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Women in Medieval Times

Women in Medieval Times

During Europe's Middle Ages, roughly from 476 to 1450, women's lives were much different than they are today. Women had fewer rights and less power over their lives. What does this mean? Let's take a deeper look into Women in Medieval Times.

Women in Medieval Times

In Medieval times, women were in no way equal to men. There were many laws and social expectations that placed women below men. Europeans were very religious during this time, and the Catholic Church often made the rules for everyone. The Catholic Church believed in the biblical story of Adam and Eve.

The Catholic Church used the story of Adam and Eve to explain their treatment of women. This meant that women were below men and that women were responsible for all the evils in the world. This is why the Catholic Church and lawmakers considered women less than men.

Women had to keep their eyes down when they went to the market, but men were encouraged to look around. This was to show the man's dominance over the woman.

Women's Roles in Medieval Times

The roles of women were different based on their status. At the top of the order was the king, who had command over everyone. Then it would be the nobles, which included the queen. Below them is the gentry, landowners who rented their land to people below them. Lastly, were peasants and serfs. Serfs were tied to the land rented to them and could not move away.

Women in Medieval Times, Power & Rights Hierarchy Chart, StudySmarter

Fig 1: Structure of medieval Classes

The Domestic Destiny of Women in the Medieval World

The home was considered to be the woman's space. It was their duty to keep it clean and orderly. Women were also supposed to watch over the children. A peasant woman had to do this on her own. Noblewomen might hire servants. Women were also expected to help their husbands with their job.

Peasant and serf women were expected to keep the home and work in the fields. While they had to work in the fields, it was dangerous for women.

Marriage and Childbirth

Marriages happened very early, even earlier if the girl was a noble. A noble girl would be married between the ages of twelve and fifteen. Married women usually give birth within the first year of marriage, of noble status or not. Childbirth was very dangerous during the medieval period. Issues that we consider simple were often life-threatening for medieval women.

Women's Labor in the Medieval World

A husband who worked in a skilled trade could teach his wife the craft. This would be good for them as they could produce goods faster. Even the most skilled women were mistreated. A woman could not join a guild and would never be paid the same amount as a man, even if her work was better.

Guild:

A group of craftsmen who have power over the market.

Wives were advisors to their husbands. Wives were to encourage their husbands to be good and merciful. Queens held a lot of power because they were advisors to the most powerful person in the kingdom, the king.

  • Keeping the home was the woman's duty
  • Girls were married between the ages of 12-15
  • Childbirth was difficult and dangerous
  • Women were paid less than men for crafted goods
  • Women were advisors to their husbands

Women's Rights in Medieval Times

Women had few rights and could not choose their husbands or jobs. Some women had more rights than others. Most of their rights were tied to their relationship with men. This could be a woman's husband, father, or son.

Earlier, we discussed the relationship between people in this era and the church. The people used Catholicism to make and explain the rules. An interesting note is that Galatians 3:28 is about equality for everyone regardless of race, status, or gender. Though their religion spoke of equality, women were still viewed as the "weaker sex." This was used as a reason to treat women as subhuman. They were considered property; this affected their role in marriage, will, consent, custody, and trade.

In the early Medieval Ages, if a woman were wronged, her husband would sue because, as she didn't have the same rights, she was not allowed to.

Property, Dowries & Family Heirloom

Sometimes a woman could own property. In a higher-class relationship, a husband might have to give his future wife a gift before they marry. A nobleman might give his wife a castle, servants, animals, and riches. A man of the gentry class might give his wife property so that she could collect rent.

Another way a woman might gain property is through the death of a man to whom she is connected. A father who died and had no sons would leave wealth to his daughters. They would divide it equally between them. A husband might leave one-third of his property to his wife. When a woman died, her wealth would be passed down to her children or her husband's family.

Patrimony, the Patriarchy, and Distribution of Wealth

In most cases, wealth was passed from father to son, excluding women from inheritance. This practice is called patrimony. A society where men exclusively rule over the government or the family is called the patriarchy. Patriarchal and patrimonial systems were both the standard during the Medieval Era.

Nuns

Childbirth was extremely dangerous. What was a woman who didn't want to give birth supposed to do? What if she wanted an education? Noblewomen and gentry women had one escape from the lives of restriction that they were to live. They could become nuns!

Women in Medieval Times, Power & Rights Medieval Nun, StudySmarterFig 2: Medieval Nun

Nuns studied scripture, read, painted beautiful copies of the bible, and lived a life away from society. Nuns could not marry and were very well educated.

Nuns also had one right that no other class of women had. Nuns could vote. When it came time to choose a new head nun, all the nuns got to vote for who would lead them.

Women's Appearance in Medieval Times

Women living in urban areas had to wear a headdress whenever they left their homes. The headdress could be a veil or a hood. Women also had to wear long cloaks that covered them entirely; the cloaks were called mantles. Honorable women never left home without these!

A peasant or serf would wear a plain dress over a simple tunic. Noblewomen showed their wealth through their clothing. They wore tunics made of luxury materials. Then a shorter tunic lined in fur was placed atop it and tied with a belt. A lovely dress was worn over all of this. Then a beautiful broach was pinned at the back of the neck.

Women in Medieval Times Women StudySmarter

Fig 3: Medieval Women in fancy dresses

Famous Women in Medieval Times

Even though women in the Middle Ages didn't hold prominent positions typically, we do have knowledge of crucial female figures that shape Europe at the time. Here, we present briefly three examples from different periods of remarkable women from the ninth, eleventh, and fourteenth centuries in Britain and Italy.

A thing to keep in mind while studying this period:

The historical account we have of famous women during the medieval period came from a male perspective, and much of its historiography holds this bias. Modern historians reflect on this fact. If you're writing an essay on this topic, construct your critical perspective researching both, contemporary (medieval) and modern sources.

Aethelflaed, Lady of Mercia (870-918)

Aethelflaed's story takes place in present-day Britain. All of the countries might seem confusing, so let's look at the map below for a better understanding of proto-Britain.

Women in Medieval Times, Power & Rights Map of Mercia, StudySmarter

Fig 5: Map of Mercia, Wessex, and Northumbria.

Aetthelflaed was the daughter of Alfred the Great, King of Wessex. When her father died, her brother Edward the Elder became king of Wessex. He married her to Lord Athelred of Mercia. Aethelred died, and Aethelflaed became Lady of Mercia.

Aethelflaed ruling Mercia alone was unprecedented, since there was a patriarchal system of rulership. When Edward had trouble with Viking invaders, it was Aethflaed who stepped up to aid him. She pushed the Vikings out of Mercia and into Northumbria. Aethelflaed was Lady of Mercia seven years before she died in 918.

Matilda of Tuscany (1046-1115)

Matilda had an exciting life. When the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV, was kicked out of the Catholic Church by Pope Gregory VII, Matilda was the middleman for Henry's forgiveness on behalf of the pope. Henry's army had to march from Germany to Matilda's castle in Italy. She made Henry wait three days outside in the cold before he was allowed to see the pope.

Matilda bested the Holy Roman Emperor again by trapping Henry and his forces in Northern Italy. When the emperor's wife left him, Matilda sheltered her. She was an ally of the Catholic church and built churches throughout Italy. After Matilda died, her remains were moved to the Vatican; she is one of three women to be entombed there.

Vatican:

The headquarters for Catholicism in Rome and home of the Pope.

Christine de Pizan (1364-1430)

Women in the Medieval World, City of Ladies, StudySmarter

Fig 5: Image from The Book of the City of Ladies

Christine de Pizan was an early French feminist writer, most well known for her books The Tale of the Rose and The Book of the City of Ladies. Pizan was a noblewoman whose father allowed her to be educated. When she was married, her husband allowed her to continue her education. Pizan's husband died when she was still in her twenties, and it seemed her only option was to remarry one of her many suitors.

Pizan realized that instead of marrying, she could make a profit from her poetry. While most of her poetry was about the oppression of women, it was still prevalent because it was based on Christianity. Pizan was possibly the only woman in France able to support herself writing poetry. She also kept her widowed mother and three children.

Women & Power in Medieval Times

While women have more rights today than they did in the Medieval world, women were not powerless back then. Many women found ways to obtain power despite the strict gender roles they were forced into. When kings died and left behind an heir too young to rule, the mother often ruled on behalf of her son until he was of age. Queens were the advisors of their kings; this was a coveted role among men and women because queens could influence the most powerful man in the kingdom.

Women in Medieval Times - Key takeaways

  • Women in the Medieval Times had limited rights.
  • Childbirth during the Medieval Times was dangerous and could be deadly.
  • Women who wanted to escape marriage or gain an education could become nuns.
  • Aethelflaed and Matilda both escaped the rigid roles of their gender and successfully ruled their kingdoms.
  • Christine de Pizan was an early feminist poet.

Frequently Asked Questions about Women in Medieval Times

Women had far fewer rights than men during the Medieval times. A woman could not become a knight.  

During Medieval times, women were treated as second-class citizens.  

In Medieval times the role of women was to keep the house and raise the children. Peasant women also had to help their husbands farm.  

In the Medieval times, women could work as seamstresses, in their husband's stores or on their husband's farms. 

In the Medieval times, women wore headdresses to cover their faces and tunics with dresses over the tunic.  

Final Women in Medieval Times Quiz

Question

What is male primogeniture?

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Answer

Male primogeniture is a system that passes on an inheritance to the first-born son effectively making him the sole heir.

Show question

Question

In what type of society was male primogeniture prevalent?

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Answer

Agricultural society

Show question

Question

Why was male primogeniture practiced in Medieval Europe?

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Answer

To preserve the power of the aristocracy and to prevent the land from being partitioned.

Show question

Question

When did Britain abolish male primogeniture for its royal succession?

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Answer

2015

Show question

Question

Which European monarchy still subscribes to male primogeniture today?

Show answer

Answer

Monaco

Show question

Question

What major event was one of the key consequences of male primogeniture in the 11th-13th centuries in Europe?

Show answer

Answer

Crusades

Show question

Question

Which monarch failed to ascend the throne of France in the 14th century because of male primogeniture?

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Answer

Edward III of England

Show question

Question

What type of primogeniture is independent of gender?

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Answer

Absolute primogeniture

Show question

Question

What was the name of the political and economic system in Europe in the Middle Ages?

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Answer

Feudalism

Show question

Question

What is a fief?

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Answer

A feudal estate

Show question

Question

What was the gentry class?

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Answer

Landowners who rented their property

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Question

Who was at the bottom of the social order?

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Answer

Peasants/ Serfs

Show question

Question

Whose space was the home?

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Answer

Women

Show question

Question

What were the two duties of women?

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Answer

To manage the home and have children

Show question

Question

What is a group of craftsmen who have power over the market?

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Answer

A guild

Show question

Question

True or False

A woman could learn a skilled trade as an apprentice. 

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

What were the two benefits of becoming a nun?

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Answer

  • Escape childbirth 
  • Get an education

Show question

Question

Which group of women could vote?

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Answer

Gentry

Show question

Question

What kind of cloak worn by women that covered the entire body?

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Answer

A mantle

Show question

Question

Who did Aethelflaed force out of Mercia?

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Answer

Vikings 

Show question

Question

Matilda arranged a meeting between Henry IV and who?

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Answer

Pope Gregory VII

Show question

Question

What did Matilda and Aethelflaed  have in common?

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Answer

They were both women who ruled in a time that was uncommon 

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Question

How would daughters divide their father's wealth after he died?

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Answer

Equally 

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Question

How old were girls when they were married? 

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Answer

Between twelve and fifteen 

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Question

Which group of people were tied to the land that they worked?

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Answer

Peasants

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Question

                   was the tradition in ancient India whereby women chose their husbands.

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Answer

Swayamvara.

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Question

Who was the only female Muslim ruler of Delhi?

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Answer

Razia Sultana, ruled 1236-1240.

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Question

What custom did the Muslim invaders bring into India in regard to women?


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Answer

Harem, the practice of having separate rooms or houses for women.

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Question

Which word describes Akbar the Great in relation to Indian women?

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Answer

Reformer.

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Question

Which two religions dominated Indian doctrine towards women?

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Answer

Hinduism.

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Question

What was sati?

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Answer

The self-immolation of a widow after hearing about her husband's death.

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Question

What group of women were most likely to be well educated?


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Answer

Wealthy women, high in the caste system, had the most opportunities for education.

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Question

Which women confronted a famous philosopher in ancient India?

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Answer

Gargi Vachaknavi.

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Question

Muslim leaders killed their own women after defeat in battle.

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Answer

True.

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Question

Which female ruler was praised by Marco Polo?

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Answer

Rudrama Devi.

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Question

Razia Sultana ruled over the Kakatiya dynasty.

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Answer

True.

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Question

Cultural practices and belief systems of a country are often confused with the religion of Islam.

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Answer

True.

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Question

The religion of Islam has granted women their most progressive rights since the 7th century and views women as equal to men.

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Answer

True.

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Question

In Islamic history, women have been forbidden to participate in government, public affairs, teaching, and scholarship.

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Answer

False.

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In Islam, a woman's most important role is to be a mother. 

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Answer

True.

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Question

Every Muslim is representative of Islam and the Quran.

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Answer

False.

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Question

The status in which Muslim and non-Muslim women reached was not achieved due to the kindness of men or any natural progress; it was achieved through long struggle and sacrifice on the part of women. 

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Answer

True.

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Question

Is Islam a reflection of society in the 7th century?

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Answer

No. Islam is a view of what should be intrinsically truthful in society. 

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Question

What do Muslim women have the right to?

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Answer

All of the above. 

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Question

Education for both Muslim men and women is obligatory. 

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Answer

True.

Show question

Question

Though the Quran states that women are equal to men, it also expresses their unique differences. 

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Answer

True.

Show question

Question

For thousands of years, traditional Chinese culture has deemed women to be less valuable than men.

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Answer

True.

Show question

Question

Before Confucius, it was extremely common for writers to refer to women and men as Yin and Yang.

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Answer

False, after Confucius.

Show question

Question

What are some traditions that were eliminated in 20th century China?

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Answer

All of the above.

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Question

When was China founded?

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Answer

1949

Show question

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