Nunneries as an Alternative to Marriage
By Cornelius Oudenaarden
The Endnote, Vol.2 (2005)
Introduction: The first particular saith that you shall be obedient: to wit to him and to his commandments whatsoever they be, whether they be made in earnest or in jest, or whether they may be orders to do strange things, or whether they be made concerning matters of small import or of great; for all things should be of great import to you, since he that shall be your husband hath bidden you to do them. ~ The Goodman of Paris
During the Middle Ages women were required to marry, in her book Women and Spiritual Equality in Christian Tradition, Patricia Ranft says of fourth century women that “To withhold one’s virginity was to stand outside the solidarity of society, it was deliberate choice not to join the normal structures and roles of society.” This attitude persisted until deep into the twentieth century and was based on the Christian idea that women and men were put on Earth to procreate. The nobility during the Middle Ages was particularly invested in creating marriages that were beneficial to both families and provided proper, preferably male, offspring. For women of noble class during the ninth through the twelfth centuries, being married was not always the most desirable state to be in. For the noblewomen who felt this way there was one relatively appealing alternative: and this was entering a convent.
Any sort of discussion concerning the subject of nunneries should state with an examination of marriage during this period and its importance to the nobility. Within the nobility, marriage served a very distinct purpose, as explained by Marilyn Yalom in her book A History of the Wife:
Marriage was the means by which the powerful made alliances and transmitted inheritances. Fathers had the responsibility of finding the best partners for their sons and daughters so as to ensure proper unions and maintain their status into the next generation.