Women in the later medieval English economy: past perspectives, new directions



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, hereafter ODNB. The LSE had been founded in 1895 by Beatrice and Sydney Webb, Graham Wallas and George Bernard Shaw.

4 A. Abram, English Life and Manners in the later Middle Ages (London: Routledge, 1913); Annie Abram, ‘Women Traders of Medieval London’, Economic Journal, 26 (1916): 276-85.

5 Maxine L. Berg, ‘Knowles [née Tomn], Lilian Charlotte Anne (1870–1926), economic historian’, in ODNB.

6 Maxine L. Berg, ‘Power [married name Postan], Eileen Edna Le Poer (1889–1940), economic historian’, in ODNB; Maxine Berg, A Woman in History: Eileen Power 1889-1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). In his moving and affectionate obituary for Power, J.H. Clapham wrote, ‘She appreciated London and the free life ... she resented fiercely – yes, that is the word – the survivals in the older Universities of inequality between the sexes’: J.H. Clapham, ‘Eileen Power, 1889-1940’, Eonomica, New ser., 7, no. 28 (1940): 351-9, quotation on 352.

7 In addition to a number of ODNB entries, her biography of Eileen Power (see note 4 above), see her ‘The first women economic historians’, Economic History Review, 2nd ser. 45, no. 2 (1992): 308-29.

8 ‘A comparison of the status of women in different countries and at different times might not only furnish us with some of the causes of their advance or retrogression, but also throw light upon the institutions and national characteristics of the countries in question. Our inquiry into the position of women in the later Middle Ages, brief as it is, may perhaps supply a few data for such a purpose; it will also enable us to see if they were better or worse off than women are at the present day’: Annie Abram, English Life and Manners in the later Middle Ages (London: George Routledge and Sons, 1913), 31.

9 Berg, ‘The first women economic historians’, 317-9.

10 Annie Abram, ‘Newcastle’, in Married Women’s Work, ed. Clementina Black (London: G. Bell and Sons, 1915), 195-203.

11 RAE exercises have been conducted by subject areas across the UK higher education sector in 1986, 1989, 1992, 1996, 2001 and 2008 whereby the research output (primarily publications) of faculty has been evaluated by subject panels of peers drawn from across the country. These evaluations have determined the level of research funding allocated from central government to each institution. The earlier exercises were more focused on the volume of output, but more recent exercises have evaluated quality by asking that only four publications be declared from each faculty member. Faculty deemed to have produced insufficient publications or publications not of the right standard have often not been declared, but this impacts on the research funding subsequently allocated since this is weighted by numbers declared. Certain kinds of publication are held to be more desirable than others. Thus monographs and articles in refereed scholarly journals are thought to be more desirable than essays in collections. Scholarly editions and books written primarily for teaching are very much discouraged. The result has been a considerable increase in publications, especially article publications, and some tendency for these to be bunched close to an RAE census deadline. The current (2014) Research Excellence Framework has a census date at the end of 2013 and is supposed to measure ‘research impact’ as well as quality of research output. This is taking place within a climate of unprecedented retrenchment in state funding with the consequence that pressure on faculty to produce is intensified.

12 Her Paycockes of Coggeshall was published in 1920 and Medieval People in 1924. The Wool Trade in English Medieval History was published posthumously. Power founded the Economic History Society in 1926 and the first issue of the Economic History Review followed soon after.

13 Amy Louise Erickson, ‘McArthur, Ellen Annette (1862–1927), historian’, in ODNB; Ellen McArthur, ‘Women petitioners and the Long Parliament’, English Historical Review, 24 (1909): 698-709.

14 Maud Sellers is noted for her editions of the York A/Y Memorandum Book, The Acts and Ordinances of the Eastland Company, and records of the York Merchant Adventurers. She is not included in the ODNB. Lucy Toulmin Smith (1838-1911), who in her latter years was librarian of the Unitarian Manchester College in Oxford, earlier assisted inter alia her father in completing English Gilds for the Early English Text Society, James Gairdner, the editor of the Paston correspondence, but, D.S. Porter notes, ‘her major clients were foreign scholars’. She also edited a range of medieval texts in her own right, including the York Plays, and translated Jusserand’s English Wayfaring Life in the Middle Ages from the French: D.S. Porter, ‘Smith, Lucy Toulmin (1838–1911), literary scholar and librarian’, in ODNB.

15 Eileen Power, ‘The working woman in town and country’, in eadem, Medieval Women, ed. M.M. Postan (Cambridge, 1975), 53-75 at 53-4. Power writes, ‘the total number of women, then as now, was in excess of the number of men.’ By ‘now’ Power was referring to the generation immediately following the First World War when she wrote this essay. Of this chapter Postan writes that it was ‘largely based on my researches and in which she [Power] embodied numerous passages written by me’ (7), but familiarity with Power’s own scholarship suggests that Postan almost certainly exaggerated his role. Clapham, commenting on Studies in the History of English Trade in the Fifteenth Century which Power co-edited with Postan, tellingly writes, ‘only those who were members and contributors can say just how much of the inspiration and guidance for the various sections was hers. I should guess most of both’: Clapham, ‘Eileen Power’, 357.

16 Abram, Social England, 131; Elizabeth Dixon ‘Craftswomen in the Livre des Métiers’, Economic Journal, 5 (1895): 209-28.

17 Bridget Hill, citing the examples of Alice Clark, Dorothy George, and Ivy Pinchbeck, rather than the medievalists noted here, has also challenged the view that such earlier feminist scholars tend to adopt a broadly similar position on the supposedly disadvantaged position of women consequent upon industrialisation. In so doing she has attempted to lay to rest the notion that these earlier scholars presented the pre-industrial era as a golden age for women: Bridget Hill, ‘Women’s history: a study in change, continuity or standing still?’, Women’s History Review, 2, no. 1 (1993): 5-22, especially 6-11.

18 Shiela Rowbotham, Hidden from History: 300 Years of Women’s Oppression and the Fight against it (London: Pluto Press, 1973); Joan Kelly, ‘Did Women have a Renaissance?’, in Becoming Visible: Women in European History, ed. Renate Bridenthal and Claudia Koonz (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977), 137-64; Barbara A. Hanawalt, ‘Childrearing among the Lower Classes of Late Medieval England’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 8, no. 1 (1977): 1-22. The publication of Hanawalt’s pioneering article coincided with the National Women’s Conference at Houston, Texas, which made issues relating to child care high up its agreed plan of action.

19 We may note, for example, the publication in 1982 of a modern English translation of Christine de Pisan’s Book of the City of Ladies in both hard and paperback editions.

20 The anomaly is explained by the publication in 1980 of an essay collection entitled The Welsh Laws of Women.

21 Eileen Power, Medieval Women, ed. M.M. Postan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975).

22 Judith M. Bennett, ‘Forgetting the Past’, Gender and History, 20, no.3 (2008): 669–677, especially table 1, 670.

23 Women represented 17.5 percent of academic teaching staff in British universities in 1965. This had grown to 24 per cent by 1979, by which date the total number of teaching posts had also expanded. These processes have continued subsequently, albeit slowly; women constituted 27 per cent of academics by 1995 and 36 per cent by 2005, i.e. it has taken forty years for the proportion of women in British academic teaching posts to double from about one in six to slightly more than one in three.

24 For all higher education institutions women constituted 22.5 per cent of faculty in 1974-5, 33.8 per cent in 1997-8, 36 per cent in 2000-01, and 39 per cent in 2005-06. These statistics are not directly equivalent to the UK university sector and will tend to suggest a slightly more favourable gender ratio. In 2005-6 the proportion for institutions awarding doctorates – the equivalent of university-status institutions in the UK – was 34 per cent: Debra M. Easterly and Cynthia Lee A. Pemberton, ‘An Exploration of the Barriers and Supports Perceived by Female Faculty in Institutions of Higher Education as they Write proposals to Secure External Funds’, Advancing Women in Leadership Journal, published electronically at

< http://advancingwomen.com/awl/awl_wordpress/an-exploration-of-the-barriers-and-supports-perceived-by-female-faculty-in-institutions-of-higher-education-as-they-write-proposals-to-secure-external-funds/> In Canada women constituted only 16.5 per cent of full-time university teachers in 1985, but this had grown to 33.5 per cent in 2005: ‘The Tenure Gap: Women’s University Appointments 1985-2005’, C.A.U.T. Equity Review, 4 (2008), table 1 published electronically at

< http://www.caut.ca/uploads/EquityReview4-en.pdf>

25 These spikes may in part have been influenced by RAE exercises in 1992, 1996, and 2001, though of course not all publications are associated with UK academics. Unless there has been a sharp decline from 2003, IMB statistics appear not to be complete after 2005, so it is not possible to comment with confidence on the most recent trend.

26 Barbara A. Hanawalt, ‘Peasant women’s contribution to the home economy in late medieval England’, in Women and Work in Preindustrial Europe, ed. eadem (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), 3-19; Ralph Houlbrooke, ‘Women’s social life and common action in England from the fifteenth century to the eve of the Civil War’, Continuity and Change , 1, no. 2 (1986): 171-189; Maryanne Kowaleski, ‘Women's work in a market town: Exeter in the late fourteenth century’, in Women and Work, ed. Hanawalt, 145-64.

27 Caroline Barron, ‘The “Golden Age” of women in medieval London’, Reading Medieval Studies, 15 (1989): 35-58; Helen Jewell, ‘Women at the courts of the manor of Wakefield, 1348-1350’, Northern History, 26 (1990), 59-81; P.J.P. Goldberg, ‘Women’s work, women’s role, in the late medieval North’, in Profit, Piety and the Professions in Later Medieval England, ed. Michael Hicks (Gloucester: Alan Sutton, 1990), 34-50. The IMB erroneously lists Barron’s article as published in 1990 not 1989.

28 R. Claire Snyder, ‘What is Third-Wave Feminism? A new Direction Essay’, Signs, 34, no. 1 (2008): 175-96, quotation on 175. Snyder goes on to conclude that ‘third-wave feminism potentially offers a diverse, antifoundationalist, multiperspectival, sex-radical version of feminism’ (193).

29 Such scholarship tends to be published in specialist medieval journals and not, as Judith Bennett has observed (see note 22 above) in the main women’s and gender history journals. These last tend to be primarily focused on the modern era.

30 Karen Jones and Michael Zell, ‘Bad conversation? Gender and social control in a Kentish borough, c. 1450 - c. 1570’, Continuity and Change, 13 (1998), 11–31;

Jaqueline Murray, ‘Gendered souls in sexed bodies: the male construction of female sexuality in some medieval confessors’ manuals’, in Handling Sin: Confession in the Middle Ages, ed. Peter Biller and A.J. Minnis , York Studies in Medieval Theology, 2, (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell, 1998), 79-93.



31 Holly A. Crocker, ‘Performative passivity and fantasies of masculinity in the Merchant’s Tale’, The Chaucer Review, 38, no. 2 (2003): 178-98; Amanda Richardson, ‘Gender and space in English royal palaces c. 1160 - c. 1547: a study in access analysis and imagery’, Medieval Archaeology, 48 (2003), 131-65;

Linda Marie Zaerr, ‘Medieval and modern deletions of repellent passages’ in Improvisation in the Arts of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, ed. Timothy McGee, Early Drama, Art and Music Monograph Series, 30 (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2003), pp. 222-46.



32 In 1995 Sharpe noted that ‘far more new research has appeared on women’s employment in the medieval than in the early modern period,’ arguing that ‘the early modern period is still dominated by Clark’s Working life of women in the seventeenth century, published in 1919’: Sharpe, ‘Continuity and Change’, 356.

33 Joan W. Scott, ‘Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis’, American Historical Review, 91, no. 5 (1986): 1053-75, see especially1064 ff.

34 ‘Whan Adam dalf, and Eve span / Wo was thanne a gentilman?’ was famously the text of a sermon by John Ball, a leader of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. For women’s employment in sheep shearing, carding, spinning etc., see Goldberg, Women, Work, and Life Cycle, 118-22, 139-40, 144-5.

35 E.g. Ronald Colman, ‘The Economic Value of Unpaid Housework and Child Care in Nova Scotia’ (1998) published electronically at
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