Rise and Fall The Three Mary’s

But it is probably true that women’s social and legal position did improve in many respects with the coming of Christianity to the Gaelic world (Ireland and western Scotland) between the fifth and seventh century and it is likely that women were involved in military encounter and war-making to some extent (otherwise the Law would have no function) even if the appalling picture is greatly exaggerated. 


Gilbert Markus (Ed. Trans.)  Cain Adimnian: Adomnans Law of the Innocents A seventh Century Law Texts For the Protection of Non-Combatants


She Who Turns Back The Steams of War

I don’t agree with the first sentence, but for the moment I will be a historical weasel and suggest that improvement or decline can both be somewhat loaded terms. If I was generalizing I would argue for a potential decline in regard to certain rights but I need to understand the context more fully and then choose my language with care.

I do agree with the second statement but I think it needs to be put in context. We have no evidence to support the conclusion that women were engaged in  physical violence alongside men as a matter of routine in early medieval society.

I think its easy to side step this issue by understanding the concept of violence in an early medieval honor based society rather than a 21st century one.

Violence is in assault on honor, physical assault and verbal assault are treated as little different from one another.  Both are assaults on honor and the legal texts regard both physical and verbal assault as forms of violence. Both have the same deadly intent and effect.

While evidence for this period is always fragmentary, narrative, poetry and the legal texts all suggest that ritualized vocal performance were a feature of the early medieval battlefield.

“It was no more to him than to sleep… sleeps now the wide eyed host with a glaze upon its eyes” 

From prayer to cursing, satire and forms of magical word formula, the early medieval battlefield had a distinctive soundscape in which a range of differing vocal practitioners deployed their art, to inspire, ensnare and absorb the one in the many, intent on one purpose.

Being a deeply hierarchical society the Irish law codes codify these roles, presenting them as distinct professions. The texts also distinguish between male and female practitioners.

Using this definition of violence, women have an intimate relationship with violence in this period. Although that relationship is coming under increasing scrutiny and subject to a range of legal sanctions which make it increasingly difficult for female practitioners of such ‘black’ linguistic acts, to engage in an ‘assault on male honor. ‘ she who has the power to turn the streams of war’ will have an increasingly limited role to play in this sphere.

 Texts seem to indicate change in both the application of law and ritual practice during this period. Women are increasingly protected from assault and are increasingly excluded from roles associated with the organization of violence and the wider political and cultural landscape in which it forms.


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