‘La Caixa’ Fellowship: Queens’ Households in Thirteenth-Century England and Iberia

by Paula Del Val Vales
MPhil/PhD History Student

‘How does studying thirteenth-century queens’ households benefit society?’ This was the final question I was asked during the interview process of the Postgraduate Fellowship Abroad granted by the ‘La Caixa’ foundation, awarded to 120 successful candidates out of more than 1,300 applicants from Spain and Portugal in all the disciplines of knowledge. The interview was the last stage of a process which had begun four months earlier, with a written selection which included submitting a Personal Statement, a CV, and three letters of recommendation, as well as meeting several language and grade requirements. The fellowship, which covers the tuition fees of any chosen university for a maximum period of two years, together with a monthly allowance and travel expenses to your chosen destination, has been awarded in previous years to candidates to study MAs or PhDs at the MIT, Harvard, Stanford, or Yale, among others. In fact, this is the first time a student at the University of Lincoln has been granted a ‘La Caixa’ fellowship to pursue their postgraduate studies, in my case, an MPhil/PhD in medieval queens.

My thesis, ‘The Queen’s Household in the Thirteenth-Century: A Comparative Anglo-Iberian Study’, explores the queens’ own households and courts across three different kingdoms: Castile, the Crown of Aragon, and England. This project is the result of several years of academic studies, which began at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, where I became fascinated by medieval queens and particularly by Iberian queenship. Like many students, I wanted to experience a year abroad, and I decided to travel to England to study my MA at King’s College London. There, I signed up to the module ‘The History of Medieval Women: Image and Reality’, and it was in one of these lectures where I heard for the first time about the English queen Eleanor of Provence, thanks to Professor David Carpenter. Although I had known for a long time that I wanted to pursue a doctorate, it wasn’t until then that I decided that I wanted to bring together my knowledge on Iberian queens with my newly-found interest for thirteenth-century England and Queen Eleanor. This led me to apply to study for an MPhil/PhD at the University of Lincoln, since the School of History & Heritage was the ideal place to bring together both spheres of knowledge under Professor Louise Wilkinson’s and Dr Antonella Liuzzo Scorpo’s supervision.

At the time, if you had asked me how my research resonated beyond the academic world, I would have probably frozen. Little did I know that applying for this programme would enable me to discover how impactful researching the Middle Ages can be in society, and that eight months into my MPhil/PhD I would be able to demonstrate it to the interviewing panel of the ‘La Caixa’ Foundation.

Researching the way medieval women accessed power, financed their own initiatives, and surrounded themselves with loyal and reliable personnel enables us to revisit the idea that medieval women were only influential in rare occasions. My thesis, building upon the work of previous scholars, develops the notion that powerful and politically and socially significant women may not have been an exception in the thirteenth-century, but rather that their role within the monarchy has been obscured. Luckily, the idea that studying medieval women is necessary for a complete understanding of the Middle Ages is widely spread throughout the academic world, but unfortunately it is yet to be fully transmitted to the wider public. Understanding these queens’ own establishments will enable us to re-shape our understanding of women’s roles within European monarchies and institutions, in a century filled with new developments such as the issuing of Magna Carta in 1215, and the appearance of the first Cortes in Iberia.

The ‘La Caixa’ fellowship will provide me with an unparalleled opportunity to carry on my research in an exceptional university, which holds the biggest cluster of Iberianist Medievalists in the UK, together with leading thirteenth-century scholars, and this will hopefully be the first step towards a career devoted to the study of medieval queens