|Taking the Quill to be Visible: Female Aristocracy and Letter-writing in Spain during the Golden Age|
|From the 1980s, the new cultural history has returned to egodocuments, so recent historiography has dealt with female Spanish writers in the Early Modern period. Most researchers, however, have focused on the spiritual letters and autobiographies, in view of their high number and the interest aroused by some women as Teresa of Ávila. Therefore, the female correspondence about intimacy and family matters or, by contrary, issues related to the Court, politics or house managing still remains as a little explored field.
This paper will analyze the letter writing uses and correspondence functions of female aristocracy, through which they became visible beyond their homes and, even, their countries. For that, we consider both manuscripts and printing sources: female letters and also the early modern Spanish legislation (that which pretended to regulate the letter writing), the epistolary manuals and, obviously, the pedagogical literature for women’s instruction.
In fact, we could argue that the assumed invisibility of the female aristocratic letter writer is a rather modern if we first consider that the Spanish legislation during the XVI-XVII centuries had regulated the male and female letter writing equally. Secondly, many examples of female letters were printed in those epistolary manuals, most of them “written” by a “modelic” noblewoman. Finally, although moralists and humanists had underscored in their pedagogical treatises and moral discourses how dangerous could be a quill in a women’s hand –mainly because women could lose their “honour” just writing, as so repeatedly and perfectly it had been represented in the Golden Age theater-, female aristocrats were the exception: not being able neither to read nor write was a “fault” in a noblewoman. In that sense, the letter became a space for the “othering”, as the perfect way to appear in the public and institutional scene; it was an instrument not only for intimate communication but also to place themselves as political and cultural informants, agents and patrons and, even, to manage their states and serve at the female royal households.
In conclusion, I will argue that, as members of that privileged group, female aristocrats were obliged to take the quill in order to play their role at the Court, to administer their own or familiar patrimony and, finally, to create aristocratic networks and, at the same time, generate social distinction.|