• Kalamazoo 2014 report 3: women and Carolingians

    I started off Saturday at the 49th Kalamazoo International Congress on Medieval Studies with a roundtable on women and power, which I've already discussed and then I went to the first of two sessions organised by Medieval Prosopography. Prosopography is always particularly prone to the so what problem: what do you get out of a presentation if you're not interested in the particular people/region covered by it? But I think all the papers did a good job of tying in wider themes of interest.

    First up was Adam Matthews talking about the alliance between the family of the widowed Odila and the monastery of St Florent of Samur in the eleventh century. Adam reconstructed a series of sales by a widow called Odila and her family to the monks over several generations, which was combined with several family members becoming monks there. This looked like a way for Odila to hang onto her property (I was immediately thinking about Jinty Nelson's wary widow), since she may possibly have been threatened by her dead husband's relatives. Adam also made the important point that although we tend to think about monasteries in the period either as mediators or in need of protection, here in the relative stable county of Anjou, we have monks as protectors of others.

    The second paper was the most relevant to my interests: Constance Brittain Bouchard on "The Capetians' Merovingian-era origins". This was an extension of a topic that she's written on before, about royal and noble families' understanding of their own genealogies. It's very hard for researchers to trace any lineages from the eighth and ninth century back to the sixth or seventh. We can see the Robertines in the ninth century, but although they don't look like parvenus, it's very hard to link them up with earlier Roberts who might be their ancestors. Constance's argument was that this isn't just due to scanty sources, but also to the Capetians' own understanding of their past. By the thirteenth century, for example, you might not get Robert the Strong, Odo and Robert I mentioned: the emphasis was on a royal lineage and those who didn't fit neatly into this were smoothed over. Constance contrasted this with the Carolingian dynasty, who were more assiduous in creating the memory of their ancestors, and in new ways. She pointed out the paradox that modern researchers know more Capetian ancestors than the Capetians themselves did: by the time they needed a memory of ancestors, with a developing emphasis on strict patrilineages, it was too late for the Capetian family to create one.

    The final paper in the session moved us to late medieval England, with Anne DeWindt on "Social mobility in late medieval England: evidence provided by a family of fifteenth-century villeins." This was a study of the Berenger family of Warboys in Huntingdonshire, trying to work out how we can assess social mobility. Anne was looking at changes in the size of land-holding, in office-holding and also occupation, with the usual issues about patchy evidence. But she also made the interesting point that geographical mobility didn't necessarily mean social mobility and raised the possibility that members of the family who were moving elsewhere, even to London, may in fact have ended up in an urban underclass, both for women (as servants) and men (as low-status chaplains). She linked this up to work by Gregory Clark on long-term social mobility. He has apparently argued for regression to the mean by both rich and poor – i.e. that that the averaging out effects from one generation to another mean that any rate of social mobility is slow.

    On Saturday afternoon I went off to another early medieval session: Session 465 on "Carolingian Culture". This yet again revealed how many Carolingian texts there are that I don't know at all well. The session started with Jared Wielfaert talking about "Prudentius of Troyes and the Accumulative Aesthetic in the Carolingian Period". Jared is working on Prudentius' Contra Eriugenam, part of the bitter controversy over predestination in the ninth century. The text comes from several rounds into the dispute: this is Prudentius writing in opposition to John Scotus Eriugenia, who in turn had been encouraged by Hincmar to write against Gottschalk's views.

    Jared has been studying the one surviving manuscript witness of Prudentius' text (BnF lat. 2445) and was arguing for the visual force of the manuscript, a force lost in Migne's Patrologia Latina edition. The original has a hierarchy of scripts and an elaborate system of sigla. Prudentius' work is essentially a theological Fisking of John's Treatise on Divine Predestination. Prudentius quotes a short section from John (with a theta symbol), follows this with a chi-rho symbol to mark his own responses, which mainly consist of long (and sometimes barely relevant) passages from patristic sources. The names of the quoted authors are in large rustic capitals, sometimes barely abbreviated. Jared described the visual effect as that of the Fathers shouting down John.

    The manuscript was compiled in a number of stages, and we probably have it in an unfinished state. It includes a lot of marginal and interlineal comments with extra quotes, all probably added by Prudentius himself. At some points parchment tabs were put in for extra quotes. Jared was interested in why the book was compiled so inefficiently, with such excessive quotations and linked this to Carolingian architecture and art, which has been described as having a "cumulative aesthetic", wanting to juxtapose old and new material, reusing spolia and generally believing that "more is more". John Scotus Eriugena's text appeared visually as a thin, weak booklet; Prudentius' big book was an argument in itself.

    Prudentius' way of work sounded very familiar from what I knew about Hincmar's techniques of writing and in response to my questions Jared suggested Hincmar may have learned from Prudentius (which is possible, although Hincmar would never have admitted it). But it's also another reminder that what counts as a good argument is historically specific (and can't just be reduced to the idea of Carolingian authors as incapable of thinking logically).

    Jared was followed by Leanne Good on "Taming the Medieval Wilderness through Hagiography". This was looking at the hagiography surrounding the monastery of Fulda, and how it made a "wilderness" from an area that was actually already inhabited. What I found particularly interesting was how Leanne was linking up some of the symbolic acts found in the Vita Sturmi with those in early Iberian colonial texts talking about to how claim "new" land, such as by the clearing of land and the making of small buildings. (Sturm built a corral for his donkey). She cited work by Michael Curry on how places are legally created. As in some of the previous talks at Kalamazoo, this was a distinctively New World take on a medieval text that gave me a viewpoint I hadn't thought of before.

    Finally, Laura Carlson who I knew from Oxford, but is now in Canada, talked about "The Bonds and Bounds of Friendship: Amicitia Vocabulary in Carolingian Model Letter Collections". As Laura pointed out, studies of friendship have been revitalised by modern social networking tools, which have revealed the carefully constructed and formal nature that friendships can take. Laura was trying to develop some of the ideas of Gerd Althoff on friendship further using letters from Frankish formularies. Her research is not helped by the editor of the MGH Formularies collection omitting bits of letters or whole letters from such collections that he decided were too emotional. But enough remains to suggest that "friend" could be something akin to a formal title, and that there is more use of "amicus" than had been previously thought. (I was also interested to hear that women could be addressed in such friendship letters). To complicate things further, Theo Riches in questions pointed out that talk of "friendship" could be a power move: it isn't necessarily friendly to use the language of friendship. Given the well-known problems of dating and locating formularies, all this means that using such texts is going to be difficult, but it does sound like a possible way to get material that might be comparable to Altoff's Ottonian situations.

    That ended my sessions for Saturday, though I did go to the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship reception (and have now joined the SMFS) and also to the dance. Maybe it was just because I didn't stay till late (because of needing a bus back to my hotel), but I didn't find it as crazily fun as the Leeds disco.

    I was speaking in the graveyard slot, on the last session on Sunday morning, so skipped the first session, since I wasn't sure I could get between locations on time (I had excessive amounts of luggage with me because my trip was so long). So the end of my first-ever Kalamazoo was my panel (on "New Approaches to Carolingian Charters"), at which I managed to do a live demo of the Making of Charlemagne Europe database without it falling over. I was followed by two of my friends. Julie Hofmann gave a paper entitled "Databases and Diplomatic: Is Context Worth Anything?" This was worrying away at the problem of what we lose by making charter databases. How does the extra level of abstraction affect our relationship to a document and our sense of it? And how do we get the resources to train people in the specialist skills to get beyond the database?

    Julie's points are important and we need to consider them before we get too euphoric about the possibilities of charter databases. Though I must add that at the moment I'm not exactly euphoric at the moment about these possibilities. There is a reason that our project's unofficial motto is RTFC: Carolingian charters are hard to fit into a structured database. We're also going to try and provide background context for the charters, but the database will still never be more than a tool for users, not the be-all and end-all.

    After the pros and cons of databases, the final paper, by Jenny Davis was rather lower-tech, but managed to be new by the simple approach of making us realise that much of what we thought we know about Charlemagne's charters is incorrect. Geoff Koziol contrasted the later West Frankish kings' political use of charters with their more routine use in earlier periods, but Jenny argued that in fact Charlemagne's charters were carefully targeted and slightly unexpected. He didn't grant much land (either in terms of numbers of charters or size of estates) and he often didn't give his own patrimonial land, but land acquired in court cases or taken from the Lombard fisc. He also gave less to monasteries than later kings.

    Similarly, the traditional view of Charlemagne as building up networks of royal institutions in the heartlands of the empire needs to be nuanced. The monasteries in the heartlands who got multiple charters tended to have long-established links to the Carolingians: Charlemagne wasn't buying loyalty there, although there is more evidence for him doing so in Italy. Jenny thought this was responding to Italian circumstances and contrasted this with the lack of grants to Bavarian churches or monasteries. It's also hard to see strategic purposes by Charlemagne in the majority of his grants, though this may reflect a lack of our local knowledge as well.

    Jenny also pointed out the changes chronologically: we get fewer charters after 790, just at the point where we start getting more sources of other kinds. Again, this suggests that charters couldn't be expected. Charlemagne seems to have reacted opportunistically to events (such as Lorsch's dispute with the family of its founder in 772). Charters were already an old tool in his time, but although he continued a tradition of giving, he did so in different ways.

    So that was my four days of Kalamazoo wrapped up (although with a few more medievalist encounters all the way back to Chicago). I think as an early medievalist I still prefer the IMC in Leeds, but once you get to Kalamazoo it's cheaper than Leeds (especially if you stay in the dorms), the bookfair is amazing, and I heard some interesting people speak whom I suspect I would never hear elsewhere. I can't see myself being able to afford to go back over there soon, but I would like to go again at some point (preferably with a spare suitcase for taking books home).

  • Overcoming my trans prejudice

    I used to be prejudiced about trans people, literally prejudging them before I know any trans people personally. One source of my prejudice was Christian thought: not anything specific about male and female sex roles, but a more general belief that you should accept yourself as God made you. This was combined with a belief that trans people couldn’t "pass", would always visibly still be part of their assigned sex.

    The other source of my prejudice was old-fashioned feminism: seeing trans women, in particular, as accepting and reinforcing gender stereotypes of masculinity and femininity rather than challenging them. The one book by a trans person I (partially) read: Jan Morris’ Conundrum, tended to reinforce this prejudice.

    What changed my views was knowing a couple of trans people; I didn’t know them very well, but it still made an impact. The first was a trans man whom I didn’t realise was trans until after I’d known him for several years. That rather put paid to any ideas I had about the inability to "pass"; he was a man living a happy Christian life. If I believed (as I do) that "by their fruits you will know them", I had to acknowledge that his transitioning had been the right thing for him to do.

    The second person I met was a trans woman at what I presume was a fairly early stage of transitioning. I did realise she was trans rather than cis right away. She was also studying for a PhD in chemistry, which hardly fits with stereotyped views of femininity. But what really caused me to rethink my prejudices wasn’t something purely intellectual. The college we were both attending at the time was organising self-defence classes for women. She and I went along to those and during general discussions, she mentioned having been attacked several times. I can’t remember if she said specifically it was connected to her trans status, but I suspected at the time that it was. And that made me face my own prejudices at a whole new level. If I was saying that transitioning or expressing your trans identity was wrong, was I to some extent encouraging hostility or even violence towards trans people?

    I suppose it’s just about intellectually consistent to say "I disapprove of trans people, but they shouldn’t be treated badly", but I wasn’t able to separate those factors out emotionally. If I did not accept trans people, I was contributing to a world in which people I knew and liked were being placed in danger. My intellectual arguments did not outweigh their lived experience and most trans people’s lived experience is that to live as a particular sex makes them happy and to live as their originally-assigned sex makes them profoundly unhappy.

    I suspect it's more important to respect trans people at that practical level rather than to try and theorise the whole matter, speaking as someone whose normal response to everything is to try and theorise it. I don't know why trans people feel this profound disconnect with their assigned/biological sex, but my not understanding it doesn't mean that sense doesn't exist or is invalid. There are lots of experiences I haven't had or find difficult to understand. The nearest I can get to imagining it is the down mood I experienced when my first period started a day or two after the first time I wore a bra. I felt I was never going to be comfortable again. I didn't want to be a woman (indeed, my imagined alter ego for many years was a blond, Californian superhero, which I'm sure reveals other disturbing things about my psyche).

    But although I didn't particularly want to be female or a woman, and I often fail at performing femininity, I've never doubted that I was a woman or had the profound sense of cosmic wrongness that many trans people had about their own bodies. It's in that sense that I'm willing to call myself (or be called by others) "cis": I do not experience the conviction that my sex was wrongly assigned at birth. While a lot of feminists reject this label, I don't have a problem with it.

    This is because, while "cis" is not a label I would instinctively use for myself, I can see the usefulness in discussions of trans issues. It distinguishes between someone who may have a characteristic to some extent and those who have it to an extent that it affects their whole life. Thus, while I wouldn't think of myself as "neurotypical", I am neurotypical enough to be able to cope with most social situations in a way that an autistic person couldn't. Similarly, I tick the "not disabled" box on job application forms, even though without my glasses my effective range of vision is probably about two feet away. "Cis" can be misapplied or used as a term of abuse, but then so can practically any other word in the English language, so I don't want to reject it for those reasons.

    I'm not trying to set myself up as some PC heroine: I’m probably still prejudiced or insensitive towards trans people at times. But what my experiences show is that people can change their views, and also that this isn't necessarily done via activism. I hope that, as with gay people, once cis people know more trans people, and a wider variety of trans people, transphobia and prejudice against trans people will gradually become less common and more socially unacceptable. It probably won't be quick, but I think from my own experiences, that it can and will happen.

  • Fifty years of historical database angst

    The Making of Charlemagne's Europe project website has now gone live, and includes a post by me on interconnecting charter databases. I mention in that a recent argument when we were trying to decide which of several different categories of transaction a particular document fell into. Just to show that such problems of coding documents are not new, here are some quotes from a recent article on Charles Tilly, a historical sociologist and a pioneer of using databases for historical research.

    The Codebook for Intensive Sample of Disturbances guides more than 60 researchers in the minutiae of a herculean coding project of violent civil conflicts in French historical documents and periodicals between 1830–1860 and 1930–1960...The Codebook contains information about violent civic conflict events and charts the action and interaction sequences of various actors (called there formations) over time....we find fine-grained detail and frequent provision made for textual commentary on the thousands of computer punch cards involved.

    (John Krinsky and Ann Mische, "Formations and Formalisms: Charles Tilly and the Paradox of the Actor", Annual Review of Sociology, 39 (2013), p. 3)

    The article then goes on to quote the Codebook on the issue of subformations (when political groups split up):

    In the FORMATION SEQUENCE codes,treat the subformation as a formation for the period of its collective activity—but place 01 ("formation does not exist as such at this time") in the intervals before and after. If two or more subformations comprise the entire membership of the formation from which they emerge, place 01 in that formation’s code for the intervals during which they are acting. But if a small fragment breaks off from a larger formation,continue to record the activities of the main formation as well as the new subformation.

    If a formation breaks up, reforms and then breaks up in a different way, assign new subformation numbers the second time.

    If fragments of different formations merge into new formations, hop around the room on one foot, shouting ILLEGITIMIS NON CARBORUNDUM.

    (Krinsky and Mische, p 4, citing Charles Tilly, Codebook for intensive sample of disturbances. Res.DataCollect. ICPSR 0051, Inter-Univ. Consort. Polit. Soc. Res., Ann Arbor, Mich. (1966), p. 95)

    In nearly fifty years, we've gone from punch-cards to open source web application frameworks, but we still haven't solved the problem of historical data (and the people behind it) not fitting neatly into the framework we create, however flexible we try and be.

  • Most men are not Kants

    The title of this post isn't a misspelling, but an early attempt at answering an important question: why do patriarchal systems change? If a patriarchal social system supports male dominance and is therefore in turn endorsed and supported by (elite) men in that society, how do changes that either benefit women or limit male privileges occur? The obvious answer is through female pressure, but given that we can't see organised action by women in the West before first-wave feminism, that's not a good answer for periods before the eighteenth century.

    An alternative answer for earlier change is based on the fact that men don't always share the same interests. So if you have "class warfare" between different economic classes, then women may be the beneficiaries (sometimes inadvertently) of gains won by subordinate groups. And you can see many of the limited Western attempts at restrictions on male sexual licence as the results of conflicts between "religious men" (ascetics, monks and priests in the late antique and medieval periods, zealous Protestants in the early modern period) and their more secular counterparts.

    But I also want to argue that there are conflicts even within secular elites themselves. I first noticed this with respect to Carolingian attitudes to raptus (marriage for the purposes of abduction). Strict prohibitions on this benefited one group of noblemen (fathers of marriageable daughters), while blocking the strategies used by young noblemen to gain further social advantage via a marriage that otherwise wouldn't be socially acceptable. In my book, I went on to argue that the extensive restrictions on consanguineous marriage developed in the early Middle Ages also benefited noble fathers arranging marriages at the expense of young men of marriageable age.

    More generally, I want to argue that in most cases some elite men have interests that are not served by restrictions on women's rights. Fathers, sons, husbands and brothers all at various times have either material or emotional interests in ensuring rights and fair treatment for their daughters, mothers, wives or sisters. (For an interesting recent example of this, see Julian Fellowes complaining about his wife's failure to inherit a peerage). A woman's natal family may want her to be able to leave a particularly unhappy marriage; a father with only daughters may want them to inherit. A man may want his wife to be able to carry out a lucrative occupation if she has the skills for it.

    This is where Kant comes in. I've talked before about the anti-Kantian nature of most of us: we want rules, but we don't want them always to apply to us. For a classic example of this, see The Only Moral Abortion in My Abortion; women can be anti-Kantian as well. In a similar way, I think men in patriarchal systems have tended to support restrictive rules on women generally while opposing some specific examples of this applied to the interests of their family/womenfolk.

    This inevitably blunts the political force of opposition to patriarchal structures: influential men have been looking for exceptions and loopholes rather than opposing restrictions generally. But I also think it accounts for some of the peculiar quality of patriarchal systems: that within seemingly very restrictive frameworks, there is often an awful lot of leeway. There's been a lot of work on coverture for example, showing how married women in early modern England who supposedly couldn't trade on their own account actually did.

    This doesn't stop patriarchy being oppressive: women were (and are) still dominated by men in the sense of being subject to arbitrary interference by them. But it gives a different texture to this dominance than that of class or racially-based oppression. The majority of families now, and even more so in the past, contain only one race and one class. There's less scope for elite men to have conflicted interests in the matter. The very intimacy of patriarchal oppression, which could be its horror (being tied permanently to a man who wants to hurt or bully you), could also be a reason for men mitigating such oppression or occasionally even attempting to change it.

  • Medieval women and power

    I'm interrupting a chronological survey of my conference going this year to give you a thematic post: I went to roundtables on medieval women and power at both Kalamazoo and Leeds this year and got involved in subsequent discussions with Another Damned Medievalist about definitions of power. So this starts with some definitions, then talks about useful points I got from both panels and finishes by going back to problems about defining and conceptualising power. The panel at Kalamazoo consisted of Lois Huneycutt, Constance Berman, Kathy Krause, Ellie Woodacre and Marie Kelleher. The panel at Leeds was Theresa Earenfight, Joanna Huntington, Amy Livingstone, Therese Martin and Penelope Nash. (The panel at Leeds had a rather better temporal and geographical spread of research than that at Kalamazoo, which may reflect the availability of participants).

    I think only two of the scholars who spoke at the roundtables attempted to define power. Marie Kelleher said her ad hoc definition of agency and power was that agency was the ability to take action that has the potential to affect one's own destiny, and power was the ability to take action that has the potential to affect the destiny of others. Theresa Earenfight,meanwhile, described power as the application of some force to coerce others to do something. (I hope I wrote down all these quotes accurately).

    As far as more general sociological definitions go, Christine Firer Hinze, in Comprehending power in Christian social ethics summarizes a lot of modelling of socio-political power as models either of 'power over' or 'power to'. She, among a number of others, quotes Max Weber from Economy and Society (I, 1, 16A), who defines "Power (Macht" as "the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance, regardless of the basis on which this probability rests." (Another translation has "even against resistance" rather than "despite resistance", showing that resistance is not a necessary part of the definition). In contrast Weber talks of "Domination (Herrschaft)" as "the probability that a command with a given specific content will be obeyed by a given group of persons."

    Michael Mann, in Sources of Social Power (I, p. 6) defines power "in its most general sense" as "the ability to pursue and attain goals through mastery of one's environment". He then wants to distinguish two forms of "social power" (which he doesn't define): "distributive power" (the zero-sum game of A's power over B, where A's power diminishes as B's power increases) and "collective power" where people cooperate to enhance their joint power over a third party or over nature. He sees four sources of social power (p. 2): ideological, economic, military and political relationships.

    ADM also said that we needed to think more about medieval definitions of power. Since I'm not an expert on medieval political theory, I'll just give a quick couple of comments. Isidore of Seville, in his Etymologiae X, p. 208: "Potens, rebus late patens: unde et potestas, quod pateat illi quaqua uelit, et nemo intercludat, nullus obsistere ualeat." translated by Barney et al as "Powerful (potens),extending patere widely in one's property; hence also "power" (potestas), because it extends for him in whatever direction he chooses, and no one closes him in, none can stand in his way.") To Isidore, therefore, power is essentially about large land-holding. I also talk in general terms about Carolingian ideas of power in Morality and Masculinity in the Carolingan Empire. The most frequent contrast was between between potentes and the pauperes they oppress, where the pauperes are free small landowners, not the dependent poor. But there are occasional references to female potentes in terms of their household control. In other words, power generally is conceived of in terms of extensive landowning (the main source of wealth) and the manipulation of legal systems as well as direct control: there's Weber's Herrschaft, but also less explicit Macht as well.

    As for the panelists, Lois Honeycutt was talking about the early development of the study of women and power, when "no-one was even sure that queenship was a thing". She was arguing for a move beyond exceptionalism (seeing only exceptional women as holding power), and also asking how we might look beyond queenship. This was in terms of non-royal women, alternative routes to power and also looking beyond western Europe. She was saying she'd recently looked at Georgian and Armenian saints, who were seen as lionesses, not viragos.

    Connie Berman was talking about "lady-lords" in thirteenth-century France, saying that a dip in women's presence as lords after Eleanor of Aquitaine was only temporary, and giving as an example Matilda de Courtenay, the Countess of Nevers (d. 1257). She also mentioned in the discussion that abbesses might have more time for administrative duties than abbots, because they had fewer liturgical functions.

    Kathy Krause spoke about the disconnect between the lordship of thirteenth-century women and romances from the same period showing heiresses as being exiled and powerless. But she has found a planctus (lament on death) for a countess of Boulogne probably Matilda II), which does talk about her as a lord, knighting knights and protecting ladies. Kathy was also the first of several panellists to mention Georges Duby, whose views on the disempowerment of medieval women in the high Middle Ages are still frequently referred to, however much they get debunked. (Amy Livingstone talked about playing Whack-a-Mole with his ideas).

    Ellie Woodacre was talking about Theresa Earenfight's ideas of power-sharing between queens and kings and the different possible templates. She was arguing for monarchy working best as a team (there were interesting echoes here of Elizabeth II's reference to the British monarchy as "The Firm") and also looking for continuities between the late medieval and early modern periods. Ellie also pointed out that attempts to exclude women from rule or transmission of inheritance rights (such as the use of Salic law in fifteenth-century France or John Knox's complaints about the "regiment of women") tend to come out of a specific context, rather than be just an generalised expression of misogyny.

    Marie Kelleher, as well as giving the definitions of power and agency I mentioned above, was suggesting we should look beyond political power. She was particularly interested in what legal sources might be able to show us about women exercising both agency and power, pointing out that it enables us to see women at a lower social level. She stressed that women's choices to litigate shows us that in a legal system where women are presumed to lack power, they could nevertheless use the courts to their advantage, e.g. by stressing their need for protection. Marie made the important point that women's power need not offer more or better for women more generally, to which I'll come back later.

    At Leeds, Therese Martin was lamenting the fact that we still have to continue rehearsing the question "Do women have power?",because (some) other medievalists still aren't listening. She was one of several speakers worrying that we were just preaching to the choir and that historians of women were still ghettoised. (In the discussion afterwards, the Royal Studies Network was mentioned as an organisation that was managing to get such research into a wider context). Therese was also talking about her current project reassessing women as "makers" of art, a term which she felt got beyond the question of whether they were the creators or the patrons and reflected the medieval terminology of objects which say "X me fecit" more accurately.

    Amy Livingstone wanted to get beyond the simple statementthat women had power and also the tendency to qualify a particular woman's power by saying she ruled as a wife or with a husband. She also thought there was too much emphasis on titles, since some powerful men didn't have titles.Amy is currently researching Countess Ermengard of Brittany and how she ruled with her father and sons as well as her husband. She was also arguing against the idea of a rupture in women's power in around 1000 and for more continuity between the early medieval and high medieval periods.

    Theresa Earenfight mentioned the "power of the mundane" and the importance of reading sources such as registers (at which point the early medievalists among us mentally swore at our lack of such sources). She was also arguing for looking comparatively beyond England, France and Germany (she's currently working on Catherine of Aragon, who was caught between Spain and England), for thinking beyond kin ties to consider the importance of other relationships, such as friends, and for looking at alternative sites of power (such as material culture and the workplace).

    Penny Nash said she wanted two major changes in studying women and power. One was looking beyond queens and empresses: she's particularly interested in whether there were fewer options for countesses in the more structured world from the later eleventh century on.Was someone like Countess Matilda of Tuscany exceptional? She also wanted us to get beyond biography and lifecycle, since royal men don't get talked about in those terms.

    Finally Joanna Huntington, who works on British royal hagiography brought in gender, saying that "my sources in the twelfth century are all about the men", and arguing that Turgot's life of Queen Margaret of Scotland is showing Margaret as a model for rulers, not just queens, and that much of what we read in the narrative sources is a clerical conversation and "guys writing themselves into the story". Joanna worried about being seen as a traitor to the feminist cause by working on masculinity; afterwards, she confirmed that she and I had both been influenced by the same article: Elizabeth A. Clark, "The Lady Vanishes: Dilemmas of a Feminist Historian after the "Linguistic Turn"", Church History, 67 (1998), 1-31, which worries at the question of how much we can recapture "real women" beneath their symbolic use in narrative sources predominantly written by men.

    I enjoyed the sessions a lot, but I now want to go back to ADM's comments about definitions of power. In terms of the definitions I quoted at the start, what the panellists' research on is largely female Herrschaft in Weber's terms; they almost all work on "lordly women" (queens, countesses, etc) and their focus is mostly on their exercise of political power (and less commonly ideological and military power). There was little discussion of economic power, apart from artistic patronage, mainly, I suspect, because it's only in the late medieval period that you start seeing women (and men) who have substantial economic power without necessarily also possessing direct political power, while the focus of the panels was predominantly on the high Middle Ages.

    What was lurking on the edges was other forms of power and influence, what we might call "non-Herrschaft Macht" in Weber's terms. The best label I can come up with at the moment is "indirect power"; Theresa Earenfight was unhappy with the terms "influence" and I need to read up on the literature conceptualising that. Essentially, it's the ability to get your own way without using command (or without the accepted right to command), and I think medieval women's use of such indirect power is a far more difficult problem, especially,paradoxically, for feminist historians.

    The first problem, obviously, is that of sources. It's normally much harder to see and assess indirectly wielded power than direct power, because it leaves fewer traces in the records. Two years ago, Margaret McCarthy was raising an important point about how we could assess the influence of a (male) royal advisor (Hincmar of Rheims).If a king did something of which Hincmar approved, was that because of Hincmar's influence, because of someone else's influence,or because it was the most sensible course of action anyhow? On most occasions, we'll only know about indirect power when narrative sources mention it, and such sources are particularly problematic for female indirect power,given both their bias and the possibility of references to women's influence being symbolic (see the classic article: Kate Cooper, "Insinuations of Womanly Influence: An Aspect of the Christianization of the Roman Aristocracy", The Journal of Roman Studies, 82 (1992), 150-164).

    One of the most promising sources for such indirect power brings us back to Marie Kelleher's point about the importance of legal sources. These can sometimes make clear the strategies that women use to exercise such indirect power: we can hope to see what women want and the extent to which they get it. I'm still quite pleased with the first article I ever got published: "'Bound from Either Side': The Limits of Power in Carolingian Marriage Disputes, 840-870", Gender & History, 19 (2007), 467-482,which does attempt (in an undertheorised way) to do this with the very limited information we have from Carolingian "court records".

    But I think there's a deeper problem about indirect power than this and that's feminist discomfort about the methods used to obtain such indirect power. And here we touch on the difference between (politically) powerful men with no official position and (politically) powerful women who wield indirect power. Powerful men with no official position tend to be either the éminence grise with exceptional political skills or men with charismatic authority (whether it's Benedict of Aniane or Rasputin).

    In contrast, although there are a very few women who wield charismatic authority at premodern courts and centres of power (a few saints and some exceptional intellectuals), most women who wield indirect power are those with exceptionally intimate ties to rulers or other politically powerful men: wives, mothers, daughters and mistresses (there don't seem to be many sisters, which is odd). And the main methods used by them to exercise such indirect power/influence are wheedling, nagging, the giving and withholding of sexual favours and the bearing of sons.

    In other words, women's gaining indirect power has traditionally involved both female manipulation of men and the reduction of their own selves to desirable and/or fruitful bodies. Substantial indirect political power is available in this way only to a small number of women who have such intimate connections to powerful men (female social climbers almost invariably have to go via the bedchamber, male social climbers have more options), although indirect power over a man and his dependents is potentially available to any woman intimate with him.

    The problem is that gaining such indirect power normally comes at the price of substantial emotional harm both to women themselves and to male/female relationships more generally; indirect female power tends intrinsically towards the deceitful, if not actively toxic. In addition, anti-feminists have often claimed that such methods of power make women more powerful than men or that women don't need formal rights because of their informal power. It's difficult as a historian to talk about such possibilities of informal power without being seen as anti-feminist.

    One additional important point is that in some particularly oppressive patriarchal societies, exceptional women may be able to gain unusually large amounts of indirect power by these indirect methods, more so even than typical queens (who are largely chosen for their dynastic connections). For example, the role of chief wife in a polygamous society or chief mistress in a monogamous one will usually be filled by a woman with particular beauty, exceptional force of character, and who has often been trained in forms of manipulation.

    I think such intimate forms of indirect power don't fit easily into existing frameworks of social power (although I need to read more of both Weber and Michael Mann), but scholars of medieval women and power do need to think more about them. This may be why lifecycle comes in so frequently to our discussions: it allows us to talk about the "power" of women's bodies in more acceptable terms. We may need to go further, setting aside our qualms about such forms of intimate power in order to explore exactly how they were used over the centuries and their successes and failures as compared to more "lordly" forms of power held by medieval women.


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