The Sound of Sovereignty

In December 2020, CALLIOPE PI Josephine Hoegaerts's chapter 'The Sound of Sovereignty: Royal Vocal Strategies in the Victorian House of Lords' was published open access in the book 'Strategic Imaginations: Women and the Gender of Sovereignty in European Culture' (Leuven University Press). This book investigates the history of political sovereignty from a gender perspective by focusing on female monarchs, among others.

It was Queen Victoria who cemented the model of the ‘feminized’ monarchy, not as a queen consort retrieved from a foreign nation, but as a fully fledged British queen with a strong sense of personal strategy at times when the – profoundly masculine – voice of popular sovereignty had to be reckoned with in any negotiation of political power. While it seems that Victoria is the inevitable suspect in studies of female sovereignty, all the more so since she was the longest-reigning monarch of the British Isles, recent research has addressed this figure and her style of government from angles that reveal aspects contrary to the common notion of ‘the mother of the nation’. Josephine Hoegaerts’s chapter looks at this famous female sovereign from the perspective of voice studies. She focuses on the so-called ‘Queen’s Speech’, the speech delivered at the State Opening of Parliament, and investigates the tensions generated not only by the presence of a royal sovereign voice in a realm representing modern democratic politics, but also by a female voice and body in a profoundly male space and soundscape. As Hoegaerts shows, the speaking queen appealed to the imagination of the public. Her first opening of Parliament ‘in person’ in 1837 received enormous attention in the press, with papers remarking on the Queen’s youth, looks, behaviour and even vocal performance. The Queen’s ‘exceptional silvery tone’ was particularly suited to the performance of sovereignty and helped to overcome the gap between a manly voice and practices of representation, which was confirmed by the consternation that arose when she lapsed into silence in the 1860s. But most importantly, while the event of a woman publicly speaking before an audience of silent men reversed the gender ‘balance’ in Parliament, in the end it did not change but only affirmed and strengthened the identification of modern politics with masculinity.

The free ebook can be downloaded here on the publisher's website.