Matriarchal Dynamics in Eleanor's Courts of Love and the Code of Poitevin as the Reflection of Southern France's Heretical Cathar Society
An excerpt from "The Origin of European Gynocentrism and its Symbolism"
Participation of women in sustaining and spreading Gynocentrism through the dualist heresy known as Catharism in Languedoc, France, in the first half of the thirteenth century marking the time and the beginning of the most primitive development of the proto feminist era was much greater than the previously assumed and passively attributed role generally assigned to them in medieval society. It was both built upon the gynocentric heritage of Eleanor of Aquitaine including her courts of love and the code of Poitevin as well as all of them being a reflection of this heretical society as those dynamics already prevailed for a longer and earlier period of time as the Cathars have penetrated and settled in the region of southern France. This is an important link and piece of history as it shows a co-mutual effort of medieval men and women in establishing the gynocentric culture which then later gave rise to feminism and its inherent misandry. The records of the inquisition which survive in France show this dynamic very clearly. There is an evidence for those previously prevailing dynamics of female participation and active roles already in 1230s which bear witness to such tendencies, for these carefully recorded depositions and sentences reveal in many examples women who become perfectae or female clerical leaders of the Cathar church and many more who were credentes, the lay followers of the religion. Those were these female lay followers who provided economic support and shelter for the perfecti which means that women were neither segregated from economic, social as well as religious life as well as the decision making process. So, the participation of women in Cathar society was commonplace and not unusual. In fact, it continues much older European tradition as those of the Celts which once again show a consistent line of female integration in Christian and otherwise medieval European society.
In essence, the Cathar Church was divided into two classes: the perfecti and the credentes. The perfecti were a small minority among the Cathar society who had received the consolamentum in a special ceremony, vowing to live lives of absolute purity, pacific, chaste, without property, eating and drinking only what was strictly prescribed. Their lives were devoted to preaching, conversion and contemplation. The credentes from which the secular troubadour culture arose by ways of philosophically emanating concept from the religious realms into the secular spheres as described at the beginning of the chapter did not take vows of this kind, but outwardly at least, integrated with the society around them, participating in economic life, marrying and bringing up families and engaging in warfare when the occasion arose. Generally, they received the consolamentum from the perfecti when on the point of death.
In a striking resemblance to the importance of female druids in Celtic civilization Cathar women went even a step further ahead of their more ancient sisters and not only became perfectae but sometimes were brought up with this specific purpose in mind and dedicated to such a life from birth. An example of this kind is recorded in the deposition of Arnaude de Lamothe, from Montaubon, who appeared before the inquisitor Friar Ferrier in 1244. She recoiled that in 1209 when she was still a girl she and her sister Peronne had been handed over by their mother, who was a lay follower, to heretics, who took them to the house of a perfecto called Pancia at Villemur. The dynamics described in this account are very important and we will be dealing with them a few paragraphs later. Anyway, the arrangement described above was a kind of convent for female heretics. Here they stayed for about four months until they were taken to the house of Raymond Aymeric, the deacon of the heretics at Villemur. In the presence of a large gathering of Cathars they received the consolamentum, thus entering the ranks of the perfect. Austorgue, the mother, had evidently selected these two girls to become perfectae from her seven children mentioned in the deposition. The account as we have said is also important for another reason. It clearly shows and not only brings an empirical evidence of such occurrences but also exhibit the fact that the father had most probably not much to say about the destination of his off springs. In other words, we can see here that even in medieval Europe women had maintained the informal power within the domestic sphere namely the decision making process about home or domestic economics as well as the future of the off spring who should also take care of their parents and elderly. In a wider sense, it shows and bears another evidence for the matrifocal – gynocentric nature of European feudal society. According to the same account, Bernard de Lamothe, who was probably an older brother, eventually became “the Cathar bishop of Toulouse", and the other four (two girls and two boys) were followers in the sect. So, the mother clearly decided about the future of her sons too not only that of the daughters.
Either way, Arnaude and Peronne lived at Panda's house for another year after 'ordination' until the arrival of the Albigensian Crusade in the vicinity forced them and their companions to flee. This marked the beginning of a life spent “on the run" during which Peronne died, and which finally ended with the arrest of Arnaude by the inquisition. The sisters were taken from house to house and farm to farm or they lived in cabins or huts built in the woods, sometimes staying overnight or for a few days, at other times remaining for as long as a year and on one occasion for three years when they lived in a cattle-shed. Food supply was brought to them by lay followers, who guided them from place to place and provided shelter. Besides the fact that this technical life style in the woods and the food being offered by believers reminds us and draws an interesting parallel to the life style and practice of Buddhist monks living in the woods and going for alms as it is an evidence to the Buddhist – Manichean heritage of the Cathars through the link of 10th century Bogomil heresy of the Balkan, in fact, being a direct derivative of this Bulgarian heretical movement that spread to western Europe and France from the North over the Danube and the southern root via northern Italy, it also shows that besides the persecution of the inquisition female followers felt quite safe to spend their time alone in the woods without the fear of being assaulted (whether sexually or otherwise). In comparison early Buddhist accounts tells us that this was one of the reason why in the time of the Buddha and later female Buddhist nuns as standing opposed to monks resided in monasteries designed for both sexes for this very reasons of security (not necessarily in terms of sexual assault but in general terms).
At one point, about two years after the flight from Villemur, frightened by persecution, they returned to Montauban and put aside the sect of the heretics and ate meat and they were reconciled by the bishop of Carcassonne. Although remaining in contact with the heretics, they did not resume the life of perfectae for eight years, when they entered a convent of female heretics at linars and received the cansolomentum once more, this time together with their mother. The perfectae were also involved in more secular activities. The evidence of inquisitorial sentences and depositions strongly suggests that a rigid separation from the material elements of the world, which represented their ultimate goal, was not fully achieved by many of the perfect, male or female, and that the necessities of everyday life led them to participate in economic activity to on extent not entirely compatible with their professed views on the nature of evil. Those Perfectae either gave or sold a variety of goods to their supporters including bread, fish, wine, clothing, bags, linen, cloth, shoes and wax. They undoubtedly handled money, for they sometimes paid for food and accommodation provided for them and sometimes made monetary gifts or loans to believers. Food and drink were also readily provided by the female believers: bread, fish (especially eels), vegetables (cabbages, lettuce and onions are particularly mentioned), grain, fruit, oil, cakes, wine and cider, are among items given. When food was not donated, the heretics arranged for its purchase.
Moreover, a certain Raimonde Salinera testified that she often sold her bread to certain female heretics and that she had many times brought fish and other necessities for them, 'at their request and with their money'. This is one of the clearest evidences that women did not only had access but also possessed and were in control of their own money and finances. Clothing, bedding, linen, woollen threads, bags, dishes, and gifts of money (or in one case a pound of pepper, presumably to be used as currency) were among non-food items donated or bequeathed by female followers. Female followers provided essential support in other ways too: Bernarde Targuier lent money to Bernard de Lamothe (which again shows that women had not only access to family finances but had also control over the decision making process), the bishop of the heretics, Humberge Paline, 'received goods given to them', Berbeignueira, the wife of Lobenx from Puylaurens, looked after items of value for the heretics, including a book, 60 solidi in money and a piece of wax, Berengere, the wife of Assalit de Monts, 'handed over the legacy of a certain perfected heretic to the heretics', and Maria, the widow of a certain Hughes, went out to buy clothes in which a certain dead heretic was buried. This also shows that not only were women not excluded from social as well as religious life but also not segregated from economical endeavors as well as financial decisions whether for themselves and others. The accumulation of such events clearly shows not only a tendency as it is not some coincidence but a deep and profound dynamic in which women controlled human as well as financial resources (which for sure at least largely but as we will see certainly not exclusively were provided by men).
Furthermore, as there was no land inheritance in the middle ages as we might understand it in modern terms, while land belonged to the royal institution and the church, medieval inheritance simply meant the permission to stay and not be thrown off the land based on the male military service. In fact, it was not a male privilege or privilege at all but a sort of payment for the services of men from which the landlord gained profits whether material or immaterial. So, while especially for the poor masses inheritance per se as we have seen was the mere allowance to stay on the land as long as the military service was provided "inheritance" as such had simply a symbolic meaning while in addition the typical southern nobility went as far as to take away even this symbolism from men and therefore tended to exist on divided lands or within a collective lordship, in which male and female heirs might hold jointly, and in which there was little loyalty to the Count of Toulouse, the nominal overlord. It meant that although serving in the military men were deprived of this symbolism that were granted to women as unearned merit and privilege hence they even didn't have to fight for it as men. Thus, in the early middle ages the access of a woman to all or large parts of the family property was therefore not uncommon as standing opposed to the misandrist myths as spread by feminists. Additionally, as inheritance as we have seen did not truly existed (not forbidden for women only which is a common feminist fallacy) women were dowried not because they were bought by men but again while it was forbidden for men to inherent anything too they still had to give dowry to the woman to secure her in the case of divorce and not for the benefit of the husband in the same dynamic as it exists today in the Muslim Arab gynocentric society or like in the Thai society as a form of social security net. Therefore, if we take all the accounts and conditions into consideration, the role of women as whether land-holders or the financial-economic gatekeepers remained important and secure thus consequently their social influence was considerably high. So, in a way all the above dynamics and more as we will discuss below started the social, economic and societal tendencies of women later obtaining more and more such unearned privileges, whether symbolic or very actual ones, that not only marked the beginning of women being put on the pedestal without having done anything for their privileges and men serving them as slaves. As I have said those dynamics are already reflected in the code of Poitevin declaring men by queen Eleanor of Aquitaine as the thing of a woman while it will later be taken to extremity within the context of European gynocentrism, modern feminism and subsequently its inherent misandry.
Hence, in this kind of social structure, where women controlled in addition to the economic as well as human resources within the family also the high societal status as well as a symbolic and the very actual one too, it is not difficult to imagine the influence of the matriarchal figure, presiding over the co-heirs and maintaining a strong grip upon family ties and attitudes. Based on a longer established line and heritage of heretical gynocentrism and Eleanor's legacy, an implicit recognition of the importance of this structure in southern society is contained in article 46 of the Statutes of Pamiers, imposed upon languedoc by the victorious Simon de Monfort in 1212, which forbade noble women to marry an indigenous person during a period of ten years without the consent of the count, a position which Monfort held de facto at that time. This southern aristocracy felt no community of interest with the local clergy. Petty seigneurs, confined to their share of the co-seigneury, found a display of anti-clericalism a convenient pretext for the usurpation of church lands, an attitude which perhaps reflected the policies of leaders like the Counts of Toulouse and the Counts of Faix. Pierre des Voux-de-Cernay describes in detail the atrocities committed by Raymond-Roger, the Count of foix, among which was a murderous attack upon the canons of St. Antonin of Pamiers, when they objected to the establishment of the count's aunt, a perfected heretic, as head of a Cathar house in the tawn. While these attitudes can be exaggerated - the crusading tradition was strong in the south and the Military Orders were well-established there - nevertheless, it does seem that such a society presented no united authoritarian front to deviation and heresy. Catharism and Waldensianism flourished in the south, because the crust of repression, so much thicker and more uniform in the north, was thin and brittle in the south. According to another crusade chronicler, Guillaume de Puylaurens, the knights of languedoc rarely vowed their children to the priesthood, apparently because they sow Catharism as a better alternative, more suited to their needs and attitudes. Jordan of Saxony, the second master-general of the Dominican Order, maintained that the perfectae were assured of a steady supply of girls from the noble families of the Lauroguais 'by reason of poverty', a reference to the practice of holding through co-seigneurs.
The importance of the matriarchal figure has already been suggested above as in regard to the account of the women and girls dedicated to spiritual life all recalled that either grandmothers or mothers or both but never fathers had been the ones initiating those decisions. When coupled with the code of Poitevin and Eleanor's courts of love, it is also the same preserved dynamic underlying the modern mindset of family courts where mothers are seen as the sole instance to decide over the child's future as the man is nothing but still the thing of a woman. In other words, it is still the mother today who decides over the human resources and the financial state of affairs of the family. In fact, as the non-religious leaders of Aquitaine and elsewhere (and as standing opposed to the church) have accepted and embraced the secular elements of the Cathar religion, the code of Poitevin and Eleanor's courts of love are mirroring and are an unavoidable reflection of those Cathar beliefs and heresy. A closer look at one particular family whose account was brought above (and there were many) shows the relationship between social structure, heresy and the position of women in less general terms as discussed above but in very specific context. In such circumstances the importance of female influence within the family structure is hardly to be doubted. Equally, a social structure which permitted strong feminine influence also offers examples of determined women who were prepared to defy their families who unsurprisingly appear in all of those accounts. It's another striking dynamic to modern feminist tendencies to destroy the nuclear family whether through divorces, single parenthood and by many other means.
Anyway, another relevant factor concerns the relatively advanced aspect of urban development of languedoc. The prevalence of heresy in the region has often been so ascribed for this was supposed to promote the free movement of traders and their goods, and with them, heretical ideas, possibly derived from the eastern lands in which the Manichaean heresy found its origins, and to which many western merchants travelled. There is certainly some truth in this explanation, for the most urbanized regions of western Christendom - apart from Languedoc, northern Italy, Flanders, Champagne, and the Rhineland – do seem to have been most prone to outbreaks of heresy, but perhaps it might be better to change the emphasis and suggest that the existence of the urban environment was more important in encouraging the appearance of ideas and beliefs already in existence, rather than simply as a means of importing ideas and beliefs from outside. Certainly the latter helped ignite the former, but dualism was latent in Languedoc in the first place. This may help to explain the pre-prominence of women, for women played a proportionately greater part in the industry and commerce of most towns than they did in the militaristic sphere of society which perfectly fitted into the gynocentric feudal societal contract of men as being cannon fodder. Anyway, although men were also doing all the hard and dirty work as well as being the provider the major industry of the towns of Languedoc, that of textile manufacture, was by no means exclusive to men, as the examples cited above illustrate. Research into the guild records of Toulouse shows that in the statutes on cloth-making of 1227, which are the earliest known for the city, women were admitted both as masters and as artisans, apparently on an equal basis with men, while spinning may well have been an exclusively feminine occupation completely refuting the feminist narrative of women being subordinate chattels as the evidence brought proves that they even were masters of men in various professions. Later guild records of the city, between 1279 and 1322, show that five crafts specifically allowed the membership of women, but Sister Mulholland, who did the fundamental research on this, thinks that women 'shared in the industrial life of the city wherever the work of the craft was appropriate and possible' and that therefore other guilds must have admitted women too. The legislation of 1227 dearly favors the dominus or domina of the crafts, for they controlled both the raw materials and the outlet for the finished products, so perhaps Catharism gave the artisans on opportunity to escape the economic subjugation which their work involved, enabling them to gather together in the houses so frequently mentioned in the depositions, rather like the beguinoges which become increasingly common in northern Europe during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In the bottom line when we weave and interlace all evidences together women did not only not were exploited, oppressed or submissive and subordinate status but given the whole picture they were the privileged, entitled and exalted class in society and while it's clear that for the poor and oppressed masses of society, both for men and women, the situation was catastrophic, at least they were so in relative terms to the poor men.