Sacred Symbols, Snake-Women and Sisterhood: Crafting Power in Medieval Origin Stories (Public lectures, 15th August)

The second of our Late Summer Lectures takes us back to the medieval period. Join Alexandra Claridge, Olivia Colquitt and Madelaine Smart as they explore medieval origin stories whose presentation of mythical beginnings and endings raises fundamental questions of sovereignty, legitimacy, and genealogy. All welcome to Alington House, Durham on 22nd August from 17.30.

Alexandra begins with a discussion of a mumming performed for the child-king Henry VI, which recounts how Clovis converted France to Christianity. Particular emphasis is placed upon his acquisition of the anointing oil and the fleur-de-lys: these elements, symbolic of the divine right of kings, would feature prominently in Henry’s coronation. This paper examines how the mumming sought to shape the child-king’s understanding of his position and relationship with the realm, using the text as a case study to explore how medieval stories of beginnings influenced the thoughts and actions of their contemporary audience.

Olivia reflects upon how dynastic identity is constructed through the French Mélusine romances. These two narratives trace the ancestry of the House of Lusignan to its serpent-tailed founding mother, Mélusine. Yet in addition to establishing the dynasty’s fantastical origins, Mélusine is said to return to her lands to herald death within her line until it diminishes entirely, thus evoking contemporaneous anxieties of succession. By evaluating the significance of supernatural genealogy in the Middle Ages, this paper reveals how the patrons of the Mélusine romances appropriated this foundation myth to serve socio-political purposes.

Madelaine discusses female founding and failings in the ‘Albina’ prologue of the Middle English Prose Brut Chronicle. The narrative presents the daughters of a King Dioclician, who murder their husbands and are exiled in boats. Washing ashore a barren island, they name it Albion after the eldest sister Albina, and spawn a nation of giants that is eradicated on Britain’s foundation centuries later. This paper considers the extent to which Albina’s failed founding is the result of her hybridity.

About Alexandra Claridge

Alex Claridge is in her first year as an English Literature PhD candidate at the University of Liverpool. Her research interests primarily focus upon Late Medieval Theatre. Her doctoral project examines Lydgate’s mummings and disguisings within the dramatic context of the Lancastrian court.

About Olivia Colquitt

Olivia Colquitt graduated from the University of Liverpool in 2016, before studying an MA in Medieval and Renaissance Literary Studies at Durham University Funded by the North West Consortium Doctoral Training Partnership, Olivia has now returned to Liverpool to study a PhD. Her research focuses upon the socio-cultural significance of the Middle English translations of the Melusine romances. Her other interests include the supernatural and the monstrous in medieval literature. Olivia also works as a research assistant on Professor Sarah Peverley’s Leverhulme project, Mermaids of the British Isles.

About Madelaine Smart

Madelaine is a third year postgraduate research student at the University of Liverpool, researching the Albina Prologue of the Middle English Prose Brut Chronicle. Working predominantly with manuscripts Madelaine’s research is centred on charting the evolution of the ‘Albina’ narrative in its Middle English Prose Brut form, and the differing portrayals of Albina and her story. In June Madelaine will be giving a paper at the Aberystwyth Medievalists Conference exploring Albina as a failed female founder and looking at Sea Voyages in the ‘Albina’ narrative at the M6 Medieval Reading Group Symposium at Liverpool.

From snake-women to satirical pamphlets, the beginnings of sound film to the burning of Shakespeare’s globe: Late Summer Lectures brings you the latest thoughts from early-career researchers at Northern universities. The series is free and everyone is warmly welcome, from school and university students to the general public. There will be a chance to ask questions of the speakers, and to socialise afterwards over free refreshments.

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