Elegit Domum sibi Placabilem: Choice and the Twelfth-Century Religious Woman
This dissertation probes medieval sources to identify how and why women made transformative choices in their own lives and analyzes the consequences of those choices. The major case study investigates the life of Marie of Blois-Boulogne, a twelfth-century abbess, countess, wife, and mother. Marie experienced change and tragedy, provoking the need to make choices with religious and political ramifications. As such, her story enables us to examine decision-making in the context of controversy on the one hand and family obligations and personal ambition on the other. Relevant themes—such a child oblation, the holy veil and enclosure, legal and illegal marriage—frame Marie and create a microhistory of the world that she inhabited. Other historical women and literary characters from the eleventh through thirteenth centuries flesh out more of the discussion. These case studies and presentations fit into three body chapters that examine the power exercised by parents, complications of the enclosure, and the end of marital relationships. Medieval chronicle accounts, charters, monastic cartularies, seals, and letters, provide the material evidence for this study. Each type and each example do more than convey raw data, however, as they elicit narratives that form and inform the subject and the reader. These narratives lend themselves to a literary critique and examination using Hayden White’s theory of employments. This interdisciplinary exercise makes use of four classical modes of plot structure: Tragedy, Comedy, Romance, and Satire. Within this examination, the sources are read for what they omit as much as for what they include. My conclusions prove that women exercised choice and decision-making power that went well beyond the recognized pattern of the either/or of secular marriage or religious profession. Instead, these women’s choices enabled them to realize pragmatic objectives that reinforced family goals; equally their choices reflected personal ambition and aspiration. The attainment of status, adventure, and authority reflect some of the motivations that I have identified. More often than not, these choices and their consequences elicited disapprobation from male leaders.
Table of Contents
Chronology -- Introduction -- Chapter one. Ut te ab infantia sponsam sibi eligeret: Religious Status and Idealized Identities -- Chapter Two. N’onques ne fu tenue anclose: Daring the Enclosure -- Chapter Three. Non est honestum ut uxor debeat…suo manere: Women and marital choice -- Chapter Four. Pulcherrimus miles…comitissam Boloniensem duxit uxorem: The Making and Unmaking of Marie -- Thesis Conclusus—Conclusions and Summations -- Appendix A. Romsey abbey images -- Appendix B. Matthew’s Tomb -- Appendix C. 1162 Papal letters -- Appendix D. 1168 Papal letters -- Appendix E. 1170 and 1171 charters -- Appendix F. 1173 charter