Women in the Middle Ages

Read the sources below and answer the following questions.

1) What are the expectations for women as wives? daughters?

2) What is the difference between the treatment of women in the "noble class" versus the "peasant class"? Does this lead to greater segregation of society?

3) How does the treatment of women in the Middle Ages compare to the treatment of women in Rome? Greece?

4) To what extent is the treatment of women in the Middle Ages exemplifying Christian values? To what extent is the treatment of women manipulating Christian values?


Primary Source: Andreas Capellanus "Art of Courtly Love"

Book Two: On the Rules of Love

  1. Marriage is no real excuse for not loving.
  2. He who is not jealous cannot love.
  3. No one can be bound by a double love.
  4. It is well known that love is always increasing or decreasing.
  5. That which a lover takes against his will of his beloved has no relish.
  6. Boys do not love until they arrive at the age of maturity.
  7. When one lover dies, a widowhood of two years is required of the survivor.
  8. No one should be deprived of love without the very best of reasons.
  9. No one can love unless he is impelled by the persuasion of love.
  10. Love is always a stranger in the home of avarice.
  11. It is not proper to love any woman whom one should be ashamed to seek to marry.
  12. A true lover does not desire to embrace in love anyone except his beloved.
  13. When made public love rarely endures.
  14. The easy attainment of love makes it of little value; difficulty of attainment makes it prized.
  15. Every lover regularly turns pale in the presence of his beloved.
  16. When a lover suddenly catches sight of his beloved his heart palpitates.
  17. A new love puts to flight an old one.
  18. Good character alone makes any man worthy of love.
  19. If love diminishes, it quickly fails and rarely revives.
  20. A man in love is always apprehensive.
  21. Real jealousy always increases the feeling of love.
  22. Jealousy, and therefore love, are increased when one suspects his beloved.
  23. He whom the thought of love vexes, eats and sleeps very little.
  24. Every act of a lover ends with in the thought of his beloved.
  25. A true lover considers nothing good except what he thinks will please his beloved.
  26. Love can deny nothing to love.
  27. A lover can never have enough of the solaces of his beloved.
  28. A slight presumption causes a lover to suspect his beloved.
  29. A man who is vexed by too much passion usually does not love.
  30. A true lover is constantly and without intermission possessed by the thought of his beloved.
  31. Nothing forbids one woman being loved by two men or one man by two women.

Secondary Source: Debora B. Schwartz "Courtly Love Interpreted"

The "courtly love" relationship is modeled on the feudal relationship between a knight and his liege lord. The knight serves his courtly lady (love service) with the same obedience and loyalty which he owes to his liege lord. She is in complete control of the love relationship, while he owes her obedience and submission (a literary convention that did not correspond to actual practice!) The knight's love for the lady inspires him to do great deeds, in order to be worthy of her love or to win her favor. Thus "courtly love" was originally construed as an ennobling force whether or not it was consummated, and even whether or not the lady knew about the knight's love or loved him in return.

The "courtly love" relationship typically was not between husband and wife, not because the poets and the audience were inherently immoral, but because it was an idealized sort of relationship that could not exist within the context of "real life" medieval marriages. In the middle ages, marriages amongst the nobility were typically based on practical and dynastic concerns rather than on love. The idea that a marriage could be based on love was a radical notion. But the audience for romance was perfectly aware that these romances were fictions, not models for actual behavior. The adulterous aspect that bothers many 20th-century readers was somewhat beside the point, which was to explore the potential influence of love on human behavior.

Source: http://cla.calpoly.edu/~dschwart/engl513/courtly/courtly.htm

Secondary Source: Susan Shirlig "Marriage in the Middle Ages "

The reasons for marriage in the Medieval period were for almost any other reason but love. Nobility married to link houses and gain power and alliances. It was common in a threat of war the two parties would bring together a couple to prevent attack because of family ties. Money and dowry were also important to the nobility. Often the lands in a wife’s dowry could be quite extensive and provide great wealth. A man married to gain sons who would later be heirs to his wealth. Women married to escape an unhappy home life and to avoid the nunnery of life as a spinster. Peasants and the working class married more often for love and what way to come in the dowry.

Marriage in the Medieval period occurred at a young age. The age at which a man could first marry was fourteen. Women married as early as twelve, usually marriages occurred around fifteen to eighteen years of age. Parents or guardians commonly arranged marriages. Occasionally elders arranged the Marriages as early as three but that trend disappeared later in the Middle Ages. Although already arranged, legally a marriage did not exist until the couple consented to the union. Often couples consented under pressure from their elders. It was not uncommon for a man to wait until his early thirties, and then marry a woman sixteen to eighteen years his junior. Women commonly

Secondary Source: Treatment of Women

While rape, stealing heiresses, and secret mariages were outlawed by 1797 (A.G.L. Shaw, Convicts and the Colonies, Faber and Faber, London: 1966), medieval customs encouraged men to beat their wives regularly. The thirteenth century code in France, Customs of Beavais, advised that "...men may be excused for the injuries they inflict on their wives, nor should the law intervene. Provided that he neither kills nor maims her, it is legal for a man to beat his wife..." (Frances and Joseph Gies, Women in the Middle Ages, Harper Perennial, 1978). A contemporary Spanish law allowed men to kill their fiancees or wives if he suspected her of adultery. The man's honor and integrity had been tarnished, and he was also able to murder the unfortunate lover without facing criminal charges. An English law established a century later allowed a man to "correct" his wife in whatever manner was suitable.

 A document written by Andreas Capellanus (excerpted above)in 1184 states "If you should, by some chance, fall in love with a peasant woman, be careful to puff her up with lots of praise and then, when you find a convenient place, do not hesitate to take what you seek and embrace her by force." Contrary to this quote, peasants were not the only women being raped during the early middle ages. Noble women and ladies of the castle were often taken advantage of in the crowded passages of the castle. It was also not uncommon for a woman to be raped in her own bed while her husband was out attending to family business (Bogin 25).

 A game for knights in training was to seduce and abduct the woman of the castle. This was only a game to test the young knight's valor, but its setting was real life and sometimes ended in the forceful taking of the lady, followed by her rape (Duby 82). This sound s to be a form of hazing which seems so popular to the fraternities and sororities of colleges today.

 Starting in the early middle ages, men thought that a woman should remain illiterate. This fact may contribute to our belief that almost all women of the middle ages were uneducated. In fact, Philip of Novara said, "A woman should learn neither to read nor write, unless she is interested in taking vows, because women's reading and writing has brought about many evils" (Klapisch-Zuber, 99). Maffeo Veggio believed that the teenaged girl "should be raised on sacred teachings to lead a regular, chaste, and religious life and to devote all her time to female labors", which consisted of cooking, baking, washing, bedmaking, etc. (Aries, 282). Needless to say, women were excluded from the universities (Klapisch-Zuber, 100).

 The only way for women to become formally educated seemed to be if she joined a convent. In some or most cases a nun was required to learn how to read and write. If a nun was thought of as a "slow-learner" she was beaten. The nuns were, in most cases, limited in their education to a thorough knowledge of the Bible, the works of the Church Fathers, and some basic understanding of civil and canon law (Klapisch-Zuber, 197).

 The following excerpt is taken form Anthony Fitzeherbert's The Boke of Husbandry. This passage thoroughly explains the many duties which a housewife from this time period was responsible for.

 "...and when you are up and ready, then first sweep the house, set the table, and put everything in your house in order. Milk your cows, suckle your calves, strain your milk, get your children up and dress them, and provide for your husband's breakfast, dinner, supper, and for your children and servants, and take your place with them. Send corn and malt to the mill so that you can bake and brew whenever there is need...You must make butter and cheese whenever you are able, feed your pigs both morning and evening, and give your poultry their food in the morning...It is a wife's occupation to winnow all kinds of grain, to make malt, to wash and wring, to make hay, reap corn, and in time of need to help her husband fill the muck-wain or dung cart, drive the plough, load hay, corn, and such other, and to go or ride to the market, sell butter, cheese, milk, eggs, chickens, capons, hens, pigs, geese, and all types of grain, and also to buy all sorts of things necessary for the household, and to make a true reckoning and account to her husband of what she has spent..."