Women In The Medieval And Renaissance Period: Spectators Only

Fashion and Self-Fashioning: Clothing Regulation in Renaissance ItalyWomen In The Medieval And Renaissance Period: Spectators Only

Reet Howell & Maxwell L. Howell (Department of Human Movement Studies University of Queensland)

Sports History Review: Volume 17, Issue 1 (1986)


The particular concern in this paper is the involvement of women in sport during the Middle Ages and Renaissance period and, indeed, the analysis will examine this involvement as to woman’s role as spectator or participant. Sport is used as an all-encompassing term and will embrace play, games, dance and field sports, as well as recreational activities, pastimes and amusements. Sport, i n the modern sense, involving competition, i n a highly-skilled and organized activity, did not exist even for males in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The closest would be the tournament, where there were specific rules, knights were highly trained, and there was competition for a specific goal. Indeed, the tournament was occasionally referred to as being a sport. However, the modern concept of sport has its genesis in field sports such as hunting and fishing, and such activities were accepted for centuries to be the sports of the gentlemen and, to a lesser degree, ladies.

The word sport has its root meaning in “disport”,which means “to divert oneself”, to amuse oneself. It is in this context that this analysis will be basically concerned. It is very difficult to generalise about the position of women during the Medieval period due partially t o the contradictory theories expounded in the literature and occasionally portrayed in the art. The Church, and the aristocracy, the two main forces in this time period, simultaneously exalted and condemned the woman, and women found themselves oscillating between “a pit and a pedestal”.


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