Morrison, Susan Signe. 2017. A Medieval Woman's Companion. Oxbow Books, Oxford. ISBN 978-1-78570-079-8
* * *
This book looked interesting at a quick glance, and was reasonably priced. I picked it up for the chapter entitled "Textile Concerns: Holy Transvestites and the Dangers of Cross-Dressing." The substance is a lot less useful for my purposes, though not necessarily as an absolute judgment. It appears to be intended as a textbook for "general survey" type history courses. The sort taken by people who aren't history majors, but are taking it as an elective. It combines a highly readable style and careful footnotes with a very superficial and overly general survey of issues relating to women's lives in the middle ages. Topics in the textiles chapter include textile trades in the economy and society, clothing as status markers and as symbols, and the specific topic that the LHMP is interested in: cross-dressing. Rather than going into general theoretical issues, we mostly get a selection of individual texts or events.
The Icelandic Laxdaela Saga includes an anecdote about how one woman (Gudrun) accuses another woman (Aud) of wearing "men's breeches" as a way of inciting Aud's husband to divorce her.
The Greek historian Niketas Choniates described European women accompanying the second crusade in Amazonian terms, including mention of "females...dressed in masculine garb" and referring to one prominent woman as being like the queen of the Amazons. Morrison notes that this is believed to be a reference to Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. If so, this is the first time I've seen a solid reference to the oft-mentioned anecdote of Eleanor and her ladies wearing male clothing on crusade. So I'll be tracking down that reference.
There is a brief survey of the usual cross-dressing texts: the Romance of Silence, the Krakow university student, Pope Joan, all the "transvestite saints", and Joan of Arc, with discussions of the varied attitudes toward cross-dressing women in different contexts.
Add new comment