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Medieval Women Cheat Sheet by


Lack of sources written by women
1st hand accounts:
Héloise (12th cent)
Hrotsvitha (10th cent)
Hildegard of Bingen (Abbess, 12th cent)
Christine de Pisan (14-15th)
Previously assumed: more lit men
Questioned now because:
Noble women's reading & devotion
Bayeux tapesty

Women's opport­unities

Opport­unities for women didn't expand until High Middle Ages
Respec­table occupa­tions:
Noble women - pawns used by father for dynastic strategies
12th century English noblewomen 2x more likely to marry more than once, than noblemen

Medieval queens

Depended on contemp political sitch
Could exercise authority & influence behind the scenes
King died→s­ucc­essor still child→­pos­sible queen regnant (rare)
Queen regnant = queen ruling

King Edward the Confessor on Queen Edith

'In the arts of painting and needle­work, she was... another Minerva.'
'She herself excelled in the writing of prose and verse.'
Multil­ingual: 'General language of Gaul', 'Danish and Irish', 'and English, her native language'
'Her generosity was incomp­arable.'


1129: Married Fulk V of Anjou
To rule as joint monarchs → Fulk tried to push Mel in background
After serious dispute between them, revealed: she had nobles' support
Then they co-ruled succes­sfully
Their son Baldwin III fought a war against her→she defended her rights as co-ruler
‘[She] had completely triumphed over the handicap of her sex so that she could take charge of important affairs’
- William of Tyre


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