Merchant & Townswomen at Home
COOKING - CLEANING - SHOPPING - GARDENING
- LIVESTOCK & POULTRY
and townswomen are the closest to the kinds of women we are today. Many
women today have a full-time or part-time paid employment or source
of income and still have domestic duties to attend to when they get
home. We have the convenience of being able to buy goods and services,
just as our medieval sisters also did.
The townswoman did most of her own cooking for herself and her family
and served the food to the table herself. Even if she had servants,
it was most likely that she would serve her husband at the table herself
and not leave this to the hired help. Many daily items were not prepared
by the woman herself but bought from vendors as we do today- bread,
eggs and milk
Many manuscripts show women in a domestic setting with a large iron
post over the fire, a spoon in her hand in the act of cooking. Wills
of women often list valuable and broken cooking implements giving us
an idea of what kinds of items were used in a kitchen.
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Since she was able to buy goods almost prepared, her cooking options
varied more than the woman in the country. She sis not need to bake
bread and meat was available already cut from a butchery. Spices and
herbs were available to buy and this all improved the variety of dishes
that a townswoman was able to prepare.
A townswoman or merchant woman would almost certainly have had domestic
help, and passed the smaller jobs of cleaning to another woman. Many
of these were single women who had come to the town from the country
and were employed on a live-in basis. This also gave a young woman the
skills she needed to learn in household management before marrying and
setting up house of her own.
Some women on the edges of towns may have been able to keep chickens
but those in the inner or bigger towns would have bought their eggs
from the markets or shops.
As with the rural and peasant women, a woman living in a town would
have reared her own children, breastfed the babies and worked around
her household schedule, often with her servants to assist her.
The illumination at right from Katherine of Cleaves Book of Hours
shows how a townswoman might successfully get on with her household
tasks like weaving and still supervise a small child, much the same
way mothers do today.