, Volume 103, Issue 1, pp 5–21 | Cite as

Reinventing Rule: The Queen’s Two Bodies in Clemence of Barking’s Vie de Sainte Catherine



Clemence of Barking’s Vie de Sainte Catherine, a twelfth-century Anglo-Norman rendering of Catherine of Alexandria’s Latin vulgate passio, uses the well-known trope of the king’s two bodies to imagine a Christ-centered rule of a philosopher-martyr queen, who alludes to the murdered Archbishop Thomas Becket. I use Ernst Kantorowicz’s (1957, reprinted 2016) political theology to demonstrate that the Vie both resonates with and qualifies the concept of Christ-centered kingship and Law-centered kingship in twelfth-century England. Catherine offers a model of Christ-centered kingship based on the queen’s two bodies against a misconceived Law-centered kingship embodied in the tyrant Maxentius. Idolatry and iconoclasm serve as key tropes in the text’s exploration of sovereign violence. When the ruler’s whims replace divine justice in a Law-centered kingship, the living body of the sovereign has to depend on the dead idols for its ultimate claim of vivacity. The sovereign becomes “bare life” himself, which echoes Agamben’s (1998) symmetry of the sovereign body and homo sacer.


Clemence of Barking Ernst Kantorowicz Giorgio Agamben Political theology Idolatry and iconoclasm The king’s two bodies 



This work would not have been possible without the support of my dissertation committee members and colleagues at Harvard University. I owe a long-standing debt of gratitude to Professor James Simpson, Professor Nicholas Watson, and Dr. Suzanne Smith who have generously read the paper in multiple versions. I am also immensely grateful to the anonymous reviewer for their helpful revisions and comments.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Comparative LiteratureHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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