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Ideas and Ideals of Secular Masculinity in William of Malmesbury

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Kirsten Anne Fenton

School/Research organisations


This article explores the presentation of secular masculinity in two key works written by the twelfth century Benedictine monk, William of Malmesbury. It considers ideas and ideals of masculinity through the display of certain attributes including violence, sexuality and the use of speech in order to arrive at a definition of what Malmesbury himself considered to be ideal secular masculine behaviour. Central to each of these attributes, in Malmesbury’s eyes, was the notion of restraint. This ideal is linked to the importance of restraint in masculine ideals of late antiquity as well as issues specific to the eleventh and twelfth centuries especially developing notions of chivalry and courtliness. Malmesbury’s portrayal of Henry I is central to the paper as it not only reveals how complex Malmesbury’s presentation of Henry actually is but it also provides insight into the ideals of masculinity by which he – and others – judged him.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)755-772
JournalWomen's History Review
Issue number5
Early online date1 Oct 2007
Publication statusPublished - 2007

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