Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Ermengarde of Narbonne: "Into the Hands of a Woman"

Ermengarde of Narbonne, viscountess of Narbonne (letter to Raymond Trencaval, viscount of Beziers, 31 January 1163)


Most discussions of Ermengarde of Narbonne (1127/9-1197)) begin with a comparison to Eleanor of Aquitaine (c, 1122/4-1204), who was her almost exact contemporary. Both women inherited their titles when they were very young: Ermengarde became viscountess of Narbonne, of strategic importance in Languedoc, while Eleanor became duchess of Aquitaine, with its vast wealth and extensive territory. 

A small street memorial in Narbonne,
posted by Ilsa Andrag 
Both women exerted considerable political influence in the twelfth century, and both participated in the culture of troubadour poetry and "courtly love"--both women are patrons of the troubadour poets and both are cited by Andreas Capellanus in his treatise titled De Arte honeste et reprobatione inhonesti amantis (in English, The Book of the Art of Loving Nobly and the Reprobation of Dishonourable Love, more frequently referred to as The Art of Courtly Love). 

Capellanus claims that Eleanor, her daughter, Marie of Champagne, and Ermengarde were among the greatest ladies of France who had issued "various decisions in love cases" (to see one of the judgments Capellanus ascribes to Ermengarde, click here).

For whatever reason, Ermengarde of Narbonne is much less well known than Eleanor of Aquitaine--perhaps because she never became a queen of anywhere, much less queen of both France and then England. But in her own day, Ermengarde, viscountess of Narbonne was a powerful force, capable of ruling and defending her territory and widely recognized for "her legal and diplomatic skills."

Ermengarde was the daughter of Aymeric II of Narbonne and his first wife, Ermengarde of Servian.* When her father died in battle in 1134, he left two daughters, Ermengarde and her half-sister, Ermessinde. The elder of the two, but still only about five years old, Ermengarde was heir to her father's title and territory.

The county of Narbonne, located in the Occitan region of southern France, was placed--unfortunately--in the middle of the "Great Southern War," fought between the counts of Toulouse and the counts of Barcelona, along with their various allies, including the viscounts of Trencavel, the counts of Poitiers, Rodez, and Comminges, the lords of Montpellier, and the counts of Foix.

In the midst of this ongoing conflict, the two orphaned daughters of the viscount of Narbonne were highly prized objects of desire, not so much for their personal qualities (Ermengarde was just five, Ermessinde younger) but for their political significance. 

In 1139, Alphonse Jourdain, count of Toulouse, asserted his right to the guardianship of the two girls and seized control of the city of Narbonne with the support of the archbishop. Ermengarde and her sister seem to have taken refuge with his great rival, Raymond Berengar IV, count of Barcelona--whose father also happened to be Aymeric of Narbonne's half-brother. 

But in 1142, when Ermengarde had reached the age of consent (she was likely about thirteen years old), the count of Toulouse produced a marriage contract--it seems that Alphonse Jourdain's wife, Faydid of Uzès, had most conveniently (for him) died, or that she had been repudiated. And Ermengarde was somehow compelled to sign a marriage contract, dated 21 October 1142, though exactly how this happened isn't clear. Interestingly, the marriage contract ventriloquized Ermengarde's own voice:
Be it known to all present and future that I, Ermengarde, want you, Alphonse, for my husband and give myself to you as your wife. By the same donation I give you Narbonne entirely without fraud on the condition that we hold it jointly in our lifetimes and after our deaths it will belong to the children we have procreated. If we have none who survive us and you survive me, you shall have and possess Narbonne and all that goes with it as long as you shall live
Alphonse Jourdain's effort to secure Narbonne by forcing a marriage to Ermengarde resulted in an alliance against him--he was defeated in battle and imprisoned. The peace treaty he was forced to sign returned Narbonne to Ermengarde. The marriage to Ermengarde had evidently not been consummated because by 1143, she was married to a cousin, Bernard d'Anduze, viscount of Nîmes--described as "a widower with several children who . . . offended no one, and was not active in Narbonne."

For some fifty years, from the time of her marriage until 1194, Ermengarde ruled Narbonne in her own right with no mention of Bernard (who died in 1157). 

Coins issued by Ermengarde,
viscountess of Narbonne
She was also a constant presence in political disputes and conflicts in the Occitan. In 1148, she provided military support to Raymond Berengar in his siege of the city of Tortosa. In 1154, when Raymond I Trencavel was captured by Count Raymond V of Toulouse, he left his wife and children in the care of the count of Barcelona, but his son and his men to the care of Ermengarde of Narbonne. 

In 1157 she allied the county of Narbonne with Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II of England, and the count of Barcelona in an effort to seize Toulouse. She served as a mediator in Provence and in 1162 led a force to besiege the town of Les Baux. In 1176 she was a mediator between Raymond of Toulouse and Alfons of Aragon, in 1182, she supported Henry II against his rebelling sons, and a year later, she was at the siege of Puy-Saint-Front with Henry and three of his sons.

In addition to her relentless political and military activity, Ernengarde's court was renowned for its learning--she supported the work of lawyers and doctors, in addition to patronizing a number of the troubadour poets, including Raimon de Miraval, who noted her generosity, and Bernard de Ventadorn, who praised her as "my lady of Narbonne," whose deeds were all "true." The trobairitz Azalais de Porcairagues directed that her "song" be carried to Narbonne, "to her whom joy and youth guide."

Ermengarde also supported many religious institutions, in particular giving a large donation of land to the Abbey of Fontfroide, which had been founded in 1093 by her father, Viscount Aymeri II. By means of her donation, Fontfroide became one of the most powerful abbeys in Western Europe.

Without a child of her own, Ermengarde named her half-sister's son, Pedro Manrique de Lara, as her heir. Unfortunately, Pedro could not wait for Ermengarde's death to succeed her--he had claimed the title of viscount by 1192 and seems to have driven her into exile by 1194. In her last letter, dated 30 April 1196, a letter that took the form of a final testament, she asked that he fulfill the bequests she had made. "And if he does this," she writes, "may God almighty and merciful pardon him on my account for all the injuries, damages, violence, oppressions, vexations, privations, calamities, and all the evil things that I experienced because of him and his."

Ermengarde of Narbonne, countess of Narbonne, died in Rousillon, and as she had asked in the letter she wrote as she was approaching death, she was buried in the Templar commandery of Saint-Marie de Mas-Dieu, near Perpignan.

The ruins of the Templar commandery 
of Mas-Dieu
For further information, I recommend the biographical essay posted at Epistolae: Medieval Women's Latin Letters. You will also find a number of Ermengarde's letters there, including a letter to Raymond Trencavel, viscount of Beziers, dated 31 January 1163, the date of which has been used as the occasion of this post. 

There is also a letter there from Louis VII to Ermengarde, written in 1164--I've drawn a phrase from this letter for the  subtitle of my post. Addressing the "hesitation in [her] area to permit judicial power to women in matters of imperial law," the king assures her that "the custom of our kingdom is far more benign, allowing women, if the better sex is lacking, to succeed and administer their inheritance." Do not acquiesce, he commands. Rather, 
Sit therefore in judgment of cases, diligently examining matters with the zeal of him who created you a woman when he might have [made you] a man, and in his benignity gave the rule of the province of Narbonne into the hand of a woman. By our authority, no person is permitted to turn away from your jurisdiction because you are a woman.

*Although most online sources indicate that little is known about Aymeric II's first wife except for her name, Ermengarde, she has been identified as Ermengarde of Servian by the  medievalist Jacqueline Caille. For the most accessible information, click here or here. Although the elder Ermengarde may have died between 1126, when her name is last mentioned in a charter, and 1130, by which time Aymeric has a second wife, Ermessende, Caille speculates that Ermengarde of Servian may have been repudiated.



Thursday, January 28, 2021

Susannah Hornebolt, Artist at the Tudor Court

Susannah Hornebolt, Tudor Artist (28 January 1547, death of Henry VIII)


Born in 1503, Susannah Hornebolt was the daughter of the Flemish artist Gerard Hornebolt (an Anglicization of Geraert Horenboult) and his wife, Margaret Saunders. 

1534 portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger
of a "wife of a court servant,"
generally identified as Susannah Hornebolt
Susannah's father was a master painter in Ghent, regularly commissioned for work in a variety of media  by Margaret of Austria, regent of the Netherlands--recognized by the regent for his "industry and experience," Gerard Hornebolt was also named as Margaret's valet de chambre in 1515 and awarded a pension. 

Among other projects, he designed stained glass windows, oversaw the production of tapestries and embroidered work, and illuminated several manuscripts, including work on the manuscript now known as the Sforza Hours--originally commissioned by Bona Sforza, duchess of Milan, the incomplete Book of Hours was inherited by Bona's nephew, Philibert of Savoy. As Philibert's widow, Margaret of Austria took the incomplete manuscript with her when she took up her position in the Netherlands.

At some point between 1522, when his name last appears in the accounts of Margaret of Austria (payment for a portrait of Christian II of Denmark, who had visited her in the Netherlands) and 1528, when his name appears in the royal accounts of Henry VIII (when Gerard was described as "paynter"), Hornebolt had arrived in England and entered into the king's service. He was to be paid a monthly wage from October 1528 until February 1538. 

Well, all that is about Susannah's father. What about Susannah? 

When Gerard Hornebolt came to England, he was accompanied by at least some members of his family, including his wife, his son Lucas (also a painter), and his daughter, Susannah. In Ghent, Gerard had run a thriving workshop, specializing in illumination, and it is likely that Susannah had trained and worked there. By the time the Hornebolts relocated to England, Susannah had already been recognized as an artist of some accomplishment. 

In 1521, when she was just eighteen, Susannah had traveled with her father to Antwerp, where she had met the artist Albrecht Dürer, who had bought a work called Salvator Mundi from her (variously described as a miniature, a colored drawing, or an illumination) and proclaimed "It is a wonder that a woman should be able to do such work" ("Ist ein grosz wunder, das ein weibs bild also viel mach").

In England, Susannah Hornebolt secured a place as a member of the queen's household by as early as 1522, with historian Susan James noting her unique position as a female artist at court, her sex making her unable to join the network of other artists in the workshops associated with the king's household.

Susannah married another minor member of the Tudor court, John Parker, probably in 1526. Parker's "mediocre prospects" improved immediately after his marriage, and while Susannah remained a member of the queen's household, her artistic work for the king seems to have come to an end. 

After the death of Jane Seymour, Henry's third queen, in 1537, which coincided with the death of Susannah's husband, John Parker, Susannah Hornebolt faced a number of financial difficulties--the loss of her place at court, the loss of her husband's income, and legal battles with her husband's family over his bequests to her. But in 1539, when Henry married Anne of Cleves, Susannah Hornebolt returned to court. Even more notably, she was sent by Henry VIII to Cleves, where she would be his "personal ambassador" to his soon-to-be bride. Hornebolt also acquired a second husband, a man named Henry Gilman.

While Henry's fourth marriage was short-lived, Susannah Hornebolt remained at court after the royal divorce. She survived the brief reign of Henry's fifth queen, Catherine Howard, and remained in the household of his last, Katherine Parr.

After the death of Henry VIII in 1547, Susannah's her second husband continuing his court employment under both Edward VI and Mary I. Although the date of her death is unknown, Susannah Hornebolt must have died before her second husband remarried in 1554.

After her death, Susannah Hornebolt's reputation as an artist was remembered, at least for a while. In his 1567 description of the history and art of the Low Countries, Lodovico Guicciardini wrote that Susannah Hornebolt "excelled in all painting, in miniature, in illumining." In fact, he claims that it was she who had been "invited by Henry VIII to England." At the time of her death, she was "loaded with wealth and honour." 

Susannah Hornebolt was also included in his masterwork Lives of the Artists by Giorgio Vasari, who wrote that "she was one of a handful of Flemish women who had distinguished themselves by the excellence of their art."*

What is known about Susannah Hornebolt's artistic work? 

About this question, the art historian Hugh Paget noted: "Of her work as a miniature  painter nothing certain has been discovered, but the fact that she lived some years longer than has hitherto been supposed may make it easier to identify her oeuvre. Miniatures of Queen Jane Seymour in the Buccleuch collection and of Queen Katherine Parr at Sudeley Castle appear to be by the same hand: although similar to those attributed to Lucas they differ from them in some respects and may be by Susanna." 

Most sources indicate that no surviving work from Hornebolt can be identified, but James identifies two miniatures, one from 1524 and one from 1526/7, one of them, she claims, bearing Susannah Hornebolt's monogram. The most accessible analysis of surviving miniatures that may be the work of Susannah Hornebolt can be found at the website Tudor Faces--click here to read "Two New Faces: the Hornebolte Portraits of Mary and Thomas Boleyn?" 

A brass commemorating her mother, at All Saints, Fulham, was commissioned by Susannah Hornebolt, and may well have been designed by her. 
The brass commemorating
Susannah Hornebolt's mother,
Margaret, at All Saints, Fulham

Two very useful articles on the Hornebolt family are Hugh Paget's "Gerard and Lucas Hornebolt in England" The Burlington Magazine 101, no. 680 (1959): 396-402 (which I have quoted here) and  Lorne Campbell and Susan Foister, "Gerard, Lucas and Susannah Hornebolt"  The Burlington Magazine 128, nol. 1003 (1986): 719-27 (which specultes about Susannah's designing the brass commemorating her mother). 

I am posting this today because Henry VIII died on 28 January 1547, and he seems to have been a patron and supporter of Susannah Hornebolt for some twenty-five years.


*For the translations from  Vasari, I am indebted to Susan James's The Female Dynamic in English Art, 1485-1603, the most comprehensive source on the life and work of Susannah Hornbolt in English.






Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Women and the 117th U. S. Congress

 Women and the 117th U. S. Congress (convenes 3 January 2021)


I've waited to post on the representation of women in the U. S. Congress--two months after the 3 November 2020 election, the numbers are still not clear.


Graph from Represent Women

Ten days after the November election, reporting for the Represent Women website, Cynthia Richie Terrell wrote that, since numbers were still "trickling in," the final tally was still not clear: "we don't yet know the final tally for the number of women elected to Congress."

Still, she noted, the 117th Congress would show a significant increase in the number of women--and of women of color--elected to office. But, a note of caution: "the results also show that the vast majority of incumbents were re-elected and that while while 162 women ran as challengers just 8 have won as of today, for a total win rate of 4%. These incremental gains place the United States at about 70th globally along with neighbors Mali, Slovenia, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Bulgaria and Iraq [emphasis in the original]."

Today, the situation is still unclear. The Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics published data accurate as of 3 January
In 2020, 126 (105D, 21R) women hold seats in the United States Congress, comprising 23.6% of the 535 members; 25 women (25%) serve in the U.S. Senate, and 101 women (23.2%) serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. Four women non-voting delegates (2D, 2R) also represent American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in the United States House of Representatives.

As a 3 January 2021 CAWP press release makes clear, these figures will change:

• Senator Kamala Harris (D) will be sworn in as vice president on January 20th.

• Representative Marcia Fudge (D) has been selected to serve in the Cabinet as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

• Representative Deb Haaland (D) has been selected to serve in the Cabinet as Secretary of the Interior.

• Senator Kelly Loeffler (R) is in a runoff election on January 5th.

• The House race in NY-22, featuring Claudia Tenney (R), is undecided.

• Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R) will be provisionally seated while the House race in IA-02 is under review by the U.S. House Committee on Administration. Miller-Meeks’ opponent – Rita Hart (D) – has petitioned for the review. . . . 

Counts below do not include 4 (2D, 2R) women who will serve as non-voting delegates in the 117th Congress.

So, the good news. A total (so far) of 144 women will serve in the 117th U. S. Congress, which "surpasses the previous record of 127 . . . set in 2019."

 But if you're a reader of this blog, you will know that I am never satisfied. So the bad news: that new record of 144 women is still pitiful--that represents only 26.9% of all members of the U. S. Congress. 

For previous posts on women in the U. S. Congress, click on the label, below.