De-gendering female violence: Merovingian female honour as an 'exchange of violence'

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The phenomenon of female violence in the Early Middle Ages has not been properly explored, largely because of a feminist ethic which correctly focuses on women as the victims, rather than as the perpetrators, of violence. The traditional gendered dividing line is transcended when female violence, like male violence, is regarded as a class characteristic or strategy, and when female practice can be explained by a code of behaviour shared by both sexes. Several case studies from the early Merovingian period, drawn from the work of Gregory of Tours, are here analysed in order to demonstrate how royal Merovingian women could preserve honour through the pursuit of violence. How far Gregory of Tours's account may be taken to depict social reality is a further issue discussed in relation to the case studies. These involve Clothild and Fredegund, and show female violence as a normal feature of Merovingian society, especially where single women had no immediate male protectors, but did have a great deal of personal honour to defend. In the case of Fredegund, violence was the result of premeditated revenge which publicly restored her honour and maintained her precedence in the social hierarchy. It seems clear that Merovingian women, unlike women of later times, could participate in the cycle of violence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalEarly Medieval Europe
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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