`For Whatever Ales Ye’: Women as Consumers and Producers in Late Medieval Scottish Towns
By Elizabeth Ewan
Women in Scotland: c.1100 – c.1750, edited by Elizabeth Ewan and Maureen M. Meikle (East Linton, 1999)
Introduction: Until recently, most work on the economy of medieval Scottish towns has tended to focus on overseas trade, rather than the local economy. However, some recent studies, with their detailed examinations of goods and prices, have provided the basis for new assessments of the local economy. This chapter uses late medieval town court records to look at the role of women in this economy, focusing specifically on brewing. It will argue that to a large extent women’s role on the production ‘side of the economy — manufacturing and retailing — grew out of their role as consumers, purchasers of goods for the household.
Brewing can reveal much about women’s roles in the medieval urban economy. Unlike most crafts, it could be carried on intermittently. Ale was perishable and time-consuming to produce. The most efficient way to ensure an adequate supply was for households to produce it in rotation, purchasing more raw material than needed for domestic use and selling the surplus, then buying ale between hrewings. The provision of ale thus involved women in consumption, production and retailing.