Women in the Middle Ages  

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"According to Jules Michelet in Satanism and Witchcraft (1862), medieval witchcraft was an act of popular rebellion against the oppression of feudalism and the Roman Catholic Church. This rebellion took the form of a secret religion inspired by paganism and fairy beliefs, organized by a woman who became its leader. The participants in the secret religion met regularly at the Witches' Sabbath and the Black Mass. Michelet's account is openly sympathetic to the sufferings of peasants and women in the Middle Ages."--Sholem Stein

"In spite therefore of certain ideals of chastity presented by the Christian hagiographies, in spite of the incense burnt at the altar of Woman in romances, at tourneys and in the Courts of Love, there was never a time in the world's history in which women were more grossly insulted, more shamefully reviled, or more basely defamed than they were in the middle ages, by men of every class, beginning with the most serious writers of theology and going down to the mountebanks of the street-plays. The number of anecdotes, trivial or obscene, that drag women in the dirt is simply infinite…"--Vergil in the Middle Ages (1872) by Domenico Comparetti

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Women in the Middle Ages occupied a number of different social roles. Women held the positions of wife, mother, peasant, artisan, and nun, as well as some important leadership roles, such as abbess or queen regnant. The very concept of woman changed in a number of ways during the Middle Ages and several forces influenced women's roles during their period.

According to English Common Law, which developed from the 12th Century onward all property which a wife held at the time of a marriage became a possession of her husband. Eventually English courts forbid a husband's transferring property without the consent of his wife, but he still retained the right to manage it and to receive the money which it produced. In the 16th century, the Reformation in Europe allowed more women to add their voices, including the English writers Jane Anger, Aemilia Lanyer, and the prophetess Anna Trapnell. Despite relatively greater freedom for Anglo-Saxon women, until the mid-nineteenth century, writers largely assumed that a patriarchal order was a natural order that had existed. This perception was not seriously challenged until the eighteenth century when Jesuit missionaries found matrilineality in native North American peoples.

See also

Women's rights, Medieval worldview, Antifeminist literature of the Middle Ages

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