Women in the Medieval English Countryside: Gender and Household in Brigstock before the Plague

Synopsis

Unlike most histories of European women, which have typically focused on the 19th and 20th century elite, this study reconstructs the public lives of peasant women and men during the six decades before the Black Death of 1348-49. Drawing on the extensive records of the forest manor of Brigstock, Judith Bennett challenges the myth of a "golden age" of equality for medieval men and women. Instead, she ably shows that women faced profound political, legal, economic, and social disadvantages in their dealings with men. These disadvantages stemmed more from women's household status as dependents of their husbands than from any notion of female inferiority; consequently, adolescents and widows participated much more actively than wives in the public life of Brigstock. Women in the Medieval English Countryside demonstrates not only how enduring the subordination of women has been throughout English history, but also how firmly that subordination has been rooted in the conjugal household.