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.
Anselm was involved here, since it appears that a certain
Brendan left the abbey of Bec with Gilbert Crispin in the service of
Anselm. He may well have been introduced to Anglo-Norman courtly
circles c. 1085. ‘The Voyage of St Brendan’ is a description of the life of
St Brendan. Although it is not a hagiographic piece it was immensely
popular, and over 120 versions survive.60 It is the earliest surviving example of a poem in octosyllabic form, and prefigured romance literature.61 It is a Celtic version of the classical odyssey poem, a well worn
literary theme, and thus
(Paris, 1991), pp. 150–63; eadem, ‘Women and the word in the
earlier Middle Ages’, in W. J. Sheils and D. Wood (eds), Women in the Church
(Studies in Church History, 27, Oxford, 1990), pp. 53–8. Stafford, ‘Women and the
Norman Conquest’; eadem, ‘Women in Domesday’, in Keith Bate and others (eds),
Medieval Women in Southern England (Reading Medieval Studies, 15, 1989), pp. 75–
94; Stafford, ‘Emma’, pp. 12, 22–3.
6 I. Short, ‘Tam Angli quam Franci: self-definition in Anglo-Norman England’, ANS,
18 (1996 for 1995), 154–5.
7 For an application of Weberian closure theory to
The Rotuli de Dominabus et Pueris et Puellis de XII Comitatibus of 1185
Susan M. Johns
have attached significance to naming patterns as expressions of
both cohesion and shifts in cultural identity.42 Thus, for example, Holt
thought that the adoption of patronymics in the twelfth century was
linked with the general shift to primogeniture.43 Forenaming patterns
have been used by historians to illustrate the impact of the Norman
Conquest on the English peasantry as well as the Anglo-Norman nobility, with a view to illustrating both change and continuity in the immediate post-Conquest period and during the twelfth century. Cecily Clark
looked at women in
Legacy of the Middle Ages (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1926), pp. 410–33; cf. E. Power,
Medieval Women, ed. M. Postan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975).
4 L. Huneycutt, ‘Female succession and the language of power in the writings of
twelfth-century churchmen’, in Parsons (ed.), Medieval Queenship, pp. 189–201.
Cf. J. Weiss, ‘The power and weakness of women in Anglo-Norman romance’, in
C. M. Meale (ed.), Women and Literature in Britain, 1150–1500 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp. 7–23, who asserts an outdated belief in decline
necessarily indicate consent to a transaction,
and that charters which mention countergifts were in the minority: ibid., pp. 115, 118.
2 J. G. H. Hudson, Land, Law and Lordship in Anglo-Norman England (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1994), pp. 165–6. For the symbolic meaning of objects attached to
charters to secure conveyances see M. Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record:
England, 1066–1307 (London: Edward Arnold, 1979; 2nd edn, Oxford: Blackwell,
1993), pp. 37–43, 254–60. H. B. Teunis similarly argues that countergifts were voluntary, but focuses on religious institutions and
survives.26 The custom of queenly sealing
may have originated earlier in England than in France. Whatever the
case, the Anglo-Norman court was at the forefront of innovation as part
of the cultural renaissance of northern Europe. It is possible that Henry
I’s second wife, Adeliza of Louvain, used the same seal matrix.27 Queen
Matilda, the wife of King Stephen, appended a charter in favour of Holy
Trinity, London, with her seal in 1147–52. She is depicted standing but
crowned, wearing a mantle and gown; she holds a fleur-de-lys in her
right hand and a hunting bird in her
7 F. Pollock and F. W. Maitland, A History of English Law before the Time of Edward I
(Cambridge, 1895, 2nd edn 1898, repr. London: Cambridge University Press, 1968),
8 Postles, ‘Choosing a witness’, p. 335.
9 J. Hudson, ‘Anglo-Norman land law and the origins of property’, in G. S. Garnett
and J. G. H. Hudson (eds), Law and Government in Medieval England and Normandy:
Essays in Honour of Sir James Holt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994),
pp. 198–222, at p. 210.
10 J. G. H. Hudson, Land, Law and Lordship in Anglo-Norman
sum cum uxore mea et cum
baronibus, et inveni in meo consilio quod concedam eam Deo. She also gained spiritual
benefits, since Earl Hugh stipulated that he should be treated as a brother of the
house, and that he, his wife and his parents should be entered into the abbey’s book
Chester Charters, no. 28.
M. Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record: England, 1066–1307 (2nd edn, Oxford:
Blackwell, 1993), p. 156; J. G. H. Hudson, Land, Law and Lordship in Anglo-Norman
England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), p. 163.
EYC. 2, no. 805 (1125–35); see also
This chapter explores the female patronage of St. Mary's, Clerkenwell by the Munteni family in the second half of the twelfth century, and reveals how land tenure and kin connections could underpin active female patronage over two generations. It also examines the interactions of the female life cycle and social status upon the participation of wives and widows in land transfers. A discussion on female lesser nobility is presented, including the examples of noblewomen who exerted power more formally, perhaps as public office holders. The evidence shows how the roles of lesser noblewomen could resemble those of women of higher status. Women's power to grant land in the context of religious patronage gave them a public role which was considerably magnified if the woman was an heiress or a widow. There is evidence that women could hold public office if they had a claim through patrilineal hereditary right.