contributor.author: Therese Martin

title.none: Jordan, Religious Patronage (Therese Martin)

identifier.other: baj9928.0706.017 07.06.17

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Therese Martin, University of Arizona, therese@email.arizona.edu

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Jordan, Erin. Women, Power, and Religious Patronage in the Middle Ages. The New Middle Ages. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Pp. viii, 193. $69.95 (hb) ISBN-10: 1-4039-6656-7, ISBN-13: 978-1-4039-6656-8 (hb). ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.06.17

Jordan, Erin. Women, Power, and Religious Patronage in the Middle Ages. The New Middle Ages. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Pp. viii, 193. $69.95 (hb) ISBN-10: 1-4039-6656-7, ISBN-13: 978-1-4039-6656-8 (hb). ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Therese Martin
University of Arizona
therese@email.arizona.edu

Erin L. Jordan's book, while not as far-reaching as the title suggests, brings to light important material about two thirteenth-century countesses of Flanders and Hainaut, which she uses to draw larger conclusions about power, gender, and religious convictions in the central Middle Ages. As more and more studies are written about women rulers, Jordan is quite correct in stating that each individual can no longer be seen as anomalous for her day. One of the author's goals is "situate such women more firmly within the wider political context of thirteenth-century France and to identify the social conditions that conferred authority and power on individuals" (5). In this she succeeds admirably, providing an interesting discussion of the differences between power and authority. This has ramifications for private vs. public spheres in the Middle Ages, often misinterpreted as female vs. male. Rather than accepting the concepts as either synonymous or oppositional, she draws out the ways in which each overlapped with the other. One of the strengths of this study is in the varied arguments that the author adduces against rigid binaries and in favor of nuanced interpretations of the past.

Jordan's work adds much to our understanding of the circumstances that allowed Jeanne and Marguerite of Flanders and Hainaut to be accepted as successive rulers, due as much to the choices they made as to their specific historical context. Her statement that "status ultimately trumped gender" (11) is spot-on. On a larger scale, she deals with the changing emphasis to primogeniture and the ways in which this could prove advantageous to women, but she also investigates the individual histories of the sisters, astutely arguing, for example, that Philip Augustus may have helped to keep Jeanne in power because it served his purposes to have a woman at the head of such a wealthy and often rebellious region. Most interesting is the author's brief statement that she has "identified twenty-nine women at the seigneurial level acting in their own name in charters as countesses or duchesses during the four decades spanning the reign of Philip Augustus" (n. 16, p. 133). It is to be hoped that she will pursue this significant matter further.

There is no doubt that Jordan has done a great deal of original research in the pursuit of this study. She states that she considered "over 1,000 charters issued by Jeanne and Marguerite to approximately 180 religious and monastic communities within their domains. This corpus is supplemented by hundreds of charters issued by them in a strictly secular capacity in conjunction with political and diplomatic affairs" (10). Jordan concludes that the countesses supported mainly Cistercians in the early part of the century and Dominicans, beguines, and Victorines in the later part, citing interest in the vita apostolica as key to understanding their patronage. One component of the study that could, however, be strengthened is the use of imagery. The intriguing but all too brief mention of Jeanne's seal makes it clear that the countess was aware of the importance of representation (56). Her first seal showed Jeanne standing, falcon in one hand while the other rests on her hip. But the seal she commissioned after her husband was imprisoned, leaving her to rule alone, is dramatically different: she rides a horse, one hand over her heart and the other supporting a falcon. However, there are no illustrations of the seals and only a two-sentence discussion of this significant change. On a more basic level, a map with locations of the sites patronized by the countesses would have been helpful. Such a plotting might bring to light patterns of political intention beyond that mentioned by Jordan regarding the establishment of Cistercian monasteries along the county's southern border, and it would have complemented the more thorough discussion of religious sentiment. It would also fit in well with the author's emphasis on both the practical and the pious benefits of patronage. A similar analysis of the use of space to that by Marjorie Chibnall, who demonstrated that Queen Matilda of England utilized religious patronage to demonstrate her right to control the royal demesne, would have been desirable ("The Empress Matilda and Church Reform," Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th series, 38 (1988), pp. 107-33).

Jordan recognizes the power of architecture, stating that "Many of the monastic and religious foundations that dominated the landscape of thirteenth-century Flanders and Hainaut were the direct result of comitial (sic) patronage. As such, they would have functioned as visible symbols of the countesses' power as well as their piety" (61). But a book about patronage that centers on the foundation of monasteries without including the buildings themselves misses an opportunity to analyze further the implications of the patron's input. Without asking the author to become an art historian, the physical reality of the monasteries merits some discussion. One is left wondering what these buildings looked like, whether anything survives, whether the patrons made an impact on style or decoration. A good example of the examination of architectural patronage is Alexandra Gajewski-Kennedy, "Recherches sur l'architecture cistercienne et le pouvoir royal: Blanche de Castille et la construction de l'abbaye de Lys," Art et architecture à Melun au Moyen Age (Actes du Colloque d'histoire de l'art et d'archéologie tenu à Melun les 28 et 29 novembre 1998),, Paris, 2000, pp. 223-254.

In the end, I was left wanting to know the countesses better. I suspect that the author chose to avoid writing a biography that might have seemed old-fashioned, and she did succeed in using the sisters to good effect as case studies to discuss the larger issues of patronage and gender, but the outcome is that Jeanne and Marguerite themselves stay somewhat flat. There are tantalizing references in which we get a glimpse of their personalities--Jeanne chose to marry again when her first husband died, but Marguerite, after eight children and two marriages, seems to have been quite happy to remain a widow. We learn that none of Jeanne's children survived her, whereas Marguerite's offspring battled each other, and she sided with the children of one alliance over those of the other. No doubt there are more such fascinating aspects to these two women's histories that would have enlivened this book, had the author chosen to emphasize them. I particularly liked Jordan's conclusion to her discussion of the likelihood of rulers to set off on pilgrimage. "Male rulers were able to take advantage of such opportunities as pilgrimage and crusade to further their spiritual aspirations and secure their salvations because they had capable wives who remained behind and assumed their secular responsibilities in their stead. Secular female rulers like Jeanne and Marguerite had no such luxury" (105).

Although the author has a fluid writing style, the high number of repetitions becomes tiresome. The metaphor in which Jeanne and Marguerite transform themselves from pawns to players in a political game, for example, is striking the first time it appears on page 15. But then we see it again on pages 25, 36, 37, 38, and 39. There were also a number of spelling mistakes or missing words that should have been caught by a good proofreader, but academic presses seem to have abdicated that responsibility these days. One further bone to pick with Palgrave: did the book jacket really have to be pink, just because the study concerns women?

This book makes a significant contribution to the study of women and power in the thirteenth century. Scholars and graduate students will be certain to benefit from the volume of documents synthesized by Jordan in her examination of religious patronage from both political and pious angles.