Girls Growing Up In Later Medieval England

Teenage pregnancy and street gossip – but also lessons in housekeeping and good husbandry. Jeremy Goldberg draws on contemporary documents to assess the pluses and minuses of entering adulthood as a woman in the late Middle Ages.

Children, our grandparents were told, should he seen and not heard. The historian of the later Middle Ages finds that children, and particularly younger children, are rarely either seen or heard. And if this is not so true of boys, it is rather more true of girls. Most medieval sources are concerned with householders. Householders were exclusively adults and predominantly adult males, who enter administrative, judicial or fiscal records because they tended to carry obligations of service or taxation, or because they were held responsible for their own transgressions or those of their dependants, he they wives, servants or children. We lack the diaries, letters or autobiographical materials that do so much to illuminate the childhoods of at least a literate few from the end of the sixteenth century. Those sources that do exist, be they sermons or advice manuals, tend to be prescriptive rather than simply narrative.

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