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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.

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noblewomen and power 7 Seals Representation, image and identity here are over 145 extant secular women’s seals from the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries.1 They 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. They publicly presented a view of both men and women which visibly crystallised ideas about gender, class and lordship. The modern historian of seals owes a considerable debt to

in Noblewomen, aristocracy and power in the twelfth-century Anglo-Norman realm
The Rotuli de Dominabus et Pueris et Puellis de XII Comitatibus of 1185

particular and found that there was a difference in male and female naming patterns, female names ‘lagging behind’ male names when change occurred owing to fashion. Clark found that women’s forenames in twelfth-century England were more insular and men’s forenames were more Continental.44 David Postles, building on these foundations, found that there was a ‘virtual revolution’ in patterns of forenaming in the mid-twelfth century and that women’s names were more archaic than men’s. He suggested that women’s role as bearers of English cultural influence explains this pattern

in Noblewomen, aristocracy and power in the twelfth-century Anglo-Norman realm
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caused by female succession systems when they developed in twelfth-century England. This is a formidable body of scholarship which has clarified important aspects of female land tenure and shown noblewomen as an element in the exercise of lordship. The importance of this and, by extension, the possibility of women’s power as active participants therein is not clarified directly, because the authors are interested in discussing succession systems and rules of inheritance, or feudalism and lordship, not in discussing women’s power. Yet much can be learned about women

in Noblewomen, aristocracy and power in the twelfth-century Anglo-Norman realm
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resources.54 A striking example of a rich patron of book production is Countess Judith of Flanders, who acquired at least two illuminated gospels from Winchester, and whose library contained at least two other manuscripts possibly of Flemish origin. Her daughter-in-law, Countess Matilda of Tuscany, received a copy of Judith’s book as a wedding gift in 1086, and she may have presented it to her favourite abbey.55 Judith and Matilda had royal connections, and this tradition of royal women’s patronage of books continued into the twelfth century. In twelfth-century England

in Noblewomen, aristocracy and power in the twelfth-century Anglo-Norman realm

the meanings and symbolisms of countergifts should be set into a paradigm which acknowledges that changes in diplomatic may have affected documentary forms. Thus as a gauge of social realities this assessment of countergifts is placed in a 108 countergifts and affidation framework similar to that established in the previous chapter to analyse witnessing. Although both men and women received an array of items as countergifts in twelfth-century England, male recipients of countergifts tended to receive horses, armour, hunting birds or money.11 Barthélemy’s study of

in Noblewomen, aristocracy and power in the twelfth-century Anglo-Norman realm

was considerably magnified if the woman was an heiress or a widow. Women generally did not hold formal public office: such roles as chamberlain, mayor, juror, sheriff or other administrative roles, as they developed, were gendered male in twelfth-century England. There is, however, evidence to suggest that at least one noble household, that of Matilda de Percy countess of Warwick, had a female official employed as a chamberlain. The language used within the charter which suggests that a female chamberlainship existed is precise. Circa 1184–99 Matilda granted to

in Noblewomen, aristocracy and power in the twelfth-century Anglo-Norman realm
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this was intimately linked with the female life cycle. The way that women’s power in lordship was constructed through gendered roles as wives and widows in twelfth-century England explains the participation of noblewomen in the functions of lordship. This was a gendered construct, because noblewomen’s rights and roles in lordship were circumscribed by the authority of their male kin. As wives their husband was their ‘lord’. As widows noblewomen could achieve greater authority which was based on the rights of lordship acquired through land tenure. The female life

in Noblewomen, aristocracy and power in the twelfth-century Anglo-Norman realm
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Ibid., no. 115. 5 CDF, no. 41, a charter by which Margaret, daughter of Philip, king of France, made provision for monks of Clairvaux to pray for her husband’s soul. In 1185 Margaret’s dowry, the Vexin, was transferred to her sister Alice, who was betrothed to Richard. It is intriguing that Hawise associated with Margaret in their widowhoods – had they become friends during their husbands’ rebellions? See W. L. Warren, Henry II (London: Eyre Methuen, 1977), pp. 598–603, 609–11. 6 D. A. Postles, ‘Choosing a witness in twelfth-century England’, Irish Jurist, 23 (1988

in Noblewomen, aristocracy and power in the twelfth-century Anglo-Norman realm

Science in Twelfth-Century England: The History of Gerbert of Aurillac’s Talking Head’, Journal of the History of Ideas 73:2 (April 2012), 201–22. The fabled talking head apparently inspired the prop used in Robert Greene’s plays Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay and Alphonsus King of Aragon (see Chapter 3). Scepticism in the Renaissance 51 ridiculous; even Infidelitas has to smile at them. Nonetheless, they do constitute witchcraft, and the possibility of giving oneself to the devil seems entirely real in the play. The kind of Catholic witchcraft represented by Idolatria

in Scepticism and belief in English witchcraft drama, 1538–1681