By Fiona Downie
PhD Dissertation, University of Aberdeen, 1998
Abstract: This thesis is a study of the role and power of the queen in fifteenth-century Scotland with reference to the lives of Joan Beaufort (?-1445) and Mary of Guelders (1433-1463). It is not a biographical study of these two queens but uses their experiences to argue that a queen’s power was derived from that of her male relatives and was at its greatest when those relatives and leading members of the political community supported its exercise. The queen was not an independent political actor. The thesis also refers to the six daughters of Joan Beaufort to illustrate the importance of the broader Stewart family network to the role and power of the Scottish queen. The expansion of this network across the continent is one aspect of the sub-theme of the thesis, the political, social and cultural links between Scotland and Europe in the fifteenth century.
The involvement of the queen in the daily life of the court and her familiarity with royal officers was of particular importance during a minority. The widowed queen’s ability to retain a role in public life stemmed from her status as mother of the young heir to the throne. A mother’s involvement in political life on behalf of her children was regarded as far less threatening than the influence of the king’s wife. But the widowed queen’s status alone could not ensure that she retained a public role. The continuation of such a role was dependent upon the queen mother’s ability to maintain the relationships she had established during her husband’s reign with powerful men in government. Joan Beaufort could not retain a role in the minority government of her son as a result of the factionalism of that government; the men who finally dominated council were not her allies Mary of Guelders, on the other hand, benefitted from the continuity and stability of her son’s minority government in its first three years and was able to play a leading role in that government.
But the medieval princess was not only dependent upon men for exercising her power. The concluding chapter notes the existence of a female network of support in which women, not necessarily mothers, educated and prepared young girls for their future roles as wives, mothers and links in family communication systems. This training of women by women engendered a sense of the importance of the roles they were to play as adults in the broader family network. The existence of this female network is difficult to trace in surviving sources given the importance of example and verbal communication to its operation, but where it is visible it seems to have been a crucial component in the success of male diplomacy. Furthermore, the effort, expense and public celebration of key events such as marriage suggests that male rulers were aware of the important roles played by their daughters, sisters and wives.