Manuscripts and Special Collections

Mistreatment of Women

Dragon with shield, decoration taken from the Wollaton Antiphonal

‘A common woman in a brothel who regularly sells her body’

Forced marriage (as opposed to arranged marriage) is an issue which 21st-century politicians and community workers are attempting to tackle. It is not a new problem: it was also known, and condemned, in medieval England. Similarly, instances of abduction, human trafficking, and prostitution were an unwelcome feature of medieval life. One example of abduction has already been seen: the imprisonment of Elizabeth Swillington in an attempt to acquire her inheritance. Another abduction, this time ending in Jane Sacheverell's forced marriage, is described in this section.

Prostitution in the religious texts in the Wollaton Library Collection is presented as a danger to the souls of the prostitute and the men who buy her services, rather than as a social problem. However, men’s infidelity to their wives is also condemned in other works such as John Gower’s ‘Traitié...’ , since the betrayal leads to unhappy marriages.

The following extracts from literary and historical texts give some insights into violence and mistreatment affecting women in medieval society. 

 Transcripts and translations for manuscript items are also available for download:

Manuscripts and Special Collections

Kings Meadow Campus
Lenton Lane
Nottingham, NG7 2NR

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 4565
fax: +44 (0) 115 846 8651