Women in medieval europe

Women in medieval europe

The position of women in the medieval society was greatly influenced by the views of the Roman Catholic Church. An average peasant women married at the age of 14 and gave birth to the first child at the age of Some noble women gained great influence but medieval queens regnant were the exception rather than the rule. Women from wealthy merchant families dedicated themselves almost exclusively to the role of a wife and mother. Women from the working class actively contributed to the family's income but they were paid less than men.

The perception of gender roles in medieval Europe was greatly influenced by the Roman Catholic Church which did not present women in the best light. The Church considered women to be responsible for the original sin or the Fall of Man on the basis that a woman — Eve persuaded Adam to eat the fruit from the forbidden tree of knowledge which resulted in the expulsion of man from paradise.

The end of the Middle Ages saw the beginning of witch-hunts which reached their height in the Early Modern Period. Thousands of people were executed for witchcraft, while about 80 percent of the victims of this mass hysteria were women. Peasant women had a considerable equality within their social class although this equality was mostly limited to labor on the field rather than marriage. All women were taught to obey their fathers and later husbands although they probably did not allowed themselves to be ordered around, at least not all of them.

An average peasant woman married at the age of 14 and gave birth to the first child at the age of Mortality rate at childbirth was extremely high and as a result, many women died before the age of Unlike peasant women, noble women were often shown a lot of respect although they usually had no say in the decisions of their husbands.

However, some had a great deal of influence especially those who belonged to high nobility or royalty. Queens regnant ruling queens were the exception rather than the rule, however, it was not unusual for queens to act as regents to their underage sons. Noble women could also inherit titles and estates from their fathers of course, if they did not have legitimate brothers but the title and their right to the land passed to their husbands upon marriage.

Despite the fact that the troubadour poetry puts a major emphasis on courtly love, love had little to do with marriage in the Middle Ages. Just about all marriages were arranged by the parents or guardians in all classes of medieval society, while the children were not asked for their opinion and wishes.

Rather than a union between a man and woman who are in love, marriage was perceived as an instrument to extend the wealth and influence of the family especially by the medieval social elites. The lowest classes of the medieval society, on the other hand, were happy for having one hungry mouth less to feed. The Roman Catholic clergy, a highly respected and influential class of the feudal society in the Middle Ages was organized into a strict hierarchy which excluded women completely from the highest structures.

Female members of medieval clergy were almost exclusively nuns, while the highest status they could achieve was the position of an abbess or superior of the abbey or monastery. This position, however, gave them a significant influence although it cannot be compared with the influence of priests, bishops and deacons, offices which were and still are closed for women.

The role and life of women in medieval towns and cities depended greatly on their social status. Women who originated from wealthier merchant families usually dedicated themselves to running the household and raising children, while those from less wealthy families were expected to help in the family business. Women from the working class mostly worked as spinners, saleswomen and bakers, however, they were often forced to work in physically demanding jobs for lower wages than men. Women in the Middle ages were treated as the second class members within their social class.

They were taught to be obedient to their husbands and were expected to run the household and raise children. Their role in the society, however, was much more complex, while some medieval women achieved a high level of equality with men.

women in medieval europe

Quick Facts The main role of women in the Middle Ages was to run the household and raise children. Women were taught to be obedient to their husbands. Medieval marriages were arranged by the parents and were often marked by absence of love. Women in the service of the Roman Catholic Church could only be nuns or in best case abbesses.

Sign up for newsletter that will notify you of new History Articles.Women in the Middle Ages occupied a number of different social roles. During the Middle Agesa period of European history lasting from around the 5th century to the 15th century, society was patriarchal and this type of patriarchal control was assumed: ideally, women were to fall under male control regardless of class.

The very concept of "woman" changed in a number of ways during the Middle Ages [2] and several forces influenced women's roles during their period. The Roman Catholic Church was a major unifying cultural influence of the Middle Ages with its selection from Latin learning, preservation of the art of writing, and a centralized administration through its network of bishops.

Historically in the Catholic and other ancient churches, the role of bishop, like the priesthood, was restricted to men. With the establishment of Christian monasticismother roles within the Church became available to women. From the 5th century onward, Christian convents provided an alternative to the path of marriage and child-rearing, to play a more active religious role.

women in medieval europe

Abbesses could become important figures in their own right, often ruling over monasteries of both men and women, and holding significant lands and power. Figures such as Hilda of Whitby c. Spinning was one of a number of traditionally women's crafts at this time, [4] initially performed using the spindle and distaff ; the spinning wheel was introduced towards the end of the High Middle Ages.

For most of the Middle Ages, until the introduction of beer made with hopsbrewing was done largely by women; [5] this was a form of work which could take place at home. Such partnerships were facilitated by the fact that much work occurred in or near the home. Midwifery was practised informally, gradually becoming a specialized occupation in the Late Middle Ages.

Eleanor of Aquitaine — was one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in Western Europe during the High Middle Ages. Eleanor succeeded her father as suo jure Duchess of Aquitaine and Countess of Poitiers at the age of 15, and thus became the most eligible bride in Europe. Hadewijch of Antwerp was a poet and mystic. Both Hildegard of Bingen and Trota of Salerno were medical writers in the 12th century. Female artisans in some cities were, like their male equivalents, organized in guilds.

Regarding the role of women in the ChurchPope Innocent III wrote in "No matter whether the most blessed Virgin Mary stands higher, and is also more illustrious, than all the apostles together, it was still not to her, but to them, that the Lord entrusted the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven".

The mystic Julian of Norwich was also significant in England. Christine de Pizan was a noted late medieval writer on women's issues.Women in Medieval Europe were legally dependent on their husbands. In the scope of civil law, women were restricted from signing contracts, being witnesses in court, or borrowing money in their names. All of these had to be carried out under the legal authority of their husbands. In short, married women were considerably dependent on their spouses.

Interestingly, these restrictions existed in many European countries until very recently. This was quite a significant advantage compared to the Roman Empire. In that era, all women, regardless of their marital status and age, needed a male guardian.

This is a transcript from the video series The High Middle Ages. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus. Businesswomen in medieval Europe were able to protect their assets if they were in a trade that was different from that of their husbands. As an example, if a woman was working as a tailor and her husband was a brewer, their assets were completely separate from each other.

Therefore, if the husband faced bankruptcy, his wife had no legal responsibility to pay his creditors. Learn more about the Middle Ages and its origins. In other words, when a married woman committed a crime, she was subject to the same penalties as an unmarried one.

The only exception was in the case of pregnancy: pregnant women were exempt from execution or any kind of torture. In addition, regardless of their marital status, all women were exempted from certain forms of torture by medieval courts.

For example, women could not be broken on the wheel. In some cases, the judicial system in the High Medieval Ages treated female offenders more leniently. For example, same-sex relationships, which carried the death penalty for men, were no crime at all for women because such a relationship did not affect human reproduction. Women who were found guilty of a capital offense were not so lucky though. In fact, they had to suffer the most brutal and painful type of executions in that era: burning at the stake.

Unlike men who were sentenced to different kinds of execution depending on the severity of their crimes, female execution took only one form.

Contemporaries claimed this was necessary for the preservation of female modesty, because other forms of execution were deemed unbecoming of women. Although there may be some truth to this justification, modern historians have identified misogyny, as well as a deep-rooted suspicion and dislike of women on the part of males, as the root cause of this practice. Learn more about the Empire vs. Politically, women were able to rise to the highest levels of sovereignty. They could become queens and rule over kingdoms, or become regents and rule in the name of a minor child.

Whether a woman was a queen or a regent, ruling either temporarily or permanently, her powers were not different from those of a male ruler. This equality of powers was only because medieval politics were dynastic.

In other words, offices passed down from fathers to sons.Usage terms Public Domain in most countries other than the UK. Most people in medieval Europe lived in small rural communities, making their living from the land.

The Status of Women in Medieval Europe

Peasant women had many domestic responsibilities, including caring for children, preparing food, and tending livestock. During the busiest times of the year, such as the harvest, women often joined their husbands in the field to bring in the crops. Women often participated in vital cottage industries, such as brewing, baking and manufacturing textiles. The most common symbol of the peasant woman was the distaff — a tool used for spinning flax and wool.

Eve is often shown with a distaff, illustrating her duty to perform manual labour after the fall from Paradise. An image often seen in medieval art is a woman waving her distaff at a fox with a goose in its jaws; sometimes, in satirical images, women are even shown attacking their husbands with a distaff or some other domestic implement.

A marginal illustration of a woman attacking her husband with a distaff, from the Luttrell Psalter Add MSf. Women living in towns had similar responsibilities to those in the countryside.

Women in the Middle Ages

Just as rural women helped with their husbands' work, urban women assisted their fathers and husbands in a wide variety of trades and crafts, including the production of textiles, leather goods, and metal work, as well as running shops and inns. According to the Bible, Eve was created from Adam's rib and, having eaten the forbidden fruit, was responsible for man's expulsion from paradise. In medieval art, the responsibility of women for this 'original sin', is often emphasised by giving a female head to the serpent who tempts Eve to disobey God.

The story underlined the belief that women were inferior to men, and that they were morally weaker and likely to tempt men into sin. Throughout the Middle Ages, the place of women in society was often dictated by biblical texts. The writings of the apostle Paul, in particular, emphasised men's authority over women, forbidding women from teaching, and instructing them to remain silent. However, the Virgin Mary was a contrast to this negative image: as the mother of Christ, she was the channel through which Christians might be saved.

She was sometimes described as the 'second Eve', as she was seen to have made up for Eve's sins. Throughout the Middle Ages, Mary was seen as the most powerful of all saints, as well as a strong if paradoxical model of chastity and motherhood. There were some women who exercised power, providing a challenge to the stereotypical image of medieval women as oppressed and subservient. In the church, women could hold positions of great responsibility as abbesses of convents.

In some instances, such as monasteries that housed communities of men and women, the abbess had seniority over monks.

women in medieval europe

A representation of nuns at a procession to mass, from a collection of moral tracts Yates Thompson MS 11, f. Outside monastic walls, women could wield political power, especially as queens and regents who exercised royal authority on behalf of absent husbands or underage sons.Modern people have got accustomed to the various benefits of civilization so quickly that it is difficult to imagine how we managed without them earlier.

It is widely known, which health and hygiene problems arose in the people of the Middle Ages. But the most amazing thing is that these issues remained relevant for the women in Europe until the middle of the 19th century! One and a half centuries ago, having a period was considered a disease, which required excluding mental activity; it was a challenge to overcome the smell of sweat; and frequent washing of the genitals was considered the cause of infertility in women.

Female Professions of Medieval Europe

At that time, having a period was very tough. No personal hygiene products existed — and women relied on reusable pieces of cloth. In the Victorian England, it was thought that mental performance aggravated menstruation symptoms in women, so reading was forbidden.

US scientist Edward Clark even argued that higher education undermined the reproductive capacity of women. In those times, people washed very rarely and reluctantly.

Most people believed that hot water contributed to the penetration of infections in the body. He wrote that there were people who did not dare to swim in the river or take a bath because they had never been in water since childhood.

The physician called this fear unreasonable and added that one could get used to taking a bath after the fifth or sixth time. The situation with oral hygiene was slightly better. Italian manufacturers began to produce toothpaste inbut it was available to very few people.

The production of toothbrushes began in While serving his prison sentence, Englishman William Addis came up with an idea of drilling holes in a piece of bone, running bristle tufts through them, and then securing them with glue. After he had been released, he was engaged in the production of toothbrushes on a commercial scale.

The first real toilet paper was produced in England only in the s. The first serial production of rolls of toilet paper began in in the United States. Until then, newspapers were used instead of toilet paper. In this respect, there appeared a joke that Johannes Gutenberg was the official inventor of the printing press and the unofficial inventor of toilet paper. A breakthrough in the field of personal care happened in the middle of the 19th century, when a medical opinion on the relationship of bacteria with infectious diseases was voiced.

The number of bacteria on the body was substantially reduced after washing. The British women were the first to successfully maintain the purity of their body: they began to take a bath with soap every day. But until the early twentieth century it had been thought that frequent washing of the genitals in women could lead to infertility.

women in medieval europe

The first deodorant appeared in Before that year, the struggle with the problem of body odor had been very inefficient.Jerry Quinn is a classical actor and history buff with a special interest in 10thth century Normandy. Home-maker, midwife, prostitute. So, aside from popping out babies, what exactly did women… do? To help you extrapolate the role of women in your fantasy world, this article aims to give you a fundamental understanding of the reasons why things often panned out as they did.

The first thing to consider is…. Thanks to modern medicine, childbirth today has drastically lower chances of infection and hemorrhaging, not to mention those lovely painkillers. Suddenly, they could choose not to reproduce. Before that, the work a woman took on was often limited by what she could do while pregnant or with a nursing infant in tow. One need only ask a modern stay-at-home parent how much else they get done during the day, and remember that before infant formula s that parent had to be the mother, as she was the only one who could feed the child.

But of course…. The infertile, the post-menopausal, the celibate, and those wealthy enough to rely exclusively on wet nurses, were all free to pursue professional callings. But remember when populating your fantasy world that those were exceptions. In addition to those with genuine religious callings, convents provided a refuge for female non-conformists and intellectuals.

Female writers, artists, and religious scholars were nurtured by the church, as well as botanists, healers, and educators. The medieval church was a major economic enterprise, and the Abbess of a large convent was a force to be reckoned with. Women with children participated in nearly every economic aspect of medieval life. In most cases, only a man was allowed to own property or a business, but his wife, daughters, mother, and sisters were invaluable to operating it.

Frequently, women ran the entire show as proxy to absent male relatives. She should not oppress her tenants and workers but should be just and consistent. She should follow the advice of her husband and of wise counsellors so that people will not think she is merely following her own will. She must know the laws of warfare so that she can command her men and defend her lands if they are attacked.

She must be a good manager of workers.Before the Renaissance —when a number of women in Europe wielded influence and power—women of medieval Europe often came to prominence primarily through their family connections. Through marriage or motherhood, or as their father's heir when there were no male heirs, women occasionally rose above their culturally-restricted roles.

And a few women made their way to the forefront of accomplishment or power primarily through their own efforts. Find here a few European medieval women of note. Unfortunately, we have only a few very biased sources for her life, but this profile attempts to read between the lines and come as close as we can to an objective telling of her story.

While she took second place in her husband's life to his many mistresses, she exercised much power during the reigns of their three sons, serving as regent at times and more informally at others.

She is often recognized for her role in the St. Catherine of Siena is credited with St. When Gregory died, Catherine got involved in the Great Schism. Her visions were well-known in the medieval world, and she was an advisor, through her correspondence, with powerful secular and religious leaders.

Had Henry V lived, their marriage might have united France and England. Queen of France then Queen of England, she was Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right, which gave her significant power as a wife and mother.

She served as regent in her husband's absence, helped ensure significant royal marriages for her daughters, and eventually helped her sons rebel against their father, Henry II of England, her husband. She was imprisoned by Henry, but outlived him and served, once again, as regent, this time when her sons were absent from England. Mystic, religious leader, writer, musician, Hildegard of Bingen is the earliest composer whose life history is known.

She was not canonized untilthough she was locally considered a saint before that. She was the fourth woman named a Doctor of the Church. Canoness, poet, dramatist, and historian, Hrosvitha Hrostvitha, Hroswitha wrote the first plays known to be have been written by a woman. Joan of Arc, Maid of Orleans, had only two years in the public eye but is perhaps the best-known woman of the Middle Ages. She was a military leader and, eventually, a saint in the Roman Catholic tradition who helped unite the French against the English.

Never quite crowned as Queen of England, Matilda's claim on the throne—which her father had required his nobles to support, but which her cousin Stephen rejected when he seized the throne for himself—led to a long civil war.

Eventually, her military campaigns led not to her own success in winning the crown of England, but to her son, Henry II, being named Stephen's successor. She was called Empress because of her first marriage, to the Holy Roman Emperor. Theodora, Empress of Byzantium fromwas probably the most influential and powerful woman in the empire's history. Through her relationship with her husband, who seems to have treated her as his intellectual partner, Theodora had a real effect on the political decisions of the empire.

The Daily Life of Medieval Women - Episode 1

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