The period from c. 500 to 1200 comprises the formative centuries in European history after the fall of the Roman Empire in the west. Societies had to live through political, social, economic and religious challenges. Half the population, though, also had to labour under additional constraints imposed by the prevalent gender theories, which carried a mixture of inherited Judeo-Christian tradition and classical medical and legal custom through the period. Helen M. Jewell provides a lively survey of western European women's activities and experiences during this timespan. The core chapters investigate: - the function of women in the countryside and towns - the role of women in the ruling and landholding classes - women within the context of religion. This practical centre of the book is embedded in an analysis of contemporary, usually male-voiced, gender theories and society's expectations of women. Several individuals who vastly exceeded these expectations, crashing through the 'glass ceilings' of their day, are brought together in a fascinating final chapter. Combining a historiographical survey of trends over the last thirty years with more recent scholarship, this is the ideal introductory guide for anyone with an interest in women's history from the Dark Age through to the early Medieval period.