The Fourth Estate: A History of Women in the Middle Ages

By Shulamith Shahar; Chaya Galai | Go to book overview

8

Witches and the Heretical Movements

WOMEN IN THE HERETICAL MOVEMENTS

Many women joined the heretical sects between the beginning of the spread of heresy in Western Europe and the end of the Middle Ages. The chroniclers took pains to stress this fact, not only in order to tell what happened, but often by way of denigrating the worth and aims of the heretics. The mere fact that women responded with enthusiasm to the sermons of a heretic was enough to prove his utterances ignorant, if not an actual deviation from orthodoxy and a sin. (That women were also among the faithful audience of the orthodox preachers could be overlooked. ) Some of the heretical sects gave women the right to preach and officiate in church, which was undoubtedly a violation against the Scriptures and canon law. In their attacks against the heretics, Catholic writers also ascribed to them sexual transgressions, and promiscuity became a regular feature of the stereotyped heretic in the chronicles, and even in some of the Catholic polemical writings. Naturally, women had to be included in these descriptions of heretical debauchery.

Nevertheless, the chroniclers were certainly correct in stating that many women joined the heretical movements. This can be gathered from the letters of churchmen, from manuals of inquisitors that were designed for internal circulation, and from the records of the Inquisition. As early as 1028, Radulfus Glaber (‘The Bald’), describing a heretical group in Piedmont—a group that might be described as proto-dualist—tells of a countess who joined it. The community included men and women of the peasant class. They were moved to a large extent by the same aspirations as the Reform movement of

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The Fourth Estate: A History of Women in the Middle Ages
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • List of Illustrations viii
  • Preface xi
  • Foreword xvii
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - Public and Legal Rights 11
  • 3 - Nuns 22
  • 4 - Married Women 65
  • 5 - Women in the Nobility 126
  • 6 - Townswomen 174
  • 7 - Women in the Peasantry 220
  • 8 - Witches and the Heretical Movements 251
  • Notes 281
  • Index 344
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