Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


Previous Articles of the Month

October 2022

Page from an illuminated medieval manuscript
Childbirth scene with midwife giving the infant to the mother, detail of an historiated initial 'C', Liber Astronomiae of Guido Bonatti, 1490, English, London, British Library, MS Arundel 66, fol. 148
(Source: British Library, Public domain)

McDougall, Sara M. "Singlewomen and Illicit Pregnancy in Late Medieval France: The Case of Marie Ribou (1481)." French Historical Studies 44, 3 (2021): 529-558. Available with a subscription from the publisher, Duke University Press. On ResearchGate.

Abstract: "This article examines the consequences of extramarital pregnancy for women in late medieval France. Pregnancy outside marriage is typically thought of as a disaster for women and children alike and for their families. However, careful analysis of records of royal pardon, other legal and prescriptive sources, and a wide range of other materials all suggests otherwise. The article demonstrates that, at least for some single mothers in late medieval France, illicit pregnancy did not necessarily mean disaster at all. Pregnant women could help themselves, and were helped by others. All this has important implications for our understanding of the regulation of sexuality and reproduction in late medieval France, and of the role of mercy in medieval justice." — [Reproduced from the journal page on the Duke University Press website.]

September 2022

Medieval depiction of a man and woman in bed.
Lovers in bed, detail of an historiated initial 'C', Le Régime du corps, 3rd quarter of the 13th c., French, London, British Library, MS Sloane 2435, fol. 9v, (Source: Web Gallery of Art, Open access).

Hartog, Marlisa Den. " Women on Top: Coital Positions and Gender Hierarchies in Renaissance Italy." Renaissance Studies 35, 4 (2021): 638-657. Available open access from the publisher, Wiley.

Abstract: "According to Christian theology, the 'missionary' position was the only proper way to have sex. Among clerical as well as secular authors, one of the most serious deviations from this prescription was the position with the woman on top of the man. Although medieval and early modern defences of the woman-on-top prohibition are often focused on reproduction or health, modern scholars habitually explain it as a reflection of concern about the inversion of gender roles and hierarchies. Against the background of the hierarchical perspective on sexual intercourse in general, this hypothesis seems almost self-evident. Thus far, however, it has not been sufficiently supported with relevant source material. This article brings a focused case study of this topic to the historiography by analyzing the discussion of the woman-on-top position in Italian sources written between c. 1350-1550. Theological, medical and literary sources are used to support the hypothesis that the woman-on-top prohibition was to an important extent sanctioned by beliefs about gender roles and hierarchies. There were various ways in which the 'missionary' position could be defended, ranging from defences of innate male prerogatives to concern about female power." — [Reproduced from the journal page in the Wiley Online Library website.]

July 2022

An image of a page from a medieval manuscript.
Knight in prayer opposite Christ before Caiaphas, Ruskin Hours, before 1297(?), French, Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, MS Ludwig IX 3, fol. 29r., (Source: Getty, Open Content).

Doyle, Maeve K. "Picturing Men at Prayer: Gender in Manuscript Owner Portraits around 1300." Getty Research Journal 13 (2021): 31-62. Available open access from the Humanities Commons.

Abstract: "The visibility of women in owner portraits from the early era of books of hours (ca. 1230-1350) reflected and shaped perceptions of literate prayer as a feminine activity. While owner portraits of men are comparatively rare, they are not unknown. Images of laymen and laywomen devotees in four illuminated manuscripts from northern France around 1300, and in particular the owner portraits of men in the Ruskin Hours held by the J. Paul Getty Museum, evince the ways gendered use is conceived and constructed in these intimate luxury objects. Images of men at prayer distinguish masculine devotion from feminized practices of literate prayer. Chivalric imagery emphasizes class as well as gender, and the conspicuous absence of the attribute of the book frames lay masculine devotion as an active, externalized practice." — [Reproduced from the journal page available in Humanities Commons.]

June 2022

Drawing of a man and woman harvesting wheat, the woman is using a hand sickle and the man is tying a sheaf of wheat. The background is mostly red with gold ornamentation, and a small forest is visible.
Woman and man harvesting, August, Labors of the Month, Codex Schürstab, around 1472, German, Zurich, Zentralbibliothek, Ms. C 54, fol.13r (Source: flickr, e-codices, CC BY-NC 2.0).

Pleijt, Alexandra M. de and Luiten van Zanden. "Two Worlds of Female Labour: Gender Wage Inequality in Western Europe, 1300-1800." Economic History Review 74, 3 (2021): 611-638. Available open access from the journal.

Abstract: "Labour market engagement by women is an important determinant of female autonomy that may also affect their demographic behaviour. In order to bring about the conditions for the female autonomy that characterized the European marriage pattern (in which women had a say in the decision about when and whom they marry), women needed to earn a decent wage. This is clearly affected by the gender wage ratio and the possibility of women earning their own living and having the option of remaining single. So far no attempt has been made to compare the wages of women across Europe over the long run. In this article we provide evidence on the wages of unskilled women for seven European countries (represented by cities or regions within these countries) between 1300 and 1800. Our evidence shows that there were two worlds of female labour. In the south of Europe women earned about 50 per cent of the wage of unskilled male labourers, a ratio that seems to have been fixed by custom. In the northern and western parts of Europe this ratio was much higher during late medieval period, but it showed a declining trend between about 1500 and 1800, a change that was caused by market forces. — [Reproduced from the journal page on the Wiley Online Library website.]

May 2022

Photo of a marble statue of a woman in a dress and headwrap, holding an open book and quill. The book
David Holgate, Mother Julian, statue in Ancaster stone, 2000, Norwich, flanking the cathedral's west entrance (Source: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain). Recording archive record

Kelner, Anna. "Trusting Women's Visions: The Discernment of Spirits in Julian of Norwich's Revelation of Love." Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 51, 2 (2021): 193-214.

Abstract: "Julian of Norwich intervened in the clerical discourses surrounding the discernment of spirits (Latin discretio spirituum), a method for observing differences between divine and diabolical causes of visionary experience. During the late Middle Ages in Europe, churchmen used methods of discernment in some prominent trials to examine female visionaries for sanctity or heresy. In these instances, discernment offers a medieval analogue to what critics such as Rita Felski, following Paul Ricoeur, have termed paranoid reading practices or the "hermeneutics of suspicion," premised on demystifying the illusory nature of signs, as opposed to reparative reading practices or the "hermeneutics of trust," which calls for restoring their meaning. In a climate when discretio spirituum came to prominence, Julian responded to the suspicious techniques developed to interpret women's visions and bodies by incorporating an innovative guide for discernment in A Revelation of Love that prioritizes trust over suspicion. Julian's trusting form of discernment offers a way to recuperate one of the most stigmatized aspects of femininity: woman's perceived susceptibility to diabolical influence. A Revelation of Love shows how apparently diabolical signs can indicate God's divine presence. " - [Reproduced from the journal page on the Duke University Press website.]

April 2022


Agnes van den Bossche, Flag of the city of Ghent, painted linen textile, 1481-82, Belgian, Ghent, Stadsmuseum Gent, 00787 (Source: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain). Feminae description

Demets, Lisa. "Spies, Instigators, and Troublemakers: Gendered Perceptions of Rebellious Women in Late Medieval Flemish Chronicles." Journal of Women's History 33, 2 (2021): 12-34.

Abstract: "Women's participation in medieval revolts has puzzled many scholars. Recent consensus is that women in the Low Countries were involved in a variety of insurgent activities, apart from violent actions. In this article, I will turn to a lesser-used source to investigate the different and often violent roles women played in various forms of sedition, factional wars, and uprisings in the late medieval County of Flanders. Chronicles have often been dismissed as unreliable. However, they offer an indirect insight into the stereotyped aspects of female and male roles in revolts. Various Flemish chroniclers point to the danger of female spies and secret messengers, particularly to the influence of the wives of aldermen on urban politics. These women were not described as anomalies. On the contrary, their capacity to disturb political order is a recurrent theme in narrative sources." - [Reproduced from the journal page on the Project Muse website.]

March 2022

An image of an elderly woman on wooden crutches from a medieval manuscript
Detail of a miniature of an allegorical figure on crutches embodying Vieillesse (Old Age), Roman de la Rose, 1490-1500, Netherlands, British Library, MS Harley 4425, fol. 10v (Source: British Library, Public domain).

Bailey, Anne E. " The Female Condition: Gender and Deformity in High-Medieval Miracle Narratives." Gender & History 33, 2 (2021): 427-447

Abstract: "This article explores the intersection of medicine, religion and gender within the context of miracle narratives compiled in England and France in the High Middle Ages. Women in miracle accounts have much to tell us about medieval ideas of gendered sickness and health, yet this is an area which has received little scholarly attention. Focusing on stories of female deformity and disfigurement, it is argued that sickness has a feminising effect on women's bodies in these sources, but proposed that symptoms of excess femininity were not always seen as the spiritual hindrance that might be expected." - [Reproduced from the journal page on the Wiley website.]

February 2022


Andrea Mantegna, Detail of an African woman from the Oculus in the Camera Picta, 1464-1475, painted for Lodovico Gonzaga, Marchese of Mantua. The illusionistic painting presents a view of the sky with putti and women gazing from above (Source: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain). See Maria Maurer's blog entry, "Gender, Race and Representation," for more information.

Barker, Hannah. "The Risk of Birth: Life Insurance for Enslaved Pregnant Women in Fifteenth-Century Genoa." Journal of Global Slavery 6, 2 (2021): 187-2017.

Abstract: "Why did fifteenth-century Genoese slaveholders insure the lives of enslaved pregnant women? I argue that their assessment of the risks associated with childbirth reflected their views on the connection between slavery, property, and lineage. Genoese slaveholders saw the reproductive labor of enslaved women as a potential contribution to their lineage as well as their property. Because their children by enslaved women might become their heirs, Genoese slaveholders were inclined to worry about and seek protection against the risk of maternal mortality. In the context of the commercial revolution and the rise of third-party insurance, they developed life insurance for enslaved pregnant women to complement the fines already required of those who illegally impregnated enslaved women and thereby endangered their lives." - [Reproduced from the journal page on the Brill website.]

January 2022


Jeanne of Navarre receives a copy of the Speculum dominarum written for her by Durand of Champagne, 1428, French, London, British Museum, Ms Royal 19 B XVI, fol. 2r (Source: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain). This guide for women was written in the last years of the 13th century and translated into the vernacular as the Miroir des dames.

Neal, Kathleen Bronwyn. "Royal Women and Intra-Familial Diplomacy in Late Thirteenth-Century Anglo-French Relations." Women's History Review 30, 5 (2021): 790-804.

Abstract: "This article examines the diplomatic activities of four royal women related to the kings of England and France in the late thirteenth century, during a period of heightened tension in Anglo-French relations. Elite medieval women probably regularly worked in diplomacy between their natal, marital and extended kin, but it is rare that it can be demonstrated in detail. In this example, substantial evidence shows how Marguerite of Provence, Marie of Brabant, Jeanne of Navarre and Blanche of Artois, worked in close collaboration with their male relations and took initiative in negotiating treaties, sharing intelligence, and acting as brokers of favour.
That these efforts failed with dramatic consequences probably explains both the richness of extant evidence about the case, and its dismissive treatment by contemporaries and modern historians alike. Instead, it is argued that women's intra-familial diplomacy remained valued by kings and popes, and, indeed, reflected standard diplomatic practice of the time." - [Reproduced from the journal page on the Taylor & Francis Online website.]

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