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27 Jul

Children in the Middle Ages

The position of children in the medieval society is very unclear. Children were ignored by medieval artists, while angels were not depicted as children with wings like in later period but as adults. The Child Jesus was represented as a “dwarf” which did not interested the artist nor the orderer of the artistic work or the public even after the image of Virgin Mary became more feminine, beautiful and natural. Greater interest in children in art can not be noticed at the end of the Middle Ages, while the theme the Massacre of the Innocents primally implies on concern over high mortality of the children during that period. Many historians believe that children in the Medieval Times were barely noticed and treated as small adults. Boys were forced to do hard labour on the fields, to enter military training or to learn their future occupation already in the early childhood, while girls of all classes had to help their mothers in household.

The period of the Middle Ages was characterized by high nativity as well as by high mortality of the children. Fertility rate was 4 to 8 children per woman but the mortality of the children was very high: 15-20% in first year and 30% to the age of 20 years. The mortality during the early childhood was higher in the male population, while high percentage of mortality at childbirth resulted in the higher mortality rate in the female population after 14 years of age.

Noble and bourgeois families had in average less children than the peasant families. For that reason their survival was much more important, especially of legitimate male descendants who were also the heirs to titles and family’s holdings or to family’s business. In addition, the children were often also an instrument to enlarge family’s holdings and wealth through advantageous marriages. Thus parents often arranged marriages of their children while they were only infants.

The importance of legitimate male descendants for the noble and especially for the royal families clearly indicate divorces and annulments of marriages which were not rare in case if woman was infertile or did not gave birth to a male heir although it was often only an excuse for separation. Arranged marriages were often characterized by the absence of love and adultery, and consequently numerous illegitimate children. Illegitimate children could not inherit their father’s holdings nor bare their father’s surname. However, it was usually taken care for their future and material well-being especially for the noble or royal illegitimate children. Some of them became very influential, competed for the throne and sometimes even became kings: Charles Martel, Arnulf of Carinthia, Ramiro I of Aragon, Henry Transtamara (Henry II of Castile), John I of Portugal, Ferdinand I of Naples.

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