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The Power of Networks and the Networks of Power

The Power of Networks and the Networks of Power: the social and political networks of Mary I

In my non-academic career, I have spent a considerable amount of time looking at ‘big data’, to identify patterns that can be investigated to give new insights when analysing information. Consequently, I found the module on digital humanities in the Master’s in Historical Research fascinating. I was eager to propose a topic for my PhD that combined data skills I already had with traditional historiography to see what might emerge.

At the same time, I am fascinated by networks – not just genealogy (although that is a pet interest – have a look at the Shop page here), but the kinds of networks of reciprocation that have existed throughout human history. In the twenty-first century, some of the most successful enterprises in the world have been built on the principle that social, financial, and political success is predicated on the strength of an individual’s network. As the old saying goes, it is not what you know, but who you know, that matters. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and now Threads, are all manifestations of this essential truth about human society. So, although the term ‘networking’ may be a modern one, the activity was a fundamental part of medieval and early modern society as well. I wanted to use modern data analysis and mapping techniques to look at networks in the past – building on work done in projects such as Six Degrees of Francis Bacon, the Early Modern Letters Online, and Ahnert’s Tudor Networks.

My third area of interest remained Mary I of England – the first woman to be crowned as a queen regnant in England. Mary has been portrayed in a negative light for centuries – her achievements belittled and overshadowed by supporters of her half-sister, Elizabeth I, and the religious persecution of her reign focused on out of all proportion compared with the attention given to religious persecution in her father or sister’s reigns. In the last decade or so, there has been a certain amount of academic re-appraisal of Mary and her reign, and I wished to contribute to this.

Bringing these threads together, the topic for my doctoral thesis is ‘The Power of Networks and the Networks of Power: The social and political networks of Mary I’. I am in the School of European Language, Culture, and Society (SELCS) at UCL, and am being supervised by Dr Alexander Samson. My second supervisor is Dr Matthew Symonds from the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters (CELL). I am just completing the third academic year, and will be writing up my thesis for submission in mid-2024.

I have presented preliminary findings at:

  • Medieval, Renaissance and Early Modern Seminars (MREMS) in 2021
  • Royal Studies Network Kings and Queens Conference 2022
  • The January 2023 international seminar sponsored by The British Spanish Society and UCL: The Education of a Christian woman (1523) in the construction of the image of female power of Queen Mary I of England (1553-1558)
  • MREMS in 2023

I am working on an article for the Royal Studies Network Journal. It will form part of a cluster on Queenship and Cross-confessional Identities. The working title for my article is Mary I’s heretical friends.