Barbara Newman

Barbara Newman teaches at Northwestern University near Chicago. Her most recent books are The Permeable Self: Five Medieval Relationships and a translation of Richard Methley’s collected works.

Historians​ usually exclude gossip and rumour from their sources, or use them with caution. In her new book about Eleanor of Aquitaine, Karen Sullivan does the opposite. She looks at what friends, enemies, troubadours and chroniclers as late as the 16th century had to say, often relaying it with the phrase ut dicebatur, ‘as it was said’. Eleanor has been many things to many...

Cauldrons for Helmets: Crusading Women

Barbara Newman, 13 April 2023

Women frequently travelled on campaign with their menfolk. But female warriors were rare, not only because of conventional gender roles but because women lacked the specialised training and equipment of knights.

Boots the Bishop: Albert the Magnificent

Barbara Newman, 1 December 2022

Albertus Magnus​, the Dominican friar born sometime around 1200 and canonised in 1931, is often called the patron saint of natural scientists, but he might as well be called the patron saint of curiosity. The 38 volumes of his collected works cover not only theology, law and logic, but almost every science known to his era: zoology and botany, physiology and medicine, astronomy and...

Safe Spaces

Barbara Newman, 21 July 2022

Robin Hood’s Greenwood anticipates Shakespeare’s Forest of Arden, where the virtuous exiles in As You Like It find refuge from persecution. In these stories, it’s not the church but the natural world that offers sanctuary from the corruption of courts, kings, sheriffs and other self-serving institutions. There’s a modern twist in the tale: the idea that, far from being able to provide sanctuary, nature itself requires it.

A hand can be slanted or upright, rounded or pointed, spacious or cramped, with distinctive letter forms, ligatures and flourishes. Some pocket-sized Parisian Bibles are written in such tiny script that a magnifying glass is required to read them, while scholastic writings are heavily abbreviated to save parchment. Thomas Aquinas’s shorthand was so illegible only his secretary could decipher it. 

Christ in Purple Silk: Medieval Selfhood

Irina Dumitrescu, 2 March 2023

Medieval Christians understood themselves to be interconnected to an extent that would surprise many people today, at least in Western cultures. Their minds and hearts were legible to other people as well...

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