“In Muliere Exhibeas Virum”: Women, Power and Authority in Early Twelfth Century Anglo-Norman Chronicles

“In Muliere Exhibeas Virum”: Women, Power and Authority in Early Twelfth Century Anglo-Norman Chronicles

By F. Özden Mercan

Master’s Thesis, Bilkent University, 2007

Abstract: This thesis analyses the relationship of women with power and authority within the context of the evidence provided by early twelfth-century Anglo-Norman chronicles between 1095 and 1154. It discusses the basic factors that affected the chroniclers’ approaches to royal and noble women and examines the perception of female power and authority in Anglo-Norman society together with a close assessment of certain developments in society. In the framework of these, it also evaluates the case of Empress Matilda, the first woman to deserve the right to gain the throne in English history. This study presents us with the conclusion that, contrary to the contemporary assumptions that emphasize a change for the worse for the position of high-ranking women, the chroniclers of early twelfth-century did not mention about such a weakening or decrease in female power and authority. The evidence offered by the chronicle sources reveals that the chroniclers recognized the power and authority exercised by the high-ranking women in politics and government of Anglo-Norman realm. They also encouraged those women who took active roles in society by praising them in masculine terms.

Introduction: While exploring women in medieval sources, it is important to bear in mind that the images of women reflected through writings were largely produced by men and, amongst them, mostly by ecclesiastics. These men, to a great extent, decided what and who should be recorded and preserved. They wrote stories and stated opinions about women, made rules for how women should behave and decided what was to happen when a woman made a mistake. Therefore, in these sources, we are dealing, not with the real women, but the women as seen through the eyes of male clerics. As, in part, products of men’s imagination the depictions of the women represent men’s attitudes and beliefs. Moreover, their profession as monks or priests to a certain extent affected the discourse of these writers towards women. Still, this does not mean that the portrayal of women in medieval sources was completely or even largely shaped by a simple, severe misogynistic attitude adopted by the ecclesiastical writers as is sometimes assumed.

One type of medieval source that can be examined in the light of this argument is the chronicles — those written in the Anglo-Norman realm between 1095 and 1154. This period in England saw a great boom in the production of chronicles and histories. Although in literal terms “chronicle” refers to a chronological record of events, Latin chronicles of early twelfth-century England and Normandy did more than this. They observed chronology, but were not limited to it; on the contrary, they involved opinions and interpretations. In that sense they are valuable in revealing the social, political and cultural context of the period they were written. Moreover, the analysis of women in these chronicles will be helpful in exploring the approach to women by the medieval male mentality — how it viewed women and how it interpreted their actions in society. Before such an analysis, it will be useful to give a brief introduction to these sources.

Click here to read this thesis from Bilkent University

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