Well-Behaved Women can Make History: Women’s Friendships in Late Medieval Westminster

  • Katherine L. French
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


As many of the chapters in this collection demonstrate, Christian images are an important starting point for understanding medieval women’s behavior. Whether depicted in church wall paintings, preached by priests, or sung in ballads, medieval English moralists harnessed Christian imagery to teach women that their behavior reflected back on their households. Like modern society, medieval society sent women conflicting messages about the consequences of their behavior. Mrs. Noah in the Chester Mystery play preferred her friends to her family, mocked Noah, and challenged his authority.1 Fears about how disruptive groups of women were prompted moralists, as in the popular English poem “How the Good Wife Taught Her Daughter,” to discourage women from gathering together.2 However, the Visitation, when the Virgin Mary visited her older cousin Elizabeth, once both women were unexpectedly pregnant (Lk 1: 39–45), was also a popular subject of art (as illustrated by the image of the Visitation from Chartres Cathedra on the front cover of this volume) and liturgical devotion. Promulgated by the pope and Nicholas Love’s mystical treatise Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ, the Visitation’s popularity demonstrates that medieval society also understood that women came together for mutual support and shared religious interests.3


Parish Involvement Local Court Good Woman Parish Church Parish Auditor 
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© Charlotte Newman Goldy and Amy Livingstone 2012

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  • Katherine L. French

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