Noblewomen, Aristocracy and Power in the Twelfth-Century Anglo-Norman Realm

By Susan M. Johns | Go to book overview

7
Seals

Representation, image and identity

There are over 145 extant secular women's seals from the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries.1 They present the historian with unique opportunities to study the portrayal of female identity in twelfth-century England. Seals were visual representations of power, and they conveyed notions of authority and legitimacy. They publicly presented a view of both men and women which visibly crystallised ideas about gender, class and lordship. The modern historian of seals owes a considerable debt to antiquarian scholars such as Sir Christopher Hatton, and to Sir Walter de Gray Birch, who did much to catalogue the extensive collections of extant impressions of British medieval seals.2 Ultimately, however, these approaches are unsatisfactory because they treat seals as interesting artefacts without taking account of the complex socio-cultural processes within which they were created. Equally difficult is the lack of precise contextualised chronologies which determine how seal images became conventionalised and why.3 Thus although it is now established that, for example, on the seals of male nobility the equestrian figure was the most enduring and dominant form of iconography which symbolised 'feudal lordship',4 it is difficult to relate this to changes in 'feudal lordship' because such studies float free from the debates about changes in the nature of lordship or society, or any consideration of portrayals and meanings of masculinity.5 Similarly, for noblewomen, it is known that iconographic devices were used on their seals, such as the fleur-de-lys, or the ambivalent bird of prey image,6 yet why and how these symbols emerged is obscure.

Fundamentally, there is a static feel to the study of seals. Jean Luc Chassel's important contribution to the study of twelfth-century French seals has, however, placed them in the context of the broader social

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Noblewomen, Aristocracy and Power in the Twelfth-Century Anglo-Norman Realm
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Gender in History i
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Tables and Figures viii
  • Preface ix
  • Abbreviations xi
  • 1: Introduction 1
  • Part I - Literary Sources 11
  • 2: Power and Portrayal 13
  • 3: Patronage and Power 30
  • Part II - Noblewomen and Power:The Charter Evidence 51
  • 4: Countesses 53
  • 5: Witnessing 81
  • 6: Countergifts and Affidation 107
  • 7: Seals 122
  • 8: Women of the Lesser Nobility 152
  • 9: Royal Inquests and the Power of Noblewomen: the Rotuli De Dominabus Et Pueris Et Puellis De XII Comitatibus of 1185 165
  • 10: Conclusion 195
  • Appendix 1 - Catalogue of Seals from the Twelfth and Early Thirteenth Centuries 203
  • Appendix 2: Noblewomen in the Rotuli de Dominabus 231
  • Bibliography 247
  • Index 269
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