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Servants of the Dynasty

Servants of the Dynasty: Palace Women in World History

Edited by Anne Walthall
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    Servants of the Dynasty
    Book Description:

    Mothers, wives, concubines, entertainers, attendants, officials, maids, drudges. By offering the first comparative view of the women who lived, worked, and served in royal courts around the globe, this work opens a new perspective on the monarchies that have dominated much of human history. Written by leading historians, anthropologists, and archeologists, these lively essays take us from Mayan states to twentieth-century Benin in Nigeria, to the palace of Japanese Shoguns, the Chinese Imperial courts, eighteenth-century Versailles, Mughal India, and beyond. Together they investigate how women's roles differed, how their roles changed over time, and how their histories can illuminate the structures of power and societies in which they lived. This work also furthers our understanding of how royal courts, created to project the authority of male rulers, maintained themselves through the reproductive and productive powers of women.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94151-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xi)
  6. [MAP]
    (pp. xii-xii)
    (pp. 1-21)
    Anne Walthall

    Mothers, wives, concubines, attendants, officials, maids, drudges. The women who worked and lived in palaces fulfilled diverse roles and served in many capacities. They might spend a lifetime behind walls in close proximity to their master, their fate tied to his, or they might stay only a few years and leave without ever having seen him. Sometimes the choice of whether to pursue a career in the palace was theirs to make; more often it was not. Regardless of their position, they enlivened an institution of remarkable persistence and ubiquity.

    For most of human history in almost every corner of...

    (pp. 22-44)
    Barbara Watson Andaya

    In 1666 a publisher in the Dutch city of Dordrecht printed a small book, unassumingly titledA Javanese Journey from Batavia to the Royal Capital of Mataram via Semarang.Attributed to a certain “Mr. N.N.,” it comprised a description of the route, together with an account of “the manners, customs, and the government of the Susuhunan [Amangkurat I, r. 1646–77], the mightiest king in the island of Java.” We now know that the author was Rijklof van Goens (1619–82), an employee and later governor-general of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), and that the original narrative was written...

    (pp. 45-64)
    Takeshi Inomata

    Archaeologists and students working at the Classic Maya site of Aguateca in the rain forest of Guatemala were exhilarated at the sight of what they were unearthing. As they carefully removed dirt from the remains of ancient elite residences, it became clear that these buildings were full of objects that Classic Maya courtiers made and used, perhaps left behind because an enemy attack had brought Aguateca to a sudden and violent end. Among the numerous artifacts discovered during the excavations were beautiful figurines of noble women, some of them holding a child. Excavators also unearthed bone needles, spindle whorls, and...

    (pp. 65-80)
    Kathryn M. Ringrose

    The Byzantine Empire is an easy target for the historian’s orientalizing reflexes. Long accused of oriental decadence and overlaid by centuries of Western perceptions of the oriental harem, the Byzantine court has been stereotyped by observers as a place where women lived in harems—in oriental seclusion guarded by fierce eunuch guards. We cherish images drawn from Mozart’sAbduction from the Seraglioand seek out sources with which to construct a thesis that affirms these expectations. It takes no effort to put Byzantium into an oriental box—the one we once used for the Ottoman harem before Leslie Peirce so...

  11. 4 BEYOND HAREM WALLS: Ottoman Royal Women and the Exercise of Power
    (pp. 81-95)
    Leslie P. Peirce

    For roughly one hundred years, from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth centuries, women of the Ottoman royal family exercised so much influence on the political life of the empire that this period is often referred to, in both scholarly and popular writing, as “the sultanate of women.” High-ranking dynastic women, especially the mother of the reigning sultan and his leading concubines, were considerably more active than their predecessors in the direct exercise of political power—in creating and manipulating domestic political factions, in negotiating with ambassadors of foreign powers, and in acting as regents to their sons. In addition, this...

    (pp. 96-114)
    Ruby Lal

    In chapter 15 of the final part of his chronicle,A‘in-i Akbari,Abu-l Fazl (1551–1602), the imperial chronicler for Akbar the Great (1556–1605), recorded the regulations regarding the Mughalharam.¹ His treatment marked its institutionalization, setting forth not only its physical layout at Fatehpur-Sikri but its conceptual framework as well. Courtly and domestic spaces came, for the first time, to be distinctly separated from each other. A neatly compartmentalizedharamwas designed to place women in a strictly segregated space in terms of physical structures, ritual practices, and imperial regulations—for “good order and propriety,” as Abu-l Fazl...

  13. 6 POLITICS IN AN AFRICAN ROYAL HAREM: Women and Seclusion at the Royal Court of Benin, Nigeria
    (pp. 115-136)
    Flora Edouwaye S. Kaplan

    My study is the first to be based on direct observation and participation in the Oba’s harem at the Benin royal court. What has previously been known is episodic, derived from oral tradition and information collected secondhand by colonial officials, historians, ethnographers, traders, and visitors who invariably were men—talking to other men about women, and then writing down what they assumed to be true. In this respect Benin resembles many early accounts of palace women in the Middle East, China, India, and elsewhere up to the twentieth century. On rare occasion, such as the letters of Lady Mary Wortley...

  14. 7 QING IMPERIAL WOMEN: Empresses, Concubines, and Aisin Gioro Daughters
    (pp. 137-158)
    Shuo Wang

    When the Qianlong emperor took Xiangfeias his concubine in 1760, he made an exception by taking a non-Manchu woman into the inner palace. Xiangfeiwas Uyghur, considered a distinctly different ethnicity by the Qing court. Worse, she was Muslim in a court that used religious practices as one way to distinguish its ethnic identity from that of the surrounding Han Chinese population. Yet when the Qianlong emperor married his seventh daughter to a Mongol prince, no one thought anything of it. Although emperor and daughter belonged to the same social and ethnic group, they experienced status and...

    (pp. 159-171)
    Isolde Thyrêt

    The turbulent private life of Tsar Ivan IV (1530–84) in the later part of his reign and the effects it had on his eldest son and heir, Ivan Ivanovich, decisively shaped the role of Russian royal wives(tsaritsy)during this period.¹ While Muscovite Russian society was based on the concept of one autocratic Orthodox ruler, the multiple marriages of Ivan IV and his son Ivan Ivanovich, which more often than not resulted in the forced tonsure of their wives, promoted the notion that during this period several royal wives rightfully coexisted in the realm. According to Antonio Possevino, a...

  16. 9 SERVANTS OF THE INNER QUARTERS: The Women of the Shogun’s Great Interior
    (pp. 172-190)
    Hata Hisako

    Sometime in the 1840s, a messenger in the shogun’s service named Fujinami sent the following letter to her family: “As for having your acquaintance’s fourteen-year-old daughter placed with me, it would be all right if it’s only for one or two years because I have the leeway to cover the costs. Once you’ve brought her to Edo, you should first have her get used to the city at great-aunt Gyōzen’s house. After that I’ll take care of her here. Please have her bring her nightclothes with her.”¹ Fujinami made a career of working for the shogun; bringing this young woman...

  17. 10 WOMEN OF VERSAILLES, 1682–1789
    (pp. 191-214)
    Kathryn Norberg

    Versailles is one of the most written about palaces on earth, but we know more about the women of the palace at Edo or Aceh than we do about the ladies of Louis XIV’s chateau.¹ To be sure, we know the French women’s names: Madame de Maintenon, the marquise de Pompadour, and Marie-Antoinette. We even know a great deal about their lives: biographies of individual women, especially royal mistresses, fill the library shelves. Nor are primary sources wanting. Contemporary observers such as Saint-Simon and Primi Visconti filled their memoirs with portraits of duchesses, ladies-in-waiting, and (of course) royal mistresses.


  18. 11 CONCUBINES AND CLOTH: Women and Weaving in Aztec Palaces and Colonial Mexico
    (pp. 215-231)
    Susan Toby Evans

    When Cortés arrived in the Aztec Empire of Mexico in 1519, he observed that rich men and noblemen had many wives. This marriage pattern, polygyny, contrasted to that of Cortés’s native Spain and of the entire Christian world, in which only monogamous unions were legally recognized. The Spanish Conquest of the Aztec Empire changed much of Aztec culture: ancient Mexico’s land and riches came under Spain’s control, and its native people were converted to Christianity—and obliged to obey marriage laws that demanded monogamous unions. This change in marriage practices had severe economic consequences for the Aztec nobility, because Aztec...

    (pp. 232-260)
    Heidi J. Nast

    This essay presents preliminary historical geographic evidence from three sites discovered in and near the ancient city-state of Kano, in northern Nigeria, that shows that as early as the 1500s, royal concubines in the Kano palace held exclusive rights over the production of indigo-dyed cloth; and that they did so because of indigo blue’s association with human and earthly fertility over which royalty was understood to have control. The data suggest that over subsequent centuries, royal and nonroyal women across Hausaland (a linguistic region straddling Nigeria and Niger of which Kano was a leading economic and cultural part)¹ began producing...

    (pp. 261-279)
    Beverly Bossler

    Some time during the twenty-fourth year of the Chinese dynasty known as the Song (960–1279)—the year we call 983—a young girl of fourteen was taken into the palace of a prince, the heir apparent to the Chinese throne. This young girl was an entertainer, known for her skill on the hand drum. The prince, only a year older than she, found her fascinating, and the love affair that ensued lasted until his death nearly forty years later. By that time the prince had himself occupied the dragon throne for twenty-five years; at his death, his lover took...

  21. 14 THE VANISHED WOMEN OF KOREA: The Anonymity of Texts and the Historicity of Subjects
    (pp. 280-298)
    JaHyun Kim Haboush

    About one-third of the way throughThe Record of the Event of1613, the seven-yearold Prince Yŏngch’ang is taken from his mother, Queen Dowager Inmok, by order of King Kwanghae, his much older half brother. On that day, the royal messengers who had been ordered to take the prince engaged in a long struggle with Queen Inmok and her serving women, who pleaded and resisted his arrest. Later that day, it was obvious to all that the situation was hopeless and resistance vain.

    The women who were in service to the prince coaxed him, “Your Highness will have to be...

    (pp. 299-326)
    Jo Burr Margadant

    Modernizing the domestic face of monarchy constitutes a major challenge for royal families even today in Europe, to judge only by the spectacular example of the House of Windsor. At the least opportunity, the popular media turn royal domesticity into soap opera or worse to feed a public hungry for glimpses of royals’ intimate lives. That interest and the political problems it creates for monarchies are not new to European royalty. As any number of historians of France and England have shown, politically potent revelations of imagined or actual royal family secrets developed over the course of the eighteenth and...

    (pp. 327-358)
  24. List of Contributors
    (pp. 359-362)
  25. INDEX
    (pp. 363-381)
  26. Back Matter
    (pp. 382-383)