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Middle Ages without borders: a conversation on medievalism

Tommaso di Carpegna Falconieri
Pierre Savy
Lila Yawn

b) Medieval women in the modern world

1) Gendered ideology: French medievalism, and the case of Marguerite Porete

Danielle Dubois

Texte intégral

1This paper explores the extent to which early modern and modern French intellectuals shaped the memory of Marguerite Porete to advance their gendered religious and political goals. In 1310, Marguerite Porete was burned in Paris for writing and circulating a treatise on the annihilation of the soul entitled the Mirouer des simples âmes. After her death, her book continued to circulate anonymously in multiple languages. Given the lack of known historical references to Porete, scholars assumed that she had been forgotten. The newly discovered sources I analyze overturn this narrative and show that Marguerite Porete was remembered throughout the early modern and modern period and alternatively presented as a heretic or hero.

2I focus on two instances of the refashioning of the medieval female author. The first is by sixteenth-century historian François de Belleforest (1530-1583). While gender influenced his portrayal of Marguerite Porete as the leader of the beguine heretics, his interest stemmed primarily from the fact that she offered Catholics a powerful symbol of the resistance they needed to show their detractors. The fate of the medieval beguine illustrated how the Church, in collaboration with the Crown, had defended the Catholic faith, and charted a course of action that was necessary if the Gallican Church was to withstand the assaults of both Protestants and disenchanted Catholics. Belleforest’s positive evaluation of Joan of Arc, whose trial documents he studied in detail, demonstrates that his negative portrayal of Marguerite Porete cannot be ascribed solely to gender.

3The second instance of refashioning explored is by the Belle Epoque artist, intellectual and union activist Pauline Savari (1859-1907), who cast Porete as a protofeminist by petitioning the city of Paris to hang a plaque commemorating her burning. Savari’s choice to call for the recognition of Marguerite Porete and not Joan of Arc is telling at a time when the memory of the latter medieval figure was hotly contested by Catholics, Republicans as well as feminists, some of whom organized events dedicated to the famous pucelle d’Orléans. Savari likely considered Marguerite Porete an early femme de lettres. As such, the medieval author offered an appropriate and inspiring symbol for the female writers and artists on behalf of whom Savari campaigned, as well as all those who supported the aspirations of French women to become equal citizens.


4Marguerite Porete, Le Mirouer


University of Manitoba

© Publications de l’École française de Rome, 2021

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