Sunday, July 29, 2007

Women and Domesday

The Domesday Book was compiled by William the Conqueror in 1086. It was a means of ascertaining just how much this new Kingdom could bring him (in monetary value). As such, he set about taking a survey of all landholdings in Britain - the result was the Domesday Book.

“Due to the Norman tendency towards male-domination, women could for example not hold land any more.” Indeed, many an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman was forced from her estates, which were invariably given out as rewards (sometimes, with the former landholder herself) to the followers of William I. It would not be the first nor the last time women were parcelled out as "spoils of war".

And so at the time of the Domesday Book, “ …..many of their[Anglo-Saxon Nobles] widows and daughters fled to nunneries in order to avoid being forced into marriage with William's soldiers.” (Elisabeth van Houts - The Trauma of 1066: The Norman Conquest of Anglo-Saxon England).

However, below I will list a number of women who were mentioned in the Domesday Book.

* Christiana - daughter of Edward the Exile and Princess of the West Saxon House. She was a Nun at Romsey, and at the time of Domesday, she had holdings in Oxfordshire and Warwickshire.

* Countess Godiva - wife of Leofric of Mercia (d.1057). At the time of the Invasion, Godiva held land in Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, and Warwickshire. However, as she died prior to Domesday (c.1085), these lands were not re-granted to her.

* Countess Judith of Lens - wife of Waltheof of Huntingdon and Northumbria, and niece of William I. Judith was a major land-holder before and after the Invasion. She had holdings in 10 counties in Midlands and East Anglia. She is infamous for betraying her husband to William (1075) in the rebellion of the northern Earls.

* Queen Edith - wife of King Edward the Confessor. She was a major land-holder prior to the Invasion. However, there is some doubt as to whether she maintained these lands under William I or whether, which is most likely, that she entered a convent. “ …for the queen lost three of her brothers in the battle of Hastings and then had to watch her mother, Gytha, sisters and niece flee to Flanders to escape the wrath of the Normans.” (Elizabeth van Houts - The Trauma of 1066: The Norman Conquest of Anglo-Saxon England).

* Edith Swan-neck - mistress / wife of Harold I. Edith was also a major land-holder prior to the Invasion, but lost her lands to Alan the Red, Earl of Richmond.

* Gytha - wife of Godwin and mother of Harold. She too was a major land-holder prior to the Invasion. “King Harold's mother, Gytha had earlier held out against the Norman invaders when, during William's return to Normandy in 1067, she fortified and held Exeter in Devon, the fourth largest city in the land. When William returned, he faced many revolts led by local English leaders, but it was to Exeter that he first turned. The mid winter siege lasted 18 days and a large part of the Norman army perished in the process. The city finally capitulated when the expected support from local thegns did not eventuate. Whether King Harold's sons by Edith, Godwin, Edmund and Magnus, were present is not recorded. Gytha fled before the surrender and sailed with Harold's daughter Gytha and his sister, Gunnhild [who at the time of the conquest resided at the nunnery of Wilton] to the island of Flatholme in the Bristol Channel.” From there they sought refuge at the court of Baldwin VI of Flanders. (Geoff Boxwell - Fate of King Harold’s Family)

Associate Professor Lisa Weston (of California State University) had this to say about the role of women in Anglo-Saxon and Medieval times:

"Barking [Abbey] is a women's house started under an abbess in the Anglo-Saxon period (666 A.D.) that survived after the Norman conquest and remained a very powerful and influential women's house until Henry VIII's reign. At the time of the conquest, it had a really canny abbess, Ælfgifa, who was really good at working power relationships ... She managed to hold on to a lot of her land by making a deal with William the Conqueror, who built the Tower of London on land owned by Barking Abbey."

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Senatrix and Papal Power-broker (d.986)

Mazoria was a member of the influential Theophylact family of Rome, Italy. Her father was a Roman Senator, her mother Theodora, papal mistress. She had a half-sister, another Theodora. Mazoria was the product of her time. She was thrice married and had numerous affairs. When Mazoria was aged 15, she was seduced by Pope Sergius III and bore him a son. Aged 22, and with her son now aged 6, Mazoria married Alberic of Tuscany (914) and bore him a son Alberic Junior.

Her husband attempted to seize control of Rome, but failed and was killed by her mother's lover - Pope John X. After the death of her mother, Mazoria was responsible for having the Pope imprisoned (928) and suffocated. Her 20 year old eldest son succeeded as Pope John XI. Mazoria married a second time to Guy of Provence. When he died, she married his half-brother King Hugo of Provence (932). In the meantime Mazoria's second son 18yo Alberic Junior took over Rome. Mazoria was then abandoned by her husband who fled. Her eldest son Pope John XI was put under house arrest (he died four years later).

Mazoria was imprisoned by her son Alberic Junior in Castel Sant'Angelo for over 50 years. She was aged 60 when 40yo Alberic Junior died and her grandson Octavian succeeded as Pope John XII (955). He decided to put her out of her misery. Mazoria was exorcised, her excommunication was lifted and she was then executed (986).

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 1998 Women of History)


Queen of the Ostrogoths (526-534)

Amalasuntha was the daughter of Theodoric the Great, King of Ostrogoths, on whose death (526) she became regent for her 10yo son Athalaric. She was said to be handsome, intelligent, educated, cultured, strong-willed. On assuming the regency, she encountered opposition from nobles, whom she forced to swear allegiance to her son. Amalasuntha attempted to curb corruption within the Ostrogoth Empire, and she put an end to the incursions of the northern Barbarians.

On a more personal level, Amalasuntha showed little interest in her 13yo son (529), whom she handed over to his tutors to be raised and educated. When her son was grown he lost power (533) and sought asylum at Constantinople. Soon after there followed the swift murders of three of her chief enemies. Whilst in Constantinople Amalasuntha secretly began negotiations with Emperor Justinian to turn the Ostrogoth Kingdom over to him.

Following the death of her son (534) Amalasuntha proposed her cousin Theodahad to share throne with her. He, however, had other ideas and had her banished. Amalasuntha was then taken from Ravenna by her cousin the Emperor (535) to small island on Lake Bolsena. Soon after her arrival there, she was strangled in her bath. Emperor Justinian invaded the Ostrogoth Kingdom.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 1998 Women of History)

Alice of Jerusalem

Princess of Antioch

Alice was the second daughter of King Baldwin II of Jerusalem (d.1131) and Queen Morphia (dp.1129), thus half Armenian through mother. She was the sister of Melisende, Hodierna and Joveta. She married Bohemond of Antioch (1126). After the death of her husband (1130), she assumed the regency of Antioch for her 2yo daughter Constance.

Alice was very ambitious, and wished to rule as reigning sovereign not regent. To achieve this end, she would do homage to Aleppo if it guaranteed possession of Antioch.

Her father King Baldwin II, however, removed her from the regency and banished her to Lattakieh, assuming the regency himself. Guardianship of her daughter was given to Joscelin of Edessa. Alice ultimately submitted to her father in rather bad grace shortly before his death (1131). Above all, she opposed the overlordship of King Fulk (her sister Melisende's husband) - and in this she had support of Pons of Tripoli, Joscelin II of Edessa, and William and Garenton of Zerdana. King Fulk headed north whilst she remained at Lattakieh - her dower lands. She then sent an embassy to Constantinople, offering her daughter Constance in marriage to the son of Emperor (1135).

The following year Alice returned to Antioch (1136). However, greater matters were afoot. It seemed that there were many noble lords who preferred not to have Alice as regent and were eager for her daughter Constance to be married and for her husband to assume power in Antioch. To achieve this end, secret plans were made for her daughter's marriage - plans Alice herself was ignorant of. The chosen groom was Raymond of Poitiers, uncle of Eleanor of Aquitaine. In order for the secret plan to be successful, Raymond paid court to Alice feigning interest in marriaging her (c.1136) - she was barely 30. Then, suddenly and secretly Raymond married the very young Constance and assumed power in Antioch.

There was nothing Alice could do, and she was forced to return to Lattakieh, where she died a short time after.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 1998 Women of History)

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Medieval Laws

I have created a rather lengthy article entitled "Medieval Laws Pertaining to Women".

However, due to its length, I have posted it on my website "Women of History". It incorporates the "Anglo-Saxon Dooms" which I have already posted here, as well as Norman and Brehons Laws.

You can find both the articles and biographies on this Blog also on my website.

Enjoy your reading.