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Baldwin, M. W. (ed.) / Volume I: The first hundred years

I: Western Europe on the eve of the Crusades,   pp. [2]-29 PDF (56.0 KB)

Page 16

atoning for one's sins. The crusades with their plenary indulgences were
particularly useful for this purpose. 
 The women of the feudal class held a rather ambiguous position. A woman
was never her own mistress. Before marriage she was in the care of her father;
then she passed into the custody of her husband; if he died, she was the
ward of her lord or her eldest son. A woman could not do homage or hold a
fief in her own hands though she could carry one to her husband. Her testimony
was unacceptable in court except in respect to a rape committed on her or
the murder of her husband in her presence. She had no rights against her
husband. He could dispose of her property and beat her whenever she annoyed
him. The chansons de geste show clearly that feudal husbands beat their wives
savagely with no qualms of conscience. Moreover, the marriage bond was far
from firm. Although the church consistently preached the permanence of marriage,
by the eleventh century it had still failed to convince the feudal class
that unwanted wives could not be calmly laid aside. Yet there is a brighter
side to the picture. Although a wife had no rights against her husband, she
enjoyed his status as against all others. When her lord was away, the lady
was the mistress of the flef. She also ruled her side of the household —
the women and girls who spun and wove. Here it seems she was little gentler
than her husband. Church councils continually decreed that it was mortal
sin for a lady to beat her maids to death. More over there is evidence that
the feudal lady used the bottle as gaily as her spouse. The chansons abound
in tales of drunken ladies and their misadventures. 
 A simple knight and his lady usually lived in a crude wooden house surrounded
by a moat and palisade. A baron would possess at least one castle. In the
eleventh century most castles were of what is termed the motte-and-bailey
type. The lord's peasants would dig a circular ditch some nine or ten feet
deep and perhaps thirty feet wide, piling the excavated earth into a mound
encircled by the ditch. On the inner edge of the ditch or moat and around
the top of the mound they would erect palisades. Then on the summit of the
mound inside the palisade would be built a wooden tower of two or three stories.
The lowest floor would be used for storing supplies and prisoners. On the
second floor would be the hail where the lord transacted business, entertained
guests, and feasted with his retainers. In it the retainers and servants
slept at night. On the third floor the lord and lady would have their chamber
where they reposed in a great bed, while their personal servants slept 

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