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

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.

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