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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Women’s Work (Part 1)

The saying “A woman’s work is never done” definitely applied during medieval times. Whether the woman was a noble, a peasant on the land, or a city dweller, women worked hard. However, the work varied from class to class.

We often think of the nobility as living the life of luxury. While a princess or a duchess probably never had to pick up a broom or bake bread, the wives of those with smaller domains many times had to do their own chores. Though the lady spent much of her time giving orders to those under her husband’s rule, she also had to know how to do everything they did. A lady knew how to bake, brew, clean, make soap that was tough enough to get wine stains out of table cloths or delicate enough for a baby.

The noble lady was not just a housekeeper. Husbands who pledged allegiance to those above them could be gone for months or even years. In her husband’s absence, the lady had to be able to represent his interest in every aspect. As wife to the lord, she had to be capable of doing everything her husband had to do, except perhaps swing a sword on the battlefield. Though there are instances of women doing even that. The lady had to know what grain to plant, when to plant it, which field to use and which should lie fallow. Many times the lady was also the healer in the household. She had to know how to take care of the sick and wounded and what herbs to grow for cures. She had to be aware of what her husband owned and how to keep account of it.

When lords were away, their wives held court, made contracts and there were those who had no qualms about trying to wrest a title from the hands of the lady left behind. A wife had to be able to defend her husband’s land and people in his name. And when the lord got himself held captive, his lady wife was responsible for squeezing every possible penny from the estate to pay his ransom.

So not only did a noble woman have to be a homemaker, she was also an accountant, a lawyer, and a general as well.

In my first novel, Widow’s Peak, Amye Barnard, Lady Edensmouth, takes on all these tasks and more. When she takes in an injured traveler she finds herself forced to choose between her title and her heart. Just like many of us today she had to make a choice between career and love. Which would you choose?

Next Month:Part 2-Sex in the City


Mary Ricksen said...

So she really had to know what she was doing to run the place. Even baking bread? How cool, she was a hands on supervisor for sure! Sounds great, can't wait to get it to read!

Paty Jager said...

Great information. I did but didn't realize all the tasks that fell to the wife when the mister was away. I figured an overseer(male) took care of things.

Sandra Sookoo said...

It's true. Just look at the Scots. When they were at war, the wives left behind handled everything. Talk about the early form of CEO. I can't imagine the stress. And then when hubby came home and wanted a little "something something" she had to look at him and go "I'm tired." LOL

Great post!