Research Article

DOI :10.26650/iutd.20241396115   IUP :10.26650/iutd.20241396115    Full Text (PDF)

The Cultural Ambassadors in Medieval Europe: Intellectual Women

Pınar Ülgen

Change is a very important word regarding Medieval Europe, because all the magic that created Europe is hidden in this word. So how did this transformation happen? Books were especially important in achieving this. Raising people’s awareness meant creating a new world. This is where the intellectual women of the period appeared on the stage and thus became the bosses of the book world. Since ancient times, a prevailing thought has generally been found that raising awareness in society would lead to rebellion. This article attempts to talk about certain female intellectuals who encouraged book printing, which was effective in the cultural change and transformation of the Middle Ages, as well as their reasons for doing so.

DOI :10.26650/iutd.20241396115   IUP :10.26650/iutd.20241396115    Full Text (PDF)

Orta Çağ Avrupasının Kültür Elçileri: Entelektüel Kadınlar

Pınar Ülgen

Orta Çağ Avrupası’nda değişim, çok önemli bir kelimedir. Çünkü Avrupa’yı yaratan bütün sihir, bu kelimede gizlidir. Peki bu dönüşüm nasıl gerçekleşmişti. Bunun gerçekleşmesinde özellikle kitapların büyük önemi vardı. İnsanların bilinçlenmesi demek yeni bir dünyanın yaratılması demekti. İşte burada dönemin entelektüel kadınları sahneye çıktılar. Bir nevi kitap dünyasının patronları oldular. Genel olarak Eski Çağdan itibaren toplum içindeki bilinçlenmelerin isyana yol açacağı şeklinde bir düşünce hâkimdi. Bu çalışmamızda da Orta Çağ’daki kültürel değişim ve dönüşümün gerçekleşmesinde etkili olan kitap basımlarını teşvik eden kadın entellektüelleri ve onların böyle davranmalarındaki sebeplerini anlatmaya çalıştık.


Change is a very important word regarding Medieval Europe, because all the magic that created Europe is hidden in this word. This word also entails transformation. So how did this happen? Books were especially important in achieving this. Raising people’s awareness meant creating a new world. This is the point where the intellectual women of the period appeared who would go on to become the queens of the printing world. Namely, the power of words is the greatest and most comprehensive power known to society. Generally speaking, in slave societies since ancient times, teaching slaves to read was very dangerous because their literacy would definitely lead to rebellion, because the energy of words is the greatest and most effective power known to society. However, the medieval upper-class women gained power by owning valuable books and using them for to educate girls and boys. Generally speaking, laywomen had an undeniable impact in promoting cultural change because the women who owned books significantly affected local literature in the late Medieval periods. Women often purchased or inherited religious and scientific books. They also had a unique unmatched impact, especially as readers of local literature, as mothers responsible for childhood education, and as literary masters who commissioned books and translations.

In this regard, the factors that encouraged these women to own books begin to attract attention. Namely, the general view of the Middle Ages, or said another way, the idea that women had a low status in medieval Christian thought and were in greater need of mental strength due to being excluded from both scientific and clerical life has an important place.

Perhaps the clearest evidence of medieval women having acquired books is the wills of their fathers or husbands. Concerning medieval women’s book ownership, however, the legacy of books being passed from women to women is also important. During the Middle Ages, women who followed the teachings of Christian fathers were generally themselves encouraged to own books. To be able to do this, noble women began to read at early ages. The importance of medieval women owning books is seen more clearly in two fields. First of all, women were influential with regard to iconography books and thus presented new shapes of femininity. Secondly, women acted as international ambassadors of cultural exchange in the medieval European world by distributing books over a wide geographic area.

In the Medieval world the institution of marriage gave women the role of being cultural ambassadors between two countries or two states. In medieval Europe, noble women could often change and expand their social circles through marriage. Therefore, the fact that medieval women owned, wrote, printed, or helped distribute books can be considered evidence of how active a role they played in this regard. A type of alliance marriage, which can also be called a marriage of convenience, forced women to travel to foreign countries at a young age. This situation was a story that was quite familiar metaphorically speaking. Later on, however, books were able to teach women a new language, cause them to have new experiences, and relieve their homesickness. 

With regard to this I can actually say that women in the past had greater numbers in certain heretical groups. Additionally, medieval women were very curious. Therefore, women had a big role in the spread of the Reformation. Because of the special relationship women had with religious books, they also played an important role in teaching and translating books. In the Middle Ages, women were encouraged to possess religious books by means of legal contracts and certain marital customs. During this period, interest in literacy began to increase, with some contradictory and controversial situations also emerging alongside this. Namely, because women could not be involved in the religious structure of spiritual life, they were more dependent on books, especially local books. In turn, mothers could influence their daughters’ lives by choosing which books they would use as teaching tools. This choice had importance in times when even a single book had the only literary entity.

In this context, cultural dissolutions and innovations played an important role. The greatest and most effective tool in achieving these were books. Book writing and printing have been maintained despite all the kinds of obstacles that have occurred since early ages. However, this maintaining began to reach even greater heights during the Middle Ages. Women especially had an important role in this regard. In other words, women began to act as cultural ambassadors, because all women, whether rural or noble, were doing their part to encourage book writing and publishing. These active roles women had also brought the issue of women owning books to the fore. Thus, the transfer of Christian culture to other generations and the development of a literary tradition brings to mind a type of mother-daughter or matrilineal tradition. Accordingly, the books daughters’ mothers chose to bring to Europe also reflect a widespread cultural transfer in terms of their section. I should also add here that newlyweds or remarried widows would also carry the books they owned across borders, and in this way they conveyed the books’ contents and ideas, often using an artistic style. The following point should also not be overlooked: Some economic, political, and diplomatic pressures had also caused women’s books to transfer from one cultural environment to another.

Meanwhile, another issue that needs to be explained here is not about what the actual contents of these books were. The important point here is that the main reasons why some books were preferred more were the hidden elements they contained that shaped the lives of mothers and their daughters. This was especially important in terms of the intellectuality of the religious books written before the Reformation, because these books bore the traces of the mother-child relationship in the Middle Ages, especially the mother-daughter relationship and the values and ideals that medieval women spread to Europe. As can be understood, books had become a tool through which women could reflect their cultural existence.

Meanwhile, lay women had great influence in promoting cultural change. Women who owned books significantly impacted the development of local literature in the late medieval period. Medieval women either purchased or inherited religious and scientific books. Women can be said to have had a unique unmatched influence, especially as readers of local literature, mothers responsible for education, and literary masters who commissioned books and translations. Therefore, this article is an attempt to describe the female intellectuals who encouraged book sales and printing, which had a great effect on cultural change and transformation in early ages, and to explain the reasons why they acted this way.

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Ülgen, P. (2024). The Cultural Ambassadors in Medieval Europe: Intellectual Women. Turkish Journal of History, 0(82), 75-96.


Ülgen P. The Cultural Ambassadors in Medieval Europe: Intellectual Women. Turkish Journal of History. 2024;0(82):75-96.


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Ülgen, Pınar. The Cultural Ambassadors in Medieval Europe: Intellectual Women”. Turkish Journal of History 0/82 (Apr. 2024): 75-96.


Published Online15.03.2024


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