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“La Damoisele del chastel”: women’s role in the defence and functioning of castles in medieval writing from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries

Nicholson, Helen Jane 2016. “La Damoisele del chastel”: women’s role in the defence and functioning of castles in medieval writing from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries. In: Sinibaldi, Micaela, Lewis, Kevin J., Major, Balázs and Thompson, Jennifer A. eds. Crusader Landscapes in the Medieval Levant. The Archaeology and History of the Latin East, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, pp. 387-401.

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Abstract

Among other subjects discussed by the authors to this volume (_Crusader Landscapes in the Medieval Levant. The Archaeology and History of the Latin East_, ed. Micaela Sinibaldi, Kevin J. Lewis, Balázs Major and Jennifer A. Thompson), scholars of the European Middle Ages are indebted to Denys Pringle for his contribution to castle studies, both in Western Europe and the Middle East. His research has encompassed both field archaeology and documentary research and has included study of perceptions of castles and the functions of castles as well as their physical form. This present paper offers a consideration of the medieval castle owing more to literary than archaeological approaches, which nevertheless is informed by consideration of the built environment as well as by documentary sources. In the words of Ruth Whitehouse, ‘At one level, the medieval castle is an archetypical example of a male warrior ideology associated with a society rigidly divided according to gender’. Yet we also know that medieval European women had a role in the defence and functioning of castles; castles could form widows’ dowries and women had their own rooms and private spaces within castles. It is difficult to establish the actual extent of this role, for different forms of evidence – fictional sources, contemporary commentators, and archaeology and the built environment – present different images. In this paper I argue that medieval sources that refer to women’s involvement in the defence of castles and the role of castles in society are based on a combination of gender stereotype, social realities and military pragmatism which should not be taken at face value. This imagery is largely sexual fantasy, but it does remind us that women as well as men had their proper place in castles. Castles could be designed to incorporate the requirements of the lady of the castle and her entourage of women, to provide security and privacy. Women of the castle-owning class, especially on the frontiers, could expect to command the defence of castles and might have to take part in military activity themselves in order to defend their property: sometimes the lady of the castle might have to take decisive military action. Social expectations of proper female behaviour, however, could severely limit her options: she could defend the castle on behalf of her husband or son, but a single woman was expected to marry and get herself a man to do the fighting for her.

Item Type: Book Section
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: History, Archaeology and Religion
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D111 Medieval History
Uncontrolled Keywords: medieval women, castles
Publisher: University of Wales Press
ISBN: 9781783169245
Related URLs:
Last Modified: 15 Jun 2017 14:39
URI: http://orca.cf.ac.uk/id/eprint/101197

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