Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Aelfgyva and a Cleric
  • Creator:
  • Description: A woman stands within a structure flanked by columns with lions head capitals. A cleric sticks his hand into the space to fondle her face, a gesture charged with erotic overtones. His gesture is echoed by a nude figure in the lower border. Scholars argue about Aelfgyva's identity. Some suggest that she was a concubine to King Cnut, who bore two illegitimate children--Swen, fathered by a priest, and Harold Harefoot, fathered by a laborer--whom she passed off as the king's sons. But the figure could also refer to Aelfgyva Emma, Cnut's second wife. Her son, Edward the Confessor, accused her of having an illicit relationship with the Bishop of Winchester. In either case the scene was intended to cast doubt on the woman's chastity and honor. In a scene to the left (not pictured), William, Duke of Normandy and Harold II converse in the ducal palace and Harold points to the scene of Aelfgyva as if he is talking about her deception at that very moment. A nude laborer in the lower border of this scene is a further link to the story of Aelfgyva and the cleric.
  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Aelfgifu, Concubine of Cnut, King of England and Denmark Aelfgyva (Figure in the Bayeux Tapestry) Clergy Domination Gesture Illegitimacy Nude Sexuality
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 11
  • Date: 1070s
  • Related Work: The Bayeux Tapestry
  • Current Location: Bayeux, Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux
  • Original Location:
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Textiles
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Linen; Wool; Tapestries
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): //
  • Inscription: UBI UNUS CLERICUS ET AELFGYVA [Here a cleric and Aelfgyva…]
  • Related Resources: Karkov, Catherine E. "Gendering the Battle? Male and Female in the Bayeux Tapestry." King Harold II and the Bayeux Tapestry. Edited by Gale R. Owen-Crocker. Boydell Press, 2005. Pages 139-147;
    McNulty, J. Bard. "The Lady Aelfgyva in the Bayeux Tapestry," Speculum 55, 4 (1980): 659-68;
    Stephenson, Patricia. "Where a Cleric and Ælfgyva..." The Bayeux Tapestry: New Approaches: Proceedings of a Conference at the British Museum. Edited by Michael J. Lewis, Gale R. Owen-Crocker, and Dan Terkla. Oxbow Books, 2011. Pages 71-74;