Women of the Middle Ages were slovenly, did not follow hygiene and wore a chastity belt. Which of these is true?
Historian Rosalie Gilbert debunks the myths about the lifestyle of women of that time and tells what they have in common with their contemporaries. Her book “Intimate Middle Ages” is a real digression into the past. How was sex written and talked about in that dark age? How did they do it? And what role did the church play in all this?
Gilbert plunges us into the Middle Ages in a fascinating and with a fair amount of humor and tells the stories of the most prominent women. Fascinating, ironic and educational reading.
The book also contains recipes for herbal preparations, potions and medical advice from medieval manuscripts. It is highly recommended not to try it for yourself.
Who Invented the Middle Ages?
For many of our erroneous ideas about the Middle Ages, we have to “thank” the scientists of the Victorian era. They were terribly delighted with the society of their time – and eloquently wrote about the terrible, uncultured society in which everyone who lived before them had to exist.
The trouble is that when Hollywood got on its feet, the producers began to study books and launch projects based on the information found in them. They chose what they liked best.
That is why pointed princess hats ( gennin ) became an attribute of the image of every medieval woman. Even the black, rotten teeth that flash in films are an inaccurate element, because there was simply no such problem before the ubiquity of sugar. And that’s not all.
As a result, an opinion was formed about the Middle Ages as a backward and uncivilized world. Women were especially affected. This book brings justice.
What are they – medieval women?
What do we know about medieval women? That they supposedly couldn’t read. They had no voting rights, could not own property or run a business. They did not wear make-up and did not wear underwear. Chastity belts were forced on them. It was very, very cruel and unfair.
In fact, the women of the Middle Ages had, for example, tweezers for plucking their eyebrows – they took care of their appearance. The representatives of the poor classes had very few clothes, and that is precisely why they made them so that they served as long as possible – not like disposable things from supermarkets.
The intimate life of medieval women was complex and confusing. Among them there were both chaste and loving. Sometimes it was difficult to have an intimate relationship. Sometimes it was harder to avoid it. Despite the hundreds of years separating the sexual life of medieval women and our contemporaries, there are many similar elements in it.
Only the women themselves have really changed.
The position of a medieval woman in society was determined not by age, not by education, not by profession, not by career achievements, but by sexual status. From this point of view, it belonged to one of the following categories:
– virgin (young, unmarried, not allowed to have sex);
– wife (married, having sex is allowed); – widow (was married in the past, having sex is not allowed); – harlot (unmarried, but having sex or suspected of doing so).
A woman’s rights and obligations depended on her status. Those who did not belong to any category either found themselves in special circumstances, or stepped on a slippery slope and their bitter fate was predetermined.
Eve was considered the greatest temptress, guilty of the fall of all mankind. The church was very angry with her. The priests spent hours in sermons describing to the flock how terrible this woman was. Medieval illustrators often depicted the mythical scene of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, with a serpent sitting on a tree between them. The key elements on them are always the same.
But wait… Look at the kite again. There is clearly something wrong with him. It seems that he should look like an ordinary snake, but in the religious art of the early Middle Ages he was very often depicted with a human head. Women’s.
What is especially funny, the head was often depicted in a hairnet and with a narrow bandage – a typical headdress of a decent woman of the XIII-XIV centuries. And Eve’s hair is shamelessly loose. Thus, medieval artists wanted to convey that even the serpent from the Garden of Eden is a more worthy woman than Eve.
Yes, the church classified most women in the same category as Eve. They are sinners, but you can’t do without them. Unfortunately, there are no other ways to procreate.
The church has been as clear as possible against sexual intercourse in the nude, but why? Everything is very simple – so as not to get sick.
Medieval medicine believed that the female body loses most of its heat through the head and there is a risk that too much of it will go away during vigorous intercourse. As a result, trouble will happen to the woman.
Although a medieval woman could be quite naked in front of her husband, she was by no means allowed to bare her head. To maintain health, activities in sheets with her husband should be opposed by a headdress. Cap. Veil. Turban. There was even a hairnet.
That is why in almost all illustrations where a man and a woman are depicted in bed, any decent lady appears in a headdress.
What was and what was not
Gilbert’s book is a definitive guide to women’s lives in the Middle Ages. This letter contains only a small part of what I want to share, what I want to be surprised at and what I want to laugh at (and grieve). Here you will find true stories about more than a hundred real medieval women.
Topics are varied: the physical side of intimacy, intersex, non-traditional relationships, parenthood, forbidden love. And all – with illustrations of that time.
What else is under the cover:
- When not to: why sex was banned on Wednesdays and Fridays
- What is “courtly love”?
- Passion killers: melon, leek, lilies and lettuce seeds
- If you really want to get pregnant. And vice versa
- Was there postpartum depression in the Middle Ages?
- She plus… she. How women of a different sexual orientation lived
…330 most curious pages. It will appeal to those who are fond of history in its unusual aspects and are interested in the feminine agenda and relationships.