IAS Invited Lecture Series in Women and the Italian Wars

Organizers: prof. Magdalena Biniaś-Szkopek(biszkopt@amu.edu.pl), dr. Robert Tomczak (robert.tomczak@amu.edu.pl).


Women at War: Gender and the Italian Wars

This lecture will present the context of research from gender and women’s history regarding early modern practice of power, authority and violence, as well as the Italian wars specifically. It will then explore a case study of the work of women across states implicated in the Wars in military activities. This will include the role of elite women in defence procurement, in managing wartime finances and military engagements, and of other women in providing a range of resources and services to military forces moving over Europe and across the Mediterranean.

Professor Susan Broomhall (Australian Catholic University; Director of the Gender and Women’s History Research Centre, Australian Catholic University) is author and editor of numerous works on women and gender in the early modern world, most recently, The Identities of Catherine de’ Medici (Brill, 2021), and as editor, Women and Power at the French Court, 1483-1563 (Amsterdam UP, 2018.) Chief Investigator on the Australian Research Council project, ‘The Italian Wars, 1494-1559’ (2018-2020).

A Machiavelli in Skirts? Isabella d’Este and the Italian Wars

When the Italian Wars began in 1494 with the French military campaign to claim the kingdom of Naples, the marchioness of Mantua, Isabella d’Este, was twenty years old. When she died in 1539 the conflicts were still dominating the Italian and wider European political scene. This lecture examines how these decades of war, fought out largely on Italian soil, shaped Isabella’s political and cultural roles and determined her posthumous legacy. It analyses, too, the extent to which her experience of the wars was shared by other Italian princesses, who also shouldered significant political responsibilities when their menfolk went off to fight. The lecture aims to respond to the question of whether the Italian Wars opened new opportunities for elite women to circumvent some of the patriarchal control to which their gender was traditionally subjected.

Professor Carolyn James(Monash University; Cassamarca Professor of History in the School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies, Monash University.) has edited the letters of Giovanni Sabadino degli Arienti, and analysed his literary works (Olschki, 1996 and 2002). With Antonio Pagliaro, she translated the late medieval letters of Margherita Datini (Toronto, 2012). She has written on women’s political and diplomatic roles in Renaissance Italy, as well as early modern women’s relationship with letter-writing. Her latest monograph: A Renaissance Marriage: The Political and Personal Alliance of Isabella d’Este and Francesco Gonzaga 1490-1519, (Oxford, 2020).

The Art of Coupling: Conjugal Companionship and Carnal Intimacy in the Italian Wars

The relentless pace and social disruption of the Italian Wars (1494-1559) engendered new points of pressure that challenged the ideal concept of Renaissance marriage as a companionate and orderly relationship between husbands and wives, with equally significant reverberations for the understudied topic of spaces of love and intimacy in nonmarital unions. This lecture will, therefore, explore the impact of warfare on gender relations during this complicated series of conflicts north and south of the Alps. It will not only demonstrate subtle transformations in traditional complementary attributes of martial masculinity and feminine chastity in representations of Renaissance power couples, including royal spouses, in pendant and double portraits, but also comparatively analyse depictions of anonymous lovers and unequal lovers in military contexts.

Dr Lisa Mansfield’s (University of Adelaide; Senior Lecturer of Art History, the University of Adelaide) research concentrates on art and material culture in northern Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. She is the author of Representations of Renaissance Monarchy: Francis I and the image-makers (2016). She was the holder of the Renaissance Society of America Kress Fellowship (2018). Her current project ‘Leonardo of the North: The Polymathic Creativity of Jan van Scorel’ is supported by an Australian Institute of Art History Grant.

Lecture Gendering Political Relationships in Genoese Ceremonial Entries.

Elizabeth Reid

This lecture explores how, during ceremonial entries, cities and their entrants utilised gendered performance and allegory to establish their political relationships. Political interpreters drew upon gendered scenarios from kinship, classical, and literary traditions to place the city in relation to the entrant. This talk will focus on Genoese entries, as Genoa was coveted both by the Valois and Habsburgs who sought to assert control over the city during the course of the wars. This talk will demonstrate that consequent entries of Louis XII, Charles V, and his son Prince Philip of Spain utilised gendered allegory to express political power. Viewed together, the entries reveal Genoa’s subjection to foreign interpretation as well as its flexibility of self-representation. The discussion explores how Genoa’s dominant allegorical identity shifted from that of a dependant mistress, to a rebellious son and ruined woman under the Valois, to a supportive brother, and ‘uncle’ under the Habsburgs. 

Dr Elizabeth Reid (Australian Catholic University; Research Associate, Gender and Women’s History Research Centre, Australian Catholic University) is working in the ARC Discovery Project, “A History of Early Modern Natural Resource Management.” She is an early modern historian, interested in powerful men’s use of gendered allegory to legitimise or perpetuate cultural, hierarchical and oppressive practices. She recently conducted research into the role of gender during the Ceremonial Entries of the Italian Wars (1494-1559), researching how the behaviour andmaterials produced by local and foreign participants utilised gender dynamics to negotiate political relationships and to reflect on the physical danger entries posed.

Anne Boleyn and the Italian Wars: Embodying English, Habsburg, and Valois Connections

In 1528, Anne Boleyn (c. 1501-36) wrote to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey of her ‘poor heart’ and thanked him for his ‘kind letter and rich present’ following her recovery from the sweating sickness. Anne refers to Wolsey’s comparable experience, recalling her prayers for his health and that of their king. Anne was at Hever Castle, absent from Henry VIII’s court during a summer marked by this epidemic. She had much to recover for. Although Catherine of Aragon was Henry’s queen consort, Henry had proposed marriage to Anne. His actions set up a Habsburg break which would affect the course of the Italian Wars. This paper argues for the value in contextualising Anne’s life experiences within these military conflicts. Specifically, it employs gender methodologies to analyse Anne’s body as a powerful site upon which English, Habsburg and Valois connections were played out, used by Anne and others to chart England’s changing role in the Wars.

Dr Sally Fisher (Australian Catholic University; Research Associate, Gender and Women’s History Research Centre, Australian Catholic University) is a gender and cultural historian of the late-medieval and early modern period, whose publications span Shakespeare’s portrayals of queenship and motherhood, poetic depictions of elite households, female letter-writing and ambition, medieval chronicle accounts of exile and imprisonment, and representations of women in manorial court rolls. Her work examined the role of gender in shaping royal women’s interventions in the Italian Wars, with a focus on English perspectives. Her research for this project draws on a range of literary and visual sources, especially letters, chronicles, and artworks.

Signalling Power: Imagery on Men’s Dress during the Habsburg-Valois Wars

This lecture focuses on the imagery of war, as well as humanist and classical themes, present in men’s dress during the Habsburg-Valois conflicts (1494 to 1559). The items of male dress that it takes as its case studies are hat badges, round gold or bronze accessories worn on male headwear, and elite ceremonial armours worn by men from a range of social backgrounds during these conflicts. It argues that the imagery on these objects and how they were worn worked to construct notions of hegemonic masculinity relating to princely power, dynastic lineages and military prowess. In particular, foreign invading forces and their allies exploited or inverted traditional gender binaries associated with the classical and humanist iconography of the Italian Renaissance, particularly its female allegorical forms, to visually signify power relationships between combatants during the Italian Wars.

Dr Sarah A. Bendall (Australian Catholic University; Research Fellow, Gender and Women’s History Research Centre, Australian Catholic University) is a material culture historian whose work specialises in the gendered and embodied experiences of dress, as well as the roles of gender in the production, trade and consumption of fashionable consumer goods between 1500-1800. She is the author of Shaping Femininity: Foundation Garments, the Body, and Women in Early Modern England (Bloomsbury, 2021).

Queen Bona Sforza and her economic policies 1518-1548

Queen Consort of Sigismund the Elder, Bona Sforza (1494-1557) aligned her personal interests with the Jagiellon dynasty she married into. This lecture will present economic aspects of the policies pursued by the Queen focusing on Bona’s partnership with her husband. It will examine the establishment of the Queen’s networks of power and the impact of her patronage on land management practices in Poland and Lithuania.

Professor Darius von Guttner-Sporzynski (Australian Catholic University; Research Associate, Gender and Women’s History Research Centre, Australian Catholic University) is a historian of Central Europe with a particular interest in cultural aspects of transmission of ideas and identity. He is the General Editor of Brepols Publishers’ series “East Central Europe”. His publications cover diverse aspects of history from the Middle Ages to early modern and the modern eras. Darius’ most recent research project centres on a key Early Modern figure, Bona Sforza d’Aragona (1494-1557), Queen consort of Poland.

Mobility, Manhood, and Coming of Age During the Italian Wars

The Gonzaga family of Mantua in Italy’s north-eastern marshes occupied a tenuous place in the political hierarchy of the peninsula. During the Italian Wars, the vulnerability of the dynasty was made clear by the arrival of the Valois armies of France and the Hapsburg armies of Spain. In order to manage the risk to the continued autonomy of the Mantuan state, the Gonzaga family engaged in a number of diplomatic practices, including sending young male members of the dynasty to the French and Spanish courts. This lecture provides an overview of the rationale and impact of mobility on young Gonzaga men as they navigated the complex world of princely masculinities, cross cultural communication, and diplomacy.

Jessica O’Leary (Australian Catholic University; Research Fellow, Gender and Women’s History Research Centre, Australian Catholic University) is a gender historian of the early modern period, interested in global history and connections between people around the world. Her first monograph entitled Elite Women as Diplomatic Agents in Italy and Hungary: The Aragonese Dynastic Network, 1470-1510 (forthcoming). She has also published book chapters on cultural encounter, trade, and diplomacy in the early modern period.

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