Constance of Arles: A Study in Duty and Frustration

  • Penelope Ann Adair
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


In the spring of 1027, Bishop Fulbert of Chartres wrote a fellow bishop that he would not attend the imminent consecration of King Robert II’s son because he was “frightened away by the savagery of his mother, who is quite trustworthy when she promises evil, as is proved by her many memorable deeds.”1 The mother in question was Constance of Arles, wife of Robert the Pious (r. 996–1031), best remembered today for her rage against those—her confessor, bishops, the king—who opposed her wishes, and for driving her sons into rebellion more than once.2 But if Constance struggled during her marriage to conserve declining royal resources, to provide an appropriately dignified setting for royal authority, and to advise her husband and sons, she saw her efforts undercut by the complexities of her office. Given the eleventh-century French monarchy’s declining wealth and power, Constance’s efforts to marshal royal resources and prevent fragmentation of the king’s authority reflected genuine concern for the royal family’s needs. But the critical male clerics who commented upon her actions unfavorably contrasted her concern for royal treasures with Robert’s charity; when she opposed him and their sons, her “wise counsel” became feminine willfulness.Thus clerics shaped Constance’s contested reputation as a “renowned queen” and a “haughty spouse.”3 Her life exemplifies the circumstances in which an eleventh-century queen could wield power, but it highlights too the limitations with which she might have to contend.


Royal Family Opus Omnia Predatory Kinship Royal Power Wise Counsel 
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  1. 1.
    Fulbert of Chartres, The Letters and Poems of Fulbert of Chartres, ed. and trans. Frederick Behrends ( Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976 ), p. 223 and n. 1. The letter quoted is addressed to Bishop G., identified by the editor as either Garin of Beauvais or Geoffrey of Chalon-sur-Saône.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Hincmar of Reims, De ordine palatii, eds. and trans. Thomas Gross and Rudolph Schieffer (Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 1980), 5:22.Google Scholar
  3. 15.
    John C. Parsons,“Ritual and Symbol in the English Medieval Queenship to 1500,” in Women and Sovereignty, ed. Louise O. Fradenburg (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 1992), p. 60 [60–77]; Parsons, Eleanor of Castile, pp. 250–51.Google Scholar
  4. 17.
    John C. Parsons, “The Queen’s Intercession in Thirteenth-Century England,” in Power of the Weak: Essays on Medieval Women, ed. Jennifer Carpenter and Sally-Beth Maclean (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995), pp. 159–60, notes that distrust of the queen’s sexuality as her means to influence the king led to chroniclers’ masculinizing of queens by emphasizing courage and virtue.Google Scholar

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© Kathleen Nolan 2003

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  • Penelope Ann Adair

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