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Medieval Noble Society

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Medieval Noble Society

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  1. Medieval Noble Society Anderson and Zinnser (pp. 269-304)

  2. Sources • Primary Sources- literary writings by men • Examples include: Njal’s Saga, Tristan and Isolde, Lancelot, and Raoul. • Secondary Sources- make up the majority of the sources utilized. • Examples include: • Baker, Derek. Medieval Women. (1978). • Duby, Georges. Women of the Twelfth Century. (1997). • Erickson, Amy Louise. Women and Property in Early Modern England. (1993).

  3. Methodology • Literary critical approach-treat primary sources as “texts”. They reveal as much about the culture in which they were written. • Secondary sources used to explain and defend.

  4. From Warrior’s Wife to Noblewoman….. • Were, “participants and pawns in the wars of their men.” (270) • Were, “the inspiration for and the glorified objects of love.” (270) • Had, “unusual opportunities and access to power.” (271) • However, all women, “remained dependent upon and ultimately subordinate to their fathers, husbands, and sons.” (270)

  5. The Noblewoman’s Life:War • “noblewomen were the companions and trusted surrogates for their warrior fathers, husbands, or sons.” (272) • As companions, noblewomen provided “the well-ordered household” in which feasting and entertainment took place when warriors returned home. They were also responsible for tending the sick and grieving for the dead.(274-275) • As surrogates, “they exercised a warrior’s and lord’s authority, defended the family’s lands and titles, and were honored as ‘men’” (276) when the men were away at battle.

  6. The Noblewoman’s Life:Marriage…the Transfer of Property • Marked by customs and rituals such as feasts, gifts, dowries, the exchanging of rings. (279) • The Church’s involvement in the ceremony was to ensure the consent of both the woman and the man. (280) • This was extremely important in the feudal hierarchy in which marriage arrangements were closely tied to business and land holdings (281). • However, the Church rarely supported women who claimed they had been forced into marriage. (281) • In the end, “parental authority superseded the couple’s wishes.” (282)

  7. The Noblewoman’s Life:Marriage…the Transfer of her Person • “The sexual union of the couple, the children she would bear, made it possible for both sets of parents to continue their lineages, their family names.” (282) • The marriage of a daughter could give her family access to higher status through her husband’s family. (282) • The marriage of a daughter “could neutralize potential enemies.” (283)

  8. The Noblewoman’s Life:The Lands and the Household • Her tasks were tied to the size of the home and landholdings. (288) • Examples of tasks included: • Supervising staff and labourers • Calculating annual revenues and taxes • Overseeing the harvest • Buying and selling goods • Slaughtering and curing livestock • Oversaw the preparation and serving of meals

  9. The Noblewoman’s Life:Faith • Responsible for the spiritual well-being of the family. • Noblewoman gave, “gifts of land and money for use by the Church, for the establishment of needed services, and for prayers both for their own and others’ salvation.” (291) • “founded monasteries, almshouses, and the first hospitals in Europe.”(292)

  10. The Noblewoman’s Life:Childbearing and Children • “Among titled women, 45 percent died before age fifty, of those, one quarter died from childbirth.” (294) • Both noble and peasant women swaddled their babies. • Noblewoman often employed a “wet” nurse and sometimes even a “dry” nurse. • Accidents and disease only allowed roughly half of the noblewoman’s children to survive into adulthood. • Noble families practiced sending their daughters to a honored lady’s home while sons went away to train for knighthood.

  11. Anderson and Zinesser’s main point… War, marriage, land, household, faith and children remained constant aspects of the noblewoman’s life from the ninth to the seventeenth centuries. “Though they rarely held the land in their own right, they gave instructions to bailiffs and seneschals-the overseers of the family manors. They supervised the workings of the estate and the household. To them fell the responsibility for the lineage, since they bore the children to carry on the family name and the claims to the family’s lands.” (296) “The woman who acted as a man would always be an anomaly.” (271)

  12. Power and Vulnerability • Political circumstances: concept of lineage • Therefore, “in the absence of sons, a daughter might be the sole repository of the newly established family name and lineage.” (298) • Economic circumstances: too many sons, not enough land to remain powerful. • Therefore, “in the absence of sons, daughters became sole heir, held lands in their own right, and fulfilled the family obligations of fight and to rule just like men.” (299)

  13. Too good to be true? • “This was no ‘golden age’ for Europe’s elite women. However favorable the circumstances for them, they still remained vulnerable and subordinate.” (303) • “In the long term, their traditional function and role proved the most significant….to bare sons. Those sons inherited the lands and passed them and the authority they represented on to the next generation.” (304)

  14. Questions • Was it only queens who were able to gain power and control in the medieval world? • Do you see similarities between the Roman Matron and the medieval Noblewomen? • Did women of all classes lead relatively similar lives during the 9th-17th centuries?