Sabloff, Paula L. W.

Comparative analysis of women rulers and main wives of kings in eight premodern states around the globe reveals similar patterns of political agency, or the opportunity and ability to take political action. Queen rulers, regents, and main wives substituting for their husbands in their absence made policy, but they had somewhat less political agency than male rulers. Main wives’ political agency took the forms of influencing policy and people’s behavior (sometimes through their role as patron to others), interceding between their kin and their husbands, advocating for one party or the other, spying, and conspiring. Therefore, women’s political agency ought to be part of any political study. This study builds on the anthropological/archaeological study of agency by drawing attention to royal women’s political agency and showing how the analysis of structural rules and the roles of kings, queen rulers, and main wives illuminates the societal structure in which agency is embedded. By analyzing premodern societies this way, we learn that there is remarkable similarity of agency behaviors among royal women in the eight sample societies, even though the societies emerged independently of one another.