E. William Monter


On his book The Rise of Female Kings in Europe, 1300-1800

Cover Interview of January 19, 2012

A close-up

My favorite passage comes at the end of the first chapter (pages 23-25), comparing and contrasting the forms of doppelgänger used by three women, many centuries and thousands of miles apart, in order to explain and justify their unusual authority.  The most difficult was required for a Chinese woman of notoriously humble ancestry.  Her successful formula combined an obscure Buddhist sutra, describing a bodhisattva incarnated in an “instrumental” (but not real) female body, with a Confucian aphorism about the Mandate of Heaven falling on a “saint [who comes] from grass.”  The resulting doctrine was preached by acolytes in special temples throughout her empire; two of their master texts have been preserved.

Anohter favorite section (pages 36-40) describes the major unwritten rules governing female inheritance in European monarchies. Because formal political theory evaded the problem, these rules must be induced from surviving evidence. They were not obvious.  Even Catherine the Great, attempting to draft rules of succession for the Russian Empire, could not find a formula that would justify her own rule.  The most fundamental criterion, although almost never discussed specifically, turned out to be legitimate birth.  In 1460, the last illegitimate male to acquire a European kingdom by overthrowing a younger but legitimate female sibling did so only with assistance from an Egyptian jihad.

I’d also be happy if casual readers opened to the illustrations grouped after page 121.  Originally I requested forty, but ended up with only seventeen.  However, all of these carry politically-charged messages about how women rulers have been presented in ways emphasizing their authority across the 3500 years separating Hatshepsut and Margaret Thatcher.