The Lady of the Manor
The life of a lady of the manor is often misunderstood. The law gave a husband full rights over his wife, whether she was a noble woman or a commoner. She effectively became his property. Her role is most often perceived as undertaking subservient and 'housewifely' duties. Although this was all true the lady of the manor had to become much more. The lady of the manor had to take over the running of the manor when her husband was absent. She was a figure of authority. And her word was literally law when her husband was absent. And the lord of the manor could disappear for significant amounts of time during the violent times of unrest in the Middle Ages. His absences were frequent because he was expected to pay for his land by giving allegiance to the King and his immediate superior and providing the services of himself and his vassals as fully trained and equipped soldiers. In these instances the lady of the manor would be expected to look after the finances of the manor including the collection of rents, supervising the farming and settling all disputes.
The education of the Lady of the Manor
The education of the lady of the manor was based on the service of others. At a very young age girls of the nobility were sent to the households of great ladies to receive a basic education in the duties of a lady. Daughters of knights would also be sent away from home. Nunneries were also used for this purpose. The lady of the manor would therefore have received her education in a wealthy household or in a nunnery. At the age of between twelve and fourteen she would enter society. With parental permission it was legal for boys to marry at fourteen and girls at twelve. She had no choice in her husband. Marriages were to do with wealth and alliances, not love. So at a very young age a young woman could assume the role and the duties of a lady of the manor.
The Lady of the Manor - the land
A manor varied in size but was typically between 1200 - 1800 acres. The land belonging to the 'Lord of the Manor' was called his "demesne," or domain which he required to support himself and his retinue. The rest of the land of the Manors were allotted to the peasants who were his tenants. A manor would typically include farming land, a village, a church and a Manor House.
The Lady of the Manor - the land
The Manor House was the place of residence for the lady of the manor and was built apart from the village where the peasants lived. The lord of the manor was all powerful over the peasants, holding privileges including Hunting and Judicial rights. The lady of the manor would assume responsibility for settling any disputes in the absence of her husband.
The Lady of the Manor - the Manor House
The Manor House varied in size, according to the wealth of the lord but generally consisted of a Great Hall, solar, kitchen, storerooms and servants quarters. In some cases a chapel might also be attached to a manor house.
The Role of the lady of the Manor
The role of the lady of the manor included ensuring adequate provisions were available at the manor. Purchasing items such as expensive materials and spices. She would be expected to assist or supervise the preparation of various foods and ensure that sufficient meat and preserves had been prepared for the winter months. Her major role was to provide children for the lord of the manor.
The Lady of the Manor Children
Large families were the norm in the Middle Ages as the mortality rate for children and babies was so high. Many woman made arrangements for the care of their children in case they themselves died during childbirth. The life expectancy of a woman in the Middle Ages was just forty years of age. Most Medieval woman would become pregnant between 4 and 8 times and a woman might expect to lose at least one child.