Illustration from
The City of Women

During her lifetime, Christine de Pizan became a champion of women's rights. Her most celebrated arguments against the degradation of women were precipitated by the misogynic doctrines in the popular Roman de La Rose by Guillaume de Lorris. Christine's response to de Lorris and the powerful clergy amounted to a Battle of the Sexes whose arguments pro and con would be debated for centuries after. Her work The City of Women is an extensive argument for the equality of women. In it she evokes Lady Reason who serves as the work's guide to the questions Christine poses. Through Lady Reason, Christine discovers not only the historical instances of outstanding women, but guidance about how women should be educated.

The educational plans that Lady Reason gives to Christine the author are not however without a mind to class distinctions. The plan of education for women from the merchant or artisan classes are very distinct from the one prescribed for women who are married to landed barons. Wives of baronets, for instance, are given some surprisingly modern advice on how to become thoroughly familiar with economics since their husbands are likely to be frequently absent from home.

"Because barons and still more commonly knights and squires and gentlemen travel and go off to the wars, their wives should be wise and sound administrators and manage their affairs well, because most of the time they stay at home without their husbnds, who are at court or abroad. They shoud have all the responsibility of the administration and know how to make use of their revenues a nd possessions. Every lady of such rank (if she is sensible) ought to know how much her annual income is and how much the revenue of her land is worth. This wise lady ought to persuade her husband if she can by kindwords and sensible admonitions to agree to discuss their finances together and try to keep to such a standard ofliving as their income can provide and not so far above it that at the end of the year they find themselves in debt to their own people or other creditors. There is absolutely no shame in living within your income, however small it may be, but there is shame if creditors are always coming to your door to repossess their goods or if they are obliged to make nuisances of themselves to your men or your tenants or if they have to try by hook or by crook to get their payment.1

Likewise, women from the artisan classes are advised not only to encourage their husbands to work diligently,but to be actively involved themselves in the family business. In order to this, Christine stresses the importance for women to become very knowledgeable in regards to the details of the particular business to which their husbands are attached:

"And besides encouraging the others, the wife herself should be involved in the work to the extent that she knows all about it, so that she may know how to oversee his workers if her husband is absent, and to reprove them if they do not do well. She ought to oversee them to keep them from idleness, for through careless workers the master is sometimes ruined. And when customers come to her husband and try to drive a hard bargain, she ought to warn him solicitously to take care that he does not make a bad deal. She should advise him to be chary of giving too much credit if he does not know precisely where and to whom it is going, for in this way many come to poverty, although sometimes the greed to earn more or to accept a tempting propostion makes them do it.2

1Christine of Pizan,The Treasure of the City of Ladies:or The Book of the Three Virtues.trans. by Sarah Lawson. N. Y.: Penguin, 1985, pp.130-137.
2______pp. 162-164.

Medieval Women
Christine de Pizan
Medieval Home Page