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Medieval Women

Tara Huntingford 2012
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Tara Huntingford

on 22 June 2013

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Transcript of Medieval Women

By Tara Huntingford 8D 2012 Medieval Women What was the role of a woman in medieval society? What did medieval women do for entertainment? What were a woman’s daily activities or work? What was the clothing and equipment of a medieval woman? In what way is the life of a medieval woman still evident in society today? Bibliography Women didn’t do much for fun as they had too many duties to attend to. When they do have a free moment what they do to entertain themselves varies according to status. Noble women went hunting with trained falcons, danced or even played games. Picnics were also very popular for noble women and were sometimes combined with the hunting which I mentioned before. For the rich it was very important to show your wealth so when they had feasts the range of entertainment was vast – it ranged from live (of course) music, court jesters, acrobats, fire eaters the list goes on. Dancing also played a big part at feasts all women, knights and others were must know how to dance. This is why I’d love to go to a medieval party.
Board games were very popular in the Middle Ages for all classes especially chess and games which are similar. Board games – how were they considered entertaining it’s not like they had ‘Monopoly’ or anything overly fun back then. Peasants also played many types of ball games and footraces which women took part in. I was very surprised to find this because I assumed it wouldn’t be considered ‘Proper’ or something like that so I was happy to find that women were allowed to take part in things like that.
There was one thing which the rich and poor took part in which was (drum roll please)… Ice Skating! Yes, in winter when the rivers and lakes froze over people of all social statuses strap on the skates (which are made out of bone) and have some fun! I’ve never been ice skating before and I’m surprised they used to go ice skating in the medieval period (I never really thought about it before). The daily life of a peasant woman was extremely busy. It began quite early (as early as 3am in the summer) in the morning so that they could prepare breakfast for the family. After breakfast they would go to help in the fields (during the harvest) or look after the small livestock like goats and/or chickens. Work in the fields finished at around dusk and the woman would have to prepare dinner. When dinner was ready the woman would wait until the rest of the family has finished before eating. They basically ate whatever was leftover after the rest of the household had eaten. The other duties of a peasant woman included making and repairing the clothes, collecting food (like berries) and caring for vegetables.
The women of the community were expected to have an understanding of medicine and healing. This was one of the main duties of a nun; nuns lived a life of contemplation, prayer and work. They did the cooking and cleaning for the monastery, brewed wine, ale and made honey, provided education for novices and sometimes illuminated manuscripts (which was usually a man’s job).
Noble women, although they had servants, still had many duties. These duties were less strenuous than those of a peasant woman. They would rise, have their servants dress them and went to dawn mass and prayer. The main topics of discussion in the Noble families were tournaments, betrothals and courtly love (so they basically gossiped a lot). The duties of a noble would change if her husband was away. She would then take on extra jobs like finances, supervising farming, and settling disputes. If her husband is present she will move on to mid-day meal and prayer, then she will supervise the cooking of meals and check the food stores. She also has leisure time which will be consumed by embroidery and dance practice. Some sort of dinner than follows with live entertainment like acrobats, fire eaters, jesters etc. Lucky people, I wish I got that kind of dinner time entertainment. Then it was beddy-bye time with prayers (Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….).
While researching this topic on medieval women I have noticed that many aspects are still evident in today’s society. Women, for years have fought for equality, and it is said that we have it, but do we? I will say that these points I am about to mention will be evident MOST of the time. For example, in most cases, these days’ women are still expected to cook all the meals and clean the household, though now there’s a lot more to clean that that one small room. Women are also expected to care for the children and look after the domestic duties. Men still hold their place over women in society, maybe not as extremely, just like in the medieval period.
Women working full time still learn 18% less than men for the same job, although the pay gap nowadays may be smaller it’s still there and it’s wrong!
It is in the same way that men are still seen as more important than women in most countries today. Only a small percentage of countries are run by women, and of these Australia is probably the most well known. With Julia Gillard running the country this is one case where a woman has power over men. But do you see a woman running the USA? No, neither do I! Many people may argue that the Queen runs many countries, but these, like Australia, have independent leaders. Most of these leaders being men.
The same social statuses occur in society today and not just in the obvious ways like the Royals, nobles and “peasants” but in OUR society for example: In high school you have the poplars’ (Royals), normal’s (nobles) and dorks/nerds (peasants). Now this is evident in all communities around the world never will EVERYBODY be equal no matter how much we want it to be because it’s in human nature to judge.
There are the obvious points as well, like:
•Some countries cultures still have arranged marriages.
•Nuns still wear VERY similar clothing.
•And upper class families can still have servants.
So as you can see there are many similarities between the lives of a medieval woman and a modern day woman. The points mentioned above are only the ones which I have picked up by reading through my notes, so I am sure there are many more similarities.






In the medieval period women were regarded as far less important than the male population. Because of this were commonly regarded as second class inside of their social status group (for example. Queens under Kings/ noble women under noble men). The place of women in society was dictated by the bible – the apostle Paul said that men have a place over women and therefore women can’t teach the word. It was because of this that women would be paid less than men or doing the same job for example a man may be paid 8 pence for bringing in the harvest while a woman may only be paid 5.
While women couldn’t teach the word directly they could still hold political and religious power, like Queens and Regents, even some women in the church held power over the males (This would have been later in the middle ages). Being in richer families also means that there is more pressure of the women of the household to have children but the risk was high 20% of women died in childbirth. It was because of this that there were many nuns, women made the choice to risk childbirth or become a nun. I personally would have become a nun because we need to remember there weren’t pain killers or clean hospitals to go to.
The rich families not only needed children but were in need of an heir so it was boy or nothing! Well not really, but they did have to keep trying until they had a little baby boy! This is the reason that rich women spent most of their married life pregnant. This leads me to thinking of good ‘ole Catherine of Aragon (Henry the 8th first wife) she had many miscarries and in the end conceived a girl, her dear old husband Henry wasn’t happy with that and kicked her out (it’s a long story but he had loads of wives after that and, well, there’s a good ‘My Story’ on it check it out)!
Women basically had to handle the domestic responsibilities like; caring for children, preparing food (much like today), tending to livestock and - in the busy seasons like harvest – the women would be needed to help the men. 90% of women did farm work. Women also took part in baking textiles and brewing. Women weren’t recognised as important by the males in the medieval period (much to my distaste) and I’m very glad that in most cases this is not true today. I don’t think I could handle being pushed around by men. What was the living standard of a medieval woman? The living standard of women in the medieval was similar to the living standard of all types of people living in that time although the living standard also varied between the social statuses. The women from noble families didn’t have much do with their family when growing up as they were sent away from home at a young age to live in another castle or a monastery. It was here that they learnt to sew, read and write in Latin, sing and dance. Dancing was very important for the upper class as it was very popular at feasts and parties. I’d love to go to a medieval party it seems like so much fun!

The girls from noble families were also engaged at a very young age. Most were engaged as 6 or 7 years old to men who were a lot older than them. These were arranged marriages and were organised or different reasons some for wealth and others to bring peace to a land. In this aspect the girls/women were very important but still overlooked. Arranged marriages still take place today but are far less common and only seen in certain cultures.

The peasant women had it far worse than the noble women. The noble families had large manors made out of bricks while the peasants had houses built with sticks, straw and mud (kind of like the 3 pigs except they didn’t use bricks so… It’s not really like the three pigs at all). The noble families had two or more floors with the servants sleeping upstairs in their quarters. While peasants shared one measly room with their animals as they we extremely valuable to the family and were often an important source of income (or a food source if things got desperate).

The food in the middle ages also varied according to status (like most things as you’ve probably picked up by now). The noble families had their choice of food was rich and plentiful. Their dishes were vast and luxurious with many types of meat and vegetables. This type of food would be rich and filling (that’s probably the reason so many kings were depicted as fat XD). The poor, on the other hand, had little choice of meat and vegetables as it wasn’t likely that they’d kill their livestock for food as they often brought in money from milk or eggs. They basically lived of what they could get their hands on and went hungry. Because of these conditions many women died before 21 which is shocking when you think of today’s life expectancy rate.

The women were expected to obey the men in the family and elsewhere. If they didn’t it was considered as a crime against religion and they were beaten. I don’t know how they could take that crud, I couldn’t. The clothing of a medieval peasant woman would have been uncomfortable compared to today’s comfy lounge around clothing. Think about what you would wear on an everyday basis (I’m guessing some type of pants and a t-shirt) now come pare this to what a medieval woman would have to wear to work. Women would wear a long dress or tunic which was fastened with a belt or a piece of rope. These dresses/tunics were made out of similar material to the men’s clothing (linen or wool). The clothing of a medieval woman was tight to “show off the elegance of their form” so to speak.

Noble women wore many layers of clothing and the materials were far finer and expensive. Unlike the peasants, the dresses of a noble woman would be made of fine silks, velvets, furs, lace and cotton, (though now we probably wear cotton everyday it was far more expensive back then). Their dresses were fastened at the waist (similar to the peasants but of much better quality) and covered their necks and arms. They also wore their hair in intricate braids which were usually covered with a ‘hat’ or veil.

Shoes were considered a luxury and so were not generally owned by peasants. So no, the women of the medieval period (unlike the women of today) didn’t own hundreds of pairs of shoes. Shoes in the medieval period were extremely thin and uncomfortable and not really worth owning. In the rare case a pair of shoes was owned indoor shoes were worn over the outdoor shoes to protect them. They were also impractical for the daily activities of a peasant woman.

Nuns, on the other hand owned only 2 Habits (2 dresses), 2 wimples (head pieces), 2 veils, stockings, shoes, scapular (tunic worn over a belt). Some nuns chose to wear a cross on a chain if they could afford one. The nuns had their hair roughly shorn and hidden under their wimples (poor things). I suppose this is a small sacrifice to not risking death in childbirth but I’m kind of rethinking my choice (in the first section of my project) to be a nun if I lived in the medieval period.

Medieval woman used the same tools as everyone else in the medieval period, they used the same farming tools as males (scythes etc.). Although since men didn’t do house work I suppose they didn’t use looms or the bats used for washing clothes. The caesarean birth was only used as a last resort when a woman predicted that a woman would die from illness and not make it through the birth. This painting also depicts how the people of the medieval period viewed childhood, the newborn is shown as at LEAST a toddler. This is a painting of a medieval peasant feast. The food depicted in this picture would be less than a noble family would have laid in front of them in one night. Medieval dance Medieval ice skates (from the museum of London) made of bone. A medieval game board used for 'Nine Man's Morris'. This picture shows women shifting through some of their responsibilities (hunting, helping with the harvest etc.). It also shows the type of clothes the women wore, long and seemingly uncomfortable to work in. Medieval woman using a bat to wash clothing. A woman tending to the animals. Bl.uk (n.d.) Women. [online] Available at: http://www.bl.uk/learning/histcitizen/medieval/women2/medievalwomen.html [Accessed: 4 Sept 2012].
Historylearningsite.co.uk (1939) Medieval Women. [online] Available at: http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/medieval_women.htm [Accessed: 26 Sept 2012].
Library.thinkquest.org (n.d.) THE MIDDLE AGES: THE MEDIEVAL LADY. [online] Available at: http://library.thinkquest.org/10949/fief/medlady.html [Accessed: 7 Sept 2012].
Middleages.8m.com (n.d.) Games & Entertainment of the Middle Ages | Games. [online] Available at: http://middleages.8m.com/games.htm [Accessed: 8 Sept 2012].
Middle-ages.org.uk (n.d.) Entertainment in the Middle Ages. [online] Available at: http://www.middle-ages.org.uk/entertainment-middle-ages.htm [Accessed: 7 Sept 2012].
Prezi.com (2012) History medieval times. by Mia Foster on Prezi. [online] Available at: prezi.com/6tc7iv-no0jt/history-medieval-times/ [Accessed: 8 Sept 2012].
Prince, A. (2001) My Story - My Tudor Queen. London: Scholastic.
Castles.me.uk (2007) Medieval Clothing. [online] Available at: http://castles.me.uk/medieval-clothing.htm [Accessed: 3rd of August 2012].
Yesnet.yk.ca (1997) MEDIEVAL WOMEN'S FASHION. [online] Available at: http://www.yesnet.yk.ca/schools/projects/middleages2000/fashion/fashion.html [Accessed: 8th August 2012].

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