Monday, April 26, 2010

The Life of a Medieval Woman - An Introduction

Life in the Middle Ages was not easy even for the upper classes. Child mortality, poverty, war and death during childbirth were commonplace. Diseases were rampant since there were no vaccinations or cures. During this time women played a variety of important roles. They were nuns, poets, writers, dancers, actresses, princesses, tradeswomen, weavers and farmers to name but a few. Yet as impressive as women's contribution was to life in the Middle Ages both upper and lower class women were treated quite poorly by men. Women were considered spiritually, intellectually and morally inferior to men and were taught to "know thy place". A husband was allowed to physically punish or humiliate his wife when he felt she had stepped out of line. And if a woman owned land as soon as she married she forfeited her land to her husband. When he died, she only regained 1/3 of her property and the rest returned to the state or the King. What's more a medieval woman couldn't inherit her parents' land if she had any surviving brothers.

Although lower class men and women performed the same arduous physical labour a man was paid significantly more for his work than a woman. 90% of Medieval women were involved in some type of farm work since they lived in rural areas. For reaping a farmer received 8 pence but his wife only received 5 pence. For hay making a man received 6 pence a day but a woman received only 4 pence.

Medieval towns made it tough for a woman to earn her living. Very few merchants and tradesmen were willing to take on a woman apprentice unless they were wed to one another. That meant that townswomen were usually permitted to work in some manner with cloth and clothing but they were refused admission into higher paying trades jobs and work guilds. The highest aspiration a woman had in terms of a job was to work for the upper class as a servant or a lady in waiting. However these jobs too paid poorly and required a lot of work.

The upper class Medieval woman did not hold down a job in the same manner as a lower class woman. Instead she volunteered considerable time in hospitals and orphanages. She also had the enormous responsibility of managing her husband's castle while her husband was away at war or tending to his lands, a job that could take him months to complete. Still her life was one of supreme luxury compared to the lower class peasant woman.

Girls usually married in their teens. Girls from poor families married later in life than girls from wealthy families since the absent girl deprived a poor family of a worker. A rich girl was married as a social and political connection within the upper class. She had no choice as to who her spouse would be since these marriages were usually arranged by her parents. The most significant contribution a girl brought into her family was a male heir for her wealthy husband's estate so the young wife spent a great deal of her life pregnant.

People still enjoyed entertainment on occasion. Common and rich folk alike participated in sports and games and enjoyed leisurely activities away from the usual grind. Of course the nature of the entertainment varied with people's financial and social status. Noblemen such as knights took part in jousting tournaments. Common folk watched outdoor theatre and played a game called "dicing", a game of chance much like those that exist today in casinos.

Next Article: Jobs of Upper and Lower Class Medieval Women


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