Queenship, politics, and government in the medieval Crown of Aragon: The lieutenancy of Maria of Castile, 1420-1423 and 1432-1453

Theresa Marie Earenfight, Fordham University


Political history--long scorned by social and cultural historians dismissive of political biographies, narrative, and political theory--has experienced a marked resurgence within the last decade. The field's interaction with gender studies has led scholars to dismantle long-held assumptions about women and the exercise of political power and has resulted in a new awareness of how structures and ideologies both influence and mask realities of power. This thesis takes up the challenging problem posed by queenship as office. Much of the work on women and power, influenced by Annales-inspired studies of power structures from the bottom up, regards queens as unrepresentative of women in general. But status mattered, especially in the political arena. A queen's prominence and proximity to the center of power made her a lightning rod for contemporary theological and juridical attitudes toward gender and power which affected all women, regardless of social rank or wealth. Maria of Castile (1401-58), queen of the Crown of Aragon, exemplifies the exceptional role queens could play in medieval Europe. For twenty-six years she governed Catalunya, the political and economic backbone of the realm, as Lieutenant General while her husband, Alfonso V, "the Magnanimous" (1416-58), was occupied with the conquest and governance of the kingdom of Naples. Maria was Alfonso's fully empowered legal representative, second only to the king himself. She was an effective administrator, a shrewd negotiator, and a savvy diplomat. Her role in government constituted a political partnership unique to the Crown of Aragon where the Lieutenant General formed an integral part of the institutional structure of monarchical government. An abundance of archival material, including official records and correspondence contained in municipal and crown archives in Barcelona, has made it possible to determine the theoretical and practical limits of Maria's political authority and to assess the extent to which she took action on her own initiative rather than on Alfonso's orders. She maintained a curia and council separate from, and roughly equivalent to, Alfonso's court in Naples; supervised local and regional government; directed financial administration; regularly presided over the highest court of justice in Catalunya and the parliamentary assemblies; and maneuvered skillfully to obtain the greatest sums of money in exchange for the fewest political concessions. Despite formidable challenges to her authority, she judiciously handled one of the most contentious issues of the day--the debate over royal attempts to grant manumission to the remences, servile peasants bound to the land under harsh, quasi-feudal conditions.

Subject Area

Middle Ages|European history

Recommended Citation

Earenfight, Theresa Marie, "Queenship, politics, and government in the medieval Crown of Aragon: The lieutenancy of Maria of Castile, 1420-1423 and 1432-1453" (1997). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9730089.