Imperatrix, Domina, Rex: Conceptualizing the Female King in Twelfth-Century England

Empress Matilda

Imperatrix, Domina, Rex: Conceptualizing the Female King in Twelfth-Century England

By Coral Lumbley

Medieval Feminist Forum: A Journal of Gender and Sexuality Vol.55:1 (2019)

Abstract: This article draws on methods from transgender theory, historicist literary studies, and visual analysis of medieval sealing practices to show that Empress Matilda of England was controversially styled as a female king during her career in the early to mid twelfth century. While the chronicle Gesta Stephani castigates Matilda’s failure to engage in sanctioned gendered behaviors as she waged civil war to claim her inherited throne, Matilda’s seal harnesses both masculine and feminine signifiers in order to proclaim herself both king and queen. While Matilda’s transgressive gender position was targeted by her detractors during her lifetime, the obstinately transgender object she used to represent herself continues to trouble gender categories today.

Introduction: The ontologically fragmented body, despite its traditional location on the margins of mainstream societies and discourses in the West, is en processe of a shift into the center of Western academic discourse. Recent developments in the study of transgender phenomena have shown the generative nature of bodies that have been described as piecemeal, monstrous, or unnatural—leading us to question whether former conceptions of what constitutes a “whole” identity were ever valid. The sociopolitical implications of these studies are vast, and leading scholars of trans studies have also been at the forefront of political activist movements that campaign for legal and civic recognition of trans bodies and genders.

Click here to read this article from Medieval Feminist Forum

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

Sign up for our weekly email newsletter!