I have decided that for the next few months. I will post my blog along the same lines as my current research. I write in three different timelines; Medieval Scotland, Victorian England and Early Christian Ireland. Why these three? I’m honestly not sure but they seem speak to me in a way that sparks my imagination. I will start with Medieval Scotland, with a focus on the lives of women, as I’m currently working on a novel in this time period. I’ll start with an overview and then see where my research takes me in future weeks.
It seems to me that feudal society of the medieval Europe was a glorified pyramid scheme with the king at the top; next came the barons, then the lords and knights, and at the bottom of the heap were the peasants.
Life in Medieval Europe was hard. It is estimated that ninety percent of the population lived off the land, that’s a lot of people living at a subsistence level. Some estimates put life expectancy at twenty-five years of age. There were frequent famines and let’s not forget the Black Death that ravaged Europe between 1348 – 1350, some scholars put the death rate as high as three quarters of the population.
Is it any wonder that religion was the centre of their world? Almost everyone was Christian and the only Christian religion at the time was Catholicism, Protestantism didn’t begin until the sixteenth century. The church governed every aspect of life, except for marriage. They weren’t happy about this but seemed unable to stop it. All two people had to do to become married was to make a promise to one another and they were wed. The promise could take place anywhere, such as a pub, a field, or your own home. As long as there were witnesses the marriage was considered valid.
Many of our ideas about this time period are romanticized Victorian ideals and have no basis in reality. It was the Victorians who came up with the knight in shining armour and the damsel in distress. They were also the ones responsible for the idea that women of an earlier time period would have been overly modest when in actuality medieval woman were expected to get the job done rather than worry about if their ankles were showing.
It’s also interesting to note the churches attitude towards women. They were considered lesser beings, which is no surprise, but they were also expected to be more lusty and base than men. The idea being that men were perfect (I know that gave me a chuckle) and so therefore women, who were imperfect, were drawn to desire them.
There are some manor court records from this time period in England that show there was a fine levied for premarital sex but there doesn’t seem to be much social stigma attached the act. Normally, only the women were charged and daughters of elite families figure prominently in those convicted. I have to wonder if these unfortunate women were required to provide proof of fertility before marriage.
How does this relate to medieval Scotland? Well, society in lowland Scotland would have been very similar to that of England, except poorer. You have to remember everyone lived off the land and Scotland is mountainous, limiting the amount of arable cultivation. Although as of yet I have found very little reliable research regarding the everyday life of the Highland Clans, I have to assume, with their language ties and origins that they were closer to the Gaelic Irish culture than the English. I also believe that they were adept sailors and were known to have wonderful ships called birlinns. I will be exploring the Highland culture and aspects of their daily life in later posts. I will also be looking into the roles played by women and attitudes towards them.
Below is an image of a birlinn.