Deborah Youngs
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in The life–cycle in Western Europe, c.1300-c.1500
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The first years of life were arguably the most dramatic of the medieval life cycle. Infancy, the first stage, was said to last until two or four, but most commonly seven; it was followed by a later stage of childhood lasting until the early teens. Qualities said to distinguish childhood, and more specifically infancy, from other age groups are a contradictory mix of incapacity, evil, naivety, innocence and hope. A wide range of literary and visual sources supported the view of the hapless infant. Among the noble and gentry families of Europe it was common for the infant to be given to a nurse in the same way as all the routine tasks of the household were performed by hired servants. The practice of wet-nursing has received a fair amount of modern criticism for militating against close child-parent relations.

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