Gender as a resource of power at the early modern court of Württemberg, c. 1580-1630
This dissertation investigates how the category of gender difference was mobilised as a practice of power at the early modern court. It argues that gender was not simply a relational category affecting who could participate in early modern politics in what ways, but that it constituted a crucial and active resource of dynastic power. This subject of study is opened up through a case study of the court of Württemberg in the subsequent reigns of Dukes Friedrich I and his son Johann Friedrich, which span the period of time from 1593 to 1628. The reign of Duke Friedrich I was a time of political reform, which saw the influence of the local estates curtailed and an extroverted foreign policy pursued, whilst the duke concurrently entertained several extramarital affairs in contention with Lutheranism’s prescriptions. His son Johann Friedrich clearly took exception to his father's lifestyle, since, at Friedrich's premature death in 1608, he imprisoned a number of his father's mistresses and procuresses. He was forced to let the majority of these women go again quite quickly, keeping only one suspected procuress in custody, whose case was to drag on until 1618. Johann Friedrich's mother Duchess Sibylla, who had borne fifteen children to Friedrich and thus became the Stammesmutter of a new Württemberg dynastic line, was involved in these dealings. The contrast of these two differently structured approaches to rulership allows for the investigation of the power dynamics of monogamy and polygamy in one coherent case study. Württemberg is an interesting location for this research since it was a large and important territory of southern Germany, which came to be deeply involved in Protestant resistance in the worsening religious strife leading up to the Thirty Years’ War. Documents ranging from court ordinances, festival descriptions and servants registers, to courtly correspondences, juridical supplications and declarations have been consulted. This broad range of primary sources facilitates the investigation of the salience of gender difference both in the context of a courtly system heading a polity, as well as on the level of individual actors whose personhood was intricately entwined with their gendered identities. It is argued here that it is imperative to avoid a fragmentation within court studies into gender and women’s history on the one side and political approaches on the other, in order to maximise our understanding of the practice of power located at early modern courts. Gender difference complicated and further differentiated courtly status hierarchies and lent flexibility to increasingly rigid sets of dynastic rules about reproduction, succession, and etiquette, which had a beneficial impact on the longevity of the dynastic system.