Women in the Gesta Stephani

Women in the Gesta Stephani

By Sarah Williams

Published Online (2011)

The Gesta Stephani chronicles the turbulent reign of King Stephen (1135-1154), the last of the Norman kings. Although it is anonymously written and an incomplete manuscript, it provides important insight into the chaos and turmoil that led England to become ‘a home of perversity, a haunt of strife, a training-ground of disorder, and a teacher of every kind of rebellion.’ The Gesta was first printed in Paris, 1619 by André Duchesne, in a manuscript entitled Historiae Normannorum Scriptores Antiqui, which had come from a text housed in the episcopal library at Laon, France. The newer edition of the Gesta was published in 1976 with contributions from K.R. Potter, R.A.B. Mynors and R.H.C. Davis. This is the most complete version of the Gesta to date, owing to the discovery of another manuscript housed at the Municipal Library in Valenciennes, France. This text, found by R.A.B. Mynors in MS. 792, continues past the end of Duchesne’s manuscript (which finishes in 1147) to the accession of Henry II in December of 1154. This manuscript begins with Chapter Four, as two leaves are missing, and while it has been able to fill in some of the gaps apparent in Duchesne’s Laon manuscript, four gaps in chapters 23, 26, 33 and 53 remain. Although the author of the Gesta is anonymous, the editors of the most recent edition have pinpointed a suitable candidate. They have suggested that Robert of Lewes, bishop of Somerset, is the most likely person to have written the Gesta.

In this paper, I will examine the female figures who appear in the Gesta Stephani, specifically who they were, how many times they surface in the text, what were they doing and what was the author’s opinion of them. The Gesta is split into two books and I will examine the women in each independently, as well as give general thoughts and impressions on the text as a whole.

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