Women and Gender in Canon Law

Sara McDougall

in The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe

Published in print August 2013 | ISBN: 9780199582174
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191749919 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

Women and Gender in Canon Law

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  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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Canon law, the law of the church, defined men and women as distinct and different. Nevertheless, particularly in marriage, canon law also endorsed several important equalities for spouses, irrespective of gender. This article seeks out the balance between gender equalities and inequalities in marriage as found in legal theory and in legal practice, in canon law and in canon law courts. The law itself called for a contradictory positioning of men and women as husbands and wives in a relationship that required both a hierarchical structure and at the same time equality. Ecclesiastical judges practiced a complex implementation of these rules. The article will examine the place of gender in canon law and legal practice concerning marriage in three stages: marriage formation, married life, and dissolution.

Keywords: marriage; remarriage; consent; marital debt; adultery; bigamy; litigation; canon law; church court; gender equality

Article.  8634 words. 

Subjects: Gender and Sexuality ; Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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