter what kind of education her father provided for her. She was married to the lawyer William Roper. In the next few years, before her death in 1544, at just thirty-seven years old, she would give birth to five children: Elizabeth, Mary, Thomas, Margaret, and Antony.

A detail of Margaret More,
from a 1593 copy of a lost
More family portrait,
Hans Holbein the Younger
Up to this point, there is nothing remarkable about Margaret More Roper's story, except her exceptional education. But she proved to be an exceptional scholar as well as a dutiful, capable student and a dutiful, capable wife and mother. In addition to producing children, in 1524 she produced the first published work by a woman who was not a member of the royal family: her translation of Erasmus's 1523 Precatio dominica, a work on the meaning of the Lord's Prayer. 

Margaret More Roper's book, with a preface by Richard Hyrde, was titled A Devout Treatise upon the Pater Noster, Made First in Latin by the Most Famous Doctor Master Erasmus Roterodamus, and Turned into English by a Young, Virtuous and Well-Learned Gentlewoman of Nineteen Years of Age. (Hyrde dates his preface to 1 October 1524, which helps narrow down the date of Margaret's birth.)

Thomas More may have been proud of his daughter's intellectual abilities, but he did not approve of women's publication. A woman was to make no show of her learning, in More's view, and publication was exactly the kind of "show" that was discouraged. Before Margaret had married, when she had expressed something of a desire to write and publish a book, her father had dissuaded her.

Title page of the 1526 reprint
of Margaret More Roper's
Devout Treatise
For a woman "to lay herself out for renown . . . is the sign of someone who is not only arrogant, but ridiculous and miserable." Women must show "appropriate modesty." "Renown for learning," he concluded, "if you take away moral probity, brings nothing else but notorious and noteworthy infamy, especially in a woman."

Clearly while she remained at home, Margaret More Roper had to abide by her father's decisions. But in 1524, as a married woman, she could, under the cover of a thinly veiled anonymity, publish her translation. It was only a matter of months, however, before she ran into trouble.

Early in 1526, three books were "called in" on suspicion of heresy--and Margaret's publisher, Thomas Berthelet, found that he could no longer sell the Devout Treatise upon the Pater Noster, "translated by the wife of Master Roper," and that he was ordered to appear before a consistory court. (Berthelet had not acquired the prescribed license before publishing the book.)

Margaret More Roper and Berthelet were "saved" from any further proceedings, however, because, with the help of Hyrde, Sir Thomas Wolsey intervened, and Margaret's book was reprinted with Wolsey's coat of arms included on the back of the title page. 

It seems that Margaret did not consider publication again--at least not for some years. But after Thomas More's arrest and imprisonment, when he had received a letter from Alice Middleton Alington, his stepdaughter, Margaret and her father, together, composed a long letter in response. This joint composition, the Letter to Alice Alington, though not published until 1557, was nevertheless a crucial composition for both Margaret More and her father. As Marion Wynne-Davies notes, it "accomplishes what would have been impossible for More himself to do, since he had been ordered by the King, 'at your execution you shall not vse many wordes.'" Forbidden to deliver a scaffold speech expressing his views, More "allowed his words to be translated by his daughter into an imaginative tale that could be circulated amongst his family and fellow Catholics."

After her father's death, Margaret More Roper was not content to publish merely by means of circulation. Realizing that publication could define and shape a man's life and reputation (her father's biography of Richard III is a great example!), she hoped to collect and publish all of Thomas More's's works, including the letter to Alice Alington, and to embed them in a discussion of her father's life.

To this end, she employed a secretary to collect copies of More's books, to make copies of More's manuscripts, and to collect and sort his letters, but in 1537 she ran into trouble and was called in to be examined by Thomas Cromwell, who discovered that she "meant to set her father's works in print." Declining to prosecute her "because she was a woman," Cromwell threatened her and returned her home, to her husband. 

In 1540, Margaret's brother-in-law Giles Heron, her sister Cecily's husband, was accused of treason and executed at Tyburn. Then, in 1543, her husband William was arrested and spent four months in the Tower. Shortly after his release, Margaret More Roper died. 

The project to publish her father's work did not die with her, however. It was carried on by a number of people, including Margaret Giggs, Margaret's adopted sister, who relocated to the continent after Henry VIII's death and during the reign of his son, the ardently Protestant Edward VI.

But after Mary Tudor came to the throne, the product finally came to fruition, aided by Margaret More Roper's daughter, Mary Roper Clerke Basset (born between 1526 and 1530), a friend of the new queen and one of her gentlewomen of the privy chamber. 

On 30 April 1557, The Works of Sir Thomas More, Knight, Sometime Lord Chancellor of England, Written by Him in the English Tongue was published. It included Mary Basset's translation of her grandfather's De tristitia, tedio, pauore et oratione Christi ante captionem eius, written in in the Tower. Mary's translated and carefully edited text was published as Of the sorowe, werinesse, feare, and prayer of Christ before hys taking.  

I have quoted from John Guy's A Daughter's Love: Thomas More and His Dearest Meg, This dual biography puts a bit too much attention on More for my taste, but it presents a thoroughly admirable assessment of Margaret More Roper's life and work. I just wish we could have a book about Margaret More that wasn't so much about Thomas More. 

Marion Wynne-Davies's "The Theater," which contains her extended analysis of the Letter to Alice Alington, is in Caroline Bicks and Jennifer Summit's The History of British Women's Writing, 1500-1610. This is the second volume of The History of British Women's Writing (Palgrave-Macmillan), which also contains a discussion of Roper's Devout Treatise and of Mary Roper Basset's translation.

*If that sounds like I'm dissing Thomas More, you're right. Long before Hilary Mantel's depiction of a despicable More in Wolf Hall, I loathed him, influenced in part by the views of the great Tudor historian Geoffrey Elton, but in greater part because I just can't stand him. How's that for reasoned academic argument? I could give you chapter and verse, but in the spirit of New Year's Eve jollity, let's just let it go. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Ruth Blay and the Crime of Concealing the Birth of a "Bastard" Child

Ruth Blay (executed 30 December 1768)

Time for one more woman executed for a crime before the year ends. We've already looked at a number of women who were sentenced to death--a variety of saints and "sinners," witches and heretics, a parricide, politically threatening or inconvenient women, even a queen or two.  

Gallows Hill, site of Ruth Blay's execution,
today located in South Cemetery, Portsmouth
Today's post, about Ruth Blay, reminds us of yet another "crime" for which many women have been condemned and shamed, if not prosecuted or executed.

On 30 December 1768, Ruth Blay was hanged for having concealed the birth of an illegitimate child. While her baby may or may not have been stillborn, as Blay claimed, her crime was not infanticide. Rather, according to the law, her capital offense was "concealment of a bastard child." What was at issue was not whether the child had been born alive, but the fact that the birth of a "bastard" child had been kept secret. In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, that was a capital crime.

There are many uncertainties about the story. Although some versions emphasize Blay's youth and beauty (of course--because only young and beautiful women are interesting? Or are worthy of sympathy?), the few more sober accounts of her death indicate that she was thirty-one years old at the time of her execution, and there are no contemporary descriptions of her to indicate whether she was beautiful or not. 

Again, romantic accounts claim she went to her death wearing silks and satins. But there is no contemporary evidence that indicates how she was appareled on this momentous occasion--while she may indeed have been dressed in her best clothing, knowing her body would go from the gallows to the coffin, silks and satins aren't likely since Blay wasn't a wealthy woman.

Nor was she a long-time resident of the community, having been born in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Relocated to New Hampshire, she was an itinerant schoolteacher in a variety of communities where there was no permanent schoolhouse; she traveled between South Hampton, Sandown, Chester, and Hawke, small towns now in the county of Rockingham (Hawke was renamed in the nineteenth century), teaching children in a variety of settings.

Historian Carolyn Marvin indicates that Blay continued teaching until February or March of 1768. She gave birth, alone, on her thirty-first birthday, 10 June 1768, in a barn belonging to Benjamin Clough--a barn being used as makeshift school for the children of South Hampton.

Blay would later claim that the baby, a little girl, had been stillborn. Alone and afraid, Blay admitted that she had placed the baby's body under the floorboards of the barn where, four days later, several of her students discovered it. Although Blay then admitted that she had given birth to the child, she was nevertheless examined by several women in order to verify that she had, in fact, recently given birth.

The coroner, Samuel Folsom, would dispute Blay's account of the birth--he claimed the baby died as a result of an act "of violence." Infanticide was certainly a capital offense, and "concealment" was an important factor in such cases--concealing a pregnancy or birth was taken as evidence that a baby's death was the result of murder, while making a variety of arrangements for the birth of a child, such as contacting a midwife, acquiring necessary supplies, and preparing clothing, was taken as evidence that the death was not a deliberate act of murder. But the charge against Blay was not infanticide.

Blay's trial took place on 3 September 1768. She was convicted of a crime for which the punishment was hanging, and her execution date was set for 24 November. 

Blay defended herself in a published appeal, and while women convicted of infanticide usually expressed repentance and asked forgiveness, Bray did not. "I never had a single thought of murdering the infant," she claimed, adding:
Therefore I made preparation for its birth, and could now produce the Cloaths and Woman in whose keeping they are; but alas it is too late;–and on that unhappy Day when I was delivered, I knew it had not been eight months from the Time I was with Child, therefore had not thoughts of being delivered at that Time; but an unhappy Fall which I then received, brought on the Birth instantly.
A copy of Blay's broadside appeal,
"Declaration & Confession of Ruth Blay,"
published on the day of her execution by Daniel Fowle,
publisher of the New Hampshire Gazette,
made available by the Portsmouth Athenaeum

She said she had friends who could support her assertions and added that witnesses against her had lied--two women, in particular, she claimed, were her "enemies." But clearly her friends had not come forward at the time of her trial, and even in her newspaper appeal, Blay gave no indication of which witnesses against her had lied or what their lies were. 

She received four reprieves before her sentence was carried out, and she was hanged in in Portsmouth. Hundreds had gathered to enjoy the spectacle.

Ruth Blay never named the father of her child, nor did he step forward to identify himself.

Blay was the last woman executed in New Hampshire. Twenty-five years after her death, the law was changed, and the crime of concealment was no longer punishable by death.

Nearly a hundred years later, in 1859, the Portsmouth poet Albert Leighton composed "The Ballad of Ruth Blay," a poem that perpetuates many of the romanticized elements of Blay's story (not only the silk and satin, but she's dressed like it's her wedding day, and a ruthless sheriff, anxious to get home to eat his lunch, refuses to wait for the arrival or a horseman who's delivering a pardon for Blay from the governor . . . )

In his 1878 Rambles about Portsmouth, local historian Charles Brewster also related Blay's story, calling the concealment statute a "blood law" and referring to the thirty-one-year-old Ruth Blay as "a girl." He included the bit about her being dressed in satin (no mention of silk) and indicated that "her friends had secured from the Governor a reprieve, which would soon have resulted in her pardon"--except for that sheriff who wanted to get home to his meal. He gave the order for her hanging to begin and left while she was still "hanging on the gallows," her reprieve arriving just a few minutes after her death.

There is a good anthology of material on Blay at the online Murderpedia, and Ron Campbell's essay at Walk Portsmouth is excellent, with great photos of relevant locations. Carolyn Marvin's account, to which I've referred here, is Hanging Ruth Blay: An Eighteenth-Century New Hampshire Tragedy. You may also appreciate J. Dennis Robinson's 2008 piece for Seacoast New Hampshire, which includes a great deal of information about Blay, her case, and Carolyn Marvin's archival work to retrieve Blay's story.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Elizabeth, Empress of Russia

Elizaveta Petrovna, empress of Russia (born 29 December 1709)

For most of the eighteenth century, the Russian empire was ruled not by a series of emperors but by four empresses: 

  • Catherine I was the empress consort of Peter the Great. After his death, she ruled, briefly, as empress in her own right, from 8 February 1725 until 17 May 1727, about sixteen months. 
  • Anna of Russia, Peter the Great's niece, was empress of Russia from 30 January 1730 until her death, 28 October 1740. After her death, she was succeeded--briefly--by her grandnephew, Ivan VI, but the one-year-old was overthrown rather quickly by Catherine I's daughter, Elizabeth.
  • Elizabeth was empress of Russia for some twenty years, from 6 December 1741 until 5 January 1762.
  • Catherine II of Russia--Catherine "the Great"--ruled the Russian empire for more than thirty years, from 9 July 1762 until 17 November 1796.

In his essay on portraits of these empresses, John T. Alexander uses the term "Amazon autocratrixes"--love it!!!! The four women all had themselves painted as Amazons and, as Alexander explains "autocratrixes," they "all came to power via palace revolutions of varied sorts" and all four "maintained the idea (or fiction) of autocracy."

The third of these empresses was Elizaveta Petrovna--or, more simply, Elizabeth, born in Moscow in 1709. Because her parents had married secretly in 1707, their marriage only made known publicly in 1712, her legitimacy would later be questioned, her marriage prospects nullified, her right to govern as empress challenged. 

Elizabeth of Russia,
about 1720
Her father, the emperor known as Peter “the Great,” seemed to have cherished an idea that Elizabeth would marry Louis XV of France, and her education, supervised by a French governess, focused on European languages, social skills and etiquette, music, and riding. She was praised as a beauty and for her vivacity.

There is some indication that Elizabeth’s father intended to name his older daughter, Anna, as his successor at the time of his death in 1725 (she had just been betrothed to Charles Frederick, duke of Holstein-Gottorp, their marriage taking place just months after the emperor's death). But the emperor had been unable to find a suitable match for his younger daughter, Elizabeth, before he died--perhaps, in part, because of lingering questions about her legitimacy, the Bourbons had rejected the idea of a match with the French Louis.

After the brief reign of Elizabeth's mother, Catherine, as empress of Russia, Elizabeth's half-nephew succeeded as emperor, becoming Peter II. (Catherine had been Peter the Great's second wife--Peter II was Peter the Great's grandson, the child of his son by his first wife.) Although Elizabeth was named as joint regent for Peter II, just twelve at the time, court politics and intrigues kept her from any real power or influence.

But after Peter II's brief reign (1727-30), Elizabeth suffered once Anna Ivanovna assumed the throne of Russia. (Anna's father, Ivan V, had been tsar and co-ruler of Russia with his younger brother, Peter, but their joint rule ended with Peter assuming complete power.)

During Anna's ten year reign as empress of Russia, no marriage possibilities were considered for Elizabeth--so she began a series of affairs. As a result, the Empress Anna threatened to send her to a convent. Elizabeth's finances were cut, and she was kept under surveillance, but during this time she also gathered support.

Anna adopted her eight-week-old grandnephew just days before her death and named him as her successor, the boy becoming Ivan VI. But thirteen months later, Elizabeth staged a coup d’état, removing Ivan and naming herself empress. (The boy and his mother/regent, Anna Leopoldovna, were imprisoned in a fortress near Riga, then exiled. Anna Leopoldovna died in 1746, but Ivan lived into the reign of Catherine the Great--in 1764, after more than twenty years of imprisonment, Ivan was executed after an unsuccessful effort to free him.)

Elizabeth as empress,
Once she became empress, and despite the fact that she had not been trained to rule, Elizabeth's tact, good judgment, and sense of diplomacy ensured her successes. She reorganized the government, refocused Russia's foreign policy, supported educational and cultural developments (under her reign the first university was founded in Russia, and she founded the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences).

She abolished capital punishment, patronized artists, architects, composers, and writers, hosted lavish pageants and parties, and spent a lot of time and money on elaborate clothing, including menswear. 

In her 1970 biography of the empress, historian Tamara Talbot Rice recorded this description of Elizabeth: "the laziest, most extravagant and most amorous of sovereigns." Given all the horrors of so many rulers throughout history, I'd say this assessment wasn't bad, all things considered.

Elizabeth of Russia never married. Well aware that the deposed Ivan VI might be used as a puppet ruler after her death, she selected her nephew, Peter of Holstein-Gottorp, as her heir. He was her sister Anna's son, though Anna had died when the boy was just a few months old, his father when the boy was eleven. In 1742, she proclaimed him heir and brought him to St. Petersburg, where he was given Russian tutors and a bride, his second cousin Sophia Augusta Frederica, who was renamed Catherine.

On her death, Elizabeth was in fact succeeded by her nephew--but Peter III was only emperor of Russia for six months. He was forced to abdicate, succeeded by his wife, Catherine--you know, the one who became Catherine the Great.

There are several well detailed biographical essays about Elizabeth of Russia online, including John T. Alexander's entry from the Encyclopedia of Russian History and Olga Prodan's entry on Elizabeth Petrovna Romanovna from the online Russiapedia.

There are two out-of-print but widely available multiple biographies: Philip Longworth's 1973 The Three Empresses: Catherine I, Anne, and Elizabeth of Russia and Robert Coughan's 1974 Elizabeth and Catherine: Empresses of All the Russias. Rice's seems to be the only individual biography--but used copies are readily available of this as well as of the Longworth and Coughan books.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Mumbet Becomes Elizabeth Freeman

Elizabeth Freeman, formerly "Mumbet" (died 28 December 1829)

Elizabeth Freeman, "Mumbet"
miniature portrait by Susan Ridley Sedgwick,
c. 1812
(Susan Ridley married
Theodore Sedgwick Jr.)
Her date of birth was not recorded, nor was her date of purchase--but the enslaved "Mumbet," or Bett, and her younger sister, Lizzy, were the property of Pieter Hoogeboom, a Dutch merchant and landowner in Claverack, New York. According to the terms of his will
I bequeath to all my children . . . all my negroes and negresses, big and little, young and old, and all my horses and cattle and furthermore all my movable goods from the largest to the smallest that may be found after my death, to each his just tenth part. . . .  
Hoogeboom died in 1758, and as part of her "tenth," Annatie (anglicized as Hannah) and her husband John Ashley, living in Sheffield, Massachusetts, received Mumbet and Lizzy. (There is some dispute among historians as to whether Hannah and John Ashley received the girls as a sort of wedding gift or after Hoogeboom's death. I've linked you here to two representative accounts. The truth of the matter is that documentary evidence is scarce, but since we can read Hoogeboom's will, I've gone with that version, though the most frequently related account is that Mumbet was part of a wedding gift.) 

Life for Mumbet and her sister in the Ashley household was not easy. As her story is related by Catharine Maria Sedgwick in her "Slavery in New England" (published in a miscellany in London in 1853), Mumbet's "master" was a kind and gentle man, but his wife, Hannah, was a holy terror. 

According to Sedgwick's account, "soon after the close of the Revolutionary War," Mumbet "chanced" to hear a reading of the Declaration of Independence. The next day she went to the office of Theodore Sedgwick, a lawyer who had been a delegate to the Continental Congress and who had fought in the Continental army during the Revolutionary War. "Sir," she reportedly said to him, "I heard that paper read yesterday, that says, all men are created equal, and that every man has a right to freedom. I'm not a dumb critter; won't the law give me my freedom?" (Lawyer Sedgwick's daughter was the Catharine Maria Sedgwick who told Mumbet's story in "Slavery in New England.")

Sedgwick and his partner Tapping Reeve took the case of Mumbet and another of Ashley's slaves, Brom. The case of Brom and Bett v. Ashley was heard in August 1781 before Court of Common Pleas. The lawyers argued that slavery was illegal under the Massachusetts Constitution, newly ratified, which stated: "All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness."

The jury ruled in Mumbet and Brom's favor. The two were free. 

Taking the name Elizabeth Freeman, the newly freed Freeman went to work in the household of Sedgwick. Among her tasks, she cared for Catharine, who would later tell her story.

Mumbet's grave,
photo by Brady Barrows,
When she died in 1829, Elizabeth Freeman was buried in the Sedgwick family plot. The inscription on her gravestone was written by Charles Sedgwick, Theodore Sedgwick's son (and Catharine's brother):

known by the name of
Died Dec. 28, 1829
Her supposed age was 85 Years She was born a slave and remained a slave for nearly thirty years. She could neither read nor write, yet in her own sphere she had no superior nor equal. She neither wasted time nor property. She never violated a trust, nor failed to perform a duty. In every situation of domestic trial, she was the most efficient helper, and the tenderest friend. Good Mother, farewell.
There is a wealth of information available at the Mumbet website, including original court documents, but I love this opener:
Acknowledged by so few . . .
Elizabeth "Mumbet" Freeman is not mentioned in the publication Notable American Women (1971), a three volume biographical dictionary which is the first full-scale scholarly work of its kind. Mumbet is not mentioned in Merriam Webster's Biographical Dictionary. She is not mentioned in the National Women's Hall of Fame.
I've linked you above not only to this website but also to information at the Massachusetts Historical Society, which you can access by clicking here.

There are a number of "biographies" available, but they all seem to be children's books.

Update: I had originally posted the photo of Mumbet's grave without giving credit to Brady Barrows, creator of, to which I have linked above. I offer my deepest apologies and have remedied the omission.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Marlene Dietrich Forever

Marlene Dietrich, Hollywood legend (born 27 December 1901)

Several years ago, one of my students stopped by my office to talk about a topic for a paper she was working on. We were reading Renaissance drama, and she was excited by the "cross-dressed heroines" that appeared in several plays. She was connecting the plays we were reading with a play she knew, Shakespeare's As You Like It, and was shocked by the issues of sex, gender, sexuality, and desire that these plays were raising (we had read Lyly's Galatea, Jonson's Epicoene, and, for a real twist, Margaret Cavendish's The Convent of Pleasure).

A "cross-dressed" Dietrich in
My student was struggling with ideas that weren't exactly new--feminist, gender, and queer theorists and critics have been reading these early-modern "transvestite heroines" for several decades--but they were new to her, and that was the point. She was struggling to sort out her insights and ideas and what exactly she wanted to say. 

She was excited and that made me excited--and after an hour or so of great conversation, as she was picking up all her texts, she pointed to a poster I had hanging in my office. "I've been meaning to ask," she said. "Who's that, anyway?"

That was a picture of Marlene Dietrich, one of the great screen presences. I was stunned that this bright, articulate, and very well read student didn't recognize Marlene Dietrich.

Well, to be honest, it's not that she didn't recognize Dietrich, she just had no idea who it was at all. 

I probably went on and on (okay, I did go on and on), but I suggested that, if she had a Netflix subscription, she make sure to put the 1930 film Morocco at the top of her queue--it had a great scene with a cross-dressed heroine . . .  

I don't remember much about the literature paper my student wrote, but I do remember that she watched that Dietrich film! And then went on to watch all the Dietrich that she could find . . . 

A glorious still from Shanghai Express
There are great online sites if you don't know Dietrich, or don't know as much about her as you'd like. So I'm linking here to the official Marlene Dietrich website, which doesn't try to sell you stuff and seems to be associated with the estate.* There is all kinds of biographical information there. I'll also link you here to the New York Times obituary, which also gives you good biographical information, and here to the entry for Dietrich on the Turner Classic Movies website.

Mostly, though, the best way to know Marlene Dietrich is by her films! Definitely watch Morocco, but I'd also recommend Shanghai Express--which also features the brilliant Anna May Wong--and the truly bizarre Blonde Venus. And you might also enjoy The Scarlet Empress, with Dietrich as Catherine the Great . . . 

And one of my favorites is a film from very late in her career, 1957's Witness for the Prosecution. I watch it almost every time I find it on the TCM schedule, and it never fails to mesmerize me. 

Finally, I love Dietrich as a singer. Here's "Falling in Love Again" from a 1972 television special--this woman was in her seventies, people! (There are many performances from her long career posted on YouTube. They are occasionally removed, I am assuming for copyright reasons. If the link I've provided here doesn't work, just search YouTube, and you'll find many, many Marlene Dietrich songs, some recorded during live performances, others from her recordings.)

Update (June 2017): The National Portrait Gallery (Washington, D. C.) is hosting an exhibition, "Marlene Dietrich: Dressed for the Image," open from 16 June 2017 to 15 April 2018--focusing on Dietrich's androgyny and the way she "challenged strictly limited notions of femininity." For more details, click here.

*Update, 27 December 2021: This link seems to be no longer working, and I have not been able to find the new online address for this "official" Marlene Dietrich website. I've left the link, hoping the site may be back at some point.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Elisabeth of Bohemia, Philosopher and Princess-Abbess

Elisabeth of Bohemia  (born 26 December 1618)

Elisabeth of Bohemia was the daughter of Frederick V, elector of the Palatine (a German territory that was part of the Holy Roman Empire) and his wife, Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James Stuart, the English king who had succeeded Elizabeth Tudor as ruler of England. 

Elisabeth of Bohemia,
c. 1636
First, a few words about Elisabeth of Bohemia's parents. The glamorous teenaged couple--Elizabeth Stuart was later called the "Queen of Hearts"--was married in a dazzling Valentine's Day ceremony in 1613, the ceremony itself following fireworks displays, pageants, and extravagant celebrations (including a mock sea battle on the Thames), accompanied by dozens of wedding poems written for the occasion (John Donne contributed one), and followed by weeks of feasting. (For an extended description of the festivities, you can read Richard Cavendish's "The Marriage of the Winter Queen," from History Today, by clicking here.)

The journey of the elector of the Palatinate and his new electress to Heidelberg was equally lavish. Once in Heidelberg, Elizabeth gave birth to three children (she ultimately gave birth to thirteen), including Elisabeth, the subject of today's post. In 1619, Frederick and Elizabeth were offered the throne of Bohemia, and the golden couple became--briefly--king and queen of Bohemia. 

But Elizabeth Stuart is now best known as the "Winter Queen," signifying the brevity of her reign. Frederick and Elizabeth assumed the throne of Bohemia in November 1619--within a year, the Protestant couple had been run out of Bohemia by Frederick II, the Catholic Holy Roman emperor, who took possession of the Palatinate as well. The two were exiled, taking up residence in The Hague. Frederick V died in 1632, just thirty-six years old. The Winter Queen lived for another thirty years. She returned to England on 26 May 1661, just after the restoration of her nephew, Charles II, and died in London less than a year later, on 13 February 1662. 

A formidable woman who was a skilled player in the games of international politics, Elizabeth Stuart is now largely a forgotten figure. For a quick read, Lisa Jardine's "The Winter Queen of Bohemia," written for the BBC Magazine, will suggest why you need to know more about Elizabeth Stuart.

And now for the subject of today's post. While her mother was, for more than thirty years, "one of the foremost power brokers for the Protestant cause in Europe," Elisabeth of Bohemia was an equally accomplished daughter.

When her parents left for Prague in 1619, Elisabeth and her siblings remained behind with their grandmother, Louise Juliana of Orange, who had been regent of the Palatinate for her son, Frederick V--she had also discouraged her son from taking the throne of Bohemia, fearful of just the sort of religious conflict that did, indeed, erupt. Frederick V's deposition was the trigger for the Thirty Years' War.

Elisabeth would remain with her grandmother until 1628, but the two could not stay in the Palatinate--once the emperor had captured Bohemia and turned his attention on Frederick's German territories, Louise Juliana fled with Elisabeth to Berlin, taking refuge there with her daughter, Elizabeth Charlotte, the wife of the elector of Brandenburg. (In 1631, after Elisabeth had rejoined her parents in The Hague, Berlin was under siege, and Juliana Louise relocated with the rest of the Brandenburg court to Konigsberg, in east Prussia.)

Despite the turmoil, Elisabeth received an excellent education. In 1639, she began a correspondence with the Dutch scholar Anna Maria van Schurman, whose response, filled with praises for Elizabeth Tudor and Jane Grey, acknowledged Elisabeth's English connections.

Elisabeth met Descartes while he was in The Hague, and the two began a philosophical exchange--initiated by Elisabeth of Bohemia in 1643, the correspondence continued until Descartes' death in 1650. Fifty-eight letters survive--thirty-two from Descartes and the remaining twenty-six from the princess Palatinate.

In her excellent overview of Elisabeth of Bohemia's philosophical work for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Lisa Shapiro notes that Elisabeth is not merely soliciting answers from Descartes but is, instead, developing and expressing her own philosophical views. "It is evident from the correspondence," Shapiro writes, "that Elisabeth has a remarkable and wide-ranging critical philosophical acumen. Careful reading of her side of the correspondence does suggest she has some positive philosophical commitments of her own, on matters including the nature of causation, the nature of the mind, explanations of natural phenomena, virtue, and good governance."

Beyond her interest in Cartesian philosophy, Elisabeth's correspondence with Descartes illustrates a wide range of interests and involvements: 
The correspondence . . . reveals her to have been involved with an appointment in mathematics to the University of Leiden and in negotiations on a number of matters, including the imprisonment of her brother Rupert in conjunction with his efforts around the English Civil War, negotiations of the marriage of her sister Henrietta, negotiations of the Treaty of Westphalia, and the finances of her family after the end of the Thirty Years War.
After Descartes' death, Elisabeth returned to Heidelberg in 1653 where her brother, Charles Louis, had been restored as elector of the Palatinate. Disturbed by her brother's abandonment of his wife, Elisabeth managed to secure the release of her sister-in-law, Charlotte of Hesse-Kassel and move on with her to to Hesse.

In 1660 she joined the convent of Herford Abbey. The eighth-century convent was the oldest in Saxony, at one time an imperial abbey within the Holy Roman Empire. Although it was now a Protestant convent, it retained its status, and in 1667 Elisabeth of Bohemia became its head, with the title of "princess-abbess."

The Abbey of Herford,
where Elisabeth of Bohemia
served as princess-abbess
As Shapiro notes, Elisabeth also had a keen interest in political philosophy--this may have helped to make her an effective administrator of the convent, its lands, and the surrounding community; she also welcomed those from oppressed religious sects, in particular the Quakers, and engaged in an ongoing correspondence with members of the Quaker community.

Of course you won't find an entry on Elisabeth of Bohemia in the Encyclopedia Britannica--the only mention of her is in the entry for Descartes, where she is mentioned in connection to his 1644 Principles of Philosophy: "He dedicated this work to Princess Elizabeth (1618–79), daughter of Elizabeth Stuart, titular queen of Bohemia, in correspondence with whom he developed his moral philosophy."

Lisa Shapiro's edition of Elisabeth of Bohemia's correspondence with Descartes, The Correspondence between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes, contains an excellent biographical and critical introduction as well as carefully edited translations of the original letters. 

You might also enjoy Elizabeth Godfrey's 1909 biography, A Sister of Prince Rupert: Elizabeth Princess Palatine and Abbess of Herford. It's available at the Internet Archive, by clicking here.

(And, by the way, we've already met Elisabeth of Bohemia's younger sister, Sophia of Hanover, who is also to be noted for her contributions to philosophy.)

Friday, December 25, 2015

A Monstrous Regiment of Women in Charlemagne's Court

Charlemagne's Wives, "Wives," and Daughters (Charlemagne crowned "Emperor of the Romans," 25 December 800)

First, two acknowledgments. The title for this post, "A Monstrous Regiment of Women in Charlemagne's Court," owes an obvious debt to John Knox, from whom I have also taken the title of this blog. Over the years I have had a great deal of pleasure in reinterpreting, reusing, recycling, and subverting the title of his 1558 The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, a vitriolic attack on female sovereignty.

The title of this post is also drawn from Janet L. Nelson's wonderful essay, "Women at the Court of Charlemagne: A Case of Monstrous Regiment?" included in John Carmi Parsons's 1993 collection, Medieval Queenship.

From her tomb in Saint-Denis,
Bertrada of Laon,
the mother of Charlemagne
Those acknowledgments having been made, now on to the subject at hand, today's post. I suppose I could have titled it Charlemagne's wives, "wives," mistresses and/or concubines, and daughters, because Charlemagne had quite a few of each. 

Before going any further, though, I want to note his mother, Bertrada of Laon. If you learn anything at all of French history in school, you hear of Charlemagne's father, Pepin (and of his father, Charles Martel).

But I certainly don't remember hearing anything at all about Pepin's wife, not even so much as her name. (By the way, Charles Martel's wife was Rotrude of Trier.) 

For the record, Charlemagne's mother, Bertrada, was the daughter of Charibert of Laon and Giselle of Aquitaine. Although Bertrada "married" Pepin in 741 and gave birth to their first child, Charlemagne, in 743, Pepin was already married at the time, to a woman named Leutberga, who was the mother of Pepin's five children. After 743, however, Leutberga either decided to retire to a convent or was forced to do so. 

Even so, the marriage of Pepin and Bertrada was still not recognized--they were too closely related in order for their marriage to be legal. But for whatever reasons, the obstacle disappeared after 749, and Bertrada was recognized as Pepin's wife--although, as Nelson notes, political difficulties in 751 and 752 "may have driven [Pepin] briefly . . . to consider repudiating his wife Bertrada and marrying again."

The two, Pepin and Bertrada, were consecrated as king and queen of the Franks in 754, after which Pepin was "a model husband." Unlike his famous son, he had no concubines and no illegitimate children. Pepin and Bertrada worked together to strengthen their new dynasty--"encouraging" Pepin's brother and nephews to pursue monastic, rather than secular, vocations, and consolidating the claims of their own sons, in particular that of their oldest son, Charlemagne. (Some sources indicate that Pepin and Leutberga's children were all sent off to monasteries.)

After the death of Pepin in 768, his Frankish kingdom was divided between Charlemagne and his younger brother, Carloman, but Bertrada supported Charlemagne in opposing this division. The conflict between Charlemagne and his brother ended in 771, with Carloman's death. In the mean time, Charlemagne had "married" the Frankish noblewoman Himiltrude, probably before Pepin's death, and she gave birth to a son, also named Pepin, after his grandfather.

The quotation marks I put around "married" when I describe Himiltrude's relationship with Charlemagne reflect some degree of uncertainty about their bond. Contemporary chroniclers offer their own views. Charlemagne's biographer Einhard, in his Vita Karoli Magni, calls her a "concubine," while the Benedictine historian Paul the Deacon, in his history of the Lombards, notes that Himiltrude and Charlemagne's child was born "before legal marriage." Pope Stephen III, however, in a letter to Charlemagne, referred to Himiltrude as his legal wife, and you'd think that the pope would be clear about this--but since he is involved in a political dispute with Charlemagne, he made have had other reasons for his judgment. Modern historians are still divided, although Nelson assumes that Himiltrude was Charlemagne's legal wife. 

Bertrada wanted her son to marry a Lombard princess, however, and so, whether Himiltrude was Charlemagne's legal wife or not, she was repudiated. What happened to her isn't clear; after leading a revolt against Charlemagne in 792, Himiltrude's son, Pepin, ultimately found himself in that favorite repository for potential rivals, a monastery. (He had been sentenced to death, but Charlemagne commuted his son's sentence, having him exiled and tonsured instead.)

Bertrada traveled to Rome to meet with the pope and to ease his conflict with Charlemagne. On her way back to the Frankish court, she stopped in Lombardy and picked up Desiderata, the daughter of the king of the Lombards, in what Nelson describes as "a notable exercise in personal diplomacy." Desiderata was married to Charlemagne in 770, but just over a year later Charlemagne rejected her, much against his mother's wishes. Again, his marital decisions seem to have been driven by political expediency. (There is some question about whether Desiderata was really named Desiderata--in her chart labeled "Charlemagne's Women," Nelson just uses the symbol ♀.)

From 1499, an imagined representation 
of Hildegarde of Vinzgau, 
one of Charlemagne's wives
Charlemagne's choice for a new "bride" was Hildegarde of Vinzgau, the daughter of an Alaman nobleman. Over the course of the next twelve years, Hildegard gave birth to nine children, four sons and five daughters, dying shortly after the birth of the last of those daughters, named Hildegarde, in 783. (The baby seems also to have died.)

While he was married to Hildegarde, Charlemagne had at least two ongoing sexual relationships that produced children. His first known "concubine" (I hate that word, but I'll use it), a woman known as Gersuinda, probably dates to 773. Their daughter, Adaltrude, was born in 774. The second known "concubine" was Madelgard, who produced another daughter, Rhuodhaid, born in 775. 

Charlemagne married again about 784, this time to Fastrada, an East Frankish noblewoman. Einhard was not at all a fan of Fastrada, whom he regarded as beautiful but cruel--and, as Nelson indicates, Fastrada's cruelties "caused conspiracies and revolts," one of which was Pepin's 792 revolt against his father. Fastrada is known to have rendered a judgment in the case of a killing that had occurred in her Frankfurt residence, "holding court in a judicial . . . sense," and, in Nelson's words, "operating virtually as vicereine." Fastrada gave birth to two daughters, in 784 and 787, Theodrada and Hiltrude, and died in 794.

Charlemagne married another Alaman noblewoman, Luitgard, probably in 794. Although she had no children, her "domestic" role--taking care of royal correspondence, distributing spoils of war to "deserving" churchmen, performing acts of piety and devotion with her stepdaughters--was also "political and public."

After Luitgard's death in 800, Charlemagne had a series of concubines--his biographer Einhard provides the names of four women, Madelgard, Gervinda, Regina, and Adallinda. (Regina and Adallinda added two sons each to Charlemagne's total of eighteen children.)

From 1910, Sidney Harold Meteyard's
imagined scene of Charlemagne at
Fastrada's deathbed
So much for Charlemagne's wives and "wives." Notably, he had many daughters who reached adulthood, again listed by Einhard. Hildegarde's surviving daughters were Rotrude, Bertha, and Gisela. Fastrada's daughters were Theodrada and Hiltrude.

Three daughters were born to the women who were his concubines: Adaltrude (Gersuinda's daughter), Rhuodhaid (Madelgard's daughter), and a girl named Hruodhaid, probably born in 784 (her mother is unknown--in making his list, Charlemagne's biographer Einhard says the name of this woman "escapes me at the moment"). 

And after the death of his son Carloman, confusingly renamed Pepin, in 810, Charlemagne's granddaughters joined the court in Aachen: Adelheid, Atula, Gundrada, Berthraida, and Theoderada (Carloman/Pepin had married Bertha of Toulouse, and these daughters were their only children).

Charlemagne's daughters and granddaughters constitute a "veritable 'regiment' of women," as Nelson herself recalls Knox's phrase, using the term here loosely as a synomym for a unit or company. She then asks, "What did those women do at the court of Charlemagne?"

Among other things, they functioned as a kind of guard for the king--to get to Charlemagne, you had to pass through not only multiple doors, but through all these women. Well-educated, his daughters also participated fully in the cultural life of the court. They also participated in all the ritual and pageantry associated with the projection of royal power, including processions, feasts, and hunts. They traveled with Charlemagne, accompanying him on tours throughout his expanding territories. 

And, although Charlemagne's daughters had sexual partners and gave birth to children, none of them married. In explaining why they did not marry, Einhard says that Charlemagne loved his daughters so much that "he refused to give any of them in marriage . . . , saying that he could not be without their company." 

A sixteenth-century drawing of Hildegarde of Vinzgau
But Nelson describes something more than a father's loving attachment to his children. Charlemagne's many daughters remained unmarried as a matter of policy--the marriage of a daughter would have required lands and titles as a dowry, thereby reducing Charlemagne's territories and power. Equally, a daughter's husband and children would have been potential rivals to Charlemagne, challenging Carolingian succession. 

Unmarried, Charlemagne's daughters offered their father "political help within the household and the court." They were "channels" of patronage he could control, and sources of information he needed. They were capable and trusted advisers and supporters. 

They may have been powerful, but, in the end, they exercised no regiment--their power was informal and contingent. As daughters they were completely dependent on their father's authority. After Charlemagne's death in 814, they arranged his funeral and then disappeared. Or, rather, they were made to disappear. 

When Charlemagne's successor, his son Louis the Pious, arrived at the imperial court in Aachen, he found that, before he could begin to rule, he had to "chase out that whole female mob, which was very large"--in the words of Louis' biographer. The new king expelled and discredited his sisters and nieces, characterizing them as "whores," unable to deny themselves the satisfaction of "lustful heats of the palace," "seductions of pleasure," and "blandishments of fleshly desire." 

It's not clear what happened to all of Charlemagne's daughters and granddaughters--most of them just disappear, probably confined to monastic foundations. Here are the details, at least as I've been able to track them down:

Hildegarde's daughters: Rotrude may have died as early as 810, before her father, or as late as 839; after 814, Bertha was sent to a convent by her brother; Gisela died in 808, before her father.

Fastrada's daughters: at some date before 814, Theodrada became abbess of the monastery of Argenteuil, and she died after 844; Hiltrude died c. 800. 

Nothing is known about Adaltrude (Gersuinda's daughter); Rhuodhaid (Madelgard's daughter), seems to have become the abbess of Faremoutiers and died at some point after 800; Hruodhaid (whose mother is unknown), died after 800. 

The ultimate end of Charlemagne's granddaughters is not clear. The eldest, Adelaide of Lombardy, seems to have married Lambert of Nantes and died in 810. The others--Atula, Gundrada, Berthraida, and Theoderada--probably died before Charlemagne's own death in 814.

Modern stained glass, 1913, from the Church of  Saint-Jean-Baptiste,
Charlemagne with Theodrada of Argenteuil

(Lots to consider here, for those who want to think of "traditional" marriage as a god-given, unchanging institution . . . )

Update, December 2019: Janet Nelson's new biography of Charlemagne, King and Emperor, focuses on the man himself, obviously, but also examines his family connections, including the many women in his life.

Nelson talks about Charlemagne and her new biography on an episode of the BBC History Extra podcast, "Charlemagne: Medieval Empire Builder." To listen, click here.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Maria Anna of Austria, Queen and Regent of Spain

Maria Anna of Austria, queen and regent of Spain (born 24 December 1634)

Over the course of the year we've looked at many women of the Habsburg dynasty--the extended family that was one of the most important royal houses in western Europe. 

Maria Anna of Austria,
queen of Spain, c. 1655,
painted by Diego Velázquez
From their power base in Austria, the Habsburgs came to prominence in the thirteenth century as kings of the Romans, the title assumed by the men elected as king of the Germans. Habsburgs held the title of Holy Roman Emperor from the early fourteenth century until the middle of the eighteenth. They were also, at various times, kings, dukes, archdukes, grand dukes, and emperors of Burgundy, Bohemia, Hungary, Croatia, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Tuscany, Modena, Parma, and, in the New World, Mexico. 

Indeed, the political strategy of the Habsburgs, articulated by the fifteenth-century king of Hungary, Matthias Corvinus, emphasized the role of marriage in Habsburg dynastic ambitions: "Let others wage war. You, lucky Austria, shall marry!" (or, "bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube").

Of course this strategy produced some pretty complicated marital relationships, as we've seen in my posts on Habsburg women--but today we have one final opportunity, this year at least, for seeing "lucky Austria" and Habsburg marital strategy at work.

Maria Anna of Austria was the daughter of the Habsburg Ferdinand of Austria, who would become the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III in 1637. Her mother was Maria Anna of Spain, another Habsburg, the daughter of Philip III of Spain and his wife, Margaret of Austria (who was Philip's first cousin once removed).

When it was time for the younger Maria Anna to marry, it was clear that her husband would of course be a Habsburg. In 1646, her marriage was arranged with her first cousin, Balthasar Charles, prince of Asturias, the son of Philip IV of Spain and his wife, Elisabeth of France (not a Habsburg). But after the prince's death just months after the marriage was arranged, a new Habsburg spouse was found for the young Maria Anna--she would instead marry the widowed father of her deceased betrothed, who was also her mother's brother. In 1649, the fourteen-year-old married her maternal uncle, Philip IV of Spain. After that point, she was known as Mariana. 

While the marriage was not a happy one, it nevertheless produced five children between 1651 and 1661, only two of whom survived infancy, but, "luckily," one was the male heir that Philip needed. Kept busy with childbearing and religious devotion during her marriage, Mariana nevertheless became regent of Spain in 1665 at the death of her husband.

Even after her son Charles reached the age of majority in 1675, his infirmities required the queen's ongoing participation in government, though she was criticized by the council of Castile for governing with the assistance of "validos," or favorites, including her Jesuit confessor, Juan Everardo Nithard, who had accompanied the young Maria Anna to Spain to marry Philip IV, and Fernande de Valenzuela, who was suspected of having been Mariana's lover. 

The extraordinary dimensions of the Spanish Empire--then calculated to extend to nearly 5 million square miles--made governing incredibly difficult. In 1675, the regent fell victim to the intrigues, incapacities, and complication of the court when her husband's illegitimate son, Juan José of Austria, led a coup, took over the government of Charles II, and forced the the dowager queen to leave court.

Mariana returned to Madrid in 1679, after John's death (perhaps by poisoning), but she never regained her previous authority over her son. Rivals to her influence were Charles's wives. 

Maria Anna of Austria,
queen of Spain, c. 1687,
painted by Claudio Coello
Charles's first wife was Marie Louise of Orléans (the granddaughter of the Habsburg Anne of Austria), to whom he was devoted. According to rumor, the young woman was poisoned in 1689 by Olympia Mancini, the sister of Hortense Mancini, at the request of Queen Mariana, but in reality Marie Louise most likely died of acute appendicitis. (Mancini had gained notoriety in France for L'affaire poisons, and had been expelled in 1679 under suspicion of having poisoned, or threatening to poison, any number of people, including Louis XIV and her own husband. She had taken refuge in Spain, but after Marie Louise's death, she was forced to leave Spain in 1690.)

In 1689, Charles married Maria Anna of Neuburg, who was notably not a Habsburg, but a member of the House of Wittelsbach. She was at least in part selected as a likely bride for the Spanish king because her family was notably fertile--she was one of seventeen siblings. (Her elder sister, Eleonore Magdelene of Neuburg had become the third wife of the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I--whose first wife, by the way, had been Margaret Theresa of Spain, the daughter of Philip IV and Maria Anna of Austria! Yikes!)

While the relationship between Mariana and her son's first wife seems to have been fine (despite that pesky suspicion that the queen colluded in poisoning her daughter-in-law), the relationship between Mariana and her son's second wife was extremely difficult--despite the noted fertility of her family, Maria Anna of Neuburg had no children--the young queen loved intrigue, participated in exorcisms intended to release her husband from his "bewitchment," tried to amass as much money as possible, and schemed to have her nephew named as her husband's successor. 

But back to Maria Anna of Austria, queen consort and regent of Spain. Despite all the intrigues and upsets, she lived a relatively long life, dying of breast cancer on 16 May 1696. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Barbara Longhi, Italian Renaissance Painter

Barbara Longhi (died 23 December 1638)

Although she lived--and presumably painted--until she was eighty-six years old, only fifteen surviving paintings are definitely attributed to Barbara Longhi.

Barbara Longhi,
St. Catherine of Alexandria,
presumed to be a self-portrait
Born in Ravenna in 1552, Barbara Longhi was trained by her father, the painter Luca Longhi. Very little is known about her life, though she is one of the few women mentioned, however briefly, in Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, from Cimabue to Our Times (Le Vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori, e architettori da Cimabue insino a' tempi nostri). 

Noting that he had met Luca Longhi while he was in Ravenna--and concluding, somewhat disparagingly, that Luca would have "become a very rare painter" if only he had "gone forth from Ravenna," where he "has always lived and still lives with his family"--Vasari adds, "a daughter of his, still a little girl, called draws very well, and has begun to do some work in colour with no little grace and excellence of manner."

Madonna and Child,
c. 1580-85,
Indianapolis Museum of Art
In addition to painting, Barbara Longhi seems to have worked diligently in her father's studio at least until his death in 1580--she was used as a model in her father's works, she assisted him in the workshop, she copied many of his paintings, and she would also have learned how to market her work to patrons. 

Vasari's observation that Luca Longhi's achievements may have been affected by his provincial location are echoed in Germaine Greer's assessment of his daughter's work. "Barbara's output was considerable," she notes, "all small pictures, remarkable for their purity of line and soft brilliance of colour." 

But the relationship of her work to her father's is "horribly muddled," and, in Greer's words, she is a "backward member of a provincial school." Her "picture-making" is "extremely conservative," though demonstrating "a simplicity and intensity of feeling quite beyond her mannerist father and her dilettante brother."

Although the poet and playwright Muzio Manfredi, himself born in Ravenna, would indicate in a 1575 lecture that Barbara Longhi was renowned for her portraits, most of the paintings attributed to her today are small depictions of the Madonna and child.

Madonna and Child with St. Joseph and St. Anne

Update, 30 July 2021: Liana de Girolami Cheney, Emerita Professor of Art History, University of Massachusetts, Lowell (among other academic titles) writes that she is completing a book on Barbara Longhi, to be published in fall 2021. She also says, "I wrote a pioneer article in English of this female painter": Liana De Girolami Cheney, “Barbara Longhi of Ravenna,” Woman’s Art Journal (Spring 1988), 16-21." 

I will add that Professor Cheney has published widely--here's a link to her Amazon author page. If you are reading this blog, you may be particularly interested in her book on the work of the painter Lavinia Fontana.

I have taken the opportunity offered by adding this note to to update my original post, adding a link to an English translation of Vasari and to Vasari's assessment of Barbara Longhi. 

Update, 23 December 2022: Professor Cheney's Barbara Longhi is scheduled for publication in June 2023 (click here):
This is the first book to focus solely on Barbara Longhi (1552-1638) as an artist. The book presents an overview of the life and work of the artist, bringing together the information that is known about Longhi supplemented with recent findings from the author's own research, such as new discoveries about Longhi's domestic situation. It explores the world of painters from a region of Italy (Ravenna) not usually considered by art historians, as being outside the 'golden triangle' of Rome-Florence-Venice. In contrast to previous publications on the artist, which have taken an archival and connoisseurship approach, the focus in this book is on iconography and interpretation. The author examines the significance of Longhi's paintings in relation to her perspective as a female painter during the Counter-Reformation.