Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Medieval Queens: Ruling Women in a Man's World (Thursday 21 October)

The names of many medieval queens are readily recognised by people who read and study the history of the Middle Ages: Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204), Isabella I of Castile (1451-1504), Empress Matilda (1102-1167) and Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482) are examples.

Few were queens regnant, ruling as monarchs in their own right. Isabella I of Castile was. She married Ferdinand II of Aragon, uniting the two realms and laying the foundations of Spain and, famously in 1492, sending Columbus to the New World. Margaret I of Denmark (1353-1412) was queen regnant. Empress Matilda, married to the future Holy Roman Emperor Henry V, would have been queen regnant of England if the wishes of her father, Henry I, had been fulfilled.

Medieval queens were usually the wives or mothers of kings. Given the tendency of royal families to intermarry they were often the sisters or daughters of kings too. They were women who lived in and probably ran the royal households. They were very close to the centres of power, knew what was going on and were commonly kings' most trusted advisers. When a king travelled to distant realms, perhaps to defend or gain territory, he might well appoint his wife regent to assume the responsibilities of day-to-day government in his place. Matilda of Scotland (1080-1118) was the wife and regent of Henry I of England. Philippa of Hainault (1313-1369) fulfilled the same roles for Edward III. The formidable Margaret of Anjou was Henry VI's wife and regent.

Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right, merits a lecture - and more - to herself. She was married first to King Louis VII of France, then to Henry II of England. Among her ten children were a count and countesses of Champagne, Blois and Poitiers, a duchess of Saxony, a duke of Brittany, queens of Castile and Sicily, and King Richard I and King John of England.

These were women who ruled, at least some of the time, in the 'man's world' of medieval Europe. Who some of them were and how they were able to exercise power and influence is the focus of Dr Ellie Woodacre's lecture on 21 October. Ellie is Reader in Renaissance History at the University of Winchester.

Mike Short  

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