Forms and formalities of thirteenth-century queenship
: a comparative study

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis examines how female royal power was formally and publicly expressed in thirteenth-century western Europe. It does so through a comparative analysis of the surviving royal letters issued by a selection of queens: Berenguela of Castile (c.1180-1246), Blanche of Castile (1188-1252), Violant of Hungary (c.1215-1251), Marguerite of Provence (1221-1295), and Eleanor of Provence (1223-1291). This corpus of letters is considered alongside those sent by a selection of these women’s contemporaries – both female and male, and both royal and aristocratic – many of whom they corresponded with throughout, or at various stages of, their lives. Written in Latin, medieval French, Castilian, Aragonese, and Catalan, these letters range from the juridical (letters patent in England and France; privilegios rodados – the most solemn documents issued by the royal chancery – in Castile) to the diplomatic (correspondence between high status individuals).
Taking methodological cues from the ‘auxiliary science’ of diplomatics, and applying it – with its attention to the formal internal structures of documents – to royal letters and documents, this thesis unveils a new political language. Central to the articulation of this political language are the ars dictaminis – revealed as both highly flexible and highly prescriptive depending on the formality of context – and ‘family’, which this thesis shows were used as fundamental modes of communication by all political actors, regardless of sex. Thus, this political language is shown to be characterised by a discourse shared between women and men – though it still made use of a gendered register – and an operation of language and rhetoric not previously critically analysed or delineated in scholarly literature.
This thesis shows that letter writing was an important and extensively used part of diplomacy, and that women, and female voices, were accepted as key political players within this diplomacy. In doing so, it also identifies the letter as a key source for revealing public political language. The inherent flexibility and ambiguity of the ars dictaminis meant that senders could, and did, use and manipulate dictaminal theory, allowing senders to convey pointed messages while retaining surface niceties, or to deviate without causing offence. But equally, its flexibility did allow for offense to be caused deliberately, particularly in terms of claims about the relative status of elite actors contained within letters. In this way, letters were not just a form of political communication or a forum of political rhetoric, they helped to constitute the political arena. As such, this thesis not only examines the practice of queenship but also its formal expression as a political language operating on the same stage as its male counterpart, thus offering a new perspective on medieval queenship.
Date of Award1 Apr 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorAlice Taylor (Supervisor)

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