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.
The modern view of the Middle Ages is that life was brutal and short. It is a common assumption that people in medieval society did not know and did not invest much importance in knowing their age. Medieval society also used chronological age as a way to control the development of the person, regulating his or her full entry into society. Chronological age was merely one way of signifying age, and only one indicator of a person's capabilities. In modern theories of ageing individuals may be described in terms of having a physiological age, a social or cultural age, or a functional age. This chapter shows that age theory and classification were found in a wide range of late medieval writings. Medieval society was not interested in doing was testing theory by gathering and using statistics to calculate birth rates, mortality rates and life expectancy.
Many of the present generation of Chaucer critics have been trained either as 'Robertsonians' or as 'Donaldsonians'. For Robertson, even those medieval poems which do not explicitly address religious issues were frequently intended to promote the Augustinian doctrine of charity beneath a pleasing surface; for Donaldson, there are 'no such poems in Middle English'. This chapter sets out the basics of the Augustinian doctrine of charity and of medieval allegorical theory and examines 'patristic' interpretations of Chaucer's work, particularly of the 'Nun's Priest Tale'. It looks at the humanist alternative to the patristic method and concludes with an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the patristic approach. The chapter argues that the 'Nun's Priest's Tale' can be seen as a satire of rhetorically inflated and over-serious accounts of the human condition.
The judicial duel under the Angevin kings (mid–twelfth century to 1204)
This chapter focuses on the judicial duel 'as it was practised in the courts' during the reigns of King Henry II of England and his sons Richard I and John (1199-1216 - in this last instance curtailed by King John's loss of Normandy to the Capetian king Philip Augustus in 1204). Originally it was intended to devote as much discussion to the 'cross-channel' territories of these kings, as to the English kingdom. The main focus of the study is a handful of cases in which the judicial duel raises important questions about the interaction of political issues and the conduct of legal affairs after Henry of Anjou succeeded to the English throne; and all of these - including the abortive Poitevin trial - involved members of the secular aristocracy in Angevin- ruled territories.
This chapter considers the forms that vocational training took and the options available to the growing child in the years 1300-1500. The period 1300-1500 witnessed a growing number of voices expressing the value of literacy skills and formal education to individual, familial, spiritual and commercial development. The Church had made the provision of schooling a canonical requirement. For both sexes and across social groups, education was directed at providing them with the skills required for adult life. Since the nineteenth century, the fundamentals of a child's early education in Western Europe have been reading, writing and arithmetic. Schools are the main forums for this training, as well as providing common cultural and social experiences for five-to-fourteen-year-olds. For the aristocratic boy, later childhood saw him move out of the domestic sphere and the world of women, be that nursery or nunnery, and into the public arena for training among men.
This chapter traces the retelling of the events of 978 in France and Germany until the clear separation of the two kingdoms' identities. It shows most obviously that it is authorial intention which determines the interpretation of the conflict over Aachen, whether narrowly, with the anonymous Cambraicanon with his obsession about unruly aristocrats, or broadly, in the respective weights given to secular and religious drives in chronicle and hagiography. Less predictably, the accounts favoured each side from the start, interpreting them in terms of Staatspolitik and the honour of great men. Charlemagne may have created Aachen as a centre for his empire, but it was made central by his presence and the presence of his magnates. The chapter starts with an irony - that a piece dedicated to Janet Nelson should devote itself to Aachen's violent seizure by Charlemagne's penultimate heir.
In the Middle Ages the status of women in the Jewish community underwent a real and fundamental change. Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac had recognized that women conducted business within the community and with Christians, and in his opinion this did not present a problem. The economic activities of Jewish women in northern France and Germany centred on small loans, made on the basis of pledges, to Christian women, who used the money to finance their routine household expenses. Licoricia of Winchester's saga illustrates how the favourable economic status of a Jewish woman in the Middle Ages could also affect her social status in England in general and in the Jewish community in particular. Another Jewish woman, Chera of Winchester, cooperated economically with the Bishop of Winchester, Peter des Roches.
In her recent third presidential address to the Royal Historical Society, devoted to rights and rituals, Janet Nelson put forward a powerful case for a strong consciousness of rights even among those parts of the Frankish population which we are accustomed to thinking of as powerless. This argument links in with her previous work on records of disputes as evidence for legal practice in the Frankish kingdoms. This chapter shows how a different kind of source, the legal formulae, may help bring into sharper focus this view of rights from below. Formulae are descriptive material turned into normative texts: real cases turned into models for future use. In this sense, they are related both to written laws, on the normative side, and to charters, on the descriptive side. Historians have interpreted formulary evidence differently according to which of these two approaches was adopted.
Geoffrey Chaucer's lifetime, from his birth early in the 1340s to his death in 1400, encompasses one of the most dramatic periods of English history. The search for a historical Chaucer has led critics to look for the 'real-life models' of the pilgrims described by Chaucer in the Canterbury Tales. The pilgrims and the characters are best seen as active reinterpretations of reality in terms of the literary conventions, scientific doctrines and stock social satires of the day. Chaucer's works do not offer direct evidence about late fourteenth-century society. Chaucer's accounts of the pilgrims are often couched in terms of the stock 'scientific' stereotypes of his day and thus describe individuals in terms of the attributes thought appropriate to their age, astrological character and physiological make-up. Such 'scientific' stereotypes, Chaucer draws upon traditions of character-description which are more specifically literary in origin.
This book on Geoffrey Chaucer explores the relationship between Chaucer's poetry and the change and conflict characteristic of his day and the sorts of literary and non-literary conventions that were at his disposal for making sense of the society around him. Critics who consider the social meaning of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales fall into two main schools: those who present his social thought as an expression of the dominant spirit or ideology of his day and those who see Chaucer as possessing a more heterodox voice. Many of the present generation of Chaucer critics have been trained either as 'Robertsonians' or as 'Donaldsonians'. For D. W. Robertson, even those medieval poems which do not explicitly address religious issues were frequently intended to promote the Augustinian doctrine of charity beneath a pleasing surface; for E. Talbot Donaldson, there are 'no such poems in Middle English'. The book sets out the basics of the Augustinian doctrine of charity and of medieval allegorical theory and examines 'patristic' interpretations of Chaucer's work, particularly of the 'Nun's Priest Tale'. It looks at the humanist alternative to the patristic method and assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the patristic approach. The book also outlines some of the major medieval discourses about sexual difference which inform Chaucer's depiction of women, in particular, the tendency of medieval writers to polarise their views of women, condemning them to the pit or elevating them to the pedestal.