, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 279–292 | Cite as

Antisemitism and female power in the medieval city

  • Kathy LavezzoEmail author
Original Article


The twelfth century was pivotal for the codification of European misogyny. Binaries of the agential, rational, and fully human male and passive, physical, and subhuman female gained ground during this period, adumbrating later ideas of separate spheres. I consider how English antisemitic writings strikingly, if disturbingly, diverge from that trend. In the first written ritual murder libel, Thomas of Monmouth portrays a woman – the mother of the purported martyr William – who takes to the streets of Norwich and effects change in that city. I argue that Thomas’s text merits intersectional attention as an early example of conservatism – indeed, racism – licensing female power, similar to the offensive yoking of the New Woman and racism in the US South and first-wave feminisms.



Many thanks belong to Samantha Seal and Nicole Nolan Sidhu for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this essay. Portions of this essay were presented at the 2018 meeting of the Medieval Association of the Midwest, and I thank my interlocutors there for their helpful feedback.


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© Springer Nature Limited 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EnglishUniversity of IowaIowa CityUSA

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