My post just now on Cathar Goodwomen is going to be my last post for a while, possibly at all. I've had a really wonderful time writing this blog, but after two and a half years I've reached what feels like the end for now. I hope maybe someday I'll pick it back up again, but for the moment I'm done. I'm not deleting anything, I'll still leave it all up, I just won't be adding anything new anytime soon.
One of the things about the Cathars that really freaked out Catholic authorities was that they allowed women into the ranks of their equivalent of clergy, the bonhommes and bonnefemmes (sometimes translated to Goodmen and Goodwomen). Part of the Cathar reasoning behind this stated that since material things were bad and that people’s souls were simply trapped in material bodies, a soul could not be male or female. Therefore, women were considered to have largely the same capacity to teach as men.
Most Cathar bonnefemmes seem to have gathered in small communities and schools, entirely separate from men. They lived together, worked together (mostly in textiles, it seems), and studied together. This was also where they taught potential new bonnefemmes along with other women who simply came to learn from them. They also used these communities as a home base when they went out in pairs to talk to people. Possibly the most famous, was the one founded by Esclarmonde de Foix and her sister-in-law Philippa.
The Cathars didn’t tend towards large gatherings or dramatic preaching. Instead, people tended to gather in small groups in private homes to listen to a pair of bonhommes or bonnefemmes speak. Before the Albigenisan Crusade, when the Cathars were peacefully integrated with the rest of the local population and generally left alone, bonnefemmes seem to have mostly spoken to small groups of women in their homes. Once the persecutions began, they continued to preach mostly in homes, but were more likely to speak to small groups of both men and women and bonnefemmes began to more frequently perform the Consolamentum ceremony that made one a bonhomme or bonnefemme, where before it was mostly done by a bonhomme if possible. They did this in hiding, at risk of persecution. As the Cathars died out, so too did their bonnefemmes. The last known Cathar Goodwoman, Stephane de Proaudes, staunch in her refusal to convert from Catharism, was given over by the Inquisitor Bernard Gui to be executed for heresy in the early years of the 14th century.
*Most Cathars as far as we can tell anyway. This was not the most cohesive or organized of religious groups, so there seems to have been a fair amount of diversity of belief.
Brenon, Anne. "The Voice of the God Women." In Women Preachers and Prophets through Two Millennia of Christianity, edited by Beverly Mayne Kienzle and Pamela J. Walker, 114-133. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.
O'Shea, Stephen. The Perfect Heresy. New York: Walker Publishing Company, Inc., 2000.
Cathar Beliefs - Cathar.info
[Coin depicting Fulvia as Nike, 1st century BCE, source: Wikimedia Commons]
Fulvia (d. 40 BCE) is best known as the extremely politically active wife of Marc Antony. She is known for going beyond the limitations imposed on her because she was a woman and stirring up conflict between those around her. The problem, of course, with his image of her is that we have no idea how much of it was true and how much was purely propaganda. She was a convenient target, both for those who wanted to tear down her husband and later for Octavian and Antony when they reconciled after her death and blamed their entire conflict on her.
Fulvia was the daughter of Marcus Fulvius Bambalio and Sempronia. She married Publius Clodius Pulcher around 62 BCE and had two children by him, a son and a daughter. Unlike many Roman wives of the time, she may have accompanied him on most of his travels. The first we know of her in the historical record comes with her husband’s death in 52 BCE, when she publically mourned over his body, causing a riot due to his popularity. Her second marriage was to Gaius Scribonius Curio. He died not three years later, while fighting for Julius Caesar in Africa.
Her third marriage is the most famous, to Marc Antony. This is where claims about her political activity and her dominating personality mostly come from. She was certainly politically active, accompanying Antony to the military camps at times and at other times staying in Rome to drum up political support for her husband and herself. As for her personality, Plutarch claims that she dominated her husband as “she wished to rule a ruler and command a commander.” How much of this is true is uncertain. Some of it certainly was, but how much? It certainly made her a convenient target for both Octavian and her husband after the Perusine War. Since she fled to Greece and died there shortly after said war, she couldn’t argue when the pair of them blamed the entire mess on her. Her son by Antony, Iulius Antonius, would be raised by Octavian’s sister, Octavia Minor.
Plutarch, Life of Antony - Lacus Curtius
Delia, Diana. "Fulvia Reconsidered." In Women's History & Ancient History, edited by Sarah B. Pomeroy, 197-217. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.
There is some evidence that Athenians considered the birth of the first child as the point when a marriage was secured. Before that, the connection between husband and wife was uncertain (not least because girls first married around 14 and men around 30), but a child was held in common between them* and so bound them together. Having children was considered the entire point of marriage. But with the age differences between them and the highly gendered expectations laid on them, what children meant to a father and to a mother, what each of their relationships were with the child, differed greatly.
Mothers were, perhaps unsurprisingly, expected to be the more nurturing parent. It was mostly unquestioned that a mother loved her children deeply and would do anything for them. She would almost certainly be closer in age to her children than her husband was, which might even lead to her being closer to them emotionally than she was to her spouse. Certainly a mother being more likely to take her son’s side in a quarrel with his father was a common rhetorical trope. The age difference also meant that she was far more likely to end up a single parent than she was, though she would never end up legally in charge of them.
The relationships between fathers and their children were generally not expected to be so close and probably weren’t in practice. Tension between fathers and their adult sons who hadn’t yet received an inheritance yet certainly seem to have not been uncommon. But fathers were still expected to care deeply for their offspring. To say in court that a man did not love his children was a serious strike against him.
*Not legally certainly, but emotionally.
Golden, Mark. Children and Childhood in Classical Athens. 2nd Edition. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990, 2015.
Slightly less romanticized than many modern images of her. Slightly.
[Statue of Matilda of Flanders, 1850, Carle Elshoecht, Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, source: Wikimedia Commons]
Matilda of Flanders (c. 1031-1083) was the first woman to be crowned and titled Queen of England. She was a powerful woman, not just because of her personality and intelligence, both of which were considerable, but also because of her familial connections to the counts of Flanders, the kings of France, and the earlier kings of England. She was active both as Queen and as Duchess of Normandy, ruling both England and Normandy alongside her husband, William of Normandy.*
Matilda was the daughter of Baldwin V of Flanders and Adela of France. Through her father she was descended from Alfred the Great of Wessex, while through her mother she was niece and granddaughter to the French kings. She was betrothed to William of Normandy when she was 19 or thereabouts and married him a few years later, despite a papal ban on grounds of consanguinity. In 1059 the couple would found a pair of monasteries in Caen to make up for their defiance. They would go on to have at least eight, possibly nine children together, all of whom were very well educated, at Matilda’s insistence.
During the next several years Matilda would act as one of William’s most trusted advisors. When he sailed for England, he left their eldest son Robert nominally in charge but gave Matilda the real power in Normandy, making her regent. She was a shrewd ruler, and managed to bring stability to a duchy that was said to be “notoriously susceptible to anarchy.” When news of William’s victory in England arrived Matilda rejoiced, but she would not actually join him in England for another year. She was the first woman to actually be crowned Queen of England** and her coronation made clear just how much power she was to have. William, seeing how well she ruled Normandy, had declared that she could with his authority anywhere in his domains.
Over the next several years, Matilda acted both with her husband and separately from him, both in England and in Normandy, including accompanying him in the Harrying of the North. She was particularly involved not only in religious work (a traditional sphere of influence for queens), but also in the administration of justice and is known to have judged several major disputes. When their son Robert rebelled, Matilda supported him monetarily, but seems to have preferred to act as mediator between father and son. She died in 1083 with William at her side and was buried in her monastery, the Abbey of Sainte Trinité, where her daughter Cecelia was a nun.
*Also known as William the Conqueror or William the Bastard.
**Her ancestor, Judith of Flanders was both crowned and anointed 855, but as Queen of Wessex, not Queen of England, and even this was highly unusual.
Matilda of Flanders - Epistolae
Borman, Tracy. Queen of the Conqueror: the Life of Matilda, Wife of William. New York: Bantam Books, 2011.
Douglas, David C. William the Conqueror. Yale University Press, 1964, 1999.
Unfortunately for us, the people who knew the most about preventing and ending pregnancies in the Middle Ages were women, especially women who weren’t in a position to be writing things we would have now. But even so, we do know that people who wanted to prevent pregnancy had several options open to them, some more effective than others. A lot of this information actually comes from some of the very authors who disapproved of the use of contraception (though largely as an afterthought or side issue to more important topics), some of them seemingly following the saying “if not chastely, then at least cautiously.” Some methods were more effective than others.
There are a couple different plants that were commonly used to prevent pregnancy or stop it in its first few days.* Silphium, so famous in earlier centuries, was extinct other plants were known to work as well. Pennyroyal seems to have been the most widespread, but Queen Anne’s lace (also known as wild carrot) and rue seem to have been widely used as well. Some plants, like asafetida (a relative of silphium) have been proven to be somewhat effective, but not totally so. Pomegranate was also believed to act as a contraceptive, but that has since been disproven. The problem with most of these was how toxic they were. An overdose could easily result in far more serious health problem, or even death.
Not that these things were always used for contraception. Many of them were known to bring on menstruation, which could be done to prevent a pregnancy, but it could also be used to make sure of fertility (if, for example, a woman hadn’t been having periods in a while) or to easily remove an already dead fetus from the body.
Another method of contraception was to have sex in such a way that wouldn’t get someone pregnant. Coitus interruptus is known to have been a common method, but pennitentials and other texts also mention oral and anal sex, among other ways. Some people tried wearing amulets and charms or jumping up and down after sex. More effective than either of these things was the insertion of a sponge or some other barrier into the vagina. Regardless of the Church’s (rather formulaic) disapproval, medieval people knew and practiced a wide variety of contraceptive methods, some of which were more effective than others.
*Most medieval people who had opinions on the subject that we know about seem to have considered the fetus a person either after 40 days or once its mother felt it move.
Brundage, James A. Law, Sex and Christian Society in Medieval Europe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.
Birth Control and Abortion in the Middle Ages - Medievalists.net
Contraception (Sample article from Women and Gender in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia) - Routledge
Servilia Caepionis (1st century BCE) maintained ties to and influence over several important men in the Late Roman Republic. She was the mother of Brutus, Julius Caesar’s lover, Cato the Younger’s half-sister, and mother-in-law to Cassius. Though she helped Brutus and Cassius after Caesar’s assassination and represented their interests in Rome while they were away, she escaped persecution and lived to a ripe old age.
Servilia was the daughter of Livia Drusa and Quintus Servilius Caepio. Her parents divorced when she was quite young and her mother remarried Marcus Porcius Cato, giving Servilia a younger half-brother, Cato the Younger. After her mother and stepfather died, she was raised by her maternal uncle, Marcus Livius Drusus. She married at a young age and in 85 BCE gave birth to a son, Marcus Junius Brutus, who was given the same name as his father. Her husband was killed by Pompey in 77 BCE.
Shortly thereafter, she remarried, to Decimus Junius Silanus, and had three daughters and a son by him. It was also around this time that Servilia’s affair with Caesar began. It would last longer than any of his other relationships and seems to have been more passionate as well. She matched him in education, intelligence, and ambition and so held his attention, as he held hers in the same way. It was not a well kept secret.
In 63 BCE, during a debate in the Senate about the Catiline conspirators, Caesar was handed a note. Cato the Younger, Servilia’s half-brother, accused Caesar of siding with the conspirators and demanded to read the letter aloud. It was a love-letter from Servilia.
When civil war broke out, Servilia’s son Brutus sided against Caesar, who wound up ordering that the young man not be harmed, possibly out of affection for both Servilia and her son. Servilia and Brutus would soon be at odds themselves though. She opposed his marriage to his cousin, Porcia Catonis and may have resented the younger woman.
Even so, both women were present at the meeting of the conspirators after Caesar’s assassination and, much to Cicero’s disgust, her voice was listened to. When the conspirators fled, she represented their interests in Rome. She would outlive all of them. After her husband’s death, she retired into the care of Cicero’s friend Atticus and eventually died of old age.
Cornelius Nepos, Atticus - Epicurus.net
Suetonius, "Julius Caesar," Lives of the Caesars - Lacus Curtius
Plutarch, "Cato Minor," Parallel Lives - Lacus Curtius
Plutarch, "Brutus," Parallel Lives - Lacus Curtius
Salisbury, Joyce E. "Servilia." In Encyclopedia of Women in the Ancient World, 319. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2001.
Goldsworthy, Adrian. Caesar: Life of a Colossus. Yale University Press, 2006.
James, Sharon L. and Sheila Dillon. A Companion to Women in the Ancient World. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2012.
Bauman, Richard. Women and Politics in Ancient Rome. London, Routledge, 1992.
Nearly all of what we know about formal adoption in Ancient Rome has to do with the upper classes. For them it was political strategy. It was a way for a man* to formally and legally restructure his family and appoint his heirs according to his own wishes. Both adoptio and adrogatio were commonly used, though testamentary adoption was an option as well.
Because of the way we think about adoption now, probably the first thing that springs to mind is a man without an heir who then adopts one. This did happen, but men who already had sons adopted more just as frequently, strengthening their chances of having descendants. Sometimes this was a way of legitimizing an illegitimate son, but that was less common. Usually they took legitimate sons of their own social class instead.
It was also unusual but not unheard of for a man to adopt a woman as his heir, as in the case of Curtilius Mancia, who hated his son-in-law and so adopted his granddaughter instead. Adoption allowed men to be highly selective about who became their heirs, but it also meant they weren’t just dependent on their offspring for security. When the Leges Iuliae came into effect, some childless men adopted others to take advantage of the benefits of having children and then emancipated them shortly thereafter.
There were benefits to the person being adopted as well, beyond just the chance at inheriting their stuff. Since adoption didn’t prevent him from inheriting from their birth parents, a young man adopted by another man of wealth could then inherit from two fathers instead of one. He might also gain the status of his new father. This led to several men of senatorial rank having themselves adopted by plebeians so they were eligible to become the Tribune of the Plebs. For Romans of the upper classes at least, adoption could be more of political strategy than anything else.
*Most forms of adoption weren’t open to women, and the wife of someone’s adoptive father was not considered to be one’s adoptive mother.
Corbier, Mireille. "Divorce and Adoption as Roman Familial Strategies." In Marriage, Divorce, and Children in Ancient Rome, edited by Beryl Rawson, 47-78. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Adoptio - Lacus Curtius
Lindsay, Hugh. Adoption in the Roman World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Frier, Bruce. Review of Lindsay, Adoption in the Roman World - Bryn Mawr
Translation of the above: where I post the interesting things I find researching the Classical and Medieval periods in my free time.