Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Use and abuse; the status of a woman in a noble house

Like now, the middle age society was governed by men. But like now, those men, being brave, smart, powerful, were also insecure. Their problem was adultery. They judged everybody in accordance with their own behavior. So, if they were infidel to their wives, they assumed the wives did the same.

This is a painting by Vasily Polenov, that I found in Wikipedia.
 It represents a father bringing his daughter to his lord.
Look at the posture of the lord...
It looks like he is counting his sheep!

If the household of common people was a little more relaxed, being a matter of economy involved (as being able to work and feed the family), the nobles’ households were very strict regarding the women physical freedom. Maybe those restrictions were coming via church, were the men were in power over “weaker souls” that could be easier seduced by other men (that could have been husbands too) and fall into sin. Women were closely watched for any sign of “deviant” behavior. If caught, or even suspected, they risk their lives. Here is what
we read in A History of Private Life:

“The first duty of the head of household was to watch over, punish, and if necessary kill his wife, sister and daughters as well as the widows and orphans of his brothers, cousins and vassals.Since females were dangerous, patriarchal power over them was reinforced. They were kept under lock and key in the most isolated part of the house: the chamber des dames (the room of the ladies, my translation from french) was not a place for seduction or amusement but a kind of prison, in which women were incarcerated because men fear them” (A History of Private Life; II, Revelation of the Medieval World; George Duby; 1988, Harvard College; p.77).

But why were women so feared. Well, for once they were the link to a alliance. Most of the time, men did not marry a woman because they loved her or they got along very well. It was because who their daddy was. The marriages were negotiated. The more powerful the dad, the more desired the daughter.
Then men had to keep that alliance alive. Even in an event of death of the wife, if the death occurred because an infidelity, then the man risked to be disgraced by his father in law, not speaking about the shame that came with it.
Then the women were sometimes feared for what secrets they may have discovered, what
magical tricks they may have learned or for the seduction they may have pursued upon men.

And maybe some fears were legitimate, because the society devalued women which, in return, were abused men.

But unlike the medieval times, today women have a better life (or do they?).