What impresses me in this book is not only its "defense" of the honor of the so-called Middle Ages, but its concomitant "attack" on the honor (as most of us think) of the so-called Enlightenment or Renaissance!
Pernoud attacks the Renaissance/Enlightenment and defends the Medieval period not only with respect to Medieval v. Renaissance art and architecture, but with respect to literature, law, serfdom v. slavery, the position of women in society, and religious v. political persecution. When it comes to all but the last comparison (i.e., all but the issue of persecution), she is very explicit: the real conflict, she suggests, is between Christian and Roman worldviews. And, she suggests, the Roman perspective is probably further from that which most moderns would want to embrace than is the Christian view.
To take the matter of the roles and/or position of womens in society as an example (please understand and forgive Ms. Pernoud’s focus on FRENCH society as the exemplar!):
[I]n feudal times the queen was crowned just like the king, . . . always by the hands of the archbishop of Reims.Pernoud has much more to say on this. I strongly encourage you to read her book! It is an eye-opener, to say the least.
. . .
In other words, as much importance was attributed to the crowning of the queen as to that of the king.
. . .It was only in the seventeenth century that the queen literally disappeared from the scene. . . .
[T]he place [women in general] held in society, the influence they exercised, followed an exactly parallel line. While women like Eleanor of Aquitaine and Blanch of Castile really dominated their century, while they unquestionably exercised power when the king was absent, sick, or dead, while they had their chancellery, their dower, their field of personal activity,
. . .the woman in classical times was relegated to the background; she exercised power only in a hidden way and found herself excluded from any political or administrative function. She was even considered, especially in Latin countries, as being incapable of ruling, or succeeding to a fiefdom or domain, and, finally, . . .of exercising any right whatsoever over her personal property. . . .
Her influence [during the post-medieval period] diminished in direct proportion to the rise of Roman law.
. . .It was a progressive obliteration, whose principal stages, in France at least, one can follow very easily. . . .
Roman law is no more favorable to the woman than it is to the child. It is a monarchical law, which allows only one single end. It is the law of the PATER FAMILIAS, father, proprietor, and, in his own home, high priest, the head of the family with
. . .unlimited power in what concerns his children: he has the right of life and death over them--it is the same for his wife, despite some limitations belatedly introduced during the Byzantine Empire. . . .
The influence of [Roman] law [became] so strong that in the sixteenth century the age of majority, which for the most part was twelve years for girls and fourteen for boys, was returned to the very age fixed in Rome, that is, twenty-five years (in Rome majority scarcely mattered, since the power of the father over his children remained effective all during his life). This was a clear regression from what had been customary, which permitted a child to acquire true autonomy when very young, without
. . .withdrawing him from the solidarity of the family. . . . [I]nthe case of a deceased couple without any direct heir, the property originating from the father went to the paternal family, but that originating from the mother returned to the maternal family. . . .
[But i]n the seventeenth century, already, we note a profound evolution of this point of view: children, considered as minors until twenty-five years old, remained under paternal power, and the character of ownership as the monopoly of the father became only more pronounced. The Napoleonic Code put the final touch to this system and gave an imperative sense to tendencies that had begun to assert themselves from the end of the medieval period. Let us recall that it was only in the twelfth century that women were obliged to take the name of their spouse; and also that it was only with the Council of Trent, thus in the second half of the sixteenth century, that the consent of parents became necessary for the marriage of children.
. . .(98-102)
"[Let us] recall here that some women
. . .enjoyed . . .an extraordinary power during the Middle Ages. Certain abbesses were feudal lords whose power was respected equally with that of other lords; some wore the cross just like a bishop; they often administered vast territories with villages, parishes . . .One example among thousands of others: in the middle of the twelfth century . . .the life of an abbess of that period included a whole administrative aspect: donations were accumulated that allowed, here, the collection of a tithe on a vineyard, there, the right to rent on hay or corn, here to have a barn, and there a right of pasture in the forest . . .Her activity was also that of an owner, indeed, of a lord. This is to say that, by their religious functions, certain women exercised, even in secular life, a power that many men would envy today.
On the other hand, one notes that the religious of that time
. . .were for the most part extremely well-educated women who could have rivaled the most learned monks of the time in their knowledge. Héloïse herself knew and taught Greek and Hebrew to her nuns. It was from an abbey of women . . .that a manuscript came in the tenth century containing six comedies in rhymed prose in imitation of Terence. . . .
[T]he best-known encyclopedia of the twelfth century came from a woman religious, the abbess Herrad of Landsberg. [From it] scholars draw the most reliable information about the state of technical knowledge of that time.
. . .
If one wants to get an exact idea of the place held by women in the Church in feudal times, one must wonder what would be said in our twentieth century of convents of men placed under authority of a woman.
. . .This was . . .achieved with great success and without providing the least scandal in the Church by Robert d'Arbrissel at Fontevrault, in the early part of the twelfth century. . . .Robert d'Arbrissel decided to found two convents, one for men and the other for women. . . .Now this double monastery was placed under the authority, not of an abbot, but of an abbess. . . .[And l]etus add . . .that the first abbess, Petronilla of Chemillé who presided over the fortunes of this order of Fontevrault, was twenty-two years old." (104-107)