Women and Laws in Early Medieval Europe

Janet L. Nelson and Alice Rio

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 Laws in Early Medieval Europe

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


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This article examines the main ways in which early medieval lawmakers concerned themselves with women. Law codes put forward ideologically loaded representations of women, and they reflected concerns to ensure both their protection and their control by men. At the same time, they also dealt with highly practical issues and were subject to continual amendment as new and ever more complicated cases were brought before lawmakers. They reveal a conflicted and ambiguous attitude towards women: as highly prized assets and a crucial form of symbolic capital, but also a heavy financial burden, a liability, and a weak point in the safeguarding of family honor. We consider the valuation of women in terms of compensation for homicide, injuries, and insults; the regulation of marriage and of sexual crimes; and property, to which women and men had differential access.

Keywords: law; women; gender; crime; violence; marriage; sex; family; property

Article.  8164 words. 

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

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