New research on Bohemian queens wins master’s student Mitacs Award

Master’s student from U of T wins Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation for her research on the queens and noblewomen of medieval Bohemia.

Sophie Charron’s childhood interest in the queens of Europe drove her to pursue a master’s degree in Medieval Studies. Working under Professor Shami Ghosh at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Medieval Studies, Charron’s highly original research focuses on the queens and noblewomen of medieval Bohemia.

To further her research, Charron participated in the Mitacs Globalink Research Award. Thanks to the program, she flew to the Czech Republic to study under Dr. David Kalhous at Masaryk University for a period of six months. While overseas, Charron studied the four wives of Charles IV, Holy Emperor and King of Bohemia beginning with his third wife, Anne of Świdnica, who, up until this point, has otherwise been overlooked in much of the academic literature pertaining to this period of history.

During her time studying with Dr. David Kalhous at Masaryk University in the Czech Republic, Charron perused new sources of information and examined existing material for a closer look into the political and cultural contributions of medieval Bohemian queens.

Although Charron set out to study all four of Charles IV’s wives, Blanche de Valois, Anne of Bavaria, Anne of Świdnica, and Elizabeth of Pomerania, she was particularly intrigued by a letter written to Anne of Świdnica by the Italian Renaissance scholar and poet Francesco Petrarca (commonly referred to as Petrarch). This letter provided valuable insight into the empress’s life at court. Charron scoured books, archives, churches, and statues for clues that could shed more light on Anne’s education, political beliefs, and influence during the golden age of Prague.

Previous scholarship had depicted Anne of Świdnica as an “ornament to the court” and “a handsome, capricious girl-woman.” This letter allowed Charron to tell a more inclusive, accurate, and nuanced story about Anne of Świdnica and her life not only as an empress, but also as a mother and wife.

A feminist perspective

By focusing on untold stories about the important political and cultural roles of queens in 14th century Central Europe, Charron’s research offers a unique and feminist perspective that is helping to bridge the gender gap in medieval scholarship.

“There’s so much that could be said about the contributions of Bohemian queens based on the material and evidence we have. The problem is, no one has made the effort to say it,” explains Charron. She argues that because queens faced barriers in exercising power, they often expressed it differently than men but that the ways in which their authority was manifested deserves analysis as rigorous as has been applied to the history of male leadership.

Indeed, almost nothing has been written about the wives of one of Bohemia’s most important kings until now. “Is there evidence to suggest the women in this royal family used their resources to take part in politics, patronage, and propaganda of the day? That they had personalities, commissioned manuscripts, and patronized saints? The answer is very clearly, yes,” she asserts.

Through this important research, Charron hopes to expose the horizons of agency of late-medieval queens, as today’s women leaders still struggle to receive the same recognition as their male counterparts. Her goal is to challenge our existing assumptions about power and how we think about gender and inclusivity in politics.

What’s next?

Charron credits the Mitacs Globalink Research Award for enabling the ideal conditions for her to pursue her lifelong goal of researching medieval history in the Czech Republic. “The Mitacs Globalink Research Award enabled me to pursue my dream. It was a wonderful journey of self-discovery and academic discovery that helped to confirm this is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” she says.

Eventually Charron plans on publishing a historical biography about the wives of Charles IV of Bohemia. For now, however, she is dedicating herself to her research which is expected to have a lasting impact not only on the study of medieval history, but also on the field of gender studies.

Chosen from thousands of researchers, Sophie Charron is one of eight winners of the 2021 Mitacs Awards. Charron’s highly original research earned her the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation – International, a prize that was awarded during a ceremony held in Ottawa on November 23, 2021.

Mitacs’s programs receive funding from valued partners across Canada. We thank the Government of Canada, the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies, the Government of Saskatchewan, and the Government of Yukon for supporting us to foster innovation and economic growth throughout the country. 

We are also grateful to our international partners. In 2021-2022, Mitacs is pleased to work with partners in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, China, Colombia, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Singapore, Taiwan, Tunisia, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and United States to support Globalink (see full list of partners of the Globalink Research Internship and the Globalink Research Award). 

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Mitacs Team
Mitacs Team

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