This chapter concentrates on charter evidence relating to those aristocratic women who were explicitly accorded the title comitissa, or else were married to men of comital rank, or were born into such families. Ermentrude's role assumed a new prominence in the affairs of the honor when as widow she had an important role to play as guardian of the heir. There is a continuity in the role of Lucy of Chester in religious patronage. The coexistence of two dowager countesses, Matilda and Bertrada, posed a potential threat to the Chester patrimony. The charter evidence has shown how in the twelfth century the countesses of Chester performed various functions at both the honor and royal courts, and reveals that there was continuity in an active public role from marriage to widowhood. The public roles of countesses of Chester were explicitly linked with their position as wife, mother and widow.
Western culture has always treated the eating of human flesh as taboo. Reluctant or not, cannibals evoke fear, loathing or, at best, horrified pity. No fourteenth-century English cook is known to have prepared for consumption the flesh of a real Turk, yet the Turk's Head, a sweet-and- sour meat pie shaped and decorated to resemble the outlandish features of a stereotyped Saracen, was a familiar late medieval dish. Richard Coeur de Lion, a romance whose medieval popularity is well attested, arrests modern readers with the spectacle of its man-eating king. Duped into mistaking a cooked Saracen for pork, the ailing Richard devours a dish of boiled flesh, faster than his steward can carve, and gnaws on the bones.
In the debate concerning precisely what constitutes a medieval ‘romance’, the Siege of Melayne occupies a special position. This poem participates in the conventions both of romance and of hagiography. The focus of such cross-generic readings is usually the character of Archbishop Turpin who has ‘as much of the saint as of the soldier in his nature’. This chapter explicates the religious content of the Siege of Melayne, exploring how hagiographic, devotional, and eucharistic themes are used to depict a Christian community characterised by strength in the face of adversity, and wholeness in the face of efforts to fragment the community. The body of Turpin, the image of the crucified Christ, and the Host each represent the Corpus Christi, the body of Christ which stands for the community of Christian souls.
This book explores the place of noblewomen in twelfth-century English and, to a lesser extent, Norman society. It also investigates the roles of noblewomen within lordship and in so doing clarifies important aspects of noblewomen's power. The analytical framework upon which the book is constructed draws on recent theoretical developments in the history of women and power and utilises traditional scholarly approaches to the study of the twelfth century. In so doing, it re-defines the nature of twelfth-century lordship. Therefore, it is intended as a contribution to the debate over the role and meaning of female power in the context of the interaction of gender and lordship in twelfth-century society.
This is a study of noblewomen in twelfth-century England and Normandy, and of the ways in which they exercised power. It draws on a mix of evidence to offer a reconceptualization of women's role in aristocratic society, and in doing so suggests new ways of looking at lordship and the ruling elite in the high Middle Ages. The book considers a wide range of literary sources—such as chronicles, charters, seals and governmental records—to draw out a detailed picture of noblewomen in the twelfth-century Anglo-Norman realm. It asserts the importance of the life-cycle in determining the power of these aristocratic women, thereby demonstrating that the influence of gender on lordship was profound, complex and varied.
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.
The purpose of this book is to demonstrate that popular romance not only merits and rewards serious critical attention, but that we ignore it to the detriment of our understanding of the complex and conflicted world of medieval England. As an introduction, this chapter offers a short polemical essay that confronts head-on the paradox that informs and ultimately circumscribes all of our thinking about Middle English popular romance. It is divided into two sections that tackle in turn what is at stake in our appreciation and enjoyment of these inescapably popular narratives: romance's status as a socially and aesthetically degenerate form of fiction and its capacity to generate textual pleasure.
This chapter discusses the difficulties of analysing images of noblewomen in contradictory sources at a time when the historical discourse was evolving, owing to broader societal cultural shifts. It is also concerned with the difficulty of measuring the power of noblewomen, given the complexities of the sources. Orderis Vitalis' view of women's power in the context of their political and warlike activity, like his view of men, is ambiguous, and by no means monolithic. Orderic's portrayal of Mabel of Bellême is reflective of both contemporary clerical distrust of women in power and the nature of contemporary politics in Normandy. William of Malmesbury shows the role of wives in supporting their husbands in 1141. The Countess Mabel of Gloucester, or Nichola de la Haye acted as powerful individuals at the heart of the power structures of the aristocratic and noble élite of the twelfth century.
This collection and the romances it investigates are crucial to our understanding of the aesthetics of medieval narrative and to the ideologies of gender and sexuality, race, religion, political formations, social class, ethics, morality and national identity with which those narratives emerge.
The lump-child and its parents in The King of Tars
The central figure of the Middle English popular romance known as The King of Tars (hereafter KT) — a formless lump of flesh born instead of a child — defines a certain view of popular literature. The birth is an outrageously sensationalist event; the ideological message conveyed by its subsequent transformation into a human being through baptism is simplistic, vulgar and racist. This chapter concentrates on the treatment of the lump in order to show how its treatment throws into relief the different configurations of paternity and maternity, of gender roles and of religious politics put forward in a range of re-tellings.