Eleanor of Castile

Queen and Society in Thirteenth-Century England
Carmi Parsons, John
Date published: 
March 1995

Medievalist feminist studies' early concentration on the lives of prominent women has more recently given way to an interest in their less exalted sisters. Historians have seemingly avoided the careers of medieval queens, creatures of romance and legend, women who enjoyed rank and wealth merely as a consequence of birth or marriage. A renewed interest in such women has, however, followed the opening of new avenues to the study of women and power in the Middle Ages. That the lives of these women will reward reconsideration has been amply proven in the works of such historians as Pauline Stafford and Janet Nelson. Eleanor of Castile studies the wife of Edward I of England, a woman eulogized since the sixteenth century as a model of virtuous womanhood and queenly excellence, who overcame the impediment of her foreign birth to win all English hearts. This book shows that Eleanor's contemporaries in fact had a disquietingly different opinion of her, and develops as a central theme the formation of that opinion as her behaviour was observed by her subjects. The book thus becomes a study in the construction of one woman's imagery of power and her society's perception of that imagery. The evolution of the queen's posthumous legend is considered as well, as her reputation was fashioned and refashioned in response to changing opinions on women and power and about the medieval period itself.