Deborah Youngs
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in The life–cycle in Western Europe, c.1300-c.1500
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Adulthood is culturally conditioned, a social category, and its attributes and meanings have changed over time and across cultures. This chapter investigates what the achievement of maturity meant in the later medieval period, the entrance points to this phase, and the experience of adulthood. While behavioural and physical qualities frequently lay behind definitions of maturity, there were a number of 'events' that marked the progression to adulthood. Of these, the closest to a universal rite of passage was marriage. Marrying in late medieval Europe was a process that marked the establishment of a new social and spiritual union. Marriage, parenthood, inheritance, and the establishment of one's own business or an official governing position were key transitional points, as they had transformative qualities that changed a person's status. The chapter also focuses on female widowhood because widowers had far less prominence than widows in medieval Europe.

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