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The Priest's Wife in the Anglo-Norman Realm, 1050-1150

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Freestone, Hazel Anne 


This thesis is a prosopographical study of the wives of the clergy in England and Normandy from 1050 to 1150. After the Norman Conquest of England (1066), both regions shared an elite ruling class and the churches shared personnel. However, the different social and political contexts of the English and Norman churches ensured very different responses to the drive to impose clerical celibacy. The overwhelming majority of women associated with clergy can be considered wives; there is no evidence of widespread clerical concubinage. Where women can be identified, it could be inferred that wives came from similar social groups as their husbands. All evidence suggests that clergymen’s marriages remained valid and their children were not made illegitimate by the decretals of the First Lateran Council (1123) or Second Lateran Council (1139) as current scholarship assumes. Clergymen continued to marry because clerical marriage remained the norm. Daughters continued to find appropriate marriages. The position of priests’ sons deteriorated overall, but the difficulties they faced varied from place to place and over time. Married clergy remained a significant presence, at every grade from bishop to parish priest throughout the first hundred years of reform on both sides of the Channel. Clerical celibacy was a divisive issue before 1100 in Normandy, but was never as important in England. Married clergy in England do not appear to have suffered the same degree of pressure as married clergy in Normandy. The effect of the Norman Conquest is an underestimated factor in modern scholarship on clerical celibacy. Overall, the modern narrative of clerical celibacy and priestly marriage needs to be grounded in the political and social context of each region, traced over time and reframed in order to reflect the lived experience of priests, their wives and their families.





van Houts, Elisabeth


Women, Clerical Marriage, Clerical Celibacy, Norman Church, English Church


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Lucy Cavendish Alumnae Association, MariaMarina Fund