- What Was The Role Of Women In Feudal Society
- Illuminating Women In The Medieval World
What Was The Role Of Women In Feudal Society – Medieval society was mainly agricultural, and for the men and women who worked the land, the tasks were many, varied and labour-intensive. However, until the late 20th century, the important role played by medieval women in the peasant household was largely ignored by historians.
Until the rise of ‘down-to-earth’ social history, history dealt with the well-documented personal and political lives of the royal family and nobility, and dramatic events such as the Black Death. We know about the work – but
What Was The Role Of Women In Feudal Society
Lives – the craftsmen who built the cathedrals, and developed useful tools such as the plow and the water wheel. Much, much less has been written about the work of ordinary women in the Middle Ages.
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But recent research shows that a married woman shares all her husband’s labor on the family holding. In fact, women were an essential part of the harvest workforce. They followed the harvest as gatherers and helped with the reaping. They planted peas and beans, weeded, threshed, pruned and roofed. They also did a lot of the sheep shearing.
In addition to all these tasks, women were expected to run the household and raise their children.
I once owned a calendar containing illustrations of medieval women at work, copied from medieval manuscripts. It always fascinated me to see the variety of jobs depicted, most of which were performed outdoors and required some physical labor. In fact, the diversity of medieval women’s work roles is surprising – their work was much more varied than in the 18th and 19th centuries, for example, following the Industrial Revolution.
On one page of the calendar, a woman was shown shearing a sheep with clippers; on another, a woman was carrying a large bag of grain on her back, for a waiting boat. A group of female gardeners were depicted digging with spades outside a cathedral, under the supervision of a noblewoman. Women were shown building a stone wall and helping to reap the harvest. There was one particularly tired woman keeping bees, with a large bear lurking nearby – look closely and you’ll notice that medieval images often contain remarkable details like this!
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Although all of these tasks were outdoor, physical tasks, women’s work tended to take place in or close to the home, their other source of employment – domestic tasks. It is not surprising that women shouldered the burden of domestic duties: they cooked over the fire, washed clothes in the stream, sewed the family’s clothes, spun wool, cared for sick family members, fed animals the yard, and cultivates gardens for food and herbs. They could also be called upon to assist during the birth of a baby, as men, even doctors, did not attend births.
Married women worked to supplement their husband’s earnings, although their economic activities were considered secondary to those of men. Single women and widows worked to support themselves and their children.
Women made and sold drink, food, cloth and clothes. The lower levels of these trades produced relatively little profit, but were considered an acceptable extension of women’s domestic duties.
It is a little known fact that women brewed and sold most of the beer drunk in medieval England. Women brewed beer for their own families to drink, so selling their drink commercially did not seem inappropriate.
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Detail of a bas-de-page scene of an alewife approaching a hermit with a flagellum. A broom hanging over the front door indicated that the house was a beer and ale seller,
However, after 1350, men began to take over the brewing trade. By the end of the 1400s to about 1500, the demand for beer declined in most parts of England, due to the growing popularity of ale. Brewing beer was expensive; access to capital and substantial credit was required for the equipment necessary to manufacture and transport the malt. It also required more labor than a single household could provide. And so women’s access to the brewing industry became limited.
Before 1500, the term ‘spinner’ meant a female spinner, as almost all clothing was made of wool. England’s main industry was the production of woolen cloth, and production increased sharply during the 14th century.
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of a woman at a spinning wheel, Decretals of Gregory IX with glossa ordinaria, British Library, Royal 10 E IV f 147
Women In The Middle Ages
Medieval cloth production was very labour-intensive, requiring smoothing, combing, spinning and washing wool, all work carried out by women. These tasks required very little capital and could be useful for married women to supplement their family income, although they did not pay much. The work could be picked up during spare moments and integrated with other economic and domestic activities. The sedentary nature of textile activities was particularly suitable for elderly women.
The woman holds a distaff, a short stick that holds a bundle of linen or wool ready to be spun into yarn or thread.
In the late 15th and early 16th centuries, women, especially widows, operated shops selling various goods, often worth no more than a few hundred pounds. Shops provided a comfortable home, with storage space for goods and gadgets, although the majority of women earned only a modest income. Most businesswomen sold directly to the consumer; some London women received rental income from their shops or warehouses.
Marjorie’s book discusses a wide range of women’s work: as money lenders, producers and sellers, brewers and sellers of beer, as workers in the food trades, as innkeepers and as skilled artisans. The profits earned by women were modest, but an unusual case was Agnes Pafford, of Southampton, who traded on a large scale with Brittany (see page 125).
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Judith discusses the role of women in commercial brewing, and describes how Denise Marlere, who died in 1401, brewed for more than 20 years, managing a successful business and investing heavily in equipment and supplies. But as long as her husband, Nicholas, lived, his brewing only added to his work as a butcher.
Go to the online scholarly database JSTOR and use the Advanced Search option, combining search terms such as ‘medieval’, ‘women’, ‘work’ (type each word in a separate search box). Anyone can use JSTOR within the Library premises, but you need to be a member of the State Library of Victoria to use JSTOR at home.
Women in the Middle Ages in Europe fulfilled a number of different social roles. Wom held the positions of wife, mother, peasant, artisan, and nun, as well as some important leadership roles, such as abbess or que regnant. The very concept of a woman changed in a number of ways during the Middle Ages,
And many forces influenced women’s roles during this period, while also expanding their traditional roles in society and the economy. Whether they were powerful or not or stayed back to look after their homes, they still played an important role in society whether they were saints, nobles, peasants or nuns. Due to a context of the right years that led to the reconceptualization of women during this period, many of their roles were overshadowed by the work of m. Although it was common for women to participate in the church and help at home, they did much more to influence the Middle Ages.
Illuminating Women In The Medieval World
In the early Middle Ages, women’s lives varied greatly depending on their location and status. Ecclesiastical sources offer particularly rich information about women living under Christian rule; some remains from the Roman period that offer clues about a woman elsewhere. For example, following Roman and Germanic Law, women had some limited control over her own marriage, dowry and property.
As Christianity began to spread, women’s roles were largely defined in relation to the Christian Church. For some women, Christianity was attractive because of the indepdce and independence that religion could offer. Christian monasticism allowed a woman to reject the identity of wife and mother, as well as childbirth, which could endanger life. Christian women could have active religious roles: For example, abbesses could become important figures in their own right, occasionally ruling monasteries and women,
And hold considerable lands and power. Figures such as Hilda of Whitby (c. 614–680) became influential on a national and even international scale.
For secular Christian women, authority was largely linked to class status. Women like Radegund were able to contribute to the spread of Christianity through her role as a wife and Que. Wealthy women like Dhuoda show that female autonomy in the Carolingian period was possible, but women’s relationships were still largely shaped around family and community ties. In fact, evidence from matronymic names suggests that matriarchal lineage may be useful in distinguishing lineages, or in depending on a woman’s prominent position within society.
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Non-elite women shared labor with their male counterparts, but this work was still largely work. Wom oversaw household activities such as cooking, brewing, spinning and weaving, as well as looking after livestock. Following Burgundian and Visigothic law, women could also act as landowners and managers, especially if they were unmarried, widowed, or when their husbands were away.
By the third century, Christianity had reached most of the European world. Al-Andalus, the region that became modern
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