As students of history, we understand that aspects of society change all of the time, and sometimes the change is rapid, and other times it is positively glacial. One of those aspects of culture that we have seen slow and gradual change pertains to women’s rights. Today, women have more rights than they did in the past, and they can have careers, but is this a novel concept? What were the lives of women like in other periods of history, like the medieval period? In Lynda Telford’s book, “Women in Medieval England,” she explores women’s lives from the Anglo-Saxons to the Tudors to give us a picture of what rights and responsibilities women had during this period.
I want to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. The title of this book is what drew me to it as I have read many books about individual women in medieval England, but never a comprehensive study. I wanted to learn more about women from every echelon of medieval society and how their lives differed from our own.
Telford begins her book by exploring the women who lived during the rule of the Anglo-Saxons. Reading about their experiences and the laws that dictated their lives is a critical aspect of Telford’s argument that medieval women did not have much more freedom than their counterparts from other eras. It may seem strange that as time moved on from the Anglo-Saxons to the medieval dynasties, the Plantagenets and the Tudors, women had less freedom to choose how they lived their lives. During the plague, women were called to work more to make up for men who died, but even that did not last long. Women were told how to live their lives from the men in their own families and even the church.
Telford has researched the topic of medieval women rigorously, and it shows. She has a passion for this subject, and it is demonstrated throughout this book with everything from letters to court cases. Every aspect of a woman’s life is taken into account to give her reader a better understanding of medieval society.
My problem with this book is that Telford focuses so heavily on the negative aspects of a woman’s life, like prostitution and domestic violence, that it is difficult to find the good parts of the life of a medieval woman. It was a bit too dark and depressing for my liking. I have read other books about strong and independent medieval women, but I do not see it here in this book. Telford is so focused on presenting her argument that Anglo-Saxon women had more freedom than medieval women that it obscures the facts that she does present. In short, she needed to show both the good elements and the harmful elements of the lives of medieval women to present a more balanced argument.
Overall, I think it was a decent book. This book is well researched, and it did present a side of medieval life that I was not expecting. I think it was a bit dark but informative. If you want a comprehensive study of women’s rights and lives during the medieval period, I recommend reading “Women in Medieval England” by Lynda Telford.