Redheaded Neanderlady

Redheaded Neanderlady
This is a photoshopped version of something I found in National Geographic about the time I started researching

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Medieval mindsets? Maybe, or maybe not

Browsing around, I saw a rather interesting over at  The site itself has a lot of interesting material about medieval Europe(and for that matter, medieval elsewhere, too.  In any case, the news was that  one Caroline Dunn has won an award for research she did, showing  that abduction of some medieval wives wasn't necessarily abduction. 


Now why might this be important?  Well, like I've kind of complained in other posts and elsewhere, there seems to be an idea that there was "a" medieval mindset which, somehow everybody shared.  Okay, maybe a lot of people did share a "medieval mindset", but such a "mindset" varied from time to time and place to place.  It's true that medieval marriages were supposed to last Till Death Do Us Part.  It's also true that couples, especially the female half,and especially in higher-status circles, didn't have a whole lot of choice about who they ended up with.  It's also true that, in many cases(especially when royalty wasn't involved; they certainly didn't have a whole lot of choice, obviously), weren't usually monsters; like parents today, they tended to want the best that could be managed, for their children, and most of them probably did the best they could, for a variety of reasons, to make sure that any proposed marriage actually worked out, one way or another.  And, often, they did work out, one way and another.  The woman had her interests looked after, in the sense that she was probably at least assured of some financial security, if nothing else, the man had somebody who was trained to run his household, and provide it with the necessary offspring to pass whatever there might have been to pass on.  So, one "mindset" probably was, just to make the best of whatever situation you found yourself in.


But sometimes, apparently, good intentions weren't enough.  And here's where Caroline Dunn comes in.  She suggested that a number of supposed abductions of wives were either some sort of prearrangements in which a woman ended up with somebody she really wanted to end up with(though maybe accused of something or other), or perhaps, arrangements made by a woman(and a man, naturally), to run off or elope.  IN the time period she's working with, there weren't anything like divorce courts, lawyers,  people who try to mediate "what's best for the children" etc., and the options for a woman who found herself in an unpleasant marriage, or found herself facing one,  were decidedly limited.  For that matter, so were the options of men, but not so limited as those of women.  So what was a couple to do, if they really wanted to be together, but were bound to other ties?  Run off!  What else could they do.  Of course, to "save" the woman's reputation, even partially, in a case like this, it had to look like the woman had just been unexpectedly dragged off.  But the point is here, at least in medieval England, women didn't necessarily just passively accept whatever fate brought them.  Some of them strove to change it.  The only way, probably that was available to them.  But they took it, when they thought it necessary, at least according to Caroline Dunn. 


Which suggests to me that the idea of "a" mindset in a historical period, isn't everything.  It's just one thing.

Anne G

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