When Women Ruled the World: Making the Renaissance in Europe

Maureen Quilligan. Liveright, $29.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-63149-796-4
Quilligan (coeditor, Rewriting the Renaissance), a professor of English emerita at Duke, examines in this intriguing survey how female rulers in 16th-century Europe exchanged gifts to strengthen relationships and solidify power. Refuting traditional narratives of “personal jealousy and rancor” between Catherine de’ Medici, Elizabeth I, Mary Tudor, and Mary, Queen of Scots, Quilligan argues that these four queens recognized that they needed to band together to protect against the “looming patriarchal power of the Reformation.” Analyzing 16th-century portraits, Quilligan explains how the inclusion of carefully chosen books and other “inalienable possessions” testified to the wealth and authority of women monarchs. She delves into Elizabeth I’s gift of a solid gold baptismal font to her cousin, Mary Stuart, explaining how it emphasized shared bonds between the Protestant and Catholic queens, and also helped fund Mary’s fight against the rebel Confederate Lords for the Scottish throne. Other items examined include the sumptuous Valois tapestries commissioned by Catherine de’ Medici and passed down to her granddaughter, and the “pear-shaped pendant pearl” worn by Elizabeth I in the 1588 Armada portrait. Quilligan lucidly explains the era’s complex familial, religious, and political dynamics, and draws incisive character sketches. Renaissance buffs will treasure this sparkling revisionist history. (Oct.)
Reviewed on : 07/15/2021
Release date: 10/12/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
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