Death, economics and women

The Judge

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We probably all know a little about the effect WWI and WWII had on women's position in society as men were called up and the resultant vacancies in hitherto male roles required women to join the work force, pushing forward social reforms. We also probably all know something about how the scourge of the Black Death led to the workers who survived getting increases in wages and quality of food, if not status.

But if, like me, you hadn't twigged that the two issues combined to give women, at least in London, new roles after the Black Death destroyed so much of the artisan work force, this article may be of interest Post pandemic: how the years after the Black Death briefly became a ‘golden age’ for medieval women (I knew of the legal concept of feme sole, but only really thought of it in connection with the injustices caused by its corollary of feme covert and the reforms in the C19th such as the Married Women's Property Act 1882.)

And for those of us who are writers of fantasy, it might be worth bearing in mind that there were women who had some form of independence in medieval and early modern England, but they acted within the structures and strictures of the patriarchal society to which they belonged.
 

sknox

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>And for those of us who are writers of fantasy, it might be worth bearing in mind that there were women who had some form of independence in medieval and early modern England, but they acted within the structures and strictures of the patriarchal society to which they belonged.

Spot on.

In addition, even with women in so-called traditional roles, women were not without influence and importance. For most genres of fantasy, though, this has led to a situation where if a female is going to have a major role in the story, they must step into traditionally male roles (fighter, ruler, thief, etc.). I guess the big exception is the huge category of fantasy romance. I do think that Lois McMaster Bujold did a fine job of portraying a woman in a quasi-medieval setting in her Chalion novels.
 

Foxbat

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Whilst I agree that in most fantasy genres women tend to have to take on a male role to have an impact, I find it ironic that if they did this in real life, they tended to be treated very differently to their male counterparts (Joan Of Arc). If a knight received a vision and made a crusade to the Holy Land, he was a warrior of God. If a French girl has a vision and dons armour, she’s burned for heresy.
 

Venusian Broon

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I disagree foxbat, with your example. Yes she was found guilty of heresy, but surely she was a symbol, figurehead and possible rallypoint for the French fight against the English and their allies. (Although I believe she had outlived her usefulness to the French royal family by the time of her trial) One would suspect that they would have found one way or another to get rid of her, heresy or otherwise because of her position.

Looking at it from that angle, lots of men, knights and also other women were quite horribly killed for 'poltical' reasons that scream injustice to us today

<cough> Templars <double cough> Sir William Wallace etc...
 

sknox

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Joan was a peculiar case. There are examples of women donning armor and going to fight. Or going to fight without the armor. There are also examples of women taking up other roles that at least modern people tend to regard as male, including business owners, craftsmen, ship captains, and others. Not many, mind you, and the circumstances were--at least in the cases I know--always unusual (though not always scandalous). Lots of opportunities, though, for the fantasy writer to discover story ideas that are generally neglected in the genre.
 

Valtharius

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(I knew of the legal concept of feme sole, but only really thought of it in connection with the injustices caused by its corollary of feme covert and the reforms in the C19th such as the Married Women's Property Act 1882.)

And for those of us who are writers of fantasy, it might be worth bearing in mind that there were women who had some form of independence in medieval and early modern England, but they acted within the structures and strictures of the patriarchal society to which they belonged.
Here's a bizarre fact, before the 1832 Reform Act, women in Britain who owned property in their own name could vote.
 

paranoid marvin

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I disagree foxbat, with your example. Yes she was found guilty of heresy, but surely she was a symbol, figurehead and possible rallypoint for the French fight against the English and their allies. (Although I believe she had outlived her usefulness to the French royal family by the time of her trial) One would suspect that they would have found one way or another to get rid of her, heresy or otherwise because of her position.

Looking at it from that angle, lots of men, knights and also other women were quite horribly killed for 'poltical' reasons that scream injustice to us today

<cough> Templars <double cough> Sir William Wallace etc...


I think the thing with Joan is that she was a young weak girl, yet she was prepared to face the English and their allies; so it was to shame the French knights into fighting.

And yes, there are lots of figures from history shamefully done away with after they have outlived their usefulness. You only have to look at Henry VIII's two chief advisers Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell, who did great things for their King, yet were done away with by an unforgiving king (as incidentally was Kathrine of Aragon). As much as I dislike many of the things Cromwell did (and he was certainly out for his own ends), when he pleaded with his king for 'mercy, mercy, mercy' he should have been granted it.
 

TheEndIsNigh

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I disagree foxbat, with your example. Yes she was found guilty of heresy, but surely she was a symbol, figurehead and possible rallypoint for the French fight against the English and their allies. (Although I believe she had outlived her usefulness to the French royal family by the time of her trial) One would suspect that they would have found one way or another to get rid of her, heresy or otherwise because of her position.

Looking at it from that angle, lots of men, knights and also other women were quite horribly killed for 'poltical' reasons that scream injustice to us today

<cough> Templars <double cough> Sir William Wallace etc...

On the contrary Wallace got what he deserved judged by his era. He knew what he was doing and knew the punishment if he failed. As a 13C monarch you can't allow people, regardless of the size of their sword, to go round exposing themselves in public and encouraging others to do the same.

I think the thing with Joan is that she was a young weak girl, yet she was prepared to face the English and their allies; so it was to shame the French knights into fighting.

And yes, there are lots of figures from history shamefully done away with after they have outlived their usefulness. You only have to look at Henry VIII's two chief advisers Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell, who did great things for their King, yet were done away with by an unforgiving king (as incidentally was Kathrine of Aragon). As much as I dislike many of the things Cromwell did (and he was certainly out for his own ends), when he pleaded with his king for 'mercy, mercy, mercy' he should have been granted it.

Also someone who knew who/what he was getting involved with. A tyranical murdering despot who was only interested in his own selfish interests and was prepared to go to any lengths to get what he wanted. Hardly surprising then when, after he had betrayed Ann to her fate, that his later cries for mercy fell on deaf ears. Do unto others etc.
 

paranoid marvin

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On the contrary Wallace got what he deserved judged by his era. He knew what he was doing and knew the punishment if he failed. As a 13C monarch you can't allow people, regardless of the size of their sword, to go round exposing themselves in public and encouraging others to do the same.



Also someone who knew who/what he was getting involved with. A tyranical murdering despot who was only interested in his own selfish interests and was prepared to go to any lengths to get what he wanted. Hardly surprising then when, after he had betrayed Ann to her fate, that his later cries for mercy fell on deaf ears. Do unto others etc.


I think the issue with Wallace was that he was betrayed by his own side after the Scottish nobles wanted to make peace with Edward.

Cromwell is an interesting character, and he gets a bad press probably because he was hated and feared by most of the establishment. He was also in a cut-throat role, and was stabbed in the back by his compatriot Richard Rich who went on to replace him. It also didn't hep that Cromwell was a commoner, and a commoner in a position of power - particularly in a position of power over noble families - was someone to be despised by the rich and powerful 'gentlemen' of Henry's court. He was no angel, and as I mentioned in a previous post what he did to the abbeys and monasteries of England is unforgivable, but much of what he was doing was for religious reform and for a time he and Anne were on the same side.

Did he betray Anne? Well by that time they were no longer allies, and undoubtedly if she could have had him executed she would have. But Cromwell saw the way the wind was blowing and did his master's bidding, eliminating a rival and moving up in his master's estimation. It shows just how powerful and manipulative he had become by how easily he managed to get rid of her.

Do I feel sorry for him? No, he lived by the sword and died by it; he knew what he was doing and the kind of man he was working for. Although he did have his own interests at heart, I think that he always truly served Henry , and the charge of treason was about as far from the truth as you could get.
 

Venusian Broon

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On the contrary Wallace got what he deserved judged by his era. He knew what he was doing and knew the punishment if he failed. As a 13C monarch you can't allow people, regardless of the size of their sword, to go round exposing themselves in public and encouraging others to do the same.
He was hung drawn and quartered for treason. But he was not a liege of Edward to modern and many eyes at the time, thus the whole thing was clearly contrived and unjust. Edward was being an imperial tryant who claimed things that did not belong to him.

In 'practical' terms, that Wallace would have killed by Edward to get rid of him (he was, after all, relatively low born and a thorn in the English side) was of course a certainty - he would have been killed one way or another.

However, if the English hadn't attempted to take what wasn't theirs - Scotland wasn't Edwards, Wallace would not have been fighting an battle for independence....so really the fault lies with the English surely.
 

TheEndIsNigh

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@Venusian Broon

Point taken about him not being a liege.

If he had stopped at the boarder then he could have claimed he was only throwing out an English tyrant and then I think the rest of your argument stands.

However, he went too far (and then again not far enough).

Had he been nearer the throne of Scotland no doubt he would have been slapped on the back for a good effort and ransomed back to the Scots, but as you say he was a common or garden near peasant. Edward couldn't allow upstarts from anywhere to get away with what he did. Also I don't think if Wallace had reached London it wasn't to present old Ed with a bunch of roses he probably had a similar fate to his own in mind for him.

Treason, steeling sheep (he had a few of those on the way) the punishments were the same - death. To some extent Ed honoured him by giving the full treatment.

Also, as I understand it, Wallace had Scottish enemies who were against his onslaught. Sure, as with alot of history, you also need to account for the silent minority/majority dealing back home.
 
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alexvss

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Thinking that women didn't have a prominent position in society is a medieval misconception. They had the same right to vote in both urban and rural assemblies. By analysing tax registers from XIII-century Paris, one can see that women did all kinds of jobs: teacher, doctor, herbalist, bookbinders etc. French historians Jacques Le Goff and Regine Pernoud wrote about that.

Here's a historical figure to inspire you: St. Hildegard of Bingen. She was a polymath; she did everything from writing to herb crafting to being the superior of an abbey. She even wrote about female sexuality (in the 11th century, without getting censored for it), and composed songs. She's venerated by Catholics and Protestants alike.
 

sknox

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>They had the same right to vote in both urban and rural assemblies.
Gotta disagree here. I can point with some confidence to Venice, Florence, and Augsburg but would be willing to bet real money on other cities. In a good many late medieval German cities, you had to be a guildsman to vote, though most voting was done by committee not by the general populace. In the Italian cities, the voting by committee was even more so and was carried to almost comic extremes. But all done by males.
Dates would be 1300s and later.

I'm not sure what rural assemblies you mean. Can you provide examples?
 

alexvss

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>They had the same right to vote in both urban and rural assemblies.
Gotta disagree here. I can point with some confidence to Venice, Florence, and Augsburg but would be willing to bet real money on other cities. In a good many late medieval German cities, you had to be a guildsman to vote, though most voting was done by committee not by the general populace. In the Italian cities, the voting by committee was even more so and was carried to almost comic extremes. But all done by males.
Dates would be 1300s and later.

I'm not sure what rural assemblies you mean. Can you provide examples?
I'm afraid I cannot provide examples of the assemblies. I read the book Those Terrible Middle Ages! Debunking the Myths, by Régine Pernoud, a while ago, so I don't remember it fully. I used the term because I found it in an article in Portuguese, but they also reffer to Jacques Le Goff and to The Fourth Estate: A History of Women in the Middle Ages, by Shulamith Shahar. These books I haven't read so they may have took the term from there.

Le Goff and Pernoud are both French, and the example I used about the tax register is from Paris, so maybe they're talking more especifically about France? That would contradict the title of their books...but France was the most powerful European country until the 1900s.

Although I couldn't find a concrete example, I found a Portuguese (from Portugal) article that talks about rural assemblies in the The Reconquista period (Portugal and Spain, countries you didn't mention). They define it as thus (free translation): Hence, there's a distinction between rural assemblies and urban assemblies. The latter were constituted by small groups of settlers, whose autonomy one can perceive in the settlement letters: there were references to magistrates that could be elected by their neighboors. Urban assemblies were divided in boroughs, i. e., settlements built alongside a fortress where lived people who depended on seigniorial power and whose organization chart gave their residents equality of rights(...)

I reiterate my positioning: women were much more prominent and occupied much more positions of leadership as movies and novels often depict them. And I have yet another argument: the veneration to the Virgin Mary.
 

sknox

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That women were more prominent and held more positions of leadership than are depicted in movies and novels I agree with completely. That's not the same as saying that women had the same right to vote as men in assemblies urban and rural. That was my point of disagreement.

You're right about the Iberian peninsula. The whole pattern and development of urban centers (and rural villages) was noticeably different from the rest of Europe. For that matter, development was also notably different in Hungary, the Balkans, northeastern Europe and Livonia, and even within places like France and Germany. One of my constant and eternal complaints is that so much fiction derives its model of "medieval" from England, when there are so many other sources readily available.

I can provide my own example of rural assemblies: the villages founded as part of the so-called Drang nach Osten (drive to the East), which is a phrase applied to the eastward expansion of Germanic peoples and culture. The part I know best involves the Baltic region from Mecklenburg, across Pomerania and Prussia, and up into Latvia and Estonia. Even there, patterns differed, but there were a good many villages founded in the hopes they would become cities (some did), and many had their own assemblies. AFAIK, insofar as there was any voting, it was in the hands of adult males. The usual marker for rights was head of household, which was usually male, but a woman might easily find herself at the head of a household at the time of the calling of an assembly. I can't point to any documentary evidence, but I'd bet that in such (fairly restricted) circumstances, the community would expect that woman to speak (and vote) for her household and familia.
 

paranoid marvin

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He was hung drawn and quartered for treason. But he was not a liege of Edward to modern and many eyes at the time, thus the whole thing was clearly contrived and unjust. Edward was being an imperial tryant who claimed things that did not belong to him.

In 'practical' terms, that Wallace would have killed by Edward to get rid of him (he was, after all, relatively low born and a thorn in the English side) was of course a certainty - he would have been killed one way or another.

However, if the English hadn't attempted to take what wasn't theirs - Scotland wasn't Edwards, Wallace would not have been fighting an battle for independence....so really the fault lies with the English surely.


Edward had initially been invited into Scotland to arbitrate, but (to cut a long story short) decide to occupy and effectively rule through his nomination of Balliol as king. The Scots rebelled, and it was very useful to have someone like Wallace on their side who was effective at gathering and rallying Scottish forces. In the end though, Bruce and others realised that it was pointless in fighting the English for a puppet king; all it meant was that more Scottish blood was spilt, and more occupied Scotland would become - and even if they won , there king was disliked.

What the Scots leaders needed to do was make peace with Edward, to make sure they kept their lands, titles and fortunes and negotiated to keep some control over their kingdom, even though Edward held the ultimate power. The problem was that people like Wallace would not bow to the English king under any circumstances; for them it was death or freedom, which was disrupting Scots like Bruce who wanted to play the longer game.

So having outlived his usefulness, Wallace was betrayed and handed over to the English. It could be argued that Wallace was betraying his own country, in that his own country wanted (for the time being) peace with England, and people like Wallace were causing Scottish blood to be spilt unnecessarily. But the charge probably more likely relates to the fact that Edward , through conquest, determined that Wallace owed allegiance to him.

It probably also amused Edward that convicting Wallace of 'treason' was enforcing this allegiance of the Scots to the English throne. He was quite a sardonic monarch, having once declared to the Welsh that the next Prince of Wales would 'be a prince born in Wales who did not speak a word of English' and then proceeded to produce his own son, born in Caernarfon castle. As a new born babe he indeed could not speak a word of English!
 

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