Changing Social Representations of Political Order ca. 1800

Governmental Concepts in the Correspondence of Maria Carolina of Naples-Sicily


This project aims to edit and analyse a portion of the private correspondence of Maria Carolina, queen of Naples-Sicily (1752–1814). As a daughter of Queen Maria Theresa and Emperor Francis I, Maria Carolina came of age at the court of Vienna alongside her many famous siblings including Joseph II, Marie Antoinette, Marie Christine, and Marie Elisabeth. In 1768, she married Ferdinando IV, king of Naples-Sicily, and within a few years became a powerful political figure at the Neapolitan court. She participated actively in the court’s political considerations while she still made her views known at home in Vienna through her frequent letter exchanges with her family.

As the closing decades of the eighteenth century became more turbulent, Maria Carolina became increasingly interested in wider political developments across Europe, immersing herself within a network of family members, foreign rulers, and diplomats who all shared concerns about the rapidly changing times. Her frequent, lengthy, and candid discussions with this network about political developments in Europe spanned over thirty years. She opined her political judgements on contemporary events, offered advice, and shared her deepest apprehensions of revolutionary change. Maria Carolina’s personal correspondence, therefore, allows us to see how rulers developed coping strategies for the turbulence around them as well as to be able to discern their shifting values and beliefs in ideal governance. We can ask what ideals did rulers such as Maria Carolina surrender or abandon? What ideals did they preserve at all costs? In what ways did their ideals change? How did the idealistic vision of enlightened rule fare in a revolutionary crucible?

Although Maria Carolina enjoyed an extensive correspondence, we have chosen three fruitful veins as the basis for this project: her correspondence with her brother Emperor Leopold II (from 1778 to 1792), with her nephew and son-in-law Emperor Franz II/I (from 1792 to 1814), and her daughter, the last Holy Roman Empress Marie Therese (from 1774 to 1807). This selection contains around 2,679 letters; 655 written between Maria Carolina and Leopold, 322 between her and Franz, and 1,702 between her and Marie Therese.

In the first stage of the project, we will create a critical online open-access edition of the letters. In the second stage, we will analyse the correspondence across three main areas: evaluating the overall network of individuals mentioned in the letters, uncovering changing thoughts on governmental structures within their respective territories, and considering the overarching political relationships across Europe. We pay particular attention to the change and continuity in their ideas of political order based on the concept of “social representations” as advanced by Serge Moscovici. This approach defines such representations as the shared ideas of a social group that develop over time and are discernable by investigating their use of language and terminology. This focus connects this project with wider research in the field of political communication.  


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