Medieval Round Table 2014

Winchester King Arthur's Round Table cake by Hannah Vanyai
Winchester King Arthur's Round Table cake
By Hannah Vanyai

Papers for 2014

3 February

Carol Williams, Monash University

Ai Dieus, cals dans es! [Ah God, what a loss it is!] The Death of King Louis IX

The death of King Louis IX in 1270 set in train an extraordinarily long process of ritualised lamentation as the pageant of the death of a king passed through towns large and small accompanying the body in its long journey from Tunis to Paris. Once there the ceremonial and liturgical rituals of the state funeral and placement of the body in the royal necropolis of the abbey church of St-Denis were enacted. Ultimately 26 years later the beatification of Louis was enacted. All of these rituals associated with the death and commemoration of this king were demonstrations of royal power and all generated literary and musical expressions of emotional response. This paper surveys the rich collection of liturgical, para-liturgical, ceremonial and simply lyrical works and focuses in particular on three little known works by three largely forgotten troubadours: Fortz tristors es e salvaj’a retraire by Guillem d’Autpol (Daspol?), Ab grans trebalhs et ab grans marrimens by Raimon Gaucelm de Beziers and No sa qui·m so tan suy desconoyssens by Austorc de Segret.

3 March

Michael Warby, Multisensory Education

The Honourable Franchise: Why the Warrior on Horseback is at the Centre of Medieval Society

At the end of Fiefs and Vassals, Susan Reynolds stated that she had no wish to offer a new model into which evidence had to be fitted. Perhaps a useful way to understand what is distinctive about medieval society is as it being marked by varied responses to the possibilities created by the development of the armoured mounted warrior and to dominate - and extract income from - local peasants.

From its development in the region of the Iranian plateau, the armoured mounted warrior spread, becoming the core of coercive power in most agrarian societies until the development of mass gunpowder armies.

This paper examines why the bundling together of military service and income extraction became dominant, how patterns of such bundlings differed according to institutional constraints and local trade-offs creating, even within Europe, a remarkable variety of arrangements and why implicit or explicit contracts were a useful way of structuring interactions between warrior and ruler.

7 April

Roswitha Dabke, Independant Scholar

A magistra in Conflict with the Ecclesia Moguntina: Hildegard of Bingen’s Convent Under the Interdict (1178-79)

Hildegard of Bingen allowed a young man, who had been excommunicated, to be buried in the Rupertsberg cemetery as he had repented and been granted absolution by a priest. The prelates of the archbishopric of Mainz, however, demanded that Hildegard exhume the body and remove it from her cemetery. When she refused, they placed her community under interdict. A highly emotional but fiercely determined Hildegard fought this judgement by various means until she received a positive response from the Archbishop of Mainz, Christian of Buch, who was attending the Third Lateran Council (1179), where both excommunication and interdict were on the agenda. Several post-1800 historians have focused on the style of Hildegard’s two explanatory letters and their evaluations have varied widely.

5 May

Hannah Kilpatrick, University of Melbourne

Edward I’s Temper: Anger and its (Mis)representations in the Chronicle of Walter of Guisborough and the Fineshade Chronicle

In one infamous incident near the end of Edward I’s reign the king is said to have assaulted his heir, both verbally and physically, upon being asked to ennoble the young man’s favourite, Piers Gaveston. This anecdote has been invoked by every modern biographer of all three men, even making its way into popular media: it would not be an exaggeration to say that it has become fundamental to our characterisation of Edward I’s personality and his relationship with his son. The two chronicles which are our only source for the incident describe the ageing king as tearing out his son’s hair or flinging him to the ground and kicking him in a fit of violent temper. Or do they?

I will offer a close reading that reconsiders both witnesses in the light of medieval rhetorical and visual tropes of anger across a variety of genres. I will argue that, firstly, there has been a basic misreading of the Latin in both instances, resulting in a universal misinterpretation of Edward I’s behaviour as more violent than the chroniclers intended. Secondly, I contend that modern perception of medieval emotion as excessive and uncontrollable (in the tradition of Norbert Elias and Marc Bloch) has coloured our understanding of the scene, and perhaps contributed to that initial misreading. I suggest that, far from functioning as purely literal report of savage passion unmoderated by social norms, these and similar chronicle scenes employ a rich tradition of cultural discourses to subtle and precise purpose in their depiction of royal anger.

2 June

Stephen Knight, University of Melbourne

Marian: More than Maid, Medieval to Modern

In the English outlaw tradition the hero’s regular companion has been Marian, also known as Matilda, Lady Fitzwalter. She has many variant formations including, in the early ballads, a credible absence from the rigours of forest life, but can be found partnering Robin in the French medieval pastourelle and returns as his lady when in early modernism he becomes gentrified as the Earl of Huntington. After that she plays varied roles, a glamorous eighteenth-century stage presence, an object of romantic affection in the nineteenth and, in the longeuers of the Victorian outlaw novel, she appears as Mrs Robin Hood, occasionally even with children. Film brings a more glamorous and sometimes even dynamic role, and by the late twentieth century she is well-placed to assume the duties of a quasi-feminist heroine, though in film she undergoes a range of authority-euphemising representations, ranging from Miss Piggy to Keira Knightley.

7 July

Helen Hickey, University of Melbourne

Diplomacy In July

Diplomacy is the 2014 theme of the Medieval Roundtable.

In a 2008 special issue of the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, John Watkins argues for a ‘more profound reflection on the cultural significance of diplomatic encounters’ in pre-modern societies. Despite the many monographs and articles on diverse negotiated encounters: treaties, truces, marriage alliances, land transfers, gift exchange, ransom demands and ambassadorial travel, scant work has been undertaken on emotions in diplomatic exchange. Yet diplomacy carries a substantial subtext - the modification, negation, production and amelioration of emotion. This seminar offers several cross-cultural and cross-temporal diplomatic events and practices to see what they reveal about motivation, negotiation practice and desire for territorial and emotional equilibrium. The presenters are offering micro-papers on a range of cross-temporal and cross-cultural incidents, approaches and themes.

Helen Hickey: "Diplomacy and Emotion: New Sources, New Frontiers"
Roger Scott (Melbourne): "Byzantine Diplomacy, especially in the 6th century"
Anya Adair (Yale): "Sarcastic Diplomacy at Alfred's Court: Fulk's Letter and its Afterlife"
Michael ‘Lorenzo’ Warby (Melbourne): "Diplomacy as System Marker"
Heather Dalton (Melbourne): "A Sad Case of the ‘grigs’: The Pitfalls of Diplomatic Service in the Contested Atlantic World"


From an interview with Belgian philosopher Isabelle Stengers.
In Zournazi, Mary, ed. Hope: New Philosophies For Change. Pluto Press Australia: Annandale, NSW, 2002. (pps. 271-271)
University of Wollongong, Research Online , accessed 11 June 2014.

4 August

Professor Carolyn Dinshaw, New York University

South Theatre, Old Arts (note venue change)

Paradise Lost, Regained, Refracted: Saint Brendan's Isle and the Temporalities and Optics of Desire

The history of Saint Brendan’s Isle traces a curious history of desire. In the early medieval Navigatio sancti Brendani the Irish saint journeys over the sea towards the west, sailing for a mythical seven years but eventually finding "the Promised Land, which God will give to those who come after us at the end of time." Tudor apologist John Dee used Saint Brendan’s voyage as evidence for Elizabeth’s I’s claim to northern lands and the New World. Four early modern expeditions (in the so-called age of discovery) set out to find Saint Brendan’s Isle - to determine if it did indeed exist - but all ended by failing to find that Land of Promise. By the end of the eighteenth century it was concluded that this illusory landmass might well have been but atmospheric refraction - a mirage. Carolyn Dinshaw uses this history to discuss the desirous dynamics of the real and the illusory, as they are played out in journeys of exploration and empire as well as in philology and historical research, ever beckoning and ever receding.

Reading: The Voyage of Saint Brendan: Representative Versions of the Legend in English Translation. ed. W. R. J. Barron and Glyn S. Burgess, Exeter University of Exeter Press, 2002, pp. 2-11, 13-64, 323-43, 361-2.

To receive a copy of the reading please email andrewws@

Carolyn Dinshaw is Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University. She graduated from Bryn Mawr in 1978 and completed her PhD at Princeton in 1982. Her 1982 dissertation, subsequently published as Chaucer and the Text in 1988, explored the relevance of new critical modes for older literature, while in her 1989 book, Chaucer's Sexual Poetics (University of Wisconsin Press), she investigated the connection of past and present via the Western discursive tradition of gender. In Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern (Duke University Press, 1999), she traced a queer desire for history. In her most recent book, How Soon is Now? Medieval Texts, Amateur Readers, and the Queerness of Time (Duke University Press, 2012), she looks directly at the experience of time itself, as it is represented in medieval works and as it is experienced in readers of those works.

Dinshaw’s current research projects extend her interests into the visual field. It’s Not Easy Being Green focuses on the eerie figure of the foliate head – a decorative motif well nigh ubiquitous in medieval church sculpture in Western Europe that became known in the 20th century as the Green Man. This imagined mixture of human and vegetable (a head sprouting leaves or made up of vegetation) is the point of departure for her research on human/non-human relations, queerness and queer sexual subcultures now, "the ecological thought" (as Timothy Morton puts it) and what medieval literature can tell us about it all.

The second project, Exploring Nowhere: Mirages, Digital Maps, and the Historical Problem of Location, is undertaken with visual artist Marget Long. Long and Dinshaw look to the optical phenomenon of the mirage - a strange and elusive "nowhere" - to explore the broad concepts of location and locatability. They investigate the mirage’s visual and cultural history through a wide array of materials: medieval maps and legends of Paradise, early 20th-century Arctic exploration and photographs and video works from Long’s project on mirages. Long and Dinshaw take a long view of the mirage - an illusory image that prompts an irrational experience of time and space - in order to imagine (among other things) how to work and play with current digital mapping technologies intended to work us.

Carolyn Dinshaw is founding co-editor of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, past President of the New Chaucer Society (2010-2012) and recipient of many awards for her research and her work as an editor. She is visiting Australia as a Distinguished International Fellow of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions.

1 September

Anne McKendry, University of Melbourne

The Logics of Medieval Crime Fiction

Medieval crime fiction is a relatively recent phenomenon. Originating with Ellis Peters in the late 1970s and made famous by Umberto Eco in the early 1980s, there was a significant surge in the production of these novels around the turn of the millennium. There are currently over one hundred authors who publish within this sub-genre located at the intersection of historical novel, detective narrative and medievalism. Many of the books are poorly written, full of narrative inconsistencies and woefully anachronistic language. But they do share a deep and abiding love for the little section of the Middle Ages they depict. This is evident in the often impressive research that sits behind most of these narratives: research that occasionally garners some grudging respect from medieval scholars. As Carolyn Dinshaw demonstrates in How Soon Is Now?, the connection between the study of the Middle Ages and amateur scholarship can be a surprising and productive one. In this talk, I present the fledgling survey I am undertaking of medieval crime fiction and I explore what contemporary political, social or cultural conditions prompted the creation of this sub genre and why these novels enjoy such widespread and ongoing popularity.

6 October

Sarah Randles, University of Melbourne

Is Gawain’s Girdle a Relic? Emotions and Objects in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a poem which focuses on emotions, including both public and private emotions, and emotions which are publicly performed as well as those which are felt but remain hidden. Central to the poem is Sir Gawain’s enigmatic girdle, the ultimate emotional object in Middle English literature. The girdle is replete with ‘emotional value’, but the nature of that value changes throughout the narrative, as the girdle shifts from a love gift to a means of supernatural protection to the emblem of Gawain’s shame.

This paper uses developing theories of emotions and material culture, as well as new research on Marian relics, to revisit both the emotional function of Gawain’s girdle in the text and the question, first asked by Richard Green in 1985, of whether Gawain’s girdle could be a relic.

10 November (2nd Monday due to Cup Day)

Stephanie Downes, University of Melbourne

“Je Hé Guerre”: The Emotional Rhetoric of Peace in the Prison Poetry of Charles of Orléans

In the later stages of the Hundred Years War and its aftermath Charles of Orléans styled himself and was styled by others as an ‘author of the peace’. This paper considers the active role played by Charles in his self-presentation as peacemaker, exploring how lyric poetry written during his imprisonment fashions negative emotions relating to war and captivity, and positive emotions relating to peace and alliance. Charles produced a bilingual body of wartime poetry during his English captivity. The paper historicises Charles’ anti-war rhetoric by focusing first on poetry possibly produced in relation to three key historical moments in the diplomatic negotiations between France and England: the Anglo-French treaty of 1433, the renewed negotiations of 1439, and 1440, when Charles finally returned to France; and then on late- and post-medieval representations of Charles as a prisoner of war from both French and English perspectives.

1 December

Hermione Cramp, University of Melbourne

The Aesthetic Alterity of Faerie

Sir Orfeo, dating from about 1330-1340, evokes the Breton lay and grafts the classical tale of Orpheus onto Celtic motifs and traditions of romance. Whilst the poem is championed by modern scholarship as a work of consummate skill and artistry, its uncanny faerie inhabitants have been a great source of confusion. Numerous critics oversimplify the poem through overstating the negative aspects of these otherworldly creatures and miss the poem’s subtle depiction of the faerie as aesthetic exemplars. Many assume that the poem’s focus is the triumph of the mortal protagonist, King Orfeo, over the wicked schemes and delusions of the faerie. Fixating on the contrast between the human courtly world and the faerie otherworld while downplaying their common features, however, is misguided. Beauties in faerie or resemblances between the faerie and the human world should not be dismissed as sinister deceptions. In numerous scenes the poet suggests that the faerie aesthetic has value in and of itself. More attention must be paid to the precision and subtlety with which Sir Orfeo’s characters (both faerie and mortal) are conceived. The faerie and Orfeo are manipulators of artifice par excellence - they both demonstrate the great ordering power of art. The focus of my paper is to compare key scenes in Sir Orfeo with scenes in other medieval texts to demonstrate that faerie embodies its own aesthetic, often eluding human comprehension. Many quintessential qualities of faerie - physical beauty, aesthetic sensibility, courtly accomplishments, supernatural abilities and mysterious otherness - are idealised in Sir Orfeo as they are in numerous other faerie tales. It is these qualities which imbue the poem with its imaginative power. The point is not that faerie is a world of moral ambiguity but a world of art and enchantment. Faerie is not a setting for moral analysis; it is all about aesthetics. Once we understand that the faerie and their aestheticised alterity lie outside normal morality, we will understand the way in which they are represented in the poem.