Medieval women

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Women in the Middle Ages

Women During the Middle Ages (Life)

Women were widely considered inferior during the Middle Ages. Even though some women possessed considerable - and often extraordinary - power, most of them were very poor and had to work 12 hours every day just to get by. Behind every great king and ruler, was a woman. The influenceof women during the Middle Ages is often underestimated.

Most women of the Middle Ages were totally dominated by men. Any man in the family could order a woman to do as he wished. If a woman refused, she was beat into submission, as disobedience was considered a crime against God.

Many important women existed. Here is a brief list:

* Joan of Arc
* Anna Comnena
* Hildegard ofBingen
* Julian of Norwich
* Christine de Pizan
* Jane Shore
* Alice Perrers
* Matilda of Flanders
* Eleanor of Aquitaine
* Queen Berengaria of Navarre
* Isabella of France
* Philippa of Hainault
* Mary de Bohun
* Catherine of Valois
* Margaret of Anjou

While it is often believed that womenpossessed no rights during the Middle Ages, that was generally not the case. They had to obey men, but they were often treated well. Women of the royalty lived luxuriously and when chivalry was finally introduced, they were more respected by men. We could say that women were treated based on their social rank, but this would also show some inconsistencies. Some peasants who lived in peaceful times couldonly work as much as we do today and still live well.


Most people in medieval Europe lived in small rural communities, making their living from the land. 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 fromParadise. 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.

Women living in towns had similar responsibilities to those in the countryside. Just as rural women helped with their husbands' work, urban women assisted theirfathers 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.

Original sin
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 authorityover 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...
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