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4 - ‘Utterly and Untruly He Hath Deceived Me’: Women's Inheritance in Late Medieval England

from Part II - Encountering the Law

Rosemary Horrox
Affiliation:
Cambridge University
Bronach Kane
Affiliation:
Bath Spa University
Fiona Williamson
Affiliation:
National University of Malaysia
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Summary

This essay reconstructs a story, of which the starting point is the woman's voice quoted in the title. The words are not, as might immediately be supposed, those of a woman betrayed by a lover, but of a woman defrauded by her son – and a son of her blood rather than a stepson. The voice we are hearing is that of Jane (or Joan) Stapleton who, on 18 April 1518, began to make her will in her chamber in the monastery of Hailes in Gloucestershire and set out the story in the hope that her executors might be able to correct the wrong done to her. In one respect, therefore, her story runs against the theme of this collection: Jane did not turn to the law for redress.

Late medieval England was a notoriously litigious society, at least among the land-owning classes. The complexity of tenure, particularly when entail and enfeoffment to use entered the equation, meant that title to land could often be open to challenge. The sons of the gentry found it worth spending time at the Inns of Court, not with the intention of becoming practising lawyers but to acquire the knowledge (and the social contacts) that might come in useful if they needed to face or mount such challenges.

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Publisher: Pickering & Chatto
First published in: 2014

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