Between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries in Europe, not all women fit the stereotype of passive housewife and mother. Many led bold and dynamic lives. In this collection of historical portraits, Maria Teresa Brolis tells the fascinating tales of fashion icons, art clients, businesswomen, saints, healers, lovers, and pilgrims — both famous and little known — who challenge conventional understandings of the medieval female experience. Drawing on evidence from literary works and archival documents that include letters, chronicles, trials, testimonials, notary registers, contracts, and wills, Brolis pieces together an intricate overview of sixteen women's lives. With zest and compassion, she describes the mysterious visionary Hildegard of Bingen, the cultured Heloisa, the powerful Eleanor of Aquitaine, Saint Clare of Assisi, the rebel Joan of Arc, as well as lesser-known women such as Flora, the penitent moneylender, Bettina the healer, and Belfiore the pilgrim, among others. Following the trajectories and divergences of their lives from wealth to poverty, from conjugal love to the love of community, from the bedroom to life on the streets of Paris, London, Mainz, Rome, and Bergamo, each portrait offers a riveting glimpse into the often complex and surprising world of the medieval woman. Combining the rigour of research with the thrill and empathy of narrative, Stories of Women in the Middle Ages is a provocative investigation into the biographies of sixteen incredible medieval heroines.
Maria Teresa Brolis is an independent scholar in medieval history. She lives in Bergamo, Italy.