The Romance of Adultery: Queenship and Sexual Transgression in Old French Literature

The Romance of Adultery: Queenship and Sexual Transgression in Old French Literature

The Romance of Adultery: Queenship and Sexual Transgression in Old French Literature

The Romance of Adultery: Queenship and Sexual Transgression in Old French Literature

Synopsis

Peggy McCracken offers a feminist historicist reading of Guenevere, Iseut, and other adulterous queens of Old French literature, and situates romance narratives about queens and their lovers within the broader cultural debate about the institution of queenship in twelfth- and thirteenth-century France.

Moving among a wide selection of narratives that recount the stories of queens and their lovers, McCracken explores the ways adultery is appropriated into the political structure of romance. McCracken examines the symbolic meanings and uses of the queen's body in both romance and the historical institutions of monarchy and points toward the ways medieval romance contributed to the evolving definition of royal sovereignty as exclusively male.

Excerpt

In 1148 rumors surfaced that Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of King Louis vii of France, was involved in an adulterous love affair with her uncle, Raymond of Antioch. Eleanor had accompanied her husband on the second Crusade, and during the couple’s stay in the Holy Land stories began to circulate about the queen’s close relationship to her uncle. John of Salisbury reported that “the attentions paid by the prince to the queen, and his constant, indeed almost continuous, conversation with her, aroused the king’s suspicions.” William of Tyre’s account of the events focused on the queen’s complicity. He wrote that Raymond, frustrated in his effort to enlist Louis’s aid in enlarging the principality of Antioch, resolved to deprive Louis of his wife, “either by force or by secret intrigue. the queen readily assented to this design, for she was a foolish woman.” Eleanor was never formally charged with adultery, and the rumored liaison did not end the royal marriage. the king and queen were apparently reconciled by the pope when they stopped in Italy after leaving Antioch, and the queen gave birth to a daughter in 1150. Despite the “reconciliation,” however, Eleanor and Louis were divorced three years after the events at Antioch on grounds of consanguinity.

Eleanor of Aquitaine’s story provides a provocative starting point for a study of the prominent representation of adulterous queens in medieval romances. Eleanor herself has long been associated with medieval love literature as both a patron and a model, and it is possible that Eleanor’s experiences may have been well enough . . .

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