The role of married women in the 14th century was generally a submissive one, whatever the social standing of the woman. Whether married to a serf or the wife a nobleman, women were expected to obey their husbands without question and produce a brood of healthy children and preferably sons and heirs.
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Love and Marriage
Life expectancy in Medieval times was lower than it is now due to disease, poverty and poor nutrition. As a result, women usually married very young, some as young as 7 years old, with the consent of parents. Society took a harsh view of women who reached their early 20s without getting married, regarding them as "old maids." Arranged marriages were common, particularly in wealthier households. Death in childbirth was a regular occurrence in the 14th century and married women often died young as a result.
Career choices for 14th century women were limited to marriage and motherhood. Few women were taught to write or to read, although some wealthier merchant and noblewomen were taught basic numeracy and literacy skills. The 14th century married housewife took charge of all cooking, cleaning and laundry in the household. She would usually also look after the household's animals, milk the cow and tend the vegetable garden. Many women also made clothes for the entire household. Wealthier women employed servants to carry out some of these tasks.
The Church was the foundation of 14th century life and everyone attended church services several times a week. The social life of all towns and villages revolved around the church and, to a degree, the church's view of married women affected how they were treated by society. The Roman Catholic church held sway over the western world in the 14th century and its contemporary view was that women were weak and sinful.
Clothing options in the 14th century were limited and married peasant women usually wore simple shifts or smocks. Women married to wealthy merchants wore elaborate dresses made from exotic silk and velvet fabrics. Natural cosmetics made from fruit and vegetable dyes or minerals were the only make-up options. Married women were expected to dress modestly and cover all parts of their bodies. Unmarried women were permitted to leave their hair uncovered, but after marriage a head dress was mandatory.
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