Fictions of Patronage: The Romance Heroine as Sponsor in John Metham's Amoryus and Cleopes

Article excerpt

Although several early studies of medieval patronage examine the system primarily from a financial standpoint, (1) many of the more recent scholars of medieval female sponsorship, such as June Hall McCash, Joan Ferrante, and Karen Jambeck, understand the patronage relationship as transcending economics. (2) These critics affirm a more varied concept of medieval women's intervention in the literary sphere--Joan Ferrante, for example, refers to their engagement as "urging" the productivity of male authors through "intellectual and emotional support" (3)--but confine their examples of such patronage to historical figures. This study furthers this understanding of extensive female patronage by considering evidence of this influence in literary texts such as John Metham's fifteenth-century romance Amoryus and Cleopes. In this article, I read the act of patronage not just as a system of financial exchange but more broadly as a system of social and intellectual support that may or may not include an element of financial remuneration. (4) Expanding the definition of patronage and considering multiple ways that women could learn the methods of cultural sponsorship expose women's dissemination of knowledge in the Middle Ages (such as medicinal recipes and chivalric and moral lessons) as culturally significant acts of largesse.

Medieval noblewomen learned how to commission textual compositions and translations, how to sponsor works of medieval art and architecture, and even learned about the social and spiritual benefits of establishing educational and religious foundations through examples set by family connections and the sociopolitical networks and textual communities in which they lived. (5) These networks of influence have been reconstructed to a certain extent through testamentary evidence and other extraliterary documents. However, I suggest that women might also have learned methods of patronage from the books they read, specifically medieval romances.

In these texts, the female reader encounters an explicit demonstration of how a woman's intellectual as well as financial resources can be used to influence cultural and literary productions. Even though these literary characters are sponsoring knights rather than books, the process of influence outlined in these romances marks a wide range of women's knowledge as socially significant and worthy of dissemination. By reassessing medieval patronage, broadening its scope and its potential as an avenue for women to express their intellectual expertise, this article examines Metham's Amoryus and Cleopes to consider how female characters functioned as models of cultural, intellectual, and social patronage in medieval romances read and patronized by women. Focusing on literary representations of women's sponsorship enables us to perceive the extent of women's influence on the medieval patronage system, an influence often unacknowledged in historical and extraliterary sources.

In Amoryus and Cleopes (1449), (6) we see how thorough specialized knowledge--in this case, the knowledge of natural science--can function as the primary means by which a romance heroine engages in sponsorship. In Metham's romance, Cleopes actively conveys her particular body of knowledge and implicitly offers specific instructions to female readers on how that knowledge could be used to promote the chivalric careers of the men they may seek to sponsor. This romance integrates the more immediately tangible benefits of women's patronage with the primarily intellectual and social influence (that is, not supplying riches or weaponry) enacted through Cleopes's scientific discourse. For example, Cleopes will give Amoryus several small but important gifts to ensure his success in battle. Although these items--gleaned from the medieval herbals and lapidaries on which her knowledge is based--do not compare to the lavish wealth and war gear the female patrons give their knights in other late-medieval romances such as Partonope of Blois and Sir Launfal, Amoryus and Cleopes demonstrates how female knowledge has practical applications in the life of a sponsored knight and in the lives of the readers of the romance as well. …