Medieval Women

Medieval Women Teaching Pack

Age Group: 13+

Length: 1hr 30 minutes

Developed by Elizabeth Biggs (University of York) and Jessica Knowles (University of York)

Learning Outcomes

  • Discuss students’ ideas about women and women’s roles in the Middle Ages
  • Explore the lives of three classes of medieval women using primary sources
  • Recognise the varied lives of medieval women (rather than seeing them as part of the ‘dark ages’).


The Middle Ages covers the years c.500-1500. This period has traditionally been seen as backward and superstitious, with women having a particularly bad time. It conjures up images of chastity belts, witch-burnings and repression. However this was not the case. Instead there are many examples of women wielding a considerable amount of political power, participating in burgeoning cultures of literacy and getting on with things during difficult periods such as the Viking Invasions or the Black Death.

This session looks at the later Middle Ages from c. 1400 to c. 1510. This period was chosen because there are better sources for this part of the Middle Ages. It was one when women were expected either to marry or to become nuns. Some women, particularly widows, could exert considerable influence and run their own households, as well as own personal property. Many of the women we’ve featured in this session can also be seen acting for themselves within marriages or choosing who to marry. Education beyond basic literacy and the professions such as law or medicine were not open to women in this period, although there are always exceptions to any rule. Women could not be directly part of the political process, but as we shall see, could influence politics indirectly.

(Blog posts written by Elizabeth and Jessica on their experiences of teaching this workshop can be found here and here)

Teaching Pack

Lesson Plan


Portraits/Depictions of Elite Medieval Women

Medieval Women Factsheet

Will of Alison Sothill

Will of Alice Blakburn

Agnes Huntington’s Day






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