The Society’s Origins and Mission

On the evening of 11 September 1995, the Society for Court Studies was launched at the Banqueting House in Whitehall, London. (1) Founded by John Adamson, Pauline Croft, Philip Mansel, Robert Oresko, David Starkey and Simon Thurley, the Society for Court Studies has served as a forum for scholars, writers, curators and members of the public to exchange knowledge and ideas about all aspects of royal, princely, and dynastic courts for over 25 years. The purpose was to create an interdisciplinary framework for the study of the many different sides of court history, from antiquity until the present, throughout the world. “Court history is at a crossroads”, the Society’s committee proclaimed in their inaugural newsletter in November 1996, asserting that the rising interest and significance of court history was evident from the academic revival and political changes of the time. (2) Since then, the Society has steered the field of court studies through the crossroads by embracing innovative research that features new approaches and interdisciplinary perspectives. The Society welcomes scholars from all career-levels and disciplines and the general public with an interest in royal and princely courts.

The Society for Court Studies has achieved the initial purpose of creating an interdisciplinary framework and has become the leading academic society in the field of court studies. The Society continues its mission of stimulating and co-ordinating the study of royal, princely, and dynastic courts by providing opportunities and exchanges to nourish innovative research, while examining and reassessing historical perspectives in light of new evidence and approaches. This mission has continued to reaffirm the Society’s belief, as heralded by member Marcello Fantoni, that “the court is one of the most important trans-national and trans-confessional institutions ever created in Europe. Courts are essential for creating a European history.” (3) For this reason, the Society has been the leading champion of existing and new scholarship in court studies, while promoting the relevant academic communities through the UK, mainland Europe, North America, and across the world.

The Society’s Interdisciplinary Community and Scholarship

The Society and the field of court studies has become an integral part of the study of the past from multi-disciplinary, interdisciplinary, and international perspectives. This would not be possible without the Society’s community of scholars and members. Therefore, the Society remains deeply committed to fostering a diverse and strong community of interdisciplinary scholars by supporting all members from doctoral and early career researchers to established and independent scholars. The Society has attracted members working in the fields of music, literature and gender studies, as well as political, social, diplomatic, intellectual, art, architectural and landscape history. The Society’s enduring relevance can be seen in its commitment to highlight scholars that engage with new research methodologies, such as the development of digital tools, and reflect on contemporary topics such as gender, politics, heritage, power, race, and sexuality.

The Society of Court Studies has maintained its influence through engaging with its vibrant community, actively forging connections and recruiting new research through higher education institutions, and valuing our members who are distinguished scholars. The Society’s members have produced some of the most influential scholarship within the field of court studies ranging from monographs, edited collections, periodicals, and news/media outlets. Perhaps one of the most important periodicals of court studies is the Society’s own academic journal, The Court Historian. Founded and edited by Philip Mansel between 1996-2016, The Court Historian originally began as a newsletter for the Society’s members. As a result of the important scholarship it has published and its international reputation, the journal has become the leading periodical in the field of court studies. More information can be found here.

The Society’s International Engagements

With over 300 members (and growing) around the world, the Society for Court Studies has established international branches within North America and mainland Europe. The North American chapter was established in 1998 and in 2020 the European sub-committee was established. Committed to supporting all members, relevant communities, and projects on court studies, the Society’s branches and respective sub-committees will ensure that this support is accessible to scholars based within North American and across continental Europe. More information about the branches can be found here.

To provide engagement opportunities and to highlight new research, the Society for Court Studies organises a variety of events. Beginning in 2003, the Society for Court Studies holds monthly seminars in London during the academic year. In addition, the Society organises regular conferences examining particular aspects of court history. In the course of 25 years, the Society has organised and hosted 133 seminars and 35 international conferences. The Society’s conferences have even been held at some of the most famous historical venues including the Tower of London, Hampton Court, the Palace of Westminster in London, the Venaria Reale in Turin, and Rubens House in Antwerp. In 2021, to supplement the London seminars, the Society launched the ‘Virtual Scholarship Series’ organised by the European sub-committee. More information about the Society’s seminars can be found here; conferences can be found here; and the virtual series can be found here.

The Society’s Stewards

The Society for Court Studies has maintained its longevity and scholarly prominence because of the careful stewardship and dedicated volunteers of its President and Executive Committee. The Society’s past Presidents have included Simon Thurley (2005-2012), Chief Executive Officer of English Heritage, and Clarissa Campbell Orr (2012-2017). The current president is Helen Watanabe O’Kelly, Professor of German Literature at the University of Oxford.

The Society’s Future

Although it has a rich history over 25 years, the Society continues to develop and refine its interdisciplinary framework, cultivate a global awareness of the Society, promote new scholarship, new discoveries, and research communities. The Society is looking forward to growing and expanding the scholarship and achievements of its members, to supporting the future generations of court studies, to establishing partnerships, to fostering funding opportunities, to collaborating in the development of teaching and research resources, and to strengthening our impact in the halls of academia and our visibility towards the wider public.

(1) Pauline Croft, ‘Why Court History Matters’, History Today, 46.1 (1996), 10-12.
(2) Editorial’, The Court Historian, 1:1 (1996), 1-3.
(3) Recalled by Philip Mansel from the Society for Court Studies meeting held at Kenwood House on 6 July 2007.