Conference Review – Kings & Queens 8, University of Catania

In this article, our social media editor Matt Firth reflects on his experiences at the 2019 Kings & Queens conference, hosted by Università degli Studi di Catania

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A reminder that, if you are thinking of turning your conference paper into an article, Cerae is open for submissions year-round (postgrads and ECRs especially encouraged).

It’s been nearly two weeks since Kings and Queens 8, the conference of the Royal Studies Network, hosted this year in Catania (Italy). I’m not entirely sure where the time has gone, but I have now had a chance to process what was a stimulating, varied, fun and incredibly well organised conference (a real credit to the organisers, and Cinzia Recca in particular).

There was so much to enjoy at this conference it is hard to know where to start! The Kings and Queens conferences are organised thematically – this year’s them being ‘resilience’ – with no limitations placed on either time or place. This makes for a very varied conference: in one of the first sessions on the first day, Eleonora Pappalardo spoke on the origins of Parthian Royalty; in one of the last sessions on the last day, Marwa Dahou spoke on the Moroccan monarchy in relation to the Arab Spring. The papers in between touched in many aspects of resilience in monarchy in the intervening millennia, in many parts of the world. This variety was part of the conference’s charm.

With around 100 papers being presented in three parallel sessions, it was possible to attend a good range of papers, many having little to do with my own area of study. I particularly enjoyed Francesco Barone’s paper on Frederick II’s relations with the Muslims of Western Sicily (the location of the conference in Catania provided for a good number of papers on southern Italy). Maria Fernandez’ paper on the external church decorations at Campostela and the spread of their design through Leon was also a highlight for me, as was Alison McQueen’s paper on the ‘iconography’ of Napoleon III’s reign and how his portrayal in painting and sculpture evolved with the changing fortunes of his rule. Having the opportunity to hear this research was deeply satisfying – sometimes it is nice to escape your own niche and appreciate the breadth of work that is being done by other scholars. Yet it is also true that, just because something is outside of your usual frame of reference, this does not mean it has no relevance to your own work. Many of the papers provided me with new ideas – new angles and frameworks within which to consider Anglo-Saxon queenship.

I gave my paper on the first day of panels – it focused on the martyrdom of King Edward the Martyr, the development of his cult (with particular reference to his stepmother Ælfthryth), and how his narrative was appropriated in the minority rule of Æthelred. It was the only specifically Anglo-Saxon paper at the conference, but it fit well within a panel entitled ‘Resilient Evidence of Medieval Queens’, moderated by Carole Levin. In it, Michael Evans gave a paper looking at the roles Eleanor of Aquitaine and Isabella of France played in rebellion against their crowned husbands; Ellie Woodacre looked at Joan of Navarre’s role as dowager queen and her abilities to weather the fraught Anglo-French politics of the early 15th century; while William Arguelles examined Elizabeth of York’s privy purse accounts for 1502-03, and what could be gleaned of the queen’s thoughts and mentality through a particularly difficulty phase of her life. As a whole, though the papers all took different approaches to queenship and examined different case-studies, all spoke to the precarity of queenship and of reputation, and to the political and personal agency on which medieval queens drew to counter that precarity, embodying resilience.

I really should close this out by once again highlighting the quality of the organisation of the conference and its facilities. A few photos are below, taken by Cinzia’s team of volunteers. It seems incredibly appropriate that the faculties of humanities and education at Università degli Studi di Catania are located within a ex-Benedictine monastery and, for a medievalist it also seemed an incredibly appropriate place for a conference. After the first day’s keynote, we were given the opportunity to take a tour of the (very large) monastery, followed by a drinks reception. The second evening an informal dinner had been organised for attendees, while the third evening was the formal conference dinner hosted in the monastery’s cloisters. On the final evening, a bus tour had been organised to take delegates around Catania (though I was unfortunately unable to attend). We were well fed throughout (!) with traditional Sicilian fare, and given ample time to socialise during breaks. I very much felt that an emphasis was being placed the importance of social events, of taking the time to meet and engage with our colleagues – a recognition that these are just as intrinsic to a conference as giving and attending papers.

Matt Firth

Flinders University

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