Mitchell Carroll.

Woman: in all ages and in all countries online

. (page 10 of 30)
Online LibraryMitchell CarrollWoman: in all ages and in all countries → online text (page 10 of 30)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


yur suster to be with my Lady of Oxford, or with my
Lady of Bedford, or in sume other wurshepfull place,
wher as ye thynk best, and I wull help to her fyndyng,
for we be eyther of us werye of other."

It will be seen from this fashion of the times — more
particularly of the latter part of the Middle Ages— that a
knight's lady performed many of the functions of a mis-
tress of a boarding school. Those intrusted to her care-



1 34 WOMAN

regardless of their rank or station, were subjected to rigid
discipline and were required to perform the arduous duties
of the household. These tasks embraced the varied forms
of plain and fancy needlework, for every lady was ex-
pected to be proficient in such matters; all wearing apparel
and fabrics of all sorts required for household use, and the
banners and altar cloths of the churches as well, were
made in the household. When the household was a large
one, the lady and her maidens were kept busily employed
in attending to its needs. It is, however, entirely probable
that the manufacture of the coarser materials and their
making into clothing were delegated to the servants, of
whom every manor had a large retinue. The designing
and making of the costumes of the wealthy — especially
those that were to be worn on court and other high occa-
sions — were given over to professional tailors, who were
called "scissors."

The round of domestic duty made daily drafts upon the
time of the wives. In every family of the higher class, the
lady of the household had to see to the provisioning as well
as to the clothing of its members and servitors. This was
not a simple matter, as the provisions had to be supplied
at the cost of great inconvenience, excepting in the case of
the products of the manor farms belonging to the estate.
The stewards' accounts are often a valuable source of
information as to the grade of living of the times.

In view of the industry of the women in the manufacture
of textile fabrics, the poet's eulogy is deserved:

" Of gold tissues, and cloth of silk ;
Therefore say 1, whate'er their ilk,
To all who shall this story find
They owe them all to womankind."

The limits of the manor formed the horizon of its women;
the men frequently had to make long journeys in the



THE WOMEN OF THE MANORS 1 35

pursuit of their larger concerns, and were often in foreign
lands serving as soldiers or crusaders. But the lack of
variety in the lives of the women was more than compen-
sated for by the opportunities which were furnished them
by quiet and seclusion for the improvement of their minds
and the cultivation of those finer qualities of character
which are the basis of the refinement and good manners of
the cultivated English women of the present day. It is
not too much to say of the Middle Ages that without the
peculiar circumstances of manorial living, the culture, con-
fidence, self-containment, and initiative of the English
woman would not have become as they are — her predomi-
nant characteristics. So effectual, indeed, were the con-
ditions of the times for seclusion, and so greatly were its
privileges appreciated, that it could be said of many a fine
lady, as was asserted of Lady Joan Berkeley, that she
never "humored herselfe with the vaine delightes of
London and other cities," and never travelled ten miles
from her husband's houses in Somerset and Gloucester.

The life of the manors was not, however, a round of
tireless industry. The ruddy-cheeked, simple-minded Eng-
lish women of the better class were possessed of a redun-
dant vitality and a fund of joyousness and humor which
sought and found expression in a variety of healthful out-
door recreations, as well as indoor amusements. The
pleasing art of letter writing had come to hold a position
of interest in polite circles; for although the women may
not have been skilled with the quill, their letters were
nevertheless natural, simple, and sincere, and they were
fairly proficient in the art of reading. Their religious
duties occupied a part of each day, as did their visitation
of the homes of the dependants on the estate; for it was
the lady of the manor who was looked to by the poor for
herbal medicines and such delicacies as were supplied to



136 WOMAW

the sick. Great ladies sometimes recognized their duties
to the poor not only by giving individual doles, but by
founding almshouses. Nearly every lady of distinction
felt it incumbent upon her to do something for the relief
of suffering and distress. It is especially pleasing to know-
that it was the women whose sensibilities were thus
touched, and who were first influenced by the idea of
social responsibility for the less fortunate classes of soci-
ety. The records of the times abound with instances of
benevolence in institutional forms. When it was imprac-
ticable for her to be her own almoner, the lady employed
for the office a monk or a priest, and so associated her
charities with the Church, by the teachings of which her
impulses were trained. The saints' days were customa-
rily observed by especial and important contributions for
the poor.

Were it not for the manors, the Middle Ages would lack
almost altogether poetry and literature other than that of the
monkish chroniclers. Literature and poetry in this period
were chiefly centred around the women of the nobility.
It was probably due to the fondness of Henry I. for letters
that a literary taste was excited among his queens. The
earliest specimens existing of vernacular poetry are some
verses addressed to Henry's second spouse, Adeliza. Femi-
nine taste and royal patronage combined to free poetry
from the pollution of the minstrel and his circle of vulgar
auditors, to cause it to be cultivated by studious men and
women, whose tastes had become refined by the study of
the Latin classics, and who were themselves emulous of
gaining a literary reputation by the cultivation of the art
of serious composition.

Vernacular poetry, having the sanction and esteem of
the higher circles of life, came to be generally appreciated;
and the mind, which is naturally responsive to matters of



THE WOMEN OF THE MANORS 1 37

good taste, was willing to throw aside the incubus of low
stories, dependent for their interest upon prurient situa-
tions, and to rise to the acceptance of literature whose
interest centred around persons and situations that made
their appeal by reason of worthiness or dignity. The
patronage of letters by the nobility led many, especially
ecclesiastics, to develop their talents in that direction.
Wace, a canon of Bayeux and a prolific rhymester, ex-
pressly states that his works were composed for the " rich
gentry who had rents and money." Even the stormy
reign of Stephen seems to have been no impediment to
the cultivation of the literary taste which had its beginning
in the court of Henry I. and in the patronage of his queens.
The vernacular histories were either written or rendered
into the popular tongue, and in this way became the intel-
lectual property of the female world; they were not infre-
quently inspired by the wish of some lady — a wish which
became the law of the lay or clerical writer.

The story of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the unhappy queen
of Henry II., who in her later life frequently signed her-
self "queen by the wrath of God," illustrates a phase
of domestic infelicity which was not without many paral-
lels. It also serves to show that, with the perfervid
sentiment of chivalrous devotion to women, it was easy
enough to forget the higher demands of faithfulness in the
real relations of life. This queen herself was not blame-
less, and to an extent must be regarded as suffering the
penalties of her own indiscretions. The story is almost
too familiar to need reciting. She discovered that, although
ostensibly Henry's wife, the position was really filled by
one with whom the king had previously contracted mar-
riage. The family of Rosamond Clifford was as respect-
able as and scarcely less illustrious than her own. During
a sojourn at Woodstock, the jealous eye of the queen had



1 38 WOMAN

observed the king following a silk thread throug'' the
labyrinth of trees, by which means she came to know of
her rival. The meeting of the two women can better be
imagined than described: the queen poured out a torrent
of reproaches and invectives, ending by offering to Rosa-
mond the cup of poison or a dagger, and did not leave the
place until the victim of her jealousy was no more.

But the tragic death of Rosamond did not serve to enlist
for the queen the affections of her consort, nor did it tend
to promote her domestic peace. Never was a family so
torn by dissension and sin; her children were arrayed
against their father and one another, and all were opposed
to herself. Her husband added to her many troubles the
further shame of installing in her place the wife of his son.
Seeking release from a situation past all endurance, she
eloped from a castle in Aquitaine, intending to find an
asylum in the dominions of King Louis of France, her former
husband. She was captured by Henry's myrmidons and
thrown into prison, there to remain sixteen years until
liberated by her renowned son, Richard Cceur de Lion.
The sufferings of her life tempered her spirit and brought
her into reliance upon religion for her comfort and strength.

Another example of the high courage and decision of
purpose which the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine furnished
in its later history is found at a subsequent period in an-
other Eleanor, the daughter of Edward IL This patient,
suffering wife, roused to indignant resistance of an unpar-
donable indignity, exhibited the spirit of an undaunted
character. She had been married, at the tender age of
fifteen, to the stern Reynald IL, Earl of Gueldres and
Zutphen. When the large dower she brought her hus-
band had been spent by him, he sought pretext for a
divorce from one with whom he could feel no sym-
pathy; but for this her blameless life furnished no excuse.



THE WOMEN OF THE MANORS 1 39

Although the countess was constantly surrounded by spies
and her every act and word reported to her lord, she
moved with stately dignity in the atmosphere of intrigue
and deceit. In default of any other plea, her husband
represented to the pope that she was afflicted with leprosy.
Arrayed solely in a tunic, and enveloping herself in a
capacious mantle, she made her way with majestic mien
into the council room of the palace, where the perfidious
lord was in consultation with his assembled nobles about
the details of the sinister purpose which he was seeking to
effect. With the words, " I am come, my beloved lord,
to seek a diligent examination respecting the corporeal
taint imputed to me," she threw aside the mantle, disclos-
ing the healthy texture of her skin, while a wave of emo-
tion passed over her, and her eyes suffused with tears.
" These," she continued, "are my children and yours; do
they too share in the blemish of their mother.? But it may
come to pass that the people of Gueldres may yet mourn
our separation, when they behold the failure of our line."
Husband and nobles alike were profoundly affected by
so sublime an appeal, and the royal pair were recon-
ciled; but the male line of Reynald failed in his son, and
the crown passed to the female branch, as though the
almost predictive words of the noble English woman were
destined to be fulfilled.

Yet another daughter of fair France became the queen
of a Plantagenet. Richard II., the last Plantagenet, from
the date of his accession, was involved in constant strug-
gles, first with his Parliament, and then with Henry of
Lancaster. His first queen, Anne of Bohemia, died in
1394. Richard's thoughts were thereupon directed to the
necessity of choosing a second consort. He would consider
only Isabella of Valois, daughter of Charles VI., who was
less than nine years old. The marriage was solemnized



140 WOMAN

by proxy, and arrangements were made for the king to
repair to Calais and receive his child-bride at the hand of
Charles VI. The preliminaries having been completed,
the ceremony is thus recorded by Froissart:

" On the morrow, the King of England visited the King of
France in his tent, where the kings sat apart at one table.
During the serving of dinner, the Duke de Bourbon said
many things to enliven the kings, and addressed the King
of England: 'Monseigneur, you ought to make good cheer;
you have all you desire and demand. You have, or will
have, your wife, she is about to be given to you.' The
French king then said: ' Bourbonnais, we could wish that
our daughter were of the age of our cousin of Saint-Pol,
although it should have cost us dearly, for our son of
England would have taken her more willingly.'

" The King of England heard this and responded to the
French king: ' Father-in-law, our wife's age pleases us
well; we think less of that than we do of the affection
between us and our kingdoms, for with mutual friendship
and alliance, there is no king. Christian or other, who
could give umbrage to us.' The dinner was soon over,
and then the young Queen of England was brought into
the king's tent, accompanied by a great number of dames
and demoiselles, and given to the King of England, her
hand being held by her father, the King of France."

This marriage brought nearly twenty years of peace
between France and England. The young queen was
carefully nurtured and educated by King Richard, whose
attachment to her soon grew very deep. Turbulent fac-
tions disturbed Richard's rule, and Isabelle had always
before her the menace of a prison rather than the prospect
of a throne. Before leaving to quell a rebellion in Ireland,
Richard visited his "little queen," for thus she was popu-
larly styled, at Windsor Castle, to take farewell. This



THE WOMEN OF THE MANORS I4I

interview, at which it is said the young queen first realized
how deeply she loved the king, was to be their last.
Henry of Lancaster, taking advantage of Richard's absence
to gather a force to wrest the sceptre from him, met Rich-
ard on his return, made him captive, arid finally secured
his resignation of the crown in 1399. Simultaneously, the
young queen fell into Henry's power, and was moved
from castle to castle at the will of Henry. All this time
she was kept in ignorance of the fate of her husband, and
tortured by suspense and anxiety. Richard alive was too
serious a danger to Henry's supremacy, and, a plot to
restore him to his throne having failed, he was killed at
Pontefract Castle soon after, in a heroic struggle against
the myrmidons of Henry.

Meantime, the "little queen " had joined in the movement
against Henry, in the hope that her husband would recover
his crown and be restored to her, but she was soon again
a captive at Havering Bower. For some time the child-
widow — she was not yet thirteen — was kept in ignorance
of the death of Richard. Soon, however, she was impor-
tuned by Henry IV. on behalf of Monmouth, his son, but,
faithful to the memory of Richard, she rejected with horror
the proposed union. Finally, all hope of the alliance being
destroyed, Henry consented to Isabelle's return to her
parents. She had endeared herself to the hearts of the
English by her graces, and especially by her steadfast
devotion to Richard.

After Isabelle's return to France, Henry still persisted
in suing for her hand, but it was impossible to move her
determination. In 1406, it seemed that joy might yet
brighten the life of this unfortunate princess, for in that
year she was betrothed to her cousin, the young Charles
of Orleans, whom she married in 1409. The affec-
tion of husband and wife appeared to offer every prospea



142 WOMAN

of happiness, but she was permitted to enjoy her newly
found state for only a brief period, as she died during the
following year, a few hours after the birth of an infant
daughter. The memory of this sweet but unfortunate
princess is enshrined in the poetic tributes of the Duke of
Orleans, nor did the English fail to sing in ballads her
praise.

The origin of the Order of the Garter is traceable to the
spirit of chivalry; it was instituted by Coeur de Lion, and
in 1344 was revived by Edward III. Froissart appears to
credit the story which connects the revival of the order
to Edward's passion for the Countess of Salisbury, whose
garter he is said to have picked up and presented to her
in the presence of the court, with this exclamation: Honi
soit qui maly pense! The chronicler gives us a full account
of the attachment of Edward for the countess, and places
in excellent light the integrity of her character. When
she was besieged in her husband's castle at Wark, Edward
advanced to her relief, compelling the Scots to retreat.
At the interview which followed, the king looked upon her
with such an air of profound thoughtfulness that she was
led to inquire: "Dear sire, what are you musing on.?
Such meditation is not proper for you, saving your grace."
" Oh, dear lady!" replied the monarch; " you must know
that since I have been in this castle, some thoughts have
oppressed my mind that I was not before aware of."
" Dear sire, you ought to be of good cheer, and leave off
such pondering; for God has been very bountiful to you
in your undertakings." Whereupon the king replied with
more directness: "There be other things, O sweet lady,
which touch my heart, and lie heavy there, beside what
you talk of. In good truth, your beauteous mien and the
perfection of your face and behavior have wholly over-
come me; and my peace depends on your accepting my



THE WOMEN OF THE MANORS I43

iove, which your refusal cannot abate." "My gracious
liege," the countess exclaimed, "God of his infinite good-
ness preserve you, and drive from your noble heart all
evil thoughts; for I am, and ever shall be, ready to serve
you; but only in what is consistent with my honor and
your own."

The first chapter of the Garter was graced by another
queen who adorns the history of England's women of
rank — Queen Philippa. She was attended by the princi-
pal ladies of the court, who, with herself, were admitted
dame-companions of the order, and the wives of the knights
continued to enjoy this dignity during several succeeding
reigns.

In even the best homes of the Middle Ages we must
not expect to find the refinements which are regarded as
the commonplaces of modern life. The essence of refine-
ment is the same in all ages, and, while it involves man-
ners, these change with the standards and conventions of
different times. Much that is amusing, absurd, or even
disgusting, as we regard manners to-day, was entirely in
good form during the Middle Ages. It will be of interest
to notice some of the things which were regarded as com-
mendable in the deportment of the young ladies of the
aristocratic class of medieval society, and what they were
cautioned to avoid. A trouvere of the thirteenth century,
named Robert de Blois, compiled a code of etiquette which
he put in French verse under the title. Chastisement des
Dames. The young ladies who ^ould deport themselves
in an irreproachable manner must avoid talking too much,
and especially refrain from boasting of the attentions paid
to them by the other sex. They were recommended to
be discreet, and, in the freedom of games and amuse-
ments, to leave no room for adverse criticism of their
actions. In going to church, they were not to trot or run,



144 WOAUN

but to walk with due seriousness, with eyes straight before
them, and to salute debonairely all persons they met. They
were enjoined not to let men kiss theni on the mouth, as
it might lead to too great familiarity; they were not to
look at a man too much unless he were an acknowledged
lover; and when a young woman had a lover, she was
not to talk too much of him. They were not to manifest
too much vanity in dress, and to be entirely delicate in
the matter of costume; nor were they to be too ready
in accepting presents from the other sex. The ladies are
particularly warned against scolding and disputing, against
swearing, against eating and drinking too freely at the
table. They were exhorted not to get drunk, a practice
from which, they were advised, much mischief might arise.
That the restrictions were, on the whole, sensible is appar-
ent from our statement of them, and the good sense of the
times receives special point from the rule of society which
recommended the ladies not to cover their faces when in
public, as a handsome face was made to be seen. An ex-
ception is made in the case of ugly or deformed features,
which might be covered. Another rule was as follows:
"A lady who is pale-faced or who has not a good smell
ought to breakfast early in the morning, for good wine
gives them a very good color; and she who eats and
drinks well must heighten her color." Anise seed, fennel,
and cumin were recommended to be taken at breakfast to
correct an unsavory breath, and persons so affected were
told not to breathe in other persons' faces.

A special set of rules was given for the lady's behavior
while in church, and if she could sing she was to do so
when asked and not require too much pressing. Ladies
were further recommended to keep their hands clean, to
cut their nails often, and not to suffer them to grow be-
yond the finger or to harbor dirt. When passing the



THE WOMEN OF THE MANORS 145

houses of other people, ladies were not to look into them:
"for a person often does things privately in his house,
which he would not wish to be seen, if anyone should
come before his door." For the same reason a lady was
not to go into another person's house, or into another's
room, without coughing or speaking to give notice to the
inmates. The directions for a lady's behavior at the table
were also very precise. " In eating, you must avoid
much laughing or talking. If you eat with another (i. e.,
in the same plate, or of the same mess), turn the nicest
bits to him and do not go picking out the finest and largest
for yourself, which is not courteous. Moreover, no one
should eat greedily a choice bit which is too large or too
hot, for fear of choking or burning herself. . . . Each
time you drink, wipe your mouth well, that no grease go
into the wine, which is very unpleasant for the person
who drinks after you. But when you wipe your mouth
for drinking, do not wipe your eyes or nose with the table-
cloth, and avoid spilling from your mouth or greasing your
hands too much." Added to these directions for deport-
ment, particular emphasis was laid on the avoidance of
falsehoods, which suggests the prevalence of the vice.

The modern "servant question" was not without its
counterpart in the Middle Ages. We find instances of
advice tendered upon the subject to the ladies of those
times. An early writer on domestic economy divided the
servants who might be found in a manorial establishment
into three classes: those who were employed on a sudden
and only for a certain work, and for these a previous bar-
gain should be made regarding their payment; those who
were employed for a certain time in a particular descrip-
tion of work, as tailors, shoemakers, butchers, and others,
who always came to work in the house upon materials
provided there, or the harvest men for the gathering of



146 WOMAN

the crops; and domestic servants who were hired by the
year, these latter being expected to pay an absolute and
passive obedience to the lord and lady of the household
and any others who were set in authority over them.

Naturally, it was the female servants who came under
the supervision of the lady of the house, and minute
directions are given for their ordering. She was to re-
quire her maids to repair early in the morning to their
work; the entrance to the hall and all other places by
which people enter, or places in the hall where they tarry
to converse, were to be swept and made clean, "and that
the footstools and covers of the benches and forms be
dusted and shaken, and after this that the other chambers
be in like manner cleaned and arranged for the day."
After this, the pet animals were to be attended to and
fed. At midday the servants were to have their first
meal, which was to be bountiful, but "only of one meat
and not of several, or of any delicacies; and give them
only one kind of drink, nourishing but not heady, whether
wine or other; and admonish them to eat heartily, and to
drink well and plentifully, for it is right that they should
eat all at once, without sitting too long, and at one breath,
without reposing on their meal or halting, or leaning with



Online LibraryMitchell CarrollWoman: in all ages and in all countries → online text (page 10 of 30)