History tends to focus on kings, warriors and bishops – but a number of 11th-century women were hugely influential in war, state and church. Leonie Hicks introduces a quartet of powerful Norman women.
This article might best begin by paraphrasing a popular bon mot: ‘behind every successful Norman man was a brilliant woman’. Here I will focus on four of them: Gunnor (c950–1031), Emma of Normandy (c985–1052), Matilda of Flanders (c1031–1083) and Sichelgaita (1040–1090).
We are fortunate that enough evidence survives from the 11th and 12th centuries to provide insights into the lives, activities and roles expected of the women who married Normans, or who were themselves Norman and married into other ruling houses. Chronicles such as the History of the Normans by Dudo of Saint-Quentin, and works by Orderic Vitalis, Amatus of Montecassino and Anna Comnena, furnish us with glimpses into how these women were regarded by their contemporaries.
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