This introductory chapter discusses the types of classification considered in the book (interpretative schemes, which divide society into various subgroups, and the labelling of named individuals), and the sources that these are drawn from. It argues that a focus on the troubling category ‘single woman’ entails thinking about how medieval women are classified generally and, in particular, how the category relates to others such as ‘maiden’, ‘widow’, and ‘whore’. The emphasis on language means that the study goes into certain areas in depth, rather than attempt a broad survey of how the category ‘single woman’ was used in late medieval England. These case studies are briefly outlined.
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