Women of distinction, Margaret of York & Margaret of Austria

Dagmar EICHBERGER

Turnhout, Brepols, Signle Titles in Art History, 2005, 320 p., 60 euros

This catalogue-handbook with sixteen essays was conceived to accompany an international exhibition organised by the city of Mechelen (Malines) in 2005. Both the exhibition and the catalogue highlight an important aspect of Burgundian culture: the impact of noble women on life at the court and in the city around 1500. The essays plus 153 catalogue entries are grouped in five distinct sections: 1) Mechelen, City in Female Hands, 2) Family, Dynasty and Diplomacy, 3) Female Concerns and Matters of Gender, 4) Women, Religion and Literary Culture, 5) The Art of Collecting and the Wonders of the World.

Margaret of York (1446-1503), the English princess married to Duke Charles-the-Bold, and Margaret of Austria (1480-1530), the only daughter of Mary of Burgundy, both lived in Mechelen as well-to-do widows and are therefore the focal point of this publication. At the time, the city of Mechelen was the cosmopolitan and administrative centre of the Burgundian Netherlands. Both women carried high responsibilities in matters of education, learning, devotion, government, diplomacy, patronage, public appearance and court etiquette. The book looks at the way in which court ladies were meant to behave within a given societal framework and also discusses how each individual interpreted her role by actively negotiating her position of authority.

The essays were written by leading scholars from different disciplines such as Wim Blockmans, Krista De Jonge, Dagmar Eichberger, Birgit Franke, Marie-Madeleine Fontaine, Anne-Marie Legaré, Philippe Lorentz and Walter Prevenier. This book provides much more than a biographical account of two « women of distinction », but regards their lives as paradigmatic for upper-class women of that time. The study takes a fresh look at the transition from the late Middle Ages to the early modern period and offers the reader essential information as well as new insights into matters of gender and female concern.