Female Guild Members in York, England between 1272 and 1377

This is an abbreviated version of a paper I presented at An Tir’s Kingdom Arts and Sciences Championship in March of this year. The full paper is available online: https://medievalyork.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/womenswork1.pdf



Through an examination of archived medieval documents, this paper presents evidence for women in guilds and trades in York during the reigns of Edward I through III. I examined digital transcriptions of primary source documents, primarily the York Register of Freemen, extracting data about female names and occupations. By analyzing these data, I was able to compare my findings to those of other researchers who have written about women as workers in other areas of medieval Europe. Overall, I found that the situation for women in York was consistent with that for women in other medieval European cities: while women did participate (sometimes significantly) in wage-work, women’s participation was typically limited to certain types of jobs in certain industries, and women rarely achieved full guild membership.

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Women as Workers in Medieval England (a brief overview)

This is an excerpt from a research paper I presented at An Tir’s Kingdom Arts and Sciences Championship in March. The full paper is available in the files section, and includes a full bibliography and works cited; this post has been edited from the introduction to that paper and provides a broad overview of women’s roles in medieval English town economies. The original introduction had a large number of footnotes, because I love footnotes, which I have awkwardly inserted as parentheticals.

A woman making a nail and a woman doing laundry, both from a 14th century English picture Bible

The purpose of this research was to uncover evidence for women’s participation in trades, paid work, and commercial/craft guilds (as opposed to parish guilds) in York, England during the reigns of Edward I, Edward II, and Edward III, which covered the years 1272-1377. This was a transitional period in Europe, corresponding with a rise in urbanization and the subsequent boom of the guild movement. In England in particular this was a period of tremendous social upheaval; from the relative stability of the thirteenth century, the early fourteenth century brought a series of famines that significantly weakened both systems and people, and the devastation of the Black Death left chaos in its wake. Yet guilds persisted in spite of significant social upheaval, a phenomenon which has been relatively well-studied. In post-plague England, wages for skilled workers increased, and in general there was an increase in the percentage of the working population involved in trades rather than agriculture. (See Penn and Dyer, “Wages and Earnings in Late Medieval England: Evidence from the Enforcement of the Labour Laws” for more analysis of general post-plague patterns.)

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