Thursday, 28 August 2014


St John’s College is currently celebrating ‘2000 WOMEN’: in October 2013, the 2000th woman matriculated to study here.

I was asked to produce a little sound-bite to celebrate this: you can see it here.

It wasn’t quite the appropriate context (nor did I have enough words) to say that, as far as I can see, there were actually three ways for women to be involved in medieval universities:

1/ as patronesses (Margaret of Anjou, one of the foundress’s of Queen’s College, Oxford, claimed the establishment was for the ‘laud and honneure of sexe femenine’)

2/ as prostitutes

3/ as launderesses

And sometimes as nos. 2 and 3 together.  So not only were women excluded, but they reduced and objectivised in pretty basic ways.

Margaret King has pointed out that there were a few female humanists in the fifteenth century, but they tended to be daughters of prominent humanists, educated by their fathers.  Given the desired celibacy of medieval university masters, even this informal educational opportunity was denied to women in university towns.

I would love to be able to find ways in which women could be informally involved in university learning in the Middle Ages, but I fear that this is unlikely.  So, I will reiterate my sound-bite: women, now is your moment!

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