|Women’s role in Portuguese textile production in the Later Middle Ages|
|Textile production in Portugal, in the later Middle Ages, could not compete in with other European nations. Yet, it was one of the kingdom’s most important industrial sectors, and the one which employed more women.
Flax production was perfectly integrated in the agro-economic structure, and it was organized in a rural and domestic system of production with very archaic techniques. Unlike wool and silk, flax production was not to be a mechanized process until the twentieth century, which means that has lingered based on a family unit system, where the women’s role was decisive.
Specific occupations such as bleaching would be carried out only in the feminine. For example, curadeira de linhos (feminine) does not have a masculine designation, thus confirming to be women’s given task. We also see women performing other productive duties such as washing and wool-combing, or in the finishing processes. One can consider these activities as secondary in the productive system, but others require a high level of specialization and technique – such is the case of spinning and also that of weaving. The latter was one of the most ‘urbanized’ stages of production and, therefore, best organized. In fact, sources give us the impression of weavers working full-time in cities. They were not petty weavers, but skilled workers, producing high quality stuff. That is why there are, already, distinct categories, which clearly reveals a remarkable level of specialization.
Artisan guilds show up later in Portugal, and their generalization only took place in the sixteenth century. Before that, the artisan’s work was subject to municipal regulations which, apparently, would give the same status either to men or women.
The purpose of this paper is to answer the following questions:
1. Did the inexistence of a strict work organization allowed women to have more autonomy in their jobs?
2. If so, did that autonomy translate into some kind of control over a number of stages of production, such as commercial distribution?
3. How did they articulate through the several stages of production?
4. Why did equal status – between men and women – did not mean equal stipend?
These questions, and the answers that we expect to give, will try to shed some light on what was the women’s role in Portuguese textile production in the Later Middle Ages.|