Printer Friendly

Guardianship over women in medieval Flanders: a reappraisal.

Recent debates in premodern women's history have focused on women's social and legal position. The greatest contention appears to center on the particular systems or conditions that most consistently determined women's social status and the scope of their activity. Judith Bennett, for example, argues that patriarchy is the defining system, while Bridget Hill maintains that economic factors are at least equally important.(1) Neither, however, questions the assumption that women's status was somehow essentially inferior to that of men.(2) Female inferiority is perhaps most clearly expressed in the automatic guardianship of men over women, and not surprisingly, guardianship over women looms large in most studies of secular women.(3) When a society is deemed patriarchal, there is, in fact, a strong tendency to assume that constraints on women's activities exemplify guardianship, or at least reflect an underlying tendency in that direction. It is nevertheless important to avoid any reflexive equation of patriarchy with guardianship over women.

This assumption may well underlie two of the principal studies of the social history of medieval Flanders, both of which are predicated on the existence of guardianship over women. In The Domestic Life of a Medieval City: Women, Children and the Family in Fourteenth-Century Ghent, David Nicholas states "[m]ost women had legal personalities only through male guardians. The guardian's consent was implied even if he was not present to speak for her. The guardian of a single woman was normally her father or failing him a brother or uncle. Her husband assumed legal responsibility for her when she married."(4) A few pages later he reiterates that "single adult women were normally under the guardianship of their fathers or brothers, with tutelage reverting more generally to the kindred if males of the conjugal family were dead or incompetent."(5)

Nicholas's work, however, is seriously flawed. In the first place, he documents only the sentence ending "through male guardians;" the rest of his statements lack citation. He provides no bibliography, and a search through his notes reveals that he did not look very far beyond the holdings of the city archives in Ghent. Although his introduction provides an overview of the historiography on European women's history in general, it is most notable for the absence of the works of Flemish scholars on this subject. While one can hardly fault him for omitting reference to works of contemporary scholars such as that of Marianne Danneel,(6) his neglect of the work of Philippe Godding, of E. M. Meijers, and particularly of Jean Gilissen, a leading legal historian in the field, is incomprehensible.(7)

In the second place, his one note refers the reader not to legal texts, but instead to W. van Iterson's Vrouwenvoogdij ("Guardianship over Women").(8) Despite its title, however, Iterson's work does not confirm Nicholas's claims. For one thing, the focus of Iterson's work is the northern, not the southern Low Countries.(9) Secondly, a majority of the evidence Iterson cites comes from the fifteenth, not the fourteenth century. Thirdly, Iterson's stated focus is not all women, but only unmarried ones.(10) Finally, Iterson's conclusions are actually contrary to those of Nicholas; he states unequivocally, in fact, that "there are no traces of a general fixed guardianship over an unmarried woman who has attained her majority."(11) He maintains instead that incidences of guardianship over single women in the northern Low Countries are, in fact, ad hoc in nature.(12)

There are reasons for Nicholas's difficulty in finding adequate documentation for his claims. The conditions he outlines echo those associated primarily with Roman law,(13) but Roman law, as Philippe Godding had abundantly demonstrated, had a negligible impact on Flemish social custom before the fifteenth century.(14) Furthermore, no item or provision in any keure (customary law of a community) directly addressed the issue of guardianship over women, and only one so much as implied a belief in womanly weakness that might, by extension, be taken to have necessitated guardianship.(15) Since guardianship over women, married or not, finds no expression in law codes, it must instead be deduced from practice.(16) Godding, the author of Le droit prive dans les Pays-Bas meridionaux du 12e au 18e siecle, readily acknowledges this state of affairs, but he, like Nicholas, assumes that some sort of a system of guardianship over women was in place; Godding does caution, to be sure, that actual practice was far from uniform.(17)

Guardianship is not the principal focus of either work, and neither scholar spends a great deal of time proving its existence. Although much of the rest of his analysis is predicated on guardianship over women, it is enough for Nicholas to have asserted its existence. He may have assumed, in fact, that since Flemish society was patriarchal, women must have been under some form of guardianship. Occasions when men act with women simply serve to confirm such an assumption. Godding is far more judicious, providing one or two examples that might be considered to reflect guardianship within the context of a forthright discussion of the likelihood of its existence. At least upon one occasion, however, his evidence does not bear out his conclusion. He claims, for example, that women in Lille were prohibited from judging men. The basis for this assertion is chapter 43 of the Lillois custumal. Chapter 43 states that men will judge men; it is easy to see how Godding arrived at the conclusion that women will not judge men. But the item also states that women will judge women. If one consistently applies the logic of Godding's own argument, this means that just as women are incapable of judging men, men are incapable of judging women hardly an indication of guardianship over women.(18)

Our thesis, in contrast to the above, is relatively straightforward: that the lack of legal texts specifically addressing guardianship over women simply reflects the absence of any such systematic practice - that patriarchy, at least in medieval Flanders, did not necessarily imply guardianship over women. If guardianship over women was not uniform, then any particular instances of it were probably ad hoc in nature, as Iterson suggests, and not systematic. An examination of constraints on bodily integrity, on the possession and disposal of property, on women's position within the family, on employment, and on public participation reveals, in fact, that men did not act for women in any systematic fashion. It also reveals not only that men were not economically responsible for women but also that they did not have to act for them in public. The pairing of women with men in the documents was, with one exception, not a reflection of the demands of guardianship but rather an expression of the corporate body which men and women together constituted. The exception has to do with land held in feudal tenure.(19) Women participating in transactions involving fiefs were always represented by some man, acting as either guardian or advocate. Flanders was hardly feudal, however, and it would certainly be inappropriate to generalize the requirements pertinent to this one system of land tenure to cover all instances of female activity.

The focus of this study is explicitly on secular women. Since urban areas left more records than did rural ones, the study centers primarily though not exclusively on women living in the major Flemish towns: Bruges, Douai, Ghent, Lille, and Ypres. The reason for leaving religious women out of the picture, even though the degree to which they exercised particularly local authority contributes significantly to our understanding of Flemish women's historical experience as a whole, is that they lived, for the most part, under quite distinct legal and social conditions. The exception, of course, was the beguines, who were neither fish (avowed) nor fowl (secular women). To include them would make this essay far too long; moreover, a large number of studies already focus on them.(20)

One of the major difficulties in analyzing guardianship is determining what it is. For present purposes, we have defined guardianship as a particular form of representation, most characteristically associated with minor children, in which the guardians usually act on their own authority without the direction or necessarily even the consent of the persons they are representing. While the distinction between this and other forms of advocacy remains clear when the terms are associated with men, there is a tendency to confuse them when they are associated with women. The reason lies with motive: men clearly use advocates because they choose to, while women often do so because they must. It may thus be tempting to conclude that for women, an advocate is essentially a quasi-guardian.

Guardianship should not be confused with procuration, in which the procurator acts under the direction of the person he is representing.(21) Guardianship is usually marked by the word voogd (Dutch), tutor (Latin) or tuteur (French); advocacy is usually meant by the words procurator (Latin) or advoe (French, from Latin advocatus). The fact that the Dutch word landvoogd has historically been used for procurator has doubtless contributed to the tendency to confuse the distinctions between guardians and procurators.(22) Guardians are most systematically used with minor children.(23) Because they are young, children are incapable. The presumed incapacities associated with female gender are not as obviously manifested as those associated with a lack of years. Variations in social practice may therefore have yielded variations in terminology.


Was social practice in medieval Flanders sufficiently uniform to permit valid generalizations about guardianship? The medieval county of Flanders, after all, consisted of both the francophone south (now largely part of the region in northern France known as "French Flanders"(24)) and the Flemish-speaking north (western Belgium). Godding, for good reasons, has no trouble treating the region as a coherent whole. The county was small enough to ensure that social and economic intercourse would be common among Flemish urban centers. Both Agnes de Harnes and Crestiene de Hazebruech, inhabitants of Douai, for example, received routine life rents from Bruges;(25) Marie file Pance, who made her will in Douai, came from Bethune.(26) Major towns exercised sufficiently constant influence over the more rural regions that surrounded them to guarantee considerable uniformity of practice between town and countryside.(27) During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the county was moreover developing into a cohesive political entity.(28)

A number of other circumstances conspired to give Flemish society in general its distinctive texture and shape. Perhaps one of the most important was the economic growth and ferment that had come to characterize thirteenth-century Flanders. Advantageously located astride a number of trade routes and blessed with many towns and with a thriving textile industry, Flanders early became the commercial and industrial center of Northern Europe. Economic principles and institutions were inherently opposed in a number of ways to the maintenance of traditional feudal and religious practices. The buying, manufacture, transportation, and selling of goods did not fit into the warlike ethos that fed feudalism, nor was it easily accommodated to the isolated, other-worldly context of medieval religion. Preconceptions rooted in feudal and religious order, although by no means without influence in thirteenth-century Flanders, took a back seat to economic demands.(29)

Distinctive religious factors also helped to shape the county and the social status of women within it. Although, like much of the rest of medieval Europe, it was home to numerous monasteries and abbeys, Flanders had no episcopal see within its borders, and it was far less subject to episcopal influence than were many other parts of Europe.(30) In addition, there were a number of convents, such as Flines, Marquette, and Messines, whose powerful abbesses were embroiled in most of the religious and secular affairs of their respective regions.(31) Flanders also saw one of the greatest flowerings of the beguine movement.(32) As pious but unprofessed women, usually living collectively in communal institutions called beguinages, Flemish beguines were initially not subject to the authority of any religious rule, let alone to that of a distant bishop.(33)

Customary law was the last, albeit certainly not the least contributing factor. In the course of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Roman law had begun to infiltrate, shape and define governments and societies throughout Europe. As Godding demonstrates, however, it made little headway in Flanders until well into the fifteenth century, after approximately seventy-five years of Burgundian (French) rule. Roman law, as codified in the sixth century by Emperor Justinian, presupposes female incompetence and is typified by a protective, paternalistic attitude. Such an approach tends to justify the exclusion of women from certain activities;(34) the introduction of Roman law was, in fact, frequently accompanied by the diminution of the female as a juridical person.(35) During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, however, Flanders enjoyed a fundamentally Germanic system of law and custom that was based more on negotiation among groups and less on decisions of constituted authorities.(36)

Guardianship over the Body

Control over the body is perhaps the best evidence of guardianship. If a man was clearly responsible for maintaining his female relation's body, then one can probably conclude that he was her guardian. Recent scholarship on the body in medieval Flanders has concentrated primarily on religion and religious life.(37) There exists, however, no similar analysis of secular attitudes toward the body, in part because of a lack of evidence. It is thus very difficult to ascertain the extent to which anyone had responsibility for or control over the body of someone else. The records which have the greatest potential of yielding any useful material on this subject are wills, and those involving criminal acts, marriage, and minority.

The connection between guardianship and the body is best exemplified by wardship over minor children. Guardians of orphans were expected to maintain the child's body. This included providing the child with food, shelter, and clothing.(38) Although there is virtually no information on what parental responsibility was taken to embrace, it is hardly likely to have included anything less. The idiomatic phrase en pain de pere et mere signified that a child was still under parental authority.(39) Whether this included associated privileges over a child's body is unclear, but no cases of child abuse seem to have come up before local authorities.

Evidence of this kind of responsibility for women's bodies is, however, very hard to come by. To be sure, both marriage contracts and testaments do occasionally mention the body; in most cases, however, it is used in the phrase "heirs of his/her body." In the marriage contract between Simon den Grutere, of Ghent, and Mergriet, daughter of Jacop van Ravenscoet, for example, it is agreed that if Simon dies, leaving Margaret without legal heir of his body, then all that he has given to her can be given to her sister.(40) Wills in Douai routinely speak of heirs of the body. In November 1311, John Biaus, for example, left the remainder of his estate to his sons and daughters and to the children that he might have "of his own body by Marie de le Couture, his wife."(41) The will of Jakemon Painsmoullies uses similar language.(42) Curiously, women's wills do not employ such language. Children are marked merely as hers, as in "Let all know . . . that Hauwis de Courieres gives . . . to William, her son, all that she will have."(43) What this evidence seems to imply is that mothers were the unmarked case. As we shall see below in the discussion of bastards, the relationship of a man to his children had to be defined by his relationship to their mothers.

Wills sometimes include a rather more ambiguous reference to the body. There are at least four wills in which husbands apparently leave their wives items such as clothes and jewels pour sen cor "for her body."(44) Wills which confide the guardianship of minor children to someone almost always use words such as "feed," "provide" or "clothe;"(45) the apparent bequest of clothing on the part of husbands to their wives might, by extension, seem to suggest that husbands were similarly responsible at least for clothing their wives. The phrasing is, however, standard, and its location in these wills - either before or after the designation of the residuary legatee - suggests that the reference to a "body" is not literal, but idiomatic.(46) In other words, he is not leaving clothes to her that she has by his fiat, but rather making sure, in a rather conventionalized fashion, that those items that are hers in the first place will not be included in the remainder and thus divided among his heirs.(47)

The evidence from criminal records is also ambiguous. On the surface, it seems to suggest that men did not have legal authority over women's persons. On 2 July 1306, the aldermen of Ypres, for example, levied the fine of 30 sous on Pierre Spelisant for wounds he inflicted on his wife, Catherine de Morbeke.(48) On 24 November, 1319, Louis de Nevers, eldest son of the count of Flanders, condemned Walter Masiere to pilgrimages to St. Giles in Provence and to Saint Andrews in Scotland, among other penalties, for beating his wife Catherine.(49) In 1375, Lieven de Nayere was forced to pay 10 l. for mistreating his wife.(50) While these cases suggest that society invested women with bodily integrity, they do not prove it. At the time that Pierre was fined, his wife was, in fact, dead; the account's one line gives no indication whether she died of these wounds or of something else. Men did not have the right to kill their wives, and so this particular case gives us little information as to whether men were permitted to beat their wives. The case of Walter Masiere suggests that they were not. But it turns out that Walter had beaten his wife because she had entertained the count's son and his entourage. The issue is not how she might have entertained Louis, but rather that she obviously complained to him that she had been beaten. The motivation for his condemnation, therefore, may not have been to satisfy customary law, but rather to satisfy something less objective. The significance of this fact, however, remains to be explored.


The bulk of archival detritus consists of property transactions. Guardianship over minors focused heavily on what property the child was to inherit, who was to manage it, and what condition it was to be in when it was turned over to its rightful owner at the time of majority. A large part of wardship, therefore, was expressed in the nature of the association between the persons and any property they might own or possess. If women were formally or informally under the guardianship of some male, it should most certainly show up in documents resulting from property transactions.

Two cautions are in order. One has already been noted: in Dutch language records, the juxtaposition of voogd and property (land) may in fact signal not guardianship, but more accurately procuration (landvoogd). Secondly, there are a large variety of tenures which can be loosely typed into two categories, feudal or non-feudal. As noted above, incidents of guardianship are more commonly found in records documenting the transfer of property held in feudal tenure than in any other.

Dowries are a case in point. Godding points out that dowries were chiefly associated with feudal tenures,(51) and by the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, feudalism, never very strong, was waning in the Low Countries.(52) Marianne Danneel has also pointed out that there was almost no talk of dowries in late medieval Ghent.(53) Property in cities, after all, was not usually held in feudal tenure.

Since feudalism originated out of a need for military resources, it had a tendency to exclude women; it shared this aspect with Roman law. Dowries are, in fact, a manifestation of feudalism's exclusionary element. Transactions involving dowries usually necessitated not only the specific participation of the property holder - the wife - but also, at least for the life of the married couple, the husband, who because he had the responsibility for protecting it enjoyed the privilege of managing it. His permission would thus have been needed when action was taken which would diminish the marital property as a whole.(54) At the same time, however, the property that made up a dowry was not essentially his, and the interest of the wife and of her lineage needed to be represented as well. Quite apart from the issue of her capacity under feudal law, the wife, as part of the marital unit, could hardly be considered more important than her husband in this matter; she was not the best choice to represent the interest of her lineage. The answer to this problem was for the wife to choose a procurator. This procurator would execute her responsibilities in her name and in the name of her lineage. He could in no way, however, be considered her guardian.

The cession of a tithe by Rolin Zobe, Catherine, his wife, and his brother Wulfars to the chapter of Notre Dame of Courtrai illustrates this nicely. A portion of the property ceded to the church included part of Catherine's dowry. The process of cession was recorded in five documents. The first includes Catherine's renunciation, with the consent of her spouse, of the part of the tithe in which her dowry was involved.(55) Two subsequent documents record that Catherine employed Henry de Hoeke to act as her procurator; the use of the word procurator rather than tutor suggests that agency rested ultimately with her and not with him. It is in fact clear from the last record of the transaction, dated 12 November 1279, that Henry had traveled as far as Utrecht on her behalf.(56) It is possible that feudal convention demanded that she choose a procurator; even so, the absence of any indication of familial relationship between Henry and Catherine suggests that she may well have had the liberty to choose any procurator she wished. Moreover, these records make it perfectly clear that although he may have traveled to Utrecht on her behalf, he did not speak for her at home. She spoke for herself - either alone, when the formal process of renouncing her dowry required her to, or with the others, as part of the general process of ceding the tithe.(57)

This record is interesting for other reasons as well. Rolin is described in the first document, dated 3 October 1279, as Catherine's husband, but it is not clear whether he was also her tutor. The wording is ambiguous: "Moreover Catherine, the wife of Rolin, with the consent of her husband and of her guardian given to her by law, renounced all right which she had or was able to have by reason of her dowry."(58) Is her husband also her "guardian given her by law?" Or is her guardian someone else, as suggested by the conjoined phrase "by will of her husband and by her guardian?" Records usually mention guardians by name, e.g., "X, her husband and spouse" or "Y, her guardian." On the one hand, the absence of any name but that of her spouse supports the contention that Rolin as husband was also her guardian. On the other, the phrase "given by law" suggests that her guardian might be someone else. In any case, the fact that the description does not appear near the top, in the identifying portion of the document, suggests that his role as her tutor was specific to her renunciation of her dowry rights. Its position, buried in the bottom fourth of the document, argues rather strongly against the hypothesis that it functioned as a general assertion of their relationship.

No one, in fact, acted independently in this affair. Both Catherine and Wulfars, Rolin's brother, are usually identified throughout all of the documents as associated with Rolin, and Rolin is clearly the primary agent. This hardly makes him Wulfars's guardian; nor, by extension, does it show that he was Catherine's. Even though he was clearly in charge, Rolin acted only in conjunction with both Catherine and Wulfars. The only one to act independently of him, in fact, was Catherine, when she employed Henry de Hoeke to obtain the consent of the bishop of Utrecht;(59) this circumstance indicates that Henry was her employee and not her guardian.

There are thus three things to remember about these transactions. First, they involved property held in feudal tenure. One should not generalize the terms and conditions found in them to cover all property transactions. Second, Rolin appears to be described as Catherine's guardian once and only once out of five documents;(60) it is not clear even in the one instance that he was her guardian. Third, although Rolin is clearly the primary member of this group, he is not outside of it; his scope of activity may, in this case, have been greater than that of either Catherine or Wulfars, but he cannot and does not act without them. What we have here may well be an example of guardianship over women when feudal tenures were involved, but it is not more than that. It cannot be taken as reflecting any general relationship of guardianship between Rolin and Catherine, let alone any systematic custom of female tutelage.

A document dated 27 May 1350 further supports this point.(61) On that date, Kersten, lady of Dronghen, with Jan van Artevelde, her spouse, recognized the sale of a life rent to Giles den Tolnere on behalf of their daughter, Juete, a nun in the convent of St. Clare.(62) In this document, Jan is represented as Kersten's guardian, but the term is immediately qualified: he is speaking for her only "in this business" (in dese zake). Kersten appears to have been a vassal of the Lady of Cassel, and feudal law may have required that she be represented by a man, the most obvious choice being her husband. Having established that he is her guardian in this business, the document proceeds to omit any further reference to him as her spouse; from here on out he is represented only in the phrase "Joncvrouwe Kersten, Lady of Dronghen aforementioned with her legal guardian." If "husband" was normally equivalent to "guardian," re-iterating the spousal relationship would have been sufficient. Jan's name appears again, along with hers, at the end of the document where it is noted that both Jan and Kersten sealed it. The phrase "with her guardian" is absent at this point; Kersten apparently does not need a tutor to seal a document on her behalf. Clearly the qualifying phrase "in this business" presupposes that Jan was not, in fact, automatically to be considered her guardian.

While property held in feudal tenure was typically described with reference to the person who protected and managed it, it is the principal possessor - the one who paid the taxes - who served as the customary point of reference for identifying other types of property. In such cases, after all, the essential issue was not the property's safe protection or management, but rather its revenue-producing properties. For the same reason, this would also be the most logical means of identifying a piece of property that was subject to transference. It was also common practice to identify a property with reference to owners of surrounding holdings.(63)

Property was identified as belonging to women in a number of records. Seven of the forty-seven people described as principal possessors in a 1249 assessment within the parish of St. Martin's of Ypres, for example, were women.(64) Alena, wife of John Custodis, is listed, for example, as responsible for the six measures of land she holds of St. Martin's in Ypres. It is quite possible, to be sure, that her husband was actually managing the property, even though she was the principal possessor. There is no evidence that he did not, but equally, there is no evidence that he did. As far as the scribe or clerk was concerned, it was her holding and her responsibility. Alena is the only woman clearly described as married. Other women in the record, then, may have been responsible for their property because they had never married or had been widowed. Curiously, however, only one is described as the daughter of some man, suggesting that she had not married up to this point; there also appears to have been only one widow-the widow of Andre Comitis.(65) Yet another woman appears simply as muller Lisa (the woman Lisa). The remaining three lack descriptive titles or defining appositives. This lack suggests that associating women with male relatives was neither invariable nor routine. For all we can tell, any one of these three may have been married, single or widowed. For some reason, the scribe saw no need to note down such information. It is possible that what the clerk wrote down depended not on convention but rather on how each person identified him or herself to him or on his own familiarity with them.(66)

Ypres was not the only community where land was identified with reference to those who held it, and where women were recorded as the holders. The Ghent aldermen described a piece of property being transferred, for example, as being located between the property of Jan van Waes and that of Katheline Aex, daughter of Sir Boidin Aex.(67) The heritable rent that Willem and Wivine Uten Hove sold to Jacop Zaterdag is described as lying in part upon the property on which the house of the widow of Henry Suuwelaern stood.(68) Hugh den Plougher is noted as leasing a portion of a house sitting between the house of the late Boudin Clauwaerts and that of Lisbet van Latem to his daughter, Lisbet Plougher.(69) In 1292, Robert Li Vodins of Douai contracted a debt to Evrart al le Take, a citizen of Tournai, pledging as collateral his lands bordering the tenement of William Pautonnier and of Wistasse Kaviole on the one hand and that sitting at the Pont de Pierre and joining the tenement of Jeanne d'Auby on the other.(70) The tenement of dame Ysabel le Blonde marked the boundary of one of the properties in Douai that Jeanne Galip, widow of William Boin Siecle, sold to her daughter-in-law Margot.(71)

Occasionally records mark female possessors as somebody's wife. Most commonly they bear no descriptive appositives. Most of the forty-one female landholders mentioned in thirteenth-century Douaisian records, for example, lack identifying familial associations. Only three are described as some man's wife or mother.(72) It is possible that the women described as someone's wife are really widows. Interpretation depends on who is "deceased" in phrases exemplified by "the wife of Henry d'Escaillon who was" (qui fu). Familial associations, however, are less common than those denoting either class ("lady of") or deceased status, as exemplified by "Lady Mahaut Li Konestablesse," and "[the tenement of] Ermenfroit Piet d'Argent, deceased."(73)

The case of the woman in Douai who was identified with reference to her child raises interesting questions.(74) Was this woman a widow, or had she perhaps never married? There was nothing preventing a bastard child from possessing land. If she was widowed, the clerks neglected to mention it. Such neglect, if it was indeed neglect, signifies either that widowhood was not considered to be a defining status or that, at least in this case, parenthood superseded it. If the latter, it then becomes important to ask what other status superseded widowhood. Three out of forty-one women described as landholders in thirteenth-century Douai are identified only as dame, suggesting an elevated social position. Are we to assume that none of them were widows and thus that none had ever been married? Or was social position simply more noteworthy than widowhood? In the case of Margaret, countess of Flanders, it most certainly was. Although she had been widowed twice, none of the documents recording her actions subsequent to her accession as countess mentions the fact.

When a woman who owned, held or otherwise possessed property did happen to be identified with reference to another family member in the record of a transaction, it was probably in any case not for purposes of informing readers who her guardian was, but rather merely for purposes of unambiguously identifying the specific person to whom the particular parcel of land belonged. If such formulas did signify guardianship, we should expect the records to show far greater consistency in this regard. If, on the other hand, they represent nothing more than relatively ad hoc practical expedients for identifying the owner of particular properties, their sporadic appearance makes a good deal of sense. The crucial concern underlying these records was that taxes and rents be paid by someone capable of paying them; if the titular holder was incapable of paying them, then it would be necessary to find someone who could.(75)

Property brought into a marriage, whether managed by one spouse or the other, customarily remained associated with the spouse to whom it had originally belonged. When Jan Metsaert and Kateline Cays formally separated, for example, each was entitled to the goods they had brought into the marriage.(76) The natal family of either spouse retained a claim on such property in the event that a spouse should die without heir.(77) Even creditors had no right to the property of a debtor's spouse and could only claim the debtor's share of the marital property. (78)

Although both spouses retained their separate rights over property in their possession before marriage, any property acquired during the union was held in common. Documents recording transactions involving such property underline this by routinely mentioning both marital partners. The phrase "X and his wife" is sprinkled as if in template form throughout most of them. Hence when Countess Jeanne and her spouse Fernand assigned a rente to Gilles de Quesnoy and Sarra, his wife, on 22 March 1230,(79) the document recording the transaction consistently employs the phrase Egidius de Querceto, . . . et Sarra, uxor eius ("Gilles de Quesnoy, . . . and Sarra, his wife"). Other examples abound. An aldermanic document from Ghent records that in 1345, Simon den Grutere quit Robert de Valkeneren and Kateline, "his legal wife" (zijn wettelijke wijj) of 14 l. 5s. 3d par.(80) Hugh de Buc quit John Vokcraven, citizen of Ypres, of three marcs that he was obliged to render in his capacity as security for Hugh de Herseles and for Hugh's wife, Margaret.(81) On 11 November 1281, the aldermen of Bruges gave Jacob Louchart and his wife Margareta, citizens of Arras, a life rent.(82) For both men and women, the interests at stake here were not so much individual as corporate in nature.

In any case, possession, unlike guardianship, did not necessarily imply legal capacity to dispose of property. Neither spouse could sell, loan, or give it away without the consent of the other. In 1230, for example, Agnes, abbess of the Benedictine convent of Messines, took action to prevent a husband from selling his wife's possessions without her consent, denying her property to her heirs, and refusing to allow them possession of her share of all goods acquired during the marriage.(83) The application of this custom yielded interesting situations. The act of formal separation between Giles van Estford and his wife Aechte, dated 18 February 1350, established that a house was community property and thus must be split between them. The ground, however, belonged to the wife and the husband was therefore entitled to enjoy only the right of usufruct for his half of the house.(84)

To be sure, a record might identify a married couple by making reference to the man's name alone, with the woman referred to only by some form of the bare phrase "his wife."(85) This "minimalist" version of the formula does indeed seem to highlight the man's preeminent position in his family; even when the woman's name is mentioned, it is almost always she who is identified as his spouse, and not vice versa. But in the final analysis does this template do anything more than describe the marital unit?(86) Does the preeminent position of the male spouse in this template, in fact, reflect the husband's guardianship over marital property and thus by extension over his spouse? There is a great deal of evidence that it does not. Rather than one spouse representing the other, it is in fact much more likely that the constant reference to both spouses conjointly signified the representation of the marital unit as a whole. This is nicely illustrated by the case of Jan vanden Moure and Lysbet his wife. On 4 August 1350, Lisbet van Leuwerghem, widow of Willem van Leuwerghem and Lady of Burst, leased all her goods in Flanders to this couple. Most documents in the register take no more than a quarter of a page, but the record of this transaction covers a page and a quarter, mentioning the couple eight times. If the husband had customarily been understood to stand for the marital unit, it would have been much more efficient for the clerk to employ the template two or three times to make the point and then to use the husband's name alone to signify the couple. The clerk does not do this. Instead, it is not until the very end of the document that he(87) finally allows himself to shorten the template to Janne en sinen wive vorseid.(88) (To be sure, most documents, because they are so short, do not have occasion to mention the parties involved more than once.) This case, moreover, appears to represent not an exception, but rather the rule for documents that mention the married couple more than once(89) The presence of both spouses in written records suggests that the issue presented before the alderman or some other authority figure (such as the abbess mentioned above) involved the property of the marital unit, and thus that, if custom did not demand the presence of both, it at least expected it.

Under certain circumstances the marital couple could be represented by either spouse alone. Husbands do this more frequently than do wives, but the fact that wives did do it at all suggests that customary law did admit their capacity in the matter of marital, let alone their own, property. Wives, in fact, are known to have represented the marital unit quite successfully without their spouses. On 30 May 1346, for example, the wife of William vander Rijt won a judgment from the aldermen of Ghent against the aldermen of Sinaai-Waas.(90) The quarrel was over a house. It is, in fact, axiomatic that throughout the Middle Ages, and not only in Flanders, women represented the family unit when the male spouse was absent.

Husbands and wives could each also act specifically on the other's behalf. Siger Bogaerd received a quittance on behalf of his wife, while Kateline Bertemus contracted a lease in the name of her husband, Heinric van Oestersele.(91) The latter document is of particular interest. The fact that the scribe had to add "in the name of her husband" above the line strongly suggests that he had at least initially assumed that she was acting on her own behalf. The fact that he had to do the same with the phrase identifying her as Heinric's spouse in the first place suggests that her marital status was not of immediate significance.

There is in fact abundant evidence of married women transacting public business in the absence of their spouses. Of the thirty-five Ghent documents involving married women, for example, only twenty report the presence of both spouses. In the fifteen others, the husband is mentioned - which is why we know that the woman is married - but there is no indication what his involvement was.(92) It is quite likely, in these cases at least, that the woman was representing not the marital unit, but herself. Phrases such as "Kateline, the wife of Henry of Bruges," "Lysbette sBroesschen, John Wulf's wife," "Margaret Jours, Andries Naeldekens's wife," and "Haloene, wife of Simon, lord of Donnaes" probably do not imply anything more than that these women were married to these men.(93) What these records do reflect, however, is that marriage did not mean that a woman ceased to have rights and corresponding responsibilities with regard to property; her property did not become her husband's to dispose of as he wished. They also suggest that marital property was their property and not his alone. It may well be that his actions with regard to marital property were somewhat less constrained than hers - the fact that more men than women represented marital property at least suggests this was the case.

In matters of property, the absence of stated legal constraints on women's activities is not matched by any corresponding inactivity on their part. One cannot, therefore, claim that a system of guardianship was so routine as to require no articulation. There is no question that women were not as involved in documented property management as were men, but one can in no way conclude from this that they lacked the capacity for such involvement. There exist any number of conceivable reasons for this, though the sources can shed no light here; women may have lacked the inclination, they may have been too busy doing something else, or it may have been easier, in a public forum that was, after all, dominated by male authority figures, to leave it to the males. What cannot be doubted is that they were experienced. The issue is in any case a qualitative one, involving customary and legal capacity to manage one's own property. Women in medieval Flanders clearly had this capacity; while quantitative data on the relative extent to which they exercised it may well tell us something about routine patterns of day-to-day social interaction, they have no bearing at all on the issue of women's legal status.


Both husband and wife had, as we have seen, the capacity to manage and to administer marital property. This capacity may well have emerged out of the fact that in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Flanders the family was embedded in the spousal unit and not in paternity. In many parts of Europe, particularly but not exclusively in those influenced by Roman law, the father was socially and legally identified as the essential constitutive element of the family: spousal and parental authority were fundamentally synonymous with paternal authority. In some regions familial identity inhered in the father to such an extent that his death required the splitting up of the property;(94) in certain regions, such as Normandy, and among certain classes, notably the feudal elite, such partition extended even to the confiding of surviving members of the family group to the care of other groups.(95) Although in parts of medieval Europe widows might carry on the work of their deceased spouses, generally speaking, a family without a father, then as now, was thought to be incomplete and somehow crippled. "Paternity" defined the family, governing relations between husband and wife, demarcating parenthood and determining the position of bastards.

The defining of a woman as someone's wife or daughter or widow was commonplace in Flanders; the Flemish cultural area was certainly no stranger to patriarchy. But there were some telling variations. In Douai, for example, custom privileged the marital unit; spouses rather than children were seen as the natural heirs.(96) When it came to rights of inheritance, a married women was therefore her husband's equal. A man could not be a father without a child, and Douai's custom, by preferring the spouse over the child, diminished the significance of this status. The status of "married," in fact, seems to have been of greater significance than that of "father."(97) Since patriarchy by definition must constrain female sexuality within marriage in order to protect paternity, the diminution in the importance of fatherhood may well have had the consequence of raising the relative status of women within marriage.

A similar situation seems to have existed in Ghent. Dowries were commonly given in many parts of Europe, in part to make up for the automatic exclusion of women from succession to the patrimony. As the discussion of marital property in the section above indicates, women were not routinely so excluded in Flanders. One of the reasons for this, as Marianne Danneel has crisply demonstrated, is that girls and boys were equally linked in marriage. As a result, as she states, "[i]t was thus not necessary to give a girl a dowry in compensation for her exclusion by the law of inheritance."(98) When it came to inheritance of the community of goods, the widow's right was as great as the widower's.(99)

Relative economic parity is replicated in the domain of parenthood. Flemish custom up to the sixteenth century usually dictated that children be subject to the authority of both of their parents.(100) When one died, the other, regardless of sex, usually was expected to take over the guardianship of any minor children; a child was considered to be an orphan regardless of which parent had died.(101) The absence of either of the parents, not just of the father, therefore, was considered to be a disadvantage. The customary law or keure of Ghent in 1297 appears to assume that the voogd (the guardian responsible for the estate of minor children, usually appointed by the city) was to be the surviving parent, father or mother, and ordains that the voogd should keep annual accounts of that property.(102) This suggests that mother and father were considered more or less equal in terms not only of their duty, but also of their capacity to take care of their children. If women themselves automatically had guardians, how could they function as guardians for their children?

The case of bastard children is particularly illustrative. According to Flemish custom, a mother had no bastards.(103) She did not need to make any special provision for her bastard children because they were automatically considered to be her heirs.T(104) No presumption of male responsibility for a woman (informal guardianship) appears to have informed the customs which governed women and their bastard children. A mother and her bastard children appear to have constituted a discrete and viable familial group. To be sure, this familial group was considered crippled by the lack of a male spouse, in much the same way that the familial group formed by a widow and her children was considered to be disadvantaged. The disadvantage, however, arose essentially from the lack of two parents and not merely from the lack of the male one. Bastards, while not able to reap the full benefits that society conferred on legitimate children, could nonetheless, as Myriam Carlier has shown, enjoy many of the benefits and opportunities of Flemish society, from citizenship(105) to rights of guild membership.(106) Flemish society was nonetheless able to slot them into a socially recognized group - that constituted by themselves and their mothers.(107)

Widows with children and never-married women with children occupied similar status as heads of families. Women thus did not need (any more than men did) to have gone through the marital experience in order to be considered capable of heading a family unit; heads of families, by definition, did not need guardians. Single adults, by extension, did not need them either. To be sure, single people were at a disadvantage when compared to married ones. A single person, after all, had at his or her disposal only one income and only one person's labor. Moreover, most medieval societies were uneasy with single men and women; they were demonstrably more unstable than married ones.(108) The fact that marriage achieved emancipation from minority status(109) is a manifestation of the respect accorded to married people as compared to single ones. It is likely that the single state was generally viewed as transitory - almost an unfortunate condition. The majority of both men and women were expected to marry. Nonetheless, many in Flanders did not. A single person, because there was no hierarchy in a corporate group consisting of only one person, was both head and member at the same time. This would explain why single women participated to the same extent in society as did single men. It would also explain why single women, with or without their bastard children, were tolerated as acceptable social units. Finally, it would explain why they did not need guardians.

The family, with the father its acknowledged head, constituted the primary social organization in medieval Flanders, as it did elsewhere. The occasional use of only the father's name to represent the familial whole reflects social convention. The social emphasis in Flanders, however, appears to have been more on partnership than on headship. Variation lay in the degree to which the male spouse and parent was burdened with ultimate accountability for the family's condition and its actions. Had he been solely accountable, his disappearance would have mortally crippled the family, which would have had to have been reconstituted under the responsibility of another male. Clearly, however, the absence of the father had no such effect on the Flemish family. Primary responsibility in families consisting of mother and child, in fact, did devolve upon the female adult. The "female" spouse or the "female" parent was considered socially capable of bearing the burden of headship. She possessed the necessary knowledge (probably gained from experience or from example(110)). The authority to do so inhered in her position as "spouse" and as "parent."


While puberty more or less marked the onset of adulthood, it did not necessarily signal the end of minority. In urban areas in particular, the age of majority tended to be raised to around twenty-five;(111) even the attainment of a certain age did not automatically confer majority status.(112) Marriage was often considered to bring minority to an end, but ordinances from the fourteenth century make it clear that the young husband or wife still suffered constraints in the disposal of property (particularly immovables).(113) Since neither age nor marital status guaranteed full majority, some other principle must have been operative. This principle was expressed in the notion that children of minor status were considered to be en pain de pere et mere - still dependent on parents for their bread. Children who had attained their majority were hors de son pain;(114) in other words, they were able to maintain themselves without parental help. (115)

Property, for all its economic significance in medieval Flemish society, thus often mattered less than the capacity to support oneself through commercial or industrial activity. In a highly urbanized society such as Flanders, this typically meant working for wages. A large number of women throughout Flanders held jobs and plied trades, from shipbuilding to spinning to money changing.(116) Bailiffs' accounts from a variety of communities routinely list the license fees that women paid to practice a multiplicity of trades.(117) Opportunities for supporting oneself in any of a variety of employments, combined with the availability of self-contained, small living spaces, permitted single people to survive in the city in ways that could hardly have been imagined in the countryside.(118)

The situation in Douai is particularly telling. There, for most of the thirteenth century, it was customary for the aldermen to address practitioners of a particular trade or profession in gender-dyadic form, e.g., boulengiers ne boulengiere, drappiers ne drappiere, taneres ne taneresse and so forth.(119) No thirteenth-century ordinance seems to have expressly forbidden women to work in any occupation because they were married. In most of the thirteenth-century ordinances, in fact, marital status is not mentioned at all; the occasional references that do occur are generally incidental to the primary issue that the ordinance was formulated to address.(120) The gender-dyadic occupational references served the simple purpose of including both men and women, regardless of marital status, within an ordinance's scope of reference.

Were these ordinances perhaps addressed to all men, but only to single women? There is abundant evidence to the contrary. To be sure, the English word "spinster" is cognate with the Flemish designation for a woman employed in the spinning of wool. In Flanders, however, both single and married women worked - the latter more probably out of economic necessity than by permission of benevolent spouses. Participation in urban economic life was not limited to women working in their husband's businesses nor to single women who needed to support themselves on a strictly temporary basis. Single women did work temporarily, frequently as domestics(121) (one of the jobs in which women overwhelmingly outnumbered men),(122) but numerous women continued to work at their own trades after united with a man in holy matrimony.(123) Married women did work in their husbands' businesses; they also plied trades outside the family unit. That married women worked, and sometimes at jobs outside the family business, is clear from a Ghent record of 1355 noting that a couple was judged capable of living apart because both had been "practicing different trades and paying their own expenses."(124) The city's scepenen of gedelen (aldermen responsible for keeping the peace and negotiating disputes) granted the separation. There is no mention of the aldermen insisting that the woman return to her own family or find another group that could take responsibility for her, as her guardian. Doubtless the primary concern of the city fathers was simply that neither spouse become a burden on the city's charitable organizations. Because she paid her own expenses through her own earnings and had just as reasonable expectations of continuing to do so as had her spouse, the aldermen assumed the wife to be as capable of self-maintenance as he was.

Such relative economic independence, coupled with financial soundness, probably explains why women were able to assume responsibility as sureties, guarantors, and procurators. In such roles, they - like their male counterparts - functioned as quasi-guardians, responsible not so much for a particular person as for the fulfillment of some specific action or obligation. While many, such as Alijs sPapen,(125) acted for members of their families, others represented persons apparently unrelated to them. In 1350, for example, Calle Spermalgen acted as surety for Zoeten van Vive,(126) while Ghiselbrecht van Wondelinghem appointed Beatris Blanckaerds to act as receiver of the debts of Jan Braem.(127) In that same year, a woman identified as vrouw Dulhuus, vrouw van ser Segher Hardelijns, acted as surety for Hugh van Bovenhave.(128) What is significant is the sheer variety of people on whose behalf they acted. Their numbers may not have been large, but their experience - particularly that of vrouw Dulhuus, clearly a married woman - contradicts the assumption that a woman was necessarily under the informal, let alone formal guardianship of some man.

It has been claimed that once she entered the married state, a woman's participation in society diminished because her husband now acted for her.(129) Yet, as the discussion on property above indicates, there is evidence, at least for medieval Flanders, that married women could do business on their own, without reference to their husbands. On January 20, 1346, for example, the aldermen of Ghent ordered Joes Everday to pay Kateline Braems two measures of corn. In this document, both parties are identified only by name, but other evidence suggests that Kateline was married at the time to Jacob van den Kerchove.(130) Cases like that of Kateline Braems suggest not only that a married woman could transact business, but that records of such transactions might simply omit any reference to her marital status. They also indicate that married women could and did act alone, apparently without the participation or consent of their spouses. This is not to say that they acted arbitrarily, without regard for the corporate entities in which they were embedded, but rather that women were capable of transacting business as their own agents in much the same way that most men were.

Women in medieval Flanders enjoyed the possibility of economic independence. This need not be taken to mean that they sought or desired economic autonomy; life was usually more financially secure (in the present and in the future) for married couples. It does mean, however, that they are unlikely to have suffered gladly the legal or social constraints implied in guardianship. But quite apart from the attitudes of women themselves, such constraints would have imposed pointless costs and burdens on the society as a whole, given the ubiquity of women in Flemish commercial life. An institution like guardianship, characteristically associated with economic dependence sanctioned by social convention, has little raison d'etre in a context where the presumed wards are potentially if not actually self-sufficient.

Public and Oral

One of the crucial elements in the definition of guardianship is the requirement that a guardian be used in actions that are deemed "public."(131) This raises the sticky problem of what constitutes "public" action. If "public" action is limited to that taken on behalf of the "public," then public action in Flanders was limited to aldermen and the count and his administration. Even when so limited, it did not exclude women, for the count of Flanders throughout most of the thirteenth century was, in fact, a countess.(132) It might be argued that all of the matters discussed above, because they primarily involve "private" actions, cannot be considered public activity. Such a definition, of course, depends on some formally accepted division between "public" and "private" spheres of activity and correspondingly between public and private law.(133) Is Nicholas implying some such division and simply restricting his meaning to the "public" sphere, when he claims that women in medieval Ghent had legal personalities only through the men in their families? He does not say so explicitly. A negative answer would seem to entail insuperable empirical problems for the claim; yet a positive answer would entail problems of a different nature. Customary law, unlike Roman or common law, does not always divide types of law into discrete categories, for it is less interested in establishing and maintaining social norms, such as patriarchal authority and property transmission, than it is in maintaining the peace; concepts such as "public" and "private" law, relatively clear-cut in the Roman legal tradition, were at best only inchoate in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Flanders. The few keuren that exist for the period prior to the fourteenth century contain very little in them that would suggest any recognition at all of such categories. Most of life in medieval Flanders was public, and even most of what Godding calls "private law" received its sanction from the public presentation of cases before public authorities, be they countesses or aldermen.

Despite a comparatively high rate of literacy among both men and women,(134) in fact, most affairs in medieval Flemish society were handled orally, either outdoors or in other public space.(135) The ordinances of Douai, for example, continued to be announced orally and publicly throughout the fourteenth century.(136) The propensity for public action in Flanders was manifest in a clear distrust - enshrined in medieval Flemish custom by the thirteenth century - of anything smacking of the secret or surreptitious.(137) The difference between homicide and murder, for instance, like the difference between theft and robbery, was essentially conceived in terms of the degree of secrecy involved.(138) This was also true for more mundane activities; dyers and fullers caught throwing the detritus from their respective occupations into the river at night, for example, paid 100 s. - two-and-a-half times the amount paid by those caught doing so during the day.(139) According to the legal historian R. C. van Caenegem, even when aldermanic sessions took place indoors, free access was essential.(140) Van Caenegem, furthermore, not only insists that all legal proceedings were oral, he also flatly states that "the legal process, in all its parts, had to take place in public space."(141) In this context, then, "public" signified an on-going social relationship which through public discourse and public experience gains a specific social meaning.(142)

The socio-geographic setting of urban business described here expressed itself in a focus not so much on authority as on the public audience and petitioners as witness-participants. Fully capable people were expected to participate on their own behalf as members of all three audiences: as members of the public, as petitioners, and as authority figures.(143) In the city of Lille, to be sure, there is some question as to whether or not women could act on their own behalf. Le Livre Roisin, the custumal from Lille, records a dialogue in which a woman was asked, in front of the aldermen, by the person she had chosen to speak for her, to confirm her choice of him;(144) the language of the dialogue and its position in the custumal suggests that the compiler wished it to function as representative of the city's policy in these kinds of matters. If this particular chapter represents women generically, as it well could, it makes the point that women need representation; it also, however, emphasizes that women retained agency, and that even this kind of action required a public and oral statement. Moreover, the section that follows this one details how both men and women were to make their oaths. It is also important to note that the word used here is not "guardian" but "advocate." The sections that immediately follow this one differ from it in two ways. First, they do not contain dialogues. Second, a number of them employ gender-specific dyads to refer to their target population.(145) This section is clearly, then, an interpolation; it is in the custumal because the compiler placed it there.(146) As Raymond Monier points out, the dating of this record is complicated. This section appears to have been written down sometime in the fourteenth century, probably in the second half.(147) Under these circumstances it cannot be used as a basis for the generalization that women needed guardians (or advocates) whenever they participated in public action.

There exists, on the contrary, abundant direct evidence that Flemish women did orally participate in public on their own behalf,(148) and that women did participate in all three audiences. They were members of the public, petitioners, and authority figures. They were, at least by this definition, then, fully capable people.

Records of conflicts most explicitly exemplify the validity of women's public performance. Conflict resolutions could, indeed, be voluble affairs. A record documenting the resolution of a conflict between St. Peter's Abbey and the mayor of Dickele and her spouse in March 1249 reports that "after much altercation, the aforesaid parties reached an accord."(149) The annual registers of the aldermen of Ghent contain records that routinely note that the aldermen reached their decisions about conflicts that came before them after the parties had verbally argued their cases.(150) The order in which the material appears in the reports suggests that it is organized according to a logical progression of events. First are listed the particular people who came before the aldermen. Then it is noted that they argued (tale en wedertale) and finally that a decision was reached based on the material argued before the aldermen. It was probably rare for people to remain decorous throughout the period of tale en wedertale. In all likelihood, these verbal exchanges on occasion became quite heated, even loud and acrimonious.

In the section on property above, we have argued that women managed property. By "managed" must be understood, among other things, that they appeared in public before the aldermen to make transactions or to have their conflicts with others resolved. They appeared by themselves or as members of a group - the most usual affiliation, not surprisingly, is familial. Women appear in one hundred Ghent city documents dated between 1339 and March, 1350.(151) Thirty-five of them are evidently married. The reference to spouses may not have automatically implied their presence. An examination of any group of records from these years suggests that clerks who drew them up may well have preferred reporting only essential details, such as when the proceeding took place, what the case was about, and precisely who participated in it. If, as in the previously discussed cases of women's representatives, a person was represented by someone else - and by representation must be meant actual presence - the record mentions it. We can only assume that if the record mentions a person merely as an identifying referent, and does not otherwise mention him specifically, it is likely that he may well not have taken part in the proceedings; he may even not have been present. If he was not present, he could not speak for her. If he did not speak for her, he was not her guardian.

Independent public actions engaged in by married women are not so different from those performed by presumably unmarried ones. Both Kateline, wife of Henry of Bruges, and Beatrice Bloemen, for example, made contested claims to property, and both Kateline Backebroets and Haloene, wife of Simon lord of Donnaes, made demands that those who owed them money be ordered to pay it back.(152) No guardians appear in records of these actions; ergo, the women were probably acting on their own behalf.

Women in Flanders were also authority figures. They were castellans, financial receivers, abbesses, and countesses.(153) Only the countess held her office in feudal tenure, and only the countess was formally required to provide a male representative - though even this requirement was sometimes honored only in token fashion.(154) Countesses, abbesses and castellans held public audiences and female financial receivers accounted for their circumscriptions at public audit. They may have on occasion delegated men to act as their deputies, but none of them exercised their office through male guardians.

With the exception of the office of bailiff, in fact, the only public offices whose functions women did not exercise in medieval Flanders were those that were collective in nature. Women were capable of the exercise of power, but their authority rested primarily in the actual performance of their particular office. They exercised the power inherent in the authentication of public acts, but only as isolated individuals. They performed this function as abbesses, as noblewomen, and as countesses, but never as a group. They were thus denied the collective experience of exercising power in public as women. Aldermen, in contrast, enjoyed a collective experience with the use of power that enabled them implicitly to associate that use with their gender.(155) Women's isolation as single and occasional authenticators may well have contributed to a perception that their status as authority figures (and perhaps by extension, their participation in general) was exceptional. This did not, however, mean that they were perceived as less authoritative than their male counterparts. And by no means did it mean that they required guardians.


There is a certain logic, arising from circumstantial evidence, to the assumption that women in the Middle Ages were routinely subject to male guardianship. Both in the ancient Roman empire and in early modern Europe, the inferior social status of women has been rather consistently associated with male guardianship over women. Medieval European societies bridged these two in time and space, and a number of assumptions and practices associated with medieval societies were, moreover, clearly patriarchal in nature. The extant documentary evidence bearing explicitly on the status of women in secular society is relatively scarce, though canon law, heavily influenced by Roman law, has left considerable residue. And when a woman did act in public, it is clear that she often did so in the company of a male, usually (although not always) her husband. The simplest assumption is one of continuity - that the social inferiority of women was expressed and maintained, throughout medieval Europe, through the institution of male guardianship over women.

But no legal records in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries include any provision for such an institution, at least not for Flanders. None of the laws in the collection Coutumes du pays et comte de Flandre, nor the ordinances of Douai, nor the earliest law of Ypres, nor the Lillois Livre Roisin contains any direct statement of legal guardianship over women. Godding, along with Nicholas, assumes that women were customarily confided to the guardianship of men, though admitting that he must rely on indirect evidence of practice in order to determine in what measure a woman might exercise juridical capacity.(156) The premise of such an argument is that practice will reflect what was so widely accepted and understood as to require no explicit mention. In the first place, however, legal statements that do appear concerning women are far from uniform, as Godding readily admits; it can be said that either the principles articulated therein or the actual social practices against the backdrop of which they emerged were widely accepted.(157) In the second, most law codes or ordinances did include provisions concerning guardianship over minor children; that type of guardianship was certainly far more widely accepted than that over women, and was therefore, if anything, less likely to necessitate articulation.

Automatic guardianship precludes any option on the part of the ward. If husbands had automatically been considered their spouse's guardians, there would have been no need for a wife (or for any woman, for that matter) to make a statement to authorities that she had chosen to be represented. The fact that in the process of alienating part of a dowry, Catherine Rolin appointed Henry de Hoeke as her procurator, while also having a guardian by law for the dowry (perhaps, though not unambiguously her husband), points to a clear difference between these roles. Other women routinely retained advocates and procurators, as indeed did men, to represent them in all sorts of affairs. Before the kind of guardianship envisaged by Nicholas could be said to obtain, however, it would be necessary not only to extend the requirement of representation for women from matters of feudal tenure to everything else, but also to wed such a generalized requirement to a concept of the husband as default representative. As long as the distinction between advocacy and guardianship existed, and as long as there remained an element of choice, one can say at most that women operated under certain constraints, but not that they were in principle under guardianship.

There are a number of situations where we find women represented by either a guardian or an advocate. It was not uncommon for a married woman to use an outside procurator to act for her.(158) In 1252 both Beatrix de Berleghem and her spouse, Gerardus, each used a (different) procurator to process a sale of land that they held jointly.(159) This raises an interesting question: when a man engages a procurator to look after his interests, is he putting himself under "guardianship?" In the cases in which a woman's spouse did act as her guardian, it is explicitly mentioned that he was acting in that capacity. If male spouses were implicitly assumed to be their wives' guardians, there would be little point in stating explicitly that they were doing so.(160) The fact that it needed to be mentioned at all in these particular instances calls into question the assumption that married women were automatically represented by their husbands. Finally, as we have shown, there are many cases in which married women appear to act on their own authority, with no representatives at all.(161)

Perhaps the most significant evidence against the assumption that all women had legal personae only through male associates is the fact that they themselves acted as guardians. If a person for inherent reasons is considered to be legally incapable, then it follows, ipso facto, that she cannot assume the capacity of guardian for someone else. As pointed out above, a mother of underage children was automatically considered to be her children's guardian upon the death of a spouse. The fact that the father was too underlines the authority inherent in Flemish "parenthood." The role of "mother" was just as important as that of "father;" for bastard children, in fact, the maternal role was legally recognized as all-important.

A number of issues need to be resolved. For the period itself, the most important is under what circumstances (if any), other than those involving feudalism, did a woman require a guardian? Were such instances ad hoc in nature, or was there some pattern to them? Why, for example, was Agnes van Brakele represented by her husband and guardian in her conflict with Jan vanden Moure, while Kateline, wife of Henry of Bruges, represented herself in her conflict with Jan van Ertbrughen and his wife Lisbets'Commans?(162) What actions, if any, required not guardians but advocates? Is it possible that some married women had guardians not because they are female, but because they were underage?(163) More generally the Flemish situation invites comparison with other areas; this might help focus analysis of the causes as well as the degrees of different uses of guardianship.

At all events, we are left with the likelihood that the reason for the absence of legal statements concerning guardianship over women is simply that adult women, unlike underage children, were not systematically subject to it.(164) This in turn raises a whole new series of questions. We know from Godding's work that a system of guardianship had come to define women's status in the county by the sixteenth century. He argues that sixteenth-, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century societies in general reflect more than an importation of Roman law - that they were built upon a combination of Roman law and already existing local practice.(165) Unfortunately, since he is able to focus only generally on the issue of guardianship, more work needs to be done that centers particularly on the effects of the dynamics of the interaction of Roman law with local practice on the status of women. If the shift built upon local practice, what aspects of that practice were involved, other than the obvious but (for Flanders) rather marginal issue of feudal tenure? If the shift derived from nothing more than the importation of Roman law, who or what was responsible for the ascendancy of Roman law? By whose agency was this change - a change that we can now see was quite substantial - effected? Were the Roman lawyers and university graduates employed by the dukes and by city fathers the agents of its penetration? Is it possible that sermons and other religious tracts, made readily available by the printing press in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, fostered the spread of negative ideas about women qua women throughout urban as well as rural society? All these questions bear investigation.

The whole debate over guardianship itself, however, raises a different type of question. Framing the discussion of women's historical experience primarily in terms of this issue tends to establish men's experience and male prerogatives as a standard against which the female experience is to be defined and evaluated. David Nicholas, and to a lesser degree, Philippe Godding, are able to focus on women only after attempting to determine, with reference to a concept of guardianship, the extent of their subordination. Each, to some degree, ends up predicating his section on women on the relatively unexamined presumption of their wardship status, and this assumption more or less shapes all that follows.

Studies of religious women, unlike those of secular women, have recently been able to ignore the issue of guardianship over women altogether. Religious women, after all, were under the universal guardianship of the Church. This circumstance allows scholars to focus not on how or to what degree their actions were constrained by the men in their lives, but instead on what they actually did what they saw, what they ate, what they thought, how they lived together. Our perceptions of their lives are not so constrained by the question of how closely their historical experience did or did not replicate that of religious men; theirs are not expected to, in part because they did not, by and large, live among men. Relatively free from male presence, their experience and their activities can be perceived as worthy of study, in their own right. Such, alas, has not generally been the fate of secular women.

Department of History Moscow, ID 83844-3175



DAV: Douai, France. Archives de la Ville.

GS: Ghent, Belgium. Stadsarchief. Series 301: registers of the scepenen (aldermen) of the Keure (customary law).

Nord: Lille, France. Archives departementales du Nord. Serie B.

RBPH: Revue belge de philologie et d'histoire.

RHDFE: Revue historique de droit francais et etranger.

RR: Brussels, Belgium. Algemene Rijksarchief. Rekenkamer. Rolrekening.

TRG : Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis.

I would like to thank L. Timmel Duchamp for help with the conclusion and Kurt Queller for his comments and editorial expertise.

1. Bridget Hill, "Women's History: A Study in Change, Continuity or Standing Still?" Women's History Review 2 (1993): 5-22, and Judith Bennett's response, "Women's History: A Study in Continuity and Change," Women's History Review 2 (1993): 173-184.

2. Bennett argues that since patriarchy is a constant, women's inferiority too remained fairly constant. Hill maintains that women's status fluctuated according to variations in economic conditions and opportunities. It is important to note here, however, that the debate focuses almost exclusively on secular women, women who because they live in the world of men, must be defined by it. Issues of what determined degrees of inferiority do not usually play a role in examinations of religious women. They do not live in the world of men and thus their historical experience was not essentially determined by the degree to which it approximated that of religious men.

3. See, for example, the work of Thomas Kuehn, Law, Family and Women. Toward a Legal Anthropology of Renaissance Italy (Chicago, 1991).

4. David Nicholas, The Domestic Life of a Medieval City: Women, Children and the Family in Fourteenth-Century Ghent (Lincoln, NE, 1985), 18.

5. Ibid., 24-25.

6. Marianne Danneel, Weduwen en wezen in het laat-middeleeuwse Gent (Leuven and Apeldoorn, 1995).

7. Philippe Godding, "Dans quelle mesure pouvait-on disposer de ses biens par testament dans les anciens Pays-Bas meridionaux?" TRG 50 (1982): 279-296; "La preuve en matiere civile du XIe au XVIII siecle," in Travaux et conferences de la Faculte de Droit de Bruxelles 9 (1962): 111-128; and "Le controle des tutelles par le Magistrat urbain dans les Pays-Bas meridionaux," in L'initiative publique des communes de Belgique. Actes du 11e colloque international, Spa, 1-4 septembre 1982 (Brussels, 1984), 557-568. E. M. Meijers, Her Oost-Vlaamsche erfrecht and Her West-Vlaamsche erfrecht, volumes II and III of his multi-volumed Her Ligurische erfrecht in de Nederlanden (Haarlem, 1932, 1936). For Jean Gilissen, see "De houdenisse in het oud-Vlaamse recht," TRG 31 (1963): 346-402; "Ouderlijke macht in het oud-Belgische recht" ibid. 29 (1961): 484-506; "Puissance patemelle et majorite emancipatrice dans l'ancien droit de la Belgique et du Nord de la France," RHDEF 38 (1960): 5-57; and "Le statut de la femme dans l'ancien droit beige," Recueil de la societe Jean Bodin 12: Lafemme 2 (Brussels, 1962) 255-321. For a corrective on much of what Nicholas has to say, see Marianne Danneel's Weduwen en wezen (Widows and orphans) in general and pages 23, 32 n. 42, 169 n. 200 in particular. (Regrettably this work appears only in Dutch.)

8. TRG 14 (1936): 421-452; 15 (1937): 78-96, 175-190, 287-387.

9. For Holland, see ibid., 14 (1936): 42-452; for Friesland and Groningen, see ibid., 15 (1937): 78-96 and 175-180; for Drente, see ibid., 180-190; for Overijsel, see ibid., 287-306; for Gelderland, see ibid., 306-326; for Utrecht, see ibid., 326-346; for Zeeland, see ibid., 346-356; and for North Brabant, see ibid., 357-370.

10. He states in his introduction, "I leave the legal position of married women outside consideration" (De rechtspositie van de gehuwde vrouw laat ik hierbij buiten beschouwing). (Ibid., 14: 421.)

11. The whole sentence reads: "Voor zoover her ten dienste staande materiaal teruggaat, is komen vast te staan, dat er geen sporen zijn, welke wijzen open algemeene vaste voogdij over de meederjarige ongetrouwde vrouw." (Ibid., 15:371.)

12. Ibid., 15: 371, n. 1.

13. Suzanne Dixon, "Infirmitas Sexus: Womanly Weakness in Roman Law," TRG 52 no. 4 (1984): 370. To be sure, Nicholas does not claim that social convention in Ghent was shaped by Roman law; he does, however, go so far as to claim that "It]he custom of Ghent mandated absolutely partible inheritance without regard to sex or age, except in the case of fiefs, and thus was closer to the principles of Justinian's Code than to the customary law of most parts of northern Europe" (Nicholas, Domestic Life, 26). Since the passage is not referenced, it is not clear which "customary law of most parts of northern Europe" he has in mind.

14. "L'influence du droit romain apparait des le 12e siecle, mais se limite a des formules dans les actes d'origine ecclesiastique. . . . On retrouve la terminologie du droit romain au 15eme siecle chez des juristes de formation universitaire" (Philippe Godding, Le droit prive dans les Pays-Bas meridionaux du 12e au 18e siecle [Brussels, 1987], 143 item 192). He also notes that Roman legal terms and practices associated with minority and emancipation rarely make an appearance before the sixteenth century. (Ibid., 75 item 54.) This theme runs throughout most of Godding's work and not just Le droit prive. See also Philippe Godding, "La pratique testamentaire en Flandre au 13e siecle," TRG 58 (1990): 281-300, as well as the body of his work cited above in note 8. His evidence is, in short, overwhelming.

15. It was said of women in item 44 of Le livre Roisin from Lille that they, unlike men, are hasty and capricious (pour cheque femme est de hastive et de vollage corage, plus que li home ne soit. Raymond Monier, Le livre Roisin. Coutumier lillois de la fin du XIIIe siecle [Paris and Lille, 1932], 34, no. 44.) This may have necessitated that some man accompany a woman to the aldermanic court if she were involved in a criminal case, but it did not mean either that he acted in her stead or that the woman did not verbally participate on her own behalf. The record goes on to describe, for example, how both men and women are to give their oaths.

This and items 29 and 30 (ibid., 26) are the only references that we have found in any legal texts (and the only ones Godding cites) that might be construed as evidence of guardianship over women. For an analysis of items 29 and 30, see page 914 below.

16. Godding, Le droit prive, 78 item 61; 79 item 64; 80 item 65.

17. Ibid., 77 item 60. The structure of his work, however, allows him to provide only very few examples from practice.

18. Et li deffendans sour qui on a clamet, se doit deffendre par lui tierch main, se chou est hom, ii hommes et lui, se chou est fame, ii femmes et li a tierche. (Le livre Roisin, 34, no. 43.)

19. See the example of Catherine Zobe and Henry de Hoeke below, pages 903-904.

20. Walter Simons is currently working on what promises to be the definitive work on the beguines in the southern Low Countries. The published material presently available includes Joanna Ziegler, "The Curtis Beguinages in the Southern Low Countries and Art Patronage: Interpretation and Historiography," Bulletin van her Belgische Historische Instituut te Rome 57 (1987): 31-70; Walter Simons, "The Beguine Movement in the Southern Low Countries: A Reassessment," Bulletin van her Belgische Historische Instituut te Rome 59 (1989): 63-105; Florence W. J. Koorn, Begijnhoven in Holland en Zeeland gedurende de Middeleeuwen (Assen, 1981); O. Nobel, Mittelalterliche Beginen- und Sozialsiedlungen in den Niederlanden (Tubingen, 1970); Jean-Claude Schmitt, Mort d'une heresie (Paris, 1978); Brenda Bolton, "Mulieres Sanctae," in Sanctity and Secularity: The Church and the World, ed. by Derek Baker (Oxford, 1973), 77-96.

21. According to the Roman lawyer Ulpian "A procurator is he who administers the affairs of another by the mandate of the principal" (Corpus juris civilis. Digest, Paul Krueger and Theodor Mommsen, eds. [Berlin, 1888-1889], 3,3,1); Donald E. Queller, The Office of Ambassador in the Middle Ages (Princeton, 1967), 30. Although the concept of procuration originates from Roman law, the variation current in medieval Flanders owes more to what Queller calls "the obscure logic of the social arena" than to sixth-century legal pronouncements (Queller, 31).

22. K. ten Bruggencate, Engels Woordenboek (Groningen, 1974), 553 col. 2; J. Verdam, Middelnederlandsch Handwoordenboek ('s-Gravenhage, 1981), 323 col. 1.

23. Guardianship over children, particularly over orphans, is the subject of Danneel's Weduwen en wezen. It remains the best examination of the phenomenon in Flanders to date.

24. This is not to be confused with the French-speaking region known as Wallonia, situated in the south and east of Belgium.

25. Bruges, Stadsarchief. Politiek charters, Reeks I #1306 (39-40).

26. DAV. Fonds FF 862, February 1308.

27. See David Nicholas, Town and Countryside in Fourteenth-Century Flanders (Bruges, 1971).

28. See both Nicholas, Town and Countryside and E. E. Kittell, From Ad Hoc to Routine. A Case Study in Medieval Bureaucracy (Philadelphia, 1991), particularly chapter five.

29. As scholarship on the various medieval Italian cities shows, economic prosperity and an urban setting did not always yield the same or even similar social conditions. It is regrettable that very few works of scholarship exist which compare the Low Countries and Italy, the two most commercial and urban centers in medieval Europe. See in particular P. Burke, Venice and Amsterdam (London, 1974), and E. Kittell "Testaments of Two Cities: A Comparative Analysis of the Wills of Medieval Genoa and Douai" European Review of History (forthcoming). See also A. Cowan, The Urban Patriciate: Lubeck and Venice, 1500-1700 (Cologne, 1986).

30. On February 20, 1272, in fact, the officials of the court of the metropolitan of Rheims, acceding to the request of Bruges, Damme and the Franc of Bruges, declared that the bishop of Toumai did not have the right to install in those jurisdictions any synodal judge with the power to judge criminal offenses (L. Warnkoenig and A. Gheldolf, Histoire de Flandre et de ses institutions civiles et politiques jusqu'a l'annee 1305 [Brussels, 1835-1864], 4:240-243 #8).

31. For Flines, see Cartulaire de l'abbaye de Flines, ed. E. Hautcoeur (Lille, 1873). For Marquette, see Cartulaire de l'abbaye de Marquette, ed. Th. Leuridan (Lille, 1937), and for Messines, see Inventaire analytique et chronologique des chartes et documents appartenant aux archives de l'ancienne abbaye de Messines, ed. I. L. A. Diegerick (Bruges, 1876).

32. For the beguines, see note 20 above.

33. Many were supervised more by their secular founders or patrons than by local bishops (Simons, "The Beguine Movement," 94-94). For an analysis of the difference between regions dominated by episcopal authority and those within which piety manifested itself in numerous religious groups, some official and some not, see Robert Brentano's masterful Two Churches: England and Italy in the Thirteenth Century (Princeton, 1968).

34. Dixon, 370.

35. The principle of female incompetence, as articulated by senatus-consulate Velleien, had been entrenched since the end of the fourteenth century in France; it did not manage to penetrate Ghent city laws until 1563 (Godding, Le droit prive, 79 item 63).

36. Negotiations involved more women than did appeals to authority simply because more women, as members of families, participated in them, on the one hand, and, on the other, fewer women were authorities.

37. Perhaps the two best pieces are those by Mary Suydam, "Writing Beguines: Ecstatic Performance," Magistra 2, no. 1 (1996): 137-169, and the very provocative work of Joanna Ziegler, Tangible Recurrences, currently in manuscript form.

38. Curiously, according to Danneel's research, this did not necessarily mean that the guardian would automatically be responsible for the child's health (Weduwen en wezen, 28-29).

39. Godding, Le droit prive, 70 item 45.

40. "dat Simoen de Grutere vorseid voere van live ter doet eer dan Joncvrouwe Mergriet vorseid . . . so heeft Simoen de Grutere vorseid ghegheven and gheeft al ide Joncvrouwe Katelinen der vorseid Jonvrouwe Mergriete zuster voeren uten bonen alle ghedeel al dat de Joncvrouwe Mergriete bedde ende tharen lichame tobehord" (GS [a.sup.o] 1353 f. 106v). It is dated 10 August 1353.

41. "il le laist et done tout a ses trois flus a ses deus filles devant dis eta ses enfans quil ara de se char de Marotain de le Couture se femme vivans" (DAV. Fonds FF 862, November 1311). Later in his will, he expressly mentions the children of all three of his wives.

42. Ibid., Fonds FF 862, October 1315.

43. "Sachent tout chil qui sont et qui avenir sont que Hauwis de Courieres donne et laist . . . a Willaume sen fil tout cou entirement que elle ara" (ibid., Fonds FF 862, February 1330).

44. Ibid., Fonds, FF 862, August 1307; May 1328; April 1339; Oct. 1339. European tradition held that women were entitled to these goods as her own. (Martha Howell, "Fixing Movables: Gifts by Testament in Late Medieval Douai," Past and Present no. 150 [1996]: 27.)

45. DAV, Fonds FF 862, August 1307, December 1313; October 1314; 6 December 1337; September 1351; January 1353; 7 August 1362; 13 September 1366.

46. All four wills include something similar to the statement Encore laist et donne li dis Pieres apres sen dechies a Ybrie Lamant se feme tous ses dras, lingnes, et langes taillies et consus et tous les joiaus que elle ara pour sen cors, (ibid., Fonds FF 862, May 1328.) It is worth noting that the possessive phrase sen cors had in medieval French become grammaticalized as an emphatic pronominal form, corresponding roughly to the reflexive ("him/herself") or, in possessive contexts, to the emphatic possessive ("his/her own"). (See K. Nyrop, Grammaire historique de la langue francaise [Copenhagen, 1925], 5:272f.) In the above text, it may well have such a grammatical function. The preceding possessive determiner sen is by itself ambiguous (his . . .? her . . .?); the phrase que elle ara pour sen cors emphatically removes the ambiguity, specifying the aforementioned things as properly hers. There are good reasons for mentioning these effects as properly hers in the will. See below, pages 906-907.

47. See particularly the will of William Tarins: "Et tout le sourplus de tout cou quil ara vaillant sen jour de sen trespas . . . il en laist et donne le droite moitiet a Sandre se femme a faire se volonte sauf cou quil voet que elle ait hors part sen milleur lit et le mius estoffet de tout que il ara au jor de sen trespas, et tousles dras a kaveture chaintures et joiaus que elle ar aroit a chelui jour appartenans au cors de li." (DAV. Fonds FF 862, 1-15 April 1339 or 1340). Here, the au sen cors phrase occurs within an exclusionary clause (saul . . .) which clearly exempts the relevant personal effects from the division of the remainder. My thanks to Kurt Queller for pointing this out.

48. G. des Marez and E. de Sagher, Comptes de la ville d'Ypres de 1267 a 1329 (Brussels, 1909), 1: 208. Capital crimes usually carried a fine of 60 l. Thirty solidi was not, however, a trifling amount, and after all, he was not accused of killing, but only of wounding her.

49. Nord B756 #5253.

50. RR, #1374. David Nicholas, "Crime and punishment in fourteenth-century Ghent," RBPH 48 no. 4 (1970): 303. She, like many women before and after her, refused to press charges, but the case went ahead anyway.

51. Godding, Le droit prive, 292-293 item 516.

52. See Bryce Lyon, "The Fief-Rente in the Low Countries," RBPH 32 (1954): 161-179.

53. Danneel, Weduwen en wezen, 375.

54. In some parts of Europe, to be sure, when a woman married, she relinquished responsibility for and thus virtual possession of property into the hands of her husband. (S. Shahar, The Fourth Estate [London, 1983], 90-92, and Judith M. Bennett, Women in the Medieval English Countryside [New York, 1987], 110.)

55. Charles Mussely and Emile Molitor, Cartulaire de l'ancienne eglise collegiale de Notre Dame a Courtrai (Ghent, 1880), 162 no. 146.

56. Ibid., 167 no. 150.

57. . . . quod coram nobis constituta Caterina, filia Walteri dicti Dier, uxor Rolini Zobbe; . . . Insuper dicta Katarina coram nobis promisit . . . (ibid., 164 no. 148); Apries, Katerine, feme Roulin devant dit, fiancha et iura . . . (ibid., 166 no. 149). Sire, ie vous fach a savoir ke . . . la u Roulins Zobbe et Katrine, se feme, et Wulfars, freres a celui Roulin, ses plus apparans oirs, werpierent, renoncierent et quiterent devant les hommes de l'eglize de Nostre-Dame de Courtrai . . . (ibid., 165 no. 149).

58. . . . Katerina, uxor dicti Roelini, de voluntate sui mariti et per tutorem suum, ipsi datum per legem, renunciavit omni iuri, quod habebat seu habere poterat ratione dotis . . . (ibid., 162-163 no. 146).

59. Ibid., 164 no. 148. The record states "Let it be known that Catherine, daughter of Walter Dier, wife of Rolin Zobbe, in our presence, has appointed Henry de Hoecke as her procurator."

60. There is no reason why he couldn't be her guardian with regard to her dowry and yet have no such position with regard to land or property that she did NOT hold in feudal tenure.

61. GS, [a.sup.o] 1350 f. 68-69.

62. Jan [van Artevelde] was a member of the famous van Arteveldes of Ghent.

63. See below, page 906.

64. "Littera super decimis olerum et fructuum terrarum parochie Yprensis" (Records of tithes of oils and fruits of lands in the parish of Ypres) (Les cartulaires de la prevote de St. Martin a Ypres, ed. E. Feys and A. Nelis [Bruges, 1880-1881], 2:115-117 no. 176). Even though the amount of property held varied from woman to woman, it also varied from man to man and from woman to man; on the whole there does not appear to have been a wide discrepancy between the amounts held by men and those held by women. A rough estimate, therefore, suggests that women were in possession of at least one-seventh of the property under consideration.

65. . . . a relicta Andree Comitis (ibid., 2: 117 no. 176).

66. I seriously doubt that the clerks who drew up such accounts, or even the church official under whose supervision they worked, thought to produce a perfect record, useful to anyone beyond the next decade or even the next parish. Habitual practice was undoubtedly a powerful agent for fostering repetitive routine procedures, but it could not prevent haphazard or even careless notation. These people knew each other, and it is hard to see why they would demand any consistent correlation between a woman s designation in records and her current familial status.

67. GS [a.sup.o] 1345 f. 19v.

68. Ibid., [a.sup.o] 1339 f. 4r.

69. Ibid., [a.sup.o] 1353 f. 109v.

70. George Espinas, La vie urbaine de Douai au moyen age (Paris, 1913), 3:594 no. 803.

71. Ibid., 4: 255 no. 1109.

72. . . . le feme Henri d'Escaillon; . . . Mariien, le femme Watier de Goy, le viel; and . . . le mere Boine Vie. (ibid., 3:327 no. 427; 3:298 no. 380; 3:496 no. 669.)

73. . . . le tenement Ermenfroit Pie d'Argent ki fu (ibid., 3: 546 no. 746) . . . d'endroit le maisiere que dame Meheus Li Konestablesse a fait faire a sen coust . . . (ibid., 3:78 no. 114). The Piet d'Argents were an important family in the city.

74. Ibid., 3: 496 no. 669.

75. Accounts, which tended to mention only the name of the person responsible for paying the sums or the fees that were being accounted, represent a classic case. The focus of these public and oral sessions however, was not on the people participating but rather on the amounts that were paid; in other words, who accounted was much less important than what was being accounted. It is rare for the accounts of Ypres to refer to anyone other than the essential person, regardless of the actual public participant. In only one of the ninety-two entries under Droit d'issue in the account of 1 November 1309 to 1 November 1310, for example, does anyone appear to be acting in the name of someone else, in this case in the name of the orphans of Jakeme Diexsant, deceased (Item, de Jehan de le Bussce et se femme, de Coline de le Bussce, de Maroie delle Bussce et de Robert dou Fosseit, avoe des orphenes jadis Jakeme Diexsant de le witieme part d'une maison que il vendirent a Salemon Vilain: 25s [Des Marez and de Sagher, 1:300 no. 21]).

76. Meijers, Oost-Vlaamsche. Bijlagen A. Gent, 9-10 no. 8.

77. See C. Trani, "Le retour a table. Une tentative coutumiere pour maintenir le patrimoine familial," RHDFE 49 (1971): 65-94.

78. James Murray, "Family, Marriage and Moneychanging in Medieval Bruges," Journal of Medieval History 14 (1988): 115-125.

79. The rent was given in compensation for a tithe the couple had donated to the abbey of Marquette (Marquette, 1:19 no. 26).

80. GS [a.sup.o] 1345 f. 19v.

81. Georges Des Marez, La lettre de foire a Ypres au XIIIe siecle (Brussels, 1900), 227 no. 133.

82. Politiek Charters. Reeks I. #1306 (5). This example, like the others, is hardly unique. A quick glance through Albert Schouteet's inventory of the documents at the city archives in Bruges reveals upon average at least one document per page with this template (Albert Schouteet, Regesten op de oorkonden van her stadsbestuur van Brugge. Deel I: 1089-1300 [Brussels, 1973]).

83. Diegerick, 52 no. 90.

84. Meijers, Oost-Vlaamsche. Bijlagen A. Gent, 3 no. 1.

85. Pieter Gherard ende sijn wife represents this type of template (GS [a.sup.o] 1354 f. 142r).

86. Is it in fact that much different from the current template "Mr. and Mrs. X?"

87. Clerks were not always male. Nicholas notes that Alice, widow of Jan de Meester, was a clerk in the employ of a city, scribbling down notes during official business (Nicholas, Domestic Life, 89).

88. GS, [a.sup.o] 1350 f. 84r-84v.

89. For examples from Ghent see ibid., [a.sup.o] 1353 f. 106v, 1354 f. 121r. For Ypres, see Georges Des Marez, Le droit prive a Ypres au XIIIe siecle (Braine-L'Alleud, 1927), 8 no. 1, 64 no. 62, 110-111 no. 4; 126-127 no. 3. An example of this template for Bruges is Bruges, Stadsarchief (hereafter BSa) Fonds van de Bogardenschool, charters, nr. 75. Examples from Douai include Espinas, La vie urbaine, 3:290 no. 371, 3:568 no. 775, 4:69 no. 932, 4:160-161 no. 1011, 4:348-349 no. 1198.

90. GS, [a.sup.o] 1346 f. 23r.

91. Ibid., [a.sup.o] 1350 f. 70r.

92. In none of these fifteen instances are other family members mentioned.

93. Kateline, Heinrix wif van Brugghen (GS, [a.sup.o] 1339 f. 2r); Lysbette s'Broesschen, Jans Wulfs wiff ([a.sup.o] 1339 f. 3r), Margaret Jours, Andries Naeldekens wijf ([a.sup.o] 1339 f. 3r); Haloenen, Symons wyve ser Donnaes ([a.sup.o] 1344 f. 14r). Haloenen's spouse, Ser Symoen Donnaes, pursued his own business before the alderman on 10 March 1350 (ibid., [a.sup.o] 1350 f. 59r).

94. "The inequality of this partnership was probably most apparent at the husband's death, when conjugal assets were divided and dispersed. . . . A wife s death had no such effect" (Bennett, 162).

95. Robert Besnier, "Les filles dans le droit successoral normand," TRG 10 (1930): 488-506. Pierre Petot, "Le mariage des vassales," RHDFE 56 (1978): 35.

96. For more on this phenomenon, see Robert Jacob, Les epoux, le seigneur et la cite. Coutume et pratiques matrimoniales des bourgeois et paysans de France du Nord au moyen age (Brussels, 1990), 84-94.

97. Much to Jacob's dismay (ibid., 87).

98. Danneel, Weduwen en wezen, 169. Nicholas assumes otherwise, but he is clearly unsure about what a dowry is. He cites one case where both parties pledge to go through with the match; two where children were provided with a portion equivalent to that given to a sibling; another where the couple would live on the male spouse's property if they left the home of the bride's parents; and finally one where the couple bought a house that was paid for by her relatives. (Nicholas, Domestic Life, 26-27). These cases hardly, however, constitute proof of dowry. This section, like others, is long on assumptions and short on relevant citations. Godding's conclusions dovetail with those of Danneel. He points out further that the use of dowries in France was far greater than it was in the southern Low Countries (Godding, Le droit prive, 292-293 item 516).

99. Danneel, Weduwen en wezen, 170.

100. Jean Gilissen, "Ouderlijke macht," 487-496.

101. The definitive study of this phenomenon is Danneel's Weduwen en wezen. See also Jean Gilissen, "De houdenisse in het oud-Vlaamse recht," TRG 31 (1963): 346-402.

102. Coutumes des pays et comte de Flandre. Coutume de la ville de Gand, ed. A. E. Gheldolf (Brussels, 1868) 1:474-475 no. 26 n. 111.

103. Myriam Carlier, "De sociale positie van de bastaard in het laat middeleeuwse Vlaanderen" Tijdschrift voor sociale geschiedenis 13 no. 2 (May, 1987): 191.

104. Ibid.

105. Ibid., 186.

106. Ibid., 187.

107. It is perhaps no accident that beguines and beguinages were stronger and more common in Flanders than elsewhere. The beguines may have provided the only means whereby a woman could follow religious life without severing ties with her illegitimate children. I would like to thank Walter Simons for pointing this out.

108. There has been almost no work done on adolescents in Flemish cities. It is likely, however, that they acted in a fashion somewhat comparable to adolescents in other cities such as Florence. See Richard C. Trexler, The Children of Renaissance Florence (Binghamton, 1993), 54-112.

109. Des Marez, Le droit prive, 147; Danneel, Weduwen en wezen, 168; Godding, Le droit prive, 75 item 54.

110. As Marianne Danneel has pointed out, widows were active in managing their,property, and they had to have obtained their experience somewhere (Danneel, Weduwen en wezen, 376). Single women had actively to manage their own property if they were to survive. The large number of documents recording that "X and his wife came before [whatever authority]" testifies that, in fact, they participated vigorously in property transactions; the associative position accorded to the wife did not necessarily mean that she did not publicly exist. The issue here is capacity. All women had the capacity; the relative degree of participation should not be used to obscure its reality.

111. Godding, Le droit prive, 71 item 47.

112. Danneel, Weduwen en wezen, 226-227.

113. Godding, Le droit prive, 74 item 52.

114. Ibid., 70 item 45; 75 item 54.

115. As Godding put it, "[to be] capable and master of their goods" (ibid., 77 item 57). 116. Nicholas, Domestic Life, chapters 4-5.

117. For example, see the accounts of the bailiff of Ypres, Rijksarchief Bruges (hereafter RAB), Kasselrij van leper, Reeks 1 #288-298; the 1299 account of the bailiff of Deinze, Stadsarchief Bruges (hereafter SAB), Bailliuwsrekening, #276, f. 110; bailiff of Bailleul, SAB, Bailliuwsrekening, #272 f. 110 #6; for Biervliet, SAB, Bailliuwsrekening, #272 f. 110 #11.

118. Records show that rooms and parts of houses were routinely transferred from one person or family to another, thus reflecting the existence of the market for such domiciles. For illustrative examples for Ghent, see GS [a.sup.o] 1350, 61r and 70v; 1353 f. 106r. For Bruges, see BSa. Fonds Bogardenschool, oorkonden, n. 3, 4; Nicholas, The Domestic Life, 181. While it is likely that many people living alone subsisted in poverty, this provides no basis for supposing that most never-married single persons were poor. The wills of a number of single people in Douai, for example, indicate otherwise. For one thing, singles could and did live with others, either siblings or (the possibly euphemistic) companions; such a pair would have two incomes and no children. See for example the wills of Jake de France and Ligears de Ghesnaing, Jeanne de Bacleret and Cateline de Tilloy, Berghe and Katherine li Lens, Sara Daire, Marie Daire, and Margot and Marie de Comins (DAV. Fonds FF 862, November 1308; September 1312; December 1314; 3 May 1328; 3 May 1328; 9 June 1353).

119. Male and female bakers, drapers, tanners. For an analysis of the evolution and significance of gender-specific dyads in Douai see E. Kittell and Kurt Queller, "The Dyads of Douai: Official Perspectives on Men and Women in a Medieval Flemish Town," currently under review.

120. Espinas, La vie urbaine, 3: 221 no. 276; 3:222 no. 276; 3:184 no. 249.

121. For domestics in the Burgundian period, see Marianne Danheel, "Quelques aspects du service domestique feminin a Gand" in Studia Historica Gandensia 267 (Ghent, 1986), 51-72.

122. Another was that of spinner.

123. See for example, the case of moneychanger Celie Amelakens, nee Rebbe (Nicholas, Domestic Life, 91-94). Chapter Five of Domestic Life contains other examples as well. Perhaps the best analysis of this situation is that of Danneel in her chapter "The economic position of the widow" (De economische positie van de weduwe) (Danneel, Weduwen en wezen, 344-385).

124. Stadsarchief te Gent G 2, 1, f. 4v (hereafter SAG); Nicholas, Domestic Life, 84.

125. Alijs sPapen was appointed manager of her sister Lijsbette's property in 1344 (GS [a.sup.o] 1344 f. 15r).

126. She was ordered, as Zoeten's surety (borg), to pay Jan Breebaerde 17 gold d. (Ibid., [a.sup.o] 1350 f. 80v.)

127. A certain Boudin de Kempe appears as surety for Jan Braems in both records of transactions in which Beatris appears in this capacity (ibid., 1350 f. 55v; 1350 f. 56r). If this had been an isolated instance, one might be inclined to assume that Beatris was not acting independently as surety. But given the other documents attesting to women so acting, there is no reason to suppose that the present case is any different.

128. Ibid., [a.sup.o] 1350 f. 52v. The title ser suggests that vrouw Dulhuus was probably married to a member of the upper classes.

129. Shahar, 90-92; Bennett, 28, 110.

130. GS [a.sup.o] 1346 f. 19v; f. 94r.

131. Nicholas, Domestic Life, 18.

132. The count's administration, furthermore, included a number of women. See E. E. Kittell, "Women in the Administration of the Count of Flanders," in Frau und spatmittelalterlicher Alltag (Vienna, 1986), 487-508.

133. Criminal cases are an example of the type of "public" event in which women are assumed not to participate. In 1388, however, Jeanne Cocharde orally and publicly testified ("dist par son serement") in the trial of Colart Le Monnart for the murder of his uncle, Watier Le Monnart. There was no justification given for her presence, probably because one was neither required nor expected. (Espinas, La vie urbaine, 4:629 no. 1439.)

134. Boys and girls received similar education (David Nicholas, Medieval Flanders [London, 1992], 251).

135. Up until the fourteenth century, in fact, even "reading" did not mean reading silently, to oneself, but rather reading aloud, to an audience. (Paul Saenger, "Silent Reading: Its Impact on Late Medieval Script and Society," Viator 13 [1982], 412ff and Suydam, 137-169.)

136. 9 December 1330 Aldermanic regulations concerning quarantines: Criet et renouvelet (Espinas, La vie urbaine, 4:210-211 no. 1067); 4 July 1343 - Aldermanic regulations concerning trade in wood: Chi doy ban dessus dit furent fait et criiet (ibid., 4:274-275 no. 1130); 20 April 1346 - Aldermanic sumptuary regulations concerning meals, particularly at weddings and at funerals: Fait, ordene, atire et crie (ibid., 4:303-304 no. 1155); 4 July 1354 - Aldermanic judgment condemning an individual for injuries to the aldermen in the exercise of their functions to two fines and one pilgrimage: Criiet (ibid., 4: 357 no. 1210); 18 July 1370 - Aldermanic regulations concerning the making of shoes: Criet (ibid, 4:433-435 no. 1273); August and 1 September 1390 - General ordinance on the making of cloth, rendered by the bailiff with the agreement of the aldermen and the Twelve Men and with the counsel of the merchants and clothiers: Criiet et publiiet . . . (Georges Espinas and Henri Pirenne, eds., Recueil de documents relatifs a l'histoire de l'industrie drapiere en Flandre [Brussels, 1909], 2:296-301 no. 371; hereafter EP). This list is merely indicative; it is by no means exhaustive.

137. R. C. van Caenegem maintains that, at least until the fourteenth century, it was very rare for any court case to be conducted in secret (Geschiedenis van her strafprocesrecht in Vlaanderen van de XIe tot de XIVe eeuw [Brussels, 1956], 87-88).

138. R. C. van Caenegem, Geschiedenis van her strafrecht in Vlaanderen van de XIe tot de XIVe eeuw (Brussels, 1954), 88.

139. EP, 2: 63 no. 232.

140. Van Caenegem, Geschiedenis van her strafprocesrecht, 88.

141. Ibid.

142. Joanna E. Ziegler, Before the Public's Eye: The Thirteenth-Century Ecstasy of Elisabeth of Spalbeek, Unpublished manuscript, 23.

143. For a fuller examination of this phenomenon, see E. Kittell, "Countesses, Receivers, Citizens, and Fishwives: Women, Audience and Public Acts in Medieval Flanders," forthcoming in The Journal of Women's History.

144. Dame, ou vous demisielle, voles que jou die pour vous et que jou sole vos advoes? (Monier, Le livre Roisin, 27 no. 30.) One assumes that the person, simply described as advoes, is male because the term is in the masculine.

145. Et se chius ou chelle sour cui ou clameroit . . . (ibid., 28 #31); Et se on claime sour homme ou sour femme dedens cheste ville . . . (ibid., 29 no. 34). See also 41-42 no. 54; 42 no. 55; 42-43 no. 56; 45 no. 61; 47 no. 65; 50 no. 68; 51 no. 70; 51-52 no. 71; 66-68 no. 95. The incidence of gender-specific dyads in Lille is second only to that in Douai.

146. This in itself says more about his agenda than about the customary law of Lille.

147. Monier, Le livre Roisin, 27-28 no. 30.

148. In addition to evidence previously cited regarding oaths, note, for example, a document dated 1250, which states that Dame Alis Coline dist ke . . . Jehan Cholins, ses barons, avoit acatee terre (Jacques Monfrin, ed., Documents linguistiques de la Belgique romane [Paris, 1987], 2: 91, Appendix A no. 1). (My emphasis.)

149. . . . post multas altercationes predicte partes in Nos concorditer compromiserunt . . . (Chartes et documents de l'abbaye de Saint Pierre au Mont Blandin a Gand, A. van Lokeren, ed. [Ghent, 1868], 287 #605.)

150. The exact wording varies between tale ende wedertale ghehort van beeden partijen ("claim and counterclaim heard from both parties" - GS [a.sup.o] 1350 f. 82r) and na eische na antworde ("after demand and answer" - [a.sup.o] 1350 f. 46r). For other examples, [a.sup.o] 1339 f. 2r; f. 3r; [a.sup.o] 1344 f. 16r; f. 16v; [a.sup.o] 1346 f. 21v; [a.sup.o] 1349 f. 38r; f. 41v; f. 46v; f. 53r.

151. Technically, the period in question involves the subperiods 1339-1340, 1343-1346, and 1349 to March 1350. A total of about 329 records involving performers are attested for this period; 129 of these report business in which women were involved, twenty-nine only peripherally. One-hundred-eighty-three report only men performing, and the sex of the performers in the remaining seventeen is unclear.

152. Ibid., [a.sup.o] 1339 f. 2r; ibid., [a.sup.o] 1349 f. 38r; ibid., [a.sup.o] 1344 f. 14v; a 1344 f. 14r.

153. E. Kittell, "Women in the Administration of the Count of Flanders," in Frau und spatmittelalterlicher Alltag (Vienna, 1986), 487-508.

154. Countess Margaret succeeded her sister Jeanne in 1244. The Holy Roman Emperor, one of her two feudal lords - the other was the king of France - insisted that she associate her son William with her as count (Archives communales de Lille, AC 6/66). Margaret more or less complied; three years after she succeeded her sister, she finally associated her son William with her as count. (Cartulaire de Saint-Baron a Gand (655-1255), ed. C. P. Serrure [Ghent, no date], 242 no. 252.) William died in 1248, and for another two years Margaret seems to have made no move to associate any of her other sons with her as count. By 1250, presumably at the urging of her two feudal lords, Margaret associated her second son, Guy, with her as count. Guy first appears as Margaret's associate in 1250, and then he does so only to approve an action she had already taken. (St. Pierre, 302 no. 627). The first document issued jointly appears to be in 1252 (Politieke Charters, le reeks, no. 3). Few joint documents exist, however. Most of the records issued by the count of Flanders as count are issued in Margaret's name: a survey of the records mentioned here reveals that only 10% of the records issued from 1252 until 1278 were issued by Guy alone, 30% by Margaret and Guy, and a full 60% by Margaret alone. Guy's participation often took the form of appending his consent to whatever his mother ordered. Clearly, Margaret was in charge, and any guardianship Guy exercised was a fiction.

155. The oral nature of the ordinances, as discussed above, however, meant that people, at least in Douai, typically heard the citizenry referred in gender-inclusive fashion, as borgois u borgoise. Despite the fact that the aldermen making such public pronouncements were themselves all male, such evidence thus suggests the distinctions between male citizens and female citizens, even in their eyes, were neither numerous nor significant.

156. Godding, Le droit prive, 78 item 60; 79-81 items 64-65.

157. Ibid., 77 item 60.

158. Saint Pierre, 2:88 no. 1294; GS 1350 f. 62.

159. Saint-Bavon, 275.

160. For example, 17 March 1350: . . . voogd van Yde, zijn vrouw ("guardian of Yde, his wife") (GS 1350 f. 55) and 12 October 1363: Nous, Willaumes de Leewergem . . . pour Nous et ainsi comme advoue de nostre tres chere compaigne et espouse, Marguerite. (St. Pierre, 2:79 no. 1245).

161. See above, pages 907-908.

162. GS 1354 f. 133r; ibid., [a.sup.o] 1339 f. 2r.

163. While puberty may have marked a child as an adult, it did not necessarily confer majority status. Even marriage, which was supposed to have ended minority, apparently did not always do so completely. From the fourteenth century onward, according to Godding, ordinances everywhere limited the legal capacity of young people, even those who were married (Godding, Le droit prive, 74 item 52).

164. This should not, of course, be taken to mean either that Flemish society was not patriarchal, or that women's activities did not suffer more constraints than did those of men.

165. He convincely argues and amply documents this thesis in Le droit prive.
COPYRIGHT 1998 Journal of Social History
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Kittell, Ellen E.
Publication:Journal of Social History
Date:Jun 22, 1998
Previous Article:Tenancy as a family strategy in mid-nineteenth century Ontario.
Next Article:Indenture, deportation, survival: recent books on Australian South Sea Islanders.

Related Articles
DeLoss McGraw.
Reconstructing the Household: Families, Sex and the Law in the Nineteenth-Century South.
Foster parents can petition for guardianship of children placed in their care.
The Marriage Exchange: Property, Social Place, and Gender in Cities of the Low Countries, 1300-1500.
W stands for window dressing.
Open letter to the speaker of the national assembly: multi-media campaign violence against women and children.
Nobles, patricians and officers: the making of a regional political elite in late medieval Flanders.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |