Date of this Version
In 1604, Anna of Denmark performed as the virgin goddess Pallas Athena in the Vision of the Twelve Goddesses, her first royal English masque. She did so wearing a plumed helmet and a costume fashioned from an old gown from the wardrobe of the late Queen Elizabeth, hemmed to show her legs. Years later, in 1638, the daughter-in-law she would never meet, Henrietta Maria, impersonated an Amazon in the final royal masque of the Caroline period, Salmacida Spolia. Both women had a fondness for masquing, and would utilize the performance genre as a means of establishing a dynastic mythology—with themselves at the forefront as powerful figures within that dynasty. Building upon the previous queens’ imagery as Anna did upon Elizabeth’s and Henrietta Maria did upon Anna’s, they each created a mythology by the characters they chose to portray in the masques, as well as deciding which artists to collaborate with and to patronize.
With Anna of Denmark and Henrietta Maria: Virgins, Witches, and Catholic Queens, Susan Dunn-Hensley takes on the parallel tasks of not only filling gaps in the historiography, but also propelling forward a vigorous image- rehabilitation campaign of both early Stuart queens. Her book is right at home in the Queenship and Power series from Palgrave Macmillan, and is interestingly conceived, well researched, engages extensively with secondary literature, and is accessibly written. Dunn-Hensley opens her book with a discussion of the roles of English queens consort from the high medieval period until the early modern. This is well done, but a bit brief as she spends more of the introduction connecting Anna and Henrietta Maria with the late Elizabeth I than to other (consort) queens. Her main argument is twofold: that both Anna and Henrietta Maria, like the late queen Elizabeth, exerted political control and used their patronage to represent themselves as autonomous queens; but because they were consorts and not regnant queens, their power was derived from their fertility, so their constructions of authoritative feminine power were seen as disruptive and dangerous. Dunn-Hensley builds this argument over the course of the book through thematic chapters that deal variously with either Anna or Henrietta Maria. While there is little overlap between them, Dunn-Hensley deftly moves though issues of religion and themes to transgression in royal masques at a good pace. Each chapter provides a sufficient overview, but there are ample avenues for further research, especially in the chapter on Anna and the witches.