This article draws on methods from transgender theory, historicist literary studies, and visual analysis of medieval sealing practices to show that Empress Matilda of England was controversially styled as a female king during her career in the early to mid twelfth century. While the chronicle Gesta Stephani castigates Matilda’s failure to engage in sanctioned gendered behaviors as she waged civil war to claim her inherited throne, Matilda’s seal harnesses both masculine and feminine signifiers in order to proclaim herself both king and queen. While Matilda’s transgressive gender position was targeted by her detractors during her lifetime, the obstinately transgender object she used to represent herself continues to trouble gender categories today.
I am grateful to Dorothy Kim and Kadin Henningsen for their assistance with the preparation of this article. I also want to thank Renée Trilling, as always, for supporting my work. Finally, I’d like to acknowledge the Department of English, Program in Medieval Studies, and Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for making my research possible.
transgender theory; medieval queenship; medieval seals; Empress Matilda; queens regnant; female kingship
Copyright © 2019 the author(s)
Lumbley, Coral "Imperatrix, Domina, Rex: Conceptualizing the Female King in Twelfth-Century England." Medieval Feminist Forum: A Journal of Gender and Sexuality 55, No. 1 (2019) : 64-99.
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