A MEDIEVAL WOMAN'S LIFE - AT HOME
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Deaths, Funeral Rites & Rituals
afterlife and the soul of the deceased was a very serious business to
those who lived and died in the Middle Ages and great consideration
was given into preparation for the soul's eternal life. The final preparation
of the body for burial was seen as just as important as the life of
the person who lived it.
While death came to all, its repercussions varied depending on the social stature of the deceased. When an unfree tenant passed away, a heriot or fine was paid to his Lord; usually his best beast. It was written in the Cuxham Court Roll that '..even if he has only a single animal, the Lord shall have it.' The parish church claimed the second-best beast as a mortuary fine. If a family was of modest standing, it was quite possible to lose all the beasts it possessed, especially if illness claimed more than one family member within a short space of time.
Pictured at left, a memorial brass of Elizabeth
de Northwood dated at 1335. She is engraved modestly wearing a wimple
over her plaited hair which is resting on an elaborate pillow.
Common people sat vigil with the deceased, often singing, playing games and dicing. In an effort to curtail these kinds of vigils which, in 1284, were felt by the Ludlow church to be not particularly solemn, the guilds forbade games and the attendance of women who were not direct family members. Shown at right is a detail from the Murthly Hours, a 1310 illumination.
Guilds provided for their own members even
at the time of death with donations of masses, tapers and burial costs,
extending this to members of the guild who lived outside of the town.
It was standard practice that the deceased would be afforded the same
courtesies as if he had died in his home parish.
Appointments to the church were hastened to fill the urgent need for spiritual ministering as the church also suffered losses among its numbers. As the numbers of deaths grew and grew, mass graves were dug outside town walls and last rites were not performed since there was no-one left alive or willing to administer them.
The illumination at right shows another image from the same page of The Murthly Hours manuscript of the funeral procession. The procession is led by a person with a bell followed by monks, then men, the deceased and finally by women. The funeral pall is covering the deceased.
Funeral palls were often made of very costly material which was donated to the church afterwards in return for masses for the departed's soul. Rosemary rosmarinus officinalis symbolic of memory and fidelity, was used in wreaths for funerals.
and also among the records...
A widow who was wealthy and of sufficient
social standing naturally attracted the attention of noblemen hoping
to utilise her assets to improve his own position. Widows of sufficient
means or with a large inheritance or with strategic land holdings might
be put under the king's 'protection'. The Register of Rich Widows
and Orphaned Heirs and Heiresses of 1185 shows that many were married
'in the king's gift'. Essentially, the king was within his right to
grant the widow in marriage to whomsoever he pleased.
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