Tracy Adams

senior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2011/2012
discipline Literature
Professor of French, University of Auckland (NZ)

Research project

“School for Ladies”: Women’s Networks and Early Modern European Diplomacy


Female diplomatic activity in pre-modern times traditionally has been regarded as parallel at best and most often as marginal to more serious dealings among male rulers. And yet, because politics were intensely personal/family affairs, focusing to a large extent upon marriage alliances, women’s networking is central to the history of diplomacy.


The project follows the careers of a network of women originating at the court of Anne of Beaujeu (1461-1522), regent for her brother, Charles viii, whose court served as a training ground for a second generation of girls, including Margaret of Austria, Louise of Savoy, and Anne of Brittany. It also follows a third generation of girls including Anne of Brittany’s daughter, Claude, queen of France, her younger daughter, Renée, Duchess of Ferrara, as well as Louise of Savoy’s daughter, Margaret of Navarre, and Anne Boleyn, whose connection can be traced through Margaret of Austria and Margaret of Navarre. 


The study will explore the women’s relationships with each other, their positions in various networks, their technologies of mentoring (surely the women were mentored on how to succeed in a man’s world), and their precise roles in diplomacy. (symbolic and practical).


Evidence of feminine narratives lies hidden but accessible in sources that focus on masculine activity. The “in-between” role that women occupied within political families allowed them to negotiate in ways unavailable to men. Women were more likely than men to move from their country of birth in marriage alliances, and they sometimes wielded a good deal of power in their new homes, representing their family’s interests, sometimes acting as regents, negotiating peace treaties, mediating between religious networks, and facilitating marriage alliances across countries. The study suggests that this potentially powerful position is already theorized by Christine de Pizan in several of her works in the early xvth century and that the theories were passed on to Anne of Beaujeu and the girls she raised, many of whom had access to Christine’s books and some of whom owned tapestries illustrating the Livre de la cité des dames.


The historical component of the study consists of two principal narratives. The first relates the stories of the women’s lives to show how they applied the lessons they learned from Madame de Beaujeu to create courts of their own at which they in turn passed their knowledge on to their own charges. The second explores the specific contributions that these women made to early modern European diplomacy. Also important will be a discussion of the women’s Protestant networks throughout Europe.


The study will be interested into what extent women’s diplomacy can be separated into the practical versus the ritualistic or symbolic, and whether it complemented or interfered with that of career diplomats. The role of marriage alliances in diplomacy will be of special importance in this context: did marriage actually reinforce accords in a serious way? Should marriage alliances be regarded as a pragmatic or symbolic diplomatic practice? During the period studied, international diplomacy moves out of the realm of the family to become a professional bureaucratic activity. What was the significance of this for female diplomatic activity? 



Tracy Adams is Associate Professor in French at the University of Auckland. She holds a PhD from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.

Selected publications


The Life and Afterlife of Isabeau of Bavaria, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2010.


L’Affaire de la Tour de Nesle : Love Affair as Political Conspiracy”, in Bernard Ribémont (ed.), Le crime de l’ombre. Complots, conjurations, conspirations au Moyen Âge, Klinksieck, Paris, 2010.


Violent Passions: Managing Love in the Medieval French Romance, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2005.


junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2014/2015
Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS-KNAW)
discipline Cultural Studies
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS-KNAW)
discipline Psychology
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS-KNAW)
discipline Neurosciences
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2011/2012
Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS-KNAW)
discipline Law