Women in the Middle Ages



In the Middle Ages, most writers' treatment of women was influenced by the Christian religion, and women were stereotyped into one of two categories they were either a 'Virgin Mary' (a women of superhuman goodness), or they were an 'Eve' (a wicked woman).  The (mostly male) historians and novellists of the 19th century perpetuated these stereotypes, and peddled myths such as chastity belts and prima nocta.  Modern Hollywood films still continue these silly ideas.

After the 1970s, feminist historians have studied the lives of medieval women and found evidence that they lived interesting and varied lives, and that they had a great influence on everyday life. 

On the other hand, however, many historians believe that, in a world dominated after 1066 by a male soldier-class, medieval women were often oppressed and ignored virtually the slaves of their husbands. 


Oppressed or powerful?  Influential or ignored?  Drudge or director?  The following Sources will help you to decide what you think.  Study them, then answer the question sheet by clicking on the 'Time to Work' icon at the top of the page.


The following websites will help you research further:


Medieval Women:

History Learning site 

Good, though difficult, webpage at the British Library

Rosalie's Medieval Women - brilliant site

Marriage in the Middle Ages


1  Medieval images of women

A woman making medicines to treat her husband. How does she know what to do?

2  In the kitchen

A woman gives orders to her servants in the kitchen; her husband looks on through a window:


3  Domestic violence

Both these images come from the Luttrell Psalter (c.1340):


4  A lady and her maid

Another picture from the Luttrell Psalter:

5  A female blacksmith

A picture from the Holkham Bible (c. 1325:


6  Spinning

Another picture from the Luttrell Psalter:

7  Feeding the hens

Another picture from the Luttrell Psalter:


8  A 'castle of love'

Women often had to defend the castle if their husbands were away fighting.

Be careful when you are interpreting this image, however.  Look at what the women are throwing is this really about defending a castle, or are the knights trying to win something else?


An Idea

  OK.  As you think about the role that women played in medieval society, here's an idea.

Medieval women certainly won't have behaved like characters in a 19th century romance, and they won't have behaved like 20th century feminists!  They will have behaved in their own way in a medieval way!

When you are deciding how medieval women behaved, you need to decide how people thought in those days.