This book explores the place of noblewomen in twelfth-century English and, to a lesser extent, Norman society. It also investigates the roles of noblewomen within lordship and in so doing clarifies important aspects of noblewomen's power. The analytical framework upon which the book is constructed draws on recent theoretical developments in the history of women and power and utilises traditional scholarly approaches to the study of the twelfth century. In so doing, it re-defines the nature of twelfth-century lordship. Therefore, it is intended as a contribution to the debate over the role and meaning of female power in the context of the interaction of gender and lordship in twelfth-century society.
This is a study of noblewomen in twelfth-century England and Normandy, and of the ways in which they exercised power. It draws on a mix of evidence to offer a reconceptualization of women's role in aristocratic society, and in doing so suggests new ways of looking at lordship and the ruling elite in the high Middle Ages. The book considers a wide range of literary sources—such as chronicles, charters, seals and governmental records—to draw out a detailed picture of noblewomen in the twelfth-century Anglo-Norman realm. It asserts the importance of the life-cycle in determining the power of these aristocratic women, thereby demonstrating that the influence of gender on lordship was profound, complex and varied.
This chapter describes women's participation in spiritual relationships with churchmen. The role of twelfth-century secular noblewomen in procuring, commissioning and selecting literature is developed here in an examination of their role as patrons of books and literature. Spiritual relationships were an expression of aristocratic social cohesiveness and a route whereby women could exert power. There is evidence that secular women of the lesser nobility patronised writers and poets, actively fostered the production of books and were themselves literate. Geoffrey of Monmouth's view of women gives an insight into the ideal roles of women in society. Women's acquisition of books, historiography, genealogies, prayers, poems and saints' lives was an important channel of political, religious and social influence. The examples of Alice de Condet and Constance fitz Gilbert illustrate that some twelfth-century women of the nobility were able to read and participate in the production of literature.
The purpose of this book is to demonstrate that popular romance not only merits and rewards serious critical attention, but that we ignore it to the detriment of our understanding of the complex and conflicted world of medieval England. As an introduction, this chapter offers a short polemical essay that confronts head-on the paradox that informs and ultimately circumscribes all of our thinking about Middle English popular romance. It is divided into two sections that tackle in turn what is at stake in our appreciation and enjoyment of these inescapably popular narratives: romance's status as a socially and aesthetically degenerate form of fiction and its capacity to generate textual pleasure.
This chapter discusses the difficulties of analysing images of noblewomen in contradictory sources at a time when the historical discourse was evolving, owing to broader societal cultural shifts. It is also concerned with the difficulty of measuring the power of noblewomen, given the complexities of the sources. Orderis Vitalis' view of women's power in the context of their political and warlike activity, like his view of men, is ambiguous, and by no means monolithic. Orderic's portrayal of Mabel of Bellême is reflective of both contemporary clerical distrust of women in power and the nature of contemporary politics in Normandy. William of Malmesbury shows the role of wives in supporting their husbands in 1141. The Countess Mabel of Gloucester, or Nichola de la Haye acted as powerful individuals at the heart of the power structures of the aristocratic and noble élite of the twelfth century.
This collection and the romances it investigates are crucial to our understanding of the aesthetics of medieval narrative and to the ideologies of gender and sexuality, race, religion, political formations, social class, ethics, morality and national identity with which those narratives emerge.
The lump-child and its parents in The King of Tars
The central figure of the Middle English popular romance known as The King of Tars (hereafter KT) — a formless lump of flesh born instead of a child — defines a certain view of popular literature. The birth is an outrageously sensationalist event; the ideological message conveyed by its subsequent transformation into a human being through baptism is simplistic, vulgar and racist. This chapter concentrates on the treatment of the lump in order to show how its treatment throws into relief the different configurations of paternity and maternity, of gender roles and of religious politics put forward in a range of re-tellings.
The fourteenth-century popular romance Guy of Warwick engages contemporary socio-political concerns in critical and transformative ways. Guy's fantastic reworking of England's past through its titular hero both recognises England's historic culpabilities in its interactions with other countries and transforms these culpabilities into redeeming alternative possibilities for remembering the past and for performing the future. This chapter argues that at the centre of each of Guy's two cycles, the hero finds himself on a formative adventure in a fantastically imagined East; Guy devotes so much narrative attention to the East because the romance responds to and reimagines the West's conflicts with the East during the Crusades. Guy simultaneously asserts Latin dominance in both Christian and Muslim settings and rejects the most egregious moral error of the Crusades—the sack of Constantinople—by creating an alternative outcome in which the hero chooses not to seize control of the Byzantine Empire.
The Rotuli de Dominabus et Pueris et Puellis de XII Comitatibus of 1185
Susan M. Johns
This chapter investigates the 1185 Rotuli de Dominabus et Pueris et Puellis de XII Comitatibus in order to consider the way that royal authority and the law shaped the experience of noblewomen, but also to provide a cautionary account of the degree to which such sources present an external view of the societies in which noblewomen exercised power. Rotuli de Dominabus is a rich resource for the history of noblewomen in the twelfth century and for the study of social history. It also presents an unusually large sample of information on the value of noblewomen's lands. It confirms that dower was the principal form of the female land tenure of widows in late twelfth-century England. It then affirms that noblewomen had significant and important roles to play in the two dominant power structures of the twelfth-century, kinship and lordship, and the document shows that royal government recognised this.
The secular women's seals present the historian with unique opportunities to study the portrayal of female identity in twelfth-century England. Seals were visual representations of power, and they conveyed notions of authority and legitimacy. Women's seals have been particularly poorly served. They also identified women's power in the context of land tenure, lordship, social status and the female life cycle. Additionally, they signified both gender and status in different ways. The representational forms of noblewomen's seals symbolised noblewomen's cultural identities and served to endorse gendered norms of women's role in lordship. The use of seals by twelfth-century noblewomen reinforces the argument that noblewomen had important roles to play within the construct of lordship in the specific context of land transfers.