Gender roles were clearly defined in Europe during the medieval period from the 5th century CE to the 15th century CE. For most people, gender determined much about the course his or her life would take. A person's life was also highly dependent on his parents' lives, because wealth and income had a significant influence on people's lives. Medieval Europe was largely divided between the haves and the have-nots; namely, those of noble birth and those of peasant birth.
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Women born of peasants generally led some of the most difficult lives in medieval Europe. All were expected to marry, usually in their mid- to late teens. They were then expected to either help their husbands in the fields or, if the family did not work in agriculture, take up a trade. They could be millers, work in a tavern or provide services as a spinner. The were expected to take care of the cooking both before and after work as well. The medieval Anglican church taught that women were to be subservient to men in general, but especially to both their husband and their father.
A peasant man in medieval Europe basically had his life planned for him. Around age 7, a boy would attend school -- a luxury not extended to girls -- but only until he was old enough to be of use to his father in his trade. This usually meant work in the fields as a farmer, though many were also millers, blacksmiths and tavern owners. His marriage would be arranged for him, and when his father died he would take over his work. Men legally owned their wives and children, and were considered the final authority in any dispute.
A noblewoman was expected to be subservient to her husband, but in most other regards she was given the same respect as a man. If a death left the woman as the sole landowner, she was considered equal in rights to a man. Landowning women were even known to lead soldiers into battle to defend their lands, a role usually reserved for men. Noble marriages, like peasant marriages, were all prearranged, and many young girls were even used as pawns to bring powerful families together.
Noblemen had all the rights in medieval Europe. They owned land, had subservient peasants, and were in legal possession of their wives. Sons of noblemen could marry into new land, take over their father's estate, or join the knighthood and serve a lord, often their own fathers. Noblemen had to deal with all problems, concerns and defence of the land they owned and the people who inhabited it.
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