Role of Women in the Medieval Ages



Women in the Middle Ages, a period of European history from around the 5th century to the 15th century, held a difficult position in society whether they were nobles (rich) or peasants (poor) . Women were totally dominated/controlled by the male members of their family. They were expected to constantly obey not only their father, but also their brothers and any other male members of the family. They were confined to household tasks such as cooking and baking bread, as well as conform to their males' demands. They held active roles in society, although their efforts were affected by their social class, martial status and by the place and time in which they lived.






Task #1:  After reading up about medieval women in the process section (Task #1 reading only) click the link below to complete an interactive crossword puzzle.


  • Have teacher check for completion
  • Go back to the process tab.


Task #2:  After completing your selected reading jot down 3 interesting facts and be prepared to share them with the class.

  • Have teacher check for completion
  • Share information with class.


Task #3:  After completing both tasks:

  • On a separate piece of paper write down words from the puzzle and process section that were new/unfamiliar to you. (must find at least 5 new words)
  • After completing this list look up these words either in a dictionary or on


Example:  1. Word - (part of speech) definition

1.  Apple- (noun) type of fruit.

  • Have teacher check for completion


If you finish early with both tasks feel free to go to this website to play some cool medieval themed games! 


Task #1 Reading:  

Marital Status

women of the middle ages had very little, if any, choice in who her husband could be. They were expected to present a dowry to their groom that would benefit his family. Through marriage, law gave a husband full rights over his wife.



  • produce children

  • run kitchen and supply meals

  • manage house affairs

  • take up mens jobs in times of crisis


Could not...

  • sue

  • make a will

  • appear in court

  • deal in family finances

 Social Status


A woman's social status delegated what actions she would most likely take in her lifetime and the responsibilities she had to tend to.


Women who owned land and were free

  • organize defense of estate when under attack
    • supervise workers

    • Make medicine and watch over the sick

    • supervise the repair of damages and buying new things

  1. Religious Women

    • manage church services

    • supervise novices

    • Take care of alms giving

  2. Women citizens whose families provided burgesses

    • maintain townhouses

    • assist husband in business

    • serve an apprenticeship

  3. women of lower estate

    • street vend

    • nursing

  4. peasants

    • share in husband's labor

    • Make family's clothes and food from raw materials

    • care for farm animals



Task #2 Reading

The Medieval Lady 



Girls were educated very differently from boys. They usually lived away from home, in a monastery or another castle. There they were taught how to sew, read and write Latin, to sing, and to do many other "feminine" practices. Girlhood did not last long. Some young girls were engaged to men when they were as young as six or seven years old. Usually girls were married by the time they were fourteen. 


Young noblewomen had little say in who they were married to or when they were married. Marriage was used to seal political ties and obtain greater wealth by most people in the upper classes. In exchange for a dowry, which usually consisted of a set amount of wealth, the medieval lady got one third of her husband's estate when he died. However, marriage was not always good for a woman. When she was married, she was said "to come under the rod". This meant that she had virtually no rights. She could not sue, appear in court, make a will, or do many other things that women today take for granted. Before she could do these things she had to get the consent of her husband. Once her husband died, she regained most of these rights. 


Usually a woman had all her children by the time she was twenty. Giving birth was very dangerous and many women did not survive the process. Once the child was born, the lady either nursed it herself, or she would hire a wet nurse to do the task. The lady was also in charge of the servants who took care of the children. 




Besides caring for the children, the medieval lady also had many other duties. Ladies also generally were in charge of the castle's kitchen and meals. She oversaw the cooks and often kept accounts and made menus for it. She was in charge of entertaining guests that arrived at the castle. Additionally, she was often put in charge of the castle in the lord's absence. Ladies generally proved quite adept at managing the castle's affairs when the lord was gone. In times of crisis, ladies also took over jobs that a man usually filled. Sometimes they defended their castles against sieges or led armies on the battlefield. A lady named Matilda, William the Conqueror's grand-daughter, led an army against Stephen of Blois and won a few battles. 


Medieval ladies generally radiated wealth and status. They owned expensive clothes made with exotic material that followed the latest fashion. They also wore jewelry of gold or silver with jewels embedded in them. They spread perfume around their rooms and their bodies to ward off foul smells. Sometimes, they had their own bedroom in the castle. 


Ladies did many different things for fun. Unlike men, ladies didn't usually attend a boar or deer hunt. However, they often enjoyed hunting with trained falcons. Another outdoor activity was going on picnics. Sometimes picnics and falconry were combined. They also liked to play board games such as chess. 



  • Completion of both tasks.
  • Active participation 
  • No disruptions
  • Used time effectively in class

Now that you have completed the crossword puzzle and read the information, you should have a better understanding of the role women played in middle aged society.

The work of young medieval centered mainly in the home. Once women married their role changed and they had to conform to meet the needs of their husband. Widowed women often took on the work of their husbands' trades.

The few women that did work generally had a much lower pay rate and many more restrictions than the men that shared their trade. Equality of women and work were in inverse to their social positions.