All the Queen’s Men: Perceptions of Women in Power
Master’s Thesis, University of Minnesota, (2009)
Throughout the middle Ages, women were in a subordinate position to their male counterparts. At the same time, however, they could also hold positions of authority that conferred power. This paradox, women who were both weak and yet powerful, is most obvious in the political arena. Custom dictated that participants in the political arena would be men. Early medieval leadership depended on military strength: if a king were unable to lead his forces successfully in battle, he would be ineffective. Central medieval understandings of leadership focused less on military might and more on qualities of rulership, expecting the ruling kings to show qualities of piety and humility in their governance. Although ideas about rulership did not expressly exclude women from participating in governance,1 the underlying assumption was that the ruler would indeed be male. Women such as Æðelflæd, Lady of Mercia (r. 911-918) and the Empress Matilda (1102-1167) challenged these social expectations of male privileged authority, wielding kingly authority despite their gender.