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04th June 2013

Professor Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly wins €1m grant to study the cultural role of the consort 1500-1800

Professor Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly, Fellow in German, has fought off considerable competition to win a €1m grant to study the cultural role of the consort in the period 1500-1800. The project will show how foreign consorts shaped European culture.

Almost 600 applications for grants were made to HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area), and only 18 awarded. Professor Watanabe-O’Kelly will lead this project, entitled ‘Marrying Cultures: Queens Consort and European Identities, 1500-1800’, in collaboration with experts in Germany, Poland and Sweden.

Professor Watanabe O’Kelly said: ‘European culture as we know it today is the product of a series of intensive interactions between different territories, going back many centuries. These interactions often came about because the monarch took a wife from a different European territory, who then brought her culture, her language and her religion with her to her new home. She often introduced new literary, theatrical and musical forms, espoused new philosophical and scientific ideas, popularised new fashions in clothes and food.’

She added: ‘Though it has become usual during the last 40 or 50 years for the heir to the throne to marry someone from his or her own country and, even more recently, to marry for love, this is not the case in the early modern period. In that period, the marriage of a king or prince was designed to cement a political alliance, combine two territories or seal a peace treaty, so the bride was by definition a princess from a foreign territory. These young women had only one inescapable duty, which was to produce an heir, but they were often patrons of artists and musicians, owned considerable book collections, and brought painters and architects with them from their home territories.’

The project will examine a number of case studies of how foreign consorts shaped the culture of their new country. Professor Watanabe O’Kelly explained: ‘The Portuguese princess Catarina of Braganza brought Bombay and Tangiers to Britain in her dowry in 1662 and reportedly introduced tea-drinking, but she also patronised Italian artists and maintained her Catholic faith, founding a Franciscan monastery and a convent.

‘The Polish princess Katarzyna Jagiellonka brought the Italian culture she had learned from her mother to Finland and later to Sweden in the 16th century. The beautiful palace of Drottningholm in Stockholm was built by Hedwig Eleonora of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp, Queen and Dowager Queen of Sweden between 1656 and 1715, and its famous theatre was built by another foreign consort, Luise Ulrike of Prussia, in 1766.’

She added: ‘When Maria Amalia of Saxony became the first Bourbon Queen of Naples in 1738, her links to Dresden bore fruit in the founding of the porcelain factory of Capodimonte and the development of music in Naples. She was also involved in the design of three enormous palaces with her husband Charles VII, and took a keen interest in the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum.’

Photo: Maria Amalia, Princess of Saxony, Queen of the Two Sicilies (1724-1760) in Polish Dress, holding a miniature of her husband, Carlo VII, King of the Two Sicilies.

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