The diplomacy of Clara Gonzaga, countess of Montpensier-Bourbon: gendered perspectives of family duty, honour and female agency

Carolyn James

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3 Citations (Scopus)


Between the beginning of the Italian Wars in 1494 and her death in 1503, Clara Gonzaga, the countess of Montpensier-Bourbon, was a significant intermediary in diplomatic relations between the French crown and her brother Francesco, the marquis of Mantua. Correspondence between the siblings and other letters from the Gonzaga archive offer us a rare glimpse of diplomacy from a woman’s perspective and in circumstances where it was necessary to navigate the diverging political perspectives and cultures of honour of natal and spousal kin. This essay explores the difficulties that Clara faced in attempting to influence her brother’s diplomacy and the angst she suffered as a result of his failure to concede that her honour might be distinct from his. I argue that despite these significant constraints, knowledge of a foreign language, closeness to royal power and a deep familiarity with the contrasting political traditions of her Italian and French relatives equipped Clara with skills that equalled, or perhaps sometimes rivalled, those of male diplomatic actors. Yet gendered orthodoxies inhibited acknowledgment by her brother of how central she was to the survival of the Gonzaga regime during Louis XII’s early reign.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)486-502
Number of pages17
JournalRenaissance Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


  • Italian Wars
  • Renaissance Italy
  • women's diplomacy

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