Document Type


Peer Reviewed



This essay explores how female characters in historical literature written in high to late medieval England shape land claims, political history, and genealogy through their acts of childbirth. Recent scholarship has shown how medieval writers frequently imagined virginal female bodies – religious and secular – in relation to land claim, but less work exists on how they also used the non-virginal bodies of mothers and vivid descriptions of childbirth to assert rights to land and lineage. This essay examines three birth stories associated with conquest or claims to contested lands from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, William of Malmesbury’s Gesta Regum Anglorum, and the anonymous ancestral romance Fouke le Fitz Waryn. In these principally high medieval texts, there is little of the squeamishness around parturition sometimes found in later French and Middle English romances. Rather, female characters give birth outdoors, underground, on contested borders, and accompanied by visions of conquest. The writers attribute the women with effort, activity, and political astuteness, as these political and figurative acts of childbirth shape the women’s relationships to land and those of their descendants.


I am grateful to Olivia Colquitt, Irina Dumitrescu, Patricia Skinner, and Jocelyn Wogan-Browne for comments on drafts of this essay.


childbirth, maternity, Anglo-Norman historiography, conquest, genealogy, landscape, Fouke le Fitz Waryn, Gesta Regum Anglorum, Historia Regum Britanniae