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Middle Ages
Justin Bieber

How did men treat women in the Middle Ages?

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January 20, 2011 12:52PM


The short answer is that women were well treated in some times and places, and poorly treated in others.

For example, in the Early Middle Ages, parts of Europe used the concept of weregild, which was an amount of money that had to be paid to a family if a person caused the death of a family member. Weregild was based on social status. In some legal codes, the weregild for a woman was half that for a man of the same status. In other legal codes, it was twice as much.

In times and places of the Middle Ages, women could rule a country, and in others they could not. I have not counted, but my impression is that there were more places where a woman could rule than not. When Charlemagne was crowned Emperor, the monarch of the Byzantine Empire was Empress Irene.

In many places, a woman could inherit wealth, and in some places they could not. In some places, their husbands took their wealth when they married, and in others they did not. The famous Lady Godiva inherited wealth of her own, and retained it after the Norman Invasion.

In some places, an adult woman managed her own affairs and decided whom she wanted to marry on her own. Eleanor of Aquitaine was such a woman.

Given such variation, it should come as no surprise that in some places women got very little protection under the law, and in others abusive husbands had to look out because abuse of a woman could get a man into serious trouble.

Nearly everywhere, however, and through nearly the whole of the Middle Ages, a woman could seek refuge at a convent, and she could not be removed by anyone without her permission. Kings had little choice but to respect this because the ramifications were too severe if they did not.

There is a link below to a question on women's rights, and there are several more links from that question.