Writing Women into History: Gaimar’s Estoire des engleis and Romance

Elizabeth Tyler
University of York

This paper puts Gaimar’s use of ‘romance’ in his Estoire des engleis in the context of
the writing of history for English royal women (Emma, Edith, Edith/Matilda, Adela and
Adeliza) across the eleventh and early twelfth centuries. Within the confines of a short
paper, the focus will lie with comparing Gaimar’s Estoire (1136-37), written for
Constance fitz Gilbert, with William of Malmesbury’s Gesta regum Anglorum (finished
1125-36, revised until at least 1134), written for Edith/Matilda. Both Gaimar and William
represent their patrons as active participants in the production and conceptualization of
their histories, and both reveal that writing for women deeply shaped their practice of
history and their understanding of the nature of the historical record, whose truth is
compromised by its exclusion of women. Both writers turn to romance, to fiction, in
order to remedy the historical record. Gaimar’s epilogue makes clear that he had his
eye on developments at court in his claim that Constance herself had a copy of David’s
history written for Adeliza, Edith/Matilda’s successor as Henry I’s queen, Adeliza,
followed Edith/Matilda’s example of literary patronage, but shifted the language into
French. Romance in Gaimar’s Estoire emerges as less about writing in French verse
and more about including women in history. William’s Gesta regum and Gaimar’s
Estoire provide early and very specific spaces within which to observe the links between
female patronage and the proximity of history and romance, two genres that were
defining themselves in relation to each other in the twelfth century.