It would vary considerably depending on their class. The majority of women were peasant women, and their lives were pretty busy. In 'Life in a Medieval Village' Frances and Joseph Gies write:
'For most of the time, in most peasant households, the tasks of men and women were differentiated along the traditional lines of 'inside' and 'outside' work. The woman's 'inside' jobs were by no means always performed indoors. Besides spinning, weaving, sewing, cheese-making, cooking, and cleaning, women did foraging, gardening, weeding, haymaking, carrying, and animal-tending. They joined in the lord's harvest boon unles excused, and helped bring in the family's own harvest. Often women served as paid labour, receiving at least some of the time wages equal to men's.
For many village women one of the most important parts of the daily labor was the care of livestock. Poultry was virtually the woman's domain, but feeding, milking, washing, and shearing of the large livestock often fell to her also.'
Women who belonged to the families of artisans, craftsmen, and tradesmen, would often help out in the family business, whatever it might be. some women were in trade on their own account. In 'Medieval Women' Eileen Power writes:
'The cases in which a man was helped by his wife and daughter and perhaps maidservant in his trade were perhaps more numerous than the cases of women who carried on an independent occupation. Even guild regulations, which expressly exclude women from participation in a trade,regarded this unprofessional labour as a matter of course and made exceptions for wives and daughters.
The fact that wivess were accustomed to assist husbands in crafts is perhaps the reason why all through the latter Middle Ages we find large numbers of widows carrying on their dead husbands' trades. Sometimes guild regulations specifically allowed them to do so. Husbands often expected wives to carry on businesses after their death, for we frequently find men providing in their wills that theri apprentices should serve out their term with theri widows, or leaving to their wives implements belonging to trade.
It must not be supposed, however, that women's work in the labour market of the Middle Ages was confined to assisting their husbands while they were alive or carrying on their hsubands' businesss after their death. Many unmarried women supported themselves as shopkeepers and wage earners and many married women carried on occupations of their own perfectly distinct from those of their husbands.'
Women of upper class families would be expected to manage the family estates in the absence of theri husbands, and might even have to defend it against attack in times of war. They would be expected to keep the household provisioned with food and clothing, and needed to be good organisers and be able to manage the household budget and oversee the production of clothing and foodstuffs. Being a medieval lady was rather like being the manager of a small factory.
Some upper class women became nuns.Eileen Power writes:
'Nuns were recruited from a limited class. They provided a career for gilrs of gentle birth for whom the only alternative was marriage. Prioresses of even some of the smallest and poorest houses were drawn from well-known noble and gentry families. In the course of the Middle Ages wealthy townsmen, often connected by blood with the gentry, sent their daughters to convents in large towns like Norwich and London. But we never find poor girls of lower classes as nuns, because families of these classes needed no special outlets for their women. This was partly because owmen of working classes in fact worked in agriculture and industry, and partly because the families of peasants and artisans could not afford the dowry required to get into a nunnery.
Medieval nunneries, thus recruited, performed a number of functions, and served the women in them in a variety of ways. Certainly some girls went in with no particular aptitude for the religious life, and simply because there was nothing else for them to do. But htere were also others who found in the monastic enivronment their full spiiritual fulfilment, and in doing so performed a function which was rated very highly in the medieval estimation. Prayer and praise of god was a mode of life to whcih the Middle AGes attached the greatest importance, and for which monasteries served as the best venue.'
Answered By: Louise C - 5/25/2010