Document Type


Peer Reviewed





In the mid-fourteenth century, two women headed opposing parties in a civil war for control of the duchy of Brittany in France. Conventional scholarship explains their involvement in politics and warfare as exceptions possible only during emergencies. Contemporary chronicles and the letters of the two women themselves, however, tell another story, one in which these two women participated in politics and warfare even before their husbands entered captivity. Their participation makes sense if we recognize that medieval society understood lordship as a form of shared governance performed by a noble couple. While separate roles did exist for the husband and wife, these roles were not divided into “male-only” or “female-only” spheres of activity. Instead, noblewomen, like their husbands, were expected to contribute to politics and warfare. This long-standing participation in matters of state prepared the women to assume sole leadership (and their vassals to accept them as leaders) when necessary.


This writing of this article was made possible by funding from the Seed Grant for Transitional and Exploratory Projects offered by Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.


Politics, warfare, women, Brittany, lordship, nobility, medieval

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Copyright © 2015 Katrin E. Sjursen