Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Married Women and the Law in Premodern Northwest Europe

Married Women and the Law in Premodern Northwest Europe

Cordelia Beattie
Matthew Frank Stevens
Volume: 8
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 264
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt31ngvj
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Married Women and the Law in Premodern Northwest Europe
    Book Description:

    There has been a tendency in scholarship on premodern women and the law to see married women as hidden from view, obscured by their husbands in legal records. This volume provides a corrective view, arguing that the extent to which the legal principle of 'coverture' applied has been over-emphasized. In particular, it points up differences between the English common law position, which gave husbands guardianship over their wives and their wives' property, and the position elsewhere in northwest Europe, where wives' property became part of a community of property. Detailed studies of legal material from medieval and early modern England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Ghent, Sweden, Norway and Germany enable a better sense of how, when, and where the legal principle of 'coverture' was applied and what effect this had on the lives of married women. Key threads running through the book are married women's rights regarding the possession of moveable and immovable property, marital property at the dissolution of marriage, married women's capacity to act as agents of their husbands and households in transacting business, and married women's interactions with the courts. Cordelia Beattie is Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Edinburgh; Matthew Frank Stevens is Lecturer in Medieval History at Swansea University. Contributors: Lars Ivar Hansen, Shennan Hutton, Lizabeth Johnson, Gillian Kenny, Mia Korpiola, Miriam Muller, S. C. Ogilvie, Alexandra Shepard, Cathryn Spence.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-114-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. FIGURES AND TABLES
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. INTRODUCTION: UNCOVERING MARRIED WOMEN
    (pp. 1-10)
    Cordelia Beattie and Matthew Frank Stevens

    As a number of our contributors comment, particularly those writing on pre-modern Britain, there has been a tendency in the historiography on women and the law to see married women as hidden from view, obscured by their husbands in the legal records. It is this tendency, which did not fit well with our own experiences of medieval legal material, that we were reacting against when we decided to put together this volume of essays. It is our intention that, by offering detailed studies of legal material from pre-modern England alongside those from other parts of northwest Europe (Wales, Scotland, Ireland,...

  6. 1 INHERITANCE, PROPERTY AND MARRIAGE IN MEDIEVAL NORWAY
    (pp. 11-30)
    Lars Ivar Hansen

    This essay will highlight the position, capabilities and options of married women, according to Norwegian medieval law, regarding their control of property. Women’s control and disposal of property during marriage were conditioned and influenced by a long series of factors – pertaining not only to legal regulations of different kinds but also to a broad field of interests, involving several actors and relations, such as the relationship between spouses themselves, the relationship to direct, lineal descendants, and the relationship between the conjugal couple and their kin groups on both sides. In order to evaluate the capabilities of married women in controlling...

  7. 2 SPOUSAL DISPUTES, THE MARITAL PROPERTY SYSTEM, AND THE LAW IN LATER MEDIEVAL SWEDEN
    (pp. 31-52)
    Mia Korpiola

    Recent research has emphasized the nexus of separation customs and marital property systems in medieval Europe.¹ Indeed, the practice of marital separation across the late-medieval Franco-Belgian region may have been influenced by its communal property system. Charles Donahue Jr has observed that ‘a system of marital community property, which existed all over the Franco-Belgian region, virtually requires that a separating couple obtain a public declaration that they have separated’, whereas the English ‘separate marital property system’ more markedly fostered informal ‘do-it-yourself’ separations.² Donahue’s observations have been corroborated by a recent article by Monique Vleeschouwers-Van Melkebeek, focusing on separation and the...

  8. 3 WHEN TWO WORLDS COLLIDE: MARRIAGE AND THE LAW IN MEDIEVAL IRELAND
    (pp. 53-70)
    Gillian Kenny

    After the Anglo-Norman invasion of 1169 two entirely different legal systems concerning women and their rights upon marriage co-existed within Ireland. One system was based on the principles and tenets of the English common law which the invaders brought with them in the later twelfth century. This legal system enforced coverture, that is, the basic premise that, legally, married women were under the rule of their husbands. In contrast to this, Gaelic Irish society functioned according to its own ancient legal code, commonly called the Brehon law, which had reached its apogee and received codification in the seventh and eighth...

  9. 4 MARRIED WOMEN, CRIME AND THE COURTS IN LATE MEDIEVAL WALES
    (pp. 71-90)
    Lizabeth Johnson

    For the pre-conquest period of medieval Welsh history, historians interested in the activities of married women – their rights within marriage, their responsibilities within the household, or the work they performed – are severely limited by a lack of sources. Welsh chronicles have little to say about married women. Law texts provide theoretical information about married women, including information about marriage practices, the various fees that accompanied marriage negotiations, and the circumstances in which divorce was acceptable.¹ However, the laws do not provide any specific examples of marriages being contracted or ended, fees that were exchanged between those contracting a marriage and...

  10. 5 PEASANT WOMEN, AGENCY AND STATUS IN MID-THIRTEENTH- TO LATE FOURTEENTH-CENTURY ENGLAND: SOME RECONSIDERATIONS
    (pp. 91-114)
    Miriam Müller

    There are many things we will never know about Agnes de Schonedon. We will never be able to find out how old she was when she first started to appear in manorial court rolls in December 1276. We will also never know what she looked like, nor what her likes or dislikes were. However, we can reconstruct quite a lot of other information about her from the surviving court records of the coastal manor of Heacham, located on the Norfolk Wash, and under the lordship of the Priory and Convent of Lewes in Sussex. These records paint a picture of...

  11. 6 LONDON’S MARRIED WOMEN, DEBT LITIGATION AND COVERTURE IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS
    (pp. 115-132)
    Matthew Frank Stevens

    In the weeks after the feast of St Hilary (13 January) in 1403 a plea brought on a writ of debt, between plaintiffs Margaret le Toller of Smithfield, London, and her husband John le Toller, and defendant Richard Barbour of Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, was heard before the justices of the royal Court of Common Pleas at Westminster.¹ In this case, Margaret and her husband claimed that nearly two decades before, on 8 August 1384, while Margaret was a single woman, an accounting was held between herself and Richard Barbour in the London parish of St Bride Fleet Street before two London...

  12. 7 MARRIED WOMEN, CONTRACTS AND COVERTURE IN LATE MEDIEVAL ENGLAND
    (pp. 133-154)
    Cordelia Beattie

    Fitzherbert’s picture of a woman buying and selling at market seems unremarkable. Craig Muldrew comments that, ‘In any print or painting of marketplaces in the early modern period, women are always present’, while Amy Erickson adds, ‘In all of the illustrations that I have seen women actually predominate in the market both as buyers and as sellers.’² But what if we imagine a situation in which the goods that a wife wants to buy cost more than the goods that she has sold? Would anyone extend credit to this married woman? If so, who would be liable for the debt...

  13. 8 PROPERTY, FAMILY AND PARTNERSHIP: MARRIED WOMEN AND LEGAL CAPABILITY IN LATE MEDIEVAL GHENT
    (pp. 155-172)
    Shennan Hutton

    Three days after Christmas, 1357, Perneele, the wife of Willem Bailluz, went to the court of the aldermen of the Keure in Ghent to perform a legal act – paying part of a debt owed by her daughter.¹ Perneele was the surety, rather like a modern co-signer, for a debt that her daughter had contracted. When her daughter could not pay the debt, Perneele became legally responsible for paying the creditor. While the brief act recorded in the aldermen’s register does not explain why Perneele acted as a surety for her daughter, there are two likely scenarios. The most likely is...

  14. 9 ‘FOR HIS INTEREST’? WOMEN, DEBT AND COVERTURE IN EARLY MODERN SCOTLAND
    (pp. 173-190)
    Cathryn Spence

    On 24 February 1629, George Reid and Isabel King, his wife, were ordered by the Burgh Court of Edinburgh to pay £6 10s. to James Graham and his wife, Agnes Johnston, for cloth.¹ While this case is largely unremarkable – in that it is just one of hundreds of debt cases entered into the burgh’s Register of Decreets for 1629 – it does highlight an important aspect of the networks of debt and credit that existed in Edinburgh in the early modern period. Specifically, it highlights the role that wives played in these networks, for while Isabel’s and Agnes’s husbands are both...

  15. 10 THE WORTH OF MARRIED WOMEN IN THE ENGLISH CHURCH COURTS, C.1550–1730
    (pp. 191-212)
    Alexandra Shepard

    When Joanna Remesbury and her husband Richard appeared as witnesses before the bishop of Salisbury’s consistory court in 1599, they were both asked to provide an estimate of their net moveable estate. Richard, a shepherd, appears to have declared himself worth £20 in goods, ‘every man being paid’, before revising this estimate to the more modest sum of £10. Joanna, by contrast, responded that she did not know her worth ‘bycause shee is a married woman & therefore during the life of her husband her goodes are at his disposing’. In response to a further question enquiring about how they...

  16. 11 MARRIED WOMEN, WORK AND THE LAW: EVIDENCE FROM EARLY MODERN GERMANY
    (pp. 213-240)
    Sheilagh Ogilvie

    Married women in early modern Germany were affected by the law in a wide variety of ways – so many, in fact, that a single essay cannot hope to cover them all. The special character of women’s legal position in each German polity forces us, in fact, to pause and ask ourselves what we mean by concepts we have largely taken for granted – ‘the law’ itself and how it assigned different rights to people according to sex and marital status. In pre-Napoleonic Germany, this question is of immediately striking relevance. For one thing, the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation...

  17. INDEX
    (pp. 241-248)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 249-249)