Women; Low Countries; Germany; and Italy; Middle Ages; Early Modern Period; Beguines; Medieval economics; Medieval politics; Feudalism
As the culture of the Middle Ages declined and Early Modern period characterized by a revival of humanistic ideals of the Renaissance commenced, the society of Western Europe underwent many changes. Different attitudes emerged concerning cultural values, and the medieval feudal way of life that has often been interpreted as being antiquated and obsolete gave way to more modern political, economic, and social systems. The question still remains, however, of exactly how women, an often underrepresented part of society, were affected by these so-called modernizing changes. The scope of this research is to basically address this question and examine the manner in which these dramatic cultural differences influenced the experiences of women in Western European society. By studying the changing cultural attitudes towards women and the variations in a woman’s status specifically in the Lowland, Germanic, and Italian regions over the course of the Middle Ages, it becomes clear that many of the cultural changes of the later middle ages and early modern period were indeed to the detriment of a woman’s role in society. Specifically, the thesis compares and analyzes the changing roles that women could employ economically, politically, socially, and religiously.