In contrast to the freedoms that single women posessed, married women encountered a loss of power when they tied the knot. The wife gave her land to her husband, thus reducing her power and increasing his. A woman's dowry consisted of a land tract and her land was merged with her husbands. The woman lost legal competancy and was not held responsible for her own actions. Also married women sealed documents jointly with their husbands whereas unmarried women in France between 1150 and 1350 could seal acts in their own names. Seals were a representation of the right to own property and be legally capable. In the area north of the Loire Valley aristocratic women frequently used seals, but it was the women of lesser nobility who sealed more acts in their own names, thus they were more legally independent than the former. The proportion of female to male seals that existed during this time was more equal which is a reflection of women's secular power.
Another interesting group of women in the Middle Ages were those that lived in Northern European countries in the late Medieval Period. Women made and sold textiles, clothing, beer, bread, and pottery and ran taverns and inns. They belonged to confraternities and guilds and borrowed/lent money, took oaths, joined political demonstrations, led religious movements, ran charities, sued and were sued, learned and taught reading, writing and artithmetic, delivered babies for money, and dispensed medicine and medicinal advice.
In the south of France during the 9th-11th centuries women were the heads of families and households. They also exercised their power in other areas as well because their were no effective barriers to hold them back. Women were judges, military leaders, castellans and controllers of property. Within the realm of the church, women in an advantageous family position influenced the affairs of the church and before men were sworn to an oath of celibacy their wives took ecclesiastical property into their own hands.
Moving on to the middle of the eighth century we see the decline of the Franks and with that the obliteration of restrictive inheritance rights. The Carolingians who succeded the Franks gave women the private right to control their property, thus giving mothers, daughters, sisters and wives clout within the family sphere. Women contributed tracts of land during a marriage and thus gained power within the household. It was customary during this time for families to will their fiefs to their daughters when there were no sons to inherit them, and under the Capitulary of Quierzy issued by Charles the Bald in 870, fiefs were divided among younger sons and daughters. Within the arena of the aristocracy during this time there was a fine line between public and private power and thus with this increase in private power women also had fewer restrictions on their ability to yield power in public activities. Within the aristocracy, the castle of kings and queens was considered the core of the imperial domain. The queen, as delegated housewife, became an organizer and administrator within this domain. King Charlemagne's wife regulated domestic concerns within the castle and was the director of the royal servants. As we will see in the succeeding generations this private power led to control over the royal treasury as well. Under Hincar of Rheims, two generations after Charlemagne's reign, the queen, with the assistance of a chamberlain, took charge of the royal loot. When kings and their knights were called to battle, the women took charge of the home and defended it under times of siege and even directed military operations when necessary.
Allodial lands, lands gained through purchase, force or land clearance were different from fiefs and during the 9th and 10th centuries in England these lands allowed the aristocracy to expand their territory. Families were unrestricted to do as they saw fit with the allodial land and daughters often inherited this land. Once she received the land, it remained her property and was not ceded over to her husband or his family unless she was willed to do so. In the 11th century, one woman, Matilda of Tuscany, was extremely forceful and refused to let her husband manage and take control of her allodial property.
As the shift moved from kings having absolute control over lands to lords exerting control formerly owned by kings, there was a change in women's political power. While the lords raised armies, made laws, coined money, and administered justice, their wives shared in these responsibilities and gained political power by inheriting her own estate. When and if her husband died the woman took over her husband's power and responsibilities.
Another powerful woman of the Middle Ages was a female aristocrat from England named Honor Lisle. She was married to a wealthy businessmen and had a large impact on who he chose for various religious and political appointments. With her connections she placed female relatives in advantageous situations and was generous in supplying others with household and personal items. She networked with other women to deal with domestic problems and used gifts, favors, hospitality, letters and patronage to advance her reputation and to forge a link of reciprocity with others.
Other notable women of this time were the authors, Hrotsuit, Hildegarde of Bingen, and Christine de Pisan. I have enclosed a link to view some of their work.
Female Artists of Middle Ages
Interesting Paper on Cathar Feminism 1100-1300
The Beguines: 1st Women's Movement in Christian History
Info on Medieval Women Writers
Female Composers of Middle Ages
Changing Role of Women In Arthurian Legend
Interactive Exploration of Women in the Middle Ages and Renaissance
Medieval and Renaissance Weddings