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In an attempt to understand the public and private roles of medieval women in the English countryside, historians have devoted growing attention to widows as villein tenants and transmitters of land in manorial communities. Villein women are often recorded in manorial sources as co-tenants and recipients of property rights on their husbands' deaths. Although in Common Law the widow's share ranged from one-third to one-half of a free husband's lands, the villein widow often received a right to life usage of the whole of the conjugal estate upon her husband's death as her “free bench.” The extensive property-holding rights of these villein widows have made them rich subjects for study of their legal, social, and economic status and activities.
Case studies based on manorial estates, however, have often focused exclusively on the widow as a transmitter of property and have subordinated the study of widows within a framework governed by considerations of land markets and property transmission. Medieval historiography contrasts with studies of early-modern and modern populations that have put elements such as age at widowhood, number of dependents, social status, personal choice in connection with widow remarriage, and provisions for widows at the forefront of study. By connecting work on widows and the landmarket with these other concerns it is possible to study medieval peasant widows within broader comparative perspective.