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Royal Mothers, Part IV: What On Earth Did Pierre André Mean?

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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(the study of medieval books as physical objects), and dropped our overly ambitious plan to work with TWO unstudied and unpublished texts on royal fertility.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.

 

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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!

Books:

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.

Articles:

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.

Dissertation:

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.

Of dentists and kings

I’ve been thinking lately about James Knight, a dentist in Fort Dodge, Iowa and the Iowa court’s unanimous decision to permit him to fire his assistant because she was too attractive. Lawyers tell me that the dentist’s action may be unfair but it is legal because attractiveness is not a protected class and therefore does not meet the criteria for gender discrimination. The court ruled that employers can fire employees they consider an ‘irresistible attraction,’ even if the employees have not engaged in flirtatious behavior or otherwise done anything wrong. To say that this is not about gender is ridiculous. It is most certainly about gender because it concerns the perception of attractiveness of a woman to a man, and his fear of the power of female sexuality. The dentist’s male anxiety over his inability to restrain himself in the presence of an attractive woman activated his fears of his wife’s anxiety, and all this is based on his fear that a dalliance would undo his marriage, a dalliance that his assistant never considered for even a moment. He feared rumors of a dalliance.

You may be wondering how a dental assistant and a queen are similar, but trust me, they are. Medieval men—kings, their advisers, their biographers—knew that the best way to weaken a woman was to damage her reputation, to label her as dangerously attractive, and to defame her. Defame is the dark side of fama, a richly evocative Latin word that can sound impartial, as in ‘report,’ ‘fame,’ ‘renown,’ or ‘tradition.’ To understand its use and power, it is good to recall that fama was personified by Greek and Roman writers as female, as a force that disrupts a settled order, diverts action onto a new track, distorts, as the active effect of rumor on what men do. Dr. Knight feared rumor, what Ovid in Metamprphosis called ‘the mutterings of a low voice, like the noise that comes from the waves of the sea, if you listen at a distance, or like the sound produced by the rolls of thunder when Jupiter has made the black clouds rattle’ (12: 49–52). Modern readers of medieval texts are mindful of the fact that many of the authors writing about queens were listening ‘at a distance.’ A queen knew that a king’s advisers feared her because of her physical proximity to the king. She was intimate in ways that they were not, and no matter how blameless her behavior, she could easily find herself defamed. What’s fascinating about Dr. Knight’s case is that he was not ‘listening at a distance’ but from the close quarters of the dental suite. He heard the ‘mutterings of a low voice,’ perhaps his own but bolstered by a wider culture that distrusts women, and this voice told him that his assistant was disruptive and dangerous simply because he found her attractive. He feared that her attractiveness threatened his ability to think clearly and he did what men have long done, he blamed her. Not for her actions, but for her attractiveness.

Rumor doesn’t care how attractive a woman is. What matters is that the object of the rumor is a woman. Rumor is potent because it is unbound by truth. When accusing a queen of adultery, a distressingly common storyline in medieval literature, most writers were rarely, if ever, close enough to know with certainty with whom the queen was having dinner, much less taking to bed. Some authors were close enough to the queen to know the details, but it is incumbent on the modern reader to separate that writer from one whose intention was to make ‘black clouds rattle,’ to make kings distrustful of a queen as powerful as the Carthaginian Queen Dido by planting the seeds of rumor.

Virgil knew exactly how rumor worked when, in his description of the defamation of Dido and Aeneas in Book 3 of the Aeneid, he described Fama’s flight over Carthage as slippery and dangerous, as it moves easily and swiftly over the vertical and horizontal axes of time and space. As a queen, Dido’s sexuality was feared. Like her, all queens faced rumor for their desirability, which could be seen to threaten the king’s ability to think rationally. The rumor of sexual infidelity established a link between a queen’s influence and bad government. It was unacceptable for anyone to exercise undue influence over the king, but a queen’s influence was different from that of other royal advisors and was treated in a gender-specific manner. A king was expected to rule his kingdom as a husband ruled his wife and, if a queen exerted what was perceived as undue influence over the king, this was a double challenge to natural order. By allowing the queen to influence his government, the king was not only less of a king, but also less of a man. Infidelity was regarded as a form of treason against the king that could have fatal consequences.

Rumor is a powerful rhetorical device, existing both inside and outside a text, simultaneously bound by time and free from it. Rumor is at home in all recorded ages of history. Modern readers reading works about queens written by men—chronicles, poems, treatises, plays—and viewing visual depictions of queens have learned to cast a skeptical eye on texts to discern actual actions from rumor or innuendo.

In the end it doesn’t matter how attractive a woman is. Physical beauty is beside the point, and in the Iowa case it may have been little more than a legal convenience, a clever way to deflect the blame from the dentist’s actions. The easiest way to for a man to get rid of his fear is to blame a woman. Dr. Knight’s actions are even more disturbing because not once did he allege that his assistant was adulterous. His fear of her made him mistrust his own fidelity to his wife. The case displays the way rumor actually works—it is the man, not the woman who looks weak. His anxieties exposed his own weak impulse control, and rather than deal with this like an adult, he fired the source of his anxiety.

What makes this case ridiculous—it would be laughable if it weren’t serious—is how easily it exposes the flimsy charade of ‘attractive’ as a legal defense.

Why Queens Matter

Jane Austen, in her famously witty ‘History of England from the reign of Henry the 4th to the death of Charles the 1st, By a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant Historian,’ written in 1791, opens with this description of King Henry IV:

“Henry the 4th ascended the throne of England much to his own satisfaction in the year 1399, after having prevailed on his cousin & predecessor Richard the 2d to resign it to him, & to retire for the rest of his Life to Pomfret Castle, where he happened to be murdered. It is to be supposed that Henry was married, since he had certainly four sons, but it is not in my power to inform the Reader who was his wife. Be this as it may, he did not live for ever, but falling ill, his son the Prince of Wales came and took away the crown; whereupon, the King made a long speech, for which I must refer the Reader to Shakespeare’s Plays, & the Prince made a still longer. Things being thus settled between them the King died, & was succeeded by his son Henry who had previously beat Sir William Gascoigne.”

Austen’s tongue may have been in her cheek when she said that ‘it is not in my power to inform the Reader who was his wife’, but she clearly had her wits about her. She knew her history, and her historiography, too, when as a precocious fifteen-year-old she wrote this parody of Oliver Goldsmith’s History of England (1771). Her barb was aimed not only at Goldsmith, but also a long and illustrious line of historians who knew that queens must have been present but they could not remember exactly who they were.

Such forgetfulness is not confined to England. Until the 1980s, professional scholars did not consider queens worthy of serious study. The study of queens was something intelligent and often well-educated gentlewomen did, but they most often wrote biographies for female readers that were rarely, if ever, read by a university student, who was most likely male. Even the most well educated people could name only a few queens – Isabel of Castile (r. 1451–1504), Elizabeth I (r. 1558–1603), Marie Antoinette (d. 1793), and Victoria (r. 1837–1901) – and they would not know that Henry IV had not just one but two wives. The first, Mary de Bohun, was the mother of his five, not four, sons (one died in infancy) and two daughters, too. She died before Henry came to the throne and so was never queen, but Henry’s second wife, Joan of Navarre, was. Neither Mary nor Joan were unknown to their contemporaries: Mary’s family was one of the oldest and most distinguished noble families in England, descendants of the Welsh king, Llywelyn the Great; Joan was the daughter of King Charles II of Navarre, the dowager duchess of Brittany, and had blood relations among the royal families of Spain and France.

Mary de Bohun, Joan of Navarre, and countless other queens and royal women were highly visible to their contemporaries. Their lives were recounted in chronicles, the management of their estates and households recorded in fiscal documents, their letters collected in archives, and their religious and artistic patronage remembered in the books, buildings, and works of art they sponsored and treasured. Yet later scholars put kings at the center of the history of medieval Europe and ignored most queens, dismissed them as unimportant, forgot their actions, and obscured their lives. History was told by men about kings, their governance, their advisers, and their exploits.

The purpose of this site is to pay attention to Jane Austen’s wisecrack and introduce medieval queens—some famous, some not—to a wider audience interested in the lives of women who held court at the apex of political life in the Middle Ages.

Do you want to know more about queens?

Queenship studies is a rapidly changing field and a bibliography in print cannot keep pace with the articles and books published. This site aims to provide you with an up-to-date overview of published works, either in print or digitally. They are works in progress and will be updated regularly.

The short bibliographies in Essential Reading tab are organized roughly by chronological period and focus on the most widely cited or influential works in English or, if in another language, by authors who routinely publish in English.

The much longer Comprehensive Bibliography lists all, or at least tries to list all the works published on queens and queenship.

Please send me an email with additions to the bibliographies, suggestions for ways to make this site more useful for everyone–casual readers of biographies about queens, undergraduate and graduate students, and scholars.