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Jennifer C. Ward's English Noblewomen in the Later Middle Ages

The chronicles, for example, "give the impression that women's main importance was in connection with marriage, children and inheritance (5)." Even when these chronicles are considered in association with the royal and legal records,

the emphasis is still seen to rest on the family, but the importance of land and lordship is substantiated, and it is possible to obtain more information [from the combination of chronicles and legal and royal records] on the lower ranks of the nobility (5).

Ward is not arguing that these traditional roles are without significance. To the contrary, the relatively limited power which these roles gave women also gave them the opportunity to expand their influence in other realms. For example, the sources Ward consults illustrate this significance with respect to the noblewoman's traditional relationship to land: "Marriage contracts, claims to inheritances and property settlements all emphasize the link between the noblewoman and land, a link which was vital because of the way in which land conferred power in the later Middle Ages" (5).

Ward admits to gaps in the record which must be inferred. For example, with respect to the role of the noblewoman in marriage, we read that

Factors such as beauty and character are occasionally mentioned and are likely to have been under-recorded. There was no place in legal documents and marriage contracts for such information, and the chroniclers who might have made such personal comments rarely did so. [On the other hand,] wills . . . sometimes provide a clue as to the feelings between husband and wife in the nature and distribution of the bequests and the provisions for burial (28).

Ward makes the interesting and significant observation that noblewomen played an important role---even in their execution of traditional roles---in giving the society a strong sense of order and continuity. Despite the fact that many marriages were arranged between the families...

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Jennifer C. Ward's English Noblewomen in the Later Middle Ages. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 20:48, July 27, 2017, from
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