This is an engaging account of the lives of high-born women in the Middle Ages, by one of the foremost historians in Europe. Focusing on France in the twelfth century, Duby recreates the image of women that the men of high society made for themselves. Using written evidence from the period - official texts written by men, all intended for public consumption and reading aloud - he tells the story of six very different women. These women - fictional and real, religious and secular - range from famous historical figures such as Eleanor of Aquitaine and Heloise, through Mary Magdalen, whose cult grew throughout the twelfth century, to Soredamors and Fenice, the heroines of Cliges, the romance of Chretien de Troyes. Duby sets all of these women within their historical context, using their personalities to explore the characteristics of female existence during this period. He discusses relations between the sexes, including marriage and different types of love, and shows how women were feared, mistrusted and, sometimes, admired by men. He vividly reconstructs the French nobility's system of values, examining the place assigned to women within this system.
He argues that men's attitudes to women began to change in the twelfth century and that women began imperceptibly to extricate themselves from masculine power. This important book - the first of three volumes on women in the Middle Ages - will be of interest to a wide readership.