Patiniere, Agnes (fl. 1286)

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Patiniere, Agnes (fl. 1286)

Flemish artisan. Flourished in 1286 in Douai, Flanders; married Jehanne Dou Hoc.

Agnes Patiniere, an artisan, lived in the Flemish town of Douai. Her life and involvement in a civil lawsuit provides clues about the realities of labor in a medieval town for a woman, of the inequities she faced and the resources she had for redress. All of Patiniere's family worked as laborers in the wool industry, and she also entered that field. Probably around age 30, Patiniere married Jehanne Dou Hoc, also a laborer of Douai. Both were trained in wool-dying, particularly in extracting and dying with woad, a plant which yields a bright blue color. Patiniere is recorded as a participant in a lawsuit brought in 1286 against her employer, wool merchant Jehanne Boinebroke. Patiniere and 44 other employees (about half female) filed a suit complaining of wages not paid, underpayment for services, unfair property seizures, and evictions without cause.

Boinebroke, one of the wealthier merchants of Douai, owned extensive lands as well as his wool business. Like most textile merchants at that time, he operated his business under the "putting-out" system, similar to modern piecework: he supplied his laborers with materials for a fee, then paid them when they finished weaving or dying the cloth. Laborers like Patiniere were forbidden from working for a second employer, making them economically dependent on one merchant. In addition, like many successful entrepreneurs, Boinebroke owned the houses in which most of his employees lived, for which they paid him rent.

Patiniere's allegation against Boinebroke was that he had seized from her mother a quantity of dye in payment of a debt; Patiniere claimed the value of the dye to be in excess of the debt owed, and asked for £20 in losses. When it was her turn to testify, Patiniere brought in numerous witnesses who corroborated her story. In the end, the court found Boinebroke guilty of some infractions, though not all, and forced him to pay back wages and reparations. This was probably the best the plaintiffs could have received, given the defendant's powerful position in the town; still, it shows that as dependent as they were, urban laborers were not completely powerless. Patiniere received £5 for her claim. After the settlement of the suit, Agnes Patiniere disappears from the town's records.


Gies, Frances, and Joseph Gies. Women in the Middle Ages. NY: Harper and Row, 1978.

Laura York , Riverside, California

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