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Medieval Queenship

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Within the last ten years, there as been a small but growing body of scholarship devoted to exploring the role of the medieval queen within the court and in the kingdom at large. Historians agree that in the period until about 1050 the queen was often a central figure in royal administration. The very titles of early medieval officers of state – chamberlain, butler, and steward – provide evidence of the close relationship between the state and the royal household. In an age when the public and private realms were nearly synonomous, the queen's household role gave her surprising power in what we now see as governmental affairs. Charlemagne, in his Capitulaire de villis, naturally included the queen among his royal officials when he commanded 'we wish that anything ordered by us or our queen... or the ministers, seneshals or cupbearer... be executed to the final word.' Later, during the reign of Charles the Bald, Hincmar of Reims penned a treatise on the workings of the palace. He writes that the queen should have control of the royal treasury because the king was too busy to be burdened with 'domestic trifles'.

The queen's influence or potential power was not always welcomed, as revealed in Asser's Life of Alfred. During the ninth century, after a bad experience with Eadburgh of Mercia, the rulers and aristocracy of ninth- century Wessex made it illegal to raise a woman to queenly status. Eadburgh, who had plotted against the king and people, earned hatred not only for herself but also transmitted 'the same foul stigma on all queens who came after her'. As a result, writes Asser, 'all the inhabitants of the land swore that they would never permit my king to reign over them who during his lifetime invited the queen to sit beside him on the royal throne.' Going further, these West Saxons did not allow the royal consort to be called 'queen' but only 'king's wife.' In 856, when Charles the Bald agreed to allow his daughter Judith to marry Athelwulf of Wessex, he insisted that she be crowned and wanted some sort of guarantee that her queenly status would be recognised. She was thus anointed and crowned by Hincmar, a ceremony unusual enough to receive mention several times in surviving ninth-century sources. It appears that as the European kings began regrouping after the period of invasions, the queen's status rose alongside the king's.


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