Debating Women, Politics, and Power in Early Modern Europe

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Throughout the sixteenth century, much of Western Europe was governed by politically powerful women although their right to rule was hotly contested. Debating Women, Politics, and Power in Early Modern Europe explores the resulting “gynecocracy” debate and the larger humanist response to the challenge posed by female sovereignty. Texts about women rulers included biographies, dialogues, educational treatises, orations, and vitriolic pamphlets, but even the defenders of women offered an ambivalent view of women wielding political power. Men’s voices have long dominated this debate, but the recovery of texts by women now allows their voices, long silenced, to be heard once again.



An important and interesting contribution to the history of women. Jansen has woven together an amazing number of sources and offers a concise discussion of the controversy surrounding female rule in the sixteenth century.”—Shawndra L. Holderberry, Mansfield University of Pennsylvania


Sharon Jansen is a historian who has published a number of fine books, including Dangerous Talk and Strange Behavior: Women and Popular Resistance to the Reforms of Henry VIII and, of particular interest to this review, The Monstrous Regiment of Women: Female Rulers in Early Modern Europe, a book that examined the strong women who ruled in a variety of fashions, as regnant or regent. She begins her current book, Debating Women, describing being in the British Library in 1996 doing research on her Monstrous Regiment book. For background she read widely on the debate about nature and ability in the early modern period. More than a decade later, as Hillary Clinton began her run for the presidency and people today began to wonder about the question of could a woman rule, Jansen decided to go back to that research and write a book that centered on the gynecocracy debate and what it meant for questions of politics and power in early modern Europe. As she points out, though John Knox wrote his First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women centuries ago, people today still debate the question of women and power. . . . Jansen’s book is beautifully written and accessible not only to scholarsbut to a general readership.”—Carole Levin, Renaissance Quarterly



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