Neither privileged nor poverty-‐stricken: Widows in medieval Flanders
Paper delivered at the Human Community Research Consortium, University of Idaho (2011)
In 1335, “Elizabeth Blankart, widow of Diederick Blankart,” loaned the city of Ghent the large sum of 450 lb. of Paris. At about the same time, she paid the annual fee for a lease on land held from the city, but here she merely appears as “Elizabeth Blankart”. The first form of identification slots her nicely not only into the societal category of widow, but also marks her as belonging – at one time – to the household of Diederick Blankart. But the latter identification does not. She and the clerks who made note of her payments knew she was a widow -‐ why not say so? It turns out that such cases were not unusual, either in Ghent or for that matter elsewhere in medieval Flanders. This puts Flemish medieval practices at odds with standard scholarly assumptions concerning held notions of both households and widows -‐-‐ particularly the idea that women’s lives, unlike men’s, are discontinuous -‐-‐ but also with customary practice in most of the rest of medieval Europe.