It is difficult to differentiate though, exactly what status this work afforded women. It is quite likely that much of it was undertaken on an informal basis, as seasons dictated or as part of a family business: how many were considered professionals or received a salary outside the home is unclear. Midwives were one distinct female role and other waged women were engaged in the businesses of brewing and hospitality. Most were widows or married women, whilst the unmarried were to be found engaged in tasks such as spinning, cooking or sweeping within the home, although this was also done by the majority of women. Widows could inherit businesses and apprentices, whom they often went on to marry, or else could remain financially independent, even entering a few of the London guilds. Social class obviously played a key role in their labour. Leisure was a luxury: upper-class women also performed tasks in the home as various contemporary images and manuals make clear but these were directed more towards the luxury end of production, such as the making of special dishes and medicines, as well as the overseeing of accounts and organisation of servants and hospitality. Poorer women had little choice but to roll up their sleeves and help with the harvest or in the workshop.
There was a clear division between those working professionally and those engaged in labour within their own home about daily tasks, often alone.
It appears that groups of women collected together to engage in tasks such as spinning and weaving. This was more likely to have been for the benefits of their family, charity and friends rather than a collectively owned female business, as the manuscript images depict almost exclusively upperlcass women in this way, suggesting it was more of a leisure activity.
Other upper-class leisure activities included music:
Poorer women feature most commonly in the images of work outside, particularly engaged in harvesting or tasks to do with the seasonal cycle. The necessity of their involvement is highlighted by the presence of the heavily pregnant woman in the second image.
The lowliest appear in images of the most physical work, perhaps earning money in areas their social superiors had rejected:
A few appear to have penetrated what could have been considered traditional male areas of work: here, teaching geometry, sculpture, medicine, portraiture and writing.