BBC: Woman’s Hour


Woman’s Hour is a radio magazine programme broadcast on BBC Radio 4. It has been running since 1946 and consists of reports, interviews and debates on a wide variety of topics ostensibly aimed at women and mothers. Over the years the show has had segments related to medieval history, including:

Medieval Golden Age – The period between the Black Death of 1348/9 and the explosion of the population that occurred in England in the 16th century, was described by Dr Caroline Barron as a golden age for women. Their labour was at a premium. They were able to train to take part in the skilled labour force, and to run artisan workshops, employ male servants, train boy apprentices and engage in overseas trade. Dr Caroline Barron, Reader in the History of London at Royal Holloway, University of London, and Dr Jeremy Goldberg, Senior Lecturer at York University, discuss the realities of this medieval ‘Golden Age’ for women.

The Lindisfarne Gospels – from 2003, during an exhibition held at the British Library – Thirteen hundred years ago a monk sat on a windswept island off Northumerland and created one of the world’s greatest works of art in book form. Made in the 8th century on Lindisfarne, it is the oldest surviving translation of the gospels into English.

Petrarch and Laura – Born 700 years ago in 1304, Francesco Petrarch was the greatest poet of his age. His many love lyrics to the mysterious and beautiful Laura, captivated Europe for centuries, inspired Shakespeare and Chaucer, and continue to influence how we view romantic love today. So who was Laura, and what made Petrarch’s poetry, written in celebration of her beauty, so powerful. Jenni talks to Dr Letizia Panizza, honorary research fellow in Italian at the Royal Holloway and Bedford College, University of London.

Female Artefacts: Ethelwith’s Ring – Leslie Webster, Keeper of Early Medieval Collections at the British Museum talks to Anna McNamee about a very unusual ring.

Female artefacts: Lacock Abbey – In the next of the series on female artefacts, Roberta Gilchrist, Chair of Archaeological Research at Reading University chooses not an object that belonged to a woman, but a space that belonged to many women – Lacock Abbey, three miles outside Chippenham in Wiltshire.

Viking Food – A thousand years ago one of the biggest Viking invasions in history was in full swing and our clearest image of the period is of hoards of rampaging men – so what kind of lives did Viking women lead?

Medieval Children: Play – It might be imagined that life was hard for children in medieval times. But play was important to them and it was recognised that they needed time for games, rhymes and toys to help them grow up.

Medieval Childhood: Birth – In the medieval period the arrival of a child was inextricably wrapped up with religious rites and lore – not surprising considering the potential dangers of infancy.

Virgins of Venice – Whores and public brothels was how Italian moralists denounced the nuns and convents in sixteenth century Venice.   Stuffed with aristocrats with no real calling and no marriage prospects, many convents were hubs for elite family parties and fine dressing up. Far from the virginal ideal of the Catholic Church. Historian Mary Laven, author of a new book on Renaissance convents, Virgins of Venice, tells Martha how the Church cracked down.

Isolde – The love story of Tristan and Isolde is based on a Celtic legend. It was the inspiration for many medieval literary figures across Europe who delighted in this tale of romance and enduring passion. It was rediscovered in the 19th century with equal relish and used in poems by Malory and Sir Walter Scott, and Wagner used their relationship as the subject of one of his most popular operas.

Armour and Chivalry – What did Henry VIII use to show off his shapely legs to the ladies, and what did the Electress of Saxony have made from burnished gold as a gift for her beloved husband – the richest man in the world? The answer, of course, is a suit of armour.

Guenevere - On screen, on stage and in legend, Queen Guenevere has been portrayed as the passive wife who was involved with King Arthur and Sir Lancelot in one of the most famous love triangles of all time. But recent studies suggest that Guenevere has been misrepresented – that she was not only a powerful warrior queen in her own right, but also the original owner of the round table.

Click here to go to the Woman’s Hour website

Click here to see our feature The Middle Ages on BBC Radio

Sharan Newman