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The Mould for Medieval Women

The Mould for Medieval Women

Margaret Wade Labarge
from Women in Medieval Life, Hamish Hamilton, 1986, chapter 2.

A: Physical Conditions and Social Patterns

The once popular notion that Europeans, in a manner reminiscent of millenarian sects, suspended all activity as they awaited the end of the world in the year 1000 has long been discredited. In reality very few men of the time would have been able to agree on the date when the year began, or to compute it; most simply would not have cared, for in an agricultural world artificial calendars are generally irrelevant. Nevertheless, the eleventh century did mark an upsurge of energy as Western Europe finally emerged from the dark centuries of invasions and general breakdown in which the glory of the Carolingian empire had shone with fleeting splendour. New energies were harnessed to the elaboration of the structures of church and state. The revival of Roman law, the movement for reform in the church, the rediscovery - often through translations from Moslem authors - of many of the great philosophical and scientific works of the past; all these contributed to a new vitality and great intellectual advance for men. How did these changes affect women and their place in the developing medieval society?

The usual modern approach to such a question would be to begin with basic statistics - the percentage of women in the population, their life expectancy, and the average number of births per mother - but such information is extremely difficult to uncover in the Middle Ages. Looking for accuracy in the medieval use of numbers is rather like chasing the proverbial needle in the haystack. The remaining records are fragmentary, so that comparisons are difficult and often inappropriate, while the contemporary scribes were usually uninterested in what they considered unimportant facts. Much of the information we can find is incidental, culled from the lives of queens, saints, or abbesses who cannot be considered representative of the general female population. Laws setting the age of marriage can suggest when girls were expected to attain puberty, and legal case records and tax rolls occasionally provide useful hints about women’s ages or time of death. At best these are only able to suggest the range of possibilities, not provide a general average.

There is a more specialised difficulty. Any discussion of women in medieval society quickly brings to light another problem related to the extraordinarily masculine nature of that society, especially in its upper ranges. What accounts for the general invisibility of noble women except in very small numbers? The queen and her ladies were always part of the scenery of the royal court, but they were relatively few and heavily outnumbered by male officials, clerics, and men-at-arms, as well as the vast crowd of male hangers-on that swarmed around the court. In the fifteenth century Christine de Pizan emphasised that it was the normal duty of a noble wife to stay at home and run the estate while her husband sought honour by attendance at court, the bearing of arms or travel, but there is the same extraordinary preponderance of men in the great noble households. The ratio might be as high as four to one in a household actually headed by a woman, where one would expect more female companions, and soared to thirty-seven to one at a feast which boasted of its large number of women.(1) Clerics did not have wives and some of the spouses of royal or noble officials were undoubtedly at home on their husbands’ lands managing the family estates, but where were the rest? It cannot be presumed that they all went to nunneries, for even there the disproportion between men and women was considerable. In England during this whole period the number of nuns ranged from 21% to 30% of the male religious, a figure which does not even include the large number of secular clerics, by this time officially celibate.(2) The ratio of religious women was higher on the Continent, especially in Germany and the Low Countries, but was still unbalanced. According to the documents available, women were more visible in the urban centres, and in the manors and villages where peasants tilled the land, extant records suggest that there may even have been a slight predominance of women, especially widows. As medieval society had no niche for the unmarried woman who was of too high a rank to be active in trade or on the land, what happened to the daughters who did not succeed in marrying or entering a convent? Were superfluous infant daughters neglected to encourage early death as a solution to the parents’ concern over establishing their children, or did they somehow find occupations not yet recognised? Are we perhaps accepting too easily the natural biases of the often clerical chronicles, and not seeing the women who were there but who were not mentioned because they were considered unimportant? It is a complex topic which would repay detailed research.

However many women there were, medieval thinkers had very specific ideas about their role. The Middle Ages had inherited from the ancients the belief in a doctrine of humours which conditioned people’s temperaments and had far-reaching effects on their appearance, behaviour, and susceptibility to illness. Almost all medieval writing about physiology worked within this accepted framework and it became the standard pattern used by both clerical and secular authors, and was familiar even to the slightly educated. The body was believed to be composed of the four contraries - hot, cold, moist, and dry - which combined to form the humours. These were sanguine, a mixture of hot and moist; choleric, hot and dry; phlegmatic, cold and moist; and melancholic, cold and dry. A modern scholar talking of the humours considers them a realistic classification, which also paid some attention to the effect of bodily secretions on moods. He relates them to Pavlov’s rediscovery of the fact that people respond to stress either actively, that is aggressively, or by ignoring it, that is inhibitedly; and that they do so in two degrees, either with control or uncontrolledly. To put medieval concepts into modern terms, the sanguine type was aggressive but controlled; the phlegmatic, inhibited but controlled; while the choleric type was uncontrolledly aggressive. Such a modern definition would perceive the melancholic as one naturally predisposed to depression, or reduced to such a state by stress. Hildegard is the only medieval woman who defines the humours and applies the characteristics of each specifi:ally to her own sex, with special emphasis on their effect on female sexual behaviour. Women were usually considered to be naturally melancholic and Hildegard certainly placed herself in that category.(3)

Such melancholic humours were generally believed to encourage women in what might now be termed neurotic behaviour. Certainly, since medieval women were so constantly lectured on their natural inferiority and their inheritance of Eve’s guilt, as well as hedged by so many prohibitions about their behaviour, their level of stress must often have been unbearably high. Because they were felt to be primarily influenced by cold and dry humours which pushed them towards death, the coldest and driest state of all, it was taken for granted that they died sooner than men who generally were of the more healthy sanguine type.

This theory of women’s length of life was backed by the authority of a statement by Aristotle, though with no physical evidence adduced, and many medieval writers were happy to parrot a dictum from such a respected source. Some tried to look at the facts. Albert the Great, the famous German Dominican of the thirteenth century and the teacher of Aquinas, was far more interested in actual physical phenomena than his more famous pupil. Albert looked at what he could actually observe in the world at the time and added a note of realism to the discussion. He bowed to Aristotle’s authority by agreeing that the philosopher was right in saying that men lived longer than women ‘by nature’, but then went on to explain that ‘by accident’, that is by actual conditions rather than basic principles, women in fact lived longer. Albert gave three reasons for this: sexual intercourse was less exhausting for women than for men, the flow of menstrual blood cleaned impurities from women’s bodies, and women worked less hard and therefore were less worn out than men.(4)

This was the theory. Is there any way of discovering how long women were actually living as the twelfth century began? Unfortunately, the question cannot be easily or accurately answered. Women’s life expectancy was improving and generally continued to do so, despite the great increase in plague and plague-related deaths during the mid-fourteenth century. Physical conditions had begun to improve for the whole population in the eleventh century as the increasing area under the plough meant more generous crops which benefited the peasants as well as the lords. It has been argued that the beans and legumes were the most valuable segment of these crops since they not only provided new and necessary protein, but also a more generous source of iron. This latter was especially valuable for women, whose need for iron during the years of menstruation and child-birth is two to three times that of men. Such additions to the diet, and even the extra traces of iron which came from food now generally being cooked in iron pots, served to lower the rate of female anaemia with its predisposition to early death, especially childbirth.(5)

As governments became more organised and the danger of random violence was reduced, the physical weakness of women was less exploited while men continued to die, often long before their time, in crusades, tournaments, wars, and even in hunting accidents. The development of towns and the growth in the number of religious houses provided new ways for some women to live out their lives in less exhausting conditions than those of unrelieved hard physical labour. Even by the twelfth century a change in the proportion of women in the population is suggested by the fact that it was now the girl’s family who usually had to provide the dowry, and that its amount continued to rise. By the end of the fifteenth century it appears that cities, especially those north of the Alps, had a definite preponderance of women. Calculations suggest that women outnumbered men by ratios of from 109 to 120 males to 100 males, and that the imbalance was even higher among the elderly. Some of this may well have been due to the greater attraction of the town over the country for single or widowed women, but it also suggests that women, though little talked about, were indeed present in greater numbers. Efforts to arrive at some reasonably based statistical approximation of the life expectancy of women in the Middle Ages have so far tended to be more approximate than statistical. Perhaps it is wisest to echo the most reliable guide in these matters and content ourselves with the observation that it certainly seemed to the men of the later Middle Ages that women were in reality living longer than men.(6)

Other factors concerning women’s health, such as the ages of menarche and menopause, the average numbers of childbirths per marriage,and the frequency of deaths of either infant or mother in childbirth are equally difficult to quantify in the absence of continuing statistics. Canon law, and most customary law, set the age of marriage for a girl at twelve and for a boy at fourteen, these being the original classical standards, but there seems to be enough evidence to show that people knew that menarche was often closer to fifteen. Hildegard of Bingen, who wrote very specifically on these subjects, describes a girl as feeling the first awakening of passion at twelve, but added that she should be well guarded then since she was infertile and might easily fall into lasciviousness, losing her sense of honour and shame. Hildegard felt that if a girl was of a vigorous and humid nature she would be mature and fertile by fifteen, otherwise by sixteen. Such ages might be true of the upper classes and the nuns, who led easier lives and often had better, or at least more regular, food. Even now menarche can be much delayed by poor nutrition and hard physical labour, conditions which constantly affected lower class women in the Middle Ages. It is interesting to note that it was also Hildegard, the twelfth century abbess, who wrote most clearly and fully of menstruation and all the complaints which have traditionally accompanied it. It seems possible that Albert the Great even borrowed from her the idea that menstruation cleansed a woman’s blood and humours, thus improving her health. She placed the menopause around the age of fifty, though she thought passion might continue to seventy if the woman was strong. In her realism and concern for women’s problems Hildegard displayed still another facet of a truly remarkable mind.(7)

If girls survived infancy and childhood the next great hazard was childbirth. Many women died in childbirth or from its after-effects though it is, as always, difficult to provide statistics. Families, especially in the upper classes, might be very large and it is often easiest to track the number of children born to a single wife in royal families, since court chroniclers might mention daughters as well as sons, and even refer to stillbirths. For example, Blanche of Castile, one of the most remarkable women of the thirteenth century and mother of King Louis IX of France, had ten other pregnancies at intervals of approximately two years. She was seventeen at the birth of her first child and her husband died when they were both thirty-eight. Blanche must have had a very strong physique for she went on to live a most active life as regent for her young son until his majority and again, twenty years later, when he was away on crusade. She was deeply involved in the political affairs of the kingdom until her death at the age of sixty-four. On the other hand, Mary de Bohun, who married Henry of Derby (later King Henry IV of England) when she was about ten, also had her first child at seventeen, but in the ensuing seven years produced three more sons and two daughters. The physical strain was too great and she died at the birth of her last daughter, aged only twenty-four.

Survival for any woman during the hazardous years of childbirth depended on natural strength, uncomplicated births, and some time for recuperation. The upper-class habit of providing wet-nurses for their babies often shortened the interval between children. In addition, princesses and the daughters of great nobles tended to be married very young, since they served as useful pawns in the cementing of alliances or the building up of land holdings. They also seem to have had children very young, and in their immaturity were more subject to complications, because it was considered essential that a wife should fulfil her duty of providing not only one male heir but several, to provide insurance against the all too frequent infant deaths. From what we can learn about peasant marriages and those of the less affluent townspeople, their families appear to have been kept small in order to allow the members to survive. At these social levels the age of marriage was often considerably older because of the need to have sufficient land or resources to make marriage and an independent household possible. Because of this the couple’s period of fertility was somewhat shorter while the mother often nursed her baby which helped to delay a subsequent pregnancy.

How frequently births were consciously limited and by what means is almost impossible to ascertain. Certainly medieval medical treatises described contraceptive and abortive substances, and theologians included both practices in their denunciations. Occasionally they mentioned that contraception was normally to avoid impoverishment or shame. There was a medieval Latin proverb on living cautiously, if not chastely, which was quoted by Peter Abelard in his poem of advice to his son, and which seems to have been the ancestor of that once well-known phrase, ‘if you can’t be good, be careful’.(8) I have seen only one case recorded among people of high rank of an expressed desire to limit the family. The wife took the initiative and her reasoning in the matter is most interesting. According to the chronicler, Herman of Tournai, Clemence of Burgundy, who was the wife of Count Robert II of Flanders, had three sons in three years. She then practised ‘womanly arts’ lest another should arrive, because (added emphasis) she feared that if more sons were born ‘they would fight among themselves for Flanders’. Certainly fourteenth-century priests involved in penitential work, such as William of Pagula and John Bromyard, talked of contraceptive practices, and both William and the influential St. Catherine of Siena testify that married people tended not to consider contraception a sin. Catherine certainly thought it very prevalent in her milieu.(9)

There was, however, another large group of women whose very choice of life exempted them from the hazards of childbirth - those who adopted the religious life in any of its forms. Although the evidence about their life span is mainly anecdotal, many of them seem to have lived into their sixties and more. Unfortunately, any knowledge of the avenues open to unmarried women who did not adopt a religious life is very sparse. It seems that they were most generally to be found among the minor servants on manors and in town households, and appeared as the poorly paid fringe of hucksters and unskilled workers in the towns, and as prostitutes. In any of these occupations life-spans were probably even shorter than the average, but information is lacking. The known existence of so many widows in both town and country suggests that once the perils of childbearing had been surmounted, women frequently enjoyed a number of active years, particularly in the upper classes. Such noble women benefited from better nourishment throughout life, warmer clothing, better housing, what medical care there was and freedom from exhausting physical labour. As well, they were usually protected from much of the violence to which the lower classes were so often exposed. It is easier to know something of their lives because of the greater number of records in which they appear but is also true that any woman in the family of a great feudal lord, a minor noble, or even, in the later period, a rich townsman had inherent physical advantages.

Nevertheless, social status was even more important for a medieval woman than her physical inheritance, for it defined how she would be regarded by others, whom she could marry or what form of religious life she might undertake. Status was determined by birth, for medieval thinkers firmly believed that royal and noble blood was indeed different from the substance which pulsed in the veins of the bourgeois and the peasants, and that it should not be intermingled with that of a lower rank. It was this solid conviction which accounted for the fury of widows and wards whose lords sold their marriages and thus their fiefs to men below their own station and explains their willingness to pay large sums to avoid such disparagement. Women shared the status of their family and their husband all the way up and down the social scale, though a married woman was always a step below her husband for he was her lord and master. Nevertheless, such subordination was restricted only to her husband; all other men, if of lower rank, must display respect for her higher status, for actual behaviour was based primarily on the subservience exacted by rank. One flowery rhetorical example of this is to be found in the exaggerated humility of Archbishop Lanfranc’s letter to Queen Margaret of Scotland:

In the brief span of a letter I cannot hope to unfold the joy with which you flooded my heart when I studied the letter that you sent me, O Queen beloved by God. With what holy cheer the words flow on which are uttered by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit! . . . It is as a result of Christ’s teaching here that you, who are born of a royal line, brought up as befits a queen and nobly wedded to a noble king, are choosing me as your father - a foreigner of neither birth nor worth, who is ensnared in sin. (10)

The consciousness of their privileged position protected the women of the upper classes, but worked to the disadvantage of those lower down the scale. Courtesy was a noble virtue; it was not considered necessary towards poor townswomen or, even more noticeably, towards peasant women, because their low rank excluded them from consideration. Most men felt that violence, even rape, practised on such base creatures quite literally did not count and should be overlooked. Such an attitude was encouraged by the fact that high tempers and violence were general in the Middle Ages in both sexes. In addition, the law recognised the right of men of all classes to beat their wives, so long as they did not kill them or do excessive damage. It appears to have been a frequently exercised right, for many of the cautionary tales warn women of the wisdom of being humble and not arousing their husband’s wrath, lest a beating and permanent disfigurement or worse should follow. The women themselves seem to have been quick with words and occasionally with blows.

There is another factor which must be considered in coming to grips with the actual position of medieval women. The various stages of her life defined her quite differently and required varying abilities as she passed through them.(11) Men could see their lifespan as a clear progression through infancy and youth, when they had little or no power and served a training period to fit them for the future; to full age and maturity, when they married and exercised all the rights and privileges of their state in life; to old age, when physical, and perhaps mental, decay, might finally compel the regretful passing of power to the rising heir. It was all very straightforward and required no particular shift in self-image along the way, though it was recognised that the normal progression might be interrupted at any time by violent death.

The pattern was far more complex for women, as society demanded different virtues and skills at the different stages of her life. The young girl or infant was in the same state of legal powerlessness as her brother, but her upbringing was mainly devoted to inculcating the feminine ideal of passivity and submissiveness to her parents and a future husband, whoever he might be. Her marriage, often at a very young age, meant total domination by her husband and, for all practical purposes, the extinguishing of her legal rights during the term of the marriage. Despite this, she was also supposed to be competent and resourceful in running the household once she was married, since its material comfort and maintenance was primarily her responsibility. Finally, widowhood, if she had any resources, opened to a woman the possibility of the exercise of personal power. She regained her legal personality, was entitled to a certain share of her husband’s holdings and, for the first time in her life, could make independent decisions. Widowhood could be perilous, with the danger of violence and intimidation being used to overturn legal rights, but its possibilities for action seem to have exhilarated many medieval women, and the challenges brought forth quick responses. Because men tended to marry somewhat later and usually preferred younger partners, even when they themselves had reached middle age, the widow, especially of a third or fourth marriage, might well be quite a young woman. Such a young woman might have to deal for some years with the guardianship of minor children and be responsible for maintaining the family assets for their benefit against considerable outside pressure. It is a tribute to the flexibility of medieval women that such a number managed to reconcile successfully the contradictory attributes they were admonished to display at different periods of their lives.

Occasionally women recognised their need of assistance in their complex duties and even found female helpers. A ninth-century saint, Liutberga, provides an unexpected new model of holiness, that of the executive housekeeper. Gisla, daughter of a Saxon count, was a widow with a young son and had to travel a great deal to supervise his estates and her own. She must have had some previous knowledge of Liutberga’s potential for she removed the young woman from a convent and trained her to be her assistant. During the day Liutberga oversaw her patroness’s household and estates, while at night she retired to pray. When she grew old she was finally allowed to retire to the convent of Wendhausen. Even there she received many aristocratic visitors from the surrounding area as they wanted her advice and brought their daughters to learn some of her specialised domestic skills. Her career was in fact that of ‘a professional housekeeper and teacher of domestic science’. The use of such quasi-religious continued, for the young wife of the fourteenth-century Ménagier de Paris had Dame Agnes the Beguine to teach her wise and mature behaviour and to help her fifteen-year-old mistress in supervising the servants and their labours, as well as apportioning the work. (12)

The pattern for the married women did not apply in the same way to the religious or the spinster. Till quite late in the Middle Ages spinsterhood was relatively rare and developed most easily in the growing towns where single women had less difficulty finding work and could act independently throughout their lives. The religious, in a sense, sidestepped the whole problem, since her vows removed her from a personal place in the social structure and kept her from individual legal concerns. Her life might well follow the same familiar round from her childhood to her death. The decision to enter a convent was not usually left to her, for in most cases parents placed their daughter in a convent at a very early age. This was rarely because the child had shown some aptitude for religious life but rather a parental response to the need to dispose suitably of an extra daughter for whom it was too expensive, or even impossible, to arrange a marriage. Often placed with the nuns as early as five or six, the little girls grew up familiar with the atmosphere, and received at least a minimal education. Apart from religious satisfactions, if a girl had intellectual interests or other abilities, the nunnery might provide an outlet for her talents or grant her authority as a convent official. Even in a small house the responsibility placed on the lower officials could be extensive, while an abbess, as head of the house and representative of its corporate existence, was always an important woman in her neighbourhood. She was not only busy with immediate administration and the need to keep on good terms with the officials of both king and bishop, but was often involved in legal struggles supporting the convent’s claims to its lands, rents and rights. It could be a very satisfactory niche for an able woman.

B: Theories, Laws and Teaching

When we turn from physical realities and women’s place in the social structure and at the various stages of life, we come to the influence of a literature where male theories about women and their proper role reigned almost unchallenged. Medieval thinkers’ understanding of women was based on their easy acceptance of woman’s essential inferiority, which they explained as the natural result of Eve’s sin. A few struggled to work out the implications of the New Testament concept that the souls of men and women were equal so that, throughout the Middle Ages, canonists and theologians endeavoured, not very successfully, to harmonise these two principles. The extreme denunciations of women by such authoritative church fathers as Jerome strongly influenced later monastic writers. They were happy to adopt his emphasis on the glory of virginity as woman’s best choice and his vivid description of the disadvantages of the married state - bloated pregnancy, howling babies, the troubles of managing a household, and the tortures of jealousy. Their tone became still more shrill as the Gregorian reforms of the eleventh and twelfth centuries struggled to impose general clerical celibacy, a situation which encouraged the depiction of women as merely seducers and temptresses. At the same time, and in line with the increasing devotion to Christ’s humanity, new stress was laid on the unique value of the Virgin Mary and her compassion and maternal concern for all who sought her help, however unworthily. The contrast between most women as fallen daughters of Eve, and the glory of the Virgin Mary, which was shared to a degree by all virgins, contributed to the profound dichotomy in the medieval outlook on women. A thirteenth-century monk’s pious tale puts this dualistic approach in human terms. A novice troubled by demons saved herself by calling on the Virgin, whom the demons denounced as ‘that woman’. The shocked novice retorted that ‘woman’ was a name of natural corruption only, while ‘virgin’, ‘Mary’, or ‘Mother of God’ were names of glory. (13)

Both theologians and canonists regarded consecrated virgins as almost a separate division of humankind and felt they were exempted from women’s general subordination because their destiny was determined by their consecration to Christ rather than to any living man. As an extension of this extreme praise of virginity almost all theologians denigrated marriage as a poor second choice, existing only as a cure for sin and the procreation of children. It was not to be enjoyed, but only to be used for those purposes. This theological attitude and the preaching that resulted from it, helped to widen the rift between the ideal preached to a lay congregation and the nature of everyday married life as they experienced it.

A woman was most interesting to the law, especially canon law, as it tried to regulate marriage, for it was primarily concerned with her function as wife and mother. Medieval Europe lived under a variety of laws - royal, canon, customary, and manorial - and these were enforced by different courts. Thus the church had its own courts where canon law ruled and which claimed jurisdiction over marriage cases and often over wills. In at least one respect, canon lawyers were considerably more generous to women than their secular counterparts. It was through the consistent efforts of the canonists, that regulations insisting on the necessity of free consent to create a valid marriage were enforced by the church courts. In the twelfth century this insistence still ran counter to the earlier secular practice, which regarded marriage as primarily an alliance with social or economic advantages rather than a religious rite controlled by church legislation. Parents had been convinced that they had not only the right but the duty to arrange their children’s marriages and, if necessary, to force them into the desired contract against their wills and under extreme pressure. Freedom of consent was an illusion when the couple were betrothed in infancy, and when there were so many subtle - and not so subtle - forms of pressure open to determined parents. As well, the secular authorities had a legitimate concern that marriages of rich heiresses should ensure loyal and adequate service by their husbands of the obligations with which their lands were burdened, and which were of interest to the whole community. Nevertheless, despite social resentment, church court heard cases concerning forced marriages, though the need to balance free consent with suitable respect for parental authority could lead to questionable hairsplitting. For example, in a Canterbury court a girl fiercely beaten with staves prior to her marriage was allowed an annulment, but in a similar case where the family piously said that they had only brought staves to the signing of the marriage contract to help them get over ditches on the way, the marriage was upheld.(14)

There was another more unfortunate aspect to the canonists’ insistence on untrammelled free choice, and that was the church’s recognition of the validity of secret marriages. By the beginning of the thirteenth century a respected theologian, Thomas of Chobham, could write that valid marriage did not require either witnesses or the presence of a priest. This led to many abuses, including false pretences, rash promises and occasionally deliberate fraud, since church courts almost always upheld the first secret marriage against a later publicly attested one and required a return to the first spouse. The case of Edmund de Nastok and Elizabeth de Ludehale in 1290 is a particularly vivid example of carefully planned fraud. In 1277 Edmund and Elizabeth had wished to marry but found their resources insufficient so they concocted a plot. They married secretly but then, with mutual agreement, Edmund negotiated with Richard de Brok to marry his daughter Agnes. He obtained a valuable dowry of more than £60, made up of goods, animals, clothes and 100s in money. It was given him prior to the marriage and he took it, with suitable publicity, to his home in Essex some forty miles away. He disposed of the items even before the marriage legitimated his claim to them. Sometime after the wedding, Edmund encouraged Elizabeth to initiate a suit in the ecclesiastical court claiming the prior marriage. When Edmund admitted the previous contract, the court divorced him from Agnes. The aggrieved wife then sought the return of her dowry and finally sued in the king’s court where Edmund tried, by several specious arguments, to maintain his rights to it. The court found fraud and malice in the whole affair, and not only rewarded Agnes with the return of £66 but added a further £16 in damages.(15) Later church statutes did not totally condemn secret marriages, but tried to arrive at a system encouraging, if not requiring, public notice of marriage within the local community.

Although canonists insisted on the authority of the husband during marriage they believed in one area of equality. Both spouses had equal rights over each other’s body, so that neither could take a vow of chastity, retire to religious life, or even go on crusade without the willing agreement of the other. In the crusading era this last case caused considerable soul-searching as the canonists struggled with the need to encourage more crusaders, but foresaw both moral and practical problems if too many wives decided that their husbands could not go on crusade without taking them along. Innocent III, anxious for crusaders, allowed men to leave without their wives’ consent, but later in the thirteenth century Aquinas felt that this practice, made legal by papal fiat, was morally reprehensible.(16) Churchmen also claimed the right of the married woman to make a will, and even without her husband’s consent, - a position opposed to that of the secular law - on the grounds that attention to almsgiving and the settling of debts was necessary for her spiritual health at the time of death. One final freedom the married woman was allowed - she did not have to share her husband’s tomb, but could choose her own burial place.

Canonists obeying the Christian tradition that a special care should be taken for the welfare of widows, were particularly concerned with the woman’s situation when her husband predeceased her. When they translated this idea into practical measures in England, church legislation tried to protect a widow’s rights over the property she had brought to the marriage, her dower from her husband, and her rightful share of his chattels, that is, what would now be called personal property. They sought proper maintenance for her until her dower was assigned from her husband’s estate, and insisted that she had the right to live in widowhood or to remarry at her own choice. Although ecclesiastical courts were open to widows in England, they could only deal with chattels, which more and more became sequestered in the husband’s hands and distributed entirely at his volition. They had no jurisdiction over lands or rents. By the beginning of the thirteenth century, and especially after the clause in Magna Carta protecting widows’ rights, most upper-class widows in England turned to the secular courts to seek redress and claim their rights.

As well as dealing with legislation regarding marriage, canonists also wrestled with the place of women in ecclesiastical matters. It was generally felt that women were necessarily excluded from the sacrament of orders, although a few canonists admitted that they might have the theoretical capacity. Aquinas resolved the question somewhat differently. He considered women incapable of receiving orders, but able to receive the greater gift of prophecy.(17) His solution provided an approved niche for the female mystics who were such an influential force in the medieval religious consciousness. In principle the church did not recognise any female right to ecclesiastical jurisdiction except in the ‘maternal’ government of nuns. Nevertheless, some women named clerics to benefices, chaplaincies, and canonries, because the right to do so was tied up with their secular position and property rights. Very powerful ladies, though less commonly than in the earlier Middle Ages, assisted at church councils and even convoked synods. They were frequently addressed by clerics of a lower grade than themselves in the most slavish terms.

Abbesses were a constant source of distress to canonists and popes because of their use of their authority. These men were upset by the fact that - obviously against the natural order of things- abbesses directed monasteries of men and women. Double monasteries were gradually eliminated, although the Brigittine order revived the practice at the end of the fourteenth century. However, abbesses of certain specially favoured nunneries, which rejoiced in vigorous and consistent royal backing and drew their nuns from the highest ranks of society, saw no need to kowtow to ecclesiastics. Such abbeys as Las Huelgas in Spain, Quedlinburg in Germany, and Fontevrault in France exercised almost episcopal powers and were buttressed by extensive royal privileges. The Cistercian abbots regarded the activities of the abbess of Las Huelgas with special horror. They reported to Innocent III in 1210 that she not only held councils of abbessess and made visitations of her affiliated convents, but also blessed the nuns, read the gospel, preached publicly and - worst of all - heard confessions. The monks had overlooked these excesses because Las Huelgas was so far away and the Castilian king, its protector, so powerful. Pope Innocent found this state of affairs both incongruous and absurd and ordered the nearest Spanish bishops to forbid it. He explained that although the Virgin Mary was worthier and more excellent than all the apostles, it was still to them, and not to her, that Christ had committed the keys of the kingdom. (18)

The provisions of canon law were generally uniform throughout western Europe, but the secular law affecting women varies so greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction that it is almost impossible to be both brief and accurate in describing its general framework. It reflected local customs, the greater or lesser influence of the old Roman law, as well as the specialised laws for various groups. Peasant tenures and customs, borough regulations, and the pattern of inheritance for noble fiefs frequently differed from place to place. Despite this necessary dislaimer, there were some basic likenesses because all medieval lawyers easily accepted the natural and proper inferiority of women. On the vhole, public law perceived women as having no rights, but also no duties, in the public field. A woman was required to pay taxes if she had sufficient property or goods, and she was responsible for the services in the lands she held, even though they might have to be performed by deputy, as in the case of military service. A woman could not serve as an official - royal borough, or manorial (although there were rare exceptions) - nor as a juror in court, nor even as a witness unless the case touched her personally. Despite these public barriers, the unmarried voman of legal age or the widow was almost the equal of a man in private law. By this time she could inherit even the greatest fiefs, though her brothers would be the preferred heirs. By the fourteenth century, only France among the European kingdoms did not allow the woman to inherit the crown or to transmit a claim to it. A woman had the freedom to hold land, make contracts, to sue and be sued in her own person. A Queen could serve as a regent for the kingdom and the average widow vas often named guardian for her minor children. Everywhere the married woman was in a position of legal inferiority, though on the Continent a budding concept of community of goods restricted to some degree the husband’s absolute power over his wife’s property.

In England the common law was particularly restrictive of women’s rights. One legal historian has remarked forcefully that women were the great victims of the Norman conquest and the law code it elaborated, for the ‘common law crushed women more than any other western law has ever done’.(19) Under its provisions a woman once married, or a widow remarried, saw all her legal rights suppressed for the period of the marriage. Some minimal protection was given to wives since the marriage portion or dowry which she brought to marriage, and the dower with which she was endowed by her husband (usually one-third of his lands), were not supposed to be alienated without her free consent. A married woman’s chattels, including her clothes and jewellry, were also in her husband’s possession and he could dispose of them as he pleased. Since a married woman’s subordination in England was so complete, she was considered legally incapable of making a will without her husband’s authorisation or consent, since in legal terms she owned nothing. In this case, reality did not always reflect the theory for more and more married women made wills on their own initiative and husbands usually acquiesced. However, as it becomes possible to study the greater number of wills which have survived from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the difference between the wills of wives and those of widows is very great. A student of a large number of English wills of this period has discovered that wives’ bequests of money averaged about £5 while the average for widows was £30. As well, wives had fewer and less valuable chattels.(20)

Some practical exceptions had to be made to this theory of the total incapacity of married women in order to reflect the realities of a society in which long drawn-out legal struggles seem to have been one of the amusements of the age, and husbands were often absent for years at a stretch. In such cases a wife could legally act for her husband, and he sometimes appointed her his attorney. As the commercial system expanded and women began to play an active part in trade, the law accommodated itself to the changed circumstances by agreeing to recognise a married woman trading on her own as a fame sole, i.e. as if she was unmarried. This not only gave her more freedom, but also protected her husband, since in such a case his assets could not be attached to pay her business debts.

These abstract and often chilly provisions of the law need to be seen against the more human face of reality. Even in the period of arranged marriages, wives could be highly prized by their husbands. A twelfth century epitaph for Avice, wife of Walter of Auffay, described her as ‘fair of face, well-spoken, and full of wisdom’, and as having lived with Walter ‘in felicity’ for fifteen years during which she ‘gave him in gladness twelve goodly children’. The most touching eulogy of wife and daughters, however, comes from that persecuted section of medieval society, the Jews. Eliezer son of Judah penned a passionate lament for his wife and two daughters, killed by intruders who broke into his school in Mainz in 1197. Echoing the Old Testament description of the wise woman, Eliezer praised not only his wife’s industry and attention to prayer but affirmed that ‘the heart of her husband had safely trust in her’. The loss of his two daughters, especially the six-year-old, who, in a beloved child’s timeless fashion, amused her father and sang for him, left him lamenting piteously.(21) A mother might occasionally have a lasting influence, especially if her sons were clerics. There is the well-known eulogy of his mother by Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny, which not only mentions her piety but adds how generously she and his father had always welcomed guests, and how much she was loved even when she retired to the convent in Marcigny. John de Shillingford, canon of Exeter, paid a more intimate tribute. He stated in his will that he wanted to be buried in the Dartmoor church of Wedecombe-in-the-Moor beside his mother, ‘so that where I received my first greeting, I may take my last farewell’.(22)

Reality can also present a less than rosy picture of medieval marriage. Given the burdensome legal, and often practical, disadvantages for a woman who had little choice as to whether, or to whom, she was married, it hardly seems surprising that many medieval women welcomed widowhood as a release. Mrs. Noah in the Towneley Plays may speak for many of the active city women who formed such a large part of the audience for these miracle plays. She answers Noah’s complaints about her lack of meekness with the quick response that she would be easy of heart if she were a widow. She would willingly pay the mass-penny for his soul and so, she is sure, would many other wives, who wish their husbands were dead because of the lives they lead.(23) The poor widow without lands, rentals, trade, or dutiful family was still a synonym for great need, but the activities of many medieval widows suggest that their new state of legal and personal freedom inspired fresh energy and competence. They may also have gained valuable support through their female friends. A statistical survey of women’s wills shows that they laid particular emphasis on bequests to female friends, since these occurred in some 75% of the cases. Although bequests were also made by women to men outside the family these often seem to have been conceived as a practical strategy to make sure the will was carried out, while the ones to women appear to be genuine marks of friendship.

If the laws and beliefs of both ecclesiastical and lay society combined to insist on the inferior place of women, how was the male ideal of her suitable behaviour presented? The clerics found it easiest to get their ideas across to all classes because of the ubiquity of sermons, especially after the foundation of the Franciscans and Dominicans, whose main work in life was preaching. In the thirteenth century, well-known preachers like Jacques de Vitry and Etienne de Bourbon compiled whole collections of exempla, or moral stories, generally based on heightened versions of everyday life or popular legends. Preachers interspersed their more serious matter with such exempla to add necessary liveliness to their lengthy sermons. They also tailored their remarks to their audience, so, when talking to women, preachers naturally spent much of their time denouncing feminine vanity and interest in personal adornment. When sermons were preached at marriages, they emphasised the dignity of the sacrament and the need for true love and unity in terms strongly reminiscent of the preamble to the contemporary marriage service of both the Anglicans and the Roman Catholics. Naturally, medieval preachers also liked to add warning stories on the unhappy fate of contrary wives and the dangers of marital discord.

Sometimes the more misogynist clerics got so carried away by their theme of the perfidy of all women that their offended auditors finally interrupted them. There was a Dominican who was particularly enthusiastic in his denunciations of women, and was allowed by a noble lady to preach in her chapel on this subject. The friar embarked on a tide of impassioned rhetoric until he reached his climax, in which he attributed to Pilate’s wife, attempting to rescue Christ from the Jews, the insidious goal of hindering the redemption of the human race. That was more than the lady of the castle could bear. Rising in the middle of his sermon, she cried brusquely to him to stop slandering her sex. Such independence of judgment, and lack of embarrassment in expressing it, seems to have been obvious even among the lower classes. There was the case of the vain cleric who, in a Palm Sunday sermon, praised Christ’s great humility in entering Jerusalem on an ass. He himself was riding a superb palfrey and was not at all pleased to be asked by an old woman if that was the Lord’s ass which he had praised so highly.(25) Medieval women, to the discomfiture of many men, had quick, sharp tongues which they delighted in using to deflate male pomposity.

Another Dominican, Robert Holcot, once a judge in the king’s court, expressed the typical male’s dissatisfaction with women’s liberal use of their tongues.

This is the whole end and apparatus of womanhood, that it should be garrulous and wandering, impatient of quiet, not wishing to stay at home. The Gloss says that it is a matter of astonishment that women who have fewer teeth than men (and teeth are needed for talk) should yet have, not less to say than men, but a good deal more.

In a remarkable biological deduction Holcot suggested that this was because women had more superfluous moisture than men, and so their tongues found it easier to move than in men’s drier mouths.(26)

In an age which craved treatises of instruction in all areas of life, both clerical and secular writers provided works setting out their ideals for women. These were generally written in the vernacular, since by the thirteenth century only some nuns and a few extremely well-educated noble ladies could be expected to have more than the bare minimum of Latin required for their devotions. The learned abbesses and ladies of the sixth to the twelfth centuries had no real successors, and true literacy in Latin continued to decline among women as the vernaculars developed and became accepted literary languages of their own. All these treatises were quite naturally addressed to women of the upper classes and to religious, for only they were likely to be able to read, or to be read to, or to have the riches and opportunity to accumulate such manuscripts.

Such texts abounded during these centuries, and although many are dull, repetitive, or excessively patronising, a few sparkle with vitality and charm. The thirteenth century was particularly prolific in providing treatises written with secular women in mind. Two general texts on proper behaviour were composed for upper class women by Robert of Blois and Philip of Novara, both comfortably at home in noble society. Robert laid down specific rules for courteous behaviour, while Philip was rather more general and emphasised especially that a woman’s only necessary virtues were chastity and obedience. He thought reading unnecessary except for nuns, and considered writing downright dangerous, as it might lead to the perilous exchange of love letters. Vincent of Beauvais, the learned Dominican who was a favourite of the French court, wrote a high-minded treatise in Latin for Queen Marguerite of Provence, the wife of Louis IX, on the education of noble children. He gave much less space to the girls than the boys, contenting himself, like Philip of Novara, with laying enormous emphasis on the importance of female chastity. He condemned as leading to temptation not only elegant coiffures and exquisite clothes, but even soft beds, warm baths, and too much food. He grudgingly accepted girls reading, thinking it was a less dangerous pastime than others. It is characteristic of the impractical attitude of these male advice-givers that they took for granted that such a sheltered, strongly repressed, and inadequately educated young girl would, once married, suddenly find herself competent to run a household, live peacefully with a husband, discipline her children and servants, and deal prudently with the domestic economy.

Unlike Vincent’s austere treatise for the queen, Louis IX’s Enseignemens, which the king wrote with his own hand for his oldest daughter, the queen of Navarre, show both common sense and piety. Louis displays a genuine paternal affection and the quick recognition that his daughter would accept advice more easily from a beloved father than from others. Conscious of the duties of her estate, the king urges her to show practical pity for the poor and the sick, warns her to protect her own reputation by surrounding herself with irreproachable women, and tells her that she should obey her husband, and her father and mother, out of love for them and love for God. He suggests that she should not have too many robes or jewels, though she should have what was suitable for her estate, but he adds that it would please him better if she gave alms of the surplus. She should pray for his soul if he predeceased her, and he ends his brief text with the hope that she will be as good, or even better, than he can desire.(28)

About a hundred years later the Knight of La Tour Landry, a minor noble of Anjou, wrote a full-length book of instruction for his three daughters. He compiled his work by having his chaplains and clerks read him the bible, lives of past worthies, and assorted chronicles so that he could cull praiseworthy or cautionary examples. His purpose was to teach his daughters ‘that they might understand how they should govern them, and know good from evil’.(29) The knight obviously expected all his daughters to marry and he gives them a number of practical warnings about how to get and keep a good husband. He has tales of evil, stupid, or headstrong women, but also many stories which sing the praises of good women from his own time as well as the past - a collection of secular exempla. The knight strongly favoured sending children to school, though he hoped they would read edifying literature rather than romance. In fact he specifically states that every woman who can read and know the law of God and learn virtue and science is closer to salvation for it. His own praises of particularly good contemporary women reflect his pragmatic approach and the favoured charities of the time, for he emphasises practical good works. Feeding the poor, providing medicine for the sick, visiting those in childbirth, and having a special care for poor gentlewomen so that they could be suitably married and their funerals decently celebrated: these, he felt, were much more important than prayers and ascetic practices. He lets his wife insist that love should not conquer all, arguing that a woman should respect estate and degree even in love, for if she weds one lower than herself she loses the respect and friendship of her family and her acquaintances. Of course it is even worse if a married woman falls in love with such a one. The book breathes a practical piety and warmth that proclaim the truth of the knight’s statement that he had made the book for the love of his daughters, hoping to turn them to love and serve their creator and to be loved by their neighbours and the world.

Equally sensible and affectionate in his tone, and even more concerned with practical affairs, was the Ménagier de Paris, whose treatise for the edification and instruction of his young wife has been made known to a wide public by Eileen Power. The Ménagier wrote near the end of the fourteenth century and represented the rising class of the rich bourgeoisie of the larger towns. He provided with almost photographic clarity a picture of the way life was run in such an urban household. Certain elements remain the same- the Ménagier wanted to be sure that his wife took proper care of her husband and made his comfort her first concern. He expected her to be meek and submissive but within limits. Although he repeats at considerable length the story of Patient Griselda, he concludes roundly that he does not expect her to be that obedient, for he is neither worthy of it, nor that foolish, nor yet that cruel.(31) He obviously loved his young wife - she was only fifteen - but he wanted to be quite sure that she knew how to conduct both herself and her household, for what would seem to us an unusual reason - so that she would do him credit if she married again after his death.

A fifteenth-century work in English verse, How the Good Wijf taughte Hir Doughtir, provides no real evidence that its author was a woman, despite having the wife as the narrator. It was designed for a group considerably further down the social scale than the Ménagier and his wife, and suggests the household of a reasonably well-to-do peasant or townsman, where there are servants to be supervised but the wife sells her cloth to help the family fortunes and is warned against spending too much time or money in taverns or going to wrestling matches, definitely lower class amusements. At that level too the husband insisted on obedience and the wife was faced with the duty of running the household and making sure that the work was properly and thriftily done.(32) Perhaps the most interesting question the verse provokes is how those meant to benefit from it got the message. Could they read by this time, or was it recited to them - and if so, by whom?

The last book of instruction for women is certainly the most unusual because it was actually written by a woman, and thus stands out among the plethora of treatises written by men to impress on women masculine ideals for their behaviour. For the first time since Dhuoda, the voice of admonition and practical advice is that of a woman herself, Christine de Pizan, daughter of the Italian-born doctor and astrologer at the court of King Charles V of France. Christine was brought up on the fringes of the court, and also benefited from her Italian father’s more serious view about the importance of education for his daughter. When she was left a widow at twenty-five with three young children and a widowed mother to support, she turned to her pen as the only way of making a living. Aided by influential friends and the useful connections with the ruling Valois princes she had through the court, she made a triumphant success of it. Christine accepted the traditional religious, moral and social structure of her time, but she felt strongly that women were unjustly treated and much undervalued by their male contemporariesand was both willing and able to argue the point. Her two most important books on women were written one after the other in 1404-5. The City of Ladies, inspired by Boccaccio’s Concerning Famous Women, merely sung the praises of important women. However, Christine extended the range from which she drew her examples, including her own contemporaries and expressing a strongly moral point of view. The Treasure of the City of Ladies or Book of the Three Virtues as it is variously called, was intended to be a more practical work.(33) In it Christine aimed to provide rules of conduct for women at all levels of the social structure and all stages of life. Since it was dedicated to Margaret of Burgundy, recently married at the age of ten to the seven-year-old dauphin, Louis of Guyenne, it devotes more than half of its pages to the duties and difficulties of princesses and great ladies. Several sections are devoted to the proper conduct of such women when they become widows, perhaps a premonition of the unfortunate fact that Margaret herself would be widowed before she was twenty.

In the subsequent chapters Christine went on to deal fairly fully with women who lived at the court or were responsible for country estates, and then continued down the ranks of officials’ wives, rich townswomen, and the lower classes in town and country. So as to neglect no one, she ended with reflections for the old and the young, the widow and the unmarried girl, the religious and even the prostitute. What emerges from a careful reading of her treatise is the strong practical emphasis in Christine’s work. She agrees that chastity is important for a woman and must be safeguarded so as to protect her reputation, but she is far more concerned about the practical virtue of prudence, devoting eight chapters to the different ways it should be exercised.(34) Profiting from her own difficult experience after her husband’s death, she was convinced that women at any level of society must be involved and knowledgeable in the safeguarding of the family goods. Even a princess should watch over the finances of her court and supervise the master of her household, for only in this way could she make a sensible division of her revenues so as to be able to meet all her obligations, especially wages, and still give adequate largess. Christine realised that not all wives were trusted by their husbands with knowledge of the family resources, but she also knew that it was the wives who suffered when male extravagance allowed expenditures to exceed income. She would certainly have applauded Mr. Micawber’s dictum on how to balance annual income and annual outgo so as to achieve happiness.

It is typical that one of the most vivid and attractive of Christine’s very human illustrative vignettes is that of the lady in charge of a country estate while her husband is away. The indefatigable lady is pictured as well informed on all the legal rights concerning the property, knowledgeable about crops and their marketing, and with a constant eye on the accounts. As well, she was not too proud to be up to her knees in the farmyard mud while she bustled everywhere to be sure that all her servants were working hard and not sneaking a nap under a convenient hedge.(35) The stereotype of the canny French wife carefully supervising the family assets seems to have a long and distinguished tradition. Christine’s book of advice was well-known in France during the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, but was then forgotten. Nevertheless, as we look at the reality of medieval women’s lives, as opposed to the ideals that were proposed for them, we must often recall Christine’s strictures and suggestions. She described the accommodations women of her time had to make to live in their predominantly masculine world, and she did so through a woman’s eyes and in a woman’s voice. In so doing she sheds light on the ways in which woman’s work was done and where feminine influence could best be applied.


1. Christine de Pisan, Treasure of the City of Ladies, trans. S. Lawson (London 1985), 128-29: M. Girouard, Life in the English Country House (New Haven and London 1978), 27.

2. D. Knowles and R. N. Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, new ed. (London 1971),494.

3. S. Medcalf, ‘Inner and Outer’, The Later Middle Ages, ed. S. Medcalf (London 1981), 109. Dronke, Women Writers, 180-83.

4. D. Herlihy, ‘Life Expectancies for Women in Medieval Society’, The Role of Women in the MiddleAges, ed. R. T. Morewedge (Albany 1975), 2-3, 11; C. T. Wood, ‘The Doctor’s Dilemma’, Speculum 56 (1981),723-24.

5. V. Bullough and C. Campbell, ‘Female Longevity and Diet in the Middle Ages’, Speculum 55 (1980), 312-25: L. White jr., Medieval Technology and Social Change (Oxford 1962), 76.

6. Herlihy, ‘Life Expectancies’, 11-13.

7. Hildegardis, Causae et Curae, ed. P. Kaiser (Leipzig 1903),78-79, 102-8, 121, 139.

8. P. Dronke, Poetic Individuality in the Middle Ages (Oxford 1970), 149.

9. F. Vercauteren, ‘Les médécins dans les principautés de la Belgique et du nord de France du viiie au xiiie siècle’, Moyen Age 57 (1951) 72-73, n. 36, quoting MGH SS 14, 282: P. P. A. Biller, ‘Birth Control in the West in the Thirteenth and early Fourteenth Centuries’, Past and Present 94 (1982), 21-24: J. T. Noonan, Contraception (Cambridge MA 1965), 227, 229.

10. Letters of Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury, ed. and trans. by H. Clover and M. Gibson (Oxford 1979),161.

I1. M. M. Sheehan in his unpublished paper on ‘The Wife of Bath and Her Four Sisters’ has developed this point fully and I am grateful to him for making it available.

12 Wemple, Women, 100, quoting MGH SS 4,163-64; The Goodman of Paris, trans. with notes by E. Power (London 1928), 210-14.

13. Cesarius of Heisterbach, The Dialogue on Miracles, trans. H. von E. Scott and C. C. Swinton Bland (London 1929 ) I,378.

14. R. A. Helmholz, Marriage Litigation in Medieval England (Cambridge 1974), 92-93.

15. R. C. Palmer, ‘Contexts of Marriage in Medieval England’, Speculum 59 (1984), 44-46.

16. J. A. Brundage, ‘The Crusader’s Wife’, Studia Gratiana 12 (1967), 427-41.

17. E. C. McLaughlin, ‘Equality of Souls, Inequality of Sexes’, Religion and Sexism, ed. R. R. Ruether (New York 1974), 235-36/

18. A. Manrique, Annales Cistercienses 3 (Lyons 1649), 525.

19. Jouon des Longrais, ‘Status de la femme en Angleterre’, La Femme, Recueils de la société Jean Bodin 12, pt. 2 (Brussels 1962), 140.

20. Sharon Ady has kindly allowed me to quote from her paper, ‘Women and Wills’, read at the Berkshire Conference, May 1984.

21. Orderic Vitalis, Ecclesiastical History, trans. and ed. by M.Chibnall (Oxford 1972) 3, 256-60; Prof. J. Shatzmiller kindly brought this text to my attention, the translation was made by one of his students from A. M. Hoberman, The Crusades in Germany and France (Jerusalem 1945) 165-67.

22. Letters of Peter the Venerable, ed. G. Constable (Cambridge MA 1967) I, Letter 53,153-73: W. G. Hoskins, Two Thousand Years in Exeter (London 1969),38.

23. Towneley Plays, EETS n.s. 71 (1897), play 3, II.388-96.

24. Sharon Ady, ‘Women and Wills’, and further discussion.

25. A. Lecoy de la Marche, Anecdotes historiques, légendes et apologues tiré de recueil inédit d’Etienne de Bourbon (Paris 1877), 217, 39.

26. B. Jarrett, Social Theories of the Middle Ages 1200-1500 (Westminster MD 1942), 84, quoting Holcot, In Proverbia Salamonis .

27. Summaries of Robert of Blois and Philip of Novara can be found in A. A. Hentsch, De la littérature didactique du Moyen Age s’addressant specialement aux femmes (Cahors 1903, 1975). They also appear in C. V. Langlois, La Vie en France d ‘après les moralistes du temps, 2 (Paris 1925, 1970), 176-204, 205-40: Vincent de Beauvais, De Eruditione Filiorum Nobilium, ed. A. Steiner (Cambridge MA 1938), 172-219.

28. Langlois, Vie en France 4, 42-46.

29. The Book of the Knight of La TourLandry, ed. G. S. Taylor(London n.d.), xxii.

30. Ibid , 171, 197-98, 279-80, 257-59, xxii-xxiii.

31. E. Power, ‘The Ménagier’s Wife’, Medieval People, 96-119: Goodman of Paris, 113-37.

32. ‘How the Good Wijf taughte Hir Doughter’, Babees Book, ed. F. J. Furnivall, EETS OS 32 (1868, 1969), 48.

33. Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies, trans. E. J. Richards (New York 1982: The Treasure of the City of Ladies, trans. and intro. by S. Lawson (London 1985). These recent translations have made Christine’s works available to the general public, but full critical editions of both are needed.

34. Pisan, Treasure, 59-76.

35. Ibid., 130-33.

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