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Course Descriptions

As of 6/19/2018 5:28:54 AM

English Medieval Family Law

The primary social unit for most medieval English men and women and for their children was the family. This course will look at the main legal norms and rules which governed family relationships in later medieval England, as they emerge from the evidence of contemporary legal materials such as textbooks, legislation and litigation, all of which will be made available in translation. It will start by looking at the creation of the smallest family unit (that of husband and wife) through marriage and look at how far the law expected marriage to be controlled by parents and by feudal lords and at the kinds of legal agreement which seem commonly to have accompanied marriages. It will then look at the extent and the nature of the husband's legal powers over his wife during marriage and how far married women were recognised in law as continuing to possess a separate legal personality. There were two ways in which the marital relationship might end. Relatively uncommon was the dissolution of marriage through its annulment in a church court, the only court competent to make such decisions. This might leave both partners free to remarry and required difficult legal decisions about the property acquired by the couple during marriage. Much more common was its ending through the death of either husband or wife. Later medieval English law made special provision for the widow and the widower, entitling them to hold some or all of the lands belonging to their late husband or wife during their lifetime, and also for the widow to receive some of her husband's movable property. The working of these provisions and the circumstances under which they might not arise or might be forfeited will also be examined. The course will then look at the elaborate and important legal rules which determined whether or not children were regarded in law as the legitimate offspring of their parents. There was a presumption of legitimacy for any child born to a married woman and a parallel and connected presumption that such a child was the child of the woman's husband. We will see how far such presumptions might be rebutted and for what reasons. We will also look at the legal effects on children of the subsequent annulment of the marriage of their parents and of the effects in English secular law of the subsequent marriage of parents who had not been married when a child was born and of the difficulties this caused with the Church. We will then look at the default rules which governed the inter-generational transmission of property in land, the canons of inheritance, and at when and how they emerged, and also at the special and more restrictive rules which came to be associated with land held under an entail and how they developed over the course of the thirteenth century and later and also at the legal rules which entitled children to a specific share in their father's movable property. The transmission of entitlements between generations was also commonly accompanied by the transmission of liabilities, in particular for debts and other obligations, and the course will also examine these and how they worked and how important they were.