THE MIDDLE AGES: THE MEDIEVAL LADY
The Medieval Lady
| Girlhood | Marriage | Childrearing | Duties | Possessions | Entertainment |
Girls were educated very differently from boys. They usually
lived away from home, in a monastery or another castle. There they were taught how to
sew, read and write Latin, to sing, and to do many other "feminine" practices.
Girlhood did not last long. Some young girls were engaged to men when they were as
young as six or seven years old. Usually girls were married by the
time they were fourteen.
Young noblewomen had little say in who they were married to or
when they were married. Marriage was used to seal political ties and obtain greater
wealth by most people in the upper classes. In exchange for a dowry, which usually
consisted of a set amount of wealth, the medieval lady got one third of her husband's
when he died. However, marriage was not always good for a woman. When she was
married, she was said "to come under the rod".
This meant that she had virtually no rights. She could not sue, appear in court,
make a will, or do many other things that women today take for granted. Before she
could do these things she had to get the
consent of her husband. Once her husband died, she regained most of these rights.
Usually a woman had all her children by the time she was twenty.
Giving birth was very dangerous and many women did not survive the process. Once the
child was born, the lady either nursed it herself, or she would hire a wet nurse to do
the task. The lady was also in charge of the servants who took care of the children.
Besides caring for the children, the medieval lady also had many
other duties. Ladies also generally were in charge of the castle's kitchen and meals.
She oversaw the cooks and often kept accounts and made menus for it. She
was in charge of entertaining guests that arrived at the castle. Additionally, she
was often put in charge of the castle in the lord's absence. Ladies generally proved
quite adept at managing the castle's affairs when the lord was gone. In times of
crisis, ladies also took over jobs that a man usually filled. Sometimes they defended
their castles against sieges or led armies on the battlefield. A lady named Matilda,
William the Conqueror's grand-daughter, led an army against Stephen of Blois and won a
Medieval ladies generally radiated wealth and status. They owned
expensive clothes made with exotic material that followed the latest fashion. They
wore jewelry of gold or silver with jewels embedded in them. They spread perfume
around their rooms and their bodies to ward off foul smells. Sometimes,
they had their own bedroom in the castle.
Ladies did many different things for fun. Unlike men, ladies
didn't usually attend a boar or deer hunt. However, they often enjoyed hunting with
trained falcons. Another outdoor activity was going on picnics. Sometimes
picnics and falconry were combined. They also liked to play board games such as
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