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.
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