Queens: Mothers, Warriors, Icons Lecture by Dr Estelle Paranque

I attended Dr Estelle Paranque’s talk Queens: Mothers, Warriors, Icons which was hosted by the New College of the Humanities for Women’s History Month. Queenship is something I have always had an interest in, so from the title I knew this talk was definitely going to be up my street!

The lecture was in two parts, the first focused on 7 Queens who were mothers, warriors or icons and the second focused on her new book coming out next year.

The queens she chose to discuss are all so incredibly fascinating and lived such varied lives:

  1. Roxelana: who went from slave to Hürrem Sultan, as she married Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. He broke with tradition when he married her, and Estelle described her story as one of resilience, courage and bravery.
  2. Maria Theresa: the only Queen Regnant of the Hapsburg Empire, a hard woman who craved power and was an absolute monarch.
  3. Catherine de Medici: mother to 3 kings of France Catherine has been unfairly tarnished with a dark legend, she will be taking centre stage in Estelle’s upcoming book.
  4. Nzinga of Angloa: a warrior queen I definitely want to read more about! She fought for her queenship and the independence of her realm from colonisers.
  5. Anne: the last Stuart Queen who tragically lost 12 children with none surviving to adulthood. She publicly called the most powerful man in Europe Louis XIV a tyrant which was a bold move and showed her fighting spirit.
  6. Victoria: a whole era has been named after her, so she’s definitely an icon.
  7. Elizabeth I: third in line to the throne she was never expected to become queen but she became one of the most famous monarchs in British history.

Alongside a biography of these women, Estelle also recommended a number of different books which are all getting added to my ever-growing book wish list:

  • Empress of the East by Leslie Peirce
  • Catherine de Medici by Leonie Frieda
  • Africa’s Warrior Queen by Linda Heywood
  • Advice to a Grand-Daughter edited by Richard Hough
  • The Heart and Stomach of a King by Carole Levin

The discussion then moved to the book Estelle is working on, which will explore the relationship between Catherine de Medici and Elizabeth I. My undergraduate dissertation was on Catherine de Medici, Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, so I seriously cannot wait for Estelle’s book to be published next year! Catherine and Elizabeth are extraordinary figures, so it’s going to be great reading a book dedicated to them and their dynamic.

Some points that really stuck with me after the talk, were Estelle’s comment in the introduction about the difference between power and influence. Many queens across the centuries have had influence, but when does this equate to true political power? Another point was how important it is to remember these were real people with real feelings. Estelle used the example of Anne, who suffered so much loss yet was still branded a failure for not securing the Stuart succession. In the Q&A she said she balances empathy with critique of the historical sources, which I think is a great approach to our study of history.  

Estelle was a fantastic speaker with such enthusiasm, passion and knowledge about her topic, attending this talk was a fun way to finish Women’s History Month 2021.  

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