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About this book

Medieval queens led richly complex lives and were highly visible women active in a man's world. Linked to kings by marriage, family, and property, queens were vital to the institution of monarchy.

In this comprehensive and accessible introduction to the study of queenship, Theresa Earenfight documents the lives and works of queens and empresses across Europe, Byzantium, and the Mediterranean in the Middle Ages. The book:

* introduces pivotal research and sources in queenship studies, and includes exciting and innovative new archival research
* highlights four crucial moments across the full span of the Middle Ages – ca. 300, 700, 1100, and 1350 – when Christianity, education, lineage, and marriage law fundamentally altered the practice of queenship
* examines theories and practices of queenship in the context of wider issues of gender, authority, and power.

This is an invaluable and illuminating text for students, scholars and other readers interested in the role of royal women in medieval society.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Not Partial, Prejudiced or Ignorant: The Study of Queens and Queenship in Medieval Europe

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.1
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.
Theresa Earenfight

1. Theme and Variations: Roman, Barbarian and Christian Societies in the Fashioning of Medieval Queenship, c. 300–700

To begin a discussion of the history of medieval queenship in the fourth century C.E. may seem to be starting rather early, but there are good reasons to do so. Periodization is a perennial problem for historians of the Middle Ages, particularly so for those who study the cultures that succeeded the Roman Empire that some prefer to call ‘late antiquity’ and others simply ‘the early Middle Ages’. Scholarly arguments, each based on particular assumptions concerning the relative importance of political, religious, social and economic criteria, will locate the beginning some time after the demise of the last ethnic Roman emperor in 476. But the development of monarchy and its components, kingship and queenship, was a complex historical process that took shape over a considerable span of time; its origins cannot easily be marked by a single event. The early Middle Ages is the story of an ongoing, complex and uncertain process of Roman contact and assimilation, either forced or peaceful, of various ethnic and kin groups with whom they came into contact. In the west, they spoke distinct vernacular languages and were called ‘barbarian’ by the Greek and Roman authors, who may not have been able to distinguish ethnic identity and who preferred to lump all non-Romans into a single category. There were no national boundaries as we recognize them; instead, there were indistinct borders of kin groups who identified themselves as, for example, Goth, Frank, or Celt.1
Theresa Earenfight

2. Legitimizing the King’s Wife and Bed-Companion, c. 700–1100

Empress Adelheid of Burgundy (d. 999), daughter of King Rudolf I and Bertha of Swabia and second wife of Emperor Otto I, was easily the most prominent European woman of the tenth century. A group of queens and empresses related to her by blood or marriage played key roles in various realms of Europe. Queen Emma, Adelheid’s daughter from her first marriage to Lothar of Italy, married Adelheid’s nephew Lothar, king of the West Franks. Adelheid’s son with Otto, succeeded his father, ruled as Otto II and married the Byzantine princess Theophanu. Her nephew, Hugh Capet, was king of France. Adelheid was thus the daughter and sister of rulers of Burgundy, wife and widow of a king of Italy and a German emperor, and mother and grandmother of emperors, kings and queens.1 Much of north-western Europe was ruled by the women of this family who used a network of family to support one another. They met often to discuss and resolve problems of succession and family relations, presided over legal cases, received the oaths of nobles, granted land, signed as witnesses for legal documents, distributed patronage and petitioned for aid. They worked within an office of queenship that was still unstable and not clearly defined. They worked with, alongside, and for the king, but none of them ruled in their own right as a female king. They normalized female power, making it acceptable, and transformed the theory and practice of queenship, kingship and monarchy.
Theresa Earenfight

3. ‘The Link of Conjugal Troth’: Queenship as a Family Practice, c. 1100–1350

In an impressive marital coup, Count Ramon Berenguer V of Provence and Béatrice of Savoy married their four daughters to kings. Marguerite (d. 1295) married Louis IX of France in 1234; Eleanor (d. 1291) married Henry III of England in 1236; in 1243, Sancia (d. 1261) married Henry’s brother, Richard of Cornwall, who became King of the Romans and Emperor; and Béatrice (d. 1267), heiress to her father’s lands, married Charles I of Anjou, brother of Louis IX, who became King of Sicily.1 These four socially advantageous marriages were astounding enough to catch the attention of Dante who, in Paradiso, wrote that ‘of Raymond Berenger’s four daughters, each became a queen’.2
Theresa Earenfight

4. Queenship in a Crisis of Monarchy, c. 1350–1500

In 1440, infanta (princess) Blanca of Navarre left her home in the Pyrenees to marry infante (prince) Enrique of Castile, the heir to the throne who would reign as Enrique IV from 1454 to 1474. When she reached Briviesca, a town in the north of Spain, she was greeted with elaborate festivities. The royal chronicler described how the town ‘prepared the greatest festivities and of the most novel and strange fashion that have been seen in Spain in our time’. He recounted in detail the infanta’s solemn entry into town, the lavish fashions of the ladies and processions of the guilds and confraternities, and four days of sumptuous feasts under a background of scarlet tapestries, dancing, mummers, the running of the bulls, the plumed headgear of the soldiers at staged jousts and contests, distribution of alms and a hunt for bears, boars and deer. The chronicler was careful to note that Jews carrying the Torah and Muslims carrying the Qur’an were in the procession, ‘in that manner that is the custom to be made for kings of Castile when they come to rule from foreign parts’. This was, no doubt, repeated in town after town as Blanca made her way to her wedding in Valladolid. This royal progress through the countryside was a powerful visible representation of monarchy, replete with pomp and largesse as symbols of the power of queen-ship and kingship to their Christian, Jewish and Muslim subjects.1
Theresa Earenfight

5. The Transformation of Queenship from Medieval to Early Modern Europe

For all the changes that took place between 300 and 1500 CE in both theory and practice, monarchy in the Middle Ages remained a strongly gendered institution. The expectations and actions of a queen or empress were determined largely by the fact that she was a woman. As such, queens were part of the broader category of ‘woman’ and subject to the western stereotypes of sexual temptress, frailty, incapacity and adultery. No matter how they gained their power and authority, as mother or wife, it was as ‘woman’ that they were most often judged. This is evident in all aspects of a queen’s life, but Christianity made a queen’s gender most visible even as local customs made it variable from place to place. The Virgin Mary and Empress Helena served as models for queens and empresses, who were expected to embrace a form of queenship that blended sanctity and maternity. A very human and less-than-saintly queen could face harsh criticism when she did not live up to such expectations, and even the most proper queen who agitated her enemies could face rumor and innuendo, or accusations of infidelity.
Theresa Earenfight
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