I’ve added a few items to the Bibliography and I’m delighted to see the many directions in which queenship research is headed. I’ve included below the complete citations and a short abstract of the work, but there are some fascinating trends that deserve mention.
It’s long been noted that queenship and kingship scholars haven’t often conversed openly, but in the past few years there have been signs of a vibrant scholarly exchange. Fiona Tolhurst’s new book takes up the charge and uses a feminist analysis to explicitly link queenship to kingship in Anglo-Norman England. In a felicitous turn of phrase, she argues that Geoffrey of Monmouth considers “female kingship” in a positive light and sets the tone for a distinctly English queenship. Women and political power is part and parcel of Tolhurst’s work, and this book brings together a number of thematic threads she has explored elsewhere (see her essay, ‘The Outlandish Lioness: Eleanor of Aquitaine in Literature’, Medieval Feminist Forum 37 (Spring 2004): 9–13).
Jennifer Edwards takes a different approach in her study of women and power in the convent. Nuns may not at first glance seem pertinent to queenship. But when one of the nuns was the Frankish queen Radegund, questions of queenship are front and center. Edwards essay is an important study of the wider milieu of publicly held power (see also her dissertation, ‘“The Sweetness of Suffering”: Community, Conflict, and the Cult of Saint Radegund in Medieval Poitiers’, doctoral dissertation (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2008). The nuns’ assertion that women could wield power over men is an important piece in the political theory of queenship, and Edward’s essay is a vital contribution to a field that has grown slowly over the past few years.
Liam Moore’s essay on charters in eleventh- and twelfth-century León is an innovative blend of theory on orality and literacy, performance, and “voice” (in this vein, see William Layher, Queenship and Voice in Medieval Northern Europe, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010). By looking not just at the witness lists and parsing out the nuances of language, studies like Moore’s take us deeply into what Thomas Bisson referred to as the “experience of power,” but in this case from the standpoint of those more powerful than peasants, to get a sense of what it felt like to be in the presence of a king or queen.
Colette Bowie’s doctoral dissertation, written under the supervision of Matthew Strickland at the University of Glasgow, takes up one of the questions most commonly asked of queenship scholars is, How does a queen learn to become a queen? Bowie addresses this question in a comparative study of royal women, in this case the daughters of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England. This methodology provides her with a means to consider the natal familial context of queens-to-be and opens up a much-needed conversation on queenship as a “national” or “familial” institution. Whereas kings stay grounded in one place, queens are moveable bearers of culture, and studies like Bowie’s rightly emphasize just how this happens (see also Lisa Benz St. John, Three Medieval Queens: Queenship and Crown in Fourteenth-century England, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012; and Miriam Shadis, Berenguela of Castile (1180–1246) and Political Women in the High Middle Ages (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), and Miriam Shadis and C. H. Berman, ‘A Taste of the Feast: Reconsidering Eleanor of Aquitaine’s Female Descendants’, in Bonnie Wheeler and John Carmi Parsons (eds), Eleanor of Aquitaine: Lord and Lady, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003, pp. 177–211).
Finally, because from time to time, we all need something not-too-serious about queens, Sarah Gristwood has published Blood Sisters: The Women behind the Wars of the Roses. Historical fiction on queens is, for many readers both young and older, a point of access to a rich and dynamic field. Many of the authors are like Gristwood, well educated but not professional historians, and like her, they combine solid research with a knack for telling a good story. The War of the Roses has it all—drama, scandal, rumor, outsized personalities, and outrageous late medieval fashion.
Fiona Tolhurst, Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Translation of Female Kingship (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).
From the publisher: Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Translation of Female Kingship provides the first feminist analysis of the part of The History of the Kings of Britain that most readers overlook: the reigns before and after Arthur’s. Fiona Tolhurst demonstrates that Geoffrey not only creates precedents for the future reign of Empress Matilda in England but also presents female rule as an attractive and beneficial alternative to male immorality and incompetence. Her study adds a new dimension to contemporary scholarship by proposing that the word ‘feminist’ can be used to describe this history that—in contrast to the works of Geoffrey’s predecessors, redactors, and early translators—presents female rule positively.
Jennifer C. Edwards, “‘Man Can be Subject to Woman’: Female Monastic Authority in Fifteenth-Century Poitiers,” Gender & History 25: 1 (Feb 2013); available online, forthcoming in print.
From the author: While scholars argue that the authority of traditional monastic women declined in the later Middle Ages under the pressures of episcopal oversight, enforced claustration, financial difficulties, and a lack of support, the abbesses of Sainte-Croix in Poitiers continued to claim superiority over male canons. When, in the fifteenth century, a dependent community of men employed misogynist rhetoric to challenge her—complaining that it was “against nature” to subject men to the authority of a woman—the abbess of Sainte-Croix drew on competing discourses to emphasize the power of tradition and office-holding. The abbess’s arguments convinced royal authorities to support her claim to authority over men. This case prompts a reconsideration of the assumption that authority was gendered male and that officials excluded female monastics from the late medieval church.
Liam Moore, “By hand and by voice: performance of royal charters in eleventh- and twelfth-century León,” Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies 5:1 (2013): 18–32.
From the author: In this article I examine the public granting of royal charters in eleventh- and early twelfth-century León as an event that expressed and created ideas of royal kingship and legitimacy. The charter was not merely a record of a royal act; rather, it was a central part of an event, a ritual that engaged all the senses of those assembled at court by the monarch. Scholars have already noted that charter-granting was often accompanied by certain gestures: the laying of the document on a church altar, for example, or the conveyance of an additional object that represented the property or privilege being bestowed. The Leonese context, however, reveals a ritual that is much more complicated, sophisticated, and powerful than might be expected. Central to this ritual is the language of the charter—language that was at this time and place understood by those present. The charter is read aloud and a complex play ensues: a play between formula and innovation, orality and writing, and between the reader’s voice and the king’s word. There are several layers of performance enacted, and the actors include those assembled at court, who assent not only to the legal act the document was written to realize, but also to other aspects of the charter: ideas of kingship, religious declarations, and specific visions of history. The assembly becomes a field in which power is confirmed. Central to the ritual power of the event is the religious language in the charter, which sacralizes the act and gives it a quasi-liturgical character, and endows the monarch with religious as well as political power.
Bowie, Colette Marie, “The daughters of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine: a comparative study of twelfth-century royal women,” doctoral dissertation, University of Glasgow, 2011.
Bowie studies the daughters of Henry and Eleanor—Matilda, Leonor, and Joanna—in a dynastic context, looking at alliances with Saxony, Castile, Sicily, and Toulouse. She starts from their childhoods to discern the influences that shaped them, especially their emotional ties to their natal families, and dowry and dower. Bowie argues that “all three women were, to varying degrees, able to transplant Angevin family customs to their marital lands” (quote from the introduction).
In the mood for popular-history?
Sarah Gristwood, Blood Sisters: The Women behind the Wars of the Roses (New York: HarperCollins, 2012.
From the publisher: “How the Wars of the Roses were won and lost by the political and dynastic skills of the royal women: this is the true story behind Philippa Gregory’s dramatic novels about fiery Queens and the perils of power.”
Zita Rohr said:
Great posting Theresa, and fabulous to see such like-minded scholars grouped together for things regal/regnal. Stop Press: I too will join Ellie’s happy band at Winchester, “Winning Friends and Influencing People: Social networking by later medieval queens in Iberia and France”. Really looking forward to an exciting conference season.
What a pleasure to have just discovered your blog (via ‘The Freelance History Writer’). My own interest in medieval women was aroused when, as a first year undergraduate, I read a passing comment in an old textbook by V.H.H. Greene that Isabella of France (wife of Edward II of England) was a ‘woman of no real interest or importance’. That led to a Master’s dissertation on Isabella, Philippa of Hainault and Alice Perrers, followed by my doctoral thesis on nunneries in the diocese of York in the late Middle Ages. So I suppose I should be grateful to Prof. Greene!
I have left academia but still cheer from the sidelines, so will be following your blog with interest. By the way, I believe that ‘Blood Sisters’ has been adapted as a television series, to be shown imminently on the BBC.