Aristocratic Women in Medieval France
Publication Year: 1999
Were aristocratic women in medieval France little more than appendages to patrilineal families, valued as objects of exchange and necessary only for the production of male heirs? Such was the view proposed by the great French historian Georges Duby more than three decades ago and still widely accepted. In Aristocratic Women in Medieval France another model is put forth: women of the landholding elite—from countesses down to the wives of ordinary knights—had considerable rights, and exercised surprising power.
The authors of the volume offer five case studies of women from the mid-eleventh through the thirteenth centuries, and from regions as diverse as Blois-Chartres, Champagne, Flanders, and Occitania. They show not only the diversity of life experiences these women enjoyed but the range of social and political roles open to them. The ecclesiastical and secular sources they mine confirm that women were regarded as full members of both their natal and affinal families, were never excluded from inheriting and controlling property, and did not have their share of family property limited to dowries. Women across France exchanged oaths for fiefs and assumed responsibilities for enfeoffed knights. As feudal lords, they settled disputes involving vassals, fortified castles, and even led troops into battle.
Aristocratic Women in Medieval France clearly shows that it is no longer possible to depict well-born women as powerless in medieval society. Demonstrating the importance of aristocratic women in a period during which they have been too long assumed to have lacked influence, it forces us to reframe our understanding of the high Middle Ages.
Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press
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List of Maps and Tables
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This volume originated in a remark and an invitation by Fredric L. Cheyette in 1993. Despite the current interest in medieval women, he observed, there still lacked close studies of women's lives and their exercise of lordship in the central Middle Ages. Was it not time for historians working "on the ground," as it were, to explore the lives and actions of women within their ...
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IN A MILESTONE ARTICLE a quarter century ago, Jo Ann McNamara and Suzanne Wemple concluded that in Western Europe before the twelfth century there existed "no really effective barriers to the capacity of women to exercise power; they appear as military leaders, judges, castellans, controllers of property."1 But in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, McNamara ...
1. Adela of Blois: Familial Alliances and Female Lordship
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POWERFUL ARISTOCRATIC FAMILIES long used the marriage of daughters to forge and strengthen alliances. But how did such alliances work in practice? Did the creation of new family ties actually result in mutual political, military, or economic support? To answer these questions, historians must look beyond abstract models of socio-political organization to particular ...
2. Aristocratic Women in the Chartrain
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EARLY ONE SPRING MORNING in the 1040s, Emcline of Chateaudun rose to prepare for a journey north to Chartres to the residence of her lord, vidame Hugh. She had heard from a traveling monk that the count of Blois-Chartres was consulting with his vassals, including Hugh, regarding the continuing conflict with the count of Anjou. Emcline also wished to make a ...
3. Aristocratic Women in the County of Champagne
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THE COUNTY OF CHAMPAGNE is best known today for the brilliant literary flowering of its court under the patronage of count Henry the Liberal (1152- 81) and countess Marie (1164-98).1 While the imaginative literature associated with that court continues to entertain us as it did medieval audiences, it is not entirely clear what those stories, especially die romances of Chretien de ...
4. Countesses as Rulers in Flanders
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THE COUNTESSES OF FLANDERS played important political roles in the history of the county from the time of its Carolingan origins.1 They brought their husbands not only the prestige of their natal families but often even experience in ruling, as several came to Flanders as widows of other princes. Because of deaths at war and on crusade, Flanders passed through the ...
5. Women, Poets, and Politics in Occitania
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LET US IMAGINE OURSELVES in the great hall of a noble family somewhere in southern France around the year 1300. Rich cloths cover the trestle tables where bowls overflow with fresh fruit; from the kitchen across the courtyard come servants with roasted meats; other servants kneel by their master and mistress at the head table to fill their cups with wine from silver ewers. ...
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List of Contributors
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Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 1999
Series Title: The Middle Ages Series