Ruling Women and the Formation of the Modern State in the High Middle Ages: England, Portugal, and the Latin East

AHA Session 64
Haskins Society 2
Saturday, January 4, 2020: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Flatiron (Sheraton New York, Lower Level)
Nicholas L. Paul, Fordham University
Susan D. Amussen, University of California, Merced

Session Abstract

Drawing on our expertise in the study of ruling elites in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, this panel seeks to grapple with the role of gender in state formation. Our research challenges historiographic expectations (or lack of consideration) regarding women’s execution of political power within the framework of the pre-modern state. In particular, we consider the long shadow cast by the scholarship of Joseph Strayer, who possibly more than any other 20th century medievalist shaped our current understandings of medieval political life, especially in France. He was, of course, also an influential consultant for the US State Department in the settlement of post-war Eastern Europe, and his Medieval Origins of the Modern State is still widely consulted, especially by political scientists, if not so much historians. Nevertheless, Strayer’s scholarship – and that of his students, and their students – has shaped a field which has, at the same time, grown and stretched in new directions – most significantly, in terms of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. We propose to bring these two analytical frameworks together.

Strayer focused primarily on France, with some attention to England in his Medieval Origins. He did not, unsurprisingly, consider gender. Our scholarship returns to Anglo-Norman England, itself a new “state” in the reign of Henry I, but then also examines the emergence of the Kingdom of Portugal and the realms of the Latin East in the twelfth century. In each of these political entities, ideas about gender – and the actual roles of women – played a key role. In England, the survival of the new Anglo-Norman regime hinged on the succession of Henry I’s daughter, Matilda. In Portugal, Teresa, the natural daughter of Alfonso VI of León, was the first ruler of the independent realm, one whose legacy profoundly shaped the role of the queen throughout the twelfth century. In the Latin East, Portugal’s liminal opposite, the survival of the newly formed Kingdom of Jerusalem and the County of Antioch rested on not only female inheritance, but governance. By exploring these regions and the women who ruled in them in the twelfth century, we seek to provide new perspective on the medieval origins of the modern state.

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