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The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer

Writing.ie | Non Fiction

By Berni Dwan

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I won’t be a spoil sport and tell you too much about health and hygiene or food and drink in the Middle Ages. Their idea of an appetiser would have sent me straight to the great white telephone, or its medieval equivalent. Fine dining it was not. And as for the jiggery pokery that passed for medicine, let’s just say, a short and brutal life would have been preferable. Here’s a little taster on women just to pique your interest.

In the 1300’s women were described only by their marital state, or lack of it. You could be a maiden, a wife, a nun or a widow. Her status depended on the man who supported her so, for the maiden that was her father. For the wife it was her husband. She was subject to his authority. She could not, apparently, resist his sexual advances. She could not borrow money, sell property or make a will without his consent. I think this started to change in the 1970’s? Not sure; ask yisser mammies. Anyway, back to the 1300’s, nuns were ‘brides of Christ’ and who am I to argue with that? The best thing to be was a widow or an old spinster because they were the only ones who had any degree independence.

They really took the whole ‘Eve’ thing very seriously back then. Women were blamed for everything. Society believed the Aristotelian dictum that women are nothing more than ‘deformed men’. It stands to reason even in modern times doesn’t it? As Joe Brand reminds us, it’s that darned penis that prevents men from doing so much. Once you discover that you are the owner of such an appendage it rules you out of following simple recipes, doing a ‘proper’ grocery shop or hovering the house. So, if the dinner is a disaster, the larder is bare or the visitors can write their names in the furniture it’s the woman’s fault because she does not have a penis.

But then, back in the 1300’s, if you were a man and you survived beyond sixty you were regarded as an embarrassment, no longer able to fulfil your dominant manly role. What would they have made of Silvio Berlusconi?

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