The queen in the Middle Ages. Female power (M. Gaude-Ferragu)

With the exception of a few famous figures such as Isabeau of Bavaria or Anne of Brittany, the queens of the French Late Middle Ages have often remained in the shadow of history. In her latest work published by Éditions Tallandier, Murielle Gaude-Ferragu resuscitates these often forgotten queens such as Jeanne d'Évreux, Jeanne de Bourbon, Charlotte de Savoie and many others. The university historian thus shows that they played an essential role for the Crown of France and therefore questions themselves by their influence and their actions on the reality of their power at the time.

The status of the queen in the late Middle Ages

In the early days of the Capetian dynasty (Xe-XIIe century), the queen of the kingdom of France participates in the government alongside her husband (as consors regni), having the same powers by delegation and consequently playing a major political role as evidenced by the royal charters of the time. With its exclusion from the royal succession thanks to the famous Salic law which emerged during the dynastic crises of the beginning of the 14th century.e century, the queen finds herself excluded from power, participating in government only exceptionally during a supervised regency. She therefore does not reign like an Elizabeth I in England or an Isabella of Castile in Spain. However, she is not only "the wife" of the king and has many roles within the Court, the Crown and the dynasty. It is these different roles and their application with the help of numerous historical anecdotes that the author of this work divided into three main parts intends to show.

As such, the first part explains the meaning of becoming a queen. If marriage gives it its title, the coronation by anointing gives it the fullness of its powers and gives it a spiritual dimension. She thus obtains a double legitimation reinforcing her statute of queen which is thus not limited only to "carrying the blood of France" even if it is there of her first duty, namely to give a male heir to the kingdom. The second and third parts follow, focusing on the real and symbolic powers of the queen. A model of virtue, piety and devotion, she intercedes between the king, lieutenant of God on earth, and his people, like a loving mother who exercises her charity and gives thanks. We are therefore far from the traditional misogynistic image of the time conveyed by the Church and accentuated from the 13th century.e century and the rediscovery of Aristotle associating women with the "weaker sex". But at the same time, the clerics make the queen the mirror of the Virgin Mary, queen of Heaven alongside Christ. She therefore remains associated with the power of her royal husband, playing a political role, notably diplomatic, as a “Lady of Peace” negotiating truces between rulers and princes during the Hundred Years War.

Our opinion

If her book is teeming with historical anecdotes specific to each queen of the period covered, Murielle Gaude-Ferragu does not deliver a simple panorama of individual portraits aimed at restoring a memory to these forgotten queens. On the contrary, getting out of the complexity of defining the status of queen, the author manages to make a clear and precise synthesis of the nature of the latter's power and functions within the Court and the kingdom of France. Better yet, she brilliantly answers the question: what was it to be queen in the late Middle Ages.

Murielle Gaude-Ferragu, The Queen in the Middle Ages. Power in the Feminine, 14th-15th century, Éditions Tallandier, Paris, 2014.

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