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Experimenting with intimacy in the Latin West, 1080-1180

posted on 30.01.2017, 22:27 authored by Jeske, Diana Marie
The period 1080-1180 is recognized as one of dynamic social and cultural change in Western Europe. This thesis explores the appropriate negotiation of relationships between men and women, particularly those living under a religious vocation, as part of a wider discourse aimed at reforming and renewing contemporary society, both lay and religious. Utilizing a cultural historical approach this thesis examines a variety of experimental approaches men and women took during this period to renegotiate male/female relationships. It argues that women played a vital role, under-recognized in previous scholarship, in the development of intimate relationships between the sexes that combined spiritual and personal intimacy. In developing these experimental approaches these women, and their male partners, friends and lovers, drew on a range of existing traditional models of intimacy. The writings of Cicero provided a guide to virtuous friendship. Ovid’s writings provided a model for love. A long-standing Christian tradition, based on the letters of Jerome, advocated close spiritual relationships between male clerics and their pious female devotees. These traditions were explored and entwined creating novel approaches to intimacy between men and women that preserved close, personal connections within a wider framework of appropriate social interaction between the sexes. It considers six examples of intimate relationships between women and men. Anselm of Canterbury has long been recognized as an innovator in articulating close friendship between men. However, he also engaged in close relationships with women, notably Ida of Boulogne and Queen Matilda of England (wife of Henry I). The monk Goscelin of St Bertin wrote a book of consolation for the recluse, Eve of Wilton, aimed at reaffirming their intimacy after a separation. A third chapter considers how Robert of Arbrissel experimented with intimacy by advocating religious men and women live together, a vision he realized in the foundation of the abbey of Fontevraud. Baudri of Bourgueil exchanged intimate poems with the women of the abbey of Le Ronceray in Angers. In these he attempted to combine Ovidian allusion with the traditional Christian practice of spiritual friendship. The authors of the Epistolae Duorum Amantium successfully created a synthesis that reconciled virtuous friendship with personal passion. Finally, the authors of the Tegernseer Liebesbriefe attempted a similar synthesis, extending its remit from their own personal relationships to a courtly setting beyond. Women’s voices from the period are not preserved to the same extent as men’s. This has led to much debate among scholars concerning the authenticity of the voices that do survive. In arguing that women played a vital role in developing novel models of intimate relationships between the sexes this thesis argues that these voices should be considered as authentic. A cultural historical approach combining social and literary history allows for the consideration of both women’s direct and indirect voices from the period, helping to contextualize the documents that do survive and the women who produced them. Women matter in these discourses and their contribution to understandings of intimate gender relations influenced their male partners and contemporary attitudes to relationships between the sexes.


Principal supervisor

Constant J. Mews

Additional supervisor 1

Carolyn James

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

School of Philosophical, Historical & International Studies


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts