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Throughout her career as a medieval historian, Eileen Power was engaged on a book about women in the Middle Ages. She did not live to write the book but some of the material she collected found its way into her popular lectures on medieval women. These lectures are now brought together, edited by M.M. Postan, and reveal the world in which women lived, were educated, worked Throughout her career as a medieval historian, Eileen Power was engaged on a book about women in the Middle Ages. She did not live to write the book but some of the material she collected found its way into her popular lectures on medieval women. These lectures are now brought together, edited by M.M. Postan, and reveal the world in which women lived, were educated, worked, and worshipped. Power gives a vivid account of the worlds of the lady, the peasant, the townswoman, and the nun. The result is a historical yet intimate picture of a period gone by yet with resonances for today. For this edition, an essay on Eileen Power, by Maxine Berg, is also included. It offers an intimate portrait of the writer and social historian.


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Throughout her career as a medieval historian, Eileen Power was engaged on a book about women in the Middle Ages. She did not live to write the book but some of the material she collected found its way into her popular lectures on medieval women. These lectures are now brought together, edited by M.M. Postan, and reveal the world in which women lived, were educated, worked Throughout her career as a medieval historian, Eileen Power was engaged on a book about women in the Middle Ages. She did not live to write the book but some of the material she collected found its way into her popular lectures on medieval women. These lectures are now brought together, edited by M.M. Postan, and reveal the world in which women lived, were educated, worked, and worshipped. Power gives a vivid account of the worlds of the lady, the peasant, the townswoman, and the nun. The result is a historical yet intimate picture of a period gone by yet with resonances for today. For this edition, an essay on Eileen Power, by Maxine Berg, is also included. It offers an intimate portrait of the writer and social historian.

30 review for Medieval Women

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    This would have been Eileen Power’s magnum opus had she lived to complete it. Sadly she died of heart failure at only 51 in 1940. She had been working on a book about medieval women for many years; on the way writing about the wool trade, nunneries and medieval people. Here we have her notes and part finished work on women, put together after her death. Eileen Power herself is an interesting character, going to Girton College Cambridge on a scholarship and an early supporter of the suffragettes. This would have been Eileen Power’s magnum opus had she lived to complete it. Sadly she died of heart failure at only 51 in 1940. She had been working on a book about medieval women for many years; on the way writing about the wool trade, nunneries and medieval people. Here we have her notes and part finished work on women, put together after her death. Eileen Power herself is an interesting character, going to Girton College Cambridge on a scholarship and an early supporter of the suffragettes. She taught at Cambridge and the LSE, pushing to include women’s history in the curriculum and to modernise the teaching of medieval and economic and social history. After the First World War Power won a prestigious travel scholarship (the first woman to do so). Not without some opposition. Power wrote of her interview with Sir Cooper Perry, the Vice Chancellor of London University; “Sir Cooper Perry obviously did not take women’s work very seriously (or perhaps it was me he didn’t take seriously!) One of his obiter dicta was “I have often been amused by women historians; so many of the springs of human action must be hidden from them.” He also suggested that I might defeat the objects of the trust (sic) by subsequently committing matrimony, so I suppose he keeps his wife in purdah: anyway these silly remarks would not be made to male candidates.” Nevertheless Power got the scholarship and spent time travelling in China and India. She saw the aftermath of the Amritsar massacre, met Ghandi and attended the Nagpur Congress. Power also mixed in bohemian and intellectual circles in London. She was a member of the well-known Gargoyle Club, but resigned because when she was showing Paul Robeson around London, he was refused admittance. Power was a good historian with a wide range of interests who opened a window on the lives of medieval women. This work has chapters on nunneries, education, noblewomen, working women and the medieval conception of women. There is a great deal to learn from this book and Power explodes some of the myths about medieval women, examining the two main sources of ideas about women; the Church and the Aristocracy. She acknowledges that it is very difficult to gain significant information about the lives of the labouring poor; but Power was one of the early pioneers using paleology and detailed court and church records to glean small amounts of information. There is interesting reflection on the cult of Mary and the ideas surrounding courtly love. The ideas relating to priories and nunneries being spaces for women are interesting. More interesting was the information about Christine de Pizan (1364-1430), a writer. She was married at 14, had three children and was a widow at 25. She had to support her family (including her mother) and did it by writing. She entered into controversies with male writers about the role of women and wrote books in defence of women and advising women. Simone de Beauvoir commented that de Pizan’s work is “the first time we see a woman take up her pen in defence of her sex". She also collaborated with other women. Power brings to light parts of history previously overlooked.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Amalie

    I loved this book! I served the purpose. This good starting point for those with interest in the High Medieval Ages and womens place in society. Illustrations in this book are great. This is divided into five sections on attitudes toward women, aristocratic women, working women, education, and nuns. I found the passages on education and guilds were interesting.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tina

    She gives a good and clear perspective of the life of a medieval woman. With none of the martyred "poor woman of history" schtick that a great many historical authors tend to go for. She gives a good and clear perspective of the life of a medieval woman. With none of the martyred "poor woman of history" schtick that a great many historical authors tend to go for.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Juliette

    Oh, little book, how can you be so good? Medieval Women is a scant 91 pages that Power’s widower compiled from her lectures. I wish Power had been able to write the book she planned, but even so, this text is a rich secondary source. I was most interested in the chapter on “Working Women,” but the final chapter on “Nunneries” (Power’s primary interest) was interesting — albeit sad. The chapter on upper class women was interesting, but not terribly surprising to anyone who knows about the Pastons Oh, little book, how can you be so good? Medieval Women is a scant 91 pages that Power’s widower compiled from her lectures. I wish Power had been able to write the book she planned, but even so, this text is a rich secondary source. I was most interested in the chapter on “Working Women,” but the final chapter on “Nunneries” (Power’s primary interest) was interesting — albeit sad. The chapter on upper class women was interesting, but not terribly surprising to anyone who knows about the Pastons or who sat down and thought about ladies’ duties for a few minutes. My interest is whetted.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dhana

    A social history of prominent and ordinary women from 450 - 1500. Absolutely fascinating book covering both their spiritual & temporal attitudes to their lives and their views on sex, marriage & motherhood.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Briana

    Although this book is old by academic standards (Power passed away in 1940, and her husband published these lectures 1975), Medieval Women still offers a useful and accessible overview of women in the Middle Ages. The book is divided into three chapters that succinctly cover the options women had during the Middle Ages—lady, peasant, or nun—and two more chapters that cover general ideas about women during the period and education for women. Readers may pick and choose which sections are most int Although this book is old by academic standards (Power passed away in 1940, and her husband published these lectures 1975), Medieval Women still offers a useful and accessible overview of women in the Middle Ages. The book is divided into three chapters that succinctly cover the options women had during the Middle Ages—lady, peasant, or nun—and two more chapters that cover general ideas about women during the period and education for women. Readers may pick and choose which sections are most interesting to them, or read the book in order. Though each lecture is relatively short (and nicely broken up with an assortment of reproductions of medieval artwork), Power concisely addresses the major points of each topic and refutes the most common myths. She explains, for example, that not as many women were educated by nuns as people might think, and that the ideas presented about women in medieval texts (primarily written by male nobles and clergy) may not accurately reflect how women acted or were perceived in everyday life—particularly by peasants who would not have access to those texts. Once in a while Power’s arguments do seem dated. For instance, she praises the aim of chivalry to “raise up” women as people to be served or venerated, with the argument that at least this was better than the tendency to see women as sinful descendants of Eve. Today, many scholars argue that actually chivalry did little to expand roles for women. However, the book as a whole is generally accurate. M. M. Postman did some minor editing to account for new research done between Power’s death and the publication of her lectures. Also, the historical facts tend to hold, while Power’s interpretation of them is often what is outdated. Medieval Women is a thoughtful, highly readable introduction to its topic. Readers already deeply familiar with the history and literature of the Middle Ages will probably not find a lot of that is new here. But readers looking to start learning about women of the Middle Ages will do well to start here.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Flo

    Fascinating book. I read it years ago and kept it for years so I could read it again but probably gave this book away hoping someone else would enjoy it as much as I did. Eileen Power died in 1940 and Medieval Women was collated by her historian husband, M. M. Postan, from her notes and lectures into a social history relevant today. She wrote refreshingly well, she brought alive women who lived so long ago we no longer understand their mindset and yet somehow they are still women with similar li Fascinating book. I read it years ago and kept it for years so I could read it again but probably gave this book away hoping someone else would enjoy it as much as I did. Eileen Power died in 1940 and Medieval Women was collated by her historian husband, M. M. Postan, from her notes and lectures into a social history relevant today. She wrote refreshingly well, she brought alive women who lived so long ago we no longer understand their mindset and yet somehow they are still women with similar likes and dislikes but with strange quirks and fears. I especially liked the chapter on the nuns who tattled to the visiting mother superior on their sister nuns for the most minor transgressions. This part reads as if it happened now; so 21st century! I have also read her Medieval People which I have to add to this Goodreads list and which is available as a free public domain ebook from Amazon, digitalized by volunteers. Why not Medieval Women as an ebook too? For anyone who likes history--especially social history, this is a wonderful book. It's like stepping into a time capsule and being right there--what? 800 or so years ago. A delight.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Heidi

    Yes, I'm making headway into my medieval research, actually finished a book! This one was pretty good, and it gave me some ideas for my novel, which is helpful, too. Her writing style is kind of quirky, though, with mixed styles from sentence sentence and lack of clarity between quotes and her own language. But it seemed well researched, fairly objective (her opinion is there in her quirkiness, but only inasmuch as it seems to reflect the people's own perceptions of their culture. That is, she d Yes, I'm making headway into my medieval research, actually finished a book! This one was pretty good, and it gave me some ideas for my novel, which is helpful, too. Her writing style is kind of quirky, though, with mixed styles from sentence sentence and lack of clarity between quotes and her own language. But it seemed well researched, fairly objective (her opinion is there in her quirkiness, but only inasmuch as it seems to reflect the people's own perceptions of their culture. That is, she doesn't seem to be judging anything by modern or contemporary standards), and enlightening about some misconceptions.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Hannah Taylor

    Brief, informative, but Eileen Power doesn't explore her references and leaves you hanging without fully divulging her knowledge. However, a good introduction to the topic of women in the Middle Ages. Brief, informative, but Eileen Power doesn't explore her references and leaves you hanging without fully divulging her knowledge. However, a good introduction to the topic of women in the Middle Ages.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Victoria Kennedy

    An interesting look at the life of women in the Middle Ages. Firstly, an interesting aspect of Eileen's work is that the book isn't something she actually assembled herself, unfortunately. Rather, it was put together after her death, with the essays she composed compiled into a book. How much this influences and impacts how the book is read and consumed is unknown, but it is interesting to wonder how different the book would be had it been something she made herself. That piece of information asi An interesting look at the life of women in the Middle Ages. Firstly, an interesting aspect of Eileen's work is that the book isn't something she actually assembled herself, unfortunately. Rather, it was put together after her death, with the essays she composed compiled into a book. How much this influences and impacts how the book is read and consumed is unknown, but it is interesting to wonder how different the book would be had it been something she made herself. That piece of information aside, the book gives an excellent look at how women acted and were treated in the Middle Ages, and the different Medieval views of their role within society. While prior knowledge of the Medieval era would be beneficial going into the book, it's not really necessary. The book is very accessible to those who are looking to know more about the era. It says a great deal about an author's writing style if they are able to write for both academics and the regular reader, which is exactly what Eileen is able to do. Eileen gives a great insight into the medieval world, and the role of women in the different social castes, and how this developed throughout the period. What's great is that she mainly references medieval and early-modern sources on the different topics, rather than being influenced by more modern ideals and beliefs of the era. If you are interested in history, medieval history and women's history, this is a fantastic book to read. It's a relatively quick and easy read if you're looking to learn a little something, or a just gradually getting into learning about the era. A must-read for anyone with an interest in history and women's history.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Alice Gausden

    Found this in my university library and it is an absolutely atrocious piece of scholarship. Easily the worst I've ever come across. Unbelievable. Like it could have been written by a 13 year old. To start off with, there are no footnotes, she makes blind assertions without supporting her argument with pieces of evidence and she accepts others claims completely uncritically while neither explaining them, referencing them, or supporting them herself. Information is given. (eg that around diet) but Found this in my university library and it is an absolutely atrocious piece of scholarship. Easily the worst I've ever come across. Unbelievable. Like it could have been written by a 13 year old. To start off with, there are no footnotes, she makes blind assertions without supporting her argument with pieces of evidence and she accepts others claims completely uncritically while neither explaining them, referencing them, or supporting them herself. Information is given. (eg that around diet) but it is not constructed in a manner in which says anything particularly useful. E. G. "the chief food in lent was dried fish". So? What point are you trying to make? Where does this information come from? What's the relevance of it? Why should we care?

  12. 4 out of 5

    Leah Cossette

    Short and yet incredibly informative, this slight volume packs a punch that some of it's longer cousins lack. I've read a number of histories of medieval women, but none so informative and so concise. There are only five chapters (I skipped the rather long author biography at the beginning), each addressing a different aspect of women's lives in the middle ages. While it has a lot of the same information as Women at Work in the Middle Ages or Women in the Middle Ages, Power's style is so direct Short and yet incredibly informative, this slight volume packs a punch that some of it's longer cousins lack. I've read a number of histories of medieval women, but none so informative and so concise. There are only five chapters (I skipped the rather long author biography at the beginning), each addressing a different aspect of women's lives in the middle ages. While it has a lot of the same information as Women at Work in the Middle Ages or Women in the Middle Ages, Power's style is so direct and to the point that I found I enjoyed it a great deal more. Highly recommend.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Erika

    This book is a series of lectures and notes that were written up by Power's husband after her death. The editing is superb, and it reads like a book that was written and published as a book. Because Power was an economist, she was mostly interested in women's work and contribution to the economy. The book was good for that aspect but didn't delve into everyday life. This book is a series of lectures and notes that were written up by Power's husband after her death. The editing is superb, and it reads like a book that was written and published as a book. Because Power was an economist, she was mostly interested in women's work and contribution to the economy. The book was good for that aspect but didn't delve into everyday life.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Joanna Arman

    If only Mrs Power had lived longer and completed this book (compiled from her Lectures), but I doubt it could have been any better. Must read for any student of Women's history, and great for the general reader as well. If only Mrs Power had lived longer and completed this book (compiled from her Lectures), but I doubt it could have been any better. Must read for any student of Women's history, and great for the general reader as well.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne Lisanti

    Very enjoyable scholarly treatise based upon the author's lectures on the topic of medieval women's lives, work and education. I thought it was well researched and appreciated the references to her sources. Very enjoyable scholarly treatise based upon the author's lectures on the topic of medieval women's lives, work and education. I thought it was well researched and appreciated the references to her sources.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sue Gross

    a small book, interesting tho. In these times a single woman could not have ownership, but if/when husband died, she could take over his business, and land would go into her name. More progressive that I'd thought. BUT if she re-married, it goes to him. a small book, interesting tho. In these times a single woman could not have ownership, but if/when husband died, she could take over his business, and land would go into her name. More progressive that I'd thought. BUT if she re-married, it goes to him.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Robert Spencer

    A slender volume but very enjoyable to read. How often can one say that of a history text. The charm of this book is that it manages to throw up unexpected anecdotes of how women were much more independent and much less silent than we moderns might have realised.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Marie

    Illuminating! Adds depth and context to both novels and nonfiction I've read. Illuminating! Adds depth and context to both novels and nonfiction I've read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kaitie

    Groundbreaking social history writing, by a WOMAN ???? YES PLEASE.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Pandora Bannister

    Really interesting read and great as easy to read in one sitting.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Brit

    Fantastic book if you need a good jumping off point for learning about women from the Medieval Ages. Also includes a good amount of artworks for reference.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Seonaid

    A short and concise collection of essays on the role of women in the Middle Ages, covering those who rule, those who toil and those who pray, this book is based on a series of lectures given by Eileen Power in the 1930s. It is duly fascinating, though a little diluted in places; I think there are other books by Power which analyse the period more fully - this is definitely just a taster. Power explores Medieval ideas about women, and then analyses the reality for the three main groups of women, l A short and concise collection of essays on the role of women in the Middle Ages, covering those who rule, those who toil and those who pray, this book is based on a series of lectures given by Eileen Power in the 1930s. It is duly fascinating, though a little diluted in places; I think there are other books by Power which analyse the period more fully - this is definitely just a taster. Power explores Medieval ideas about women, and then analyses the reality for the three main groups of women, leading to some surprising revelations. For example, aristocratic women had to be exceptionally good managers, able to run households and land, hire and fire staff, manage large groups of employees, look after the sick and keep a close eye on the morals of their servants. Working women could both be and take on apprentices and run not only their husband's business, but be the Medieval equivalent of sole traders now, and life in the convent did not have to be the life of solitude and loneliness it is so often portrayed as, but offered career opportunities, and a chance to become highly educated. The book is not without its flashes of humour, and so we learn of the candle-makers of Nottingham who were tried in the Assizes for selling candles without wicks, and introduced the word Huckster to the language, meaning a retailer who cannot be trusted; and the wonderful story of the nuns of Lincoln who did not take well to a Papal Bull denouncing their manner of dress, and who chased the Bishop out of the convent gates, throwing the Bull at his head. But who can seriously take fashion advice from a man who wears a red velvet cap and ruby slippers? Power's book is an excellent introduction to further study on the life and roles of women in a period in which many history books prefer to ignore their very existence. Highly recommended.

  23. 5 out of 5

    James

    If this isn’t on syllabi across the English-speaking Medievalist world, it ought to be. A quick introduction to the lives of women in the middle ages. I learned more in these 91 pages than in books six times its size. Direct and to the point, this collection of writings and lectures read so fresh that it is hard to imagine they are over 70 years old. It breaks down the various women from the three traditional estates of medieval society, those who rule, those who toil, and those who pray. It tea If this isn’t on syllabi across the English-speaking Medievalist world, it ought to be. A quick introduction to the lives of women in the middle ages. I learned more in these 91 pages than in books six times its size. Direct and to the point, this collection of writings and lectures read so fresh that it is hard to imagine they are over 70 years old. It breaks down the various women from the three traditional estates of medieval society, those who rule, those who toil, and those who pray. It teaches you how they learned (most aristocratic women could read and even conservatives encouraged it), how they worked (having multiple jobs and even having whole industries to themselves, silk and spinning for instance), and how they were seen by their society (everything from the temptress Eve right through to the Blessed Virgin). The life of the femme sole was particularly interesting. The big thing for me was when Ms. Power revealed what it meant to be a noble woman in charge of household. It meant effectively property manager, who to hire/fire, what to budget/buy, protect estates from siege, etc; you know, no big deal. I think many historians are wont to portray the Lady as some romance loving twit who did nothing, but watch her servants labor, when actually it was serious friggin’ managerial work. My only complaint-the same I have of most English historians-it tends to be overly focused in England. But, as I said, that’s normal for them.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    Yes, women in the middle ages lived more restricted lives than women today. Natch. But they were also landowners, business owners, guildmembers, and apprentices. This volume collects a series of Eileen Power's lectures--each on a different class of women. The writing is easy and more popular than academic. It's also a bit quaint in some of the language, having been written in the '20s. I'm currently reading another Powers book, Medieval People, and am enjoying it greatly. I'd also like to find he Yes, women in the middle ages lived more restricted lives than women today. Natch. But they were also landowners, business owners, guildmembers, and apprentices. This volume collects a series of Eileen Power's lectures--each on a different class of women. The writing is easy and more popular than academic. It's also a bit quaint in some of the language, having been written in the '20s. I'm currently reading another Powers book, Medieval People, and am enjoying it greatly. I'd also like to find her work on medieval English nunneries.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Paula

    A bit repetitive and definitely in need of an update (which, actually, is what the book calls for in the introduction), this book does give specific details from letter and records still in existence of what duties women performed outside of what typically is attributed as the natural role of the medieval woman. It goes beyond what women of high ranks did, which was the focus of Peace-Weavers and Shield-Maidens, and both incorporates and goes beyond the scant literature available from that time.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    Understandably there isn't a lot written on the subject of women in the Middle Ages as they were considered an inferior bunch. The book however presents situations where women were seen in business and trade, and holding posts of more power than assumed, but continues to glaze over the topic at hand with, in my opinion, not much more than what we have already learned in general understanding. Perhaps I was hoping for more - the Rosetta Stone of medieval women, but alas, such a thing cannot exist Understandably there isn't a lot written on the subject of women in the Middle Ages as they were considered an inferior bunch. The book however presents situations where women were seen in business and trade, and holding posts of more power than assumed, but continues to glaze over the topic at hand with, in my opinion, not much more than what we have already learned in general understanding. Perhaps I was hoping for more - the Rosetta Stone of medieval women, but alas, such a thing cannot exist - a paradox of the whole system.

  27. 5 out of 5

    John

    This small volume is an excellent picture of the lives of women in the Middle ages, particularly in England. Eileen Power is one of the most well-respected medievalists of the early 20th century, a time when it was difficult for women to be taken seriously in academia. The Peface to the volume is a long synopsis of Power's life, and is extremely worth reading to get a feel for the obstacles Dr. Power faced in her career. This small volume is an excellent picture of the lives of women in the Middle ages, particularly in England. Eileen Power is one of the most well-respected medievalists of the early 20th century, a time when it was difficult for women to be taken seriously in academia. The Peface to the volume is a long synopsis of Power's life, and is extremely worth reading to get a feel for the obstacles Dr. Power faced in her career.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    Eileen Power was a history and economics scholar in the early 1900's who wrote extensively. This book is a collection of essays gathered by her husband after her death in 1940 about women in medieval Europe it is fascinating while at times difficult to read. At just over 100 pages total its a great opportunity to get in a history lesson. My favorite was the last essay entitled "Nunneries" which was very amusing. Eileen Power was a history and economics scholar in the early 1900's who wrote extensively. This book is a collection of essays gathered by her husband after her death in 1940 about women in medieval Europe it is fascinating while at times difficult to read. At just over 100 pages total its a great opportunity to get in a history lesson. My favorite was the last essay entitled "Nunneries" which was very amusing.

  29. 5 out of 5

    K.

    This is a brief collection of essays by the great medievalist, Eileen Power. The essays are basically book talks in which she summarizes her longer works. Helpful, especially if you haven't read the longer works. But there's nothing here that she hasn't said elsewhere, so if you've read her books, you don't need this one. This is a brief collection of essays by the great medievalist, Eileen Power. The essays are basically book talks in which she summarizes her longer works. Helpful, especially if you haven't read the longer works. But there's nothing here that she hasn't said elsewhere, so if you've read her books, you don't need this one.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Clare

    Excellent book. I particularly loved the sideways look at a nunnery. Whenever I'm in church now I can't help thinking of the tittivillus(?) demon gathering up all the letters to take to satan for a marathon scrabble session... Excellent book. I particularly loved the sideways look at a nunnery. Whenever I'm in church now I can't help thinking of the tittivillus(?) demon gathering up all the letters to take to satan for a marathon scrabble session...

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