The purpose of this paper is to explore medieval gender roles through the discourse and conduct of warfare. Some modern historians such as John Keegan have maintained that medieval warfare was a masculine activity that precluded female participation in all but the most exceptional cases. Megan McLaughlin asserted that the change from a domestic to public model of warfare resulted in a disenfranchisement of women after the eleventh century. This paper shows that medieval warfare was not male exclusive, and women's active participation throughout the period was often integral to a combat's outcome. By analyzing both the military activities of female combatants and changes in academic dialogues over war in the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries, an ongoing disparity unfolds between the ideological gendering of warfare and its actual practice.
This disparity informed an accepted norm in which women were seen as inherently weak and unfit for combat, requiring a "masculinization" of women who successfully engaged in battle. This in turn led to the establishment of the virago image of female warriors; paradoxically, women who therefore defied the normative expectation of feminine behavior could be held in high regard for their masculine virtues. At the same time, the contributions of individual women to warfare are often left with minimal mention or treated as anomalous by some later chroniclers.
The paper is divided into seven sections. Part I explores the eleventh century military career of Matilda of Canossa, and subsequent treatment of her activities by apologists and canonical reformers. Part II discusses the means by which women had access to military activity in a changing climate of gendered social roles, through marriage, inheritance, and the influence of the Pax Dei movement. Part III discusses the military activity of women during the Crusades, and the differences in how that activity was noted in Western versus Islamic sources.
Parts IV - VI discuss the thirteenth century academic dialogues over women's participation in combat in the wake of the Crusades, through the work of Giles of Rome and Ptolemy of Lucca. As well, it analyzes the enfolding of knighthood as a construct of feudal vassalage into the noble class, and the changing access to military orders granted to women as armies became professionalized. Part VII looks at the formation of a new kind of war rhetoric and an attempt to resolve the disparity between the theory and practice of warfare in regards to women through the fifteenth century work of Christine de Pizan.
The conclusions of this work are that war may be understood to be a masculine activity, yet is not male exclusive. Writers and war chroniclers were forced to complicate gendered social norms in order to justify or refute women engaging in combat. This only resulted in a continued re-evaluation of the proper ideological place of women in war, and was not necessarily reflective of a change in the actual circumstances or frequency with which women took part.
|School:||The George Washington University|
|School Location:||United States -- District of Columbia|
|Source:||MAI 53/01M(E), Masters Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||Womens studies, Medieval history, Military history, Gender studies|
|Keywords:||Crusades, Medieval women, Women in crusades, Women in war, Matilda of Canossa, Giles of Rome, Ptolemy of Lucca, Christine de Pizan|
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