Authority, Gender and Space in the Anglo-Norman World, 900-1200
An interview with Katherine Weikert
Dr Weikert, welcome to the Medieval Herald. Many thanks for joining us. Before we discuss your book, would you please tell us about the origins of your interest in medieval history and something of your studies to date?
I’ve always been interested in history, even as a kid. I liked going places and seeing historic sites. When I was at University, I was lucky to have an excellent undergraduate supervisor in Dr Annette Parks, a medievalist who encouraged my interest in material culture and my decision to pursue graduate degrees in medieval archaeology. I owe an awful lot to her! Since then I’ve almost always worked with how people interact in and with the physical world. I like the medieval past, and I like a good building, and I try to combine the two as much as possible.
How did you come to link medieval manors and social authority? Did work on one automatically lead to the other?
I’ve long had an interest in a home and a household as a microcosm for society. I’m not so much interested in how the elite ruled a country, but how social influence upheld hierarchies outside some of the centres of ruling power. A manorial place is one that held all those levels of society, and the buildings as well as the people in a manor contained and created meaning to those who lived, worked, visited and observed them. So to me, really, the idea of a medieval household – the buildings and the stuff and the people – and the upholding of a social hierarchy are intrinsically linked.
You have taken a multi-disciplinary approach. Please tell us about that and how you managed to research such a vast array of different sources.
Slowly and with mild frustration, interlaced with occasional patience and sporadic creativity, soothed with running and wine (usually not concurrently). That aside, everything that I used in the research gives a sense of a household with all its contingent parts – material culture, buildings, movement, space, people – in the period. I tried to let the questions I was asking the sources lead the direction of the research. Once I saw how the wills, excavations and narrative sources wound around each other, I then tried to take a materialist’s eye to all of them to build an idea of a household and society in the period.
Were any particular sources more helpful than you had expected?
A lot of them were fascinating – the corpus of the Anglo-Saxon wills in interpreting meaning out of material culture via textual sources, for example – but tracing the Latin used over about a century to tell the story about King Eadwig leaving his coronation feast for a threesome was a really interesting experience in thinking about sexuality, space and place. Dunstan will never be the same to me now.
How did you settle on the period you cover, from c. 900 to c. 1200?
I always joke that I’ve moonwalked backwards in time from undergraduate to now (my BA dissertation was on the Welsh and Scottish prisoner policies of Edward I, and the MA was on Yorkshire manors in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries!) I think what made this period, 900-1200, so interesting to me is that in many ways it’s a transitional one in both England and Normandy as the two cultures merged, sometimes very violently. I wanted to see what this might look like from the standpoint of a household.
In what ways might a manor, its spaces and its objects be gendered?
I think that’s the real trick, that many places and things we assume to be gendered perhaps aren’t. So if you’re a part of the landed elite, and you’re attempting to show your authority whether you’re a man or a woman, how do you do it?
And was the ultimate aim of this “authoritative personae” to enforce male aristocratic rule within and without the household?
Actually no! It was much more to enforce aristocratic rule, the social hierarchies that needed to be upheld in order to maintain a socially elite class, regardless of the sex of those at the top.
Did you find any examples of households that differed from the norm? How, if at all, did households differ between Normandy to England?
In the sites I looked at, the Motte d’Olivet in Calvados and Goltho in Lincolnshire were outliers. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the Motte d’Olivet, to be honest. That’s something to work on in the future. And to be honest, it’s very difficult to find spatial differences in households in the later period between Normandy and England: it was, in essence, a similar if not same elite culture by the time of John’s loss of Normandy, a proto-‘transnational’ society. It would have been a surprise to find a significant spatial difference between the two by the later twelfth century!
Why do you think that this aspect of the medieval manor has been under-studied?
In this earlier period, it’s the very practical matter of not having as many standing remains of the manors. It’s not an obvious choice when thinking about buildings and space! But there are so many scholars who are really tying together ideas of people, objects and places, though. There are some really great works there that weave between disciplines when looking at the medieval period in order to find different approaches and new meanings to the past, like Lori Ann Garner’s Structuring Spaces and anything written by Kate Giles, and William Whyte outside the medieval period. It’s an exciting time to work on earlier medieval manors.
What is next for you now? Will you continue with medieval manors?
Oh yes! I’d like to get back to some standing buildings though. I miss a good building. I’ve been playing around with some ideas about the lived experience of Anglo-Jewry households in the twelfth and thirteenth century that I’d like to pursue. I’m also working on some pieces about the disruption of sacred spaces with my colleague Gustav Zamore in Stockholm; I’m thinking specifically about the palatinate bishoprics of Ely and Durham in the immediate post-Conquest period. Ely and Liber Eliensis in particular are pretty heavy in my mind right now. Although I’ve always been drawn to houses, I find I’m pecking away at a few more cathedrals now than before.
We like to finish with the same question to all our contributors. In this issue we’re asking how do you keep abreast of new publications and research? Is there anything that publishers could do better to keep academics informed?
To be frank, I find it nigh on impossible to keep up with all of the new lovely books coming out all the time so I work on word-of-mouth, the Boydell emails and newsletters, and happy accidents!
KATHERINE WEIKERT is Senior Lecturer in Early Medieval History at the University of Winchester.
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