I will soon travel to Hull to attend a conference entitled Women, Land and the Making of the British Landscape 1300 – 1900. Not only am I really looking forward to attending what looks set to be a very interesting and exciting conference, but, once again, it made me think about medieval peasant women and how they contributed – no correct – shaped – the English landscape. Far from only operating along the margins of the village economy which was centered on livestock and arable agriculture, they were absolutely central and integral to the peasant economy, which was by definition focused upon the peasant household – or to be more precise perhaps- the peasant houseful. I have yet to discover a task peasant women did not do, and my delight was complete yesterday, when looking through my notes on the manorial accounts of the manor of Heacham I came across an entry detailing the costs of labour incurred by the lord when for feeding his workforce at harvest time in one year in the yearly 14th century, which noted that sufficient fish had been bought to feed 20 male boon workers and 21 women boon workers. So there were women, in the fields at harvest time, together with the men of their villages. And not just that, but the ratio was pretty much 50:50
I was also reminded of the fact that the Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, and lord of the manor of Longbridge Deverill employed a ploughwoman by the name of Eleanor. It was thanks to her that I decided I wanted to learn more about ploughing last year. She could do it, so why do people mutter that ploughing is too difficult for a woman. I simply had to find out more, so I and attended a ploughing with heavy horses day at the Weald and Downland Museum. Thank you Eleanor the Gaunt for encouraging me to find out more about the craft you made your living from back in the 14th century. I learned a lot, and yes, I loved every minute of turning the earth in the beautiful landscape of Sussex.