Verbis et Exemplis: Queens, Abbesses and Other Female Rulers in Comparison, 800-1200

Location: The University of Notre Dame (USA) in England

Throughout the early and high Middle Ages, secular leaders and the religious elite in Western Europe worked closely together to govern their people, contribute to their welfare, and direct their steps to a better future. Scholars have devoted extensive attention to the political alliances and, at times, tensions between kings and their bishops, abbots and laymen. Yet, the role of female secular and religious rulers – both in and of themselves and in partnership or conflict with one another – remains to be explored.

This international conference, Verbis et Exemplis (April 26-28, 2018), will investigate the commonalities and distinguishing features of medieval queenship and female abbatial rule. Up until now, scholarship on these women has tended towards pointing to isolated cases of powerful women in either sphere; contrasting idealised examples of either queens or abbesses with each other from different periods or regions; or comparing their relative agency to their male counterparts. The results of these investigations have heavily influenced our view of the development of the social and political roles of medieval women, both in the secular and the religious spheres. Over the duration of this conference, we aim to challenge these existing perspectives on studying medieval women: our goal is to determine to what extent the political, economic, or spiritual responsibilities of queens and abbesses were comparable or distinct, and what kinds of interconnections they had.

This conference will bring together scholars from the United Kingdom, Europe and North America to engage in a fundamental critique of how we currently study and interpret the history of medieval women in western Europe. As such, this conference will provide a rare opportunity for cross-Atlantic dialogue on our methodological bases for this subject. We are also eager to emphasise the involvement of academics from all career stages, particularly post-graduate students, to ensure that we accentuate state-of-the-art research and theory, as well as gaining a rounded view of the historiographical context of our field.

This conference is kindly co-sponsored by: the University of St Andrews Institute of Mediaeval Studies, the Nanovic Institute for European StudiesNotre Dame International, the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, and the Medieval Institute of Notre Dame.

Read more about Verbis et Exemplis

For any further information or questions, please contact the conference organisers:

Dr. Sarah Greer (
Dr. Megan Welton (