Love, Power, and the Sovereign in Female Courtly Biographies of the Habsburg Empire. Venus and her Scepter: Tu Felix Austria

Abstract

Before the Austrian Empress Elisabeth (1837-1898) cast her spell over the world in the nineteenth century, a company of early modern female sovereigns of the Habsburg Dynasty fascinated their subjects with tales of love, scandal, glory, and power. In their own courtly biographies, the Empress Maria Theresia (1717-1780), and her ancestors Kunigunde of Austria (1465-1520), Margaretha of Savoy (1480-1530), and Johanna of Castile (1479-1555) were commemorated in works which asserted a bold commentary on the inherent essentiality of female power and the ascendancy of the Habsburgs in Europe. Venus and Her Scepter examines portrayals of Habsburg noblewomen between 1500-1800 as heroines of love, marriage, war, and diplomacy and offers one of the first comprehensive investigations of the female courtly biography as a literary and cultural phenomenon. Focusing on the unique ability of this divergent tradition to fuse fiction and historical narratives together, and to envision a world wherein the heroic female sovereign is an active participant in mending broken hearts, restoring reputations, avoiding bloodshed, resolving treaties, and defeating imperial enemies, this study details how the female courtly biography came to the aid of the Habsburgs during key moments of political crisis when the Dynasty stood to lose it all and helped to make a case for a mythology of power through women. Delving into the rich late medieval and early modern holdings of Austrian and German archives and libraries, and reflecting on the role of original manuscripts, lost documents, newspapers, and forgotten scholarship, Venus and Her Scepter sheds light on these sources and their connection with female patronage and authorship. In the process, this study reveals the female courtly biography’s surprisingly positive assessment of women as vital representatives of imperial government and explores how their reigns generated a legacy of Habsburg culture framed by the female perspective.

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Citation

Kleinhans-Junghahn, Edana (2021). Love, Power, and the Sovereign in Female Courtly Biographies of the Habsburg Empire. Venus and her Scepter: Tu Felix Austria. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/22613.

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