Give Now

Harmonia Early Music

Harmonia Time Capsule: Women Of The Middle Ages

Let’s take a look back in time… to the lives of some famous women from the Middle Ages.

Joan of Arc

Photo: Centre Historique des Archives Nationales, Paris

Joan of Arc in a painting by an unknown artist, ca. 1485.

Eleanor of Aquitaine was born to the Duke of Aquitaine in 1122, and became Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right. But she would also become the Queen consort of France and England. She married the future king of France, Louis VII, and ruled France on her own while her husband and step-father were away fighting during the Second Crusade. Their marriage was eventually annulled on the grounds of consanguinity, or being fourth cousins.

Eleanor of Aquitaine became engaged to the Duke of Normandy, Henry Plantagenet, only eight weeks after the annulment of her first marriage. She would give him eight children before his death in 1189, two of whom would become kings of England. Her first son, Richard the Lionheart, left his mother to run England while he participated in the Third Crusade. Her third son, John, became king after the death of Richard.

Lionheart
Sharon Kay Penman
Buy from Amazon »
album cover

During Eleanor’s life, she supported prominent literary figures, and many from that time commented on her extreme beauty. The troubadour Bernard de Ventadorn described her as “gracious, lovely, the embodiment of charm,” and having “lovely eyes and noble countenance.”

Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life
Alison Weir
Buy from Amazon »
album cover

Although not born into a royal family, Joan of Arc possibly became even more famous than Eleanor of Aquitaine. She was born in 1412 to a peasant family in France. She claimed that she was given guidance by God in her victories against the English during the Hundred Years’ War. Her victory at the Battle of Orleans led to the coronation of the French king Charles VII and a unification of French forces to push the English off the continent.  Eventually, Joan was captured by Burgundian troops and sold to the English. The English put her on trial for heresy where she was found guilty and ordered to be executed by burning; she was less than 20 years old. In 1920, Joan was canonized as a saint in the Catholic Church and became one of the church’s most popular saints. Today, Saint Joan of Arc is the patron saint of France, ridiculed women, and the Women’s Army Corps, among others.

Joan of Arc: By Herself and Her Witnesses
Régine Pernoud
Buy from Amazon »
album cover

The poetess Christine de Pisan spent most of her life in the court of the French king Charles V because her father was the king’s astrologer. Her writings expanded beyond just the theme of courtly love, or love of a nobleperson who does not return the speaker’s affections.  She also wrote a biography of Charles V, as well as works championing women in a time when that was very unusual.

Christine married the king’s secretary and began writing when her husband died just ten years later.  Most of her early poems have a theme of love lost. Her poetry became so popular that she developed admirers among some of the most powerful people in Europe. Her final work, Le Dite de Jehanne de Arc, was a celebration of Joan of Arc’s victories written two years before Joan’s death. This work by Christine is the only French-language work celebrating Joan of Arc that was written during her lifetime.

The Selected Writings of Christine De Pizan
Christine de Pizan
Buy from Amazon »
album cover

Music of Bernard de Ventadorn heard in this time capsule:

Bernart de Ventadorn: Disc 5, Track 6 – Ab joi mou lo vers e’l comens (5:12)
Martin Best Consort — A Mediaeval Banquet: Music from the Age of Chivalry (Nimbus Records, 1999)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover

 

Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life
Alison Weir
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Lionheart
Sharon Kay Penman
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Joan of Arc: By Herself and Her Witnesses
Régine Pernoud
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
The Selected Writings of Christine De Pizan
Christine de Pizan
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Bernart de Ventadorn: Disc 5, Track 6 – Ab joi mou lo vers e’l comens (5:12)
Martin Best Consort — A Mediaeval Banquet: Music from the Age of Chivalry (Nimbus Records, 1999)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Harmonia Early Music

Harmonia Early Music is a nationally syndicated weekly early music radio program, podcast and blog produced by WFIU Public Radio.

View all posts by this author »

Stay Connected

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from Harmonia Early Music:

More Subscription Options

Follow Us

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

About Harmonia Early Music

About The Hosts

Search Harmonia Early Music

where to hear harmonia