By Michelle Armstrong–Partida
Medieval Prosopography, Vol. 26 (2005)
Abstract: In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, aristocratic women from the region of Blois- Chartres exercised power and influence that was not limited to the private sphere of the household. Medieval noblewomen often held and managed property, were patrons of ecclesiastical institutions, and ruled lordships until their children came of age. Participating in both familial and feudal affairs, the countesses of Blois and Chartres wielded considerable power over three generations and became lords in their own right.
The life experiences of medieval noblewomen were quite diverse, and the lives of the countesses of Blois and Chartres reveal how some noblewomen used their lordly authority to not only protect their family’s power and prestige but also to actively care for the family’s spiritual welfare. This essay examines the roles of these countesses as lords and managers of the family’s patrimony who assumed the responsibilities of lordship and managed the fiefs and vassals under their jurisdiction.
Acting like any male lord, the countesses of Blois and Chartres administered family lands, participated in lord-vassal relationships, defended their seigniorial rights, settled property disputes, and were influential benefactors of religious houses for women. In particular, monastic charters show how these countesses combined lordship and patronage to care for the spiritual wellbeing of their families.