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The Marriage Exchange

Property, Social Place, and Gender in Cities of the Low Countries, 1300-1550

The Marriage Exchange

Property, Social Place, and Gender in Cities of the Low Countries, 1300-1550

Medieval Douai was one of the wealthiest cloth towns of Flanders, and it left an enormous archive documenting the personal financial affairs of its citizens—wills, marriage agreements, business contracts, and records of court disputes over property rights of all kinds.

Based on extensive research in this archive, this book reveals how these documents were produced in a centuries-long effort to regulate—and ultimately to redefine—property and gender relations. At the center of the transformation was a shift from a marital property regime based on custom to one based on contract. In the former, a widow typically inherited her husband’s property; in the latter, she shared it with or simply held it for his family or offspring. Howell asks why the law changed as it did and assesses the law’s effects on both social and gender meanings but she insists that the reform did not originate in general dissatisfaction with custom or a desire to disempower widows. Instead, it was born in a complex economic, social and cultural history during which Douaisiens gradually came to think about both property and gender in new ways.

294 pages | 1 halftone | 6 x 9 | © 1998

Women in Culture and Society

Law and Legal Studies: Legal History

Medieval Studies

Women's Studies

Table of Contents

Note on Money, Dates, and Names
Le Libert v. Rohard
Ch. 1: From Custom to Contract
Ch. 2: The Social Context of Custom
Ch. 3: Legal Reform as Social Engineering
Ch. 4: The Social Logic—and Illogic—of Custom
Ch. 5: An Alternative Logic
Ch. 6: Living with the New
Ch. 7: The Weight of Experience
Ch. 8: The Douaisien Reform in Historical Context
Conclusion: Marie, Franchoise, and Their Sisters
App. A: The Evolution of Douai’s Douaire Coutumier
App. B: Written Custom and Old Custom in Douai
Glossary of Legal Terminology
Glossary of Measures

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