Women In Politics

Feudalism    Women.in.Politics

Feudalism was the major political system of the Middle Ages. A lord's (or lady's) lands were worked in vassalage by serfs and freemen, who owed their liege farm goods and work for the privilege of his protection The lord might then owe his services in war to a lord or church official over him, who in turn owed the king of the country.

However unsophisticated (or, well, feudal) the system may seem, it was agreed on by most medieval political theorists. The 12th-Century cleric John of Salisbury declared that the king existed for the benefit of the people, not vice-versa. Therefore, a king who truly did his job was a king; a usurper who was merely trying to fill his own pockets was a tyrant and was not intended by God to rule. In 1301, Egidius Romanus concluded that since all power derived from God, the pope was the supreme ruler of the Christian world. Through him, kings gained the Divine Right to Rule. Authority came from right, not might. Right came from God, but not through any particular moral or intellectual fitness.

  Women in Politics 

Women were not represented in the town councils, so ordinary women had no voice in local politics. Women who did involve themselves in politics were wealthy, clerical, or upper-class, and their politics were often on an international scale.

For women, the secular political scene consisted mainly of flesh trafficking. A woman was technically under her father's control until she married, at which time she was supposed to be completely obedient to her husband's will. The lands that came with a bride at marriage were valued commodities, as were the sons she would produce. To a miserly father, daughters represented only the potential loss of lands when they married. Though peasants had some free choice in marriages, upper-class women rarely did. Their lands and potential for childbearing were far too important to be given away indiscriminately. In this way, the lady was often a tool in politics, used by men for their own purposes. Though a woman could hold property, receive inheritance, participate in trade, and go to court, she was always under a man's guardianship -- her father's, her husband's, or that of another male relative.

To intelligent, resourceful women, a marriage of convenience did not always provide such a bleak outlook. Women who were married to young, weak, ignorant, inexperienced, absent, or tolerant husbands could take control of the husband's politics. Queens often waited until their husbands were away at the Crusades or some other war to begin to change things at home. In turn, they used their sons and daughters as networks of connections; and as no dutiful child could neglect his or her mother's wishes, a mother could often accomplish much. Women politicians, in keeping with the beliefs of the cult of the Virgin, were often regarded as intercessors.

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Adapted with permission of Dominion and Domination



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