By Miriam Shadis (auth.)
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Additional resources for Berenguela of Castile (1180–1246) and Political Women in the high middle ages
When he described Berenguela on Fernando’s triumphant return from Córdoba in 1236, his language was an encomium to her virtues both as a woman and as a mother to a manly man. 58 Writers like Rodrigo and other historians were working against a perceived reality, as well as in tension with a potential degendering. Did a certain kind of motherhood require a degree of manliness? Did strong mothers benefit or threaten their sons’ masculinity? These texts reveal a dominant but complicated anxiety about an admirable woman’s virility emasculating her son.
The criticism remains clear: because Louis was afraid of his mother, he was less of a man. Sordello attacked Fernando even more explicitly: And that Castilian King! I think he should eat for two! For he holds two domains, and is not good enough for one! 54 Sordello criticized Fernando’s greed, in ruling two kingdoms (Castile and León), but more so Berenguela’s domination of him. Any manly action that the Castilian king wanted to take, Sordello wrote, would have to be done on the sly or else his mother would punish him.
1 Through her motherhood, she not only strengthened the royal lineage, but she also modeled and taught queenship and, therefore, one significant type of royal power. Thus, a queen who modeled her role for her children potentially had two gendered audiences. She demonstrated for her sons the queen’s expected roles as a wife, mother, helpmeet, and, in some instances, coruler. Her daughters might anticipate these roles as well, especially if they were to be queens themselves. But from their mother, daughters might also learn the art of intercession, management and protection of wealth, and the practice of patronage.