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An example of why I am writing this paper

4 July, 2011

“Allegations that widows took fraudulent vows in order to remain free to lead a life of sexual abandon leave no doubt that the cloistering of widows represented an integral part of the church’s effort to enforce monogamy. As this program met with success and the conjugal family emerged as the basic unit of society, the function of sheltering unmarried ladies, formerly assumed by extended families, was taken over by the convents. As in other spheres of life, her too the royal family led the way. Louis the Pious not only sent his notorious sisters to nunneries but also installed his widowed mother-in-law as abbess at Chelles.” SF Wemple, Women in Frankish Society, 105

Granted, Wemple is sort of old news these days. But the ghost of this sort of scholarship is alive and well, I think. There’s plenty out there that contradicts this interpretation, which rests in part on a feminist reading of the role of the church in the Early Middle Ages and indeed, on a function of monogamy that may or may not have been entirely true at the time. Most importantly, I think, is a more recent idea that we see in, for example, essays in de Jong’s Topographies of Power, LeJan’s Femmes, pouvoir et societé, and even in Goldberg’s biography of Louis the German and Althoff’s work on the Ottonians. That those all assume a degree of agency that Wemple doesn’t is very important. That only one of them is in English is one of the reasons that I’m writing this stupid paper: despite the fact that more and more Anglophones seem to be reading German these days, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of synthesizing going on, or at least not on a level that is reaching more ‘general’ audiences. We have reached a point, I think, where we are no longer explicitly arguing against older assumptions (and I am not sure that we ever really did, because that would mean — shock! horror! — engaging in women’s or even feminist history, which might undermine our standing as real historians who work with charters and stuff). Rather, we are arguing for a much more interesting and nuanced picture of women’s roles in early medieval society that is still haunted by unresolved scholarly approaches.

Or maybe not. Stay tuned.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. 5 July, 2011 12:40 am

    *tuned*From my own corner of history (historical archaeology in the eastern US), this resonates loudly. More nuanced = can be messier, but way, way more interesting.

  2. 5 July, 2011 8:16 am

    I am really starting to wonder if there is enough of a US market for a textbook on Carolingian women for it to be worth me trying to get a contract to write a replacement for Wemple, for my project after next. Though I may not want to write anything ever again after fighting with the proofs for the current book, which have just arrived…

  3. 5 July, 2011 9:59 am

    I think there is enough of an Anglophone market… Am just looking at (if I can access it, which I should be able to) Kim Lo Prete's Wiley paper on Wemple…

  4. 5 July, 2011 2:59 pm

    I blame the Lombards. I've said it before and I'll say it again. They are the only people who expressly say that a woman cannot act at law but must be under the mundium of a man. That's in the Code of Rothari, but the context of that code is never taken into account – it was issued after a female regency, the second of the preceding half-century (max). Instead the Germanist Rechtsschule reading makes it an illustration of 'Germanic' attitudes to women, which must therefore apply across the post-imperial west. Thus KF Drew introduced 'mundium' into her translation of the Pactus Legis Salicae to make law 101 about buying the mundium of a remarrying widow – it is really, clearly in my view, about buying a family out of the inheritance. The word mundium in fact appears nowhere in the Salic Law. Then there is Dorothy Whitelock's tortuous (mis-)translation of a series of Codes in Aethelberht's code, to make them be about the violation of the household of a woman who is under the mundium of a man of a certain status. The law is clearly simply about the violation of the household of a woman of a certain status. There is, I believe, an article by Carole Hough, on this.Settlement and Social Organisation pp.69-70 has my comments on women as donors in the charters, their rarity and the problems of extrapolating from that to what we might loosely (and lazily) call 'actual rights'.

  5. 5 July, 2011 5:04 pm

    Well, thank you, G! I expect that this may be making its way into a footnote and mention 🙂

  6. 5 July, 2011 5:35 pm

    That, said, I have to admit that a few pages earlier in Sett. & Soc. I do say that PLS clause 100 (not 101) was about mundium, because I had at that stage been to lazy to check KFD's translation against the Latin (you don't, when you're young, expect learned professors to go inserting terms into their translations…). The error is corrected in my 'Female Status and Power' article from '96. There may be a number of bits and pieces of interest to you/your paper in my last book (Cemeteries and Society). Get in touch by e-mail and I'll send you .pdfs – otherwise costs the same as a small car. They might have it in the BL though…

  7. 6 July, 2011 12:20 pm

    Will check BL, then will email if not there. Thanks, and do remember I owe you a pint 🙂

  8. 6 July, 2011 1:29 pm

    If they do, then it's the very last couple of pages of the Intro, the last bit of ch.8 and ch.9 that may be of most relevance/interest. Bits of cc10-11 might of use too.

  9. 6 July, 2011 3:17 pm

    Thanks — they do. Can't access the EME article at the moment, though. Stupid Wiley won't recognize my institution's proxy server OR my own subscription!

  10. 6 July, 2011 4:15 pm

    The EME article is chapter 8 of the book. I should have made that clear!Today's security word is bilgings – probably a special Blogger comment on my own blog…

  11. 6 July, 2011 4:47 pm

    thanks — and Matt has just sent it me, anyway. Currently reading a much more recent book that is also using the whole mundium thing, as well as some generalizations that are not entirely true, but seem to me to either reflect an unfamiliarity with what women actually were doing, or an assumption that their societies thought they shouldn't be doing it.

  12. 6 July, 2011 7:31 pm

    Good-o, but the map/diagrams are nicer in the reprint… 😉

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