This month’s book of the month is Queenship in Medieval Europe by Theresa Earenfight (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). Although a recent work, this book is already a go-to text for students and scholars alike.
The introduction is especially valuable for scholars of queenship who are seeking a theoretical framework. Earenfight highlights the plural nature of monarchy, and persuasively argues that queens were an integral part of rulership.
The four chronological chapters cover the years 300-1500. The first chapter focuses on 300-700 and details the birth of medieval queenship out of Roman, Germanic, and Christian antecedents. What developed was neither quite Roman or Germanic, but indebted to both. Christianity loomed large, with piety, sometimes even sanctity, being expected of queens. The second chapter, spanning 700-1100, examines the transformation of the king’s wife into a queen, with a special focus on coronation. Chapter three, covering 1100-1350, looks at queenship within the matrix of family power. Queens linked their natal and marital realms, making them vital partners. In addition, the increased bureaucracy of royal government did not mean queens were sidelined in favor of functionaries, but rather could use bureaucrats to help them manage their own lands and wealth. The fourth chapter, from 1350-1500, is about changing queenship during years of crisis (such as the Wars of the Roses in England). Queens played valuable roles in dynastic continuity (or lack thereof), as well as in cultural patronage. The fifth and final chapter sums up medieval queenship and briefly explores the differences in the practices of queenship between the medieval and early modern era.
Throughout the book, Earenfight maintains a broad chronological scope. Byzantine empresses, Scandinavian queens, and rulers from Kievan Rus appear alongside queens from France, England, Castile, and Aragon. The chapters have a well-marked conclusion section, as well as suggestions for further research. This makes the book ideal to use in a course on medieval queenship or to give to students who want to conduct independent research. The bibliography is extensive, and Earenfight has a larger one available online, at Queens in the Middle Ages.