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This well-crafted volume of ten essays is an important contribution to the growing body of research on women and law in England the pre-modern period. Each essay examines a different aspect of women’s interactions with the law (broadly defined and encompassing both secular and ecclesiastical courts) and, as suggested in the title, foregrounds their agency.
In The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884), Friedrich Engels posited a fundamental relationship between women’s property rights, on the one hand, and changes in the social and political spheres, on the other.
In recent decades, the fields of women's and gender studies have rapidly expanded. In trying to understand women's roles in past societies, historians have paid particular attention to issues surrounding marriage, family, and the household.
Since the 1970s historians have been redressing the longstanding omission of women from virtually all types of history. We now know much more about women’s experiences in the past, both in their own right and as contributors to larger historical events, than had previously been the case.
Historians of early modern marriage have made much use of court records in uncovering the matrimonial difficulties of our ancestors.