The Wealth of Wives: Women, Law, and Economy in Late Medieval London

Paperback | March 28, 2008

byBarbara A. Hanawalt

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London became an international center for import and export trade in the late Middle Ages. The export of wool, the development of luxury crafts and the redistribution of goods from the continent made London one of the leading commercial cities of Europe. While capital for these ventures camefrom a variety of sources, the recirculation of wealth through London women was important in providing both material and social capital for the growth of London's economy. A shrewd Venetian visiting England around 1500 commented about the concentration of wealth and property in women's hands. Hereported that London law divided a testator's property three ways allowing a third to the wife for her life use, a third for immediate inheritance of the heirs, and a third for burial and the benefit of the testator's soul. Women inherited equally with men and widows had custody of the wealth ofminor children. In a society in which marriage was assumed to be a natural state for women, London women married and remarried. Their wealth followed them in their marriages and was it was administered by subsequent husbands. This study, based on extensive use of primary source materials, shows thatLondon's economic growth was in part due to the substantial wealth that women transmitted through marriage. The Italian visitor observed that London men, unlike Venetians, did not seek to establish long patrilineages discouraging women to remarry, but instead preferred to recirculate wealth throughwomen. London's social structure, therefore, was horizontal, spreading wealth among guilds rather than lineages. The liquidity of wealth was important to a growing commercial society and women brought not only wealth but social prestige and trade skills as well into their marriages. But marriage wasnot the only economic activity of women. London law permitted women to trade in their own right as femmes soles and a number of women, many of them immigrants from the countryside, served as wage laborers. But London's archives confirm women's chief economic impact was felt in the capital and skillthey brought with them to marriages, rather than their profits as independent traders or wage laborers.

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London became an international center for import and export trade in the late Middle Ages. The export of wool, the development of luxury crafts and the redistribution of goods from the continent made London one of the leading commercial cities of Europe. While capital for these ventures camefrom a variety of sources, the recirculation ...

Barbara A. Hanawalt is King George III Professor of British History at Ohio State University.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:320 pages, 6.1 × 9.09 × 0.91 inPublished:March 28, 2008Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195311760

ISBN - 13:9780195311761

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Table of Contents

IntroductionCh. 1: Daughter and IdentitiesCh. 2: Education and ApprenticeshipCh. 3: Heiresses, Dowry, and DowerCh. 4: The Formation of MarriageCh. 5: Recovery of Dower and Widows' RemarriageCh. 6: For Better or For Worse: The Marital ExperienceCh. 7: The Standard of Living and Women as ConsumersCh. 8: Women as EntrepreneursCh. 9: Servants, Casual Labor, and VendorsConclusionAppendix IGlossaryNotesBibliography