Medieval Women I
Program InformationSeries: A Moment in Time
Year Produced: 2009
The vision of European medieval women that has emerged in the popular imagination is one of idealized caricature. These women were, instead, full participants in life, good and bad.
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Lead: The vision of European medieval women that has emerged in the popular imagination is one of idealized caricature. These women were, instead, full participants in life, good and bad.
Intro: A Moment In Time with Dan Roberts.
Content: Thomas Hobbes, in the 17th century, wrote that the lot of man was "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." His reference was much broader than any single epoch but surely the medieval period in Europe was, for many of its inhabitants, little better than that. Yet the era had periods of brilliant accomplishment, when men and women rose above their straitend circumstances to achieve greatness. For the most part, however, life was a struggle against poverty, disease, corruption, lawlessness and early death.
Many women chose or had chosen for them a church vocation, becoming nuns and living a cloistered life in service to God. Most women, however, did not take this path and they did not live an idyllic life. They labored with their husbands, brothers and fathers, sharing the physical challenges of the fields--work made worse because of weak muscles and multiple pregnancies. Peasant and aristocratic women alike were responsible for the household, their efficiency often insuring prosperity in good times and survival in the face of disaster.
On manorial estates, women were responsible for the management of the inner household--cooks, cleaners, weavers and the like--but if their husbands were away, as many were during the Crusades, the women ran the rest of the estate too. It was rare to find an independent woman. Financially it was almost impossible to survive as an unmarried woman, but there were exceptions and in those examples were sown the seeds of the modern feminist movement.
Next time: Christine de Pizan.
Research assistance by Ann Johnson and Gypsy Smith. The producer of A Moment In Time is Steve Clark. At the University of Richmond, this is Dan Roberts.