Prisoners of Love: Medieval Wives as Hostages

Prisoners of Love: Medieval Wives as Hostages

By Annette Parks

Journals of the Georgia Association of Historians, Vol. 17 (1996)

Introduction: Despite a wealth of anecdotal information in both literary and chronicle sources, there is no systematic study of hostageship in the Middle Ages aimed specifically at understanding how it worked and why it continued.. Hostageship is usually understood how it worked and why it continued. Hostageship is usually understood as a straightforward power transaction. The party who enjoys an advantage, generally a military one, demands hostages because it necessary. The ever present threat of harm to the hostages ensures that if they are valued, the hostage-giver will behave in a manner designed to appease the hostage-taker. However, the sources often do not support such a simple analysis. Hostages were given a variety of reasons: to secure the terms of treaties and alliances, to seal promises of neutrality or loyalty to a monarch, or they could be exchanged as security for parlays. This paper deals with a special class of hostages, women who were involved in political marriages.

Betrothals and political marriages have long been recognized as important tools in the creation of social and political alliances. However, what will be argued here is that these relationships could also serve to accomplish the detention of females in the same way that straightforward hostage arrangements accomplished the detention of males. Further, while for various reasons it may appear that women did not make good detainees, in some instances they were actually preferred over males.

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