Date of Award

8-2016

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Department

History

First Advisor

Dr. Robert Berkhofer III

Second Advisor

Dr. Eve Salisbury

Third Advisor

Dr. Anise Strong

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Open Access

Abstract

It has often been assumed that medieval women, noble or common, had little or no agency, were forced into submissive roles by dominating men, and had little control over their day-to-day lives. Theoretical statements about law served to support these assumptions as they forbade women from prosecuting men for any crimes other than the murder of her husband or for rape. Yet the records of the court proceedings before the king and his justices and the Calendar of Patent Rolls paint a very different picture. The sources themselves show that women regularly came to court to gain compensation and justice for crimes committed against their families, their properties, or their bodies. Female plaintiffs complained to the king and his justices of crimes including murder, assault, robbery, breaking and entering, and arson, and often gained convictions. A narrative driven by female agency demonstrates how English women continued to use the court system in spite of prejudices and restrictions and reveals the ways lawsuits unfolded in practice in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century England. This understanding of legal practice provides a more complete picture of the status of women in English society and medieval attitudes toward gender and justice.

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