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Women of the Twelfth Century

Women of the Twelfth Century

of the Twelfth Century
Europe during the twelfth century Middle Ages was
inhabited by generations of women who lived with a dark shadowy cloud cast over
them. In some literature, the only
glimpse of light a female received was her association with a particular
male. However, within the story of the
love affair between Peter Abelard and his young student Heloise, a new light
was shed upon the lives of women in the Middle Ages. The
Letters of Abelard and Heloise, translated by Betty Radice and revised by
Michael Clanchy, was the story told through the personal and profound letters
of a tragic love affair between a renowned French philosopher, Abelard, and one
of his students, the young maiden Heloise[1].
Peter Abelard was
a reputable philosophy and widely sought teacher in the art of dialectic who
fell in love with Heloise, a young maiden living in her Uncle Fulbert’s house. Abelard was hired by Fulbert to live in the
house and teach Heloise as a personal tutor.
Lessons quickly turned into love affairs, which in turn ended in Heloise
becoming pregnant with an illegitimate child.
Abelard and Heloise secretly married, but wit 22122n1323w h hopes of keeping
Abelard’s reputation intact. To hide
their secrets and for Abelard’s continued pursuit of his life of study, Heloise
went away to a convent while Abelard sought solitude in a monastery. However, Heloise’s Uncle Fulbert felt
undermined by Abelard and was determined to seek vengeance on him by castration[2]. The letters of Abelard and Heloise are
eloquently written, personal accounts of life as it was in medieval times. Abelard and Heloise wrote a series of letters
to each other over time that revealed the nature of the role of women in terms
of personal relationships, scholarship, and religion in the twelfth century
Middle Ages.
In personal
relationships, the letters written between Abelard and Heloise offered an
intimate perspective by both a man and a woman about the natural order of
people within their relationships. When
Abelard addressed his letter to her, he put her name before his. According the Heloise, the man should have
come before the woman, just as superior rank comes before inferior rank. She viewed woman as inferior beings to men,
similar to her belief of putting „wife before husband, handmaid before lord,
nun before monk, deaconess before priest, and abbess before abbot[3]”
showing that all positions of woman throughout society, no matter their status,
could not have achieve equal status with men.
However, in his
letter back to Heloise, Abelard addressed this issue by stating that when
Heloise married him she became his superior[4].
Therefore, Abelard did not make a mistake in putting Heloise’s name first,
because in his eyes she will always come before him. It seemed, however, that Abelard said this
yet acted differently. He put her in a
convent to rid himself of his wife so that he may put himself first and
continue with his studies. In light of
his wound from castration, he believed that only one of them must suffer the
consequences of their wrongdoings, and therefore he would suffer because he
believed that she was „naturally weaker in sex[5].”
Abelard and
Heloise found it necessary to keep their marriage and their illegitimate child
secretly hidden from the world.
Fornication of unmarried women with any single or married man was
greatly looked down upon and punished in the twelfth century Middle Ages[6]. However according to Friedelehe, any woman
could freely give her consent and enter a contractual relation based on mutual
consent with a man[7]. Age, status, or consent of the parents was no
longer throughout the twelfth century and issue before a man and woman entered
into legal matrimony. Abelard and
Heloise had a typical relationship of the Middle Ages. The primary age for a woman to be married is
her maiden years. This is the transition
from childhood to adulthood, where the girl is no longer considered a child but
a maiden. Maidens were generally
characterized by their beauty and virginity, as they were the focus of every
male’s desire. Maidenhood was the
perfect age of a woman’s life to fall in love and consent to marriage[8]. Heloise was a maiden as well as the object of
desire in the eyes of Abelard, who was over twenty years older than her[9].
Common to the
twelfth century Middle Ages, Heloise’s Uncle Fulbert did everything within his
power to enhance her learning and scholarship[10]. Like many young girls of her time, Heloise
was educated in a convent at Argenteuil
when she was growing up[11]. However, women were educated through the
humble learning of the convent differently than men who were highly educated in
philosophy, spirituality, dialectic, and letters[12]. Abelard found a gift for letters rare in a
woman, which made the talented Heloise even more attractive in his eyes. Abelard even believed that Heloise was
blessed by God’s grace with the talent to allow her to instruct in the convent
when she became the abbess[13]
Saint Katherine
was a model of young girls in the twelfth century Middle Ages. As a young girl, Saint Katherine was educated
and owned many books. Books were
previously a sign of nobility but by the twelfth century, more women of
different classes including aristocracy, gentry, and even merchants were
becoming educated. As the women of these
various classes began to read more, the hierarchy became blurred and books
could no longer be used as a symbol of class[14]. Heloise was educated in the house of her
Uncle Fulbert, as most women of the time would have been educated at home. At the turn of the eleventh century, the
Middle Ages entered what became known as the take-off. Throughout the take-off, women underwent
economic change and began an upwardly mobile passage beyond typically
female-oriented gender tasks. As women
became more educated, they experienced an array of job opportunities such as
colonizers, entrepreneurs, and many more vocational options. However, a woman’s education was not always
as formal as a man’s education.
Typically, a young girl would be educated by her mother in the trade or
art which her mother already practiced[15].
The role of women
within the realm of religion also changed since the eleventh century. By Heloise’s time in the Middle Ages, young
girls were commonly educated by their mothers or in a convent. This began a girl’s connection to the Church
as early childhood. In the beginning of
the letters between Abelard and Heloise, after they were married they sought
shelter in a monastery and a convent, respectively, to avoid society out of
shame, confusion, misery, and remorse for what they did[16]. It was common in the Middle Ages to use
religion and faith to hind from the demands of daily life, to find the peace
and quiet to study and concentrate, or sometimes as a self-inflicted punishment
for mistakes. Heloise, however, was so
young and facing life in her prime years that the other women in the convent
tried to convince her that a religious life was too hard of a penance to serve
for her offenses[17].
Women in the
Middle Ages were also affected by the religious choices made by their
husbands. When a husband was called to a
religious life as a bishop, deacon or presbyter, they were not allowed to give
up care for his wife and family. In this
aspect, the pious man was required to still be the provider for his family
especially his wife, however, obviously he could not lie carnally with her[18].
After the sixth
century, most women in the Middle Ages were born into Christianity. Within their community of religion, women had
many options by the twelfth century in which they could participate. Women could choose to move to a community of
fellow vowed believers, either a convent or a monastery. Within this smaller community of faith, women
were even capable of becoming leaders as an abbess, prioress, or teacher. However, it became increasingly harder for
women since the twelfth century to use vocations to avoid cultural expectations
of women as property owner and legal franchisers[19]
just as it was extremely difficult for Heloise and Abelard to escape from their
lives inside the walls of a convent or a monastery.
Throughout The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, a personal,
intimate light was shed upon women in the twelfth century Middle Ages in regard
to their participation in religion, scholarship and personal
relationships. Women living in the times
of the Middle Ages were generally overshadowed by the great men, philosophers,
and scholars of their day. Through the
developments during the early Middle Ages, women’s roles in marriage were more
prominent and they were more capable of making decisions about personal
issues. Women began to become more
educated around the eleventh century.
They began to participate more in other trades and arts. In the Middle Ages, women’s role in religion
was full of options and vocations. Since
the twelfth century Middle Ages, women have been in an upwardly mobile spiral
moving towards a world like today where they find themselves free in every
opportunity they choose.

Women Of The Twelfth Century
Women Of The Twelfth Century
Women Of The Twelfth Century

Women Of The Twelfth Century

  • Date: Kwiecień 18, 2013
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