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Themes Anaylsis:
The Hero in Anglo-Saxon Culture


Roles of Anglo-Saxon Women

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The Roles of Anglo-Saxon Women

The roles Anglo-Saxon women played in their society depended on the status they had in their community. As in most cultures, the roles of women in Anglo-Saxon society included mother, wife, caregiver, and teacher. Because Anglo-Saxon women had many different roles, I will only focus here on marriage, divorce, and their daily life in their society.

Where marriage was concerned, Anglo-Saxon women had the possibility of marrying anyone they chose. Sometimes marriages were arranged to keep peace between two clans, but the women still had the right to refuse the proposal. Since women could own land in this early culture, morgengifu (morning gifs) like land were given to a prospective the wife to persuade her to marry. Because husband and wife, if they were aristocratic or free men and women, have the same rights, everything they owned was equally shared. A marriage contract was written to show the agreement the man made with the woman when he wooed her. (Cited in Fell) The husband would go to the father with his offers, before he could marry his daughter. If the man is rich, he would give his wife his land, estate and everything that came with the manor. Furthermore, oxen, cows, horses, and slaves were given to make the agreement more enticing.

A peace-weaver was a woman who married a son or brother from another clan to keep peace between two tribes. According to Helwig, “It is believed that, through birth, a women wove peace by mixing her blood with the blood of another tribe. Hence, the name peace-weaver.” Because these marriages were not always successful, they could lead to divorce. In Anglo-Saxon times, women (like women still do today) had the right to take the land, house, or leave with their children. In Beowulf, the story of Hildeburh is told. She is a Danish woman who is married to the lord of the Finns as a peace-weaver. After her relatives are slain on both sides of a battle, she returns to her own people.

The Anglo-Saxon women took full responsibility of the day-to-day activities of their households. The wife‘s responsibility was to oversee the slaves, storerooms, make clothes and play hostess. In most societies the wife prepares the food, but in Anglo-Saxon culture, it was more customary for the man to prepare the food and the women to serve the drinks in the mead hall. Wealhtheow, from Beowulf, demonstrates her role as a hostess. She takes delight in presenting guests and warriors with the mead cup at the celebrations in Heorot.

Because of the different roles women played in society, it is hard to sum things up in a few paragraphs. Anglo-Saxon women, like other women, raised their children, managed their house, educated their children, and became divorced. Times may change but in general the roles women have in society are still the same.

Written by: Heidi Burrell