a medieval minute: women reading

Literacy was not widespread in Europe until the eighteenth century. But in the middle ages nuns often could read, and some townswomen were literate. We know because some of them left writings and also because women are portrayed reading in medieval art. Commonly, the Virgin was depicted with a book.

The Virgin reading, detail from the Ghent altarpiece

The Virgin reading, detail from the Ghent altarpiece

It seems probable that the subject of my research, Viscountess Ermengarde, like Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, could read but not write. Documents contain not Ermengarde’s signature, but her identifying symbol.

Viscountess Ermengarde, like her contemporaries, Eleanor and Eleanor’s daughter, Marie of France, supported poets and established a court of love.

Marie of France

Marie of France

To read more about Ermengarde, please consider nominating my book.



About medievalphyllis

I love history and I love writing. I've been working on an historical novel about a medieval viscountess, Ermengarde of Narbonne since 2009. It has been quite a journey and the journey isn't over. Previously I written 6 historical novels for kids, but this is a new challenge.
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