In 1193, King Richard I of England was taken captive by the Holy Roman emperor Henry VI. In several letters, the captive Richard’s mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, exhorted Pope Celestine III to intercede on her son’s behalf. The specific topics on which she drew were ancient concepts within the topic of honestas, or virtue, and, more specifically, justice as one of the virtues. Justice occupied a preeminent place among the other virtues in medieval thought, and topics related to justice, as a species of honestas, were traditionally regarded as proper for deliberative argumentation. Eleanor’s letters set forth an argumentative schema regarding the nature of justice, asserting that it possesses an anatomy of subordinate parts that include friendship, pity, and the body politic of the kingdom. Her appeals illustrate the significance of ancient virtue theory in medieval political persuasion as an inheritance of Ciceronian thought, the place of virtue in geopolitical civic persuasion in her day, and how women implemented and conceived of social justice from classical rhetorical sources and employed them for civic ends.

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