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A session (or sessions) is planned for the Empire thematic strand at Leeds in 2014 on aspects of the ‘Angevin Empire’ from Matilda the Empress to Edward III. The goal is to trace the involvement of English monarchs on the continent and their relationships with and conceptions of subjects/vassals/lands there over a longer time scale than is normally considered under the rubric of the ‘Angevin Empire’. This is an excellent opportunity to test whether ‘Empire’ is a useful and appropriate category for analyzing such conceptions and/or relationships, and to begin developing a longer history of cross-channel governance that cuts through standard temporal boundaries such as regnal years and pivotal military moments. Comparative approaches are encouraged, and papers that address the question of French attitudes to English-Angevin rule or claims are also welcome.

Abstracts of 200 words should be sent to me ( by 15th September.

apotropaic (adj.):  Having or reputed to have the power of averting evil influence or ill luck.[1]

I found this great word in Magistra et Mater’s report on a recent IHR seminar by Annette Kehnel, here. I recommend it to you (the post that is, not just the word) together with many other interesting posts to be found there.

In this report Magistra discusses Annette’s paper which examined the role of humility/humiliation in ritual behaviour during medieval royal inaugurations. I was particularly struck by the suggested apotropaic use of such rituals in political display and the way in which looking at ritual this way seems to demand a collapse of the humility/humiliation distinction. Presumably the voluntary humiliation of a public figure, such as in the cited example of kings of Ulster reportedly mating with a white mare,[2] would, in this light, be part of what protects him/her from later criticisms of pride, of acting without church/community/peer authorization, and so forth. But is humbling oneself, for instance, by bowing the head before an archbishop, really the same as being humiliated?

What do you think? Are they the same or different? And does it matter for the proposed evil-averting intention of the ritual?

[1] Oxford English Dictionary <; [accessed 28 February 2013].
[2]Warning! Gerald of Wales reference! There may be serious questions over whether such ritual activity can or should be taken as given… There is also the question of whether, assuming Gerald’s report stands, we should also assume such behaviour was considered humiliating in an early medieval Irish context… But I digress.

I recommend this lecture by my dear friend Benjamin Wild to your attention. Fascinating stuff in general, and especially if you are interested in thirteenth-century English politics! I can’t wait for the book to come out…

Benjamin Wild

The recordings and transcript below are from a lecture that I gave last week. A long time ago, it seems, an ex-colleague – my former head of department, to be precise – invited me to present a paper to his historical society. The talk discusses various art-historical themes from my forthcoming book, King Henry III & the Communication of Power, which should be published with Palgrave Macmillan in 2014… In brief, I argue that one historian’s analysis of Adolf Hitler’s political career can open up new perspectives on the reign of King Henry III (1216-1272), England’s fourth-longest reigning monarch.

King Henry III and the Power of Aesthetics: Art & Ceremony in Thirteenth-Century England

Intro (audio)

Adolf HitlerThe title of this talk is in homage to Frederic Spott’s study, Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, that was published in 2002.[i] Henry III and Adolf Hitler are not obvious figures…

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The Call for Papers for Kings and Queens II sent me scurrying through my *large* database of potential letters for a neat little nugget I might be able to turn into a conference paper. As I have about 13,000 individual items from the SC 1 (Ancient Correspondence) series at TNA saved as photographs on my hard drive, I’m quite spoilt for choice! I’d initially considered the correspondence of Edward I with his first cousin-once removed, Philip IV of France, as a potential case study. This seemed like an appropriate and interesting proposal since their relationship started off rosily, but took a particularly nasty turn around 1294 when Philip decided to annexe Edward’s Gascon territory to the French crown, despite having given assurances in private diplomatic meetings that he wouldn’t.[1] Sadly (although perhaps, on reflection, not particularly surprisingly), none of the extant letters between the two monarchs date from this crucial period. They come from earlier (up to 1293) and later (from about 1303). There’s probably still much of interest to be had from them, but this set back put a damper on my initial idea.[2]

Kew, TNA, SC 1/13/28. Detail of a draft letter from Edward I to Marie of Brabant, dowager queen of France, 12 August 1295. Photo by Kathleen Neal.

What does survive from the crisis period, however, is a set of draft letters drawn up on a single day in the name of Edward I to no fewer than three queens of France: his aunt, Marguerite of Provence, widow of Louis IX; Marie of Brabant, widow of his cousin Philip III; and Jeanne of Navarre, queen consort of Philip IV. Interestingly, in the same breath, as it were, the king also wrote to his ally against Philip, Adolph of Nassau, the so-called King of the Romans, but this letter was the last to be drafted in the set: it’s fourth on the parchment sheet under Edward’s letters to the three queens. Is this perhaps an indicator of a hierarchy of significance in political communication in which the royal women of Edward’s network were more important to his diplomatic efforts? Possible, although perhaps not provable… Nevertheless, this tantalising find – or rather rediscovery, since I’ve passed my eyes across this letter before – has got me rather excited in the context of the conference theme. Read the rest of this entry »

Time seems to be getting away from me of late, so while I do have some pensive posts on simmer, they’re not quite ready for human consumption. In the mean time, I offer you this juicy morsel, which is the Call for Papers for Kings and Queens II, the second conference of the Royal Studies Network. The theme in 2013 is ‘Making Connections: Alliances, Networks, Correspondence and Comparisons’, and, as you may imagine, if I can’t come up with something to say about that I should probably hand in my credentials now and give history up as a bad job. The meeting will be held in Winchester in the week after Leeds 2013, so why not do both and gorge yourself on a feast of medieval wonderment?

Submissions for individual papers (250 word abstracts) or three paper panels (500 word abstracts) should be emailed to the organizers at by 31 December 2012.

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I teach and research at the Centre for Medieval & Renaissance Studies in the School of Philosophical, Historial and International Studies, Monash University (Australia). Views expressed here are my own and not representative of the CMRS, SOPHIS or Monash.

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Twitter: @KB_Neal

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