Session 308: Medieval Women: Representation, Reading, and Readers
Monday 10 July 2006, 16.30-18.00
|Georgiana Donavin, Department of English, Westminster College, Salt Lake City, Utah
|A Woman Enthroned: Margaret of York and the Constructed Self in the Recuyell Engraving
Index terms: Politics and Diplomacy, Printing History, Women’s Studies
|Romance and the Female Body in Biblioteca Nazionale MS XIII.B.29: An Anthology for Women?
|The King’s Mother: Joan of Kent and the Exercise of Authority
Index terms: Politics and Diplomacy, Women’s Studies
Abstract paper -a: The frontispiece of the Recuyell of the Histories of Troye features a presentation scene with portraits of the book's printer, William Caxton, and its patron, Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy. I argue that Margaret of York adopted visual signs from earlier presentation scenes depicting Dukes of Burgundy, specifically Philip the Good and Charles the Bold. In this manner, she did not pay tribute to or share an identity with the dukes, but instead emulated them, thereby elevating the female self to the status of the male. By doing so, Margaret of York constructed an image as one of the first female bibliophiles and an equal contributor to the legacy of the Court of Burgundy.
Abstract paper -b: A growing number of scholars argue that Middle English romances can be read and perhaps should be read within their manuscript contexts. Murray Evans, for example, advocates that we attend to 'the rhetoric of composite structure' (114), that is, a set of relationships in manuscripts (subject matter, decorations, lettering, and so on) that encourages a reading of romances in their original manuscript settings. As Carol Meale has noted, romances formed a stable ingredient in what she calls late medieval household books - anthologies which include in addition to romances, 'saints’ lives and other devotional material, didactic and other spiritually improving works, and items of practical and instructional value' (220). This list describes the manuscript which is the focus of my paper, Biblioteca Nazionale (Naples) MS XIII.B.29, which contains the following items in order: medical prescriptions, Sir Beuis of Hampton, Of Seint Alex of Rome, Libious Desconus, Sir Ysumbras (brief fragment), and Chaucer’s The Clerk’s Tale (missing lines 1-91). The accepted date of this manuscript is 1457. In addition there are scribblings and drawings (later additions), scribal jottings, doggerel, and lines from Lydgate’s 'Beware of Doubleness'. I propose that this codex does not necessarily fit into a 'household anthology', if by that term we mean to suggest a mercantile miscellany, a bourgeois collection of random items arbitrarily patched together.
My interest in this volume arose out of my work on Lybeaus Desconus. One of the innovative changes to the story in this romance is in the disenchantment of the heroine, who unlike the disenchanted heroines of its medieval analogues, changes from a dragon to a naked woman. This theme of women’s clothing removed links the portion of Syr Ysumbras that survives in the manuscript to Griselda in The Clerk’s Tale. The saint’s legend and the medical prescriptions are also linked in a similar way. The story of Saint Alexius, patron saint of nursing, ends with reference to the 'spicerye' emitting from the body of the saint, whereas the medical recipes at the beginning of the manuscript include prescriptions for women’s corporeal ailments, the remedies for which involve 'spicerye'. The inclusion of the (unnamed) Chaucer and Lydgate suggest a sophisticated audience, well aware of 15th-century canonical literary tastes. The focus of the items in the manuscript further suggest that this sophisticated audience, at least insofar as this collection was concerned, was largely, if not predominantly, female.
Abstract paper -c: This paper focuses on the influence Joan of Kent, dowager Princess of Wales, employed while her son, Richard II, reigned. She had more wealth than any other woman in the kingdom. She held the dower lands of the late Prince of Wales and was independently the countess of Kent and Lady of Wake-Liddell in her own right. The fame and prestige of her late husband, the Black Prince, helped her standing in the nation. She counselled her son during the Peasants’ Revolt, intervened in the trial of John Wycliffe, gained pardons for criminals, and obtained crown patronage for friends.