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Dr Elena Woodacre: ‘Is it all about the Money? Joan of Navarre and the economic element of Queenship’

The recent engagement of Meghan Markle to Prince Harry has sparked media interest internationally and the much discussed event has also contributed to women belonging to (or entering) the British Royal Family being in the public gaze once again. The success and popularity of historical dramas focusing on modern queens, such as Victoria and the newly released second season of The Crown, confirm how much modern audiences are fascinated by the subject.

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Perfect timing then, on Wednesday 6th December, to host Dr Elena Woodacre (University of Winchester) at the last History and Heritage research seminar of the semester, who presented her research on Queen Joan of Navarre (1370-1437).  Dr Woodacre discussed the economic activity of Joan, wife to Henry IV, especially regarding her dower. In her paper, Dr Woodacre examined what exactly constituted Joan’s dower; whether and how she managed to attain (through constant struggle) the correct amount due to her as a queen, and how she spent her money.

Dr Elena Woodacre

Dr Elena Woodacre

All these aspects demonstrated how significant Joan’s economic activity was to the royal court. It certainly had an impact on the kings’ politics, an example being Joan’s imprisonment from 1419 to 1422 after being accused of necromancy by her own step-son Henry V, who was most likely motivated by financial need.

As an MA student in Medieval Studies, I found this paper particularly fascinating and enlightening for the ways in which the selection of sources presented by Dr Woodacre made me consider and re-assess a range of approaches to medieval economics. The analysis of Joan’s household accounts, which show annual expenditure, shed new light on the behaviour, personal relationships, networks and ways of operating of Joan as a queen, but also as an individual.

Dr Woodacre’s truly engaging paper demonstrated that the accurate examination of queens’ economic activity allows historians to get an insight into a wide range of aspects concerning their personal connections, political strategies and modes of behaviour, which perhaps one might not expect to gather from account books. Thank you, Dr Woodacre, for such a valuable lesson, worth applying to the study of queenship and beyond.