Kvinder i middelalderen

Artikler

During the Middle Ages, a woman was known as a ‘dannekone’ (literally Danish wife), and a man was accordingly known as a ‘dannemand’ (Danish man). However, despite being a broad concept, the women of the Middle Ages – just like the society they lived in – were strongly divided into classes. The top of the hierarchy consisted of the powerful women of the realm, meaning the queen and the king’s daughters, as well as the rich noblewomen. The next tier consisted of commoner wives and peasant wives, while the lowest ‘tier’ consisted of servant girls and the poor.

The woman’s tasks

The medieval marriage was a partnership between man and wife. In addition to the maternal role, the wife was also responsible for the household, which included cooking, laundry, making clothes and more. Other leisure pursuits included embroidery, and thimbles for this exact purpose have been found dating to the Middle Ages. In the upper class of the society, the noble married couples worked together on the administration of the estates. There were also actual occupations that were regarded as women’s jobs - beer brewing, for instance. Many public houses had female employees, and presumably, some women ran their own public houses. The towns were also home to women shopkeepers selling their goods from stalls.

Marriage

From the uppermost tier of the contemporary society, there are examples of daughters of the elite inheriting large estate holdings since the right of ownership was handed down – which in Denmark also applied to women. These holdings could be used to attract good alliances through marriage, and through marriage, the family could then gain access to goods, riches and political influence.

There were international interests at stake when it came to royal marriages. The Danish medieval queens were brought in from all over Europe, since the royal marriage was of critical importance when it came to securing foreign alliances. The marriage between Christian II (1481-1559) and Isabella of Habsburg (1501-1526), who was known as Elisabeth in Denmark, is a good example of this. The marriage resulted in political support from the Holy Roman Empire, along with prestige and good commercial relations with the Netherlands.

In the lower social stratums, relationships of a more informal nature were common. An unmarried woman who lived with a man was known as his ‘slegfred’ (mistress), during the Middle Ages, this was changed with the introduction of the prescriptive marriage. According to the Code of Jutland, once the mistress had lived with the man for three years and openly lived, slept and eaten with him and had access to the keys to the house, she became his wife.

Life as a widow

Many of the noblewomen of the Middle Ages were skilled at administrating estates. This is often evident when they, as widows, were forced to run their estates by themselves. In many marriages, the man was a good deal older than the woman was, and the wife therefore had to carry on running the estate when he died. As a widow, the landowning noblewoman was especially dependent upon her social network and relied on male relatives to be her guardian, for instance in legal matters such as inheritance disputes. If she had no male guardian, she could turn to the king. He had a special obligation to provide help and support for those in need, which extended to widows.

The noble widows were not the only ones able to seek aid from their ’masters’. There are also examples of peasant widows asking their landowners for help in the so-called supplications (petitions).

The widow queens of the Middle Ages were powerful political players, who possessed almost as much influenced as the king himself.

 

Monastic life

During the Middle Ages, many wealthy people chose to become part of a monastery at the end of their life in order to serve God while receiving care during their final days. Several preserved documents show that wealthy women were allowed to reside in a convent in return for payment. In her revised will from 1268, Mrs Gro, who was the widow of Mr Esbern Vagnsen, chose to enter into St. Clara convent of Roskilde (the female branch of the Franciscan mendicant order). In her will, she writes that ‘... to whose habit I for the rest of my life will subject myself to the monastery discipline and the awe of God’.

Poor commoners, both men and women, could also find their place within the walls of a monastery as a lay brother or lay sister. These were usually peasants and workers and handled the manual labour such as cultivating the monastery grounds. During the Middle Ages, this arrangement disappeared as the monasteries had their grounds cultivated by copyhold farmers.

One of the most popular female monastic orders during the Middle Ages was founded by a Swedish noblewoman known as Saint Birgitta of Vadstena (ca. 1303-1373). In 1370, she founded the Bridgettine order. In the Bridgettine convents, the abbess was the top authority, and women had to be at least 18 years to gain admittance into the order and become part of the closed monastic world. In medieval Denmark, there were two Bridgettine convents – one in Maribo, and one in Mariager.

Om artiklen

Forfatter(e)
Helle Pedersen
Tidsafgrænsning
1050 - 1536
Medietype
Tekst
Sidst redigeret
20. juni 2011
Sprog
Dansk
Litteratur

Larsen, Jytte: Dansk kvindebiografisk leksikon (2001)

Larsen, Jytte: Alle tiders danske kvinder (2000)

Nielsen, Niels Skyum: Fruer og Vildmænd: bind I, Danske middelalderhistorie 1250-1340 (1994), bind II, Dansk middelalderhistorie 1340-1400 (1997)

Poulsen, Bjørn: ”Den kvindelige godsejer som aktør i 1400-tallets Danmark – Eksempel Birgitte Perdersdatter Flemming”, i Den Jyske Historiker nr. 125 (2010)

Enemark, Poul: ”Adelige ægteskaber med unionspolitisk sigte ca. 1420-1460”, i Rige, Magten og Æren – Den danske adel 1350-1660 (2001)

Jørgensen, Jens Anker og Thomsen, Bente: Gyldendals bog om danske klostre (2004)

Udgiver
danmarkshistorien.dk

Relateret indhold

Om artiklen

Forfatter(e)
Helle Pedersen
Tidsafgrænsning
1050 - 1536
Medietype
Tekst
Sidst redigeret
20. juni 2011
Sprog
Dansk
Litteratur

Larsen, Jytte: Dansk kvindebiografisk leksikon (2001)

Larsen, Jytte: Alle tiders danske kvinder (2000)

Nielsen, Niels Skyum: Fruer og Vildmænd: bind I, Danske middelalderhistorie 1250-1340 (1994), bind II, Dansk middelalderhistorie 1340-1400 (1997)

Poulsen, Bjørn: ”Den kvindelige godsejer som aktør i 1400-tallets Danmark – Eksempel Birgitte Perdersdatter Flemming”, i Den Jyske Historiker nr. 125 (2010)

Enemark, Poul: ”Adelige ægteskaber med unionspolitisk sigte ca. 1420-1460”, i Rige, Magten og Æren – Den danske adel 1350-1660 (2001)

Jørgensen, Jens Anker og Thomsen, Bente: Gyldendals bog om danske klostre (2004)

Udgiver
danmarkshistorien.dk