But though possessed of such great and arbitrary powers, woman was not a wholly irresponsible despot. She had her duties as well as her privileges, and notwithstanding that here and there a saucy sister strained her power to the utmost while taking little thought of her own obligations, yet with the sex generally it was not so; indeed it could not have been so without breaking down the system, which rested as much upon the fitness of women to be loved an deserved as on the merit of men in loving and serving them. To justify this extreme idolatry, it was necessary that the idol should be worthy of such worship; and a very high standard indeed was set up. The dame and the demoiselle [sic] were eminent for courtesy, affability, and grace; while at the same time they cultivated all useful arts which were proper to their sphere.
They were emphatically feminine. Fast and mannish women were not, as we shall see, wholly unknown, but they were nonconformists, dissentients [sic] from pure faith of chivalry—women who did not perceive their true mission nor the real source of their strength. That source was, as has been said above, undoubtedly their weakness, and the absence of all pretension on their part. Anything like self-assertion or competition would, in those blustering ages when their influence began to bud, have been fatal to the tender plant. Women became the arbitress [sic] of men’s deeds, because she refrained from meddling in the affairs of men; she ruled because she did not rival.
St. Palaye, cites in testimony of her training and office:
“Courts and castles were excellent schools of courtesy, of politeness, and of other virtues, not only for pages and esquires, but even for young ladies. The latter were instructed bedtimes in the most essential duties which they would have to fulfill. There were cultivated, there were perfected, those simple graces and those tender feelings for which nature seems to have formed them. They prepossessed by civility the knights who arrived at their castles. According to our romances, they disarmed them on their return journeys and expeditions of war, gave them changes of apparel, and waited on them at the table. The examples of this are too frequently and too uniformly repeated to allow of our questioning the reality of this custom. We see therein nothing but what is conformable to the spirit and the conformable to the spirit and the sentiments at the time almost universally diffused among ladies; and one cannot refuse to recognize the marks of usefulness which were in everything the stamp of our chivalry.
“These damsels, destined to have for husbands those same knights who visited at the houses where they were brought up, could not fail to attach themselves by the attentions, the considerations, and the services which they lavished upon them. How admirable the union which ought to proceed from alliances established on foundations like this! The young girls learned to render one day to their husbands all the services which a warrior, distinguished by his valor, can expect from a tender and generous woman; and they prepared to be to them the most touching recompense and the sweetest solace of their labors.”
Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World. Designed and Arranged by William C. King. Published in 1900 by The King-Richardson Co. Copyright 1903 The King-Richardson Co.