This study of medieval stories of accused queens--noble and hapless victims whose suffering becomes a metaphor of larger social injustice--identifies the types of this fictional narrative and explores their popularity from the 13th to the 15th centuries. Offering evidence of lively debate in the Middle Ages about the nature of women, the book considers such topics as the perpetual lustiness of men, the powerlessness of women, the nature of "good" women, slander as evidence of legal failure, the purifying value of affliction, and economic discrepancies between the rich and the poor.
Nancy Black characterizes each type of narrative as a four-part structure in which the virtuous heroine falls twice from a position of high status and then twice recovers that status. Focusing chiefly on non-Chaucerian texts, Black examines influential or representative tales by Gautier de Coinci, Philippe de Remi, Jehan Maillart, Jehan Wauquelin, Nicholas Trevet, John Gower, Thomas Hoccleve, two plays from the Miracles de Nostre,Dame par personnages, and Chaucer's "Man of Law's Tale." Integrating her analysis with illustrations and related contemporary texts, she places each story within the living community that produced, read, and listened to it.
Because relatively few medieval stories feature female protagonists, these tales stand out for presenting a positive image of women who were active in the world rather than cloistered in a convent. The narratives do more than model feminine behavior for dutiful wives--they advance the notion that adherence to a religious moral code is more important than blind obedience to patriarchal customs. Their analysis helps the reader to understand the complicatedinteractions in the Middle Ages between gendered stereotypes and depictions of holiness.