Can Jehanne Read And Write?
|Cydippe writing a letter in bed,
epistle of Cydippe to Aconcius.
Harley 4867 f. 170v,
France, late 15th-century
I’ve been working through M. Modar Neznanich‘s Research Questions for Developing a Persona. Recently I hunted for information on number 23. “Would your persona have been literate in your chosen culture/time-frame?” I wanted an excuse for all the writing I do. Yes, even in bed. What about you?
Many in the SCA believe in the Middle Ages few people could read or write. So they contrive a persona-story that allows them those skills. But is that true? And what about for women?
The answer is “it depends”.
As expected it depends on the era, status, and gender.
If you are curious you might start by looking into Medieval European education. But with a female persona it’s easier by simply googling Medieval women’s literacy. From there you find intriguing tidbits.The daughters of Emperor Charlemagne (742-814 A. D.) were educated at the Palace of Aachen’s school with other nobles’ daughters so in their future they’d live up to their social position. But they are early nobility in a central European area.
Later you’ll find
- Hroswitha of Gandersheim (935–1000 A.D.) a German secular canoness, dramatist, and poetess.
- And Hildegard of Bingen(1098–1179 A.D) a German abbess, philosopher, botanist, and writer.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the monks and nuns were the literate. Some nuns even contributing to the era’s scholarly research, like the women above.
In Italy educating women in medicine was more liberal than other places. A few examples are:
- The University of Bologna let women attend lectures from its beginning in 1088.
- The physician, Trotula di Ruggiero, sometimes confused with Trota of Salerno. She held a chair at the Medical School of Salerno in the 11th century teaching noble Italian women and writing about women’s medicine and cosmetics.
We need never lack the pleasures of conversation… Even when separated we could enjoy each other’s presence by exchange of written messages.
Jehanne Bening was born in Ghent, the Duchy of Burgundy, April 16,
1439, or possibly 1440, by the Gregorian calendar date. She -or I- eventually became a manuscript illuminator and writer, an apprentice to Sanders Bening.
I am amazed by the opinion of some men who claim that they do not want their daughters or wives to be educated because they would be ruined as a result… Not all men (and especially the wisest) share the opinion that it is bad for women to be educated. But it is very true that many foolish men have claimed this because it upset them that women knew more than they did.
But the biggest increase in women’s literacy came from Johannes Gutenberg‘s printing press in 1450. His printing press both caused and resulted in a widespread literacy increase.
What about you? No cheating now. Would your persona be able to read and write? Where would you look for that information?
Related Prior Post:
Why I’m Thrilled With My New Found Interest – Finding Jehanne
External Related Sources: You can find an extensive list of works by and about Medieval women writers on Fordham University’s Internet History Sourcebook.
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