The chivalric woman

Book chapter


Wilkinson, L. 2019. The chivalric woman. in: Crouch, D. and Deploige, J. (ed.) Knighthood and Society in the High Middle Ages Leuven Leuven University Press.
AuthorsWilkinson, L.
EditorsCrouch, D. and Deploige, J.
Abstract

As a code of conduct linked to knightly values, chivalry arguably had little to offer women. Royal and aristocratic women often figured in vernacular literature in which chivalric qualities were championed either as ladies or lovers, for whom knightly men performed various feats of arms. In works addressed to the moral formation of knights, however, certain groups of women were viewed instead as weak and vulnerable objects of masculine pity, deserving of male protection. Yet chivalry as a way of life permeated, shaped and informed female aristocratic culture more fully than it might at first appear. Even if women were, by virtue of their inability to assume knighthood, excluded from the militaristic ethos and martial practices associated with chivalry, there was, for example, a shared expectation of appropriate forms of “noble” conduct and lifestyle for elite men and women among the ruling houses and aristocracies of Western Europe in the Central Middle Ages. Certain forms of behaviour and personal qualities or virtues therefore assumed particular significance for elite women in fiction and reality, especially in connection with the core rituals and responsibilities of aristocratic life, such as exercising hospitality, dispensing patronage, and engaging in pious works. The countesses and other ladies who headed great honours in widowhood, or who aided their husbands during marriage, shared similar values and moral or social obligations to earls, counts and barons. Like their fathers, husbands and sons, they were expected to profess and maintain their personal loyalty to the lords from whom they held their lands. Inheritance customs which allowed women in England to succeed to estates held by military service as heiresses or co-heiresses if there were no male heirs in the same generation, created situations where women performed homage to their lords. In a similar fashion, although notions of honour among elite women were tied more firmly to their sexual reputations than those of men, these ladies, and those who wrote about them, set great store by their lineages and celebrated their own nobility of birth and bloodlines.

This chapter explores the connections between chivalry, female nobility and aristocratic life.

KeywordsWomen; chivalry; medieval; gender; knighthood; heraldry; literature; aristocracy
Year2019
Book titleKnighthood and Society in the High Middle Ages
PublisherLeuven University Press
Output statusPublished
Place of publicationLeuven
SeriesMediaevalia Lovaniensia
ISBN9789462701700
Publication dates
Print26 Nov 2020
Publication process dates
Deposited30 Nov 2018
Accepted03 Sep 2018
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