MA Thesis

I completed my MA thesis at the University of Leeds in 2015 under the supervision of Dr. Iona McCleery.

‘Sans Everything’?: Late Medieval Representations of the Aged Female Body


Throughout the Middle Ages, both women and the elderly were marginalised by wider society, leaving old women ‘doubly marginalised’ as a result of both their age and their gender. However, it was not only contemporaries who pushed elderly women to the peripheries – twentieth century historians are also guilty of this. Even with the growth of social history in the 1960s and the accompanying focus on the family, relationships and daily life, the elderly (particularly women) were still treated as insignificant and inaccessible.

Responding to Robert Butler’s coining of the term ‘ageism’, which pulled the elderly under the historical lens with a new sense of urgency, this dissertation tackles gerontophobia by exploring the medieval construction of the elderly female body. Through a serious of visual representations, set within their wider scientific, theological and social contexts, it discusses old age as a social construct; as a web of attitudes and expectations ‘woven around a biological phenomenon’.[1]

[1] Joel T. Rosenthal, Old Age in Late Medieval England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press), p. 1.


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