This study undertakes a comparative analysis of political participation by ruling women in two tenth-century realms: Anglo-Saxon England and the Ottonian Empire. It focuses particularly on the ways in which the early medieval discourse of political virtus shaped the actions and decisions of queens and empresses in this period. Inherited from Greco-Roman traditions, and adapted by Christian authors, the discourse of political virtus required rulers to exhibit wisdom, courage, justice, and other virtuous traits publicly in order to legitimate their governance. Like kings and emperors, queens and empresses pursued each of these virtues, earning acclaim when they succeeded, and opprobrium when they fell short.
In order to understand the elements of virtus and to see how it shaped early medieval political structures, it is necessary to investigate the language embedded in the widest range of available sources. To uncover the widespread discourse of political virtus and the integral position of ruling women within this debate, this study analyzes a wide range of textual and material sources, including diplomas, private charters, royal missae, law codes, chronicles, annals, hagiographic vitae, poems, embroideries, gem-encrusted book-bindings, and coins. Furthermore, it pays particular attention to the transmission of virtus in classical, late antique, and Carolingian texts, as well as in the wide disseminations of tenth-century manuscripts. While scholars of the early Middle Ages have called attention to the lack of sources for Merovingian and Carolingian queens, the tenth century offers historians a wealth of evidence, spanning several genres and covering both the Continent and Anglo-Saxon England. The materials assembled and analyzed here clearly demonstrate the critical importance of queenly virtue in the major political arenas of the tenth century.