Medieval Women: Beatrice of Burgundy

In honor of Women’s History Month, today, I’m posting about one of the medieval women I’ve been researching for my novel in progress. Relatively little is known of Beatrice of Burgundy (c. 1143-1184) compared to what is known of her husband. She was about thirteen years old when she married the German king and Roman Emperor Frederick “Barbarossa,” but she was no stranger to royal titles even at that age. She had become the Countess of Burgundy at five when her father died and somehow managed to keep the title despite her uncle trying to take it from her. Imagine that–becoming Countess at five and Holy Roman Empress at thirteen. Imagine what such a woman would be like, what she would be capable of.

In most of the allusions I’ve found to Beatrice, she is mentioned for the land she owned, her childbearing, or her beauty. In Alfred Haverkamp’s Medieval Germany (1992), she is indexed three times as “Beatrice, w of Emperor Frederick”: first, with a description of the properties she owned upon their marriage; second, with a description of what happened to those properties after her death; and third, with a list of the twelve children she bore him and the marriage negotiations Frederick completed on their behalf. In Umberto Eco’s speculative novel, Baudolino (2000), she appears as the protagonist’s beautiful and unattainable love interest. A Latin poem, Carmen de gestis Frederici I imperatoris in Lombardia (1162), compares Beatrice’s beauty and brilliance on her wedding day to Venus, Minerva, Juno, and the Virgin Mary. About six hundred years after the wedding, the event would capture the imagination of two Italian painters.

The Wedding of Frederick Barbarossa to Beatrice of Burgundy in 1156 by Giambattista Tiepolo (painted in 1751)
The Wedding of Frederick Barbarossa to Beatrice of Burgundy in 1156 by Giambattista Tiepolo (painted in 1751)
The Wedding of Frederick Barbarossa to Beatrice of Burgundy in 1156 by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo
The Wedding of Frederick Barbarossa to Beatrice of Burgundy in 1156 by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (painted in 1752)

Eight-hundred years after her death, these images are all that survive of Beatrice in the popular imagination. Images that focus on her beauty, her possessions, and her wedding day. Images that view her as a tool for securing land, a lasting legacy, or sexual fulfillment.

The truth, of course, is that Beatrice of Burgundy was a conscious human being with thoughts and desires of her own. In the twelve children with whom she is so frequently credited, I see a determination to maintain her position where her predecessor failed; Frederick had annulled his childless marriage to his first wife. In reports that she traveled extensively with her husband and heavily involved herself in the culture and politics of court, I see a political mind. A miniature in a 14th century Venetian manuscript depicts her arguing with Pope Alexander alongside her husband. Long after the wedding, the Emperor was accused of being “under her influence.” Such a legacy is far less likely to be the product of chance or others’ designs than it is to be the product of her own carefully constructed political decisions. Although Beatrice has most often been depicted as a pawn in Frederick’s strategy game, it’s interesting to think about what she gained from their union. He may have obtained control of the county of Burgundy with their marriage, but she gained access to the world.

“Camille” Wins Second Place in Marguerite McGlinn National Prize for Fiction

My short story, “Camille,” has been selected by judge Julianna Baggott as the second-place winner of this year’s Marguerite McGlinn National Prize for Fiction! This is one I’ve been working on for a while — it’s the story that opens my novel retelling the Odysseus myth from the perspective of a Vietnam soldier’s wife — so I’m excited it has found a home. “Camille” will appear in the fall 2014 online issue of Philadephia Stories. I’ll post a link here when it’s up. Thanks to Julianna Baggott and everyone at Philadelphia Stories for their work on the competition and the McGlinn, Hansma, and Dry families for funding the prize!

Back from Germany

I had an amazing time in Germany, researching medieval Konstanz and Freiburg, exploring city museums, hiking the Black Forest, and visiting Hildegard of Bingen’s abbey. ‘The Book of Gothel’, my novel-in-progress, is annotated to bits. Below is a gallery of some of what I saw while I was there!

I have to thank the wonderful Sustainable Arts Foundation for the grant that enabled this trip! If you’re a parent artist or writer who needs time to create or money to research a project, they are an incredible organization! I can’t say enough good things about them.

 

 

Planning Trip to Germany

It’s spring break, so I finally have some time to start planning my trip to Germany to research The Book of Gothel. The trip is set for this summer. A few weeks ago, I bought the air tickets, and I’ve just sent off my passport renewal application…

Deutschland

The plan, as it stands now, is to start in Konstanz, the city of my narrator’s birth, where I’ll wander the old town and visit museums, the island of Reichenau, and the ruins of an old fortress that still exists at Hohentwiel. Next I’m excited about visiting Naturpark Schwarzwald, where I’ll take notes on local flora and fauna and hike through the Black Forest. Then I plan to stay in Bingen, where I’ll make arrangements to see the Drusus Bridge and its ancient chapel, various museums and archives, the Disibodenburg abbey ruins, the St. Hildegard Abbey, and St. Hildegard of Bingen’s assembly of relics. Finally, I’ll visit Freiburg, where I plan to stay in the oldest hotel in Germany and research the House of Zähringen.

I am incredibly grateful to the Sustainable Arts Foundation for awarding me the grant that enabled this trip.

‘The Book of Gothel’ wins Sustainable Arts Award

I was thrilled to discover today that my novel-in-progress has received a 2013 Sustainable Arts Foundation Promise Award! Set in 12th century Germany and the present-day United States, ‘The Book of Gothel’ speculates about the historical roots of some of our most beloved European folktales. The grant will fund my trip to the Black Forest this summer to research the book. Here’s what the Sustainable Arts Foundation had to say about the manuscript:

“Mary McMyne’s novel-in-progress, The Book of Gothel, is one of our favorite kind of multi-layered fictions: it offers both a 12th century woman’s memoir and the story of the modern-day scholar who finds, translates, and annotates it. It is utterly inventive and a real pleasure to read. McMyne lives in northern Michigan with her family and teaches at Lake Superior State University.”

‘Wait’ Wins Faulkner Prize for a Novel in Progress

I’m so excited that Judge Janette Turner Hospital has announced my manuscript, ‘Wait,’ this year’s winner of the Faulkner Prize for a Novel in Progress! ‘Wait’ retells the Odysseus myth from the perspective of a soldier’s wife in the Deep South during the Vietnam War:

“My clear choice for winner, this manuscript in progress is stunning for a number of reasons. It is a retelling of the Iliad and the Odyssey that, quite frankly in my opinion, puts it up on the level of Derek Walcott’s Omeros. That is, while it follows Homer quite closely, it manages at the same time, in a completely natural and believable way, to portray American culture and politics in the 20th century, especially as they pertain to the Deep South. Even the names sound like normal Southern names: Penny (Penelope) has her husband Odell (Odysseus) shipped off to combat in Vietnam shortly after the birth of their son Teller (Telemachus). The writing itself is gorgeously lyrical, culturally hyper-observant, and acerbically intelligent. A real tour de force.”