Reddit Reddit reviews Women's Lives in Medieval Europe: Second Edition

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Women's Lives in Medieval Europe: Second Edition
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4 Reddit comments about Women's Lives in Medieval Europe: Second Edition:

u/BoozeMaster · 2 pointsr/lostgeneration

Okey dokey, so, lets start from the beginning. First "Medieval Europe" covers about 1000 years of history, across an entire continent, and dozens of different cultures. Where and when are just as important as what. Making generalizations is pretty much impossible. For the purposes of this, I will be sticking to the typical conditions in England and southern France. Northern europe operated on a COMPLETELY different, and MUCH more egalitarian set of rules. I will touch on that later.

Yes, of course there were non-white people in medieval europe. Moors from north africa who invaded what is now southern spain, and parts of italy. They ruled for about 500 years. They were expelled in the early 1200's. (

In addition, merchants from the middle east were common in some parts of medieval europe. Things were actually pretty shitty for them, due to the legal structure.

Speaking of the legal structure, laws as we think of them today didn't per se exist, and could vary wildly from one town to the next. They were closer to an amalgam of local custom and general policy. A codified legal system was pretty much nonexistent in that period. None of which applied to foreigners (which included simple non-residents in many area), including the aforementioned merchants, who had no recourse. It was pretty much open season on them anywhere outside the major cities and trade routes.

The other thing that's very very important to consider, is that the rules the commoners lived by (the overwhelming bulk of the population) were very VERY different from the rules the nobility lived by. But to address your bullet points:

Warning: Most of my resources are in the form of books, scholarly research, basically non-digital format. I will, unfortunately, be making heavy use of wikipedia for this. I will include a bibliography at the end to get you started.

  1. Nobility only for arranged marriages. In fact, a ritualized, sanctioned marriage performed by an official was a relatively late development. In most places, the custom was simply to pledge yourself to each other (it was a good idea to have a witness, but usually people just took the couple's word for it). The church cracked down on the practice later, actually requiring it to be sanctioned by a priest. Within the lower classes, arranged marriages were uncommon, though by custom both families were supposed to agree. How this relates to the first part of this is that they had no actual authority to declare a couple not married, so eloping was stupidly common.

  2. That's odd, because a whole lot of them did! It's good to remember that this all happened a LONG time ago, however, we do have tax and census records available for large swaths of english, french, and italian history. The only profession that appears to be exclusively male is blacksmithing, and the only profession that appears to be exclusively female is weaving. Outside of that, we have plenty of documentation, mostly records of women suing each other over business deals (medieval europeans were shockingly litigious). As far as restricted professions go, apparently nobody told Trota of Salerno that ( Or Christine de Pizan (

    Women joined and formed both craft and merchant guilds (basically, early unions) with regularity. In england, when the wool trade exploded in the late middle ages, many women became quite wealthy as wool merchants.

  3. Nobody was allowed to divorce anybody. It was a running problem. I seem to recall a certain english king flipping off the pope and founding his own religion over this. Divorce simply didn't exist, there was only annulment, which could only be granted on the grounds that the marriage was illegitimate to begin with. That is, within the full christianized areas. Celtic and Norse society allowed for both temporary marriages, and women could divorce at will. But let's not go down that rabbit hole, just yet.

  4. Okay, so this is a little complicated, but bear with me:

    Medieval custom and commonlaw was based on the family unit. By default, the husband became the head of that family unit. When a woman married into a family, her holdings became part of that family unit, and ownership defaulted to the husband (note the aforementioned lack of divorce). In the event of an annulment, the entire marriage was declared void, including any transfer of property, which was then returned to the wife, who then became an independant unmarried adult, identical to a widow. In the event that the husband died (which was absurdly common), the wife (NOT the eldest male child) was then considered head of household, and assumed ownership and responsibility for all the holdings and the behavior of her family (the exact same rights and responsibilities the husband had).
    To better understand this dynamic, take a modern marriage. When people are married, property becomes joint property, and no decisions regarding it may be made without the consent of both parties. Now imagine that there was no such thing as divorce. The dynamic becomes nearly identical to a medieval marriage. The only thing that has changed, functionally, is that the husband is no longer criminally liable for the actions of his wife (actually, a relatively recent development, less than 150 years). It was, effectively, joint property. Misuse of the wife's property was grounds for annulment. If you want to read about a vary famous instance, Elanor of Aquitaine (who I strongly advise picking up a biography or two on) had her marriage annuled.

    Grounds for annulment also included: marital rape, adultry, infertility, drunkeness, excessive physical abuse (domestic violence was commonplace and went both ways, all ways really, people just in general beat the hell out of each other, husbands beat wives, wives beat husbands, husbands and wives beat children, everybody beat servants, servants beat each other, really the top of the beatings food chain was the king, who didn't get beaten by anybody, and got to beat everybody. Yay beatings!)

  5. This is pretty much true, but see previous comments on property ownership.

    Now, as promised, when you get to northern europe and parts of modern germany, things change completely. Women could divorce at will, for any reason or none, and a wife's property was never considered part of her husbands property. Women could inherit without restriction, and did all the time.

    If I may wax a bit wroth for a moment, one of the biggest hurdles to understanding the period is the goddamn fucking [email protected]$%^!#! peice of shit Victorian mother!$%[email protected] who were VERY invested in revisionist history, and shit all over actual historical scholarship. The second hurdle is fucking hollywood goddamn movies who wouldn't know historically accurate if it bit them on their fat asses. An excellent example of this is the persistient myth of knights being craned onto their horses. This was the direct result of a shitty ass Henry V made in 1944 by Laurence Olivier, where the historical consultant begged him not to put the scene in, but he did it anyway.
    Anywho, /rant off.

    On to the resources!

    If you can find it, and don't have to pay a fortune for it, 'Women and Gender in Medieval Europe' is a fantastic resource, though quite heavy (both in physical and reading weight).

    Another good place to start, and significantly more accessable:

    This is a rather basic and trite overview, but not inaccurate, and very accessable:

    Some information on Norther Europe, not women specific, but a great read:

    Aaaaaand here's a light treatment that you can watch while eating popcorn:

    Feel free to PM me if you want to continue the discussion.

u/Durendal_et_Joyeuse · 1 pointr/AskHistorians

Ah, I was trying to give off the vibe that I wasn't an expert on this, but after rereading my post, I see that I didn't do a good job with that. This is in no way my expertise, but I have encountered this topic in my studies.

I think Emilie Amt (who is a very important scholar in the topic of ancient and medieval European gender) may have referred to this in her Women's Lives in Medieval Europe: A Sourcebook, but I'm not entirely sure. I tried digging through some primary source collections on my desk, but the ones I have with me at the moment focus specifically on the crusades, so that doesn't help much. I also tried digging through Fordham University's Internet Medieval Sourcebook on marriage, but I wasn't able to find what I was looking for (you might see something related if you want to take a look).

I know I've encountered this somewhere, but I can't find it! Truly sorry!

Edit -- Fixed links.

u/BatusWelm · 1 pointr/europe

According to wiki the age 6 was just the proposal and the actual consumation at 9 or 10. Still incredibly young. Also yes, 12 years according to

edit: missed out on reading"more common". Yeah, 12 was not usual.

u/LocalAmazonBot · 0 pointsr/lostgeneration

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