Since before the Middle Ages, women have typically been barred from traditional positions of power, such as monarch, territorial ruler, business owner and heads of family clans. The entire female sex was considered weaker and inferior beings that required control due to their hysterical and illogical nature; this was a theory developed by men, condoned by men and reinforced by men. It is an attitude that has been commonplace for centuries and in regards to the evaluations of the actions and efforts of any female in a position of power, this obvious bias must be kept in mind when  considering the merits of any historical source. Due to this attitude in regards to monarchy, rulership and potential female successors, many territories had succession laws which either favoured men at all times over any female claimant and others which revoked their rights and the ability to pass them on to their own offspring entirely. There were, however, a number of women who did come into positions of power, more commonly as the consort to a male ruler, but on less frequent occasions, women have become the ruler in their own right or as the regent for their husband, son or brother.

This dissertation will focus on two queens in particular; Blanche of Castile who was the regent for her son, Louis IX of France, after the death of her husband, Louis VIII; and Margaret of Anjou who was the regent for her son, Edward of Westminster, during incapacitation of her husband, Henry VI of England. Despite the similarities between these two queens, Blanche has emerged from contemporary and historical evaluation with a positive reputation as a most virtuous example of a queen consort whereas Margaret has developed a negative reputation being slandered as an ambitious, power hungry she-wolf. The main question this dissertation will investigate is whether the contemporary reputations and historical representations of Blanche of Castile and Margaret of Anjou are a justifiable and accurate account of their lives and actions. This question centres on the widely accepted attitude towards females in positions of power and what are the contemporary contexts in which such assessments are being made in regards to Blanche and Margaret’s contemporary sources; have the same contexts continued its potential presence in subsequent historical publications; and have the more recent changes in attitude towards women in power been reflected in the latest scholarly literature?

There has been much scholarly research within the decade which covers queens and queenship by Jennifer Carpenter, Marjorie Chibnall, Anne Duggan, Mary Erler, Mark Ormond, David Herlihy and Natalie Tomas. Some analyse the medieval attitude towards women in general where men and women were ‘contrasted and asymmetrically valued as intellect/body, active/passive, rational/irrational, reason/emotion, self-control/lust, judgement/mercy and order/disorder’[1]; others forthrightly ask ‘how far are we dealing with accounts of female power specifically constructed to channel
and confine the feminine according to male centred ideas of what is right and proper conduct for a woman?’.[2] Some focus on individual queens and princesses, but do stipulate that ‘there was almost no place for reigning queens in twelfth century Western society’.[3] The queens of that age were the wives of kings or kings’ daughters transmitting an inheritance’[4]; whereas others analyse the differences between a queen consort and a queen regnant.

However none of them specifically examine consorts who take on the position of regent for their husband, son or brother. Nor do they analyse the duality of the masculine/feminine gender roles within the position of regent these queens faced whilst inhabiting a traditionally masculine role. I believe this is a worthwhile topic in order to have a better understanding of the difficulty they faced as a woman taking on a position traditionally held only by men. There have been no comparisons of the lives of Blanche of Castile and Margaret of Anjou. The lives of these two queens are quite similar; they were both married as a result of peace treaties between France and England, they both bore children, they both used the marriages of their children for political purposes, they both were fiercely protective of their son’s inheritances and both were regents of their respective countries. Yet despite these similarities, it is interesting to note how they have emerged from history with vastly different reputations. Nor has there been any analysis of the influence of changing attitudes towards women in positions of power on historical publications since the nineteenth century. Neither have there been an analysis specifically on the influence of medieval attitudes towards female rulers in contemporary sources; namely chronicles of England and France that were written by male clerics.

There are a number of specific terms which have a particular meaning when used in regards to the topic of queenship; words such as agency, reputation, representation and even queen itself have a different context within this dissertation. To ensure that the terms are taken in the context in which they were written, a glossary has been included towards the end of this dissertation.

In terms of sources, a number of primary texts have survived from their contemporary time period from both France and England which specifically mention and/or cover the events surrounding both Blanche and Margaret. Chronicles of England by Capgrave, Doyle, Froissart, Paris, Wendover; Chronicles of France by Joinville; and a number of official letters written between Blanche of Castile,
Henry III of England, Pope Honorius III, Thibaut of Champagne, Pope Gregory IX, Louis IX of France, Raymond VII of Toulouse, Pope Innocent IV, Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI of England, Henry V of England, the Duke of Bedford, Cardinal Beaufort, Earl of Northumberland, Archbishop of Canterbury.

There are some strengths and weaknesses in regards to these sources. Whilst there was a contemporary attitude towards women in positions of power that had a bias against the concept, these sources clearly demonstrate it in general and also specific attacks against Blanche and Margaret. Some of the letters that are available are from Blanche and Margaret themselves; however these letters are
of an official capacity and therefore do not reveal any personal insight of contemporary events and individuals. Another weakness in general is there are still a number of sources that have not been translated into English and nor have they been made available on the internet. This dissertation will analyse both contemporary and historical sources for any potential bias against women in positions of power in general by looking at how the source was written, who it was written by and why it was written. For example, if a ‘chronicle’ was commissioned by a territorial ruler who is later mentioned in that particular document, any praise lavished upon them would be called into question; conversely any criticism of other would be equally as doubtful.

This dissertation will be split into three chapters. The first will establish what the traditional actions and expectations were of queens as the wife of a ruler, as the mother of the next royal generation and as a consort of the realm. The second chapter will deal directly with Blanche de Anscarids, the queen regent of France and why she is a prime example of a queen with a ‘positive’ reputation. The chapter will explain how Blanche came to be in France, the daughter of a Castilian king, married to a French prince due to an English peace treaty. How did Blanche come into the position of regent; did she conspire for the position, was she handed the position and what did she do whilst in the position. I shall also establish Blanche’s contemporary reputation and her historical representation; whether there was any difference between these two concepts and how Blanche’s historical representation has evolved with the changing societal attitude towards women in positions of power.

The third chapter will focus specifically on Margaret of Anjou and why is a prime example of a queen with a ‘negative’ reputation. The chapter will explore how Margaret came to be in England, the daughter of the duke of Anjou, married to the English king due to a French peace treaty. How did Margaret come into the position of regent; was she given the position or did she demand it, did she
‘interfere’ in state politics or was her opinion sought after. I shall also establish Margaret’s contemporary reputation and her historical representation; whether there was any difference between these two concepts and how Margaret’s historical representation has evolved with the changing societal attitude towards women in positions of power. The conclusion will compare and contrast both Blanche and Margaret exploring potential similarities in their upbringing, education and subsequent actions as regent of France and England respectively and will determine whether the current established historical representation of both queens is a justified one.

[1] Murray, Jacqueline. “Thinking about Gender: The Diversity of Medieval Perspectives.” In Power of the Weak, by Jennifer Carpenter, 1-27. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1995, p2

[2] Duggan, Anne. Queens and Queenship in Medieval Europe. London: Boydell Press, 1995, p XV

[3] Chibnall, Marjorie. The Empress Matilda – Queen Consort, Queen Mother and Lady of the English. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991, p1

[4] Chibnall, Marjorie. The Empress Matilda – Queen Consort, Queen Mother and Lady of the English. Ibid., p1