The Queens Who Love Their Brothers: Cersei and Isabeau of Bavaria

cersei-jaime-louis-isabeau

Queen Cersei’s incestuous lover, Jaime Lannister, without his hand. On the top right, Queen Isabeau’s alleged “incestuous” lover,  her brother-in-law Louis of Orleans, with his hand chopped off. © HBO.

An unfaithful power-hungry silver-tongued queen, who sleeps with her brother, bears an illegitimate heir to the throne, and acts as regent – who could this be other than Cersei Lannister? Surprisingly, it could also be Queen Isabeau of France (that is, the traditional interpretation of her). Born Elizabeth of Bavaria-Ingolstadt (c.1370), Isabeau (as the French called her) was the queen of France during the Armagnac-Burgundian phase of Hundred Years War. Isabeau is also famous for being the mother of two English queens: Richard II’s child bride, Isabella, and Henry V’s wife, Catherine of Valois.

Isabela_richard2

Although Richard II never showed inappropriate interest in his child bride, there is something disturbing about this depiction of him, on his wedding day, waiting to be kissed by Isabeau of Bavaria’s nine-year old daughter, Isabella of Valois.

There appear to be five possible historical influences on the Game of Thrones’ character Cersei Lannister: Margaret of Anjou, Elizabeth Woodville, Isabeau of Bavaria, Anne Boleyn, and at least one more I’ll save for later. This article looks at the historical parallels between a darkly interpreted Isabeau and Cersei ((Admittedly, the parallels between Isabeau and Cersei are more obvious when you look at the traditional depiction of Isabeau. Until scholars recently reassessed her life, historians have traditionally interpreted Isabeau’s behavior through darkest possible lens. The goal of this article is not so much to set the record straight – which is a good deal more complex — as to show the similarities between one perspective on a notorious French queen and Cersei Lannister. )) .

Since George RR Martin created Cersei in the early 1990s, perhaps Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror fired up his imagination. Tuchman’s tale of the Crisis of the Late Middle Ages is certainly a book Martin recommends on his website. A Distant Mirror presents a juicy and somewhat harsh portrait of Isabeau of Bavaria. Since then, historians like Tracy Adams, who wrote The Life and Afterlife of Isabeau of Bavaria in 2010, have disputed such traditional interpretations.

Sold into a Marriage to Cement an Alliance

cersei-robert-braids

The marriage between the handsome young warrior queen and the beautiful high lord’s daughter failed to live up to the high hopes people might have expected from their golden images. Here the happy couple sit years later. © HBO.

Both Cersei and Isabeau were sold into diplomatic marriages that hardened military unions. For Tywin’s support during Robert’s Rebellion, Robert Baratheon had to marry Cersei. Likewise, Isabeau became queen because the French Valois king, Charles VI, wanted her father’s support against the English during the Hundred Years War.

Isabeau was born Elisabeth von Wittelsbach in roughly 1370 – the daughter of Stephen III, Duke of Bavaria. She came from the lesser branch of the powerful German dynasty, the House of Wittelsbach, who had ties to the Holy Roman Emperor – and this potential level of military support made Isabeau a highly desirable prize.

Bavaria_in_1392

Bavaria after its 1392 division. Isabeau’s father’s territory is shown in mauve: Bayern-Ingolstadt. Bayern means Bavaria. The map in the lower right corner shows what I believe, based on Google Translate, is the Holy Roman Empire around 1400.

When the English marched on Flanders in 1383, Charles VI called upon help to other European rulers. Isabeau’s uncle Frederick responded, a strong alliance formed, and the Valois princes asked if they had a daughter they would like to marry to France to secure the alliance. Frederick did not have one, but suggested Isabeau whom he claimed was quite fetching1 .

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Jean-Froissart

Jean Froissart

Isabeau’s father Stephen III appears to have been fond of her — and, unlike Tywin — Stephen prioritized Isabeau’s feelings over dynastic ambition. He initially refused to send her to France not only because of the distance but also because he didn’t want to see her humiliated.

The French Hundred Years’ War chronicler Jean Froissart imagines Stephen saying, “It [the French kingdom] is very far from here, and the business of choosing a queen… very serious. I would be furious if my daughter were sent to France, only to have her returned to me; she is so dear to me that I will marry her here, close to me, in my own time2 .” How refreshing. 

Stephen agreed to send Isabeau to France to meet the king provided it was under a cover story of a pilgrimage to St. Jean of Amiens. Stephen also dictated his daughter would not be paraded about naked for inspection by elderly women as was the French custom.

Charles fell in love at first sight and the pair married three days later.

The Groom Doesn’t Live Up to His Romantic Potential

Isabeau-of-bavaria-enters-paris

Parades and pageantry celebrated Isabeau’s entry into Paris, presumably after her coronation.

The world should have been Isabeau’s oyster when she wed. She dodged the humiliating nude inspection, the French king fell madly in love with her, and the young princess was now queen of France.

Like Cersei had at first idolized Robert Baratheon, initially Isabeau might have seen Charles VI as a bit of a martial god. Charles was tall, supposedly golden haired, athletic, honest, mannerly, and passionate – he was known to ride nine courses in the jousting tournaments. But, unlike Robert Baratheon, Charles could also be careless, unsteady, recklessly generous, fanciful, and highly suggestible.

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Charles VI was 12-years old when he became king, as shown here at his coronation.

When Charles was thirteen, his hunting party captured a deer wearing a golden collar inscribed with ancient looking characters: “Caesar hoc mihi donavit.” Somebody told Charles that the deer must have lived in the forest since Roman times – a story that so enchanted him he commanded a deer with a crown around its neck be engraved on all the royal plate3 .

charles-vi-crazy-deer

Is it just me or does even this deer look a little a crazy? Why is its tongue hanging out?

Charles was known to fall in and out of love quickly. Happily, however, he was besotted with Isabel upon whom he showered in gifts. He arranged to hold the most extravagant wedding France had seen to date to honor her.

Their wedding night may have been heaven or hell for Isabeau; Charles was known to have an insatiable sexual appetite.

Still, contemporaries thought they made a lusty pair. Regarding their wedding night, Froissart wrote, “And, if they passed that night together in great delight, one can well believe it.” What a propitious beginning for a marriage that would go so badly.

isabeau-bavaria-hunting

Charles and Isabeau hunting. Isabeau and her ladies appear on the bottom on palfreys. From: Chroniques de Enguerrand de Monstrelet.

Like Cersei, Isabeau quickly came to loathe her husband – even though, in Isabeau’s case, he remained besotted. Later on, after Charles became insane, Isabeau’s marriage would come to resemble that of Cersei in other ways. Not only was Isabeau’s husband inattentive, sometimes he failed to even recognize Isabeau.

Regent Queens

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© HBO

Both Cersei and Isabeau’s power swelled once their husbands couldn’t rule – due to death or insanity –  and the queens’ control of the heir made them more influential than they would have otherwise been.

Isabeau first became regent at 23 after her husband’s first outbreak of madness.

mad-forest-charles-vi

Charles’ first known episode of madness came in the form of paranoia. As he rode through the forest in August 1392, a ragged leper jumped into his path, warning Charles of betrayal. Later, when startled by the clang of a falling steel helmet, he swung his sword wildly at his men and, once subdued, fell into a coma.

King Charles the Mad’s insanity should have been no surprise — he came from unsteady stock. His mother, Queen Joanna of Bourbon, had struggled with madness in 1373. His bloodlines crisscrossed back-and-forth in a fragile web of inbreeding. And, his sisters had all died before adulthood4 .

King Charles floated in and out of his craziness. He tried to rule when he was sane, but all too often he was not. In 1399, he suffered from six attacks of madness. Sometimes he believed he was made of glass and would shatter if touched – he would defend himself from any who attempted it with a sword. Other times, he ran up and down the corridors of his Parisian palace howling like a wolf.

At different points in his reign, she acted officially or unofficially as regent with varying degrees of power. When Charles became temporarily lucid in 1402, he turned the treasury over to her.

Historical records portray Isabeau as a giddy queen who couldn’t care less about her sick husband – relegating him to filth and disregard. (Contemporaries saw Charles’ poor hygiene as a sign, not of his insanity, but that she didn’t tend to him properly during his convalescence.)

Barbara Tuchman describes Isabeau’s behavior through this time as follows, “Frivolous and sensuous, still an alien with a thick German accent, humiliated by her husband’s mad aversion, Isabeau abandoned Charles to his valets and to a girl she supplied to fill her place, a horse dealer’s daughter named Odette de Champdivers, who resembled her and was called by the public, the “little Queen.5 ””

To be continued next week…

  1. Adams p. 5 []
  2. Tracy Adams quoting Froissart p. 3 []
  3. See B. Tuchman A Distant Mirror Kindle Loc 8349 []
  4. See B. Tuchman A Distant Mirror Kindle Loc 8349 []
  5. B Tuchman A Distant Mirror Kindle Loc 10321 []

Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."

28 Comments

  • Reply November 6, 2014

    Jun Yan

    Can’t wait to read the second part. And who is the fifth woman on whom Cersei is based?!

  • Reply November 6, 2014

    Grant

    Not the most important, but Cersei was married to Robert to shore up the unsteady new Baratheon regime after the rebellion. Lysa and Catelyn Tully were married to create and maintain military alliances during the rebellion.

    • Reply November 7, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      I shouldn’t have gone off of memory for that point. Thanks, Grant. I’ll correct it in the article.

  • Reply November 6, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    Charles can’t have been the easiest person to be married to, though he couldn’t help suffering from a mental illness. Charles and Isabeau had several children, or so says Wikipedia so the physical side of their marriage looks to have been at least a little better than the fictional one of Robert and Cersei. I guess one would need to read the B Tuchman book and one of the more recent books about Isabeau in order to try and form a balanced opinion about her (though I appreciate that as Jaime said, revising the traditional view of Isabeau is not the focus of the above article).

    • Reply November 7, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      It was quite interesting researching Isabeau. She was really vilified by historians and chroniclers until I think Tracey Adams came along. I think it didn’t help that the English made her sign a treaty stating her son was illegitimate. This reinforced the perception of her being unfaithful. I even found a picture of her with her nipples exposed – no doubt not extant but presumably reflecting the perception of sluttish behavior. I think Charles’ sexual behavior towards Isabeau was unwanted, so the children might not have been due to a close relationship.

      • Reply November 7, 2014

        Jun Yan

        Here’s sort of a tangential question: Is there an urge by modern (female?) historians to correct the bad names given to many women in history books? Obviously, historians in the past were limited by their male-dominant or misogynist perspectives of their time. On the other hand, to insist that the “bad women” in history are in fact good people having been smeared by historians seems to diminish the humanity and diversity of notable and powerful women. What if they really were unfaithful to their husbands, power hungry, audacious, and dangerous, and did kill people?

        In the game of thrones, you win or you die. Most kindhearted, generous, and merciful persons would not have become so powerful as to leave their names in history books. They would have been eliminated in the game before they got near any real power. Can we openly talk about powerful women in history who got there through unpleasant or disturbing means? Can we live with the many faces of Eve, some ugly, some beautiful, some cold, some warm, some evil, some good, and most often a mixture of many traits? This is why I think the existence of Cersei and other hated or disturbing female characters in ASOIAF series are critical to a feminist agenda.

        • Reply November 8, 2014

          Watcher on the Couch

          I had typed quite a long reply to Jun’s post but it has vanished. I sometimes have internet connection problems in rain and today is very wet and miserable in my part of the UK and my hub went quiet for a time. Jun is addressing a thought-provoking point. I had mentioned in the lost post that a number of male writers did tend to write their female characters as appendages to their male ones and that I switched off from one historical novel in the 1970s where a character who marries a widow muses that her first husband probably hadn’t been very adventurous in bed. The medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a work called “The Legend of Good Women” in which one the said “good women” was Cleopatra, who often gets a “bum rap”. It’s long since I looked at the works of Chaucer but I think Cleopatra was “good” here in the sense of having been a saint of love.

          Now let me say I have nothing against blondes (after all the person who maintains this site is blonde) but I did find the “fair” princesses in the story-books of my childhood tiresome – so I had a soft spot for Snow White. I can recall childhood play-mates telling me – at quite a young age obviously – that I couldn’t be the princess in our childhood games as I had brown hair (it’s grey now). I bridled at Julie Christie (good actress, now retired, but blonde) being cast as Bathsheba Everdene (who is raven-haired in the book) in a 1960s version of “Far from the Madding Crowd” – might have been a case of I would have liked the film better if I hadn’t read the book. Of course “fair” in the story-book sense I learned later meant good-looking in a sense of the word which had become old-fashioned. GRRM I’ve read likes to turn hackneyed plots or characters on their head, so the idea of having the beautiful blonde as personified by Cersei as a villain rather than a heroine is out of the ordinary. (I’m sure there are other beautiful, bad blonde characters but I can only think offhand of “The Snow Queen” in the Hans Anderson story). I may have mentioned this on another thread some time ago, but in Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair”, although the good Amelia is nominally the heroine, the real lead female character is Becky Sharpe. It must be hard (though hopefully not impossible) for a writer to describe a wholly good person and keep the reader interested.

          Jun, I’m sorry, I haven’t really addressed your point about whether some feminist historians want to portray women for whom the perceived wisdom thus far has been that they are “bad’uns” in a more sympathetic light. It’s possible of course. I’d need to read a number of books, both for and against “the prosecution” before I could hazard a reasonably accurate guess. There does seem to be a desire in the early 21st century to “revise” history; some revisions may be right; somebody told me that there is a school of thought now that, rather than ALL the original celtic inhabitants of what is now England having been driven to the “celtic fringes” by Anglo-Saxons invading some of them may simply have inter-married with the newcomers.

          P.S. Jaime if my “lost” post does turn up, could you delete it to prevent double-posting.

  • Reply November 8, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    NOT THE LOST POST. Correction to earlier post – when I describe Chaucer mentioning Cleopatra as a good woman, I should have said “one OF the said good women” and not “one the said good women”.

    Although there were some notable exceptions, until relatively recently (the last 250 years, say) most writers whether of fiction, or of non-fiction, were men of course. The Brontes, who of course wrote in much later times than medieval ones, originally brought out their work under male alisases (so could there have been OTHER writers who were female who wrote in the past under male pseudonyms that we have never known about). Unfortunately I had to discontinue my part-time university course before we studied any of Christine de Pisan’s work though she was on the syllabus (I think – I’m going back well over 30 years).

  • Reply November 9, 2014

    Jun Yan

    Argh! Watcher, I’m sorry you lost the long post. How is the Internet connection affected by weather?!

    Talk about female writers in the past, I think George Eliot is vastly, vastly better than Jane Austin.

  • Reply November 10, 2014

    Jamie Adair

    re: Jun’s question
    In my opinion, yes, there is an urge by some (not all) female historians to revisit the reputation of “bad” women in history. This is, in my opinion, a double-edged sword.
    On the one hand, revisionist assessments are important for any topic (famous women, political events, causes of wars, etc). They encourage critical thought.
    Also, many chroniclers did have the misogynist views of their eras. This is where it gets tricky. In periods like the Wars of the Roses, in some cases there will only be one source for an event. The chroniclers – and I’m using this word loosely to mean anyone capturing history — did not have the same ideas about historical accuracy as we do.

    The problem is how do we judge whether something is true? How do we dismiss something as false? Some historians will cherry pick the sources they like, which is sometimes fair and other times distorts the narrative. IMO, it is better when historians seek to make decisions by contextualizing the information when they are in doubt (for example, looking at patterns of behavior, better yet looking at legal documents and sources outside of chroniclers, or even looking at the person’s ancestors’s overall culture or behavior over time).

    Revisionism becomes tricky when it lapses into dismissing accepted accounts of a woman simply because they are negative.

    As you point out, and I agree 150%, it is really unfeminist to deny women in history the opportunity to be bad or powerful. I also think it is unlikely that powerful people – men or women – are saints. There is a culture that arises around those who obtain power. The wives of the men who waged the Wars of the Roses are breathing the same air as their husbands. Should we assume their husbands never confided in them? There was no pillow talk? Surely, some of these women were party to or discussed the same ruthless political decisions as their husbands?

    It is late and I’m beginning to ramble a bit, but I read a really compelling revisionist analysis of the Tour de Nesle Affair by Tracy Adams I think. She does a fair bit of revisionist history, but I respect her work more than some other revisionists. The Tour de Nesle analysis is interesting. The historian argues, with relatively little to back it up other than logic and educated guesses, that the adultery accusations against the princesses were likely trumped up political conspiracy. She notes that the princesses were not alone often enough – without an entourage – to make it over to a shady part of Paris for a rendez vous. In this case, I think it is important to be open to Adam’s argument. The guilt of the princesses has gone unexamined for 800 years.

    Adams, however, never delves into the realm of hagiography. She just argues it was political conspiracy — and writes nothing about how wonderful [charitable, kind, blah, blah, blah] the princesses were. I particularly suspect revisionism when the biographer never notes flaws in his or her subject.

  • Reply November 10, 2014

    Jamie Adair

    One more point…
    The thing is that you can’t assume that women who grew up in the household of war lords didn’t absorb some of their ruthlessness. Even if they were relatively isolated (e.g., in nurseries with women), they would see their brothers being encouraged to kill from a young age, overhear conversations, etc. Surely they shared some of the men’s values? They were the wives of warriors, lived in a militarized society or caste, and they did enjoy the fruits of the wars their husbands fought.

    • Reply November 10, 2014

      Watcher on the Couch

      The thought about women living in warlords’ households being affected by the prevailing ruthlessness made me think of the scene in “Game of Thrones” where show Hound says to show Sansa something about her father having been a killer and that her sons will be killers when she marries (that may be in the books also but sometimes I forget, what with the books being so thick). There must have been indeed some women with a streak of steel in them. I know that some of the things that have become taken as “facts” about Isabella of France and Edward II have to be taken with a liberal grain of salt (like “Braveheart” having supposedly fathered a child on Isabella when she was about 9 and still living in France). I think one can believe the historical records that she watched the gruesome murder of her husband’s favourite (and possibly lover) Hugh Despenser the Younger (though Despenser does not seem to have been a very nice person).

      Regarding Jun’s point about preferring Elliott to Austin. I like both of them in their different ways. I appreciate Austin’s irony, but a character such as Maggie Tulliver in Elliott’s “The Mill on the Floss” is more complex than Austin’s heroines, I feel.

      To try and get back to Isabeau and Cersei. Jaime has noted correctly that GRRM likes to mix and match his sources and write “what if” scenarios. Some people (not particularly on this website) have criticised Lena Headey’s portrayal of Cersei as compared to book Cersei. One point cited seems to be that Lena Headey comes across sometimes as cold. I’m not one of the people who has a problem with Lena Headey playing the part and I seem to recall in the first book that Robert says to Ned that Cersei is beautiful but that there is a coldness about her. Cersei’s coldness towards Robert could mirror Isabeau’s (alleged at least) indifference to Charles during his periods of madness (e.g. not playing good little wifey and cleaning him up personally). Presumably Cersei was less cold to Jaime.

    • Reply November 10, 2014

      Jun Yan

      All great points, Jamie. I am especially persuaded by the argument that noble women could not be insulated from the bloodshed committed and suffered by their male relatives. This reminds me of the impression I got from reading Richard III the play, in which all the women are deeply entangled in the cycle of revenge and death with roiling hatred and passion. Before I read Richard III or knew much about the War of Roses, Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus is another family drama that affected me. It is also a story of the destructive cycle of blood feud and revenge between families, and women play a central role. Again I am incredibly grateful to both Shakespeare and GRRM for taking me into the human truths of history.

      • Reply November 10, 2014

        Jamie Adair

        Wow. That’s interesting about Titus Andronicus. Every time I read one of your comments about Shakespeare, I feel inspired to learn more!

  • Reply November 10, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    For the avoidance of doubt, of course I’m referring to fictional Cersei being less cold to fictional Jaime her brother and not to Jaime who writes the blog!!! Perhaps I should state that before reading this article I didn’t really know anything about Isabeau of Bavaria – there have been so many Isabeau and Isabelles and Isabellas over the course of history I sometimes have to check with Wikipedia or whatever, if the lady in question isn’t one I know about already. Getting back to fiction, when I read a book I do try to curb my curiosity and not look at the back of a book for the ending, though the temptation is there. “A Dance with Dragons” was one of the ASOIAF series where I actually read the hefty tome rather than listening to an audio version (at least that way I didn’t have to put up with the narrator calling Brienne “Bry-een”). There was a list of characters at the back of the book and I did consult the list periodically, for the minor characters at least. I couldn’t remember all of them.

    • Reply November 10, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      re: Jaime vs me. – lol. 🙂
      Aren’t some of the narrators awful? I’ve listened to two different editions of ASOIAF and in both of them the narrators butchered the names in the most irritating way. Worse, the more recent edition that I have makes Tyrion sound like a leprechaun! I’m offended on his behalf! lol.

      I don’t think Isabeau of Bavaria is that widely known outside of France and maybe Germany.

      • Reply November 11, 2014

        Watcher on the Couch

        I’ve seen Roy Dotrice on TV many years ago and he was not so bad. He also read a book for a radio serialisation back in the day (I can’t remember which book) about somebody in Guernsey, his birthplace (in the British Channel Islands aka “les iles anglo-normands”, which are, [you probably know being a history buff] the only bit of the old Duchy of Normandy that remains – sort of – affiliated with the UK). “Bry-een” does go right through me though. Karen, one of Roy Dotrice’s daughters was the girl charge of Mary Poppins in the Walt Disney film when she was but a lass. I think she lives in the US now. Michelle Dotrice, who I think is his eldest daughter has been in lots of programmes in the UK over the years. I can recall her playing Little Nell in an adaptation of Dickens’ “The Old Curiosity Shop” back in the 1960s. Her late husband, Edward Woodward played the lead in the 1980s version of “The Equalizer” TV series – I thought it was hilarious; an aging Englishman in New York putting right the problems of that city!!!

        Re the ASOIAF narration, I think it might have worked better if they had chosen a separate actor or actress to read the chapters pertaining to each POV character, though I’m no expert in how to put together an audio book.

  • Reply January 9, 2015

    Samantha Duvert

    is just me or that sounds a little like lysa arryn too?

    • Reply January 11, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      Hey Samantha, Thanks for reading and commenting! Which aspects of Lysa Arryn are you thinking of?

  • Reply July 23, 2015

    A Murray

    Does Lucrezia Borgia not get a look in? Blonde, allegedly incestuous with famed military commander brother Cesare (they had another brother who was called Gioffre – joff anyone?), daughter of a powerful father (Pope Alexander VI) and frequently involved in marriage diplomacy; moving on when her husbands have expired their usefulness. I couldn’t find the next part of the article so you may have been saving the best till last haha. Others that perhaps deserve an honourable (or dishonourable) mention are her contemporary Caterina Sforza Contessa di Forli, who ruled as regent who like Cercei had a propensity towards brutal vengeance but unlike Cercei was arguably a more than competent ruler and military commander. Going back a bit further there is Eleanor of Aquitaine who in her day was perhaps the most powerful and wealthy woman in Europe.
    As stated above the real challenge for the student of gender history is the lack of primary source material (there are some gems out there though, I was captivated by the diary of Gluckel Von Hameln when I visited the Jewish museum in Berlin) and the male bias of primary and secondary sources, it’s a sad reflection of society that many of the great women of history are remembered primarily for their sexuality like Lucrezia or Catherine the Great, or Elizabeth the Virigin Queen.

    • Reply July 23, 2015

      A Murray

      P.S. While we’re talking about Cercei there is the obvious nod to Homeric Epic, where the witch nymph Circe transforms sailors into swine and Cercei who ‘turns to’ a boar to get rid of Robert. Keep up the good work guys

      • Reply August 3, 2015

        Jamie Adair

        Yes, exactly! I think I mention that in one of the Symbolic Names articles.
        Part 1
        Part 2
        Thanks for the nice words, btw. 🙂

    • Reply August 3, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      I also think that the sexualization of powerful women in history is partially a reflection of the insanity of the medieval church – I hope I’m not offending people by saying this. I mean this quite literally. I think the unnatural conditions of monasteries and nunneries (celibacy) led the members to go a little crazy. Their insane sleep deprivation probably didn’t help matters either.

      I think the forced celibacy of the cloister created an overly sexualized culture among monks, especially after partible inheritance ended and primogeniture disinherited and disenfranchised the “second sons” to borrow GRRM’s phrase (in this case, third, fourth, fifth sons). Disposing of your spare children by oblating them to the church or essentially forcing this upon them as adults, probably resulted in a lot of unwilling monks. To my way of thinking, forced celibacy is absurd and unnatural. I think the excessively detailed prohibitions the medieval church created against sexuality were an outlet for the clergy’s forcibly repressed sexuality. After all, it is pretty voyeuristic creating a series of laws that would result people having to recount detailed descriptions of their sexual behavior (via the confessional). #veryconvenient

      I think that the monastic movement created a somewhat pathological mentality and that’s reflected in the monastic descriptions of the other sex. In short, I think it is possible that the toxic atmosphere of the monasteries led the chroniclers to treat women rulers in a particularly misogynist way.

      Interestingly, before primogeniture really kicked in, yes there were monasteries and nunneries in England and Europe. However, women had significantly more status and power. When William the Conqueror’s wife Mathilda was queen, she ruled on his behalf at times and had quite a bit of power. Nobody seemed to have that much of a problem with this. By the time Eleanor of Acquitaine came along (and primogeniture was in full sway), the monastic chroniclers vilified Eleanor (presumably because she attempted to assert power). It had become quite unacceptable for women to do so. In Spain, on the other hand, where they still practiced partible inheritance, women had far more power and autonomy and were treated much better.

      It is interesting because, I believe, in the last twenty years, modern-day women are treated increasingly like objects of sexuality or beauty by the media. Even “serious” women like Hilary Clinton have their hair and wardrobes discussed excessively. I don’t think this is a reflection of the media as much as of society. After all, we click the links. We have become increasingly obsessed with female beauty (princess culture). In the media, women are framed as much by their appearance as their accomplishments or abilities. Men are almost never depicted this way, nor are they asked interview questions about their appearance, work-life balance, favorite recipes, etc. Their interviews tend to focus on their subject-matter expertise. I don’t think this beauty-pageant/feminization type framing is that different than the monastic chroniclers sexualization of powerful women.

      I guess what is similar is that in both cases, arguably, a somewhat disenfranchised class (monks, modern-day women) are fighting for a limited amount of available resources or power. Maybe. I don’t know. It might not be completely analogous. But, I don’t think the modern-day beauty pageant is some type of grand conspiracy like some people might believe.

  • Reply July 24, 2015

    Watcher on the Couch

    Dear AM, (not the one who plays tennis I suppose?) Jamie did an article last year which mentioned Lucrezia Borgia last year – this should take you to it. http://history-behind-game-of-thrones.com/gameofthrones/cersei/anne-boleyn-incest (I know the link says Anne Boleyn but it mentions Lucrezia Borgia too. There are also a couple of articles about GRRM’s possible inspiration for names and I think one of the commenters there mentions something about Gioffre Borgia.

  • Reply July 24, 2015

    Watcher on the Couch

    Sorry – I’ve repeated myself – two “last year”s.

  • Reply August 2, 2015

    Anonymous

    Thanks I found it eventually. There’s a great portrayal of Anne Boleyn in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. I encourage fans of the Song to read it, you’ll definitely enjoy it. Little finger could be based on Thomas Cromwell.

  • Reply September 5, 2016

    Ecarlate DeEcrire

    Jaime, first I have to thank you!I found this site researching Elizabeth’s/Isabeau’s Character and have really been pushed to my depth’s trying to find something to make her a TRUE women that has lived frozen down through the ages. I chose her due to the RUMOR that she and the Louis of Orleans were the parents of Jehanne of Arc, aka Joan of Arc.
    What struck me the best was the exchange of Historian’s depictions of women down through the ages. As a women, bottle dyed, I am a creature of my own making. I am at times broken by my own mistakes, but rise stronger from the lessons they show and in that rising I am potentially portrayed as been tough, bitter and jaded. But to that I say to all historian’s male or female, hind sight is 20/20 and until you live in other people’s britches, we will never know who they were.
    I do agree we live in a Disney Lensed society, when it comes to our Royals. Perfect princes and princesses, women that live quietly and men that slay the dragons of their time are what we see and anything less colorful and more human is rejected. I can definitely say that the exchanges here have really made me think about the humanity of my character. Truly, thank you to all!

    • Reply September 6, 2016

      Jamie Adair

      Wow. That’s some juicy rumor. Where did you read or hear it? I doubt it is true, but I love it.

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