Special issue - Women, Property, and Law
Briony McDonagh estimates that over 10 per cent of land in Georgian Britain was owned by female landowners. Assuming her sample of 250,000 acres to be representative of broader patterns and trends, McDonagh surmises that ‘somewhere in excess of 3 million acres in England were owned by women in the later eighteenth century and more than 6 million acres in Great Britain as a whole’ (p. 27).
Amy Froide’s book is an excellent addition to the work on early modern women done by researchers such as Amy Louise Erickson. In fact, it was Amy Erickson who first drew my attention to this book even before I was asked to review it. It does not disappoint. Amy Erickson, Ann Carlos, Larry Neal, Anne Murphy and others have shown that women were a part of the Financial Revolution.
At the heart of this book is a surprisingly straightforward methodology: an examination of responses given by witnesses in church court cases to two questions designed to probe their reliability: what were they 'worth'? (that is, the value of their moveable goods with all their debts paid); and how did they maintain themselves?
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.
The Times in its editorial of 11 February 1857 opined 'It is a terrible incident of our social existence that the resources for gaining a livelihood left open to women are so few. ...
The history of single women in pre-modern Europe has begun to attract a good amount of attention in the last decade. Thanks to historians such as Judith Bennett, Kim Phillips, Ruth Mazo Karras and P. J. P.
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.
This special issue has been curated by Dr Rebecca Mason, Economic History Society Power Fellow 2019-20 at the Institute of Historical Research. The issue provides a select overview of ground-breaking historical research on women, property and law, spanning the medieval to late modern period in a European context.
The included works cover a broad range of themes, and offer challenging perspectives on women’s contribution to social, economic and legal spheres across a wide range of jurisdictions and different time periods. Many of the selected works propose new approaches for the study of women, property and law. The works cover different aspects of women’s interaction with the law and provide new insights into women’s ability to negotiate the strictures of inheritance and marital property regimes. Women’s legal rights, and how those rights were understood, negotiated and circumvented in practice, have changed over time. The works unearth women’s legal status as property owners, challenging previous historical narratives that emphasised their legal incapacities as independent financiers and conduits of wealth and status. In these works, women are located as estate managers, household administrators, property investors, and the heads of local and international business enterprises. Focusing on women’s active engagement with property within a wide range of legal records, these works collectively dismantle the assumption that propertied status in the realm of law was exclusively reserved for men pre-20th century.
These ten works all use women’s legal status and rights to property as a lens through which to examine wider issues of class, age, gender, politics, economics, law and social change. Each work greatly enhances our understanding of gender, status and society in a historical and modern context.