If you’re a woman reading this, do you see yourself as savvy, independent, and self-reliant? That’s the modern image of womanhood, but not so long ago the image of the ideal woman centered around home and hearth, not on independence of any sort. Even where women could vote (in one country, not until 1984!), they were expected to cast their ballots as their husbands dictated.
So, what were women’s lives like, or supposed to be like, before our recent image of womanhood arose? Not so different from a woman’s life in the thirteenth century: rich or poor, she was supposed to get married, keep house, and produce children. Daughters of peasants and burghers probably had a little more freedom of choice than the ruling classes when it came to marriage, but the royalty and nobility regarded women as useful for sealing alliances; marry a daughter to an enemy’s son and get a new ally and a chance at more land, wealth, and power.
That last practice thankfully is no more, but my heroine, Princess Sofia Volodymyrovna of medieval Kyiv (Kiev) would have been married off by her father the minute he found a suitable political ally. And she might have been betrothed or even married by the age of eight! Love was not part of the equation, nor was lust. And to complicate things more, by the thirteenth century, in Western Europe a major shift in thinking had occurred. In the twelfth century, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine had sponsored romantic poetry and song celebrating an ambiguous kind of passion outside of marriage, perhaps physical and perhaps spiritual. Her influence was enormous, especially in upper echelons of society. But the Church had stamped out that kind of thinking, and women were now regarded with deep suspicion. They were the Daughters of Eve, full of lust and guile, and their only saving grace was that the Virgin Mary had been a woman: therefore they couldn’t be all bad!
Of course lust was fine for men, especially noblemen, who regarded lower class women as free game and rape as inconsequential. But even in marriage, you really weren’t supposed to have fun; you were supposed to procreate.
Just in passing: there was another option for the wealthy noblewoman. She might decide she didn’t want to marry or to be forced to remarry if she was widowed. She could take refuge in a convent where she could live quietly, embroider altar cloths, keep a pet lapdog, walk in the gardens, and of course attend Mass as often as she liked. Often she didn’t even have to become a nun.
Nonetheless, people did fall in love either before or after they married, and many couples were devoted to each other all their lives. And marriage ceremonies reflected that ideal. Sofia, who must endure hardship and challenge and a singular lack of luck in the love department, witnesses several marriages in the course of her adventures, from Mongol to Persian to Frankish.
As a woman of her time, she yearns to find a mate she could love, with whom she could experience passion as well as spiritual intimacy, so it is an especially poignant experience for her. Do her romantic, perhaps naïve dreams come true? To find out, you must read my trilogy, The Tiger and the Dove. The first two novels, The Grip of God and Solomon’s Bride have both been released, and the concluding novel, Consolamentum, is on its way. And there’s plenty of love, lust, and yes, marriage in all three.