- Imperial Ladies of the Ottonian Dynasty. Women and Rule in Tenth-Century Germany by Phyllis G. Jestice
It is always interesting to receive a book out of the left field of one's research interests and Phyllis Jestice's study of Ottonian empresses is no exception. The deeper one delves, the more one realizes that there are many points of convergence between Jestice's study of tenth-century German female 'regents' and later medieval and early modern stateswomen—one of whom, Empress-Dowager [End Page 258] Theophanu, she describes as 'protector of the young king and helmswoman of the reich' (p. 2).
Otto III ascended his powerful and influential throne at the age of three, ruling 'from the moment of his coronation […] as a legal adult even though biologically he was still a child' (p. 2), an illustration of the idea of the king's two bodies, there being no legal notion of a minor king in Ottonian Germany at the time. Moreover, in the tenth-century Ottonian Empire, there was also no concept of a regent in the modern sense of the term. However, the mother, or even grandmother, of an underage monarch was a safer option than, say, an uncle or cousin to oversee a 'regency'. Both Otto and Germany benefited from the careful rule of first his mother, Theophanu, and, upon her early death, that of his paternal grandmother, Empress-Dowager Adelheid.
Having laid out in her preface the central question she intends to cover in her meticulous study (how were these women able to exert their respective agencies?), Jestice opens with a relatively brief, yet informative introduction plotting and contextualizing 'The Road to Regency' (pp. 1–16) from which Theophanu and Adelheid successively benefited. Jestice then rolls out her discussion pragmatically in nine integrated thematic chapters, rounding out proceedings with an epilogue, 'The Power of Royal Women?'. For this reader, there is only a minor concern arising out of Jestice's erudite treatment of her subject: the rather outdated and un-nuanced notion that Ottonian Germany lacked the 'misogyny that marred the later Middle Ages' (p. 11), and the associated generalization of the exceptionality of female political undertaking. Recent sans frontières and longue durée interdisciplinary research tempers this view, pointing to the need to clamber out of our respective temporal and geopolitical silos to take in the full range of gendered premodern political possibilities.