Carol Pal

An Ephemeral Academy at the Exile Court: The Hague in the 1630s

Intellectual Geography / Monday 5 September, 2011

As new scholarship continues to demonstrate, knowledge does not just emerge—it is produced. And while ideas may not possess bodies, the people originating these ideas must inhabit a physical space; thus even in the abstract republic of letters, knowledge always bore the imprint of its location. One such location, in the 1630s, was the Queen of Bohemia’s exile court in The Hague. Geographically, culturally, and intellectually, it was an environment perfectly suited to these learned encounters—a unique environment that produced a very specific form of intellectual association and knowledge-making.

This paper considers the scholarly interactions at the exile court as a case study in the intellectual geography of seventeenth-century Europe; and through this analytical lens, it emerges as more than just a locus for learned exchange. The heady mix of minds at the exile court also represented a wide range of accomplishment—from celebrated scholars at one end of the scale to eager learners at the other—whose interaction was such that this location also functioned in some ways as an academy. And one of the unique features of this ephemeral academy was that it was especially useful for the development of female scholarship.

Since female scholars lacked the supportive environment of the university, they used the physical location of the exile court as both a locus of association, and a site for learning and mentorship. Extant evidence documents female scholars from Germany, Ireland, France, and the Netherlands engaging with the world of ideas as participants, colleagues, and mentors, eschewing the more familiar roles of hostess, patron, or acolyte. This paper consider four women—Anna Maria van Schurman, Marie du Moulin, Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia, and Dorothy Moore—for whom the exile court was both a space of association and an ad-hoc academy in the republic of letters.