Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

Previous Articles of the Month

December 2021

Drawing by Tancredi Valeri, Occupant of Bj.581, reconstructed as a female warrior of high status. Clothing details are based on material from the Birka chamber burials and on the contemporaneous graves from Moshchevaya Balka in the North Caucasus (Knauer 2001). (Source: ResearchGate- Viking Warrior Women, CC4.0 License)

Price, Neil, Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, Torun Zachrisson, Anna Kjellström, Jan Storå, Maja Krzewińska, Torsten Günther, Verónica Sobrado, Mattias Jakobsson and Anders Götherström. "Viking Warrior Women? Reassessing Birka Chamber Grave Bj.581." Antiquity 93, 367 (2019): 181-198. Available open access.

Abstract: "The warrior woman has long been part of the Viking image, with a pedigree that extends from the Valkyries of Old Norse prose and poetry to modern media entertainment. Until recently, however, actual Viking Age evidence for such individuals has been sparse. This article addresses research showing that the individual buried at Birka in an ‘archetypal’ high-status warrior grave—always assumed to be male since its excavation in 1878—is, in fact, biologically female. Publication, in 2017, of the genomic data led to unprecedented public debate about this individual. Here, the authors address in detail the interpretation of the burial, discussing source-critical issues and parallels. " - [Reproduced from the journal page on the Cambridge Core website.]

November 2021

"Cockerel mounting a hen
Cockerel mounting a hen (MOLAA, BWB83 [136] <14>) C. 1350-1400, English. Image © Museum of London. Reproduced here with permission from the Museum.

Hinds, Sarah. "Late Medieval Sexual Badges as Sexual Signifiers: A Material Culture Reappraisal." Medieval Feminist Forum 55, 2 (2020): 170-191. Available with a subscription on the Medieval Feminist Forum website: https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/mff/vol55/iss2/8/

Abstract: "This article offers a new interpretation of late medieval “profane” badges as objects which signified sexual activity within an urban masculine youth culture. Much scholarship on badges with sexual or genital content has typically examined these objects through an iconographical lens and has characterised their function as apotropaic. This study instead focuses on the material properties and archaeological contexts of one form of badge, a cockerel mounting a hen. It explores the materiality, motif, and depositional contexts of these badges through the framework of the life-course and posits that these were objects owned and used by young males to signify their engagement in pre-marital sexual activity. The case is made that cock and hen badges functioned as markers of status and belonging amongst young men in late medieval London who were biologically adults, but socially children. These badges allowed their owners to demonstrate a form of masculinity to their peers at a time in their lives when other forms were denied to them structurally." - [Abstract written by the author.]

October 2021

Rape of Dinah
Rape of Dinah, England, 3rd quarter of the 14th century, British Library, Egerton 1894, f. 17 (Source: British Library, public domain)

Harris, Carissa M. "Teen Moms: Violence, Consent, and Embodied Subjectivity in Middle English Pregnancy Laments." Review of English Studies 71, 298 (2020): 1-18.

Abstract: "This article examines power and coercion in five Middle English and Middle Scots lyrics voiced by pregnant, abandoned singlewomen. It focuses on the language of consent and embodiment in these pregnancy laments, arguing that they both protest and normalize masculine violence in heterosexual erotic relations, highlight the various factors that undermine young singlewomen’s consent, articulate acute dissatisfaction with gendered power inequalities, and demonstrate the devastating consequences of sexual ignorance. It explores the different ways that we can read these lyrics when considering issues of voice, audience, performance, and manuscript context. The essay closes by linking the popularity of medieval unplanned pregnancy narratives to modern-day reality television programming, arguing that the trans-historical popularity of these stories merits further exploration." - [Reproduced from the journal page on the Oxford Academic website.]

September 2021

Bernardo Daddi, Triptych of the Madonna and Child
Bernardo Daddi, Triptych of the Madonna and Child, ca 1333, Italian, Loggia del Bigallo, Florence. Intended for personal devotion. (Source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Lawless, Catherine. "'Make Your House like a Temple': Gender, Space and Domestic Devotion in Medieval Florence." Religions 11, 3 (2020): 152-172. Available open access.

Abstract: "This article will discuss domestic devotions by framing them in terms of devotions carried out in the home, defined by its opposition to ecclesiastical, consecrated space. It will examine how women, considered the laity par excellence through their inability to ever attain sacerdotal authority, were advised spiritually by mendicant friars on how to lead a Christian life according to their status as wives, widows or virgins. It will look at the devotional literature that was widespread in mercantile homes and the devotional images designed to move the soul. This discussion will attempt to show the tensions between ecclesiastical and domestic spaces; between the clergy and the laity, and between the corporeal and spiritual worlds of late medieval devotion. It will argue that, despite clerical unease with the female and domestic space, the importance accorded to female piety by the mendicant orders at the close of the Middle Ages was such that women were entrusted with key educational roles in the family, even leading to the astonishing affirmation of them as ‘preachers’ within the borders of their households." - [Reproduced from the journal page on the MDPI website.]

May 2021 [Posted August 2021]

Gautier de Coinci prays to the Virgin
Gautier de Coinci prays to the Virgin, Miracles de Nostre Dame, third quarter of the 13th c., French, Besançon, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 551, fol. 1 (Source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Waters, Claire M. "Maria Mirabilis: Beholding Mary in the Miracles.” Journal of Religious History 44, 4 (2020): 407-421.

"In medieval miracles of the Virgin Mary that feature images, gazing at Mary and being seen by her can shape or change the identity of the miracle's protagonist. Such miracles often feature figures who have the potential to be adult male Christians but do not yet hold that status; they are transformed by their encounters with the malleable materiality of Marian images. Narratives of a Muslim devoted to a Marian statue and an English child who has to have an image of the Crucifixion explained to him show how questioning the nature of such images, and their material implications, could lead to belief. The widely popular story of “The Jewish Boy” extends the power of the image to suggest that merely looking upon it without understanding is sufficient to create a circuit of likeness and recognition that ultimately leads to conversion. In such miracles, an ostensibly surface-oriented or simplistic mode of religious devotion engages with gendered bodies in powerfully transformative ways that touch on complex theological issues. " - [Reproduced from the journal page on the Wiley Online website.]

April 2021 [Posted July 2021]

Bridegroom and bride, initial O from the Song of Songs
Bridegroom and bride, initial O from the Song of Songs, ca 1160-75, English, Winchester Bible, Winchester Cathedral Library, Ms. 17, fol. 270v (Source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Wade, Erik. "The Birds and the Bedes: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Bede's In Cantica Canticorum." postmedieval 11, 4 (2020): 425-433. Open access.

"This article argues that Bede – like modern intersectional analysis – believed that identity categories cannot be disentangled or understood in isolation. In Bede’s commentary on the Song of Songs, skin color, gender, and religious identity intermix with metaphors of sexuality. These categories coalesce in a monumental lesson on how to read. Bede claims that reading the Song literally – perceiving Black skin, eroticism, gender confusion – means reading like a Jew and prevents readers from seeing the feminine, metaphorical level below the masculine, carnal level. This article suggests that intersectional analysis is akin to much medieval thought rather than being an anachronistic imposition on a historical text. Intersectional analysis can lay bare how medieval theologians saw identity categories as interwoven and interdependent, even while the theologians themselves entrenched hierarchies of race, gender, sexuality, and religious difference. For Bede, Christian interpretation is a continual process of moving from a literal outside (Black, masculine, carnal, sexual) to a metaphorical inside (beautiful, feminine, allegorical, chaste, reproductive). Once inside, however, we – like the bird passing through the hall – must return once again to the outside in an endless movement between layers that echoes theological processes of rumination and blurs the divide between the contemplative and the active life." - [Reproduced from the journal page on the Springer Link website.]

March 2021 [Posted June 2021]

Master of Anthony of Burgundy, Scene of a bath house
Master of Anthony of Burgundy, Scene of a bath house, ca 1470, Berlin Staatsbibliothek, Ms. Dep. Breslau 2, vol. 2, fol. 244 (Source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Hutchison, Emily J. "Sex, Knowledge and 'Women of Sin' in the Registre Criminel du Châtelet de Paris (1389–92)." Gender & History 32, 1 (2020): 131-148.

"Using the Registre criminel du Châtelet de Paris (1389–1392), this article examines the interaction of different knowledges circulating about filles de pechié (women of sin) in late‐medieval Paris: those of the court, the local community and within tightknit female groups. The assumptions the tribunal produced of sexually active women often relied on and mirrored the ideas their male peers held of them as public objects rather than full persons. Consequently, women of sin were at higher risk of sexual assault and murder, or torture and execution in the courts. However, the trials also indicate that a woman's local reputation did not necessarily suffer if she was sexually active, and that strong female circles produced their own knowledges about love, sex and desire. Women relied on these supports. While the objectification of sexually active women often violently affected their experiences in both the streets and the courts, the Registre criminel enables scholars to look beyond the tribunal's simplistic attempts to dichotomise female bodies into honest/dishonest. This article builds on current research on medieval sex and gender that illustrate the complex ways in which people were thinking about sexuality and producing fama at street level." - [Reproduced from the journal page on the publisher's website.]

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