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Married Women and the Law in Premodern Northwest Europe


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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.


This excellent collection is important reading for any student interested in the intersections of legal identity, marital status, and economic power. MEDIEVAL FEMINIST FORUM

This collection makes an outstanding contribution to the field. WOMEN'S HISTORY REVIEW


First Published: 18 Jul 2013
13 Digit ISBN: 9781843838333
Pages: 260
Size: 23.4 x 15.6
Binding: Hardback
Imprint: Boydell Press
BIC Class: HBLC1

Details updated on 13 Jan 2016


  • 1  Introduction: Uncovering Married Women
  • 2  When Two Worlds Collide: Marriage and the Law in Medieval Ireland
  • 3  Inheritance, Property and Marriage in Medieval Norway
  • 4  Spousal Disputes, the Marital Property System, and the Law in Later Medieval Sweden
  • 5  Married Women, Crime and the Courts in Late Medieval Wales
  • 6  Peasant Women, Agency and Status in Late Thirteenth- and Early Fourteenth-century England: Some Reconsiderations
  • 7  London's Married Women, Debt Litigation and Coverture in the Court of Common Pleas
  • 8  Married Women, Contracts and Coverture in Late Medieval England
  • 9  Property, Family and Partnership: Married Women and Legal Capability in Late Medieval Ghent
  • 10  'For His Interest'?: Women, Debt and Coverture in Early Modern Scotland
  • 11  The Worth of Married Women Witnesses in the English Church Courts, 1550-1730
  • 12  Married Women, Work and the Law: Evidence from Early Modern Germany

Medieval Women and the Law

Medieval Women and the Law

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Gender and Petty Crime in Late Medieval England

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