Class and Gender Issues in Medieval Europe.

Essay by NatsukoCollege, UndergraduateA, October 2003

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In the Middle Ages two things determined one's opportunities in life--gender and social class. Throughout history upper class men have had more chances to move up in life, while women of all classes (especially the poor) did not have many opportunities to change their status. Women's choices and opportunities were different according to social status--upper classes (nobility), middle classes (guildswomen, merchants wives) and the poorest classes of the country and town. Women of the upper classes found it difficult to move up outside of marriage although they had more opportunities because of the money and land they held for themselves or their husbands. The consequences for the upper classes weren't as harsh because they still retained the privileges of the rich. Middle class women also depended on marriage to move up, but they had a few more choices because they were expected to be more useful in the town. They could enter guilds in the earlier Middle Ages, but later on they found it much more difficult to escape the social boundaries and do things on their own.

The poor women moving from the country to the town were the most vulnerable of all classes of women. They too relied on marriage to move up in the world but they could also be a servant for most of their lives or become a prostitute and not get married. These women were the most disparaged and, as usual, the poor of all genders were ignored or hated by the rich upper class.

Women of the upper class and noblewomen had many opportunities when it came to money. Since they were endowed with both land and capital their families made sure to marry them well and make sure that the husband was a good match; the husband's family also made sure that...