Role of Women in Medieval European Society Term Paper

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Women in Medieval European Society

Within our society there is a fascination with the special position of women in nearly every period of history. Perhaps this fascination with the past is rooted in our constant hope to prove social progress. "Social history aids in understanding women's condition in any age; it is particularly essential for comprehending women in the Middle Ages, an era remote enough from our own so that common social presumptions do not pertain." The danger then becomes a tendency to generalize a condition that is somehow much worse than our present social position. The necessity of the historian is to offer a responsible representation of history. Women throughout history have been dominated by the customs of their status and also the legality of there state. Yet, it remains to be proven, without contention that the real lives of women were better of worse, at any given period in history, unless the template for such judgment is based upon modern idealistic ideas of social reform and civil liberties.

As a discipline it demands that information gleaned from research be understood in the social context of the day, integrating knowledge at the expense, perhaps, of glamorous misconceptions of an earlier and exotic deals with the position of women, the roles assumed by women, and their importance within their social context, which often meant their importance within the family.

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This work will attempt to offer a balanced representation of the position of women in medieval society. The work will analyze the position of women of three classes, as class has been through history the determinant factor contributing to social place, responsibility and opportunity. Women of nobility, middle class and peasant status will be discussed with regard to their position in society. The status of women in these three classes will be analyzed with accordance to legal as well as customary tradition in an attempt to reduce generalizations and falsehoods.

Term Paper on Role of Women in Medieval European Society Assignment

The importance of a contextual view is paramount to a fair representation of the position of any group within the society they live. The medieval period is given particular interest and is marked by the assumption that women were unduly subjugated in all classes and states, within the period. The period in and of itself, in the popular cultural belief is regarded as a dark era in the history of western civilization, yet with regard to many issues this is not entirely the case.

It can be said without question that the status of women varied greatly in medieval society, within certain constraints. Yet that single issue that has governed the global opportunity of women is economic.

It has often been argued that women are neglected in historical scholarship because they exist in records in a limited fashion, as in only at birth, baptism, marriage, death and the like, but with father investigation this is simply not the case. There is significant evidence through recorded history in the early middle ages that women served many roles, not simply as domestic helpers restricted the domestic sphere, as is often the assumption.

A women do not appear in the surviving manuscripts only at significant moments in their lives. Historians often remark about how frequently women appear in the medieval record, and in such a wide variety of functions. Early medieval women, to borrow a term from contemporary radical feminism, do not appear to have been "privatized," that is, relegated to a domestic existence where their functions are determined by, or subordinated to, their sexual capacities.

Though, officially, and legally women were regarded with much less right than men and often subordinated to seriously restrictive positions in the home, de jure reality of women's lives clearly prove that these were simply non-enforced laws. With regard to noble women, or women of high status, public positions, titles and marks of ownership often pervade the literature and documentation of the period.

A attention was drawn to women in the charters of Ragusa (Dubrovnik)...It was evident that women participated in public life in disregard of Statute Law, which, in being enforced, would have strictly limited their lives to the private or domestic sphere. David Herlihy makes an even stronger case for the early Middle Ages, 700-1200, noting in particular women's role in the economy. Although it is a sparsely documented era, a significant number of the surviving sources refer to women, and to their public acts.

It seems that despite the general subjugation of women, in a legal sense the reality of their lives was simply not that restricted.

Differences in class made certain decisions more or less available to women, yet those who wished to perform public rights, either in economy or in public life seemed to have liberty to do so.

Throughout time there has been a tendency to think that progress and time are linear and consecutive. Yet, the truth is that there is great evidence that there was a challenge to women's involvement in work that occurred as a relative backslide from the early to late medieval early renaissance periods. Addressing middle class women (artisans) during this period there is a traceable change in the dynamic of their vocations.

The participation of women in the urban economies of pre-industrial Europe underwent a profound transformation between the thirteenth and the fifteenth centuries. In the thirteenth century, urban women appear frequently as independent artisans in many crafts and trades. By the late fifteenth century, their participation in the urban workforce greatly diminished. Either they no longer worked at all, or the labor they performed had become subordinated to that of male masters and employers. This reduced role of women workers remained characteristic of the urban economies up until the eighteenth century and even beyond.

With regard to the economy of the household there is a significant lending toward the idea that the official resources of the family would be represented as the possession of the master, father, husband of the household and while it is clear that women have been engaged in work since the beginning of time the fruits of their labor, representatively owned is often the mark of social change an a larger scale.

It is also clear that change was at foot for every level of society. Yet, profound changes in the need for increased agricultural production, as a result of a population growth resulting to a large degree from more stable and less violent social and political conditions in most places in Europe during the medieval era.

A the most decisive changes were economic. Primitive agricultural economies, with their low production levels, used predominantly the labor of women, children, and the aged. In a famous description written in a.D. 98, the Roman historian Tacitus observed that among the barbarian Germans, women and children maintained the household economy, while adult males gave them selves over to war and indolence. This pattern probably was preserved well into the Middle Ages. But intensive cultivation requires heavy field work, which women cannot readily perform; peasant women in the late Middle Ages worked hard on their farms, but they were no longer alone.

Peasant women, were given the opportunity to become members of a larger work groups. It did not necessarily mean that peasant women had less work to do or a greater measure of leisure, but they were on the other hand working larger areas of land with greater productivity and with all hope and luck greater asset production for the family.

Unlike the perceptual ideas of the medieval period, as one distinctly separate from the renaissance, which is given to the ideals of social change and reformation there are early example so social changes that could be thought of as a foreshadowing of important social changes that seriously effect women. One of the most crucial issues affecting women in all classes is the social and legal view of marriage. During the medieval period the ideals of marriage as one associated with choice and emotion, often thought an exclusively modern ideal, begins to surface in both law and custom.

Latin and vernacular texts of this period -- mainly from England, but with a well-chosen handful of continental examples -- grappled seriously with the meaning and nature of marriage, especially with the 'affective nature of the conjugal bond' (p. 1). Many of these texts, he notes, emphasize individual choice as the essential characteristic of marriage, much as the developing theology of the sacrament does. Perhaps even more than the theologians, Cartlidge's texts depict ideal marital relationships as rooted in the partners' feelings, although they often suggest that ideal by contrast with less-than-ideal realities.

Though reality and ideal are often in at least marginal the idea of the medieval period as a backward time with little or no social and economic opportunity for women this is not the case, entirely. There are many examples of forward movement in the middle ages that look oddly like many choices, modern women believe to have earned in this century.


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Role of Women in Medieval European Society.  (2004, November 25).  Retrieved June 21, 2021, from

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