Known for refinement, elegance, and culture, the Renaissance era was a time of flourishing in many ways. However, amidst all the revelry and class was the harsh reality of daily life. While it may have been somewhat bearable for Renaissance men, it was a different story for women and children.
The role of women in the Renaissance period was basically confined to keeping order in the home. Their primary task was bearing and raising children. Other responsibilities included making clothes and food production. It was only the wealthy women that got a breath of fresh air from being trapped in the home. However, in the 13th century, clothing and food production became male trades, thus alleviating women a bit from these duties.
For unmarried women and those lacking a dowry required to become a nun, they had no other option but to find work. Before the 15th century, women were able to join crafts guilds, but after this time, they were excluded. Professions that women could engage in included wool merchants, book binders, goldsmiths, and butchers. For craftsmen’s wives, they could sometimes rise to the position of shop supervisor and could have the right to inherit or continue the business, in the event their husbands died. Physical labor was the norm for women, while intellectual and artistic skill development was highly discouraged. It was widely believed that it was not right for a woman to read unless she was to be a nun.
While Renaissance life was hard for women, it was unfortunately no easier for children. Due to the rigorous family life, one of the biggest threats to children was disease and illness. Death was common among children in both wealthy and peasant families. If a child survived childhood, he or she was considered very fortunate. For a peasant mother, she was lucky to have one grown child from all of her child births. To make matters worse, mothers and fathers often died by the age of thirty, leaving any surviving children orphaned. Many children also ended up in orphanages because their parents couldn’t afford to raise them or because they were born to slaves of wealthy families.
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Play time for Renaissance children was not in the cards. They were essentially carbon copies of their parents and were required to dress, talk, and act like adults. The only distinguishing factor between children and adults was lack of right for the youngsters. Children were put to work as soon as they were capable. For peasant children, this meant working in the fields or kitchen. For middle class children, this meant learning their parents’ business trade. And for noble sons, this meant being trained as warriors or courtiers while noble daughters were trained in class and beauty to snag a profitable marriage.
Over time, daily life for Renaissance women and children gradually became easier, but it was still no walk in the park. On the plus side, as tough as conditions were back then, a great tapestry of fashion, creative genius, and culture was born. And no doubt, women and children aided in this feat:
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