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 had no 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
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.