Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Emily Joan Ward's "Royal Childhood and Child Kingship"

Emily Joan Ward is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Edinburgh. She began her British Academy funded project on "Adolescence and Belonging in Medieval Europe, c.1000–c.1250" in her previous role at University College London.

Ward applied the Page 99 Test to Royal Childhood and Child Kingship: Boy Kings in England, Scotland, France and Germany, c. 1050–1262, her first book, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Royal Childhood and Child Kingship captures a moment part-way through Chapter 4, ‘Familial Education: Preparing Boys to be Kings’. The first half of the page is taken up with the closing paragraph of a section entitled ‘Celebrating Royal Children’. This summarises how royal infants were often incorporated within medieval documentary culture passively, in charter dating clauses or prayers for their spiritual and physical health. The paragraph argues that, although children were not dynamic actors on such occasions, their initial appearances in such documents are still significant ‘for understanding the web of interwoven obligations, influences and expectations around royal children, especially eldest sons’. Children’s passive appearances in charters also laid the groundwork for more active participation in rule later in childhood, which leads into the subsequent section of the chapter, ‘Children’s Participation in Royal Actions’. Following this heading, the bottom half of page 99 then considers how boys began to be brought into the transactional business of royal rule more actively from the age of five, ‘possibly when they were able to speak and provide verbal assent more articulately’. The page ends with an example from twelfth-century France, when Philip, the five-year-old son of Louis VII, provided his consent to his father’s foundation of the priory of Nemours.

The Page 99 Test is partially successful in this case. Page 99 highlights one of the crucial ideas I attempt to convey in Royal Childhood and Child Kingship: that children are important political actors and central to practices and systems of medieval rulership between the eleventh and twelfth centuries. However, relying on this page in isolation would give the reader only a partial insight into one aspect of the book’s argument. There is a lot that would be missed. Extrapolating from page 99 might also encouraged misguided conceptions, i.e., that the book exclusively focuses on concepts of agency (it does not) or that the analysis relies on documentary evidence alone (whereas the book in reality takes a much broader approach to source material).

Royal Childhood and Child Kingship is a comparative study of children’s centrality to royal rule across the central Middle Ages, and readers opening to page 99 are unlikely to appreciate the full geographical or chronological span of the work. At the heart of the study are six boys who became sole rulers of England, Scotland, France, or Germany while still under the age of fifteen. Placing these six children in comparison, supplemented by other examples where necessary, reveals important similarities in how young boys were prepared for rule and how they exercised political power and authority. The first part of the book, ‘Models and History’, challenges modern assumptions that kingship was equivalent to adult power by demonstrating the positive cultural and political connotations of a boy’s rule. The book’s second part, ‘Preparation for the Throne’, not only focuses on children’s incorporation within royal documents (as represented on page 99), but also considers children’s roles within oaths of fidelity, performances of homage, royal diplomacy, and coronation ceremonies. The third and final part, ‘Guardianship and Royal Rule’, presents an alternative picture of child rulership, one which stresses administrative innovation and political collaboration over and above the narrative of magnate violence which tends to dominate both contemporary chronicles and modern impressions. Uniting all these themes to focus on the figure of the royal child and boy king helps us move past a resolutely adult-focused impression of medieval rulership, showing children’s political significance in all its complexity.
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--Marshal Zeringue