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.
recurring issue in the group: the necessity for a fairer, more extensive and more effective system of education. Here, too, elitist assumptions were rarely far from the surface, and while specific arguments for an ‘Order’ faded in the group, the need to form an elite remained central to its thinking about education.
Education: ‘the democratizing of aristocracy’
Education was a key topic for the Oldham group, particularly access to it, the universities’ role in forming a new ‘elite’ and the need for a coherent
their seals. The
spread of the use of seals by women of the nobility occurred in both
England and France in the twelfth century. Through the process of
cultural diffusion this practice filtered down through the ranks of the
higher aristocracy to the lesser nobility by the end of the century, and in
the process the iconography of women’s seals developed to show social
status as well as gender symbolism. Women’s seals expressed the basis
of women’s power in specific iconographic representations of lineage,
sexual and cultural functions. These symbols could articulate
Fundamentally, there is a static feel to the study of seals. Jean Luc
Chassel’s important contribution to the study of twelfth-century French
seals has, however, placed them in the context of the broader social
changes concurrent in the twelfth-century renaissance. He argues that
the use of seals grew at the expense of the placing of signa upon charters.7 David Crouch considered the iconography of seals as part of the
insignia of the aristocracy and in terms of class distinctions and thus
stressed their importance as symbols of the élite.8 T. A
The Rotuli de Dominabus et Pueris et Puellis de XII Comitatibus of 1185
Susan M. Johns
influence explains this pattern. Postles agreed with Holt,
who saw the development of notions of patrimony in society as the
central dynamic which explains the creation of by-names and surnames
among the Anglo-Norman aristocracy.45 Constance Bouchard places
the emphasis on family structures and finds that, in particular in royal
circles, female naming patterns represented complex changes in kin structures towards a more patrilineal pattern.46 The significance of naming
patterns is beyond dispute, and the Rotuli de Dominabus are a source
which neither Clark nor Postles
and Government, pp. 239–40.
S. L. Waugh, ‘Women’s inheritance and the growth of bureaucratic monarchy in
twelfth- and thirteenth-century England’, Nottingham Medieval Studies, 34 (1990),
88; ‘Marriage, class and royal lordship in England under Henry III’, Viator, 16 (1985),
181–207; The Lordship of England: Royal Wardships and Marriages in English Society
and Politics, 1217–1327 (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988).
Green, ‘Aristocratic women’, p. 78; J. A. Green, The Aristocracy of Norman England
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 361
recurrent theme in twelfth-century chronicles is the
way that noblewomen’s fortunes were directly linked with those of their
male kin: when Baldwin de Redvers refused to accept King Stephen, he
and his wife and children were disinherited and exiled.61
However, it was not only aristocratic or royal women who could
seize the opportunity to exert power and influence. Nichola de la Haye
was one such woman from below the ranks of the titled aristocracy who
was more than capable of directing and managing her own affairs.
Nichola was the daughter and co-heiress of Richard de la
powerful aristocracy.28 Thus this way of viewing charters as products of
socio-cultural conditioning and immediate political context acknowledges the importance of documentary provenance whilst accepting that
both were important as legal devices and reflective of social realities.
Thus female witnessing may be considered to have had real significance.
Pauline Stafford also considers that witnessing had social and political significance. She has shown that in the eleventh century witnessing
was part of the role of a queen.29 Stafford suggests that the
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.
This chapter addresses the importance of material, as distinct from spiritual, countergifts given to secular noblewomen as a guide to their power. The analysis puts into the context of an appraisal of the importance of gender, lordship and the way that family connections were indicated through countergifts. It is argued that an analysis of countergifts should properly be studied in sociocultural contexts but with an awareness of the impact of gender and the demands of tenurial lordship. Gender, social status and land tenure interacted to define the sorts of gift that noblewomen received. The presented examples show that countergifts could symbolise complex meanings and that noblewomen received countergifts in a variety of contexts. Evidence of female participation in twelfth-century affidation ceremonies are described as a guide to the power of noblewomen in the context of an analysis which considers the impact of gender, social status and lordship.