Noble Women at Home
COOKING - CLEANING - SHOPPING - GARDENING
- LIVESTOCK & POULTRY
images of noble women usually show scenes of sewing or reading,
the reality of a noble woman's responsibilities was nothing short
of amazing. Very few were what we would call "the idle rich."
As well as managing a household, she was required to have many
of the skills that a regular woman had in order to instruct her
staff. Her home duties included hiring and firing staff, overseeing
orders for the pantry and butlery, checking quality of foodstuffs,
fabrics and the prices of them, and a variety of tasks on behalf
of her husband. If her husband was away on crusade, this may extend
for several years.
A noble woman neither did the cooking for her household herself
nor did she wait on tables. Even female servants did not bring
food to the tables and manuscripts almost always show men cooking
in the kitchens and preparing food. A noble woman had no place
in the kitchen.
It goes without saying that the cleaning in a noble woman's house
was also not done by a noble woman herself.
Laundry was also carried out by female servants who were usually
under the charge of a senior laundress who was herself under the
charge of the noblewoman.
Christine de Pisan in Le Livre des Trois Vertus writes
of the duties of an aristocratic wife and says that while such
a wife may not actually do any of the weaving in her household
herself, she must be knowledgeable about every facet of the process
so that she may oversee each and every stage of the process- from
the selection of the fleeces to the final construction of finished
Only embroidery or making of fine pieces was seen as a suitable
at-home sewing activity for a noble woman.
The noble woman did very little actual gardening herself, but
rather employed others- both male and female- to tend her flower
and vegetable gardens. Noble women are often painted enjoying
flower gardens and picking flowers such as the 1410 scene The
Garden Of Eden shown at right.
The Goodman of Paris speaks to his young wife about her girlish
passtimes which he feels are entirely suitable for her position
in society. He says:
Know that I take delight rather
than displeasure in your cultivating rose bushes, caring for
violets and making chaplets, and also in your dancing and singing;
I wish you to continue to do so among our friends and peers,
for it is only right and just that you should thus pass the
days of your maidenly youth.
I feel that there is a certain emphasis
on among our friends and peers, and is not to be confused
with gardening with the servants.
Aagain, this was not the domain of the wealthy woman who hired
the staff neccessary to look after any animals. Even a Lady's
favourite horse for riding or hawking was not cared for by herself,
but rather a groom and a stable boy.
A Lady would not even have fed her own little lap dog or cat,
leaving that to the cook or a servant.
Wet nurses were not uncommon in the world of the noble lady. We
constantly see the Virgin Mary held up as the finest example of
motherhhod that a woman might aim to emulate, and a large portion
of those images show her breastfeeding and taking care of her
own child, the reality was quite different.
Just as a busy upper class woman bottle-feeds her babies today
and has one or more nannies to take care of them, a busy and socially-important
medieval woman also had her children cared for by others.