By Sarah Peters
Lucerna, vol. 1, no. 1 (2006)
Introduction: Medieval women have traditionally been considered less educated and literate than their male counterparts. However, a recent gendered analysis of medieval writings and a revisited definition of medieval literacy have led to a surge of new evidence supporting the idea that women in the upper class of medieval society – by the fourteenth century – were generally well educated and quite literate. Several scholars including P. Sheingorn and S. Johns have recently acknowledged that until now, the study of medieval culture and education has neglected women. Johns also stresses that “the recent historiography on medieval women and literacy stress ways in which women participated in the literary culture as a way of pursuing their own strategies”.
Recent studies, therefore, indicate that women were not only a part of the literary culture of the time, but were using it to advance themselves in ways unimagined in the past. Women in the medieval upper class were well educated, and possibly as literate as upper-class men. Evidence for this includes an analysis of books owned, commissioned, and written by medieval women. Then, by applying specifically to women the revisited definition of medieval literacy found in F. H. Bäuml’s article, “Varieties and consequences of medieval literacy and illiteracy” a more accurate view of women’s education and literacy in the High Middle Ages may be established.