We have twenty-three such letters [from Saint Bernard to women]. This is a good proportion if we compare Bernard with other letter-writers of his day…Among john of Salisbury’s three hundred twenty-five letters we find not a single one addressed to a woman, and he scarcely ever mentions women…This abundant and varied correspondence will only reveal its full meaning and content if we set it against the historical background of the condition of women in the first half of the twelfth century. We have to take into account a new and growing awareness among both laymen and laywomen of their own responsibility; the growing influence of women in the political, religious, and literary fields; the influence of the nobility; the increasing number of young people, both boys and girls, who became interesting in knightly and courtly life; and lastly, in the area of marriage laws, the stress laid on the equality of the two partners and on their right to choose one another freely. These factors all resulted from the gregorian reform, from demographic, economic, and cultural developments, and from increased relations with the East. They created new situations in which Bernard found an opportunity for coming into contact with men and women in power, and even sometimes men and women at the pinnacle of power.

Jean Leclercq, Women and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1989)


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