Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 July 2013
Why Married Women?
As a number of our contributors comment, particularly those writing on premodern 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, Ghent, Sweden, Norway and Germany), we will gain a better sense of how, when, and where the legal principle of coverture - which designated the husband as his wife's legal representative and in control of her property - was applied and what effect this had on the lives of married women. Key threads running through the book pertain to 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. In what follows, we will justify our focus on pre-modern northwest Europe with reference to existing scholarship, as well as highlighting some of the findings of this collection of essays.