Several days ago, I read an article titles ‘Helen Castor on Queens and Power’. It’s an interview about powerful woman historical role in politic, especially in Britain. There, she chose several books as the topic of discussion. The first one is a biography of the 12th-century Empress Matilda by Marjorie Chibnall which is (as she said) a wonderful piece of authoritative medieval history. Here she stated, “we often imagine that historical developments are more linear than they really are”. And I have to agree. For me history is always like curve, there had to be time when one civilization reached their golden era where art, beauty, literature, and other knowledge were well known by the people. Then at that time, they were no barbarian anymore and started to leave their military power. Consequently, when people from other civilization that still in the barbaric mind-seat attacked, it was conquered easily. So then the high civilization fall apart, and they have to start again from the bottom. However, the ‘attack’ doesn’t always has to be physical, it could also be concept, particularly religion.
The second book she chose was John Guy’s My Heart Is My Own. This is about an even better known queen, Mary, Queen of Scots. And the third one is the queen of historical biographers, Antonia Fraser, with The Weaker Vessel. Here she told us why she chose this instead of The Warrior Queen, which is much more obviously about queens and power, and is a great book as well. Also then the question lead us to two powerful British women, Margaret Thatcher and Elizabeth I. And I found a beautiful statement that made me have to rethink what I always believe:
People often say, “Well, these problems can be overcome – look at Elizabeth I or Margaret Thatcher.” But what those two women both did was not say, “Women can rule, women can hold power.” They both said, “Yes, OK, most women are pretty feeble, but I am a special woman.”
See what I mean? That sentence really hit me right as a feminist. And here I also adding the interview about a soon-to-be-released book titled Erotic Capital: The Power of Attraction in the Boardroom and the Bedroom by Catherine Hakim. It’s about why women should be using their sex appeal to get ahead. (http://www.slate.com/id/2302762/pagenum/1).
The forth book is Monuments and Maidens by Marina Warner, which is more about the symbolism of women than actual historical figures. Here she was asked about how does this feed into her idea of power. This is her fabulous answer:
What’s so interesting is the way in which, in our culture, female figures become a vessel for abstract ideas. It’s interesting, too, that Antonia Fraser’s book has that word in its title. So the figures of justice, victory and liberty, for example, are all female. And Marina Warner comments in her conclusion that, “Meanings of all kinds flow through the figures of women, and they often do not include who she herself is.” In other words, the difficulty for women is agency; it’s doing something and being an actor in the narrative. Being an abstract embodiment is what women can do much more easily in our culture, which is why I think having queens now works quite well – because monarchs are required to be, rather than to do. But if you go back to the 16th century, monarchs had to rule – and that was where it became much more difficult for women to take that role.
Last book is Ernst Kantorowicz’s The King’s Two Bodies, which is all about medieval political theory and explores the idea of the divine right of kings. This time she said about the different between the impression we get from female and male body. “The male body is politically neutral, but the female body is sexualised, whether as sinful Eve or the Virgin Mary. It’s very difficult for a queen, as a woman – who’s constructed after all in biblical terms as the lesser being – to find neutral political ground to stand on.” Which lead the question to how Elizabeth I dismiss her body as this weak and feeble thing but sometimes she would also harness it in ways that going to bolster her.
Of course at the end we arrived at the question about her latest book, She-Wolves, that tells the stories of the medieval and Tudor queens who ruled England before Elizabeth I. It was selected as one of the books of the year for 2010 in The Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, The Independent, The Financial Times and BBC History Magazine.
I think you can read the rest of the interview by yourself at (http://thebrowser.com/interviews/helen-castor-on-queens-and-power?page=1)