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Anglo-Saxon Women Before the Law: A Student Edition of Five Old English Lawsuits

Anglo-Saxon Women Before the Law: A Student Edition of Five Old English Lawsuits

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"Anglo-Saxon Women Before the Law: A Student Edition of Five Old English Lawsuits" by Andrew Rabin, appearing in Old English Newsletter, Vol. 41:3, 2008
"Anglo-Saxon Women Before the Law: A Student Edition of Five Old English Lawsuits" by Andrew Rabin, appearing in Old English Newsletter, Vol. 41:3, 2008

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Voume  no. 
Anglo-Saxon Women Before the Law:
A Student Edition o Five Old English Lawsuits
Andew RbinDeptment o EngishUnivesit o Louisvie
Old English Newsletter 
. (): –. Copight ©  he Univesit o ennessee.
Old English Newsletter Introduction
he sttus o women unde Od Engish w is mong the most contested topics in Ango-Sxon studies.Some hve gued tht the es beoe the Nomn Conquest wee “ supising bight peiod” duingwhich women owned nd, exeted signiicnt poitic inuence, nd execised mn o the sme ightss men.1 Othes hve sid tht duing this peiod women wee viewed s itte moe thn men’s popet,subject to the sme second-css tetment the eceived in othe e mediev cutues.2 he ive ch-tes edited hee ecod wsuits in which the pincip itignts e women o dieent bckgounds. hesedocuments ise mn questions—eg, soci, nd hetoic—nd iustte the diicuties invoved inddessing this issue. At the sme time, the povide vivid depictions o the ws w ws pcticed, po-iticized, nd (pehps most impotnt) nted duing this peiod. he w  dispute ws ecodedinuenced not on the utue djudiction o simi cses but so the mnne in which the w wsundestood b subsequent judges, wmkes, nd itignts. Recods ike these cn give us deepe unde-stnding o the intections between competing notions o gende, textuit, nd eg uthoit in Ango-Sxon Engnd.
Old English Lawsuits and Lawsuit Records
o undestnd how pe-Conquest wsuits wee esoved equies knowedge o the suviving cse ecods,et the souce mtei o this sot o stud pesents  numbe o diicuties. Unike moden w, whichhs oici pocedues govening how tis nd othe disputes e documented, Ango-Sxon Engndcked n om sstem o ecoding wht tnspied in cout. Ou knowedge o e eg disputesinsted deives om the ccounts—oten mbiguous, incompete, o ptisn—peseved in othe sots o texts, incuding sints’ ives, chonices,
Domesday Book,
nd chtes. he esut is tht  ewe wsuitssuvive om Ango-Sxon Engnd thn om esewhee in Euope; the histoin Ptick Womd iden-tiied  Ango-Sxon wsuits suits ecoded ove ppoximte  es (c. -), comped to
Chistine G. Ck, “Women’s Rights in E Engnd,
Brigham Young University Law Review
(): . Simissetions m be ound s e s  in Hen Cbot Lodge’s ess on “Te Ango-Sxon Lnd-Lw”: “In  thew to be dwn om the books, women ppe s in eve espect equ to men.” Hen Cbot Lodge, “Te Ango-Sxon Lnd Lw,
Essays in Anglo-Saxon Law
, ed. Hen Adms (Boston: Litte Bown nd Compn, ), . Moeecent, nogous views m be ound in Shei G. Dietich, “An Intoduction to Women in Ango-Sxon Societ,”
Te Women o England: From Anglo-Saxon imes to the Present 
, ed. Bb Knne (Hmdon, C: Achon Books,), , F. M. Stenton, “Te Histoic Being o Pce-Nme Studies: Te Pce o Women in Ango-Sxon Societ,
Prepatory to Anglo-Saxon England: Being the Collected Papers o Frank Merry Stenton
, ed. Dois Stenton (Oxod:Oxod Univesit Pess, ), .See, o instnce, Anne L. Kinck, “Ango-Sxon Women nd the Lw,
Journal o Medieval History
 (): ,Ce Lees nd Giin R. Oveing,
Double Agents: Women and Clerical Culture in Anglo-Saxon England 
(Phidephi:Univesit o Pennsvni Pess, ), , Juie Coemn, “Rpe in Ango-Sxon Engnd,”
Violence and Society inthe Early Medieval West 
, ed. Gu Hs (Woodbidge: Bode Pess, ), -, Shi Hone,
Te Discourse o Enclosure
(New Yok: Stte Univesit o New Yok Pess, ), Shi Hone, “Te Lnguge o Rpe in Od EngishLitetue nd Lw: Views om the Ango-Sxon(ist)s,
Sex and Sexuality in Anglo-Saxon England: Essays in Memoryo Daniel Gillmore Calder 
, ed. Co Bun Pstenck nd Lis M.C. Weston (empe, AZ: ACMRS, ), -,Coe A. Hough, “Te E Kentish ‘Divoce Lws’: A Reconsidetion o Aethebeht, Chs.  nd ,
 (): -, Coe A. Hough, “wo Kentish Lws Concening Women: A New Reding o Æthebeht nd ,”
 (): -, Jnet Neson, “Te W Widow,”
Property and Power in the Early Middle Ages
,ed. Wend Dvies nd Pu Fouce (Cmbidge: Cmbidge Univesit Pess, ), -, M P. Richds ndB. Jne Stned, “Concepts o Ango-Sxon Women in the Lws,”
New Readings on Women in Old English Literature
,ed. Heen Dmico nd Aexnd Hennesse Osen (Boomington: Indin Univesit Pess, ), -, VictoiTompson, “Women, Powe, nd Potection in enth- nd Eeventh-Centu Engnd,”
Medieval Women and the Law
,ed. Noë Jmes Menuge (Woodbidge: Bode Pess, ), -.
Voume  no. moe thn  Fnkish cses suviving om the sme peiod.3 hese ecods wee equent sponsoedb the victoious itignts, who pesumb mde itte eot towds objectivit, nd thus the events the ecount must ws be viewed with  cetin suspicion. hei esons o ecoding them e indicted b the sots o cses peseved: most invove disputes ove nd owneship the thn cimes such s mu-de, ssut, o othe oms o peson inju. his ocus on popet suggests tht the pim unctiono such eg ecods ws to povide itignts with ce poo o owneship nd potection ginst utuecims. Since itec nd mnuscipt poduction  ge in the povennce o the Chuch, it is not su-pising tht the mjoit o extnt cse ecods concen eigious institutions nd tht the wsuits pe-seved e most those tht the Chuch won.he eg wod depicted in the ecods tht do suvive is one in which the settement o disputes ws in-uenced moe b oc pctice nd egion poitics thn b the dicttes o centized o o judiciuthoit. Athough mn extnt w-codes—most notb 
II Edmund 
III Edgar 
, nd
IV Edgar 
—continsttutes govening dispute settement, supising, no suviving chte mentions the o ws beingused to sette  dispute. Indeed, the settement pocedues nd cimin penties depicted in the wsuitecods oten die mked om those pescibed in o egistion. As one histoin wites, “ptom om cims nd denis, pocedue nd gument disped considebe inomit nd exibi-it. Pesonit nd powe, honou nd shme cme into p expicit o impicit. Agument did notocus on eg ues; indeed the eg ws not ce distinguished, i distinguished t , om the soci othe eigious.”4 he pocedues used in setting  wsuit dieed depending on the egion, the sttus o theitignts, the issues invoved, nd the oc tditions o those ting the cse. Even with  these vibes,howeve, pe-Conquest wsuits do disp some common etues. In pticu, suviving cse ecodsindicte tht wsuits wee bought beoe the cout b individus poceeding on thei own o on beh o thei miies the thn b gents o the stte; disputes wee gene djudicted b pnes thethn individu judges (except in cses whee the king himse st s the judge); evidence ws pesented inthe om o witness testimon sponsoed b the disputnts; nd though “oth-heping” (hving  witnessttest to the cedibiit o nothe witness) ws common, it ws neithe s widesped no s inuentis is equent poted. Even these pctices wee not unives, howeve, nd vition seems to hvebeen the nom. As Womd hs mous obseved, “‘tpic’ Ango-Sxon dispute settement (i theeeve ws such  thing) emins eusive.”5One esut o this exibe ppoch to eg pocedue is tht mn suviving wsuits ecod  peeenceo compomise ove stict djudiction, n emphsis eected in the equent opening sentence,
Her cyðon ðysum gewrite hu
wurðon gesybsumode
‘hee is mde known in this document how [N] nd[X] wee econcied.’6 In ext  beow, the king odes the judici pne to sette the dispute
swa rihtlice
Ptick Womd ctogued  suviving Ango-Sxon eg disputes in “A Hndist o Ango-Sxon Lwsuits,
Legal Culture in the Early Medieval West: Law as ext, Image, and Experience
(London: Hmbedon Pess, ); thecittion hee is om p. .John Hudson, “Cout Cses nd Leg Aguments in Engnd,
ransactions o the Royal Historical Society
th seies, v.  (): .Ptick Womd, “Chtes, Lw, nd the Settement o Disputes in Ango-Sxon Engnd,”
Legal Culture in theEarly Medieval West,
, .S , ed. A. J. Robetson,
Anglo-Saxon Charters
, Cmbidge Studies in Engish Leg Histo (Cmbidge:Cmbidge Univesit Pess, ), no. . pp. -. Chtes e gene eeed to b thei “Swe numbe”(bbevited S) tken om P.H. Swe,
Anglo-Saxon Charters: An Annotated List and Bibliography
(London: RoHistoic Societ, ) nd ecent supeceded b 
Te Electronic Sawyer 
, <http://www.tin.cm.c.uk/chtwww/eSwe./eSwe.htm>. Fo ese o eeence, I hve cited disputes b the Swe numbe (S) o the chtes inwhich the e ecoded nd the Womd numbe (W) tht coesponds to thei pce in Womd’s “Hndist.” Fo

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