Women of power
In a collective work (1) jointly edited by Éric Bousmar (Saint-Louis Fac. Brussels), Jonathan Dumont (ULg), Alain Marchandisse (ULg) and Bertrand Schnerb (Univ. Lille3), some thirty or so francophone and Anglo-Saxon historians have run a magnifying glass over thirty-seven case studies of ‘political women’ in the Late Middle Ages and on the eve of the Renaissance. Well beyond the oft-cited case of the inevitable Joan of Arc, these women, both through their political and military skills, made an impact on their contemporaries, including historians, and thanks to this left behind them precise documentary sources, to a greater or lesser extent, – narratives, diplomatic, bookkeeping records – enabling the nature of their power to be debated. Whether or not they chose to exercise it, and if they did so with only relative success, they are none the less ‘too little studied,’ according to Alain Marchandisse. This weighty tome of some 650 pages, soberly entitled Women of Power, Political Women in the Last Centuries of the Middle Ages and in the Early Renaissance, thus casts welcome light of the Queens and Princesses who were Catherine de Medici, Jacqueline of Bavaria and Isabella de Castile, amongst others.
The development of female power
Surprising? It is true that, since the 14th century in particular, the ‘French model’ ruled out any possibility of seeing a women acceding to the throne of France. Nonetheless, on reading the present work of historical political science, the reality of power within the kingdom itself seems less binary. Women of Power, Political Women, which spills over from the Late Middle Ages into the Early Renaissance, in four thick sections examines from a comparative point of view the profiles of 37 emblematic women of power who particularly stood out through their repeated and deliberate interventions in the affairs of the State. ‘In part because the spirit of the times was favourable to such actions,’ explains Jonathan Dumont. ‘The more we approach the end of the Middle Ages and move towards a Catherine de Medici, the more the idea of a ‘political woman’ takes shape. Doubtless following on from what we could call the progressive depersonalisation of power and following on from the development of the idea according to which the body politic no longer belonged to a single man but to a group, to other reputed people gifted with the qualities necessary to embody power.’
(1) BOUSMAR Éric et al., Femmes de pouvoir, femmes politiques durant les derniers siècles du Moyen Âge et au cours de la première Renaissance, Bruxelles, De Boeck, Bibliothèque du Moyen Âge, n°28, 2012.