Ælfgif-who? provides short biographies of early medieval English women. Click on the podcast player if you’d like to hear this newsletter read aloud in my appealing Yorkshire accent.
Who is Bede? And what does he have to do with medieval women?
Today, 25th May, is the feast day of Saint Bede, and the 1288th anniversary of his death. Bede was a monk and historian in early medieval Northumbria, and his work The Ecclesiastical History of the English People is our most enlightening source on the process of early medieval Christianisation in England.
Sure he’s an important historical figure, but why is he featuring here, in a publication about women? Long term readers and listeners of Ælfgif-who? might be familiar with Bede, since he seems to crop up in many of these newsletters. This is because Bede was one of the most prolific writers in early medieval England, and it’s down to him that we know about many of the women who lived in that period. He mentions over forty women by name in his Ecclesiastical History alone. Their names, stories and legends would not have survived to us without him. He’s a vital source to historians of women, but a complicated one, and it has long been debated how we should understand his views, and where they might sit on the scale of feminist to misogynist.