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Domestic Secrets

Domestic Secrets: Women and Property in Sweden, 1600-1857

Maria Ågren
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  • Book Info
    Domestic Secrets
    Book Description:

    Between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, women's role in the Swedish economy was renegotiated and reconceptualized. Maria Agren chronicles changes in married women's property rights, revealing the story of Swedish women's property as not just a simple narrative of the erosion of legal rights, but a more complex tale of unintended consequences.A public sphere of influence--including the wife's family and the local community--held sway over spousal property rights throughout most of the seventeenth century, Agren argues. Around 1700, a campaign to codify spousal property rights as anarcanum domesticum, or domestic secret, aimed to increase efficiency in legal decision making. New regulatory changes indeed reduced familial interference, but they also made families less likely to give land to women.The advent of the print medium ushered property issues back into the public sphere, this time on a national scale, Agren explains. Mass politicization increased sympathy for women, and public debate popularized more progressive ideas about the economic contributions of women to marriage, leading to mid-nineteenth-century legal reforms that were more favorable to women. Agren's work enhances our understanding of how societies have conceived of women's contributions to the fundamental institutions of marriage and the family, using as an example a country with far-reaching influence during and after the Enlightenment.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0458-9
    Subjects: Law, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xii)
    (pp. xiii-1)
    (pp. 3-26)

    For centuries, families and households have been based on the union created through marriage, and, until recently, families and households have in their turn been the nuclei of society, the place where production took place and where new generations were raised. Even today, when marriage is not necessarily conceived of as a lasting engagement and when family members seldom work together to make a living, marriage nevertheless remains a predominant model for human life. Western culture has been and is still permeated with symbols and stories that underline the importance of marriage. Reading the Bible and listening to sermons, medieval...

    (pp. 27-65)

    In early modern Sweden the marital union of husband and wife was depicted in two diametrically opposed ways. Christian discourse emphasized union, concord, and common interests and taught that it was the duty of spouses to live together in harmony and to give to one another “advice, comfort, and support.” The idea that husband and wife could sometimes have contradictory interests was directly opposed to this notion; instead, spouses were supposed to be “one flesh.” The Bible also declared, unambiguously, that a man should leave his parents upon marriage and stay with his wife.¹ The message must have been clear:...

    (pp. 66-99)

    Johan Skytte was reputed to be the most erudite of all Swedish men of his time. He had traveled widely in Europe and attended the University of Marburg. Upon his return to Sweden he was appointed tutor of Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf. Later, he became chancellor of Uppsala University and first president of the court of appeal for southern Sweden—not to mention all his political offices.¹ In 1608 Johan Skytte wrote a commentary on Swedish law. In this work, he mentioned the stipulation of the legal code which stated that a man must procure the consent of his wife...

  7. 4 DETERIORATING RIGHTS & COMPENSATING PRACTICES: The Eighteenth-Century Transformation
    (pp. 100-139)

    In 1815 the widow Ulrica Helena Funck appealed to the Svea Hovrätt in Stockholm, asking the royal court of appeal to grant her daughter, Mrs. Anna Maria Wennerstedt, separation of property. Anna Maria was married to the nobleman Ludvic Boye, and the reason for the application was his insolvency. He had squandered the large fortune which Anna Maria had brought into their marital estate, and he had also forced her to sign bonds that made her responsible for very large debts. To make matters worse, he had always treated her “harshly and unkindly,” abusing her physically, so that her mental...

    (pp. 140-165)

    A small publication circulated in the taverns and coffeehouses of Stockholm in 1765. To those who were interested, the publication told the story of the disputed will of the late Gotthard Hildebrand. Being childless, Hildebrand had drawn up the will for the benefit of his alleged wife, Magdalena De Wallé, but his relatives disapproved of the arrangement and sued the widow, claiming a surrogate and suggesting that she was not really the lawful wife of their dead kinsman. Magdalena admitted that their marriage had not been confirmed through an ecclesiastical ceremony, but she still maintained that she and Hildebrand had...

    (pp. 166-199)

    In the early nineteenth century, the members of the Swedish Diet spent much time and energy on discussing large-scale legal reform. In particular, they were engaged in family law and in whether or not an egalitarian inheritance system ought to be introduced. Such a proposal had come up as early as 1809, but it was still on the list of unresolved issues in 1844. Consequently, equal rights of inheritance still applied only in urban areas and among the clergy. The vast majority of the population, the peasantry, accorded women smaller shares than men, as did the nobility. At one point...

    (pp. 200-216)

    In response to a reader’s query submitted to a major Swedish newspaper in 2007, a lawyer advised a couple to write a will to the effect that when they were both dead, their property would become their child’s separate property. The ultimate aim of the proposed will was unmistakable: to make sure that their child’s spouse would not become part owner of the property.¹ This small and inconspicuous feature succinctly sums up some of the continuities and ruptures in the story of marital property law in Sweden.

    On the one hand, it shows that today, just as in the Middle...

    (pp. 217-218)
    (pp. 219-222)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 223-252)
    (pp. 253-268)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 269-285)