Within late-medieval England, concubinage was an acknowledged, if not always accepted, part of everyday life. However, this fails to be reflected within the topic’s current historiography. Previous studies relegate this theme to its perceived moral scandal or simply its reputation within the law, diminishing the role it played within society. This thesis takes the current historiography regarding a concubine’s place within law and uses it to highlight the social expectations these women faced, revealing new perspectives concerning their role. Once these are understood, cultural representations, such as those found within chronicles, literature and art, are examined to reveal not only the realities of a late-medieval concubine but also contemporary perceptions. Studying this will ultimately reveal a limit to societies’ tolerance when these women pushed the boundaries of their social spheres or when inheritance, and thus money, land and power, became involved.
Fourteenth-century royal concubine, Katherine Swynford, forms the main case study of this thesis, for as a concubine turned wife, she raises the question as to what was considered standard in this period. By understanding Katherine and the context she lived in, further awareness of concubinage, and thus women, in late-medieval England can be revealed.
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