The King's Other Body: María of Castile and the Crown of Aragon

The King's Other Body: María of Castile and the Crown of Aragon

The King's Other Body: María of Castile and the Crown of Aragon

The King's Other Body: María of Castile and the Crown of Aragon

Synopsis

Queen Maréa of Castile, wife of Alfonso V, "the Magnanimous," king of the Crown of Aragon, governed Catalunya in the mid-fifteenth century while her husband conquered and governed the kingdom of Naples. For twenty-six years, she maintained a royal court and council separate from and roughly equivalent to those of Alfonso in Naples. Such legitimately sanctioned political authority is remarkable given that she ruled not as queen in her own right but rather as Lieutenant-General of Catalunya with powers equivalent to the king's. Maréa does not fit conventional images of a queen as wife and mother; indeed, she had no children and so never served as queen-regent for any royal heirs in their minorities or exercised a queen-mother's privilege to act as diplomat when arranging the marriages of her children and grandchildren. But she was clearly more than just a wife offering advice: she embodied the king's personal authority and was second only to the king himself. She was his alter ego, the other royal body fully empowered to govern. For a medieval queen, this official form of corulership, combining exalted royal status with official political appointment, was rare and striking.

The King's Other Body is both a biography of Maréa and an analysis of her political partnership with Alfonso. Maréa's long, busy tenure as lieutenant prompts a reconsideration of long-held notions of power, statecraft, personalities, and institutions. It is also a study of the institution of monarchy and a theoretical reconsideration of the operations of gender within it. If the practice of monarchy is conventionally understood as strictly a man's job, Maréa's reign presents a compelling argument for a more complex model, one attentive to the dynamic relationship of queenship and kingship and the circumstances and theories that shaped the institution she inhabited.

Excerpt

Queen María of Castile, wife of Alfonso V “the Magnanimous,” King of the Crown of Aragon (1416–58), governed Catalunya from 1420 to 1423 and again from 1432 to 1453 while her husband was occupied with the conquest and governance of the kingdom of Naples. For twenty-six years she had control over the provincial governors, prelates and religious orders, the nobility, the army, the municipal government, and all other subjects regardless of legal status. She could grant constitutions and make laws in accordance with royal authority and could sign letters in her own hand according to her own conscience. She was empowered to carry out justice, both civil and criminal, and to name judges and delegates. Assisted by a royal council separate from the king’s, she had full royal authority in Catalunya.

Such legitimately sanctioned political authority in the hands of a queen is remarkable because María governed Catalunya not as queen in her own right, or even as queen-regent, but rather as lieutenant general (lloctinent general). in the privilegios that named María lieutenant, Alfonso clearly stated that her powers as lieutenant should be equivalent to his own as king, referring to her as his alter nos. María was clearly more than just a wife offering advice: She held the highest political office in the most important of Alfonso’s Iberian realms and, in political terms, was second only to the king himself. For a medieval queen, this combination of exalted royal status plus official political appointment was not common and may not have existed outside the realms of the Crown of Aragon. But in the Crown a unique contractual form of kingship and government had developed that relied heavily on delegated authority to rule the far-flung constituent territories in the Mediterranean. Established in the thirteenth century, the lieutenancy was both an ad hoc adjunct to the king and a training ground for princes to rule one or more of the constituent realms . . .

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