Public lecture – Dr Nadine Akkerman

We are delighted to welcome Dr Nadine Akkerman of the University of Leiden, who will present a lecture entitled ‘Missreading Women, Misleading Women: How One Letter Changes Everything.’  The lecture will be held on Thursday 20 April, at 5.30 pm, in the Arts Lecture Theatre, and is followed by a workshop on Friday 21 April on The British-Dutch World in the Age of Elizabeth of Bohemia.  Anyone wishing to attend the workshop should contact Steve Murdoch no later than noon on Wednesday 19 April.

Elizabeth Stuart (1596-1662) was at the centre of European diplomacy, warfare and intrigue for much of her life. The daughter of James VI of Scotland, she was brought up in England following her father’s accession to the English throne in 1603. In 1613 she married the German Protestant, Frederick V, Count Palatine of the Rhine, and settled at their grand court in Heidelberg. When Frederick was elected king of Bohemia in 1619, they moved to Prague, but their reign was short-lived – earning them the soubriquets the ‘Winter Queen’ and the ‘Winter King’ – when Frederick was defeated by his Catholic rival for the throne at the battle of the White Mountain, often taken as the first engagement of the Thirty Years War. Forced to flee Bohemia, Elizabeth spent much of the rest of her life in the Hague, where she bore Frederick eight children before his death in 1632, and where she maintained a voluminous correspondence with key political, religious and cultural figures in contemporary Europe.

Dr Nadine Akkerman’s extensive research on Elizabeth has included editing three substantial volumes of her correspondence, published by Oxford University Press.

Her lecture draws on this research to explore the hitherto neglected role of women as spies in 17th century Europe. Challenging the assumption that women played little or no role in espionage, she will show how shop-keepers, singers, nurses, ladies-in-waiting, postmistresses, and women in other professions and positions operated as spies, especially during the period 1647-1667. Unlike men, these women were not restricted by codes of chivalry and honour. Sometimes they worked alone, but there is substantial evidence to suggest their involvement in secret spy networks. Hitherto unexamined archival material reveals the underground whereabouts of early modern female spies. How did early modern women spies operate differently from their male colleagues? To what extent were they successful and for what reasons? What were the advantages and restrictions of their gender? And, finally, how did female, seemingly informal, news networks intersect with the male world of high diplomacy, intelligence, and espionage? By addressing such questions, Dr Akkerman will demonstrate that early modern espionage was by no means a male preserve.

The lecture will be followed by a wine reception.