Rachael  Gillibrand

Rachael Gillibrand

IMS PG Researcher

Summary: Thesis: The Materiality of Physical Impairment: Mobility & Daily Living Aids in the late Medieval West. Rachael is also interested in broader elements of the non-conformist body.

Website: For the most up-to-date information on Rachael’s activities, CV, interests and musings, see her blog here.


Ever since visiting countless castles and historic houses with my parents as a child, I have had a fascination with the Middle Ages; a fascination which has only developed since I first started at Leeds University in 2011. Today, I would consider myself to be a social and cultural historian, with an interest in the non-conformist body in the late Middle Ages - for example: the aged body, the female body and the disabled body. I also have a background in art history and favour interdisciplinary approaches which combine visual, material and literary evidence.

  • MA Medieval Studies – University of Leeds, Institute for Medieval Studies (2014-15)

  • Dissertation: ‘‘Sans Everything’?: Representations of the Aged Female Body’
  • Supervisor: Dr. Iona McCleery

  • BA History – University of Leeds, School of History (2011-14)

  • Dissertation: ‘Making a Monster: The Relationship Between the Body and Behaviour of King Richard III’
  • Supervisor: Dr. Iona McCleery

Prizes, Awards and Scholarships

University of Leeds 110 Anniversary Research Scholarship - 2015 (to cover fees and maintenance during PhD)

University of Leeds Postgraduate Support Package - 2014 (to cover fees and maintenance during MA)

University of Leeds Le Patourel Prize - 2014 (for best undergraduate dissertation) 

Research Interests

Medieval Disability:

‘The Middle Ages were full of the maimed, hunchbacks, people with goitres, the lame, and the paralysed.’ Jacques Le Goff, 1988.

Writing in 1988, Le Goff’s view that the Middle Ages ‘were full’ of people suffering from physical disabilities appears to be a gross exaggeration of the evidence and, in many ways, is typical of the somewhat dismissive treatment of the subject presented by late nineteenth and twentieth century scholarship. That said, it would be equally naïve to assume that bodily impairment was not a reality faced by a number of people throughout the medieval era. However, like other marginalised categories of enquiry, such as gender, race, or sexuality, it is only in more recent decades that medievalists have started to ask questions and generate scholarship about this disabled minority.

My interest in medieval disability has grown out of my BA dissertation which focussed the relationship between physical impairment and behavioural ‘monstrosity’ through a case study of King Richard III. Since then, I have gone on to look at many different aspects of late medieval disability, inspired particularly by the work of Irina Metzler. My PhD thesis, focussing on mobility aids in the Middle Ages, is consequently a product of my fascination with health, culture and non-conformist bodies c. 1400-1550.

Non-Conformist Bodies:

As Bynum pointed out in 1995, ‘discussions of the body are almost completely incommensurate – and often mutually incomprehensible across the disciplines’.

As a result of a growing willingness to communicate across disciplines, discussions of the body have developed significantly since Bynum’s article. However, if research is to continue to progress, scholars must be prepared to collaborate with individuals from different fields of enquiry. Consequently, I endeavour to be as interdisciplinary as possible in my research into the medieval body. Primarily drawing upon historical and art historical evidence, whilst also dipping into the fields of literature, biology and archaeology, my work in this field is largely concerned with ‘non-conformist’ bodies in the later medieval era.

See: Bynum, Caroline, ‘Why All the Fuss about the Body? A Medievalist’s Perspective’, Critical Inquiry, 22 (1995), 1-33