In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Queens

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Anthologies and Collections
  • Bibliographies
  • Primary Sources
  • Valois France
  • Scotland
  • Germany and Early Medieval Italy
  • Later Medieval/Renaissance Italy
  • Scandinavia
  • Eastern Europe
  • The Kingdom of Jerusalem
  • Byzantium
  • Global

Medieval Studies Queens
Elena Woodacre, Miriam Shadis
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0123


As the wives, mothers, and daughters of kings, medieval queens acquired their status in one of two ways, either through marriage or, less commonly, through inheritance. The experience of being a queen, in particular as partner to the king, the development of the office of the queen, and the role of queen regent evolved over time with medieval monarchy, and queenship varied across regions as different legal codes and customs informed female inheritance. Women who became queens through marriage often shared the experience of straddling two cultures and two families (natal and marital), and, thus, they were alien outsiders who simultaneously had the greatest access to the center of power, the king. Often women who became queens were not native to the territory with which they became associated and, thus, the names by which they are known, for example, Blanche of Castile, may be misleading: Blanche, who was from Castile, was queen of France through marriage. Queens thus served as intercessors, patrons, and cultural innovators as well as operated as great lords, as rulers, and often, but not always, as mothers. The historiography of medieval queenship is equally varied, beginning with positivist-inspired biographies of the 19th century and subsequently influenced by developments in social history during the 1960s and 1970s and by interdisciplinary and feminist approaches in recent decades. Currently, scholarship simultaneously seeks to recover the histories of individual queens, to understand the specifics of the queen’s office within the institution of the monarchy, and to understand how gender operated at the highest levels of political, cultural, and economic power in the Middle Ages. The first principle of organization for this article is chronological, with sections on Early Medieval Queens (Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Germanic) and Merovingian Queens and Carolingian Queens. Because queens were always queens of a realm, however, and because the extent (and number) of European monarchies on both the continent and in Britain changed radically in the post-Carolingian era, the remainder of the article is organized both geographically and chronologically, with sections on England (General, Anglo-Norman Queens, Plantagenet Queens, and Lancastrian, York, and Early Tudor England); Scotland, France (sections on Capetian France and Valois France), Germany and Early Medieval Italy, Scandinavia, and the kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula (sections on Iberia generally as well as Crown of Aragon, León-Castile, and Portugal). In some instances, queens who have merited extensive scholarship are treated in separate sections. The article concludes with sections on the liminal but comparatively important queens/empresses of Byzantium, and the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. While the general focus of this bibliography is on European queens and queenship, it is important to recognize the experience and lives of royal women and queens, or their equivalents, beyond Europe, which are featured in the Global section.

General Overviews

Because of nationally oriented scholarship and the diverse nature of queens’ experiences, as well as the breadth and depth implied in the term medieval, few effective general overviews of medieval queens and queenship are available, with the exception of the full-length monograph Earenfight 2013, which provides an excellent overview of and starting point for medieval queenship. Nelson 1999 also supplies a general overview of the contingencies and ambiguities that apply to the study of queens in a more concise format. Wolf 1993 assesses the possibility of a particular kind of queen, the queen-regnant. Editors are often called upon to give overviews, and two introductions to collections on medieval queens (with many articles cited throughout this article) should be mentioned: Parsons 1993 and Duggan 1997. The former discusses the life stages that shaped all medieval queenship, and the latter especially notes the ways in which historiography, up to the end of the 20th century, shaped the field. Certain theoretical questions repeatedly emerge or are being developed in scholarship on queens. Howell 2002 and Earenfight 2007 both address gender, and, again, ambiguity and flexibility in the construction of monarchy, and Stafford 2006 demonstrates the use of biography as an approach to queen’s agency. Overviews may also be constructed through reference materials on medieval women or on the Middle Ages in general as well as through anthologies. Articles on queens and queenship often appear in journals that have a relevant connection in terms of national history or period as well as in journals focused on women’s or gender history. There are also two journals which focus on specifically on royal and court studies, the Royal Studies Journal and The Court Historian; although neither of these publications specializes in the Middle Ages, both journals feature articles on medieval topics and on queens and queenship.

  • Duggan, Anne J. “Introduction.” In Queens and Queenship in Medieval Europe: Proceedings of a Conference Held at King’s College, London, April 1995. Edited by Anne J. Duggan, xv–xxii. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 1997.

    Addresses the historiographical problems that beset the study of medieval queens, including the problems of modern interpretation of medieval sources. Outlines some of the fundamental questions of queenship studies, including the relative weight of women’s roles in dynastic politics and the exercise of power and authority in women’s rule.

  • Earenfight, Theresa. “Without the Persona of the Prince: Kings, Queens, and the Idea of Monarchy in Late Medieval Europe.” Gender & History 19.1 (April 2007): 1–21.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0424.2007.00461.x

    Examines queens and queenship in premodern England, France and Spain, with special focus on María of Castile, to argue for new theoretical frameworks for understanding the gendered aspects of medieval monarchy and the functional and complementary relations of men and women within it.

  • Earenfight, Theresa. Queenship in Medieval Europe. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-137-30392-9

    This is the only real “textbook” for medieval queenship in the field. It provides an excellent overview that is written in a scholarly, yet approachable way. An excellent introduction for students or those new to the field that picks up key themes and provides a chronological examination across Europe from Late Antiquity to the beginning of the Early modern era.

  • Howell, Margaret. “Royal Women of England and France in the Mid-thirteenth Century: A Gendered Perspective.” In England and Europe in the Reign of Henry III, 1216–1272. Edited by Björn K. U. Weiler and Ifor W. Rowlands, 163–181. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2002.

    Studies the courts of Henry III of England and Louis IX of France, the relationship between gender theory and “source-based” history, and distinctions between medieval theories of gender and historical practice. Examines women’s experiences of the stages and obligations of queenship; reveals women’s agency within the scope of royal marriages.

  • Nelson, Janet L. “Medieval Queenship.” In Women in Medieval Western European Culture. Edited by Linda E. Mitchell, 179–207. New York: Garland, 1999.

    A general overview, with many specific examples of medieval queens across time and space, arguing for the fundamentally ambiguous and contingent nature of the queen’s position/relationship to family, husband, children, and the wider public.

  • Parsons, John Carmi. “Introduction: Family, Sex, and Power; The Rhythms of Medieval Queenship.” In Medieval Queenship. Edited by John Carmi Parsons, 1–11. New York: St. Martin’s, 1993.

    Queenship is better understood through analyses of queenly power, especially within the family context, marriage, reproduction and maternity, regency, inheritance, and ritual, rather than individualistic biographical sketches. Introduction identifies some of the patterns and stages of queens’ experiences.

  • Stafford, Pauline. “Writing the Biography of Eleventh-Century Queens.” In Writing Medieval Biography, 750–1250: Essays in Honour of Professor Frank Barlow. Edited by David Bates, Julia Crick, and Sarah Hamilton, 99–109. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2006.

    Examines the sources, structures, agency, and value of biography. Using Edith and Emma, Stafford discusses the structures that shaped women’s lives and their roles therein. Biography is a mode to understand agency; motherhood is a basis for agency. Important for the perennial tension between individuals and offices made evident in queenship studies.

  • Wolf, Armin. “Reigning Queens in Medieval Europe: When, Where, and Why.” In Medieval Queenship. Edited by John Carmi Parsons, 169–188. New York: St. Martin’s, 1993.

    Distinguishing between queen-consorts, regents, and queens who ruled in their own right. Identifies thirty women who potentially could be identified as ruling queens, but focuses on those reigning between 1350 and 1450; despite certain legal conditions under which women might come to rule, men were always preferred to women.

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