Medieval, Renaissance, or Early Modern? Does It Matter?

When I was in graduate school at Fordham, I worked as a research assistant to Nancy Stuart Rubin on a biography, Isabella of Castile: The First Renaissance Queen (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991) Nancy struggled over that title and the question of whether Isabella was a medieval or renaissance queen. Over more than a few conversations with really strong coffee, we went back and forth, teased out the differences, and looked around for good examples that typified medieval and early modern queenship. It was easy when we looked at the extremes–Clothilde and Marie Antoinette, for example. Nancy finally decided that there was something genuinely “renaissance” about Isabella. But the fifteenth century is tricky. Her court was filled with some of the best Italian humanist authors, she and Fernando together governed a realm that spanned the western Mediterranean, her religiosity was very much a product of renaissance theology, and her reign inspired new works on political theory that would prove influential in the sixteenth century. True as all that is, the medievalist in me, especially one studying Spanish queens, could see many of those traits as typically medieval.

This conundrum was still with me this week as I put together the updated bibliography on medieval queens and queenship. And it resonates in my own work on Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536). She was born in the Middle Ages but her court in London was decidedly early modern, filled with court masques and Thomas More’s Utopia and Juan Luis Vives’s On the Assistance to the Poor. Does she belong in a bibliography of queens of the Middle Ages? Or early modern queens? Mary Tudor, Mary Stuart, Elizabeth I, and the wives of Philip II of Spain seem comfortably early modern, but what about Louise of Savoy (1476–1531), Anne of France (1461-1522), and others who literally straddle the conventional chronological divide at 1500?

These questions were very real to me as I worked my way through a mountain of new work. What should I do about the sixteenth century? Was there a logical reason to include or exclude it from a bibliography on medieval queens? My expertise falls off dramatically around 1600, and the bibliography is already VERY LONG.

For example, I struggled to decide what to do with two works by Estelle Paranque:

  • “Catherine of Medici: Henry III’s inspiration to be a Father to his People”, in Royal Mothers and their Ruling Children: Wielding Political Authority from Antiquity to the Early Modern Era, eds. Elena Woodacre and Carey Fleiner, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).
  • “The Representations and Ambiguities of the Warlike Female Kingship of Elizabeth I of England”, in Medieval and Early Modern Representations of Authority in Scotland and Great Britain, eds. Katherine Buchanan and Lucinda Dean, (London: Routledge, 2016).

In the end, neither was included, but that made me think harder about questions of continuity and change in terms of queenship. I may never fully settle this, and for now I’ve established a very fuzzy temporal zone where the line is drawn right around 1520, the point when the Habsburg empire has its growth spurt and when Martin Luther shook up the papacy and secular politics. But I’m not so sure that 1520 as a border make sense for queens.

What do you think?


New Work on Queenship

Queenship scholars have been very over the past few years, as you can see from the list below. I just updated the bibliography sections of this blog, but I am certain that I missed a few things. Please, if I missed your book or essay, send me an email ( and I will add your work to the list. And if you have something forthcoming, please let me know and I’ll spread the word.

I want to note a few things that come to mind as I look at this list. First, there are four new editions of texts that are directly pertinent to queens and queenship:

  • d’Avray, D. Dissolving Royal Marriages: A Documentary History 800-1600. Cambridge University Press, 2014.
  • De Pizan, Christine. The Book of Peace by Christine de Pizan. K. Green, C. J. Mews, and J. Pinder (eds.). University Park: Penn State Press, 2008.
  • Hincmar of Rheims: On the Divorce of King Lothar and Queen Theutberga. R. Stone and C. West (eds.). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.
  • The Warenne (Hyde) Chronicle. E. van Houts and R. Love (eds.). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

This is a sign of the continued demand for edited materials on queens and queenship, and one that I hope prompts publishers to produce more edited source texts.

Next, there are four new collections of essays specifically devoted to queens:

  • Fleiner, C. and E. Woodacre (eds). Virtuous or Villainess? The Image of the Royal Mother from the Early Medieval to the Early Modern Era. Queenship and Power series. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.
  • Levin, C. and C. Stewart-Nuñez (eds.). Scholars and Poets Talk About Queens. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
  • Woodacre, E. (ed.). Queenship in the Mediterranean: Negotiating the Role of the Queen in the Medieval and Early Modern Eras. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
  • Woodacre, E. and C. Fleiner (eds).  Royal Mothers and Their Ruling Children: Wielding Political Authority from Antiquity to the Early Modern Era. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

The richness of the field–in terms of geographic scope, methods, and theoretical approaches–is evident in the impressive number of studies on medieval queens since 2012. In many ways, this reflects two projects that provide platforms for publication: The Royal Studies Network ( and the Queenship and Power series published by Palgrave Macmillan. But that is just the beginning:

Adams, T. “L’Affaire de la Tour de Nesle: Love Affair as Political Conspiracy,” in C. Leveleux-Teixeira, Ribémont B (eds.) Le crime de l’ombre. Paris: Klincksieck, 2010. 17–40.

———. Christine de Pizan and the Fight for France. University Park: Penn State Press, 2014.

———. “Renaissance Queenship: A Review Article.” Explorations in Renaissance Culture 42:1 (2016): 87–107.

Beem, C. “‘Greatest in Her Offspring’: Motherhood and the Empress Matilda,” in C. Fleiner and E. Woodacre (eds), Virtuous or Villainess? The Image of the Royal Mother from the Early Medieval to the Early Modern Era, 85–100.

———. “The Virtuous Virago: The Empress Matilda and the Politics of Womanhood in Twelfth-century England,” in C. Levin and C. Stewart-Nuñez (eds.), Scholars and Poets Talk About Queens, 85–98.

Beer, M. “Practices and performances of queenship: Catherine of Aragon and Margaret Tudor, 1503-1533.” Doctoral Dissertation. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2014.

Blanton, V. “‘[. . .] the quene in Amysbery, a nunne in whyght clothys and blak [. . .]’: Guinevere’s Asceticism and Penance in Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur,” Arthuriana  20:1 (2010): 52–75.

Bowie, Colette. “To Have and Have Not: The Dower of Joanna Plantagenet, Queen of Sicity (1177–1189)”, in E. Woodacre (ed.), Queenship in the Mediterranean, pp. 27–50.

Casteen, E. “Sex and Politics in Naples: The Regnant Queenship of Johanna I.” The Journal of the Historical Society 11:2 (2011): 183–210.

Cimino, R. “Italian queens in the ninth and tenth centuries,” Doctoral Dissertation. University of St Andrews, 2014.

Clements, J. H. “The Construction of Queenship in the Illustrated Estoire de Seint Aedward le Rei.Gesta 52:1 (2013): 21–42.

Comba, M. “Methods of Queenship in Matrimonial Diplomacy: Fifteenth Century Scottish Royal Women,” Constellations 5:2 (2014) []

 Dockray-Miller, M. The Books and Life of Judith of Flanders. Farnham: Ashgate, 2015.

———. Saints Edith and Æthelthryth: Princesses, Miracle Workers, and their Late Medieval Audience: The Wilton Chronicle and the Wilton Life of St Æthelthryth   Medieval Women: Texts and Contexts, 25. Turnhout: Brepols, 2009.

Earenfight, T.  “Raising Infanta Catalina de Aragón To Be Catherine, Queen of England,” Anuario de Estudios Medievales 46:1 (2016): 417–43.

———. “Regarding Catherine of Aragon.” In Scholars and Poets Talk About Queens. Edited by Carole Levin. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. 137–57.

———. “Trastámara Kings, Queens, and the Gender Dynamics of Monarchy.” In The Emergence of León-Castile, c. 1065–1500: Essays Presented to J. F. O’Callaghan. Edited by James Todesca. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2015. 141–60.

———. “Where Do We Go From Here? Some Thoughts on Power and Gender in the Middle Ages.” Medieval Feminist Forum 51:2 (2016).

Evans, M. R. Inventing Eleanor: The Medieval and Post-Medieval Image of Eleanor of Aquitaine. London: Bloomsbury, 2014.

Fisher, S. “‘Margaret R’: Lady Margaret Beaufort’s Self-fashioning and Female Ambition,” in C. Fleiner and E. Woodacre (eds), Virtuous or Villainess? The Image of the Royal Mother from the Early Medieval to the Early Modern Era, 151–72.

Fuente, M. J. “¿Reina la reina? Mujeres en la cúspide del poder en los reinos hispánicos de la edad media (siglos VI-XIII),” Espacio, Tiempo y Forma. Historia Medieval 16 (2003): 53–71.

Gamero Igea, G. “Stepmother and Mother of Princes: Legitimation and Political Action during the Reign of Juana Enríquez (1447–1468),” in E. Woodacre and C. Fleiner (eds), Royal Mothers and Their Ruling Children, 31–52.

Gathagan, L. L. “‘Mother of Heroes, Most Beautiful of Mothers’: Mathilda of Flanders and Royal Motherhood in the Eleventh Century,” in C. Fleiner and E. Woodacre (eds), Virtuous or Villainess? The Image of the Royal Mother from the Early Medieval to the Early Modern Era, 37­–64.

———. “The Trappings of Power: The Coronation of Mathilda of Flanders,” Haskins Society Journal 13 (2004): 21–39.

Glyn, E. L. “Negotiating Queenship from Malory to Shakespeare.” Doctoral Dissertation. King’s College London, 2015.

Halfond, G. I. “Sis Quoque Catholicis Religionis Apex”: The Ecclesiastical Patronage of Chilperic I and Fredegund,” Church History 81 (2012): 48–76.

Heidecker, K. The Divorce of Lothar II: Christian Marriage and Political Power in the Carolingian World.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010.

Jasperse, J. “A Coin Bearing Testimony to Duchess Matilda as Consors Regni,” The Haskins Society Journal 26 (2014): 169–90.

———. “Duke Charles of Guelders (r.1492-†1538) and the ‘restoration’ of the tomb monument of Gerard IV and Margaret in the Roermond Minster,” in A.-M. J. van Egmond and C. A. Chvannes-Mazel (eds), Medieval Art in the Northern Netherlands before Van Eyck. Clavis: Stichting publicaties middeleeuwse kunst, 2014. 172–87.

———. “To Have and To Hold: Coins and Seals as Evidence for Motherly Authority,” in E. Woodacre and C. Fleiner (eds), Royal Mothers and Their Ruling Children, 83–104.

———. “Het culturele patronaat van Mathilde Plantagenet (1156-1189),” Millennium 21 (2007): 89–107.

———, “The Queen’s Masculine Kiss: Brechmunda’s Constituting Act in the Rolandslied,” Simulacrum 21:4 (2013): 44–51.

Karagianni, Alexandra. “Female Monarchs in the Medieval Byzantine Court: Prejudice, Disbelief, and Calumnies,” in E. Woodacre (ed.), Queenship in the Mediterranean, pp. 9–25.

Katz, M. “The Final Testamanet of Violante de Aragón (c. 1236–1300/01): Agency and (dis)Empowerment of a Dowager Queen,” in E. Woodacre (ed.), Queenship in the Mediterranean, pp. 51–71.

Kaufman, A. S. “Guenevere Burning,” Arthuriana  20:1 (2010): 52–75.

Keane, M. “Collaboration in the Hours of Jeanne de Navarre,” in Jean Pucelle: Innovation and Collaboration in Manuscript Painting, A. Russakoff and K. Pyun (eds.). Turnhout: Brepols, 2013. 131–48.

———. Material Culture and Queenship in 14th-century France: The Testament of Blanche of Navarre (1331–1398). Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2016.

———. “Memory and identity in the chapel of Blanche of Navarre at Saint-Denis,” in Citation, Intertextuality and Memory in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Vol 2: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives on Medieval Culture, Y. Plumley and G. di Bacco (eds.). Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2013. 123–36.

Kosior, K. “Outlander, Baby Killer, Poisoner? Rethinking Bona Sfroza’s Black Legend,” in C. Fleiner and E. Woodacre (eds), Virtuous or Villainess? The Image of the Royal Mother from the Early Medieval to the Early Modern Era, 199–224.

Kotsis, K. “Defining Female Authority in Eighth-Century Byzantium: The Numismatic Images of the Empress Irene (797–802),” Journal of Late Antiquity 5:1 (2012): 185–215.

———. “Empress Theodora: A Holy Mother,” in C. Fleiner and E. Woodacre (eds), Virtuous or Villainess? The Image of the Royal Mother from the Early Medieval to the Early Modern Era, 11–36.

———. “Mothers of the Empire: Empresses Zoe and Theodora on a Byzantine Medallion Cycle,” Medieval Feminist Forum 48:1 (2012): 5–96.

Lecky, K, “How the Iceni Became British: Holinshed’s Boudicca and the Rhetoric of Naturalization,” in C. Levin and C. Stewart-Nuñez (eds.), Scholars and Poets Talk About Queens, 55–73.

López Izquierdo, M. “Palabras de reinas, santas y alcahuetas: Modalización y representación del discurso femenino en la literatura medieval,”Cahiers de linguistique et de civilisation hispaniques médiévales 27 (2004): 83–94.

LoPrete, K. “Women, Gender and Lordship in France, c.1050–1250.” History Compass 5: 6 (2007): 1921–41.

McCracken, P. The Curse of Eve, the Wound of the Hero: Blood, Gender, and Medieval Literature. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.

Mudan-Finn, K. The Last Plantagenet Consorts. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Nash, P. “Empress Adelheid’s Vulnerabilities as Mother and Ruler,” in E. Woodacre and C. Fleiner (eds), Royal Mothers and Their Ruling Children, 127–48.

North, J. “The Construction of a Cultural Legacy: Queen María de Molina of Castile,” Doctoral Dissertation. University of Virginia, 2013.

———. “Queen Mother Knows Best: María de Molina and the Vestiges of Medieval Politics in Modern Historiography,” in E. Woodacre and C. Fleiner (eds), Royal Mothers and Their Ruling Children, 205–24.

Pelaz Flores, D. “Jaque a la Reina: cuando la mujer se convierte en un estorbo politico,” Miscelánea Medieval Murciana 35 (2011): 177–87.

———. “Queenly Time in the Reign of Juan II of Castile (1406–1454),” in E. Woodacre (ed.), Queenship in the Mediterranean, pp. 169–90.

———. “To Be the Queen’s Daughter: Controversy, Adultery, and the Legitimacy Problem in the Reign of Enrique IV of Castile (1454–1474), in E. Woodacre and C. Fleiner (eds), Royal Mothers and Their Ruling Children, 11–30.

Pina Balerias, I. “The Political Role of a Portuguese Queen in the Late Fourteenth Century,” in E. Woodacre (ed.), Queenship in the Mediterranean, pp. 97–123.

Proctor-Tiffany, M. “Lost and Found: Visualizing a Medieval Queen’s Destroyed Objects.” in E. Woodacre (ed.), Queenship in the Mediterranean, pp. 73–96.

———. “Transported as a rare object of distinction: the gift-giving of Clémence of Hungary, Queen of France,” Journal of Medieval History 41:2 (2015): 1–21.

Ramsey, S. D. “Deliberative rhetoric in the twelfth century: The case for Eleanor of Aquitaine, noblewomen, and the ars dictaminis.” Doctoral Dissertation. Bowling Green State University, 2012.

Reid, J. A. King’s Sister—Queen of Dissent: Marguerite of Navarre (1492-1549) and her Evangelical Network. 2 vols. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2009.

Rhorchi, F. “Consorts of Moroccan Sultans: Laila Khnata Bint Bakkar, ‘A Woman with Three Kings,’” in E. Woodacre (ed.), Queenship in the Mediterranean, pp. 229–45.

Richardson, A. “’Riding like Alexander, Hunting like Diana’: Gendered Aspects of the Medieval Hunt and its Landscape Settings in England and France,” Gender and History 24:2 (2012): 253–70.

Roca i Costa, M. C. “Cómo eran las princesas en la Edad Media,” Cío: Revista de Historia 91 (2009): 18–27.

Rodrigues Oliveira, A. “Philippa of Lancaster: The Memory of a Model Queen,” in E. Woodacre (ed.), Queenship in the Mediterranean, pp. 125–44.

Rohr, Z.  “Lessons for My Daughter: Self-fashioning Stateswomanship in the Late Medieval Crown of Aragon,” in Self-Fashioning and Assumptions of Identity in Medieval and Early Modern Iberia, Laura Delbrugge (ed.). Leiden: Brill, 2014. 46–78.

———. “Not Lost in Translation: Aragonese Court Culture on Tour (1400–1480),” in E. Woodacre (ed.), Queenship in the Mediterranean, pp. 145–68.

———. “Playing the Catalan: The Rise of the Chess Queen; Queenship and Political Motherhood in Late Medieval Aragon and France,” in C. Fleiner and E. Woodacre (eds), Virtuous or Villainess? The Image of the Royal Mother from the Early Medieval to the Early Modern Era, 173–98.

———. Yolande of Aragon (1381–1442) Family and Power. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

Santos Silva, M. “A Mother and Her Illustrious Offspring: The Role of Philippa of Lancaster, Queen of Portugal, in her Children’s Education (1387–1415),” in C. Fleiner and E. Woodacre (eds), Virtuous or Villainess? The Image of the Royal Mother from the Early Medieval to the Early Modern Era, 65–84.

———. “Princess Isabel of Portugal: First Lady in a Kingdom without a Queen (1415–1428),” in E. Woodacre (ed.), Queenship in the Mediterranean, pp. 191–205.

Serrano Coll, M. “Iconografía de género: los sellos de las reinas de Aragón en la Edad Media (siglos XII-XVI),” Emblemata: Revista Aragonesa de Emblemática 12 (2006): 15–52.

Shadis, M. “Queens.” Oxford Bibliographies in “Medieval Studies” Edited by Paul Szarmach. New York: Oxford University Press. 9780195396584-0123.xml

———. “Queenship.” The Encyclopedia of Political Thought, 3083–3085 [DOI: 10.1002/9781118474396.wbept0853]

———. “Women and Las Navas de Tolosa,” Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies: Special Issue on the 800th Anniversary of the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa. 4:1 (2012): 71–76.

Silleras-Fernández, N. “Between Expectation and Desire: Widowhood and Sexuality in Late Medieval Iberia,” Viator 42:2 (2011): 353–70.

———. Chariots of Ladies: Francesc Eiximenis and the Court Culture of Medieval and Early Modern Iberia. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2015.

———. “Controlling Feminine Excess: Isabel the Catholic and Didactic Literature,” in Women’s Networks of Spiritual Promotion in the Peninsular Kingdoms (13th–16th centuries), ed. Blanca Garí, trans. by PangurBàn, SL. Rome: Viella, 2013.  185–204.

———. “Creada a su imagen y semejanza: La coronación de la Reina de Aragón según las Ordenaciones de Pedro el Ceremonioso,” Lusitania Sacra. 2a Série 31 (2015): 107–128.

———. “Dues reines per a un rei: Maria de Luna i Margarida de Prades, les mullers de Martí I l’Humà (r. 1396–1410),” in Martí l’Humà, el darrer rei de la dinastia de Barcelona (1396–1410), L’interregne i el compromís de Casp, ed. Maria Teresa Ferrer i Mallol (Barcelona: Institut d’Estudis Catalans, 2015): 693–710.

———. “Inside Perspectives: Catalina and João III of Portugal and a Speculum for a Queen-to-be,” in Self-Fashioning and Assumptions of Identity in Medieval and Early Modern Iberia, Laura Delbrugge (ed.). Leiden: Brill, 2014. 226–53.

———. “The Queen, the Prince, and the Ideologue: Alonso Ortiz’s Notions of Queenship at the Court of the Catholic Kings,” Anuario de Estudios Medievales 46:1 (2016): 393–415.

———. “Reginalitat als regnes hispànics medievals: concepte historiogràfic per a una realitat històrica,” Boletín de la Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona 50 (2005–2006): 121–42.

Slater, L. “Defining Queenship at Greyfriars London, c.1300–58.” Gender and History 27:1 (2015): 53–76.

Slitt, R. “The Boundaries of Women’s Power: Gender and the Discourse of Political Friendship in Twelfth-Century England,“ Gender and History  24:1 (2012): 1–17.

Stevenson, K. “Chivalry, British sovereignty and dynastic politics: undercurrents of antagonism in Tudor-Stewart relations, c.1490−c.1513.” Historical Research 86:234 (2013): 601–18.

Thomas, E. J. “The ‘second jezebel’: representations of the sixth-century Queen Brunhild.” Doctoral Dissertation. University of Glasgow, 2012.

Val Valdivieso, M. I. del. “Isabel la Católica y la educación,” Aragón en la Edad Media: Estudios de Economía y Sociedad 19 (2006): 555–62.

———, “Isabel la Católica: Una mujer para el trono de Castilla,” Memòries de la Reial Acadèmia Mallorquina d’Estudis Genealògics, Heràldics i Històrics 14 (2004): 7–23.

———, “Isabel la Católica o el triunfo de la intriga,” Historia 16:4 (40) (1979: 47–51.

Ward, E. J. “Anne of Kiev (c.1024–c.1075) and a reassessment of maternal power in the minority kingship of Philip I of France.” Historical Research 89:245 (2016): 435–53.

Weikert, K. “The Empress Matilda and Motherhood in Popular Fiction, 1970s to the Present,” in C. Fleiner and E. Woodacre (eds), Virtuous or Villainess? The Image of the Royal Mother from the Early Medieval to the Early Modern Era, 225–46.

Wilkinson, L. J. “Maternal Abandonment and Surrogate Caregivers: Isabella of Angoulême and Her Children by King John,” in C. Fleiner and E. Woodacre (eds), Virtuous or Villainess? The Image of the Royal Mother from the Early Medieval to the Early Modern Era, 101–24.

Woodacre, E, “Blanca, Queen of Sicily and Queen of Navarre: Connecting the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean via an Aragonese Alliance,” in E. Woodacre (ed.), Queenship in the Mediterranean, pp. 207–27.

———. “Cousins & Queens: Family Ties, Political aAmbition & Epistolary Diplomacy in Renaissance Europe,” in G. Sluga, G. Calvi and C. James (eds) Women, Diplomacy and International Politics from 1500. New York: Routledge: 2015. 30–45.

———. “The Perils of Promotion: Maternal Ambition and Sacrifice in the Life of Joan of Navarre, Duchess of Brittany, and Queen of England,” in C. Fleiner and E. Woodacre (eds), Virtuous or Villainess? The Image of the Royal Mother from the Early Medieval to the Early Modern Era, 125–48.

Zajac, T. “Gloriosa Regina or “Alien Queen”?: Some Reconsiderations on Anna Yaroslavna’s Queenship (r. 1050-1075).” Royal Studies Journal 3:1 (2016) [DOI:


And finally, keep an eye out for this book, coming very soon!

Zita Rohr and Lisa Benz (eds.), Queenship, Gender, and Reputation in the Medieval and Early Modern West, 1060-1600. Aldershot: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.










Beyond Exceptionalism

How many times have you been at a huge conference—the AHA, Leeds, Kalamazoo, MAA—and missed a session you really wanted to attend but couldn’t because the panels were at the same time? Plenty, I’ll bet. And when that happens, we imagine the perfect conference that would bring together scholars whose work dovetails with your own, whose critique you value, and with whom you would love to brainstorm over drinks and dinner? Well, sometimes dreams come true.

Professor Heather Tanner organized a conference at Ohio State University-Mansfield this past weekend with the captivating title, “Beyond Exceptionalism” (The conference program can be found at About two dozen of us spent two days pondering questions of women and the exercise of power—political, economic, familial, religious, among others—in the Middle Ages and thinking about ways to move the discourse further. It was among the intellectually richest weekends I’ve ever spent, filled with smart, funny, and articulate people. Our conversations ranged from Flanders to Georgia, included nuns and queens, and took up all sorts of things, from politics, economics, warfare, and family relations to a noblewoman who took up piracy.

At the roundtable wrap-up on Saturday, we talked about ways to move, literally, beyond the idea that women who have and/or exercise power are somehow exceptional. They are, they were not, of course, and we have ample evidence to back up that claim. Stay tuned the for articles, books, and all sorts of conference papers generated by this rich conference.

“I mistrust threads wrought by women’s fingers”


Over the summer, I read a LOT, but two books and one article have occupied a lot of space in my brain lately. They are all on rather different historical moments and problems, but they have changed the way I think about queenship. The interesting thing is, only one of these works has queenship as the main point.

The first was a new book by Simon Barton, Conquerors, Brides, and Concubines: Interfaith Relations and Social Power in Medieval Iberia. Barton “seeks to elucidate why interfaith sex mattered greatly to secular and religious lawmakers” (p. 4). To do this, he focuses on the Muslim-Christian relationship and links changing attitudes towards female sexual purity with the political and military events that tipped the balance of power. Barton ultimately argues that sex, or to be precise, protecting Christian women from having sex with Muslim men, a central feature of a masculine “national” political identity that developed in the later Middle Ages.

He is making an important point, but the book needs an extended and in-depth feminist critique. Barton shows how attitudes toward interfaith sex preserved the patriarchal hierarchies of power, but touches lightly on important feminist theories concerning the commodification of women and the way women are used to prop up patriarchal institutions and practices. He talks about dowries and women’s inherited lands and wealth, but needs to say more about the patriarchal culture that regarded women as means of exchange. He briefly discusses the double standard of sexual conduct that circumscribed Christian women’s agency, but does not consider reasons why. And this made me think about queens. Perhaps the highly militarized society privileged men so highly that women’s consent was deemed irrelevant? Barton spends considerable time on the history of the Voto de Santiago, the famous forgery that first told the story of the one hundred maidens paid in tribute to Muslim conquerors. He argues convincingly how and why this document sets in motion the discourse of women in need of protection and a pretext for war. Then, he shifts the perspective to women as wanton instigators of sex whose dishonorable behavior was akin to military surrender and thus cast women as enemies of the realm.

Barton admits that his sources largely reflect the views of the patriarchy, but his argument would have been much stronger had he connected the dots between medieval women who were, and all too often still are, treated as a means for masculine expressions of power and contemporary feminist theoretical work on the political, social, religious, and cultural norms that permitted and promoted the demeaning treatment of women. Scholarly work on queens is absent, too, which is problematic in a book filled with kings, sexuality, and an argument that masculinity was crucial to national identity. The missing link here is the gender dynamics of the reign Isabel and Fernando that was intimately intertwined with Jews and Muslims, military conquest and religion. He completely missed the mark by not engaging, for example, with Barbara Weissberger on the monarchy of Fernando and Isabel, particularly how Isabel was seen as the “Second Mary, sent by God to heal the wounds [the Muslims] inflicted on the body politic” (Weissberger, Isabel Rules xxiv–xxv).

Daisy Delogu’s book, Allegorical Bodies: Power and Gender in Late Medieval France, is a much stronger book in terms of theory, all sorts of it, mostly on gender and political theories on power. Working with the richly ambivalent political allegories written in response to the unstable reign of Charles VI (r. 1380–1422), her argument is that “metaphors of the body politic privilege the male body as a vehicle for the expression of conceptions about political unity and integrity, and occlude the space that real women occupied within the body politic as well as the power they exercised” (p. 7).

Delogu’s sophisticated analysis centers on the works of Eustace Deschamps, Jean Gerson, Alain Chartier, Jean Juvenal des Ursins, and Christine de Pizan. They described the realm of France during the 100 Years’ War in over-determined feminine roles: the courtly beloved, wounded, ill, damsel in distress, mother—all in need of a man to step in and take charge. So, Delogu argues that the problem the French had with a ruling queen was less that she was a woman and more that she might be married to a foreigner. This became a problem of “penetration of the French body politic by foreign elements” (p. 138) and this is a lot like what Barton describes as a Spanish concern for Christian women having sex with Muslim men.

Delogu takes up issues that scholars of queenship have struggled with in recent decades: “the simultaneous exclusion and celebration of women within the cultural and political imaginary. I now find, instead, that these are like two sides of the same coin, that the fabrication of Salic Law and of female allegories of the kingdom both work, though in different ways, to create a national identity founded in part upon the exclusion of women from royal rule, a masculine political subject, and the structures of authority, as well as to master, control, and delimit the parameters within which women may function. [. . .] France may bear a woman’s likeness, but the French have asserted themselves as a kingdom of masculine subjects, rule a roi très chrétien” (p. 178).

Delogu has done something important that has been sorely needed for a very long time: put queens into political theory. She shifts the discourse in ways that reveal the inadequacies of masculinist approaches that utterly fail to include women, elite or royal, from the discourse. Hers is a political theory regarding monarchy that takes gender theory very carefully into account and crafts a far more complex analysis that puts women front and center in the discourse on “nation” and “state.” She deliberately engages with women as fundamental to the political sphere, not exceptional or marginal. This work links feminist theory with questions of masculinity in terms of sexual impotency or military weakness.

But reading the essay by Louise Olga Fradenburg showed me how much these works rest on the foundations of important earlier work on gender and power. Her essay, “Troubled Times: Margaret Tudor and the Historians,” in the edited collection The Rose and the Thistle, also looks at gender and state formation in early sixteenth-century Scotland by examining the historiography of Margaret’s regency for her son, James IV. Fradenburg critiques “statist” historiographies that construct “an opposition between public and private interests, privileging the latter with respect to ethics and historical agency: certain interests are defined as public and represented as obstructive or even destructive to the history of the nation” (p. 38). Working my way through her argument that employs an impressive range of theories—not just feminist and gender, but also post-colonial, anthropological, sociological, literary—she reminded me to take very seriously standpoint epistemologies, particularly ones with a nationalist bent. We have been trained to query our sources for bias, but it was her focus on gender and nation-formation in the Tudor period that makes me associate her work on Scotland with Barton’s on Spain and Delogu’s on France.

What they all have in common is how nations are based on gendered assumptions and over-determined definitions of both masculinity and femininity. We still struggle with this today, whether it concerns the abduction of hundreds of girls by the Boko Haram in Africa and women captured by ISIS in Iraq or why it so darned hard to get a women elected President of the United States.

The title of this posting comes from Thomas, Cardinal Wolsey, who was reported to have said, “I mistrust threads wrought by women’s fingers.” Reading this in 2015 makes me queasy as I ponder questions of continuity and change, but Barton, Delogu, and Fradenburg have helped us move the discourse on monarchy forward an inch or two in the direction of a richer, more nuanced, more complete sense of the past.







Queens with child, and without

For the past two years, I’ve been working on a database that documents maternity and paternity among the royal families of medieval Europe. This fall I will work with someone far more knowledgeable than I am to translate a mountain of raw data from Excel to a relational database, so for now it’s just a lot of data. But a quick look reveals a lot more than just mothers. There are a lot of childless queens, a lot more than I expected. This flies in the face of what queenship scholars have long taken as a given Janet Nelson’s observation in “Inauguration Rituals” that “royal maternity was the matrix of future kings, pregnant queen was the guarantor of the realm’s survival and integrity and so of peace and control.” John Carmi Parsons agreed, noting that a queen’s “sexual role was of central importance to the realm [. . .] pregnancy was “a powerful image of male versus female [. . .] that forcefully opposes the power to give life and the power to take it away—a conflict as epochal and eternally tragic as that of Cain and Abel.” For many queens, the maternal duty was part of the coronation oath, as was intercession, which was explicitly linked to maternity (“The Pregnant Queen as Counsellor and the Construction of Motherhood,” 1998).

Yes, pregnancy and motherhood were integral to the political rhetoric of queenship. And yes, the consequences of a childless queen could be dire, and the fear was not just of civil war. It was about the identity of the realm, with the king and queen reflecting what was considered god’s blessing and the proper ordering of society. But monarchies did not necessarily descend into chaos and war when the royal couple did not have children, and childless queens did not necessarily suffer rejection, divorce, or worse. It wasn’t the end of the world.

I knew this because the first queen I studied, María of Castile, was married for 43 years and was probably never pregnant. Her husband, Alfonso V of the Crown of Aragon, fathered three children with two other women, and the couple spent 28 years of marriage apart—she stayed in Spain and governed as queen-lieutenant while he went off to conquer and govern Naples. Only very late in his reign did Alfonso consider a divorce, and only then under pressure from a mistress. Pope Calixtus III told him to stop being ridiculous, his Catalan subjects told him to come home and stop leaving his realms “like a widow,” and mirabile dictu, there were no threats to the realm. What I found especially interesting was that nobody said anything bad about María just because she was not a mother. She skillfully governed the Crown realms in Spain and that was just fine.

I’ve been thinking about queens for a long time, since my dissertation and then a book on María and another on queenship, and the fact of regal childlessness kept bugging me. So in 2012 I began work on the maternity/paternity database to get some solid numbers for comparison. I owe a mountain of thanks to four wonderful student research assistants who will agree with me that it’s time consuming to comb through genealogies, many of them annoyingly incomplete and patently misogynistic. It would appear from older genealogies that most kings were motherless, that they sprang up spontaneously from the loins of their fathers. This biological impossibility is depicted without wit or irony, but honestly, you have to laugh when looking at all those Philips in the genealogy of the Capetians in Robert Fawtier’s 1969 book, The Capetian Kings of France. For comparison, look at the genealogies in Suzanne Fonay Wemple’s Women in Frankish Society (1981) and you can trace the development of church-sanctioned monogamy (bye bye concubine, hello serial marriage) while marveling at the fertile abundance of Merovingian and Carolingian families.

But the work is rewarding. Tucked away in these tangled branches of kinship are startling empty spaces where either children are not recorded or where childless couples reside. Some are queens considered “barren,” who suffered a heartbreaking string of miscarriages and stillbirths like Catherine of Aragon who was pregnant six times with Henry VIII’s children, but only one lived to adulthood. That child, Mary Tudor, (1516–1558) married Philip II of Spain when she was 38 (he was 27) and she had no children. Her maternal history is controversial: she was nearing menopause when she married and we don’t really know for sure if she was really ever pregnant or if a chronic cancer caused her periods to stop and if this made her appear pregnant. We know, or we think we know, that Mary’s marriage was not a chaste marriage, like that of Edith, wife of Edward the Confessor. They married when she was 20, he was 42, and either really did not have sex or did but used the idea of chastity to explain their childlessness.

Some, like the marriage of Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia, were fruitless love matches. Or maybe sex was just not in the cards. Richard II’s second wife, Isabelle of Valois, was only six when they married, but he was deposed and died before Isabelle was old enough to have sex. Jaume II of the Crown of Aragon was married four times and three unions were childless: Isabel of Castile (she later married Jean III de Brittany, but had no children with him, either), Marie of Lusignan, and Elisenda de Montcada. But we can’t blame Jaume entirely: His second wife, Blanche of Anjou, bore ten children. But what about other childless couples? Blanca de Bourbon, first wife of Pedro I of Castile? Beatriz of Naples, twice married (Matias Corvino of Hungary and Vladislav II of Bohemia and Hungary), but had no children. Joan of the Tower and David of Scotland? And so many more . . . stay tuned for the database. Or just drop me an email and I’ll give you what I’ve got in its raggedy state.

I hesitate to use the term “infertility” although some queens may have had medical problems, which means we all need to dive into the history of medicine for answers. María of Castile suffered from serious medical ailments that may have impaired her fertility, but maybe the problem just was a rocky marriage and decades of separation. But I want to know a lot more about medieval medicine before I call her “infertile.”

With a few notable exceptions—Urraca of León, Berenguela of Castile, Isabel of Castile, Mary I Tudor, and Elizabeth I Tudor—marriage made a queen. But pregnancy, maybe not. A queen-consort was expected to have children, preferably boys. But the evidence so far suggests that motherhood may not have been the make-or-break event of a queen’s marriage. Let’s take another look at the narrative of the queen-as-mother and broaden our understanding of how maternity and mothering fit into the institution of monarchy.




The Shoes of an Infanta

I’m working on a project about Catherine of Aragon and keep coming back to one question: Why are so few people interested in her? Yes, there are plenty of biographies and I’ve read them all, both scholarly and popular, and I can tell you that they are strikingly alike. They all rely the same set of sources that every author has used for the last century and a half: the Calendar of State Papers and a few letters to, from, or about Catherine edited and published well over a century ago. The biographers devote two-thirds of the book to Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, and the King’s Great Matter, otherwise known as The Divorce.

Part of the problem with Catherine is that scholars have followed the lead of male authors—Garrett Mattingly, David Starkey, Giles Tremlett, Patrick Williams—who portray her as the dour and bitter Spanish wife Henry ditched in favor of the lively and sexy Anne Boleyn. After a while, honestly, it gets a little dull. To be fair, scholars have begun to consider Catherine in other ways, such as her patronage of humanist writers. But where is Catherine the queen? Why are there so few studies on what she did, rather than what happened to her?

When I started this project I thought perhaps the sources were lost, damaged, or maybe lurking about in some obscure archive. Trained as a feminist scholar, I knew that women are overshadowed by men and that women’s lives have been overlooked, but come on, this is Tudor England. Surely, there must be something.

Well, there is. There is plenty. And it’s not lurking in a secret archive—it’s in printed sources that have been available for decades, sources that are now readily available to anyone with a library card and access to the internet. It doesn’t even require a university library account. British History Online, a tremendous project spearheaded by the Institute for Historical Research, has made available the Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, a compendium of many—not all, mind you, just many—of the documentary archival material available in The National Archives at Kew. Scholars have been editing household accounts, inventories, and wills. Archaeologists have been documenting the material side of history, the houses and town where people lived. And the joys of the search function allows us to type in “Catherine” or “queen” or “princess” or the name of anyone close to her and voilà, there she is, waiting to talk to us. This is no secret. Anyone who teaches the history of England knows the value of British History Online as both a research tool and a boon to teaching.

But I had an “aha moment over the weekend. I am reading the household accounts of Catherine’s mother, Isabel I of Castile, from 1477 to 1504 (Cuentas de Gonzalo de Baeza, tesorero de Isabel la Católica, edited by Antonio de la Torre and E. A. de la Torre, 1955). I was looking for records of members of Catherine’s entourage who travelled with her to England in 1501 when she went to marry Arthur, her first husband who was the elder brother of Henry. I’m happy to say that I found her court and entourage, but I’m even happier to say that I found out a lot about things like shoes. Her shoemaker, Diego de Valencia, started to make her shoes when she was two years old and continued until she left for England. That year, 1501, he was a very busy guy. 36 pairs of borçeguies (leather shoes that come up over the ankles) and 48 pairs of xervillas (slippers). It’s likely that these were not all for Catherine, that she gave them as gifts to her ama, Ines Vanegas, or one of her maids-in-waiting, María de Rojas, María de Guevara, or Elvira Manuel. I imagined Catherine giving black velvet slippers as gifts and wearing the leather shoes of Diego de Valencia, dancing, strolling through gardens, boarding the ships that took her England.

And with that image of a real person wearing shoes, Catherine came alive to me.

Queens Abounding at Medieval Conferences

The spring and summer conference season is ending and once again studies on queens and queenship could be found at the Medieval Academy of America, the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo), the International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds, and the Royal Studies Network conference at the University of Winchester). There was only one session at the Medieval Academy devoted to “Queens and Empresses: Beyond the Agency Question,” and we all owe a loud shout-out of thanks to Marie Kelleher (California State University at Long Beach) for organizing that session!

There were dozens of sessions on queens at Kalamazoo, Leeds, and Winchester. Alas, I missed Kalamazoo (it was midterm at Seattle University), but got topped up on recent scholarship at Leeds and Winchester. It was intense to go straight from Leeds to Winchester, but it was wonderful to catch up with colleagues from Europe who have been unable to attend US conferences during the recent economic crises. At Leeds, the theme of empire opened up a broad conversation about queens and empresses in Europe, which accounts for the many sessions on the political work of queens. The Royal Studies Network (University of Winchester) focused on the theme of entourage and provided innovative and rich ways of understanding monarchy as more than just a family affair. Many papers focused on a queen’s management of the complex and costly royal household and its attendant ceremonial and theatrical events.

It is very gratifying to see so much excellent work on queens. When I was in graduate school in the early 1990s, there were a few dozen scholars studying queenship. Now, we are numerous and we are changing the narrative of the history of medieval Europe. There will be a time–soon, I hope–when this list will be too long to note in a blog post! For now, I’ve organized the list of conference papers thematically to give you a good sense of the wide range of topics and help you pinpoint spots for new research projects.

If you read a paper at a conference but I neglected to include you in the list below, drop me an email and I’ll send out an addendum.


Zita Eva Rohr (University of Sydney): “‘Do not try to teach our Granddames to suck eggs’: Researching Our Queenly Protagonists in the Broader Context of Their Lives and Times,” IMC Leeds


Ilse Aiglsperger (Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz): “‘Ut sicut Esther […]’: Biblical Exempla as a Justification for Female Rule? The Ordines for the Coronation of Queens,” IMC Leeds

Barbara Boloix-Gallardo (Universidad de Granada): “Beyond the Haram: Nasrid Women and Their ‘Veiled’ Participation in the Politics of the Kingdom of Granada, 13th–15th Centuries,” IMC Leeds

Colette Marie Bowie (University of Glasgow): “Eleanor of Aquitaine’s Daughters and Their Dower Portions,” IMC Leeds

Laura Brander (Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg): “Reigning Queen, tutora, and hallow: Sancha of Castile in the Kingdom of Aragón,” IMC Leeds

Aysu Dincer (University of Birmingham): “‘The one to hold the strings’: Philip of Novara, Alice of Champagne and the Ibelins,” Royal Studies Network

Daniela Dvořáková (Slovak Academy of Sciences, Bratislava): “The Birth of Historic Legend: The Black Queen Barbara of Cilli,” IMC Leeds

Theresa Earenfight (Seattle University): “Was There a Medical Basis of a Queen’s Right to Rule? Gender and Inheritance in Pierre André’s Pomum aureum, 1444,” at IMC Leeds

Amalie Fößel (Universität Duisburg-Essen): “Queenship in the Age of the Luxemburgians,” IMC Leeds

Anna Jagošová (Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien): “Queen Elisabeth of Luxemburg: Her Ruling Practice in the Mirror of Her Charters and Correspondence,” IMC Leeds

Jitske Jasperse (Universiteit van Amsterdam): “Jutta and Bertha: 12th-Century Sisters-In-Arms,” IMC Leeds

Tiziana Lazzari (Università di Bologna): “Who Saved the Young Queen?: The Escape of Adelaide from Rosvita to Donizo,” at IMC Leeds

Amy Livingstone (Wittinberg University): “The King’s Sister: Countess Ermengard of Brittany,” Royal Studies Network

Simon MacLean (University of St Andrews): “Empress Adelheid and the Ottonian Invasion of Italy,” IMC LeedsFraser McNair (University of Cambridge): “Queens as interfaces between political networks in tenth-century France,” Royal Studies Network

Penelope Joan Nash (University of Sydney): “Empress Adelheid’s Travels during the Regencies,” IMC Leeds

Piotr Oliński (Uniwersytet Mikołaja Kopernika, Torún): “Queen Elizabeth of Poland and the Treatise De institutione regii pueri: Royal Authority of the Future Jagiellonian King of Hungary and Bohemia,” IMC Leeds

Lucy K. Pick (University of Chicago): “Networking Power, Mediating Encounter: The Royal Women of León-Castilla,” Medieval Academy of America

Sacramento Roselló-Martínez (Northwestern University): “Negotiating Exile: Constanza of Castile and John of Gaunt and their claim of the Castilian Crown (1372–1386),” Royal Studies Network

Ingrid Schlegl (Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz):” ‘Vicisti reges […]’: Does Matilda of Canossa Challenge Male Rule?” IMC Leeds

Miriam Shadis (Ohio University): “Charting Queenship and Community in 13th-Century Portugal,” IMC Leeds

Kathleen Thompson (University of Sheffield): “The Empress Matilda Puts a Brave Face on It,” IMC Leeds

Shaun Tougher (Cardiff University): “City of Queens: Imperial Women in the Constantinian Dynasty,” IMC Leeds

Nina Verbanaz (University of Missouri, Columbia): “The Imperial Authority of Salian Empresses in Word and Image,” IMC Leeds

Megan Welton (University of Notre Dame): “Mapping Fideles: A Visual Investigation into Empress Adelheid’s and Empress Theophanu’s Political Networks,” Royal Studies Network

Ashley Sarah Winterbottom-Firth (University of Huddersfield): “William of Tyre’s Representation of Melisende of Jerusalem: A 12th-Century Female King?” IMC Leeds


Rebecca Browett (University of London): “The Monastic Empire of Queen Matilda, Wife of Henry I,” IMC Leeds

Kirsty Day (University of Leeds): “Constructing Royal Franciscan Identities: The Example of the 13th- and 14th-Century Piasts,” IMC Leeds

Zita Rohr (University of Syndney): “On her majesty’s secret service: Yolande of Aragon and her Franciscan Entourage; Power, Piety and Patronage,” Royal Studies Network

Käthe Sonnleitner (Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz): “‘Non gladio, non armis [. . .]’: Is Female Rule Closer to Christian Ideals? The Ideology of the Ottonian Women,” IMC Leeds

Talia Zajac (University of Toronto): “Cultural connections between Kyiv and Paris in the eleventh century: the embassy of King Henri I and the cult of St. Clement of Rome,” Royal Studies Network

Michaela Zöschg (Courtauld Institute of Art): “Queens, Nuns, and Friars: Female Artistic Patronage in Royal Clarissan Foundations of 14th-Century Europe” at IMC Leeds

Representations of Queens in Art, Art History, Cultural History, Literature

Valentine Balguerie (Brown University): “Ousting the queen of Navarre: the shift from example to personhood in Villedieu’s Disorders of Love,” Royal Studies Network

Ingrid Bennewitz (Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg): “From Prünhilt to Brünhilda: Cinematic Staging of the Icelandic Queen in the 20th and 21st Century,” IMC Leeds

Sabine Berger (University Paris IV-Sorbonne): “The councilors of the last Capetians: an entourage of art patrons and builders (c. 1270–c. 1330),” Royal Studies Network

Başak Burcu Tekın (Meliksah University): “Let’s Raise a Seljuk Empire Together: Reading Women’s Role and Identity in Medieval Islam through Art,” IMC Leeds

Sheri Chriqui (Royal Holloway, University of London): “A ‘Foreign’ Queen in King Uther’s Court: 15th-Century Insular Xenophobia and Malory’s Portrayal of Arthur’s Mother,” IMC Leeds

Sanne Frequin (Universiteit van Amsterdam): “Rivalry and Ambition in the Tombs of Margaret of Constantinople and Her Descendants,” IMC Leeds

Gillian Gower (University of California, Los Angeles): “Mirrors for Princesses: Musical Models and the Public Images of England’s Medieval Queens,” Medieval Academy of America

Kriszta Kotsis (University of Puget Sound): “The Beauty of Byzantine Empresses,” Medieval Academy of America

Jan Shaw (University of Sydney): “Queens and Empire in Middle English Romance,” IMC Leeds

Philippa Woodcock (Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée): “Odet de Foix, Royal Studies Network

 The Royal Household & Entourage

Hélder Carvalhal (Universidade de Évora), “Lineage, House and Service: the family Teles de Meneses during the reigns of Manuel I and John III (1495–1557),” Royal Studies Network

Nicola Clark (Royal Holloway, University of London): “‘Richly beseen’: an investigation into the identities and roles of women at the court of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, 1485–1509,” Royal Studies Network

Caroline Dunn (Clemson University): “Fruits of their Labour: Recompensing Ladies-in-Waiting in Fourteenth-Century England,” Royal Studies Network

Amy Hayes: “Scotland’s Royal Children, 1371–1528,” Royal Studies Network

Isabel de Pina Balerias (University of Lisbon): “The entourage of Queen Leonor Teles and King Fernando of Portugal (1367–1384),” Royal Studies Network

Manuela Santos Silva (University of Lisbon): “Philippa of Lancaster’s lady-in-waiting: the matriarch of the Portuguese Coutinho’s lineage in charge of the queen’s household (1387–1415),” Royal Studies Network

Nuria Silleras-Fernandez (University of Colorado, Boulder): “An Entourage Proper for a Princess: Maria Manuel of Portugal in the Spanish Court (1543–1544),” Royal Studies Network

Laura Tompkins (The National Archives, UK): “Was Alice Perrers Unusual? The Origins of the Queen’s Ladies in Fourteenth-Century England,” Royal Studies Network

Women and the History of Medicine

Theresa Earenfight (Seattle University): “Mixing Politics and Medicine: Late Medieval Queens of Navarre and Problems of Generation, Genealogy, and Inheritance in Pierre Andrée’s Pomum Aureum (1444),” Medieval Academy of America



Old and New and an Ever-changing Bibliography

I’ve begun work on a new project on childless queens and I did two things to get myself ready to write: I re-read some older works and scanned Google Scholar to make sure I had the most up-to-date bibliography.

I re-read John Carmi Parsons works on motherhood as a fundamental element of queenship. Some of these works are now almost two decades old and I am struck by how much this has influenced so much of the work on queens. I agree, for the most part, that motherhood was important, but the prevalence of childless queens has made me wonder if it’s time for a re-appraisal of our emphasis on maternity. A year ago at Leeds, Kristen Geaman made a cogent case for a wider definition of motherhood to include not only queens as biological mothers but also as nurturing aunts and godmothers and as figural mothers for the realm who interceded on behalf of their subjects.

This is good food for thought, for now, and I welcome your thoughts and ideas on aspects of motherhood.

As for the bibliography, I spent the last few days poring over some notes from the excellent 2004 Budapest conference on queens (“Medieval and Early Modern Queens and Queenship: Questions of Income and Patronage”) and thought I’d check to see what the participants have been up to. Well, in a word, plenty. Here are some new items I’ve added to the bibliography tabs in this blog.

Adamska, Anna, “Latin and Vernacular – Reading and Meditation: Two Polish Queens and Their Books,” in Sabrina Corbellini (ed.), Cultures of Religious Reading in the Late Middle Ages (Turnhout Brepols Publishers, 2013), pp. 219–46.

Borkowska, Urszula, “The Funeral Ceremonies of the Polish Kings from the Fourteenth to the Eighteenth Centuries,” The Journal of Ecclesiastical History 36 (1985), pp 513–34.

———, “Theatrum Ceremoniale at the Polish Court as a System of Social and Political Communication,” in Anna Adamska and Marco Mostert (eds), The Development of Literate Mentalities in East Central Europe (Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 2004), pp. 431–50.

Cengel, Lauren, “Partners in Rule: A Study of Twelfth-Century Queens of England,” doctoral dissertation, Wittenberg University Honors Theses, 2012.

Clements, Jill Hamilton, “The Construction of Queenship in the Illustrated Estoire de Seint Aedward le Rei,” Gesta 52:1 (2013), pp. 21–42.

Evans, Sandy, “Pays Gaste and Pucelle Gaste: Gendering Resistance in Garin le Loherenc, Gerbert de Mez, and Raoul de Cambrai,” Exemplaria 23:4 (2011), pp. 317–41.

Fößel, Amalie, “Gender and Rulership in the Medieval German Empire,” History Compass 7 (2009), pp. 55–65.

———, “The Queen’s Wealth in the Middle Ages,” Majestas 13 (2005), pp. 23–45.

Garcia de la Puente, Ines, “Gleb of Minsk’s Widow: Neglected Evidence on the Rule of a Woman in Rus’ian History?” Russian History 39:3 (2012). pp. 347–78.

Hicks, Michael A., Anne Neville (London: Faber & Faber, 2011).

Huneycutt, Lois, “‘Proclaiming her dignity abroad’: The Literary and Artistic Network of Matilda of Scotland, Queen of England, 1100–1118,” in June Hall McCash (ed.), The Cultural Patronage of Medieval Women (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1996), pp. 155–74.

Karaskova, Olga, “’Ung dressoir de cinq degrez’: Mary of Burgundy and the Construction of the Image of the Female Ruler,” in Juliana Dresvina and Nicholas Sparks (eds), Authority and Gender in Medieval and Renaissance Chronicles: Papers delivered at the Cambridge International Chronicles Symposium (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars, 2012), pp. 318–43.

Keene, Katie, “‘Cherchez Eufeme’: The Evil Queen in ‘Le Roman de Silence,’” Arthuriana 14:3 (2004), pp. 3–22.

———, “Margaret of Scotland: The Biography of an Eleventh-century Queen and Saint,” doctoral dissertation, Southern Methodist University, 2006.

Lambert, Sarah, “Images of Queen Melisande,” in Juliana Dresvina and Nicholas Sparks (eds), Authority and Gender in Medieval and Renaissance Chronicles: Papers delivered at the Cambridge International Chronicles Symposium (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars, 2012), 140–65.

Laynesmith, J. L., “Constructing Queenship at Coventry: Pageantry and Politics at Margaret of Anjou’s ‘Secret Harbour,’” in The Fifteenth Century III. Authority and Subversion (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2003), pp. 137–48.

———, “Fertility Rite or Authority Ritual? The Queen’s Coronation in England 1445–87,” Social Attitudes and Political Structures in the Fifteenth Century (Stroud: Sutton, 2000).

———, “Joan of Kent’s Tale: Adultery and Rape in the Age of Chivalry,” Medieval Life 5 (1996).

———, “The Kings’ Mother,” History Today 56:3 (2006), pp. 38–44.

———, “A Paper Crown: The Titles and Seals of Cecily Duchess of York,” The Ricardian 10:133 (1996).

———, “Telling Tales of Adulterous Queens in Medieval England: from Olympias of Macedonia to Elizabeth Woodville,” in Lynette Mitchell (ed.), Every Inch a King: Comparative Studies in Kings and Kingship in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds (Leiden: Brill, 2012).

———, “The Thistle & the Rose,” History Scotland 3 (2003).

Loconte, Aislinn, “‪Constructing Female Sanctity in Late Medieval Naples: The Funerary Monument of Queen Sancia of Majorca,” in Elizabeth L’Estrange, ‪Alison More (eds), Representing Medieval Genders and Sexualities in Europe: ‪Construction, Transformation, and Subversion, 600–1530 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2011), pp. 107–26.

Mielke, Christopher., “No Country for Old Women: Burial Practices and Patterns of Hungarian Queens of Árpád Dynasty (975–1301), doctoral dissertation, University of Maryland, 2010.

Mikó, Árpád, “A Queen in Buda,” The Hungarian Quarterly 181 (2006), pp. 134–43.

Preston-Matto, Lahney, “Queens as Political Hostages in Pre-Norman Ireland: Derbforgaill and the Three Gormlaiths,” JEGP, Journal of English and Germanic Philology 109:2 (2010), pp. 141–61.

Saghy, Marianne, “Women and Power in Medieval East Central Europe,” East Central Europe 1:21–23 (1991–1993), pp. 219–25.

Slater, Laura, “Queen Isabella of France and the Politics of the Taymouth Hours,” Viator 43:2 (2012), pp. 209–45.

Slitt, Rebecca, “The Boundaries of Women’s Power: Gender and the Discourse of Political Friendship in Twelfth-Century England,” Gender & History (2012), 24: 1–17.

Turel, Noa, “Staging the Court: Auto-Iconicity and Female Authority around a 1478 Burgundian Baptism,” in Juliana Dresvina and Nicholas Sparks (eds), Authority and Gender in Medieval and Renaissance Chronicles: Papers delivered at the Cambridge International Chronicles Symposium (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars, 2012), pp. 344–75.

Turner, Ralph, “Eleanor of Aquitaine, Twelfth-Century English Chroniclers and her ‘Black Legend’,” Nottingham Medieval Studies 52 (2008), pp. 17–42.

Tyler, Elizabeth M., “Crossing Conquests: Polyglot Royal Women and Literary Culture in Eleventh-Century England,” in Elizabeth M. Tyler (ed.), Conceptualizing Multilingualism in England, c.800-c.1250 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2011), pp. 171–96.

Verbanaz, Nina K., Portrayals of Women in Violent Situations in Texts of the High Middle Ages,” doctoral dissertation, University of Missouri-Columbia, 2008.

Wilkinson, Louise, “The Rules of Robert Grosseteste Reconsidered: The Lady as Estate and Household Manager in Thirteenth-Century England,” in Cordelia Beattie, Anna Maslakovic and Sarah Rees Jones (eds), The Medieval Household in Christian Europe, c. 850–1550 (Turnhout: Brepols Publisher, 2003), pp. 293–306.

Woodacre, Elena, “Questionable Authority: Female Sovereigns and their Consorts in Medieval and Renaissance Chronicles,” in Juliana Dresvina and Nicholas Sparks (eds), Authority and Gender in Medieval and Renaissance Chronicles: Papers delivered at the Cambridge International Chronicles Symposium (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars, 2012), pp. 376–406.

As you can see, one citation lead to another and there are scholars on this list who we’re at Budapest but whose work was inspired by our colleagues who were. I’ve been remiss in including work from eastern Europe, which makes me think that there are so many more essays and books to include.

So, I finish with a request. As you browse through the bibliography, please make a note of omissions and send me an email or post a comment with the citations. My goal with this blog is to make a comprehensive bibliography available to a wide audience, and I very much appreciate you help.

New Studies on Queens and Queenship

As the summer winds down, those of us who teach are returning to our colleges and universities. I had a busy summer at conferences in the US and UK, working on the maternity database, and getting ready for a year of events on campus about health in historical perspective (see the earlier posts, Royal Mothers).

The conferences in the UK at the University of Leeds (the International Medieval Congress) and the University of Winchester (The Royal Studies Network) were rich and rewarding. Take a look at the papers I listed in an earlier post in April to get a sense for the range of subjects and approaches. From these conference sessions, there are a number of book projects in the works on queens, and as they come to fruition I’ll post the titles and links to articles.

If the dissertations, articles, and books published recently are any indicator, the field of queenship studies continues to flourish. Here are the titles of works I recently added to the Bibliography:


  • Jennifer McRobbie, “Gender and violence in Gregory of Tours’ ‘Decem libri historiarum.’” University of St Andrews, doctoral dissertation, 2012. Author’s abstract: The ‘Decem Libri Historiarum’ of Gregory of Tours, our only coherent narrative source for the latter half of the sixth century in Gaul, has been the subject of much lively scholarly debate as to its reliability and original purpose. Literary approaches have proved useful; however, the findings of gender studies, applied so fruitfully in many other areas of historical research, have thus far had virtually no impact on the study of Gregory’s work. For the first time, this thesis examines the role of gender in the DLH. Just as gender assumptions were vital to the thought world of the writers of the books of the Old Testament, so too they were vital to Gregory, who took these books as his main inspiration. It will be shown that gender can offer a fresh and vital perspective on some of the most contentious issues associated with the DLH, taking us closer than ever to a full appreciation of Gregory’s objectives. In exposing Gregory’s literary devices and strategies, this study goes beyond Gregory’s viewpoint, with implications for the study of kingship, and particularly queenship, in the sixth century. It will be shown that competing norms of elite masculine and feminine behaviour were in flux over the period, and required careful negotiation. This study also has repercussions for gender studies more widely. In demonstrating the usefulness of gender approaches in analysing a text to which such approaches have never before been applied, the thesis indicates that gender must be considered an essential analytical tool in historical research.
  • Emma Jane Thomas. “The ‘second Jezebel’ : representations of the sixth-century Queen Brunhild.” University of Glasgow, doctoral dissertation, 2012. Author’s abstract: This thesis explores the representation of the sixth-century Merovingian Queen Brunhild. By examining seven of the divergent sources which present the queen, the construction of Brunhild, or multiple Brunhilds, is analysed through gendered, literary and political lenses. Rather than attempting to reconcile the extremities of depictions of this queen, during her life and after her death, I demonstrate that Brunhild is a series of historical and textual problems at different political moments. I also show that the themes damnatio memoriae, feud and queenship, commonly used to analyse her career, are inadequate to understand the queen herself, the authors who wrote about her, and the age in which they lived. Three main themes within Brunhild’s extensive career allow the exploration of the tensions inherent within the seven main sources which present her. The ‘construction of queenship’ is an examination into Brunhild’s move from Visigothic princess to Frankish queen, a transition often dismissed, but one which proves pivotal to understanding the queen’s later Visigothic dealings. The ways in which authors recognised her at the point of marriage is nuanced by their political context, looking back on the queen upon her husband’s death. The ‘politics of survival’ goes on to study Brunhild’s relationship with the church: first, the positive associations between a queen and piety, and then, the results when that relationship goes awry. It is Brunhild’s tension with the church which labels her ‘the second Jezebel’. Finally, ‘dynasty and destruction’ explores Brunhild’s relationship with her offspring. During three regencies, spanning three generations, the queen’s connection to her family was critiqued in different ways. Her involvement in Visigothic succession politics to the end of her career is examined, alongside Brunhild’s maternal image, and finally the accounts of her death. How Brunhild’s physical and political body is neutralised is crucial to understanding each author’s motives. There is no other early medieval queen with the textual afterlife of Brunhild and this thesis is the first full examination of the extremities of her representation. Subjected, it has been said, to damnatio memoriae, the vilification, or more literally, destruction of memory, Brunhild and her textual manifestation is read in an entirely new way. The contemporary recognition of this queen, together with her textual representation, betray a tension which illustrates that Brunhild was, in fact, more alive after she was dead.


  • Elena Woodacre, The Queens Regnant of Navarre: Succession, Politics, and Partnership, 1274-1512.  Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. From the publisher: The five reigning queens of Navarre comprise the largest set of female sovereigns in a single European realm during the Middle Ages. However, the lives and careers of these women are largely unknown beyond the region and have never been investigated as a group or in the context of female rule. This survey of Navarre’s queens finally fills this scholarly lacuna by focusing on issues of female succession, matrimonial politics, agency, patronage, and the power-sharing dynamic between the queens and their male consorts. It also highlights the importance of Navarre to major political events of the era and traces these queens’ connections to other female European rulers, including Isabel of Castile and Giovanna II of Naples.


  • Madeline Caviness. “Of Arms and the Woman in Medieval Europe: Fact. Fiction. Fantasy.” FKW // Zeitschrift für Geschlechterforschung und visuelle Kultur 54 (2013): Author’s abstract: The complex relationship between women and arms in Europe, from Roman times to about 1200, is reexamined in light of literary traditions, historical records, and the modern preoccupation with women warriors that inevitably inflects historical judgments. Overall, the issue has suffered from a scarcity of hard evidence and an abundant politics of interpretation. Some historical examples indicate an acceptance of female hereditary governance in Europe during the early middle ages, including the command of troops. Yet many historians have greeted the idea of a woman wielding a sword in battle with skepticism. Figures such as Boudicca who led a revolt against the Romans in Britain, the Anglo-Saxon queen Aethelflaed, and the later women who fought in the crusades, or defended their own property, have been politicized. Narratives like that of the Old Testament Judith and the Nibelungenlied became ideological tools to raise the alarm about phallic women. By the thirteenth century, Saxon law declared that a widow must immediately surrender her husband’s sword to the male heir. Female fighters were increasingly vilified, culminating in the accusation of heresy against Joan of Arc, and her execution.
  • Courtney Luckhardt. “Gender and Connectivity: Facilitating Religious Travel in the Sixth and Seventh Centuries.” Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 44 (2013); 
pp. 29–53. Author’s abstract: Using gender as a lens, this article evaluates the nature of female networks of religious connection and communication in the early medieval period. The vitae of three female saints of the sixth and seventh centuries, Radegund of Poitiers, Brigid of Kildare, and Gertrude of Nivelles, demonstrate the way that women facilitated and instigated networks of contact through their relationships with others, especially men and particularly their kin. These relationships allowed women to play a crucial role in forming heterogeneous cultural and religious connections across both long and short distances in the period. The methodology of connectivity, which as a concept needs to be both engaged with and challenged, allows the probing of questions of how and why medieval people communicated and connected with one another across geographical and imaginative boundaries.


  • Amalie Foessel, “The Political Traditions of Female Rulership in Medieval Europe.” In Judith M. Bennett and Ruth Mazo Karras (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).
  • Jill Harries. “Men without Women: Theodocius’ Consistory and the Business of Government.” In Christopher Kelly (ed.), ‪Theodosius II: ‪Rethinking the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity, Cambridge: ‪Cambridge University Press, 2013, pp. 67–89.

Royal Mothers, Part V: Looking Ahead While Celebrating a Royal Birth

[Theresa]: Would I ever teach a course like this again? Yes, yes, yes. Could I teach a course like this again? Only if my university ponies up the cash to do so. It costs money to innovate, and Monica and I could not have done this without financial support. To some, this may seem a boutique class that only benefits a few students and two professors. But I am certain that this course will ripple widely and that Monica’s aim of training a new generation of scholars working on the history of medicine instead of just talking to an audience will succeed. One of the students continues to work on codicology, another is working with me on a fall project on the history of disability (see below).

[Monica]: I felt it important to try this experiment because medievalists are on the brink of a new world. One of the biggest factors that has distinguished the work we do as medievalists from that of historians working on later periods is that none of our materials existed originally in print—i.e., in multiple, identical copies that came off a printing press. Yes, many other historians work with unique handwritten archival materials. But ours has been the field where students most needed the intermediary of their professor and a host of other scholars (paleographers, editors, translators, interpreters) to gain access. 

The digital revolution in manuscript studies is now making all those unique witnesses available instantaneously to thousands of readers all at once. I was interested in experimenting to see if we could find a way to immerse students, even at the undergraduate level, in the world of medieval books: to let them “handle” the whole raw document and see how we make meaning out of it, literally (in just being able to read the Latin) but also figuratively, in seeing each medieval manuscript as a physical and cultural product.

In fact, this course was a “repeat” for me, as my Dutch colleague, Orlanda Lie, and I had tried a similar experiment at the University of Utrecht in 2007. That seminar (also just 10 weeks long) had resulted in a day-long symposium and exhibition, where the students presented their interpretations of a hitherto unpublished 15th-century Dutch text on women’s medicine. The difference there was that we were working with graduate students, most of whom had no prior experience with the history of medicine but all of whom had several years of training in Dutch philology and codicology. 

Poster for Utrecht symposium, held 27 June 2007.

Poster for Utrecht symposium, held 27 June 2007.

The seminar that Theresa and I did in Seattle, of course, was for undergraduates, who were learning the codicology and the language and the medical science and the political history all at the same time. I can definitely see ways in which we could structure the course somewhat more tightly in the future—say, starting them off with examples drawn from medical manuscripts so they learn the codicological basics while also picking up some medicine on the side. For example, in a blog I just wrote about another manuscript I studied this summer, I talked about the use of images, the placement of the texts in the codex, and questions of provenance (ownership) of manuscripts. That manuscript happened to contain the Trotula, which we were already studying in class; we could therefore have talked about questions of authorship (for example, “Why was the alleged authoress “Trotula” called a sanatrix [female healer] here, a term never used in other copies?”). Or book production (“Why did the commissioner juxtapose works on women’s medicine and surgery and even horse medicine?”). Or the economics of book-making (“How could anybody afford all that gold?”).

Use of gold leaf to decorate a copy of Roger Frugardi’s Surgery.  From New York Academy of Medicine, Surgical and Gynecological compendium, f. 45va.”  Used with permission.

Use of gold leaf to decorate a copy of Roger Frugardi’s Surgery. From New York Academy of Medicine, Surgical and Gynecological compendium, f. 45va.” Used with permission.

[Theresa]: Speaking of gold, I am grateful for another year of funding from the Pigott McCone endowed chair. With funds from this endowment, last February Professor Bridie Andrews (Bentley University) gave the Al Mann Lecture on medieval and modern Chinese medicine. For the coming year, I’ve organized events on campus devoted to the history of disability, a series on the history of women in science called “Galileo’s Daughters” (with Dava Sobel), and medicine in colonial empires with Hugh Cagle presenting the Al Mann Lecture (University of Utah).

As you can see, this project that originally was about queens has taken on a rather larger life than anything I could imagine. My touchstone remains queens and women and power, but working on this text has made me acutely aware of the many meanings of “inheritance.” Only this past year have I connected the dots of an undergraduate human genetics seminar I took many years ago and the politics of lineal descent. Thinking about how Leonor of Navarre and Gaston IV of Foix thought about inheritance of traits as well as inheritance of realms made me realize how narrow my definition of “inheritance” was. I want to know more about how much nobles and royal families knew about patterns of inheritance, about how they made sense of a boy who resembled his mother more than his father, about why a girl was better at governing than her brother, about how to know if a child is really the daughter or son of the queen’s husband.

I’m particularly intrigued by the case of Navarre, which refused to accept the fraudulent French “Salic Law” that barred women from both ruling in their own right and transmitting the right to rule. Did they know something about inheritance of traits that their French neighbors did not? If so, how did they get that information? Or were the Navarrese just more pragmatic? Were they more inclined to let both women and men inherit and rule because they were more “progressive”? A century later, the Habsburg family’s famously distinctive prognathic jaw was a mark of legitimacy, suggesting that certainly they knew a thing or two about the inheritance of physical traits. Was the mental instability of Queen Juana I, known as “la Loca” (the mad), inherited, too? Or was her madness situational, precipitated by the actions of her bullying father Fernando I of Aragon and her aggressive son, Emperor Charles V? What about the Tudors, who started off so well with Henry VII and Elizabeth of York’s brood but then took a turn for the worse when Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, who was pregnant six times but produced only one child, Mary I, who lived to adulthood? We know a lot about the ins and outs of Henry VIII’s divorces, but almost nothing meaningful about the causes of fertility and infertility in the Tudor family. I hope that by studying the patterns of maternity and fertility we can use the history of medicine to extend our understanding of history in many dimensions—political, family, gender, status and class, religious, cultural. Finally, I envision the database including aristocratic families, whose daughters and sons were often the linchpins to a royal family’s success.

This will all inform an ongoing project, also funded by the Pigott McCone funds, that will create a database of the maternity and fertility of royal families. For the past few years I’ve been collecting data on the pregnancies, healthy births, miscarriages, and stillbirths among royal families. This year, with the help of the Computer Science department at Seattle University, all this information will be available on a database publicly accessible on the Internet. Scholars will be able to post information—text, images, sound, primary and secondary sources, links to internet sites—and anyone, scholar or not, who is interested will have access to the site. The information will be both longitudinal and horizontal, including not just the immediate royal family, but also the aunts, uncles, cousins, and so on. Royal families were complex affiliations that bridge time and space. This database will allow us to discern patterns of health and disease, fertility and infertility and shed light on the health of an entire family. We’re still working on the architecture of the database and what it will look like when you access the site, but I can assure it won’t look like this:

Castile & the Crown of Aragon in the Fifteenth Century

Royal Succession in Castile, the Crown of Aragon, and Portugal in the Fifteenth Century

And this isn’t even a complete list of all the pregnancies, not to mention all the cousins and distant relatives. Still, this type of chart can very useful because it is familiar, but it doesn’t always fit on the traditional page format of books and computer screens. I was delighted when Dr. Cindy Wood of the University of Winchester presented an impressively detailed genealogy of the Plantagenet family at the Royal Studies Network conference just this past July at the University of Winchester. It was about 12 feet long, and even though she has a digital version, there has to be a better way to wrangle the data.

[Monica]: I am, of course, thrilled that this database is in development. I’ve long recognized that the one limitation of focusing on the history of books is that in many cases it’s hard to connect them to the histories of real people. I had the amazing and humbling experience a few years ago to be able to work on the trial of a midwife accused of murdering a woman who had died under her care, the first known instance of such a trial in European history. The concepts about obstetrical interventions that were discussed in my texts took on an immediacy they never had before. Likewise, I had known from documentary records something about the midwives who had served at the court of Navarre, tending to Blanca I of Navarre, mother of Gaston IV’s wife, Leonor. But the political import of reproduction to the lives of real women and men was largely opaque to me. Not any more!

[Theresa]: One of the newest bits of information to go into the database is the news of the newest royal baby, His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge, and his proud parents Prince William and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge. Yes, he’s not medieval, but my long-range goal is to make the database encompass more than just the Middle Ages. Why not start now?