Bede writing. Yates Thompson MS 26 © British Library

Medieval Theses

Each year, hopeful young scholars publish their theses on Medieval History as well as archaeology, literature, art. The following list is not comprehensive. But we register what we find with links to the depositories

2022

A Language of Snakes: Supernatural Objects in Viking Age Scandinavia
By Andrea C. Snow
College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Art, Art History Program

Viking snake from Oseberg
Viking snake from Oseberg

From the late-eighth through the early-twelfth centuries, the Germanic people of medieval Scandinavia (colloquially known as the Vikings) crafted enigmatic objects that were bound to a cultural acceptance of the supernatural. The material world was fundamentally linked to such a perspective: believing that things like carved pieces of bone and wood, metal apparatuses, and stone sculptures could hold or manipulate the unseen forces of the cosmos, they perceived the material world as alive, active, and powerful. Thus, crafted matter was not limited to aesthetically pleasing décor or functional tools—it was an agent through which the commingling of the sacred and the secular was made tangible. Scholars of medieval religion and history have argued that this worldview—dubbed a “magical way of thinking”—was intrinsic to the mindsets of the Scandinavian Middle Ages both before and after the region’s conversion to Christianity. Yet, despite the attention that medieval art historians have paid to the relationships between objects and beliefs in a supernatural (or divine) Other in contemporaneous, Abrahamic religious contexts, the art and material culture of the group at hand have been underserved. Substantial interpretive work needs to be done to untangle how these objects were connected to the uncanny. Asking not only how objects were embedded in supernatural power, but also through which methods were they endowed with such power and in what contexts it manifested, this project uses archaeological and textual evidence to formulate a new, art-historical framework for understanding the agency that this society assigned to the material world. Its aims are twofold: one, to suggest new routes for interpreting and understanding its relationship with crafted objects, and two, to push for further expansions in how these people are considered in scholarship and, eventually, in popular culture.

 

Medieval Royal babies - source Wikipedia‘It was greatly feared that the queen was barren’: perceptions and management of royal fertility in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century England and Scotland
By Emma Trivett
Edingburgh University 2022

Scholars of kingship and queenship have long acknowledged that producing an heir was an expected duty for medieval queens and kings. Indeed, motherhood has been a focal point in medieval queenship scholarship since the field’s beginning in the 1980s. Scholars have explored the gendered ideal of queenship and shown that maternity was a key function of the king’s wife that enabled medieval queens to exert political influence. Recently, scholars have considered how queens without children were still able to successfully execute their role, by substituting social motherhood and other facets of queenship, like intercession and religious patronage, in place of biological motherhood. Kings needed heirs, but gendered analysis of kingship has been slower to develop than work on other medieval men, or queens, and while fatherhood has received some attention in relation to medieval masculinity, there is less study of the significance of successful fertility for the gendered role of medieval kings.

This thesis fills a space that exists between the work on medieval kingship, queenship and the nuanced approaches that are being developed in the new history of infertility. The conventional understanding of ‘infertility’ as the inability to conceive is limiting, and excludes incidences of secondary infertility, sub-fertility and other uncertainties of reproduction. This thesis investigates the significance and pressure for fertility on kings and queens, by focusing on how royal couples in thirteenth and fourteenth-century England and Scotland, many of whom were not always childless or conventionally infertile, still experienced reproductive difficulties and managed their fertility. The analysis is divided into four chapters, structured around questions about when and why royal childlessness was problematized, and how fertility problems and reproduction were managed by royal couples. The first chapter examines contemporary impressions of the royal couples’ fertility and expressions of concern about childlessness. It investigates how royal fertility was written about by chroniclers and uncovers attention to couples’ fertility which has been missed by scholarship because many of the couples ultimately did have children. It considers chroniclers’ association of reproduction with queens and argues that perceptions of the kings contributed to what chronicles state about royal fertility.

The second chapter identifies a pattern of behaviour in the devotional practices of three childless kings, and exposes a connection between the king’s behaviours, age and concerns about childlessness. This chapter suggests that royal couples experienced scrutiny of their fertility when the king reached the perfect age associated with masculine maturity in the male life course. The third chapter traces evidence of royal medical care and asks how we might identify reproductive medicine in payments to physicians and connections to medical practitioners and texts. The chapter illustrates key patterns in royal healthcare to illuminate how royal couples medically managed fertility. It argues that royal healthcare was gendered, and reproductive medicine was focused on the queen, but queens had an influential role in the transmission and control of the medical care accessed by the royal couple. The fourth chapter examines the spiritual practices used by royal couples to manage reproduction and remedy fertility problems. It argues that the spiritual practices for reproduction were carefully chosen communications to control perceptions of a couple’s fertility, while the spiritual management of fertility was used by couples to communicate broader politically significant messages too.

Ultimately, this thesis examines the pressure for fertility experienced by royal couples, and how they navigated this using medical and spiritual support. It moves on from questioning how queens and kings navigated their gendered role in the absence of reproduction and uncovers the significance of fertility for contemporary perceptions of kingship and queenship. It shows how the uncertainties of reproduction affected and were managed by kings and queens, but in different and gendered ways. Ultimately, the thesis demonstrates that a more open analysis of infertility is necessary for understanding with greater precision the experience of childlessness, and the importance of fertility for both gendered roles of kingship and queenship.

2021

sleeping beaty collier wikipedia - from an art bookThe Transformation of the Sleeping Corpse Motif in Medieval and Early Modern Literature
By Rachel Fennell
Durham University 2021

This thesis traces how the enchanted sleep motif common to both ATU 410 (Sleeping Beauty) and ATU 709 (Snow White) exists in the Bible and hagiography, before charting its subsequent appearance in medieval and early modern literature. Categorising the enchanted sleep and its various facets as the motif of the ‘sleeping corpse’, this thesis considers how two fairy tales, which appear to model Victorian patriarchal ideals of female passivity and male agency, have complex earlier iterations that undermine and subvert many of their contemporary core problematic tenets. Chapter One explores how the sleeping corpse motif can be considered analogous to the presentation of deceased saints in hagiography, examining how a sleeping corpse can also be an active, powerful, and often deadly member of a community. Chapter Two explores the motif in medieval romance, including in the first recorded written version of Sleeping Beauty and its subsequent European versions, where the motif is often used as part of rape narratives. Chapter Three examines how Elizabethan pastoral romance presents the male sleeping corpse as a product of the failure to self-govern passion, whilst Chapter Four explores how Shakespeare uses the motif to unpack ideas of familial loss and reunion, though not restoration. Finally, Chapter Five demonstrates how Jacobean revenge tragedy rejects past iterations of the motif in favour of using the sleeping corpse to portray murder and necrophilia on stage. Drawing together a vast and original corpus of genres and time periods, this thesis offers new ways of understanding two traditionally maligned fairy tales, as well as demonstrating how the motif speaks to our desire to pause time, delay the inevitability of death, and obtain a type of immortality.

 

medieval graffiti southampton © hantsfieldclubLandscapes of destination: An archaeology of the experiential and ritual behaviour of Medieval (12th to 16th century) English worshippers at religious centres.
By Jamie Ingram
Thesis for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
University of Southampton Faculty of Arts and Humanities Archaeology and Anthropology

This thesis utilises the data sets provided through the recording of historic graffiti within secular and religious buildings to analyse and draw a theoretical understanding of behaviour within Medieval Christian religious practice during a period of intense pilgrimage activity. The work focuses on the South of England and questions the nature of personal religious engagement within the church and cathedral specifically looking at the methods used by lay worshippers to gain independent access to the divine. To facilitate this study large volume of historic graffiti data has been recorded in Hampshire, Wiltshire, and West Sussex. This data has been analysed using geostatistical models to assess distribution and relative nearness of the marks to both known points within the built environment and to neighbouring marks. This data has then been compared to existing literary and historical texts to understand how the marks have interacted with personal prayer practice and the built landscape. The outcome of this study has been the generation of a theoretical framework that describes one form of interaction using graffiti as ritual doing within the generation of personal rituals of encounter that facilitate the exploration of a complex nested ontology within the built landscape. This nested ontology provides access to the divine in a ritually safe manner and permits lay worshippers to navigate the spiritual dangers an encounter with the divine without the guidance of a ritual authority.

2020

DECEMBER

Margaret of Burgundy (1374-1441) Drawing of tombTussen twee dynastieën : Margaretha van Bourgondië, gravin van Henegouwen, Holland en Zeeland
By Brandsma, M.
Doctoral Thesis
Leiden University

Margaret of Burgundy (1374-1441) is known mainly for two reasons. Firstly, her marriage in 1385 to William of Bavaria, eldest son of the Count of Hainault, Holland and Zeeland, laid the foundation for the transfer of power in these principalities to the Burgundian dynasty some 50 years later. Secondly, she supported her only child Jacqueline of Bavaria, who fought many battles in order to prevent this. The combination of these two roles points to a conflict of interest. By supporting her daughter as the rightful Bavarian heir, Margaret inevitably came into conflict with members of her own dynasty of origin, the Valois Burgundians. The overarching question in the research presented in this thesis is what tilted the scales for Margaret as a political player in different phases of her life: was it her loyalty to the Burgundian or to the Bavarian dynasty, her connection with the Hook party in Holland, or was she driven mainly by self-interest, as is sometimes suggested? Related to this is the question whether her means were substantial enough to allow her to play her own game. In this biographical study, a chronological and a thematic approach have been combined. The loyalty question serves as guideline for the first part, in which the story of Margaret’s life is told chronologically within the broader context of political developments. The thematic second part is dedicated to her financial position as a widow, her court, and her religious and literary patronage.

Vestment, cope c. 1280 - 1299. From: Rome: Musei Vaticani, Museo SacroOpus anglicanum : the visual language, liturgical rituals, and gifting of a medieval English brand
By Valentina Susanne Grub
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Art History Thesis, St. Andrew’s

In 1246, when Pope Innocent IV saw embroidered copes and mitres which were made in England, he exclaimed; “England is for us surely a garden of delights, truly an inexhaustible well; and from there where so many things abound…” Embroidery made between 1200-1350 in England, known as opus anglicanum, was internationally recognized, traded, gifted, collected, and coveted. The technical skill combined with a distinct aesthetic resulted in an iconic textile brand. Though first described as a brand in the context of contemporary imitated textiles, I extend this understanding by close visual analyses and archival readings. “Opus anglicanum: The Visual Language, Liturgical Rituals, and Gifting of a Medieval English Brand” argues for a quadripartite examination of the opus anglicanum brand, grounded in luxury brand theory. I articulate the technical and aesthetic hallmarks of the brand by examining archival records of embroiderers and the specific aspects of their work which differentiated opus anglicanum from other contemporary textile decorations. I then evaluate the opus anglicanum brand aesthetic by a close visual reading of its background designs and popular motifs, through which emerges the enduring relationship between manuscript illumination and embroidery design. As the majority of extant opus anglicanum textiles are ecclesiastic vestments, I then assess these textiles in the context of contemporary liturgical writings and rituals. As archival evidence indicates, opus anglicanum textiles were often presented as gifts. Therefore, I conclude by studying the effect of medieval English embroidery in the context of gift-giving rituals. This dissertation, while grounded in both medieval and modern scholarship, reevaluates these textiles and argues that the enduring legacy of opus anglicanum is due to its identity as a medieval brand.

OCTOBER

Giotto Mourning of the ChristSelf-representation in the three-dimensional arts: a study of Italia and Germania, CA 800 – CA 1200.
By Mariia Ivanovna Gordusenko
Edingburgh University

This thesis is a study of self-representation in sculpture in the Middle Ages. The research offers a new interpretation of the uses of self-representation by practitioners working in various three-dimensional media active in medieval Italia and Germania before the twelfth century. An analysis of a series of case studies provides evidence for investigating issues hitherto often overlooked, including literacy, devotion, skill, craftsmanship, commemoration and identity. Emphasis is placed on visual analysis of the case studies. Sculptors’ self-representations, integrated within these religious objects produced for use in Christian practice, are identifiable either through inscriptions or documentary evidence. This thesis applies interdisciplinary methodologies to explore practical, devotional and cultural functions of the case studies. It combines iconological and iconographic approaches to indicate cultural connections and exchange between European regions, where my examples are found. The roles of artists and patrons and their mobility, and the continuity of self-representational tradition from antiquity to the Middle Ages are considered to provide necessary background context to this enquiry. The topics of sculptors’ iconography, literacy and social standing have not received systematic attention in previous scholarship. However, this analysis of sculptors’ self-representations demonstrates that certain iconographic codes existed already in the early medieval period. Iconographic analysis of one of the examples indicates affiliation of the sculptor with lay brothers. Insufficiently studied to date, this social group receives thorough attention in this thesis. In other examples, signed self-representations accurately specify sculptors’ professional titles and social positions. This thesis also demonstrates that the me fecit-signatures are indicative of sculptors’ authorship and literacy. Having established this, this enquiry challenges the misleading impression of medieval artists’ anonymity popular in early scholarship. It also proposes that sculptors’ self-representations should not be perceived in a standardised way. The case studies reflect social diversity of early medieval sculptors’ community on both sides of the Alps. They encompass individuality of their authors, ensure devotional expression and serve as a means of communication between sculptors, their contemporaries and further generations. The thesis opens new perspectives for understanding of early medieval sculptors and their work.

SEPTEMBER

Welsh Marshes. Offa's Dyke . Source: WikipediaPatterns of Power, Power of Patterns: Exploring Landscape Context in the Borderland of the Northern and Central Welsh Marches, AD 300-1100. (Doctoral dissertation).
By Garry Duckers
University of Chester, United Kingdom.2020

Scholarship regarding the early medieval Welsh Marches is frequently disparate and disjointed. Studies have concentrated on the analysis of monuments, in part because of the paucity of early medieval archaeology upon which to create a tableau conducive to macro landscape-based research. Where syncretic works in the Welsh Marches have attempted to adopt an interdisciplinary approach, they are often dated, not embracing, or utilising new techniques or methods. This is exacerbated by approaches in archaeological remotes sensing that have focused on methods or only producing dots and lines on a map, rather than its application and integration into theoretical frameworks widening further the divide between theory and practice. Combined, these approaches also fail to integrate fully within discourses emerging in border studies, a critical field of study when analysing border regions. To tackle these challenges, this thesis examines the borderland landscape of the North and Central Marches using traditional geographical and archaeological techniques, combined with GIS and remote sensed methodologies such as lidar to offer new insight into processes of power and how that is reflected in the landscape. This research targets not only landscape morphology but embraces border theory on the expression and apparatus of power emphasising the ‘borderland’ as an active agent in territoriality and social processes. This study has analysed remote sensed data and data sets that have previously been underutilised and combined theoretical concepts into a holistic body of work. New or misinterpreted archaeological sites have been identified, adding to the archaeological knowledge of the region and facilitated an enhanced picture of the early medieval landscape. In addition, the interrelationship of boundaries and sites hitherto unrecognised in the Welsh Marches have collectively opened new avenues and concepts to underpin and augment further research on dyke systems and border formation processes.

Visegrad Castle DanubeWho Stole the Water? The Control and Appropriation of Water Resources in Medieval Hungary
By András Vadas
Submitted to the Medieval Studies Department, Central European University, Budapest in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Medieval Studies Budapest
Hungary Budapest, 2020

In this dissertation the problems surrounding water management, a space where different economic and other socio-political interests met and sometimes clashed are addressed. Modern politics focuses on who has legitimate rights to claims in such disputes, but for historians, it is certainly more relevant to understand how such conflicts were approached and resolved in the past by posing questions about how pre-modern societies dealt with these same problems. These questions include what kind of disputes unfolded with regard to the use of water and the degree to which water conceived as private or as ‘common’? How were different interests aligned with each other? In this dissertation these questions are raised in the context of Central Europe, and more particularly, in the Kingdom of Hungary in the Middle Ages (from the ca. tenth century to the mid-sixteenth century), i.e. the period of the re- appearance of literacy in the area after the Roman period. Throughout the different chapters of the dissertation it is argued that use of water by the societies of the Kingdom of Hungary in the Middle Ages gave rise to fairly complex sets of customs and norms that, until the Modern times, were the most important principles in settling water use related disputes.

Art Metal Production in Early Medieval Bulgaria (according to the findings)
By Stella Milcheva Doncheva
Dissertation submitted to the Shumen University
Shumen 2020

Against the background of production traditions, there is an opportunity to trace the external cultural interactions, manifested in various forms. An example of a model of technological development in early medieval Bulgaria is the production centers for metal art, which functioned in the first half of the 10th century in the vicinity of Preslav. Each region of metalworking has a complex structure in which the individual production areas are often far apart. They function according to the developed system of exchange with the various metallurgical fields, where the connection between them is determined not so much by economic compliance as by the degree of culture and traditions. The regularly located complexes of workshops show the presence of proximity in the location of the individual production areas, which is influenced by the cultural development of the early medieval Bulgarian community and the synchronous time of functioning. Metalworking has considerable autonomy and this is especially evident in the various stages of the technological process. Its distinctiveness is expressed in the specialization of the blacksmith’s trade, the special social and public status of the masters, the nature of the productive and trade relations, etc. The production of artistic metal is characterized by its own traditions and its own path of development, reflected in the history of alloys, production technology, the typology of metal inventory and the system of concepts. Local traditions are refracted through the prism of general practice in the development of production. Often these are established principles in technology and the individual stages in it, which retain their stability over time and reach both the Middle Ages and the New Age, with minor changes as a result of technical progress.

The subject of research is the rich collection of belt sets, received from the archaeological excavations of the three centres for the production of metal art from the early Bulgarian Middle Ages near Preslav – near Novosel, Zlatar and Nadarevo. The finds of belt sets in the three centres are the most numerous and mass-produced products, the number of which so far exceeds 3000. Along with them, the finds from the production centres received in the museum collections before the excavations were examined. This applies primarily to the third production centre near Nadarevo, Targovishte region. The study aims to investigate the production of artistic metal in early medieval Bulgaria on the basis of the numerous production of belt sets, collected as a result of 20 years of research of the first known specialized centres for metal plastics. As a result of archaeological excavations from 2004 to 2009, the first centre was studied – the one near Novosel, Shumen region. From 2007 to the present, the second production centre near Zlatar, Preslav region, is being studied with a short break. The centre near Nadarevo, Targovishte region was partially explored in the 1990s within one season. The number of finds in the National Museum in Sofia and the museum collections from all over Northeastern Bulgaria prove the existence of large-scale and organized production, in parallel with that of the other two complexes.

FEATURED PHOTO:

Bede writing. Yates Thompson MS 26, © British Library

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