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Gendered viewing, childbirth and female authority in the residence of Alice Chaucer, duchess of Suffolk, at Ewelme, Oxfordshire
By Rachel Delman
Journal of Medieval History, Vol. 49:2 (2019)
Abstract: This article examines the visual culture of the late medieval great residence from the perspective of the female gaze. In 1466, the widowed Alice Chaucer, duchess of Suffolk (c.1404–75), moved several items from her London and East Anglian houses to her principal residence at Ewelme, Oxfordshire. A unique set of inventories reveals that the move anticipated the birth and baptism of one of Alice’s grandchildren at that manor house.
Focusing on the tapestries displayed in the main rooms of Alice’s residence, this article argues that the rituals surrounding the birth of Alice’s grandchild – and their occurrence within a female-headed household – provided a gendered viewing context, which both informed, and was informed by, their iconography. It considers how the mutually constitutive relationship between space, iconography and ritual would have authorised an event centred on female bodies, whilst also articulating Alice’s authority as household and family matriarch.
Top Image: Alice de la Pole, detail from her effigy in Ewelme Church, Oxfordshire – photo by Sciencebloke / Wikimedia Commons