Manhood, kingship and the public in late medieval England
Christopher FLETCHER (Université de Paris I, Panthéon-Sorbonne)
EDAD MEDIA: Revista de Historia, Año (2012), Volumen 13, pp.123-142
Late medieval English kings operated in an increasingly public political society. Monarchs found it expedient to persuade their people of the rectitude of their policies, and the English public found ways to express their opinions, from petitioning to gossip and rebellion. This article examines some of the consequences of this state of affairs. In particular: What effect did the public nature of kingship have upon the relationship between ideals of conduct applicable to kings and norms of masculinity which applied to all men? This question is addressed by comparing proclamations of Edward III (1327-77), and reports of treasonous words under Henry VI (1422-61), with earlier attacks on Edward II (1307-27).
The first two were judged by ideals of manhood which applied to all men. The latter was criticized for potentially manly pursuits which were nonetheless inappropriate for a king. Still, it would be unwise to impose a developmental narrative on these diverse political circumstances. The variety of interpretations of manhood available made it possible to criticize or praise kings as manly or unmanly according to particular political circumstances. What is certain, however, is that the public nature of kingship made the king’s manhood a powerful political tool throughout this period.