Inheritance, marriage, widowhood and remarriage: a comparative perspective on women and landholding in north-east Norfolk, 1440-1580
Continuity and Change
Cambridge University Press
In medieval and early modern England, men's and women's rights to land were not equal. Sons were preferred over daughters in the inheritance of land. Marriage removed rights of property ownership from women and placed them in the hands of their husbands. Yet land stood at the heart of the economy and society in rural England in a period when agriculture was the main employer and land the main source of wealth, social status and political power. Ordinary women's inferior rights to land were a key aspect in women's subordination as a whole. The study presented here is a detailed examination of women's acquisition and possession of land in north-east Norfolk in the period 1440–1580, using data from manorial documents and wills. Erickson has noted that ‘it is relatively easy to compile information on how women as a sex were supposed to act in early modern England, and lists of the legal restrictions placed upon them. It is much more difficult to ascertain exactly how women did behave and how they responded to their legal disabilities.’ This study emphasizes actual practice rather than legal theory.
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1998. Published version reproduced with the permission of the publisher.
Vol. 13, Issue 1, pp. 33 - 72