Epistolary power: letters of the seventeenth-century Dutch and Frisian stadtholders’ wives


This afternoon, at the Royal Palace [Koninklijk Paleis] in Amsterdam, a reception is being held to mark the publication in EMLO of the catalogues of correspondence of six wives of the seventeenth-century Dutch and Frisian stadtholders. These catalogues — which contain at present a combined total of circa three-and-a-half-thousand letter records — have been compiled by Dr Ineke Huysman of the Huygens ING, and their publication coincides with a glorious exhibition at the Royal Palace, Portraits of the House of Orange-Nassau.

What could be more fitting, as speeches are made, glasses raised, and the ribbon is cut, than for proceedings to unfold beneath the watchful painted eyes of Sophia Hedwig von Braunschweig-Wolffenbüttel (1592–1642)Amalia von Solms-Braunfels (1602–1675)Mary Stuart, Princess Royal and Princess of Orange (1631–1661)Albertine Agnes van Oranje-Nassau (1634–1696)Mary II Stuart, Princess of Orange and later Queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1662–1694); and Henriette Amalia von Anhalt-Dessau (1666–1726)? These talented and influential women fulfilled a range of high-profile roles in the course of their respective lives: spouse, mother, regent, and — as the correspondence reveals — diplomat. That their voices may be heard again today is due to the extraordinary dedication of Dr Huysman, who has worked tirelessly to reassemble their letters and to provide EMLO’s users with access for the very first time, via the portal of the Royal Collections The Netherlands, to images of many of the manuscripts themselves.

As the correspondences move into the union catalogue, thanks to collaboration with our colleagues Professor James Daybell and Dr Kim McLean-Fiander who created the WEMLO resource, users may choose to consult these letters in a number of different ways: by individual correspondence (as listed above); together as a combined catalogue; within the context of other correspondence from, to, or mentioning women; or alongside the correspondence of their male counterparts. We are delighted also to be showcasing this cluster of royal correspondences in a virtual exhibition, for it is here, as the curator Dr Huysman continues her painstaking work, that she will query, visualize, and discuss the shape and patterns within and across both the correspondences and the networks of correspondents as they emerge. Over the course of the next weeks and months, as Dr Huysman adds further letters, these six catalogues will swell, and we’re thrilled that work will commence also to collate the correspondences of of the sixteenth- and the eighteenth-century stadtholders’s wives. In addition, a number of closely related catalogues due for release in EMLO later this year will provide interesting perspectives and intersections, and as the threads that bind this group of correspondences thicken and tighten, we’d advise you — along with the six princesses who gaze down from the walls of the palace today — to keep an eye on developments.

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