Collaboration and coercion: Marguerite Porete, mendicants and devout women in northern France in the late thirteenth century
Contributor(s)Principal Supervisor: Constant J. Mews
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AbstractIn this thesis I explore the multi-layered interaction between the members of the mendicant orders, in particular the Franciscans, and women of various backgrounds in northern France in the late thirteenth century, with particular attention to the figure of Marguerite Porete. My starting point has been guided by the need to situate her activity and subsequent condemnation in 1310 in terms of two main areas of activity, the intellectual centre of Paris, and more creative and loosely controlled area of the southern Low Countries. In particular, Porete’s career must be situated in terms of flourishing of networks of religious renewal in the first half of the thirteenth century, supported by the mendicant Orders. When the inquisition started delineating the boundaries of orthodoxy, there developed increasing tension between forces of constraint and of creative devotion. I reflect on the intriguing figure of Marguerite Porete, asking to what extent her theology was a reaction to this struggle. I argue that her turning away from individual will, articulated so beautifully in her treatise, was a statement, not of withdrawal from this combat, but an articulation of her contribution to it. This thesis examines a series of texts that illustrate this tension between dynamism and control, including Hadewijch’s little studied ‘List of the Perfect’, the writing of Gilbert of Tournai for Isabelle of France and the Speculum dominarum, written by Durand of Champagne, Franciscan chaplain to Jeanne of Navarre, wife of Philip IV of France. Jeanne’s death in 1305 deprived the Franciscan movement of a significant female supporter. The support Porete gained from figures like master Godfrey of Fontaines, the unidentified Franciscan called John, and Franco, Cistercian monk of Villers (whose authority she claimed in her support) were unable to prevent her being executed in a show trial in Paris in 1310, largely driven by inquisitors from the Dominican Order. By the beginning of the fourteenth century, I argue, it no longer mattered whether or not women’s spirituality was in line with the accepted theology of their age. If their obedience was not absolutely certain, their way of life was banned.