Book Review: “The Medieval Housewife and Other Women of the Middle Ages” by Toni Mount

Medieval Housewife book cover

Toni Mount was teaching a course called “The Role of Medieval Women” in 2007 and her students asked her to write down her information because they couldn’t write notes fast enough to keep up. Those notes turned into this book. And what a delightful read this is.

We have lots of information on royal or noble women but there is not much information on how the ordinary medieval woman lived. Mount has studied what meager sources there are to give us as complete a picture as can be expected of everyday life in a medieval household. There are chapters on the role of medieval women, medieval housewives, and women in trade such as selling of wares, weaving, prostitution and ale brewing. She tells us about peasant women as well as medieval ladies. Other chapters deal with women’s dress and fashion as well as women in the church.

Interesting information is given on buying and making clothes, child care, cleaning, the cooking, serving and baking of food. Women had their own businesses and also aided their husband’s with their businesses. Mount tells us what medieval women wore and how they laundered the clothes.

All of Mount’s material in the book comes from primary sources such as a book written in the 1390’s by Guy de Montigny (The Goodman of Paris) where he details the domestic duties of a household for his new wife. She also uses material from “Piers Plowman”, Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” as well as wills, manor court rolls and medieval mystery plays. All of these sources reveal pretty compelling evidence.

Mount has a concise bibliography and the book is filled with lovely pictures from illuminated manuscripts. Also provided are photos from recent medieval reenactment groups. I highly recommend this book. I learned a lot.