Life of women in medieval times from perspectives of modern women

Ratna Srivastava
R Blogs
Published in
8 min readFeb 3, 2024


How miserable were they exactly?

Image: Pixabay

Imagine you are a woman in 1800s, 1700s or earlier. Tie your seatbelt for a rollercoaster ride through your medieveal world.

In these times, the worst fate befalls women, children, poor and soldiers. The funny thing is: men, rich and kings don’t have it easy either! But, let’s just talk about you now: the medieval woman

  1. Most of you are a shame, a disgrace, a mistake, a guilt, a crime, a disappointment, a failure, a catastrophe for your parents to have been born a female. (The opposite if you are a male.) Your gender decides your fate. Your gender authors your destiny.
  2. As a little girl you unquestioningly, unflinchingly accept the privileges the males in your family are entitled to and you aren’t, whether they are clothes or comforts, property or inheritance, rights or duties. This is often your first life lesson: Women are different; they are less than men. and I must accept it.
  3. You must get married as soon as you can. That’s the ambition you and your family have been cherishing since the moment you were born.
  4. Education is important only to the point it enables you to make cultured conversations on dinner tables to impress other people.
  5. If you are unwed by 25 you are retired from marriage market forever. Many women will never marry all their life after crossing this point unwed. And ‘unmarried’ is akin to insurmountable social stigma, abysmal social misfortune, constant ridicule, open condemnation and bottomless pity from every soul you meet.
  6. But being married is hardly a trip to paradise. Your womb and your vagina are by far the only reason you are important. In some cases your family name and connections too but only if you are exalted.
  7. Marriage may sometimes mean enduring old, mean, harsh, cruel husbands who can happily sleep around and expect you not to know it and not to notice it even if you do, yet burn you at stake (or some other worse punishment like stoning, being locked up in cold dungeons and left to die or plain murderd etc. etc.) for adultery if you so much as look at another man. There are laws, religion and social rules that apply only to you and not to men.
  8. Even if you are fortunate enough to find a rich, young and handsome husband there are 99.99% chances of his being uncomfortably dominating, controlling, micro-managing, exacting, unfair, demanding and difficult. Your only allies? Your lovely face, your beguiling voice, your pleasure giving skills and your survival instincts.
  9. In some parts of the world it is disgustingly, sickeningly okay for old frail, diseased men in their 80s (or more) to wed girls not yet fourteen.
  10. Being a housewife means bearing children after children, preferably male. Even queens and noblewomen aren’t exempt from this rule.
  11. Marriage is your full time career with no weekends, vacation, compensation or appreciation. Your husband and the family you marry into are like your 24/7 boss. Your only job description is satisfying your husband and producing children on factory level. Existing outside of it is unheard of unless you are a nun.
  12. Ironically, no matter how much you hate your husband for his violent, vagrant ways you feel proud if your sons do the same. No matter how much you hate your life, you wish the same for your daughters: get married-obey your man like god-produce boys-mission accomplished. Now may you peacefully die.
  13. You are free but not free. You have ‘choice but no choice’ in making your life’s choices. Forget marrying the man of your dreams, women need permission to visit someone, wear certain clothes or wear certain makeup.
  14. If you are unmarried and pregnant that’s basically the end of your life. Many mothers have been known to rather kill or abandon their baby than risk their reputation and wrath of their family. Many women are forced into prostitution or kill themselves in order to escape the terrible ‘fate of the fallen’.
  15. Losing your chastity and honour is synonymous to suicide. Death by murder sounds much better. In some places and cultures you may have to produce a certificate that you are still a virgin before you are wed. God knows how many women have died because they weren’t. God knows how many women have done what to keep the skeletons from tumbling out of their closets.
  16. The only professions open to you are those of housewifing, sewing, cooking, teaching, housemaid or prostitution.
  17. If you have scholarly/ literary leanings or interest in science, math, astronomy, medicine, politics or business you are considered mad, a witch or possessed by demons. Remember what happened to Joan of Arc?
  18. Domestic violence is present in myriad forms with or without cover and is fully legally supported. No, you may not tell anyone. Firstly, it is normal. Secondly it is shameful. Thirdly, you deserve it even if you don’t. Whatever bad happenes in the family you are supposed to not have seen it.
  19. Your existence as a lone woman is a nightmare and an invitation to a host of troubles and unforeseen threats from the male world. They tend to imagine you are available, and nobody takes ‘no’ for a ‘no’.
  20. You may not be able to travel alone, live alone or just spend your life alone in peace. You have to have a male of some sort by your side to protect you.
  21. Public opinion about you is everything, your own opinion, nothing.
  22. The only talents you can have are sewing, playing music for house parties, cooking for your family, your physical beauty or your talent in bed. Some regard getting pregnant as a talent. Many regard ‘birthing male babies’ as a huge huge talent too.
  23. The cruel world is double cruel if you are not beautiful or not wealthy. The fairytales aren’t just tales, you know. If you have both you are luckier and happier than 99.09 % of all females.
  24. Everything is restrictive, suppressive and oppressive whether clothing, traveling, discussing, opining, rearing, mothering, wifing or self expression. You exist but you are more like invisible to others.
  25. And that’s a big big problem because you exist in a world that exists between existing and not existing so you can’t say you exist and you can’t say you don’t.
  26. Depending on which part of world or culture you belong to you might get murdered, brutally killed or honour-killed just for being a female, having looked at a male, fallen in love with someone not approved by your family, expressed your opinion or dressed the wrong way. I swear, if bygone century men even once could glimpse through psychic powers how women were going to dress in 21 century, they would have wiped all females off the planet.
  27. Your greatest joy is to be beautiful, wealthy and fertile. Your greatest ambition? Keeping your man happy. Your greatest happiness? Seeing him happy. Marrying the man you love and seeing your army of happy, healthy children marrying well is your nirvana.
  28. Your greatest tragedy? Come on. Being poor and ugly. Not being able to marry your love, not being able to marry right, or staying unmarried. Or not being able to produce boys. And losing favours of your husband.
  29. Oh wait! Did I mention, being infertile is totally your fault. Not being able to produce a son is totally your fault. If you get raped it is your fault. Basically, for everything bad you are at fault. For everything good your family or your husband is.
  30. If you try to enlighten women about their rights, equality and independence, you will be torn apart from those very women and society both for wanting to destroy them. And ironically this is one situation where rules are same for men and women both!

When Empress Elizabeth of Austria, after birthing two daughters back to back within 3 years of her marriage to Emperor Franz Joseph I in 1854, had not yet produced a son, she received this kind reminder letter allegedly written by her mother-in-law Archduchess Sofie, 1857 which bares it all so well!

Mind you: They both were queens!


But, let this not blind you to the other side of women in older generations. All wasn’t glum and gloomy as the first part paints. There were outstanding female rulers like Queen Elizabeth I, Catherine the great, etc who not only ruled but also proved in those times that females could be great rulers.

There were female scientists, mathematicians, astronomers, writers, authors, doctors, philosophers and intellectuals too but it wasn’t easy for them.

There were happy women too who took care of their family lovingly and set examples by their conduct.

If your grandmother still talks about her own grandmother, have you noticed how she remembers her? It will probably not be the same way as your own grandchild will remember you, that is should you have a grandchild at all considering how more and more women are opting out of parenthood...

Because of them, the institution of marriage worked. It was often more stable and dependable than country’s government. People wanted to do nothing more than to be with their family. However less they had to eat or wear they generously shared. They looked forward to dying for their family members or die in the arms of their loved one. They could undergo any amount of stress and hardships just to be together with their family and see them happy.

Words like honour, loyalty, pride, commitment, responsibility, promise, family and family name meant more to them than wealth, name, fame or personal benefits.

It is disconcerting that same things now are almost dead or dying in current society and are difficult to teach them to people.

So, were medieval women so very miserable and downtrodden? Yes, they were.

They just didn’t know that they were, and did NOT have any option. It is only when we compare them to our present generation that we think they must have been unhappy.

But then, there’s a very big problem: Although, this article is about life of women in medieval times, it uncannily fits on many modern women. Even today, in many parts of the world women continue to suffer from many of these points mentioned above (and probably much more). So, we don’t really need to time travel to middle ages. Just a peep in our backyard would pretty much suffice.

But that’s just my opinion. Thanks for reading!



Ratna Srivastava
R Blogs

Author of Emit Eht (Science-Fiction/Metaphysical and Visionary Romance) Children’s Author, Thinker, Philosopher. Editor R Blogs, R Quotes.