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Empty Honorifics: Elites, Titles, and the Economy of Esteem in the Tenth Century

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 December 2023

Stephen D. Church
Affiliation:
University of East Anglia
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Summary

The epithet in solo nomine (in name only) was designed to crack smooth veneers. Late antique and early medieval theologians attached this label to purported members of their Christian community, whom the disapproving authors deemed deficient. In the ninth and tenth centuries, political commentators, including the Astronomer and Liudprand of Cremona, scolded Emperor Louis the Pious and King Lothar of Italy with just this epithet, castigating them as consecrated rulers who could not uphold the political values associated with their nomen. This sharp turn of phrase drew attention not only to the individual ruler's perceived failure, but also to the constant challenge that faced early medieval leaders across Christendom who sought to adapt to the fluid expectations embedded in their titles.

This essay examines the intersection between titles, on the one hand, and the expectations of the wider political community, on the other. It does so by offering a focused examination of the title dux as it was attached to two tenth-century women, Beatrix of Upper Lotharingia and Judith of Bavaria. Scholars have often classified the ascription of this title to these women as a rare instance of the manifestation of ‘masculine’ power by early medieval women. As such, historians have often analysed the degree to which Judith's or Beatrix's power did or did not match the masculine norm and the extent to which they did or did not occupy a reified officium. This essay queries these established readings. In order to do so, it first introduces the philosophical framework of the ‘economy of esteem’, as conceptualized by Geoffrey Brennen and Philip Pettit, with its important emphasis on virtue and the feedback loop required for political systems to function. It then examines the lexical quality of the term dux as a communal noun, building upon recent philological examinations of the variety and fluidity of gender in classical and medieval Latin. This concentration on dux casts doubt on scholarly claims of the ascription of ‘masculine’ titles to female political leaders as a sign of increased political power in the tenth century. The essay then examines the metaphorical and historical usage of dux as applied to female rulers from the fifth to the tenth century.

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Anglo-Norman Studies XLV
Proceedings of the Battle Conference 2022
, pp. 35 - 60
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2023

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