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Medieval music for women

There were many kinds of women who played music- some played for a living and other well-bred women had music included as part of their education and were expected to attain a reasonable level of accomplishment for recreation and performances at home for guests.

Music would often be accompanied with singing, another suitable passtime for the noble lady and working class lady alike, although the songs themselves may have varied.

Certainly the coarse tavern songs of the coarse woman were not suitable for the lady who sang for her guests. Songs of love and longing were universally sung, especially at the peak of the period of courtly love.

Instruments played by women might include the harp, rebec, shawm, viol, pipes, recorder, psaltry or a hurdy-gurdy, although it is less likely that the shawm or hurdy gurdy were favoured by the upper classes!

Less usual images include playing the bells and horns, but these would certainly have been played exclusively my the lower classes. Bone flutes remain as artifacts, but most medieval instruments come to use through manuscripts.

Professional musicians
Some medieval women were professional musicians who were a part of a troupe and who lived an itinerant life travelling from place to place.

Troubadours, travelling musicians, minstrels, trouveres (troubadours but of nobler birth), and itinerant jongleurs sang and entertained with other skills like singing, dancing, acrobatics and juggling.

The image at left shows two women from the 12th century manuscript, the Cantigade Santa Maria.

Noble Ladies and music
Most accomplished noble women were expected to be proficient on at least one musical instrument. Many manuscripts show noble women playing music or surrounded by female angels who play musical instruments and the cost alone of most instruments restricted some kinds of music to those who could afford it.

While bone flutes have been discovered which are not a gendered instrument, that is, favoured by a particular gender, in medieval art, we usually see shepheards, not noble ladies, playing them.

The 15th century image at right, is a from a set of four panels from a frontispiece in from Boccaccio. Here we see noble ladies playing instruments and less usually, a horn of some kind.

Women performed as singers and musicians, either in the home or in more formal court settings. Many of the courtly romances of the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries write of women singing and playing musical instruments.

Female musicans in books
In the Cleriadus et Meliadice, girls as well as boys perform singing and on the harp. Ibed writes that:

There might you have heard men and women singing well!

Boccaccio's Decameron identifies women singing and dancing along with their male companions. Chaucer also wrote of the types of instruments musicians might play when he said:

..many scores of thousands, who made loud minstrelsy with bagpipes and shawms and many other kinds of pipes, and skillfully played both them of clear and them of reedy sound, such as be played at feasts with the roast-meat,--and many a flute and lilting-horn and pipes make of green stalks...

The image above at the top of the page, Allegory of Music comes from Echecs Amoureux, France and dates at 1496 to 1498. The image below is dated 1375, Catarino, The Coronation of the Virgin and show women playing a variety of instruments typically shown surrounding the Virgin in medieval paintings.

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