PhD: Saints, Mothers, and Personifications: The Representation of Womanhod in Late Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts


Scholars including Christine Fell, Pauline Stafford and Catherine Cubitt have tried to explain the status of women in Late Anglo-Saxon England in a variety of ways. Some, such as Fell, have framed the earlier Anglo-Saxon period as a Golden Age which saw greater freedoms; others, like Stafford, Cubitt, and Patricia Halpin, have argued for a more complicated reading, one that acknowledges the impact of the tenth-century monastic reform and the changes in types of religious life open to women. Occasionally studies draw on the art of the period to demonstrate their claims, but none foreground the visual evidence in the exploration of women’s status in Late Anglo-Saxon England. Art historical studies, such as Catherine Karkov’s examinations of Junius 11 and the Old English Illustrated Hexateuch, which include discussion of the portrayal of women tend to examine the images in relation to various concepts ranging from the manuscript’s audience to issues of female speech, as well as in isolation from the extant corpus of images of women known from Late Anglo-Saxon England.

This study will focus on three distinct, yet related, case studies that typify the ways in which women are presented to different Late Anglo-Saxon audiences. These case studies emerge through a statistical analysis and survey of patterns of representation of over twenty illustrated manuscripts. The first focuses on the miniature of St Æthelthryth in the Benedictional of St Æthelwold, exploring how the image of Æthelthryth was utilised to communicate ideals, such as virginity, key to Æthelwold’s view of reformed English monasticism. It also considers the differences in representation of the saint’s cult at Ely and Winchester, arguing that each uses the saint’s body and life in different ways suitable to each centre’s audience. The second case study focuses on the Old English Illustrated Hexateuch and the ways in which women were utilised in demonstrating (un)righteous behaviours. The extant illustrated copies of the Psychomachia make up the third case study; it explores the differences between the manuscripts while seeking to demonstrate how personifications, like the historical and biblical women of the first two case studies, can reveal the ways in which women were conceived in Late Anglo-Saxon society. Ultimately, this study will show that when women were portrayed in the art of the period, it is with specific ideals in mind that speak to acceptable behaviour, religious constructs, and the place and function of the woman in contemporary society.


The thesis can be downloaded here.