Relations between men and women in the Middle Ages

We say “Middle Ages” and mentally add “gloomy”. Indeed, the Inquisition, witch hunts and various epidemics were not the most joyful reality.

How did the history of relations between a man and a woman unfold against this background?

The marriage was concluded very early: the girls were married from the age of twelve, the young man was supposed to be fourteen. Of course, there was no question of feelings. Parents were engaged in the selection of a partner, and they were pursuing property or political interests.

Pre-Christian era

At that time, forms of cohabitation were popular in Europe, which had nothing to do with church marriage. Men and women simply “entered into” a more or less long-term sexual union, and the “family”, in addition to the couple and their common children, also included temporary concubines of the husband. At the same time, women had almost no rights and were considered property.

Early middle ages

In the 7th – 12th centuries, the family model began to change. The ideal, of course, was the Church, which extended its influence on the relationship between a man and a woman.

Christ is the head of the Church; the husband is the head of the family. Sex is a priori sinful, but in marriage this sin became “forgivable”, because it served for the birth of children. Of course, sexual intercourse for pleasure was considered a disgusting fornication.

The woman, in general, remained in the same position: an almost powerless creature, sinful in nature. The only way to get rid of this sin is to diligently bear children, obey your husband, be submissive and silent. As one nobleman wrote boastfully, “if the husband teaches [читай: поколачивает] wife, then she must accept it humbly, like a dog, at which the owner throws stones, and she wags her tail and runs after him. ”

By the way, reading books and, in general, self-education for women was considered disagreeable. Only nuns or relatively independent noble ladies could get a more or less tolerable education.

Late middle ages

In the XII-XIV centuries, the institution of marriage was developed and regulated by the Church to the slightest nuance. It became one of the Sacraments and was declared sacred.

This is a time of paradoxes. Despite the fact that adultery was considered a grave sin and was punishable by church courts (including the death penalty), only women were punished.

And the husbands? But among husbands, every third had mistresses and bastards (illegitimate children. – Note. ed.). In cities and large villages, brothels existed completely legally. Moreover, their owners could well have been important nobles and clergy.

Visiting prostitutes was not condemned by anyone. On the contrary, if a young man did not visit the brothel, they would gossip about him and suspect of impotence.

The Cult of the Beautiful Lady

Oh, this ideal was worshiped by every self-respecting knight! But the lady was usually chosen from among the married, so that she was both beautiful and inaccessible. The canzons and the Albs were really dedicated to her, they fought in tournaments in her honor and went on a crusade, etc. That did not prevent the noble knight from raising his hand against his lawful wife or exiling her to a monastery.


In general, one can only sympathize with the women who lived in those days, and rejoice at the present freedom, and if not absolute, but still the equality of the sexes.

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