Medieval Communities Essay Research Paper

Medieval Communities Essay, Research Paper

During the early Middle Ages, Europe was undergoing various changes and development in its recovery from the fall of Rome. Medieval civilization developed due to the fall of Rome through the integration of Greco-Roman, Christian and Germanic elements. As medieval society grew and changed, several different communities were established. Three such communities were the feudal community, the monastic community and the intellectual community. Medieval communities exhibited a bias against women which is exemplified by women’s struggles to improve their status. There were two feudal ages and the position of the woman changed slightly during these two ages. The first feudal age was the age of feudal lordship (ca. 900-1050). During this time, the woman’s role was de-emphasized because the societal structure of the time centered on men. The importance placed on fighting prowess in the society meant that women would not be able to hold any kind of official position. It was the opinion of the time that women served two functions: to produce heirs and to manage the estates when their husbands were away. The feudal woman (ca. 900-1050) was also required to be chaste and loyal and was not considered to be emotionally necessary by her husband. The second feudal age was the age of feudal kingship (ca. 1050-1500). In this age, women achieved a slightly higher status. Although women were still expected to produce heirs and manage their husband’s manors, they could now be heiresses. When a Lord died and had no sons to inherit his fief, he would leave the fief to his daughter; however, if there were more than one daughter, the land would be divided equally among the daughters. It seems that women were inserted into the feudal system because feudal lords did not want to lose the family’s land if they had no sons. By controlling the marriage of their daughters, they could increase the family’s land holdings. This action had enormous political implications. However, it would appear that the feudal community had overlooked the possibility of a Lord having only one daughter, as in the case of Eleanor of Aquitane. Eleanor managed to gain power and influence against the odds in a society whose rules intended to prevent such an occurrence. Thus, the Lords had inadvertently made it possible for women to hold a position of power. The feudal elite also contributed to medieval misogyny through their interest in courtly love. Initially, one would think that this interest would have helped the status of women, but because this concept put women on a pedestal and made them seem intangible, men grew resentful. Men became frustrated because they were constantly battling for something they could never have. Courtly love told men that their love would always be unfulfilled because women are incapable of love. This belief encouraged men to hate women. The writing of the book of courtly love, which further contributed to this misogyny, tells of the evils of women. In this way, the ideal of courtly love became yet another obstacle for women in feudal society to overcome in their quest for status. Initially, the role of women in monasticism was one of power. Before 900, female monasticism was at a high point and abbesses exercised the same power as abbots. Monasticism was the only way in which women of medieval times could get a good education. Female monasticism was also very important in terms of church government. Hilda of Whitby, abbess of a double monastery in England, trained six bishops and reconciled the differences between the Roman and British church during her time as abbess. The Abbess of Gandersheim accomplished even more as abbess and had the same authority as a feudal Lord, which was combined with political power that enabled her to sit in the Imperial assembly. After 900, monastic society entered a decline that was followed by three main reforms — the Clunaic, the Cistercian, and the Mendicant. Although these reforms enabled male monks to regain their status, they put the nuns at a disadvantage because they outlined a regime of living that would have been dangerous to women. Another factor acting against women in monastic communities was the fact that monks were becoming increasingly worried about celibacy and they saw nuns as a temptation that should be avoided. The decreasing popularity of nuns caused them to receive fewer donations. With their funds depleted, the number of female monasteries plummeted as did their status in the monastic community. Because the fall in status for nuns resulted in a diminishing number of female monasteries, in 1200, there were many highly religious women who sought an alternative means of showing their dedication to God. It was in response to this desire to worship in a regulated manner and in an attempt to regain some of their original status, that women established beguinages. The beguines were quasi nuns who lived and worshipped in the confines of the beguinage community during the evening, and went into the towns to work during the day. This community gave women power because they were not cloistered and they could enter and leave the community whenever they wanted to. Additionally, this community made the churches nervous because although the church never sanctioned the beguinages, the beguines were good Christians who could leave the order whenever they wished. Thus, this community back to women some of the power they had lost during the decline of female monasticism. A final community in which women fought to overcome their oppression was the intellectual community. The only means by which women could obtain an education was through monastic schooling. One example of the product of a female monastic education was the aforementioned Abbess of Gandersheim. She wrote plays in Latin that followed the classical model. These plays were often about women defending their virginity and they were surprisingly humorous. This high level of education for nuns enabled women to hold authority over men. The passage of time, however, increased the exclusivity of the intellectual community and as a result, women were once again placed at a disadvantage. Although in 1150, women were still permitted to attend monastic schools, they were not allowed to attend university. This put women whose intelligence surpassed the level of education provided by the monastic education at a disadvantage. One such woman was Heloise. Her uncle wanted her to further her education so he hired a tutor for her. This arrangement turned out to be disastrous when Heloise became pregnant and her uncle made her become a nun. However, there were a few women who benefited from the monastic education in 1150. Hildegarde of Bingen was an excellent product of female monastic education who wrote music and attained a high status that enabled her to correspond with the Bishops. Although she wrote to the Bishops, it is unlikely that her opinions had much authority due to the misogyny of the time. On the whole, the exclusion of women from universities enabled men to attain a higher status once again. Within these three medieval communities, women overcame obstacles in their quest for status. Often, this high status was achieved by a conscious effort as in the case of the beguines. Occasionally, it was the rules passed by men that inadvertently resulted in women attaining higher status, as in the case of Eleanor of Aquitane. Although women managed to better their status, it must be acknowledged that in medieval times, women as a whole, were at a serious disadvantage. Unfortunately, this bias against women in communities has not been eliminated and is still present even in today’s society.


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