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): http://www.fkw-journal.de/index.php/fkw/issue/current/showToc. 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?

Royal Mothers, Part III: A ‘Pregnant’ Text

[Monica] So, the story thus far: We’d worked out a syllabus, planned a quick and immersive introduction for the students into both medieval medical history and codicology (the study of medieval books as physical objects), and dropped our overly ambitious plan to work with TWO unstudied and unpublished texts on royal fertility. We would stick with our original plan: just focus on the Pomum aureum, Pierre André’s Golden Apple, the treatise on fertility and childbirth he had composed for Gaston IV of Foix in the year 1444. 

Theresa started off the course by herself, the first time she had ever taught either medical history or codicology!

[Theresa] This course posed some unique pedagogical challenges. First off, I had never before co-taught a class. The first hurdle was paying for it, which turned out to the be the easy part of this course. I had a modest budget to fund the course, thanks to an endowed chair from Seattle University. The real challenges came from how to design a course for undergraduates with some Latin, a course or two in the history of medieval Europe, and absolutely no experience with archival manuscripts. As I briefly noted in an earlier post (Royal Mothers, Part II: Down the Rabbit Hole We Went), the structure of the first half of the course—the overview of the history of medicine and reading Monica’s edition of The Trotula (2001)—was made easier because I had materials used in the NEH seminar. The hard part, the part that made me lose sleep, was actually teaching the materials.

From time to time, we all teach out of our depth, so you can sympathize that while teaching this course I felt like a student cramming for an exam. I knew a fair bit about modern medicine from undergraduate classes in human biology, chemistry, microbiology, and genetics, but had never had a formal course in the history of medicine. Like most medievalists, I’d read around a bit, but focused mostly on gender and sexuality, books such as The Trotula (2001), Joan Cadden’s The Meaning of Sex Differences in the Middle Ages (1995), Ruth Mazo Karras’s ‪Sexuality In Medieval Europe: Doing Unto Others (2005). The closest I came to seriously studying the history of medicine was reading Roy Porter’s The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity from Antiquity to the Present (1997). But my work on a childless queen, María of Castile, queen of the Crown of Aragon (d. 1458), led me to pose questions that only a study of the history of medicine could answer. I wondered if childlessness was due to infertility, but I wasn’t even sure what infertility is. Is it a disease? A malady? A syndrome? A temporary or permanent condition?

This led me to a conversation with Monica in 2008 which, of course, led to more conversations, and all this conversation led me to the NEH Seminar at the Wellcome Library in London in the summer of 2012. This was the first time I rigorously studied the history of medicine. This gave me the necessary background and depth to teach Aristotelian, Galenic, and Hippocratic foundations of medieval medicine. But I felt, like most of us do when we teach new material, seriously over my head. Monica was a great guide who provided plenty of teaching materials that made it possible to do more that provide a “once-over-lightly” lesson plan. I was able to use many of the works we read that summer in the syllabus and that gave me what I needed (see the syllabus, in the Essential Reading tab on the left).

But I still felt like a student. I have a classroom policy that rewards students for what I call “Stump the Professor Questions” in order to create a safe place to pepper me with questions. Well, let me tell you, I was stumped often. Our unanswered questions were sent as emails to Monica, who sent long, detailed responses and conversed with us on Skype. In this way, she was part of the class, even as she prepared for the hectic end of the term at Arizona State and all the hubbub of grading and graduation.

I felt a lot more comfortable with teaching codicology thanks to coursework in graduate school at Fordham University on paleography and codicology. Ray Clemens and Timothy Graham’s book, an excellent resource for advanced undergraduate students, led the way. Students gobbled up this book like candy. They had never before seriously thought about how books, medieval or modern, were made. This book, read alongside Monica’s side-by-side Latin text and English translation of the Trotula, gave students a deep appreciation for how knowledge is created and transmitted.

[Monica]: This is where technology proved to be a valuable friend. And it proved to be a great pedagogical aid, too, because a lot of our initial discussion of the Pomum aureum centered around the production of the physical book that we were examining via a digital reproduction of a microfilm photo. Conscious of how advanced our own technology was, we continually asked: How did medieval manuscript books get made? And what could we learn about this particular book by considering such questions as format, quality of the scribal hand, and codicological structure?

[Theresa]: This was vital material so that when we read the Trotula, they had many cogent questions about the translations and the way Monica decided what parts of the ensemble of texts went where in the finished edition. The students were not so much troubled by the arrangement of the ensemble as they were by some of the translations. For example, they struggled with the Latin word aborsus. As 21st-century readers, they automatically assumed “elective abortion” and “Roe v. Wade,” and all the current bitter political battles over abortion. But aborsus is a tricky word with a range of nuances and meanings that changed over the course of the Middle Ages. They learned one of the most valuable lessons anyone can learn when she or he studies the past: Check your a priori assumptions and your political leaning at the door. Do not presume that a word is static in meaning or usage. Do not let political inclination or religious beliefs get in the way of understanding what at word meant to a physician in Toulouse in 1444. Then, when we got to tackling the actual transcription and translation of the Pomum aureum, they realized just how hard it is to edit a text, that the nuance of a word like aborsus demands a careful analysis of context, a knowledge of more than just a single text but a myriad of texts on medicine, sexuality, and fertility. They realized that they needed to know how legal scholars used the term, so we directed them to Wolfgang Müller’s The Criminalization of Abortion in the West: Its Origins in Medieval Law (2012). The students in this class will never be able to pick up an edited text again without recalling the arduous work and scholarly expertise required to get that book into press.

By the middle of the term, Skype had worked well, up to a point. It got us all in the same classroom at the same time, which was, as anyone who uses Skype can tell you, both a blessing and a curse. Yes, we were all slogging through the material, transcribing the same passage at the same time, which was brilliant. And then, the connection would drop. Or the micro-second delay in the conversation caused the conversation to overlap. But we all got the hang of it and made it work to our advantage.

[Monica]: I joined the class in earnest (via Skype) once we got going on Pierre André’s text. One of the first conclusions we came to was that this particular copy of the Pomum aureum (the only copy that still exists, so far as we know) was almost certainly NOT the presentation copy given to its dedicatee, Gaston IV of Foix. How did we know? Well, first of all, the book wasn’t “pretty.” Later in the course, I would show the students several online “archives” of medieval manuscripts made for royal patrons. Called Europeana regia, this amazing project reassembles digitally the libraries of some of Europe’s great royal houses:  the Carolingians, Charles V of France and his family, and the Library of the Aragonese Kings of Naples. This last library was being assembled at the very time Pierre André was attempting to assist Gaston IV and his wife, Leonor of Navarre, in their reproductive needs.  A properly “royal” book should look something like this one, a copy of the famous Baths of Pozzuoli written by Petrus de Ebolo at the turn of the thirteenth century.

Petrus de Eboli Balnea Putheoli - Valencia MS 838 f004r (detail)

Valencia, Universitat de València, Biblioteca Històrica BH Ms. 838, f. 4r (detail)

This particular copy was made near the end of the fifteenth century for Alfonso II, Duke of Calabria. Deluxe copies of books of regimen—how to live a healthy life, eat right, take proper exercise, and so forth—were often owned by nobility. This image shows women bathing in one of the Pozzuoli baths, many of which were recommended to treat fertility problems.

By contrast, the copy of Pierre André’s work on fertility and childbirth that we were working with had none of these sumptuous qualities. Yes, the text was complete: divided into a section on Theory and one on Practice, each half was then divided into four chapters. There was a lavish opening passage praising the dedicatee, Gaston, and an equally overwrought conclusion. But it was an UGLY manuscript. Some use of majuscule characters to flag the beginning of new chapters, but otherwise no elegance whatsoever. Lines were uneven, words irregularly abbreviated. Rather than this being a copy for a noble patron (the one who paid the bills!), we concluded that this must be a later copy, made most likely for and maybe even by another physician, who wanted not only Pierre’s work on fertility, but also his treatise on plague and the several other texts in the volume on surgery and other technical matters of medicine. 

It was likely the haste with which this copy was made that caused the omission of the fetal images that were supposed to have been included.  After all, Pierre himself flagged their importance for understanding what the midwife should know during birth:

It ought to be noted that the fetus naturally presents looking at the ground (though some say that females emerge on their backs). First, the head emerges and then the neck, then the shoulders, and the arms ought to be extended along the sides.  But birth can happen unnaturally in various ways, 15 specifically, as can be seen readily in the following pictures. The reason why the face is turned toward the ground in a natural birth is because in its fundus the field of nature (or womb) has this shape, and at the hour of birth [the fetus] turns and commonly faces the ground just as before it had faced its navel, as can be seen in the present picture.

André then added further: 

How and in what ways the woman can give birth, and what the midwife ought to do is made apparent in the following pictures which lay it out openly.

It seems, then, that André, wishing to make his text truly remarkable with these images, went beyond the Muscian tradition of just showing fetal malpresentations. Were this the presentation copy, therefore, we would have expected an artistic investment similar to, if not surpassing, that found in another fifteenth-century manuscript that incorporated the fetal images, this surgical scroll now in Stockholm: 

StockholmX118 octavus partus (new scan)

Stockholm, Kungliga Biblioteket, MS X.118, ca. 1425–35 (England): the eighth fetal figure from Muscio, showing a footling presentation

By the end of our discussion of the manuscript’s format, we weren’t even sure that Pierre André had followed through on his plan to give this text to Gaston. What was becoming obvious to us was that we needed to know the POLITICAL CONTEXT of this text, not just its internal structure or its medical theory. Something about the timing seemed wrong. The text was clearly dated at the end: “Given [at Foix?] the sixth of October, 1444.” But Gaston and Leonor’s first child (also named Gaston) was, according to current research by Elena Woodacre, born in either 1443 or 1444. Was Leonor already pregnant when Pierre drafted his work? Had she already produced the requisite male heir? If she had, what was prompting this intense effort by Pierre?

What we needed was a political historian . . .

[Theresa]: Whew! I was on much more comfortable ground on the political history of Spain in the fifteenth century. At first I thought that Gaston commissioned the text because he was concerned about having a male heir to succeed him. The kingdom of Navarre did not prohibit women from inheriting and ruling in their own right and the presence of ruling queens was perceived by neighboring rulers as a weakness, particularly for the ambitious Trastámara clan. Leonor’s mother, Queen Blanca I, had no surviving children from her first marriage, and the idea of marrying a queen-regnant was irresistible to Juan, infante (prince) of the Crown of Aragon. He married her in 1419 and together they had four children, including a son, but he shoved both his wife and son aside and ruled in Blanca’s name. Leonor’s sister, Blanca II, married King Enrique IV of Castile in 1440, but after thirteen years of marriage without children, Enrique secured an annulment of the marriage. The marriage may never have been consummated; Blanca was sent home where her father imprisoned her. Enrique had a daughter from a second marriage, but it was alleged that the king was not her father. In the resulting struggle for the throne, Enrique’s step-sister Isabel of Castile (1451–1504) fought against him in a civil war to secure her inheritance and rule Castile.

It seems that the dynastic worries may have been less about producing children and more about protecting princesses from predatory lords from neighboring realms. The marriage of Gaston of Foix and Leonor of Navarre in 1434, when he was 12 and she was 8, was intended to strengthen links to the French county against Spain. Two years later, his father died, Gaston inherited the county, and eight years later, in 1443 or 1444 Leonor gave birth to their first son (although the sources are unclear; some scholars argue that a sister was born before him). They went on to have nine more children, so Gaston’s concerns for children seem, in retrospect, to have been groundless. But his concern for a son to ward off his grasping Trastámara relatives may be why André devoted a section in his treatise to how to conceive a male child. The answer to why Gaston wanted this text may simply be that his family was very interested in medicine and owned a number of medical treatises.

By midterm, then, we had made good progress. Students were improving their command of medieval medical Latin, could converse skillfully about codicology and paleography, and were showing good historical instincts in their initial take on the text of the Pomum aureum. When Monica arrived in person, I thought that our dependence on the technology would end, but I was wrong.



Royal Mothers, Part II: Down the Rabbit Hole We Went

[Theresa]  The course was an upper-division seminar that the syllabus noted as an “introduction to the history of medicine and a course in medieval paleography.” That is a lot to cram into ten weeks (Seattle University operates on a quarter system), but we were hopeful. We thought we could pull it off because we had no idea we couldn’t. Our idea made sense, at least it did in the early design phase.

In the fall, I jumped through the required administrative hoops, set aside funding from my endowed chair budget, and then sent out an email to all students who had at least a year of Latin inviting them to be part of a course like no other. Fifteen students replied, and ten eventually registered.

Here’s what they signed up for:

I would teach the first five weeks and then Monica would join us for the last five after graduation at Arizona State. The first part of the course focused broadly on the history of medicine in medieval Europe, with particular attention to the origins of medical knowledge and practice from the ancient Greek and Roman traditions. We started out with selected texts on Greek and Roman medicine in Faith Wallis’s Medieval Medicine: A Reader (University of Toronto Press, 2010). We warmed up some of the most influential recent studies on women’s medicine in the Middle Ages, particularly gynecology and childbirth. And then, heads first into the breach we did a close reading of Monica’s edition of the Trotula. Students studied the Latin alongside the English translation in order to prepare then for working with an untranscribed Latin text with medical terminology (for a complete syllabus, see the link on this site under Essential Reading). We then studied a bit of codicology and paleography using the wonderful book by Ray Clemens and Timothy Graham, Introduction to Manuscript Studies (Cornell University Press, 2007) as our guide. After the midterm, we began to transcribe and translate two archival manuscripts (available in digitized form) that discussed maternity, fertility, and infertility among noble and royal woman.

That was a colossal task. But the ten students in this seminar were exceptionally intelligent, unfailingly hard-working, and high-spirited. They simply dove into the material, knowing it was a once-in-a-lifetime class and trusting that Monica and I knew what we were doing. They cheerfully accepted all the ad hoc revisions to the syllabus. They were the key to the success of the course. Each of them brought some powerful skills and knowledge to the project: superb visual acuity (crucial to transcription), a solid command of Latin, ample coursework in history and philosophy and literary analysis. They could all easily hold their own in a graduate-level seminar.

Latin texts, and then writing a research paper that incorporated a formal description of the text and manuscript, a transcription and translation of a key passage, and an analysis and interpretation of the text.

I still get tired just thinking about this.

What were we thinking?????

[Monica]:  What were we thinking indeed!  Our eyes were definitely bigger than our stomachs, but there was method in our madness.  I only mentioned one Latin text in my initial post, Pierre André’s The Golden Apple (Pomum aureum). But there was a second one that I’d known about for a couple of decades, also unstudied and also concerning the infertility of a royal couple.  This was Bernarde Chaussade’s Tractatus de conceptione et generatione praecipue filiorum, (Treatise on Conception and Generation, especially of Sons). Like Pierre’s work, Bernarde’s was precisely dated: 1488.

Moulins Triptych, right panel: Portrait of Anne de Beaujeu with Daughter Suzanne and Patron Saint, 1489-1499.

Moulins Triptych, right panel: Portrait of Anne de Beaujeu with Daughter Suzanne and Patron Saint, 1489-1499.

In 1488, Anne de Beaujeu (b. 1460, d. 1522), the dedicatee of Chaussade’s Treatise, was 28 years old.  She had been married for 14 years, yet, so far as we know, had never conceived.  Anne was the daughter of the French King Louis XI and Charlotte of Savoy. She was also the elder sister of King Charles VIII and served as regent for him from 1483 to 1491 and again in 1494. It was she who arranged his marriage to Anne of Brittany (January 25, 1477-January 9, 1514), thus allowing the final merger of that province into the Kingdom of France. Herself married at age 14 to Pierre of Beaujeu in 1474, she became Duchess of Bourbon when he acceded to the title of Duke of Bourbon in 1488. Chaussade’s reference to her in the text as “Duchess of Bourbon” thus confirms the text’s dating.

Despite the common circumstance of genesis, André and Chaussade’s texts had some intriguing differences. The sole extant copy of Chaussade’s text, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS lat. 7064, may have actually been the dedication copy, given its ornate opening pages and gold ink highlights. And while André was clearly interested in prescribing good practices for childbirth as well as care for the child in its first years, Chaussade was insistent on one goal:  producing a male heir. The chapters in the second part of the work all have this single agenda:  how the strength of the male and female seed contributes to the generation of males; what role the nature of the womb plays in “masculinization;” the ideal age of the parents for producing male children; the right times for conceiving males; and the ways in which the weather and environment contributed to the production of males.

The attraction, therefore, of doing both works at the same time was that, together, they presented such rich possibilities for comparison in examining how royal physicians addressed the urgent reproductive needs of their powerful clientele. Given that Chaussade may have even known about André’s treatise, it seemed a perfect match to plan to work on both texts at the same time.  Fortunately (for us), the French National Library wasn’t able to supply us with a reproduction of the Chaussade manuscript in time.  So we “settled” for just the Pomum Aureum alone. 

And even that was a lot since, now faced with teaching the archival skills we had both honed and practiced for decades, we were reminded of something very basic:  reading medieval manuscripts is HARD WORK!

Postscript: Chaussade did not prove as “successful” as André with his work. Anne de Beaujeu bore only one child, her daughter Suzanne (b. 10 May 1491), while Leonor of Navarre and Gaston of Foix produced at last ten children, including four requisite males.

[Theresa]: And then, mirabile dictu, it worked out better than we could have imagined, even in our most optimistic dreams.


Royal Mothers, Part 1: A Text Comes To Life

I am a teacher as well as a scholar, and teaching at an undergraduate university means that most of my year is spent teaching the same course to new students. To those who don’t teach, this may seem repetitive and boring. But it’s not. New minds make familiar material fresh, they ask questions born of a lived experience that prompts unexpected readings of texts and their concerns shape their interpretations.

Still, all teachers long to teach something that is genuinely new, where instead of imparting knowledge, new knowledge is created in a seminar. This intellectual hothouse is expected in graduate seminars, but it doesn’t happen every day for undergraduates because most do not have the skills or depth and range of preparation to tackle an original research project.

And yet, this is precisely what happened this past spring at Seattle University, where I’ve taught for the past fifteen years. With a colleague, Monica Green, a specialist in the history of women’s medicine in the Middle Ages at Arizona State University, I taught a class that I never imagined I would teach. It all began in a hot, airless kitchen in a dorm at the University of London in the summer of 2012 with a casual conversation about childless queens and medieval medical knowledge of infertility.

But that wasn’t really the beginning. For that, I now turn this blog post over to Monica:

In 2000, I published what I thought was going to be a comprehensive (even definitive?) list of texts on medieval women’s medicine. I had been scouring manuscript catalogs and reading rooms for the previous two decades, trying to assemble all the information I could on how medieval medicine conceived of the female body.  But then, in 2003, while browsing for the nth time through the old (18th century) catalog of the French National Library, I saw a reference to a text described as “Anonymi tractatus de partu” (Anonymous, Treatise on Birth). I was shocked to discover this right in one of the best-studied libraries in Europe. I wrote to my colleague, Michael McVaugh, and asked him if he perchance had a film of the manuscript (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, MS lat. 6992); sure enough he did, and I was able to confirm that this was indeed a text I had never seen or heard about before. Neither, it seems, had anybody else.

It became apparent that the work had both an author and a proper title. The former was Petrus Andreus de Pulcrovisu (Pierre Andrieu or André, fl. ante 1435–59).  He was a physician originally from Perpignan (his father, also a physician, had converted from Judaism to Christianity probably in 1414). Pierre taught at the University of Toulouse and served as court physician to at least two counts of Foix and their consorts. Besides this work “on birth,” he is also known to have written a treatise on plague, De bello pestifero (“On the Pestiferous War”), also unstudied by medical historians.

The text on birth, like that on plague, had an evocative title. André called it the Pomum aureum, the Golden Apple, because no fruit was more fragrant or sweet, no metal more gleaming. I found the text to be unlike any other work on women’s medicine I had hitherto seen. A tradition of writing specialized texts on infertility had already begun in the late 12th century, and was furthered substantially in the late 13th and early 14th century by a series of works written at the southern French medical school of Montpellier. But these all focused on aiding conception and ensuring the maintenance of the pregnancy to term. There they stopped.

André was remarkable not simply examining the processes of generation and mechanisms to aid conception and avoid miscarriage, but he takes his reader into the birthing room itself, giving precise instructions on how birth was to be managed, how the afterbirth was to be disposed of, how both mother and child were to be cared for. André even “recycled” the fetus-in-utero images that I had been tracing throughout their travels from their origin in the 6th-century Latin work of Muscio (written in North Africa) up through their many reincarnations with the works of Albucasis (al-Zahrawi), to whose Surgery they were attached, and other newly composed works in the 15th century. Indeed, it was clear that André was very much part of a 15th-century explosion of interest in obstetrics, which I had already documented in Germany, England, and Italy.

The Muscian fetus-in-utero images, meant to show possible malpresentations of the fetus at birth.  Here found in a copy of The Sickness of Women 2, a mid-fifteenth-century work, like the Pomum aureum, that presented expanded discussions of obstetrical conditions.  Credit:  London, British Library, MS Sloane 249, f. 197r.

The Muscian fetus-in-utero images, meant to show possible malpresentations of the fetus at birth. Here found in a copy of The Sickness of Women 2, a mid-fifteenth-century work, like the Pomum aureum, that presented expanded discussions of obstetrical conditions. Credit: London, British Library, MS Sloane 249, f. 197r.

But there my investigations stopped. Everything about this text, save its specific medical content, was a challenge for me: I didn’t have much experience working with 15th-century hands (and this was a particularly irregular one), and I knew nothing about the house of Foix or that of Navarre, the realms of, respectively, the dedicatee, Gaston IV of Foix (b. 1423, r. 1436–72), and his wife, Leonor of Navarre (1426–79). And so I set it aside.

Until last year, when Theresa, in the context of our fabulous NEH Summer Seminar in London (Health and Disease in the Middle Ages) described to me her interests in reconstructing the reproductive lives of Europe’s royalty. Here, I thought, was a perfect case study: a text written for a historically well-documented couple challenged in terms of their ability to produce heirs. By 1444, when the Pomum aureum was written, Gaston and Leonor had been married 10 years—with only one child (maybe) having yet been born. As Theresa will explain in a later post, it is still notoriously difficult to document the reproductive histories of medieval women, even royal ones.

Theresa asked me if I’d like to come to Seattle University to give a talk on this text and other issues regarding medical interventions in infertility. But I said, why give another talk, which will be so much more ephemera? Why not gather a group of students together and have them work on this still understudied text? And so was born our experimental course, “Medieval Medicine and Paleography,” in the Spring Quarter of 2013.

And then, the fun began.

Next up, Part II: “A Very Very Short Course in the History of Medicine in the Middle Ages.”

A Flourishing Field

The 2013 conference season brings provocative and important new studies on queens and queenship. It is astonishing to see so much work, so varied in approach and so rich in subject matter. When I first started in graduate school, there were maybe a dozen or so scholars working on a few queens—look at us now! If I omitted your paper, please forgive me. Not all titles with names of queens are about queenship, and not all titles reveal that a queen is at the heart of the matter. Let me know if I missed you and I will correct that as soon as possible.

Here’s what you’ll find at recent and upcoming regional and international conferences:

 The American Historical Association (New Orleans, 2–6 January)

  • Katherine L. French (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor): “The Material Culture of Childbirth in Late Medieval London and Westminster”
  • Valerie Garver (Northern Illinois University): “Silk for Saints: Wrappings for Relics in the Carolingian Empire”

 The Medieval Association of the Pacific (University of San Diego, 21–23 March)

  • Kristen Geaman (University of Southern California): “Anne of Bohemia and the Work of Queens”
  • Kriszta Kotsis (University of Puget Sound), “Byzantine Empresses and Bride Shows”
  • Anita Obermeier (University of New Mexico), “Henry II’s and Cunegunde’s Sanctity: Chastity or Disability?”

The Medieval Academy of America (Knoxville, TN, 4–6 April)

Elizabeth Casteen (Binghamton University), “Slandering the Queen: Fama, Infamy, and the Sovereign Legitimacy of Johanna I of Naples”

International Congress on Medieval Studies (Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, 9–12 May)

  • Alison Basil (Open University): “To ‘Restrain the Malice of Men and Restrict All Opportunities for Evil’: Perceptions of Queenly Patronage in the Vita Edwrdi secundi
  • Thomas Blake (University of Iowa): “‘Fy, mannish, fy!’ Transgressive Queenship in the Man of Law’s Tale
  • Jana Bianchini (University of Maryland):  “Networks of Power: Royal Women and Noble Men in the Infantazgo
  • Dawn Bratsch-Prince (Iowa State University): “‘Qui és aquell qui aytals coses ha gosades dir?’: Men, Women, and the Strategic Use of Gossip in the Aragonese Court”
  • Samuel Claussen (University of Rochester): “In the Image of the Queen of Heaven: Queenly Patronage, Cistercians, and the Use of Marian Imagery in Miracle Stories and Chronicles”
  • Brandon Taylor Craft (Louisiana State University): “Reputations Restored: Brunhild of Austrasia and Fredegund of Neustria”
  • James H. Dahlinger (LeMoyne College): “Marguerite of Navarre on Queenship and Theology”
  • Rhoda Lange Friedrichs (Douglas College): “Lust for Power or the Power of Lust? Accusations of Scandal and Concepts of Female Rule in the Late Middle Ages”
  • Lois Huneycutt (University of Missouri—Columbia): “Constructing the Converting Queen in Medieval Conversion Narratives”
  • Joanna Huntington (University of London): “Just Like a Woman? Margaret of Scotland’s Lordship”
  • Mae Kilker (University of Notre Dame): “Reconciling Royal Relationships: Implications of the New Manuscript Ending for the Encomiium Emmae Reginae and Eleventh-Century Dynastic Change”
  • Paulette J. Pepin (University of New Haven): “Defining María de Molina’s ‘Queenship’”
  • Zita Eva Rohr (University of Sydney): “ Through a Glass Darkly: Gossip, Rumor, and Image at the Courts of Late Medieval Aragon and France”
  • Núria Silleras-Fernández (University of Colorado): “‘Our Lord saw a goat, and took his tail and made it into a woman’s tongue’: Women as Gossipers in the Writings of Late Medieval Iberian Moralists”
  • Lisa Benz St. John (Independent scholar): “Conspiracy and Attention: Queen Margaret of France and Piers Gaveston, the King’s Favorite”
  • Nina Verbanaz (University of Missouri—Columbia): “Necessaria Cames: Salian Queens and the German Monarchy, 1024–1125”

 International Medieval Congress (University of Leeds, 1–4 July)

  • Jessica Kathleen Barker (Courtauld Institute of Art): “Royal Romance: Expressions of Love on the Funerary Monuments of Kings and Queens in Late Medieval England”
  • Laura Cayrol Bernardo (Université de Poitiers), “Royal and Aristocratic Religious Women in Medieval Spain, c. 950-1200: Between the Cloister and the World”
  • María Narbona Cárceles (Universidad de Zaragoza), “Le contenu spiritual des devises princières: le cas de Marie de Castille, reine d’Aragon”
  • RaGena C. DeAragon (Gonzaga University), “Doing Business with the Crown: Female Agency in Angevin England”Sally Fisher (Monash University), “‘Sum tyme I was in riche aray’: Eleanor Cobham, Elizabeth Woodville, and Margaret Beaufort—The Body, Dress, and Aspirational Behaviour in 15th-Century England”
  • Caroline Dunn (Clemson University), “All the Queen’s Ladies: Philippa of Hainault’s Female Attendants”
  • Iwona Darska (Institute of Art, Warsaw), “Political and Religious Context of Elisabeth of Austria, Wife of Casimir IV”
  • Valerie Garver (Northern Illinois University), “Material Culture, Pleasure, and Early Medieval Queenship”
  • Amy Hayes (University of Aberdeen), “Business or Pleasure?: Finding the Queen in Scottish Financial Records”
  • Joanna Huntington (University of Huddersfield): The Dominus Effect: Margaret of Scotland, Sanctity, and Lordship”
  • Peter Johnsson (University of Toronto), “Tibi Radegundis: Locating an Empowered Female Voice in the Verse Epistle De excidio Thuringiae of St Radegund”
  • Hanna I. Kilpi (University of Glasgow), “Living Like a Queen?: Patronage and Courts of Aristocratic Women in 12th-Century England
  • Gábor Klaniczay (Central European University): “Local Holy Rulers and International Saintly Princesses: The Fortune of Hungarian Dynastic Saints outside Hungary”
  • Hailey Lavoy (University of Notre Dame), “’I received the letter of your Sublimity, filled with what words pleased you’: Queens, Power, and Epistolarity, c. 700–900”
  • Penelope Joan Nash (University of Sydney), “How Empress Adelheid, Wife of Otto the Great, Confounded the Contemporary Chroniclers of the Late-10th and 11th Centuries and Continues to Do So Today”
  • Grzegorz Pac (Adam Mickiewicz University), “Crowned Mary, Crowning Mary: Queen of the Heavens and Queenship Ideology in Iconographical Art from 10th- and 11th-Century England and Empire”
  • Sebastian Roebert (Universitat de Barcelona / Universität Leipzig), “A Queen Reigns: The Example of Elionor of Sicily, Queen of Aragon, 1349-1375”
  • Zita Eva Rohr (University of Sydney), “The Pleasure Principle: The Problem of Queenly Reputation in Late Medieval Aragon and France”
  • Laura Saxton (Australian Catholic University), “‘She traded her body for the status of queen’: Ambition, Sexuality, and Romance in 21st-Century Representations of Elizabeth Woodville”
  • Miriam Shadis (Ohio University), “Sisterly Relations in the Portuguese Royal Family, 1200–1272”
  • Scott Stull (State University of New York, Cortland), “From Symbol of Royal Authority to Religious Treasure: Hedwig Beakers in Medieval Europe”
  • Elizabeth Thomas (St Andrews): “Church, Society, and Sex: The Law of Royal Marriage in the 12th Century”
  • Megan Welton (University of Notre Dame), “All the Queen’s Men: The Early Medieval Queen Outside of the Royal Family”
  • Michaela Zöschg (Courtauld Institute of Art): “‘In qua debet corpus dictae dominae tumulari’: Visualising Gender Identities in 14th-Century Tomb Monuments of Queens in Southern Europe”
  • Joanna Żywina (Pontifical University of John Paul II): “The Choice of Hedwig of Anjou: Between Love, Desire, and Christian Duty”


Royal Studies Network: Kings & Queens 2—Making Connections (University of Winchester, 8–9 July)

  • Adriana R. de Almeida (Universidade de Lisboa), “Reaching out from beyond the grave? Means of extending a queen’s protection to her household after her death: the case of Leonor of Portugal, queen of Aragon (1347–1348)”
  • Maria Filomena Andrade (Universidade Católica Portuguesa), “Between Portugal and Aragon: compromise and dialogue in the time of Isabel, the Saint Queen (1282–1336)”
  • Amanda Bohne (University of Notre Dame), “Social Networks in Athelston
  • Colette Bowie (University of Glasgow), “Ties That Bond: Anglo-Castilian Connections via Leonor of Castile’s Relationship with Her Natal Family”
  • Linda Brown (University of Missouri—Kansas City), “Constance of France: the Queen England Never Had”
  • Theresa Earenfight (Seattle University), “Sex, Fertility, Virility, Queens, Kings, and Monarchy in the Middle Ages”
  • Andrew Griebeler (University of California, Berkeley), “Theodora and Sarah at San Vitale”
  • Cecily Hennessy (Christie’s Education), “An Empress’s Investment: The Affinities and Intentions of Galla Placidia”
  • Michael Hicks (University of Winchester), “The English Royal Family 1300–1500: Issue, Half-brothers, Cousins, and In-laws”
  • Mae Kilker (University of Notre Dame). “Mommy Dearest: 11th-Century Dynastic Change and the New Manuscript Ending for the Encomium Emmae Reginae
  • Jitske Japerske (Universiteit van Amsterdam), “Woman in the Middle. Constructing Identity and Family Ties”
  • Kriszta Kotsis (University of Puget Sound), “The Networks of the Iconophile Irene and Theodora”
  • Penny Nash (University of Sydney), “’Detached from all feminine characteristics’: Empress Adelheid and noble lay piety in ninth and tenth-century Europe”
  • Kathleen Neal (Monash University), “Edward I and the Three Queens: Literae de Statu and Anglo-French Diplomacy in the Late Thirteenth Century”
  • Zita Eva Rohr (University of Sydney), “Winning Friends and Influencing People: Social networking by later medieval queens in Iberia and France”
  • Cindy Wood (University of Winchester), “The Nature and Extent of the Royal Family, 1399–1509, Using Genealogical Data from Henry III to Henry VII”


New Studies on Queens and Queenship, Women and Power

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.

Happy reading!


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.”

The Royal Bump

Anyone interested in Kate Middleton’s much-anticipated pregnancy need only search for “bump alert” and will find out that the baby of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge is due in July. This is good news for the royal family, and not just because a new baby can bring so much joy. There was a royal sigh heard ‘round the world when the news broke a few months ago and especially now that the Duchess is past her troubles with morning sickness and the tragic events that unfolded after the unofficial announcement (http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/07/nurse-who-took-prank-call-about-kate-middleton-is-found-dead/). At long last, after hints at a royal pregnancy in 2009 and 2010, hints of a miscarriage, and then speculation of twins, we can rest assured that the royal family in England is fertile.

Whew. That was close.

A queen’s ability to conceive and bear a healthy child has always been a public event, particularly so for a modern queen-in-waiting like Kate Middleton, a twitter-worthy woman who seems to take all this in stride. But she could relax, a bit, because she could take advantage of advances in medicine and technology to determine the source of “the problem” and take steps to resolve it. This, too, would have been public. I imagine that she must have pondered the potentially catastrophic political and social consequences that her medieval counterparts experienced. I have a hunch that she was reminded regularly of this by loved ones and some not so loving. We think she’s lucky to live now instead of the Middle Ages, when a queen who did not have children could suffer dire consequences. I doubt, however, that she would have ended up like Giovanna I of Naples, queen consort of Majorca and titular queen of Jerusalem and Sicily. Giovanna inherited her realms from her grandfather in 1343 and reigned alone through four marriages. Childless, she was deposed and murdered in 1382 by her adopted heir.

Lineage matters to kings and queens. Royal maternity is the matrix of future kings. Medieval or modern, a queen consort’s primary duty is to bear legitimate healthy children, preferably but not exclusively boys.

In the Middle Ages, before the advent of the constitutional monarchy, the pregnant queen was the guarantor of the realm’s survival and integrity and so of peace and control. The marital debt of sexual relations was understood as a cultural imperative in a patriarchal society. In some medieval realms, this was inscribed in the queen’s coronation oath. Alcuin, writing in 793, noted that “the king’s virtue equals the welfare of the whole people, victory by the army, good weather, fertility, male offspring, and health.” Medieval society allowed greater political leeway to a royal mother than a wife, because although there were limits on her relationship with her husband, there were fewer controls on her relationship with her son.  There was a “positive value of marriage and motherhood” seen in other models of motherhood: St. Elizabeth, and Old Testament matriarchs Sarah and Hannah. By the later Middle Ages, maternity was practically fetishized with childbirth as the “bastion of female solidarity, communion, and omnipotence,” marriage cassone in Italy, majolica wares given to pregnant women, and the production of a legitimate heir was seen as both a conjugal and a civic responsibility.

As I follow the fate of the Duke and Duchess, I have been thinking a lot about the flip side of maternity, childlessness. I prefer “childless” to the more commonly used terms like “sterile,” “barren,” or the less loaded term “infertile” because without solid knowledge of a medieval woman’s medical history it is impossible to know the causes of her childlessness. It may have been choice as much as chance, a desire for a queen to remain a virgin or have a chaste marriage. On the other hand, it’s also possible that her “choice” may have been a way to turn childlessness to political advantage. I’m thinking of Edith, queen of Edward the Confessor, but this applies to many other queens.

I’ve been working lately on a project that I’ve nicknamed “Mapping the Fruitless Womb” to document the maternal history of medieval queens. I’ve discovered that anyone seeking a complete genealogy or maternal history of a queen, however, will need to scour the chronicle sources for evidence of miscarriages, stillbirths and children who died in infancy. It is not at all clear how many queens were childless, or even had difficulty conceiving, because so little work has been done on childlessness. Much more work is needed on reconstructing the entire genealogy of a royal family to better understand the causes of childlessness. When a queen did not have children, was it a miscarriage or early infant death? Was it illness or infertility?

In what promises to be a fruitful scholarly exchange, historians of medicine have begun to study chronicles, letters and medical reports to determine medieval medical knowledge of fertility, impotency and sexual health. One of the best studies of the maternal history of a queen was written by a historian of medicine, Michael McVaugh, on Blanca of Anjou, wife of Jaume II of the Crown of Aragon, who died in 1310 after giving birth to her tenth child (Medicine before the Plague: Practitioners and Their Patients in the Crown of Aragon, 1285–1345 (Cambridge University Press, 1993). We know that childlessness was devastating for a queen, and that childless queens and empresses often visited local shrines to pray to the saint for divine assistance in getting pregnant. They no doubt spent time at convents and abbeys, whose records may contain details of their stay and any donations or gifts they made. It is also worth paying attention to sisters, nieces and cousins who may have benefited from the queen’s largesse as a dowry, either for marriage or entrance into a convent, or other gifts.

In July, let’s all celebrate the birth of a new royal baby while keeping in mind that a queen-consort is so much more than simply a mother.