Few women of the middle ages can equal Agnès Sorel (ca. 1426-50), the beautiful mistress of King Charles VII of France (1403-61), when it comes to star power. She is a fixture in popular histories, novels, documentaries, and, most recently, internet fan sites, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Facebook posts. But her celebrity has little to do with the facts that can be gleaned from contemporary primary sources. It results rather from her early death, memorialised in Jean Fouquet’s donor portrait, the Melun diptych. Although the painting cannot be considered a portrait of Agnès in the modern sense, the lovely face of the Virgin depicted on the right panel of the diptych is traditionally believed to bear Agnès’s features. Commissioned by royal secretary Étienne Chevalier shortly after Agnès’s untimely demise from a massive overdose of mercury, the diptych remained in the Collegiate Church of Notre Dame of Melun until the panels were separated in the early nineteenth century: the right panel went to Antwerp’s Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, while the left panel, which depicts Chevalier and his patron saint, went to Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie. Based on her association with the iconic Melun Virgin, bolstered by a tradition that proclaimed her as France’s saviour, Agnès became the founding mother of the genealogy of French royal mistresses and that tradition’s ideal.
Letters served a variety of functions in late-antique Gaul, from allowing friends to keep in contact, to serving legal notices, forging political and religious alliances, and negotiating the exchange of captives and relics. Even Gallic demons received messages on papyrus, although they didn’t always appreciate them: in the Life of the Juran Fathers, one demon boasts that exorcists may use up to a boatload of Egyptian papyrus, but it won’t do any good as the demon will only communicate with a holy man in person (Vit.Pat.Iur. 142). Even the threat of letters was valuable: Gregory of Tours reports how a blank sheet was given to Saint Martin, to urge local royals to cooperate before the saint wrote back (Greg.Tur. DLH V.14.)
Today’s post comes from previous LSMS chair Dr Lidia L. Zanetti Domingues, who discusses her monograph below.
In our society, crime and criminal justice exert a particular fascination on people of all ages and classes, as is demonstrated not only by the success of detective novels, TV shows, podcasts, but also by the ongoing societal debates on criminal justice reforms. A similar interest is also noticeable in the late medieval Italian communes. This is not surprising, since the cities of northern and central Italy were characterised by high levels of conflict and factionalism. Minutes of civic assemblies, court cases, legislative collections passed to enforce a variety of reforms, chronicles, and didactic treatises discussing how to preserve the ‘peaceful state’ of the commune all bear traces of the centrality that criminal matters had for 13th– and 14th-century Italians.
Today’s post comes from previous LSMS seminar speaker Dr Alexandra R. A. Lee, who discusses her monograph below.
The Bianchi of 1399 was a popular religious revival that responded to a threat of plague at the end of the fourteenth century. The Bianchi are traditionally studied as a homogeneous whole, such as in Bornstein’s excellent 1993 monograph, or in terms of individual case studies as in the wide-reaching collected volume Sulle Orme dei Bianchi (2001). In my work, I’ve done a local, comparative analysis of the Bianchi. This reveals intimate, local details about the Bianchi processions in locations they reached in central Italy, demonstrating how the movement was shaped by local traditions and norms. My book has 8 chapters, and I’ve combined them into the key ideas here: plague, origins, regulations, “Civic Religion” and legacy.
Welcome to our site! Founded in 1970, the London Society for Medieval Studies, based at the Institute for Historical Research, London, has a rich history of being a supportive and inclusive environment for postgraduate and early career scholars, particularly those based in London and its immediate environs.
For our seminars and events featuring our members, see our ‘Upcoming Events’ page. You can find out more about us on the ‘Meet the Team’ tab, and we’ll have regular posts from our members and speakers over on the ‘Blog’ page.
We’ll also be posting more about our outreach and social events in due course, so do come back and make sure you follow our social media channels too!