Pious Women in a “Den of Scorpions”

The Piety and Patronage of the Eleventh-Century Countesses of Brittany

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Amy Livingstone H. O. Hirt Professor of History, Wittenberg University alivingstone@wittenberg.edu

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• Chroniclers observing the complex politics of medieval Brittany referred to it as a “den of scorpions.” Eleventh- and early twelfth-century Brittany was politically unstable, with comital power under threat from both local lords and ambitious neighbors. The counts of Brittany depended upon their wives to bolster relationships with other regional powers, including the church, and to create alliances. These women brought with them relationships, ties, and associations to many powerful ecclesiastical foundations. This article examines the experiences of Countess Havoise (r. 1008–1034), Countess Bertha of Blois (c. 1020–1100), Countess Bertha (d. 1085), wife of Geoffrey Grenonat, and Countess Constance (r. 1076–1090), who all used ecclesiastical patronage to solidify the power of husbands and sons. This support allowed women to develop relationships with medieval clerics, making them, like Queen Esther, ideally placed to intervene and negotiate when tensions arose between the counts and the church.

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