As the world collectively crawls, gibbering and raving toward the end of the American presidential election, the medieval roots of society’s expectations of women are once again very firmly on display.
Case in point – the life and times of one of the three medieval women you have heard of – Eleanor of Aquitaine. Eleanor was, by all accounts, an absolute bad ass. She lead armies both in Europe and on the Second Crusade. She was a highly skilled ruler who reigned in her husband’s absence from the country. She was also a total babe.
For all these reasons, the modern imagination loves Eleanor. She won Katherine Hepburn an Oscar, and pops up in most Robin Hood movies. (Yes, even that really bad Russel Crowe one.) This is why you know her name.
Whilst we appreciate Eleanor, her mind, influence, and general kick-arsery now, everything we love about her now meant she was often reviled in her own time, and for decades after her death.
Eleanor managed to run herself into trouble because she was intent on exercising power in the public sphere.
Elsewhere, we have discussed why it is that the use of the word ‘medieval’ as a pejorative is, in general, quite lazy and a convenient way of distancing ourselves from the terrible things which take place in our own time.
Having said that, the medieval world still very much influences many of our political institutions, and our mind-sets. If we consider, for example, that the Church and a universal concept of the West as the home of Christendom to be the overriding hallmarks of the medieval period, it helps us understand why for many people, theoretical Christian values are seen as an inherent part of being Western.
Kittens, it saddens me to update this blog with an opener about how semi-sentient Etonian wank sock Boris Jonhson has, just now graced us with the very excellent racist comparison of women wearing the niqab to “letter boxes“, in this, the year of our lord 2018. I initially wrote this piece back in 2016 when the French were being super uncool about letting ladies wear whatever the fuck they want to the beach. Because we live in a neo-Nazi studded hellscape, where everyone refuses to learn ever, you also might be having your various social media feeds blow up with a bunch of basic-ass Beckies trying to justify this. “But Islam is just SO oppressive of women!”, they type. Because in the West women are totally equal now, not paid less than their male counter parts, told what they need to wear, and blamed for their own sexual assault. It’s totally fine here!
Yes, it is true that these fools are available as a part of Sainsbury’s reasonably priced own-brand range, cuz they basic as hell. But would you like to explain to them the historical facts for why that is? Sure you would! Let me help.
I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but a lot of hip hop songs refer to ‘hoes’. (I know, I know, stay with me.) What that can mean in any given context varies, of course, but in general terms what we’re talking about are either sexually available women in general, or specifically actual sex workers.
The thing about the hoes is that whether you’re announcing to a woman that she is one (before taking her to a ho-tel), reminding everyone that you can’t trust them, telling them to leave if they can’t accept the basics, or simply wondering where they at – hoes are an integral part of the hip hop landscape.
In many cases the very concept of masculinity is pinned to one’s ability to either attract hoes, or traffic them, a situation which ain’t easy, and makes it hard out here for a select group of men.
Across the board, however, one thing is certain about hoes – they are not worthy of respect, and the fact that men don’t respect them is absolutely paramount to their street cred. Jay-Z wants you to know he doesn’t eat with them. Snoop just needs you to understand that G’s are more important than them. Hoes are women who are available for sex, but don’t have the ability to hold emotional focus or respect from men.
We’ve ranted, in brief, before about the cultural circumstances that inspired courtly love. (I’m sorry for reminding you about the whole Sansa thing. Our girl doing good now though, right? Right.)
The thing about courtly love is generally that people think courtly love is a part of some super-romantic tradition of lords and ladies having a very nice time and falling in love and getting married. That is not what it is about.
What it is about is a bunch of young knights who can’t get married, because they don’t have any property, sitting around trying to conceal their boners while they look at the lady of the house. See, because of the primogeniture system, (aka the oldest son gets everything), excess sons who didn’t join the Church usually went and found places in other households as knights in the hopes that they’d manage to get a grant of land one way or another eventually.
So, Game of Thrones, am I right? (I am.) Oh, what is that, you are unsettled by marital rape? Excellent, that means you are not a worthless human being. Sadly, however, I’m going to welcome you to marriage in the medieval period, my friends.
OK, OK, let’s back it up. Perhaps when you think about marriage in the medieval period you’re all like …
You will be hugely unsurprised to learn that medieval historians love A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones. Like really really love it. This is because a) medieval historians are already enormous geeks, and so are free to get their geek on harder whenever they so choose; b) ASOIAF rules, obviously; and c) There are a tonne of references to medieval history throughout the books that allow us to feel like we’re in a little clique that gets it the most. As a result of all these overlaps there are going to be a million posts on this subject over time, but today we’re going to talk about the links between Constantinople and ASOIAF.
In the early medieval period Constantinople was the most affluent and secure city in Europe, because, among other reasons its taxation and governmental administrative systems survived in-tact whereas the Empire had largely collapsed in the West.
As many important historians have noted, Kanye West is kind of a dick. Between the multiple MTV music award rants, his delusions of grandeur, and his messiah complex, there’s a whole lot general douchebaggery to go around, and has been for some time. Yet, while Kanye’s self-proclaimed arrogance-as-steam-powered-dream-life may seem to be nothing more than a disheartening phenomenon of the modern world, I would submit for your consideration one Peter Abelard. “But wait”, I hear you cry, “how could an acclaimed philosopher and theologian possibly have anything to do with a man who apparently thinks that he would belong in a modern day Bible have anything in common?” To that question, I would submit the following arguments: