Mitchell Carroll.

Woman: in all ages and in all countries online

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parcell gylt, a lytill maser with a brynne of sylver and
gylt, a lytill pese of sylver and a spore of sylver, 2 lytyll
latyn candellstyks, a fire panne and a pare of tonges, 2
small aundyrons, 4 pewter dysshes, a porrenger, a pewter
bason, 2 skyllotts (a small pot with a long handle), a lytill
brasse pot, a cawdyron and a drynkyng pot of pewter."

That, in the mind of the religious recluse, cleanliness
was not associated with godliness was due to the idea of
penance. Washing was regarded as a luxury not to be
indulged in excepting at infrequent intervals or by special
permission. This idea of ablutions was probably derived
at first in reaction from the public baths which were so
much in vogue among the Romans, and which were asso-
ciated in the public mind with luxury, and were often the
scenes of conduct quite at variance with the principles for
which the nuns stood. The licentiousness which centred
around these places brought them into such ill repute that
to the ascetic mind washing did not so much signify clean-
liness as sin. The virtue of dirt did not extend to the
abbesses, who were allowed to wash whenever it was
necessary and as frequently as they pleased. By a simi-
lar process of deduction, the nuns remained untonsured.
In the early times, a woman whose hair was cut short


was looked upon as a disreputable character, so that it
was repellent to conventional ideas of propriety to conform
to the practice of the monks in having the head shaved.

The nuns were not always of the most serious disposi-
tion and deportment, as is shown by the peculiar enjoin-
ment that they were not to look fixedly on any man, or to
romp or frolic with him; neither were they to allow any
man to see them unveiled, nor to embrace any man, either
an acquaintance or a stranger. The convivial nature of
some of the nuns is revealed by an order commanding
them not to "use the alehouse or the watercourses
where strangers daily resort, or bring in, receive, or
take any layman, religious or secular, into the chamber,
or any secret place, day or night, or with them in such
private places to commune, eat, or drink, without license
of your prioress." The monastery which is described by
Wriothesley as the most virtuous religious house in Eng-
land, Sion Monastery, was under an even stricter rule.
Conversation with secular persons was permitted only by
the license of the abbess from noon to vespers, and only
then on Sundays and the great feast days of the saints.
Sion Monastery was subjected to the further restriction
that the nuns might not receive their friends, but could
converse with them by sitting at appointed windows, in
the presence of the abbess. If any sister desired to be
seen by "her parents or honest friends," she might, by
the special permission of the abbess, open the window
occasionally during the year; but if she had the self-denial
to forego this privilege, a greater reward was assured her
in the hereafter.

Despite the criticism to which the monastic system of
the Middle Ages may justly be subjected, it would be
great remissness to fail in appreciation of the tremendous
work of civilization which was performed by its expositors.


They were the centres of culture, as well as of benevo-
lence; in the convents, and also in the monasteries,
there could always be found a select library, which in-
cluded works of the classic authors, as well as books of
religion. The nuns, as a class, were well educated for
their time. They could read Latin, and were qualified to/
direct the education of the novices who came under their
training. Even in the ninth century, some of the conti-
nental convents had such high repute as educational
centres that children were sent long distances to get the
benefit of the opportunities they offered; and in this re-
spect England was no whit behind, for children were sent
from the continent to be educated in the schools estab-
lished by Theodorus and Hadrian. This fact is the more
to the credit of the English schools, as the tide had been
setting strongly in the other direction.

The addition of literary and pedagogic duties to the reli-
gious routine and manual labor of the convents made the
lives of the nuns extremely busy, for, in addition to their
reading theological and classical literature, they had the
duty of copying and embellishing manuscripts. It was
not unusual for a nun to become proficient in Latin versi-
fication and to correspond in that language with others
of a similar literary taste and training. These women
were thus often highly qualified to teach the subjects
which were then included in polite education. For many
centuries theirs were the only schools for girls. The
suppression of the convents was, educationally, a disaster
to England. They were not merely schools for book learn-
ing, but such little knowledge as was current in regard to
the treatment of various disorders and the care of the sick
was obtained in the convent schools. The general custom
of bleeding people for every form of illness, as well as to
prevent possible sickness, made necessary some kind of


bandage ready prepared to apply to the wound, and it was
a common practice for nuns to mal<e sucli bandages and to
present tliem as gifts to friends. Tlie convent pupils were
also tauglit the finer sorts of cooking, such as the prepara-
tion of special dishes and the making of sweetmeats and
pastry. Needlework, as the most characteristic employ-
ment of women of refinement, music, both vocal and
instrumental, and writing and drawing, entered into the
curricula of the convents.

The educational record of the various convents at the
time of their suppression shows that this act of Henry VIII.,
whatever other justification it may have had, cannot be
supported on the ground that the convents were not per-
forming a useful service to society in the education of the
youth of the country. Gasquet, in his Suppression of the
Monasteries, says: "In the convents, the female portion
of the population found their only teachers, the rich as
well as the poor, and the destruction of the religious
houses by Henry was the absolute extinction of any sys-
tematic education for women during a long period." Thus,
at Winchester Convent the list of ladies being educated
within the walls at the time of the suppression shows that
these Benedictine nuns were training the children of the
first families in the country. Carrow, in Norfolk, for
centuries gave instruction to the daughters of the neigh-
boring gentry; and as early as A. D. 1273 a papal prohibi-
tion was obtained from Pope Gregory X., restraining the
nobility from crowding this monastery with more sisters
than its income would support. Again, we read of Mynchin
Buckland that it was a noted seminary for the daughters
of the families in its vicinity. Many families whose names
were the highest in the list of the English gentry of the
day owed to the convent systems all the accomplishments
which enabled them to shine brilliantly in their after life.


"Reading, writing, some knowledge of arithmetic, the art
of embroidery, music and French, ' after the scole of Strat-
ford atte Bowe,' were the recognized course of study,
while the preparation of perfumes, balsams, simples, and
confectionery was among the more ordinary depart-
ments of the education afforded." There was as great
protest aroused among the laity against the suppression
of the convents as has been latterly witnessed in France
against the rigid enforcement of the law as to unregis-
tered schools, resulting in the closing of many schools
which were established on a religious foundation and
taught by the nuns.

Many pathetic pleas were addressed to Thomas Crom-
well in behalf of the convents at the time of the Reforma-
tion. The abbess of the famous convent of Godstow, in
Oxfordshire, wrote to Cromwell as follows: " Pleaseth hit
your Honour with my moste humble dowyte, to be adver-
tised, that where it hath pleasyd your Lordship to be the
verie meanes to the King's Majestie for my preferment,
most unworthie to be Abbes of this the King's Monasterie
of Godstowe. ... I trust to God that I have never
offendyd God's laws, neither the King's, wherebie this
poore monasterie ought to be suppressed." She then
continues in an earnest strain to set forth that the recom-
mendation for the suppression of her convent arose from
private malice on the part of her enemies, and closes with
a denial of the charges preferred, as follows: "And not-
withstanding that Dr. London, like an untrew man, hath
informed your Lordship that I am a spoiler and a waster,
your good Lordship shall know that the contrary is trew;
for 1 have ' not alienated one halporthe ' of goods of this
monastery, movable or unmovable, but have rather in-
cres'd the same, nor never made lease of any farme or
peece of grounde belonging to this House, or thet hath

1 68 WOMAN

been in times paste, alwaies set under Convent Seal for
the wealthe of the House."

The convents were charitable as well as educational
centres, although their benevolent methods would not
meet the approval of modern ideas as to wise almsgiving.
At the set time for the disbursement of alms, the mendi-
cants thronged the institution, and, by the liberality of the
donors, were encouraged to continue in a life of shiftless-
ness and beggary. The disbursement of alms was really
regarded by the recipients not so much as an act of char-
ity as something which they had a right to expect.

One of the best phases of conventual charity was its in-
fluence in developing the benevolent tendencies of women
of position and means. The feudal system, as we have
seen, was largely a system of dependent relations, so that
those who were in the lowest social scale felt that they
had a right to the gifts of those who were above them.
By the inevitable working of the system, the lives of the
poor were interwoven into the lives of their betters. It
was a gracious work of the Church to teach those who
were in the fortunate places of life their responsibility
toward their less happily situated fellow creatures, and
the monastic almsgiving was a practical exemplification of
the spirit of the Gospel in so far as the customs and prac-
tices of the times made possible a clear interpretation of
its benevolent teachings. Although charity was not organ-
ized, and was dealt directly to the needy without investi-
gation of their claims on any other ground than actual and
manifest want, and thus was in violation of modern social
tenets and methods, it yet furnishes one of the most en-
gaging chapters of mediaeval life. Modern benevolences,
however different from those of earlier times, neverthe-
less derive their spirit and inspiration from the gracious
charities of the mediaeval nuns.


Under the incentive of the example of the monasteries,
the great ladies recognized and frequently performed their
full duty toward their dependants. The Countess of Rich-
mond maintained a number of poor people within her own
walls. In the sixteenth century, Lady Gresham left, by
her will, tenements in the city, the rents of which were to
be used for the poor. The Countess of Pembroke built
an almshouse and procured for it a patent of corporation.
These are but a few of many illustrious examples of large
charities which serve to brighten the pages of medieval

In the Middle Ages, charity was a personal obligation.
With the elimination of personal service, charity came
increasingly to be dispensed by voluntary associations.
Of such organizations may be instanced the Sisters of
Charity and, in recent years, the various orders of deacon-
esses. For although charity has gone outside the bounds
of the Church, its ministrations are directly traceable to
the convents, and it yet finds its most appropriate relations
and allies to be religion and the Church.

Efit Wiomm of tfte fiitustrial OTlasse^



The most remarkable fact of the twelfth century in
England was the growth of the towns. As has been
already observed in a previous chapter, the conquest of
Britain by the Normans modified the insularity of the
people and brought them into closer communication with
the people of the continent. One of the most marked
effects of this change was the introduction into the country
of skilled Norman craftsmen. The stimulating effect of
the influx of these specialized workmen was in result not
unlike the general awakening of trade and commerce
throughout Europe, at a later time, as the result of the

The expansion of England's industry was also favored
by the vigorous administrations of Henry I. and Henry II.
Another contributive factor was the decline in power of
the barons. Henry I. pitted the town against the castle
in order to counterbalance the vast influence which was
exerted by each. Henry's policy of limiting the inde-
pendence of the barons was furthered by the introduction
of scutage, by which the king was enabled to call to his
aid mercenary troops and did not have to rely wholly upon
the feudal forces. Then, too, the Assize of Arms restored
the national militia to its former importance. Such, in
brief, were the constitutional measures by which the towns



were advantaged and their position as related to the castles
in a sense reversed. The liberty of the latter became
increasingly curtailed, while that of the former was corre-
spondingly augmented.

The town and the castle, however, were not antago-
nistic, the interests of the former being furthered by the
protection of the latter. The monastery, also, aided the
town by attracting trade. There was little difference in
conditions of life between the town and the country; both
engaged in agriculture as well as in trade, and both were
governed by a royal officer, or, it might be, by some lord's
steward, while, of course, the houses were somewhat
more clustered in the town than in the country, and the
town possessed the merchant guild. It is impossible to
trace guilds to their origin, although Brentano seeks to fix
England as their birthplace. This is possible, however,
only by narrowing the definition of a guild to fit the Eng-
lish type.

The earliest unmistakable mention of the merchant guild
is at the end of the eleventh or the beginning of the twelfth
century. Under Henry I., grants of merchant guilds ap-
pear in royal town charters, and are frequently met with
during succeeding reigns. By such charters the original
voluntary associations became exclusive bodies, to which
trade was confined. The retail trade of the town was re-
stricted to members of the guild individually, while the
trade coming to the town was shared by them all collect-
ively. The burgesses generally found it to their interest
to become members of the guild, and all townsmen of
importance were traders. Ecclesiastics and women might
also be members of the guild, but they were, of course,
debarred from becoming burgesses.

The exclusive tendencies which the merchant guild de-
veloped made it really an oligarchy, and so there grew up


in the towns an ever increasing population that did not
share the guild privileges. As the town and its trade
developed, the complexity of trade regulations made it a
convenience to have guilds with specialized functions, to
which the merchant guild might deputize its powers. It
was quite natural, too, that men working at the same
trade, and having social and neighborhood association,
should desire to have a guild which would represent their
distinctive interests. Thus the craft guild arose, not in
antagonism to the merchant guild, but as a special agent
of it. So, in the reign of Henry I., there came about the
associations of the weavers, cordwainers, and fullers. By
the end of the fourteenth century craft guilds were numer-
ous, and in some places the merchant guild was superseded
by them. In their composition the guilds were made up
of masters, journeymen, and apprentices, from whom were
elected the officers and assistances. Women were mem-
bers of these craft guilds, although they do not appear to
have taken part in the business administration. "The
charter of the Drapers speaks of both brethren and sis-
tren, and the list of members as given on the occasions of
' cessments ' shows women-members, both wives of corti-
brethren, independent tradeswomen, and widows of de-
ceased brothers."

The relation of the women to some of the guilds seems
to have been largely a social one. Thus, we read in the
rules of the Calendar Guild, a religious fraternity, that the
wives of guild members had gone to such extremes in
their entertainment of the guild as to cause it to be stipu-
lated that no woman should spend in excess of a certain
specified sum for hospitality toward the guilds; for these
guilds were formed for various purposes besides trade, and
were in the nature of friendly societies. In addition to
their commercial side, they were "associations for mutual


help and social and religious intercourse amongst the
people." The proportion of women in the membership
was always large. In her introduction to English Guilds,
Miss Toulmin Smith says that "scarcely five out of five
hundred were not formed equally of men and women. . . ,
Even where the affairs were managed by a company of
priests, women were admitted as lay members, and they
had many of the same duties and claims upon the guilds
as the men."

Women's association with the guild was not a merely
nominal one, for they shared in all of its privileges and
contributed to all of its funds, although the payments
asked of them were sometimes smaller. The female as
well as the male members had a right to wear the livery
of the guild. Women were engaged in trade and even in
manufacture, and so had direct interest in the craft guilds,
aside from that which they would naturally feel through
the relations thereto of their husbands and brothers. In
the work of his trade a member was always allowed to
employ his wife, his children, and his maid, for the whole
household of the guild brother belonged to the guild. In
later times this led to the degeneration of the guilds into
mere family monopolies.

The fraternal feature of the craft guild reminds one of
the same features of the benevolent orders of the present
time. If a member of the guild, male or female, became
impoverished through mishap, they were cared for, and, if
need arose, were buried; dowerless daughters were pro-
vided with marriage portions, or, in case they wished to
enter the religious life, they were provided with the means
to do so. Nor must we overlook the large influence which
the guilds exerted on the side of morality, attaching, as
they did, the greatest importance to the moral character
of their members.


The great Drapers Company embraced in its member-
ship many women who trained apprentices and carried on
business, as did the male members. The rules of the
company provided that "every brother or sister of the fel-
lowship taking an apprentice shall present him to the
wardens, and shall pay 13/4." The craft guilds exerted
an admirable influence in the raising of woman to the same
plane of respect as that held by men. The equality which
was accorded them in these associations amou.iLcd to a
recognition of their intellectual and business capabilities
as being of the same order as those of the men. The
respect which was shown them is illustrated by a provi-
sion of the same company to which we have just referred.
It was ordered that when a "sister" died she should be
interred with fullest honors; the best pall was to be thrown
over her coffin, and the fraternity were to follow her to
the grave "with every respectful ceremony equally as the
men." On the death of a male member of a guild, his
widow was privileged to carry on his trade as one of the
guild; and if a woman married a man of the same trade
who did not have the freedom of the guild, he acquired it
by virtue of the marriage; but should a woman marry a
man of another trade, she was thereby excluded from her
guild connection. Such were the relations of woman to
the guilds. But Brentano notes an exception to the rule
that a widow who married again a man of the same trade
conferred the freedom of the guild upon him: "The wife
of a poulterer may carry on the said mystery after the
death of her husband, quite as freely as if her sire were
alive; and if she marries a man not of the mystery, and
wishes to carry it on, she must buy the (right of carrying
on the) mystery in the above described manner; as she
would be obliged to buy the mystery, if her husband was
of the mystery and had not yet bought it; for the husband


is not in the dominion of the wife, but the wife is in the
dominion of the husband."

The democratic nature of the guilds tended to lessen
class distinctions and to bring about a true fellowship on
the plane of equality. The associations, as has been
said, provided for their members with loving care, and fol-
lowed them with love to the grave: "the ordinances as
to this last act breathed the same spirit of equality among
her soi.s on which all her regulations were founded, and
which constituted her strength." In cases of insolvency
at death, the funerals of poor members were to be re-
s*pected equally with those of the rich. " The honor paid
to the dead was also associated with the duty of benevo-
lence;" thus, for instance, in the statutes of the fullers of
Lincoln, it is said: "When any of the brethren and sistren
die, the rest shall give a halfpenny each to buy bread to
be given to the poor, for the soul's sake of the dead."
The Grocers Company admitted women after marriage to
membership in their fraternity, and they "enter and are
looked upon as of the fraternity for ever, and are assisted
and made as one of us; and after the death of the hus-
band, the widow shall come to the dinner and pay 4od. if
she is able."

In the fourteenth century it was by no means unusual
for women, even though they were married, to carry on
successfully large commercial enterprises in their own
name and by their individual effort. In the Liber Albus
of London, which was compiled in the fourteenth century,
there occurs an ordinance relating to this subject: "and
where a woman ccrverte de baron follows craft within the
said city by herself apart, with which the husband in no
way intermeddles, such woman shall be bound as a single
woman as to all that concerns her said craft. And if the
husband and wife are impleaded in such case, the wife


shall plead as a single woman in the Court of Record,
and shall have her law and other advantages by way of
plea just as a single woman. And if she is condemned,
she shall be committed to prison until she shall have made
satisfaction; and neither the husband nor his goods shall
in such case be charged or interfered with." It will be
seen from this that women were accorded wide liberty in
the conduct of business and, whether married or single,
preserved their independence of action and control of prop-
erty. The right that woman enjoyed before the courts
of being sued and of suing was, however, a negative one.

The distresses to which women were subjected by the
peculiar form of liberty which they enjoyed is illustrated
'py the following quotation from an enactment in the Stat-
-ate of Laborers in the reign of Edward 111: "Every man
and woman of our realm of England, of what condition he
be, free or bond, able of body and within the age of three-
score years, not living in merchandise, not exercising any
craft nor having of his own whereof he may live, nor
proper land about whose tillage he may himself occupy,
and serving any other, if he be in convenient service (his
estate considered), be required to serve, he shall be
bounden to serve him which so shall him require. . . ,
And if any such man or woman being so required to serve
will not the same do, . . . he shall be committed to
the next gaol, there to remain under strait keeping, till he
find surety to serve in the form aforesaid."

All of the oppressive enactments regulating the wages
of laborers and fixing the maximum of the sum that they
were at liberty to accept affected women equally with
men. An enactment of Richard II. provided "that no
artificer, labourer, servant, nor victualler, man or woman,

Online LibraryMitchell CarrollWoman: in all ages and in all countries → online text (page 12 of 30)