Robert Bartlett


On his book Blood Royal: Dynastic Politics in Medieval Europe

Cover Interview of November 18, 2020

A close-up

A “just browsing” feminist could turn to the chapter on female sovereigns to find out about how some countries, at some times, were ruled by women. I counted 27 examples. Or they could turn to the chapter called “Choosing a Bride” to see the way high-born females were inspected, traded and, if necessary, discarded. There is no doubt that medieval Europe was a patriarchal society.

A “just browsing” nerd might want to start with the section on the numbering of monarchs, the most nerdish thing I have ever written. We usually take this practice for granted—Henry VIII, Louis XIV, Napoleon III, and so forth—but the custom had to start somewhere and decisions had to be made about which number to apply. In 1198 there was a German king numbered Phillip II. He was “the second” because the German king also claimed the right to become Holy Roman Emperor and there had been a Roman emperor called Phillip in 244-9, almost a thousand years earlier. So that “second” was a political assertion of continuity: that the Roman empire was not dead. In 1330 the English king Edward adopted the style “the third since the conquest”, meaning the Norman Conquest of 1066. Kings of England called Edward before 1066 (there were several) thus did not count—literally. English history restarted in 1066. So that is a view of national history encapsulated in the numbering of a monarch.

A dutiful “just browsing” reader could start at the beginning, since that is where I set out what the book is about and how I intend to organize it, but the chapters can be read independently. And, of course, since part one is called “The Life Cycle”, and a cycle can be entered at any point, a reader fascinated by mistresses, wicked uncles, or death could go straight to the relevant section. I must confess that I do not always read a book from cover to cover, and this is one reason I take extra care over the index, since that will be the key to the book for many readers. Mine runs from “Aachen, Rhineland” to “Zoe Zaoutzaina (d. 899), wife of Leo VI”.