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The Enduring Legacy Of Medieval Slavery

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Chapter Summary

Slavery was an institution that was of immense cultural significance to the societies of early medieval Britain. It was essential for defining both social hierarchy and community identity. There is evidence to suggest that female slaves continued to be used as concubines and mistresses by clerical and secular masters throughout the medieval period. The ecclesiastical authorities' eventual recognition of slave unions was clearly intended to limit sexual relations between the master and his slave within secular society generally. The ascetic ideals of the ecclesiastical reform movement created a pervasive psychological association between feminine sexuality and the forces of evil. The continuing use of female slaves as domestics thereby allowed conceptions of slavery to endure into the early modern period. Many historians have chosen, either consciously or unconsciously, to sweep such unsavoury social undercurrents belying the progress of Western 'civilisation' under the historiographical carpet.

Keywords: early medieval Britain; ecclesiastical reform movement; female slaves; medieval slavery



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