Urban Economies

Kathryn Reyerson

in The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe

Published in print August 2013 | ISBN: 9780199582174
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191749919 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

Urban Economies

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  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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Women's experience in the towns of medieval Europe was framed by the nature of the urban economy and the legal system in place. Women operated everywhere within a patriarchal system, but the limits and possibilities of their economic participation varied across time, marital status, social status, family ties, and training. Elite women managed households, but in some cities they can be found investing in trade and industry, engaging in financial operations, and exploiting real property. Middling women engaged in sales of luxury goods and agricultural commodities, in real-estate transactions, in partnerships and apprenticeships. Rarely did they enjoy guild membership, but they contributed to medieval artisanal industry. Poor women, domestic servants, prostitutes, and slaves were everywhere the disadvantaged in medieval cities, though some, such as hucksters, could overcome the makeshift transient economy of which they were a part. Gender dictated the fate of urban women, however historical assessments might differ.

Keywords: patriarchy; slaves; prostitutes; elite women; middling women; poor women; femme sole; hucksters; household; guardianship

Article.  7756 words. 

Subjects: Gender and Sexuality ; Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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