Monday, November 1, 2010

Highborn Women in the Middle Ages

You are rich, your father is the Earl of Flanders, and you have highborn French, English and German ancestors. If that isn’t enough, you’re beautiful and well-educated for a sixteen-year-old woman. Your world is perfect, right? Wrong!

You have an ambitious cousin trying to court you without your father’s permission. Why should he care about consanguineous laws? When you finally tell him to get lost, that you’re in love with a nice young Englishman, what does he do? He attacks you as you come out of church one morning, rips your best gown, throws you on the ground and leans over to slap you several times for emphasis. Instead of kidnaping you, so you two could marry, what does he do? He just rides off, the bastard (figuratively and literally)!

Who are the young lovers?

Matilda and her soon-to-be-husband, William the Conqueror.

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Few noble marriages lasted longer than fifteen years. When a wife dies in childbirth, the husband would take a second wife or third, and so on, each much younger. When the elder husband dies, the last wife would often take a younger husband to take care of the estate.

Queen Eleanor, wife of Henry II, introduced silk worms into her province of Aquitaine.

Berengaria of Navarre, wife of Richard I never set a foot in England.

Once when King John suspected his second wife, Isabella of Angorilme, of having a lover, he had the man hanged and the body suspended over her bed. Why is it possible for us to believe he died of poisoning?

In a list of household goods owned by Eleanora of Castile, queen to Edward I, were two forks, one of silver and one of crystal.

During Richard II’s reign, his wife, Anne of Bohemia, introduced the side-saddle. The belief was riding astride caused miscarriages.

Before the 16th century, forks were mainly used for sweet meats and carving meat.

When sharing a meal, a person must not touch the food with his right hand, only his left.

It was permissible to drink direct from the jug or pitcher as long as you wiped the vessel afterwards.

Crusaders brought back several new fabrics, such as, cotton, diaphanous muslin, patterned damask and gauze.