Gardens, Books, and Law-suits: Intersections of Power in the Strategies of Mahaut d'Artois (d. 1329)

Judith K Golden, Index of Christian Art, Princeton University,

As the study of women in the Middle Ages proceeds into the twenty-first century, it becomes ever more clear that women wielded greater influence and power in both governance and the arts than was previously assumed. One problem has been the lack of documentation: recorded information for any individual, male or female, outside of royal personages, is largely non-existent. Fortunately, both anecdotal and financial accounts, along with illuminated manuscripts that can be connected to Mahaut d’Artois (c. 1270-1329) exist, offering a view of a woman as ruler and donor. As countess, she is revealed to be tough and wily as she sidestepped the juridical efforts of her nephew to unseat her. Her sense of fun, sometimes at the expense of others, comes through in descriptions of the design of her gardens. And her aesthetics, along with the value she placed on art and learning, are visible in her many artistic commissions and the manuscripts with which she has been associated.

How much of what Mahaut carried out as patron was undertaken as a strategy to re-enforce her strength as ruler? This essay will review what is known of Mahaut and some of her contemporary noblewomen, with an eye toward intersections and expressions of her life as ruler in her activities as patron.