This series provides the student, scholar and general reader with short studies of key aspects and personalities of the medieval world. The careers explored in the biographical volumes are studied not only for their intrinsic importance, but also for the light they shed on the wider themes and processes of the time. Any serious attempts to explain the contribution made by women to past societies have been hampered by the shortage of surviving evidence. This is particularly true for women of the Middle Ages, who, unless they were nuns, saints or queens, living in a world governed and controlled by men made little impact on historical records. In the later Middle Ages, however, English noblewomen fared a little better. It becomes possible to identify some of them as individual personalities with individual careers. In this study Dr Ward examines the lives of women in the upper strata of lay society. By using Lady Elizabeth de Burgh (1295-1360), younger sister of the last Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, as a continuing case study throughout the book, Dr Ward places the various life-roles of English noblewomen in context.
The book fills gaps in medieval and social history, and in the rapidly expanding field of women's history. It views the noble lady in the terms of her respective "life roles"; as a marriageable asset, wife, widow, mother, administrator of a major household and as a religious and cultural patron. It is aimed at sixth form students and 1st/2nd year undergraduates and general readership. It is designed for courses - Medieval British history, social and economic history, religious and cultural history and women's studies.