By Isabel dos Guimarães Sá
Análise Social, Vol.44:192 (2009)
Abstract: The article explores the relationship between precious possessions and power strategies of their owners in the context of the reinforcement of the Crown’s power between c. 1480 and the end of the Avis-Beja dynasty in 1580. Six figures are analysed from a gender perspective: Kings João II, Manuel I, and João III; Beatriz, duchess of Avis, and Queens Leonor and Catarina de Áustria.
Their choice of precious possessions depended not only on personal circumstances but also varied according to their access to political authority. Whereas women accumulated objects in direct relation with their spirituality (with the exception of Queen Catarina), men favoured the possession of religious objects as a strategy in order to reinforce political power and authority.
This article is a first approach to the study of the ways in which conspicuous consumption fashioned gendered identities and claims to political status in the context of Portuguese courts during a period that extends from the last twenty years of the fifteenth century, until the end of the Avis-Beja dynasty in 1580. I shall draw examples from several of the most significant characters in the royal households: King João II, Beatriz, duchess of Beja, her two children Leonor and King Manuel I, João III and Catarina de Áustria. In the context of the transition from the Middle Ages to the Early Modern Period, these individuals also represent a political trajectory that starts with a king threatened by rivals who aspired to the throne (João II); proceeds to the analysis of the women that represented the rival faction, his mother-inlaw Beatriz and wife Leonor; and moves to the last three characters, who represent kingship in a monarchy that no longer had internal competitors. Manuel I ruled as a monarch whose authority was largely unquestioned at the internal level, but needed to construct his international image as a magnificent monarch. He can also be seen to represent the victory of the Beja branch of the royal family, as he was also son of Beatriz and brother to Leonor. João III reigned between 1521 and 1557, when royal finances were far from enjoying the same good health as during his predecessor’s reign; Catarina arrived in Portugal in 1525 as his queen consort and was to obtain a significant political influence both during her husband’s life and after his death (from 1557-1562).