Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Sean L. Field's "Courting Sanctity"

Sean L. Field is Professor of History at the University of Vermont. He is the author, editor, or translator of several books, including Late Medieval Heresy, Visions of Sainthood in Medieval Rome, and The Sanctity of Louis IX.

Field applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Courting Sanctity: Holy Women and the Capetians, and reported the following:
Opening Courting Sanctity to page 99 drops the reader right into the heart of the book. This study's narrative arc runs from several holy women whose support of the French royal family was key to its rise in prestige by the 1260s, through a turning point in the 1270s and early 1280s, to a descent into persecution of similar women by the early fourteenth century. Page 99 comes at the height of this arc, in chapter three, concerning the holy woman Elizabeth of Spalbeek whose prophecies were said to accuse King Philip III of France of angering god through "sins against nature." Her rumored prophecies were quickly picked up by a faction at the Capetian court, where a group led by Bishop Pierre de Benais and the king's favorite Pierre de La Broce tried to convince Elizabeth to put her holy reputation behind competing rumors that Philip III's second wife, Marie of Brabant, had conspired to poison the heir to the French throne:
Pierre [de Benais] had tried a few months earlier to cast suspicion on Marie of Brabant and her household by asserting that 'everyone in Paris' believed the queen's household had poisoned [the prince]. Now he raised the stakes by appealing to a higher source of authority. Rather than relying on popular rumor, Pierre now pointed to divine revelation, as received by Elizabeth of Spalbeek. In other words, whereas the two competing rumors had entirely different origins, now not only the original accusation about the king's sins but also Pierre's accusations against he queen of France had come to hinge on the holy woman of Spalbeek.
This is the exact tipping point of the story, as the French court begins to see the prophecies of holy women as potentially dangerous, something to be silenced rather than broadcast. Elizabeth herself chose self-censorship, swearing several times that she had never reported any revelations from God concerning the French court. Hence she escaped from the episode silenced but personally unharmed. Thirty years later, a woman such as Marguerite Porete, burned at the stake in Paris in 1310, was not so fortunate.
Learn more about Courting Sanctity at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue