The GuardianThe Guardian

Think women have never had it so good? You should take a look at medieval days

By Martha Gill

18 Mar 2023 · 4 min read

Editor's Note

The Observer takes a closer look at female empowerment across the ages and sheds light on some interesting facts - which may come as a surprise.

What was life like for women in medieval times? “Awful” is the vague if definite answer that tends to spring to mind – but this is an assumption, and authors have been tackling it with new vigour.

The Once and Future Sex: Going Medieval on Women’s Roles in Society by Eleanor Janega, and The Wife of Bath: A Biography by Marion Turner both contend that women were not only bawdier but busier than we thought: they were brewers, blacksmiths, court poets, teachers, merchants, and master craftsmen, and they owned land too. A woman’s dowry, Janega writes, was often accompanied with firm instructions that property stay with her, regardless of what her husband wanted.

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