Castle Learning Center: Medieval Women
The attitude toward women in medieval
times, particularly held by the Church, was that they were inferior to men.
Generally, women were taught that they should be meek and obedient to their
fathers and husbands.
In reality, medieval women had a lot
of responsibility and were not at all inferior to men in terms of daily
effort. Most worked and did not stay at home. Many toiled alongside their
families in the fields, and some were employed in workshops or were trades-women.
Women sometimes had the responsibility of running large estates, due to the
death of a husband. They settled local disputes and arranged estate
finances. They even took charge of defending castles or manors from
attackers. It was also not unknown for the medieval woman to lead troops
Unmarried women holding lands were
powerful and had the same rights as men. However, when a woman married, she
forfeited her lands and rights to her husband. Upon his death, she was
entitled to a third of the lands so that she might support herself. Some
unmarried women entered convents or nunneries where they lived a life
similar to a monk's. This afforded them the chance to obtain an education
or lead a devout life. Many nuns cared for the sick and also became
important figures in the community.
Occupations held by medieval women
included shopkeepers, bakers, spinners, alewives (those that brewed the
ales), farmers, and silk weavers. There were even some women writers. It
was common for a woman to hold more than one job because they were paid much
less than men, and in order to make an adequate income they took on extra
work. Being a spinner was the most common occupation. Women spent much of
their time spinning wool into coarse thread, then weaving it into cloth and
Young single women often wore their
hair loose, but once married almost all medieval women wore a linen wimple
(wrapup) to cover the hair. This was a sign of modesty. Other items worn by
medieval women included hair pins, prayer beads, leather purses, woolen
knee stockings, and leather shoes.
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