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4.1 out of 5 stars24
4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 3 July 2001
I don't tend to read much women's history but when I saw the rave reviews this book got in the Literary Review and The Independent ('the best history book I've read for years') I decided to give it a go.
I'm glad I did because this book is a gem, crammed with vivid detail from every corner of women's lives over a thousand years of English history - from medieval sex and motherhood to female aristocrats and intellectuals. There's also a really interesting appendix with laws, poems and even a 13th century gynaecological handbook!
If you want to read a good book written by a top scholar in an easy and engaging style, I can't recommend this book enough.
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on 10 November 2002
This is a social history (rather than, say, a gender history)of women from the fall of the Roman Empire until the end of the medieval period. Its focus is therefore broader than other general works, most of which ignore women in the period before the year 1300 or thereabouts. Although it must be admitted that more space is devoted to the later Middle Ages, this is perhaps partly due to the greater research done on this time.
The book is very well written and detailed. It is also an easy read, suitable for the general reader as well as students. It also covers an interesting range of themes; the world of work, religious lives and the differing lives of women from different classes, for example. Henrietta Leyser uses a wide range of sources including archeology but is at all times in complete control of her material.
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VINE VOICEon 19 April 2003
Henrietta Leyser's book on Medieval Women is just one work from the blossoming ranks of studies on the subject. Infinitely accessible it covers all the major basic topic areas from the lives of peasant women to urban widows to the aristocracy. Leyser hasn't strayed into the language of entrenched academics making the book a perfect read for the general reader or the undergraduate student.
There are some gaps - there is a notable lack of reference to women as Queens and Queen Mothers. However, there is a bulk of literature available on the subject seperately and the lack is not too dehabilitating.
Overall, an excellent survey overview with some interesting and often poignant examples.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 15 August 2013
I first read this book quite a few years ago (first published in 1995), and thought I would rediscover its delights. The book encompasses a social history of women in England from 450 to 1500. Part One covers the Anglo-Saxon period; archaeology, history and hagiography, law codes and venacular literature. Part Two discusses the eleventh century, and whether 1066 was a year which made much, or indeed any difference to women and their way of life. In Part Three the later Middle Ages are discussed. As more information is available for this period, more detailed chapters are included, covering: Sex, Marriage and Motherhood; Women at Work; Widows. And in Part Four, spirituality and religion are covered, along with culture - monasticism, anchoresses, lay piety, and finally literary interests and images. The author has portrayed many different women and used contemporary evidence to support her examples, which makes the book and its points extremely relevant and interesting. In reading of these women - young servants, married women, aristocratic ladies, widows, nuns and authors - we get a small glimpse into their worlds and come a bit nearer to understanding how their lives may have been lived. Extremely interesting, and a book which repays re-reading and study.
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on 30 January 2013
I really enjoyed this historical account of women through the Middle Ages. It is easy to read and it provides a clear picture of how they lived and survided in an enviroment very diffirent form the one we live in. This book is a good start for who wishes to understand the characters of the great female figures of the past, aristocrat, religous or peasant alike. I recommend it as a sort of vademecum prior to reading historical bios (or fiction) of famous women of that era.
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on 5 March 2011
This is a beautifully written and absolutely facinating book about a period of history little known to the general public.
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on 26 January 2014
My thanks to the author for this well-researched work. I am interested in reading about the changes that were forced upon the English population by the invasions from different cultures, especially from the woman's point of view. This has given me some good insight whilst maintaining an high level of academic material
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on 3 April 2016
I found the style of this book enervating - the author's enthusiasm for her subject felt somehow off. Whatever it was, I was disappointed as the subject matter is pretty fascinating - I just kept getting bogged down by the tone.
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on 2 January 2016
interesting read for the winter evenings. Its a little wordy in places but that is because the research is very detailed. Not a criticism. I just had to make I concentrated.
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on 11 March 2010
This just confirms everything I already suspected about Medieval women:
you wouldn't want to be one.

Leyser's book is great if you need a supplement to an undergraduate course on, say, Medieval women writers. The chapters in isolation are useful in this context, giving a broad outline of all the key points plus a few extras.
As a continuous read, however, there is no overarching argument. No introduction, and no conclusion. It leaves off as abruptly as it begins. For this reason it would make a good introduction for someone about to read deeply around the subject. But as a coherent read or for anyone who already knows the subject, it is a little disappointing, merely skimming the surface.
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