Chapter 3 Virgins, Adulterers, and Useless Kings: Gendered Perceptions of the Scottish Monarchy
Introduction Walter Bower’s epitaph on James I (r. 1406-1437) above highlights how Scottish narratives touted kings as exemplars. Unsurprisingly, the Scottish sources demonstrate this archetype was hard to live up to, and idealisation was replaced by castigation for those who failed. This chapter considers medieval and sixteenth-century gendered ideas around kingship and how these influenced the narratives outlining the successes and failures of particular sovereigns. Representing a good cross-section from the period under discussion the narratives present the monarchs chosen as striking examples worthy of examination; the novelty lies in looking at them from a gendered perspective. I have chosen to only look at kings for two reasons: firstly, Scottish queens who have proved themselves of interest have already received extensive study using gender as a category of analysis; and secondly, in choosing to investigate kings I am able to embark upon a discussion of gender which encompasses both masculinity and femininity.
Recently, W. M. Ormrod questioned the assumptions made by modern historians that kingship was ‘deeply imbued with masculine values and fulfilled in all but exceptional circumstances by men’.3
Such a statement suggests there is only a single masculinity that applies to all kings. The belief that patriarchal structures guaranteed men dominance by subordinating women is too restrictive and belies the complexities of gender. I argue the monarchy encapsulates more than a single hegemonic ideal, with the primary evidence illustrating that a range of masculinities and femininities existed alongside one another, giving a multifaceted view of those at the top of society.
Theoretically, kings were perceived to be on a par with each other when it came to power and authority, but just as all men cannot be in the same position in terms of their power and influence, not all kings were viewed as equal, as my examples illustrate.4 Scottish historical literature is infused with narratives overlain with multiple masculinities and femininities articulating tensions and anxieties, which results in a more nuanced perspective of the gender ideologies and mentalities of the period. The chroniclers and poets referred to in this chapter are important because of the centrality of kingship to society and national identity; their works served didactic purposes for their audiences by constructing ‘a conceptual framework within which the norms of kingship were expressed and against which the actions of individual kings and queens were interpreted’.5
Examining Scottish monarchs through a new lens not only informs our understanding of Scottish rule but also enhances our appreciation of the way in which gender influences ideas about kingship and Scottish identity. Monarchy is the rule by an individual who can claim dynastic right to political authority whereas kingship is the exercise of monarchy by an individual holding the title of ruler at a particular time. Ormrod suggests that while the exercise of monarchy has usually been in the hands of men, the principles underpinning the system of monarchy represent the institution as transcending gender. A ruler’s constitutional and moral authority represented the body politic in such a way that the head had both masculine and feminine attributes which symbolised the whole realm.6 The king had to display ideal masculine qualities of sexual and martial prowess, justice, and integrity as well as the feminine qualities of mercy, love, peace-making and reconciliation. Yet, Scottish kingship had its basis in a warrior society and the key attribute of a monarch was displaying the qualities of a warrior-king. He had to be ready to lead his men into battle, use his weapon skills, fight at the front, and share the danger.7 Success in warfare as in other areas of governance commanded respect and enhanced authority; failure was followed with disappointment and irreverence. Nowhere is this more evident than in chronicles which extolled the victors and castigated or ridiculed the losers.8 Power and authority could differentiate the king from other men, but he would only be more powerful if his strength was ‘tempered by appropriate virtues’.9 The result of perfect age, sound mind, and freedom from physical imperfections, the ideal king was ‘permitted little corporeal aberration’.10 Therefore, the literature lavished descriptive detail on a king’s physical appearance, making him an object of the readers’ and his subjects’ gaze. Ormrod uses an idea of martyrdom to explain the ‘sanitised view of the reigns of controversial [English] kings’.12
Moving away from the normative and performative processes of kingship I also examine kings who sit outside of the perceived norm. However, ideas of age, lust, virginity and uselessness are my means of exploring the gendered anxieties such concepts revealed in the narratives. Rather than sanitise the past chroniclers and literary authors used these narratives didactically to restore the masculinity of future kings while at the same time aiming to convince their readers that Scottish identity was still ideally masculine.
All this highlights the status and bearing of a king and his real and imagined masculinity. Tensions and complications arose when there was no queen consort to take on the feminised roles and balance the gender equation, or when monarchs transgressed normative social and political boundaries. While Theresa Earenfight demonstrates that gender is a key component of sovereignty, Ormrod notes ‘little attention has been given to the possibility that a gendered reading of the monarchy might contribute to a deeper appreciation of the dynamics of politics’.13 This is certainly evident in Scottish scholarship which tends to exclude gender, instead focusing on the more usual military, political and religious themes, or the biographical form of kingship.14 Research by Louise Fradenburg, Fiona Downie, and Kirsten Post Walton has partly rectified this with regards to Scottish queenship, but specific work on Scottish kingship and masculinity has yet to make its mark, although it is an area beginning to receive attention elsewhere.
Minority rule was a distinctive feature of late medieval Scottish kingship. Before the fifteenth century there were only three minority rules: Malcolm IV, Alexander III and David II. Only two adult male kings – Robert II (r. 1371-1390) and Robert III (r. 1390-1406) – inherited the throne between 1400 and 1586. Each of my authors lived through at least one minority rule, and this is reflected in the moralistic and instructive advice that appears throughout their narratives. Before 1437 regents were usually male relatives of the king, or at least prominent male members of the political community. After 1437 the maternal rights of the queen as guardian occasionally extended to political authority causing considerable angst about the potential disruption to society this could cause. A number of topics emerge when looking at wider social and cultural ideologies of gendered kingship in the Scottish sources, and this chapter follows a thematic rather than chronological structure. I have chosen to examine themes which highlight a variety of gendered stereotypes, ideals, and contradictions encompassing subordinated and useless rule, age, virginity, and lust. Each theme is pervaded with the philosophical ideology tied to a man’s development: the seven ages of man. This chapter explores the reigns of David II (r. 1329-1371), Robert II (r. 1371-1390) and Robert III (r. 1390-1406) which, fractured by age and infirmity, coloured chroniclers’ perceptions of their rule. Being a virgin or too lustful also corresponds with the debate on age and was used to attack a king’s masculinity and effectiveness of rule, as with the reigns of Malcolm IV (r. 1153-1165), James IV (r. 1488-1513), and James V (r. 1513-1542). The section on useless (inutilis) kings encompasses power and subordination and takes into account the submission of John Balliol (r. 1292-1296) to Edward I, and Henry Darnley’s (r. 1565-1567) subjection by his wife, Mary Stewart; two entirely different situations, but each equally challenging to ideals of masculinity. I aim to demonstrate a deeply contested and gendered nature of monarchy is evident from the range of masculinities and femininities exhibited by these individuals, and from the often embellished reminders of the chroniclers regarding their opinions of the ideal monarch. Kings and queens who displayed imperfections became scapegoats at times of crisis; their imperfections and governance became synonymous. It is to these scapegoats that I now turn.
‘He deit in cleyne maydynheide’: Virginity17 Malcolm IV came to the throne in 1153, reigning twelve years before dying unmarried and childless at twenty-five. Malcolm’s kingship is unusual in the Scottish histories because of his questionable masculinity – he refused to marry and produce a much-needed heir instead desiring to remain a virgin. This resulted in a number of chroniclers from the fifteenth century onwards labelling him the ‘Maiden’, an epithet suggestive of weakness or effeminacy.Virginity challenges the categories of binary gender and heterosexuality, easily becoming monstrous because it upsets societal order and hierarchy. Therefore, a male monarch’s virginity posed problems for the individual and the nation.19 As John Arnold argues, the efforts of medieval authors to negotiate the prickly implications male virginity had for masculinity make the male virgin an interesting figure to examine.William of Newburgh’s twelfth-century narrative is a contemporary (and English) account of Malcolm’s life. While it is outside the parameters of my chronology it provides a relevant base from which to begin. The two contemporary Scottish sources – the Melrose and Holyrood chronicles – lack information on Malcolm’s virginity suggesting it was not an issue, and therefore unworthy of report. The fourteenth to sixteenth-century Scottish chronicles are demonstrative of anxieties concerning gender, which may reflect later tensions than those of the twelfth century, but are important nonetheless. Newburgh, writing at a time when concerns were raised about the sexual mores of ecclesiastical men, commended Malcolm who ‘shone in the midst of a barbarous and perverse race like a heavenly star’.21 According to Newburgh, God assisted Malcolm in defeating those of evil disposition who attacked the young monarch, helping him maintain his divinely sanctioned royal position. The chronicler emphasised Malcolm’s resoluteness in his virginal state by noting he checked those trying to dissuade him ‘with a certain authority by word and countenance’.
However, the enemy ‘urged on by jealousy . . . laid stronger snares for the godly child’. Even Malcolm’s mother with ‘the hidden poison as the counsel of motherly kindness . . . urged him to be a king, not a monk; showing a girl’s embraces best befitted his age and body’, and persuading him to seek pleasure with the noble virgin she left in his room.23 Appearing to consent to his mother’s demands, he waited until everyone left before ‘sleeping on the pavement, covered with a cloak’. When his mother admonished him, he replied with ‘a certain authority of the constancy of his mind’ that she ought ‘not to venture further in this matter’.24 This dramatic account not only emphasises the power of young men over women, but by allowing Malcolm to transcend his youth, it also highlights misogynistic views of women. Newburgh extolled Malcolm’s virginity suggesting the young king’s experience of severe illness and suffering was like flagellation, thus increasing his virtue and merit. Malcolm’s brother, William, also tried to live a spiritual life refusing to marry purely for procreative reasons. However, Newburgh noted William, either ‘by impulse or more wholesome council’ took a wife, lived ‘more correctly’ and reigned more fortunately, suggesting only certain men were suited to the virginal life..
While William was not one of them he was to be commended on practising chastity within marriage. Of all the chronicle entries examined, Newburgh’s narrative is the only one to implicate the queen mother in under-handed actions. This illustrates Newburgh’s anxieties about women and temptations; stressing the chronicler’s tension regarding the queen mother’s power over the young king, and the lengths she apparently would go to in order to divert him from a religious path. Malcolm’s mother, Ada de Warenne (c. 1120-1178), had been in the process of attempting to arrange his marriage to Constance of Brittany until his death intervened. She featured prominently at court as queen mother to two successive kings (Malcolm and William I), was highly religious but aware of her maternal and national responsibilities, hence her involvement in trying to ‘sharpen the dynastic instincts’ of Malcolm.
The religious struggle with temptation, the breaking of maternal bonds, and the establishment of the youth’s authoritative masculinity appear to be more important to Newburgh than Malcolm’s kingship. Unlike later chroniclers, he did not use Malcolm’s virginity as an excuse for kingly aberration.
According to the sixteenth-century historian Hector Boece, Malcolm had been ‘nurist fra his first youth with a clene lyffe, but ony company of wemen’.27 Earlier historians John Fordun (1370s) and Walter Bower (1440s) stated Malcolm had vowed before God to abide ‘his whole time in the spotless purity of maidenhood’ and never took advantage of his kingly rank in order to transgress.28 When he was ‘above twenty-two years of age’, wise counsellors advised him to take a wife in order to provide heirs to the throne; an example of how age and good counsel influenced the perceptions and expectations of kingly masculinity. Boece details a long oration, which he credits to the Bishop of St Andrews, regarding Malcolm’s unwedded and childless state. The Bishop praises Malcolm’s chastity and piety, suggesting the life of Christ and his saints was designed only for those whom God chose. God had not chosen Malcolm for this purpose; instead he was to govern his people with justice, and provide for the profit of the commonwealth.30 According to George Buchanan (1582), it was the Assembly of the Estates who set out the various reasons why the king should take a wife. Most importantly, for both Buchanan and Boece, Malcolm’s marital status was a matter of public duty to the kingdom and a private debt to his family – he had to think about the ‘tranquillity of future ages’.31 Boece maintained that by defrauding the realm of heirs a king risked God’s displeasure because marriage was an honest state, and it was possible to find a wife who was happy to practise chastity within the marital bed.32 Yet, as Bower claimed, no amount of persuasion or exhortation by those around Malcolm, ‘as far as their respect for his royal authority allowed it’, could dissuade him from his path.
However, when Boece wrote his history the young monarch, James V, had no siblings. This placed the monarchy in a precarious position; factionalism was rife and England was raising the overlordship issue yet again.
The youthful Malcolm was resolute in his decision to give himself as a chaste virgin to Christ.34 He struggled ‘with the whole straining of his mind and all the longing of his innermost heart . . . to reign with Christ forever’.35 Medieval notions of masculinity emphasised a suspicion of male virginity. Men were supposed to demonstrate an active, even aggressive heterosexuality. Failure to do so meant a lack of what was deemed, at least in moderation, manly: drinking, fighting and sex.36 Clerical men who married Christ were often seen as less than masculine by the laity, although the Church saw this differently. The early twentieth-century historian, Herbert Maxwell discounted Malcolm’s ‘singular continence’ because he was only a teenager when put to the test. However, restraint from lust by youths was all the more praiseworthy because it was harder during adolescence; a time of irrationality, impulse, and strong lustful intentions.38 The question of temptation was crucial; success in obtaining a lack of desire was seen as a gift from God and ‘[t]he act of denying the male body came to be one of the profound ways in which celibate men could assert and reaffirm their masculinity. This was how celibates could be men without acting like men’; indeed, it was manlier to resist marriage and sex.39 Malcolm transcended his age and masculinity, yet for chroniclers he simultaneously failed as an ideal king because of that same youth and inadequate virility. To get around this problem they portrayed him as a martial but chaste king. An effeminate king dented the masculine narrative, as we will see later with Henry Stewart. Unlike the portrayals of Richard II of England, there was no inference of Malcolm’s sexual involvement with another man, nor was Malcolm viewed as effeminate.40 There was no sexual impropriety, mistresses or illegitimate children; any of which would have proved his potency and confirmed his masculinity.
However, being manly did not always mean one had to be sexually aggressive. One could be strong through controlling one’s body and controlling others, thus redefining masculinity as exemplified in Newburgh’s narrative.42 At the time Malcolm was king it was perfectly acceptable for a clerical man to be spiritually married to Christ. Therefore, it is possible Malcolm was using the clerical ideal of virginity to ‘deal with anxieties surrounding his status as both king and man’.
Later Scottish authors demonstrate chastity was at odds with the nationalist cause; after all, Scottish identity and independence was promoted through an unhindered dynastic line. A virginal king left the way open for conquest and subordination, as occurred in England in 1066. Perhaps the instability of Scottish independence meant chroniclers could not take the chance of encouraging such a position or the prospect of opening the door to English occupation, or the subjection of a less manly king? Future kings were therefore vehemently advised to keep Scotland out of such precarious situations. The challenge for Malcolm, had he lived, would have been to maintain his gender identity, both socially and sexually, while obeying religious dictates against drawing blood or semen.44 Malcolm was an anomaly; he was a warrior king who suppressed internal rebellions, established peace in his realm, and set his mind ‘to govern his realm in justice’ suggesting he was not as negligent as some authors portrayed.45 The late sixteenth-century historian George Buchanan described Malcolm as a ‘man of very little spirit’ whose preference for peace was seen as giving in to English demands much to the disgust of nobles and chroniclers. However, this possibly says more about Buchanan’s Protestant point of view in regards to a highly devout Catholic king.46 Nevertheless, ‘virginity is always political’ and is never unproblematic or absolute, especially so for the male virgin at the pinnacle of the social hierarchy.
Usually applied to women as a physical state exhibiting purity and uncorruption, virginity was not normally a label attached to men; for it ‘held no special magic’.48 Men ‘had nothing tangible to lose’ therefore virginity could be experienced or assumed regardless of physical status.49 The ‘symbolism of virginity was more important than the actuality’ for monarchs were expected to provide heirs
This is where it becomes difficult with Malcolm. The absence of a wife meant there was no-one to blame for lack of children. Men were not usually blamed for biological/reproductive failure, and in a society where death was no stranger there was no guarantee adult heirs would outlive the king. Chroniclers saw Malcolm’s unwillingness to produce heirs as failing in ‘his most fundamental duty as a king’ and as a man.51 Furthermore, Malcolm failed to find the balance between the ‘requirements of religious observance [and] proper practice of regality’.52 Nevertheless, John Major (1521) believed Malcolm ‘did right to observe his vow’ because he had adult brothers to succeed him which would avoid civil war, although it brought the young king dangerously close to being ‘reckoned among the foolish virgins (fatuorum virginum)’.53 God obviously gave Malcolm the strength to remain pure by providing other heirs to the throne, keeping the dynastic line intact and relieving him of his kingly duty. By placing capable war leaders at the nation’s helm, Malcolm was able to spend the ‘rest of his life among the regular canons of the holy cross in Edinburgh with piety and devotion’, as if he was a regular monk.54 Bower appears torn in two; as a cleric he admired the way Malcolm, with God’s help, struggled ‘manfully against the allurements of the body and pleasures of the flesh from a desire of things eternal’; a heroic and highly masculine battle perceived as a vocation from God conceived at a young age. He admired Malcolm’s good qualities in which he equalled his predecessor David I, even surpassing the late king in some virtues.56 However, Malcolm took this too far; he was supposed to be an earthly king working on behalf of God within the bounds of admirable piety and providing good governance for his subjects and kingdom. As a result the Scots, uneasy with Malcolm’s perceived negligence in favour of religion, made his brother William guardian of the ‘whole kingdom against the king’s will’. This was just one of the many trials Malcolm had been forewarned about.
Malcolm’s great-grandmother Queen Margaret (r. 1070-1093) followed religious dictates within her royal role by marrying, having children, and living within acceptable boundaries of marital chastity and monarchical duty. However, unlike Margaret, Edward the Confessor or St. Edmund of England, Malcolm was never made a saint and it is unlikely he was viewed as one. Had he been sanctified, his virginity would have been exalted, not problematic.59 According to English chroniclers, Edmund carried out his duties as king in an exemplary way achieving the ideal balance between his spiritual and secular duties preferring to be a king rather than a priest. Katherine Lewis notes self-governance was the key to successful governance over others. Edmund transcended his teenage years to be seen as the ‘embodiment of desirable kingly conduct.’60 Edmund was a properly trained knight, exhibiting great prowess and therefore working within the normal paradigms of masculinity.61 Similarly, Malcolm and his brother William worked hard to join the ‘exclusive club of international chivalry’, but Malcolm failed to impress with his martial abilities.62 Weapons and women were symbols of manhood being passive tools used by men to display their power and martial or sexual prowess in order to achieve subjection. Why was Malcolm’s military prowess not used to define his masculinity instead of his virginity, which was seen by some as a weakness? It is strange Malcolm’s virginity was never viewed by later chroniclers as a signifier of his virile prowess in the same way as the young Edward IV of England or the legendary Sir Galahad.
His military successes could have been used to show his transcendence of youth, and his maturation into an authoritative and successful king. After all, he could have changed his mind about his virginity had he lived. Instead, chroniclers appear fixated with his chastity, demonstrating that from the late fourteenth century independence and nationhood were important and a king who was highly anti-English and sought to protect Scotland was of more value than one who was reproductively negligent. Authoritative masculine kingship corresponding with prescribed ideals was what chroniclers wanted to portray to their readers. Short of omitting such an important king in the royal dynasty those same writers had to explain away any aberrations, and a virgin king ‘was a convenient justification for any subsequent dynastic disruption.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 HAMMERING SCOTLAND: THE FORGING OF MEDIEVAL AND SIXTEENTH-CENTURY SCOTTISH IDENTITY
Chapter 2 ‘THE WHOLE OF SCOTLAND IS NAMED AFTER THE WOMAN SCOTA’: GENDERING SCOTLAND’S ORIGIN MYTHS
Chapter 3 VIRGINS, ADULTERERS, AND USELESS KINGS: GENDERED PERCEPTIONS OF THE SCOTTISH MONARCHY
Chapter 4 SUBVERSIVE MEN, MANLY WOMEN AND A HERO IN DRAG: GENDER-BENDING SCOTTISH IDENTITY
Chapter 5 ‘A WEDOW IN DISTRES’: PERSONIFYING SCOTLAND
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ASSESSING GENDER IN THE CONSTRUCTION OF SCOTTISH IDENTITY, c. 1286–c. 1586