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WOMEN IN MIDDLE AGES

Women in the Middle Ages occupied a number of different social roles. Women in
the Middle Ages, a period of European history from around the 5th century to the
15th century, held the POSITION of wife, mother, peasant, artisan, and nun, as well
as some important leadership roles, such as abbess or queen regnant. The very
concept of "woman" changed in a number of ways during the Middle Ages and
several forces influenced their role during the period.
Early Middle Ages (4761000)
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. The first Council of Orange (441) also forbade the ordination of deaconesses, a
ruling that was repeated by the Council of Epaon (517) and second Council of
Orlans (533).
With the establishment of Christian monasticism, other roles within the Church
became available to women. From the 5th century onward, Christian convents
provided opportunities for some women to escape the path of marriage and childrearing, acquire literacy and learning, and play a more active religious role.
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. 614680) became influential figures on a national
and even international scale.
Spinning was one of a number of traditional women's crafts at this time,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 hops,
brewing was done largely by women; this was a form of work which could be carried
out at home. In addition, married women were generally expected to assist their
husbands in BUSINESS. Such partnerships were facilitated by the fact that much
work occurred in or near the home. However, there are recorded examples from the
High Middle Ages of women engaged in a BUSINESS other than that of their
husband.
Midwifery was practiced informally, gradually becoming a specialized occupation in
the Late Middle Ages. Women often died in childbirth, although if they survived the

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child-bearing years, they could live as long as men, even into their 70s. Life
expectancy for women rose during the High Middle Ages, due to improved nutrition.

High Middle Ages (11001300)


Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204) was one of the wealthiest and most powerful
women in Western Europe during the High Middle Ages. She was the patroness of
such literary figures as Wace, Benot de Sainte-More, and Chrtien de Troyes.
Eleanor succeeded her father as suo jure Duchess of Aquitaine and Countess of
Poitiers at the age of fifteen, and thus became the most eligible bride in Europe.
Herrad of Landsberg, Hildegard of Bingen, and Hlose dArgenteuil were influential
abbesses and authors during this period. Hadewijch of Antwerp was a poet and
mystic. Both Hildegard of Bingen and Trota of Salerno were medical writers in the
12th century.
Constance of Sicily, Urraca of Len and Castile, Joan I of Navarre, Melisende of
Jerusalem and other Queens regnant exercised political power.
Female artisans in some cities were, like their male equivalents, organised in
guilds.
Regarding the role of women in the Church, Pope Innocent III wrote in 1210: "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"
Late Middle Ages (13001500)
In the Late Middle Ages women such as Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Teresa
of Avila played significant roles in the development of theological ideas and
discussion within the church, and were later declared Doctors of the Roman Catholic
Church. The mystic Julian of Norwich was also significant in England.
Isabella I of Castile ruled a combined kingdom with her husband Ferdinand II of
Aragon, and Joan of Arc successfully led the French army on several occasions
during the Hundred Years' War.
Christine de Pizan was a noted late medieval writer on women's issues. Her Book
of the City of Ladies attacked misogyny, while her The Treasure of the City of Ladies
articulated an ideal of feminine virtue for women from walks of life ranging from
princess to peasant's wife. Her advice to the princess includes a recommendation to
use diplomatic skills to prevent war:

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"If any neighbouring or foreign prince wishes for any reason to make war against
her husband, or if her husband wishes to make war on someone else, the good lady
will consider this thing carefully, bearing in mind the great evils and infinite
cruelties, destruction, massacres and detriment to the country that result from war;
the outcome is often terrible. She will ponder long and hard whether she can do
something (always preserving the honour of her husband) to prevent this war."
From the last century of the Middle Ages onwards, restrictions began to be placed
on women's work, and guilds became increasingly male-only. Female property rights
also began to be curtailed during this period.