The Portrayal of Royal Women in England, Mid-Tenth to Mid-Twelfth Centuries

  • Pauline Stafford


Between 950 and 1150 a series of royal women played a prominent part in the political life of England. In the 950s Eadgifu, the mother of King Eadred; in the late tenth century Ælfthryth, wife of Edgar and mother of Æthelred II; in the early eleventh century Emma-Ælfgifu, wife successively of Æthelred and Canute and mother of Harthacanute and Edward the Confessor; in the mid-eleventh century Edith, wife and widow of Edward the Confessor and daughter of Earl Godwine; after the conquest, Mathilda, wife of William the Conqueror, Edith-Mathilda, wife of Henry I, and finally, in the generation of the Conqueror’s grandchildren, the empress Mathilda, daughter of Henry I, and Mathilda, wife of the empress’ rival and cousin, King Stephen. These women are thrown into relief by a series of royal wives and daughters who did not apparently exercise significant political power, women like Ælfgifu, wife of King Edmund and mother of Edgar, Wulfthryth, that same king’s second wife, and Edith, the daughter of Wulfthryth and Edgar. Some of these women achieved another form of power and authority through the religious life, some through posthumous sanctity.


Twelfth Century Eleventh Century Succession Politics Female Ancestor Female Power 
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Copyright information

© John Carmi Parsons 1998

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  • Pauline Stafford

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