Women as Enslaved and Enslavers in Early Medieval England
Early medieval English society operated on a slave economy, in which as much as a third of the population was enslaved. This uncomfortable social reality is often brushed over in historical discussions of the period, in favour of highlighting elite institutions such as the church, the monarchy and the nobility, and the individuals who occupied positions within them. The deeds of the powerful are made explicit, while the powerless remain implicit. Nevertheless, it was the labour of the powerless that was most integral to early medieval society - it was primarily the enslaved and indentured who harvested and cooked the food, wove the cloth, tended to livestock, and produced raw materials for construction and craft. And of course, within this social structure, women both acted as enslavers and were subjected to slavery. A main goal of feminist history is to reinstate women as integral to historical societies, rather than consider them a discrete category. Part of this process involves highlighting where women have been victims - but also perpetrators - of social injustice.