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The Measure of Woman

Law and Female Identity in the Crown of Aragon

By Marie A. Kelleher

Publication Year: 2010

By the end of the Middle Ages, the ius commune—the combination of canon and Roman law—had formed the basis for all law in continental Europe, along with its patriarchal system of categorizing women. Throughout medieval Europe, women regularly found themselves in court, suing or being sued, defending themselves against criminal accusations, or prosecuting others for crimes committed against them or their families. Yet choosing to litigate entailed accepting the conceptual vocabulary of the learned law, thereby reinforcing the very legal and social notions that often subordinated them.

In The Measure of Woman Marie A. Kelleher explores the complex relationship between women and legal culture in Spain's Crown of Aragon during the late medieval period. Aragonese courts measured women according to three factors: their status in relation to men, their relative sexual respectability, and their conformity to ideas about the female sex as a whole. Yet in spite of this situation, Kelleher argues, women were able to play a crucial role in shaping their own legal identities while working within the parameters of the written law.

The Measure of Woman reveals that women were not passive recipients—or even victims—of the legal system. Rather, medieval women actively used the conceptual vocabulary of the law, engaging with patriarchal legal assumptions as part of their litigation strategies. In the process, they played an important role in the formation of a gendered legal culture that would shape the lives of women throughout Western Europe and beyond for centuries to come.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii

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A Note on Names

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pp. ix

The cases in this book are drawn from the records of a composite monarchy in which the inhabitants, in the Middle Ages as today, spoke and wrote in more than one language. I have done my best to consistently render names from the kingdom of Aragon in Castilian, and those from the Catalan counties and the...

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Introduction: Legal Texts and Gendered Contexts

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pp. 1-14

In twenty-first-century America, we have grown used to hearing that ours is a litigious society, to the point where it is easy to believe that our willingness to turn to the courts is without precedent. Historians of the premodern West, however, can point to other periods in which people regularly used formal litigation as a strategy not only to settle disputes but also to exact vengeance, to...

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Chapter 1. Drawing Boundaries: Women in the Legal Landscape in the Age of Jaume II

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pp. 15-47

In September 1303, Ermessenda de Cabrenys, a member of the minor nobility in the region around the northern Catalan city of Girona, was called to appear before the veguer and his official judge to answer charges against her. The documents do not specify the exact nature of her offense, except to say that she had violated the statutes of the Peace and Truce, but it likely involved one...

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Chapter 2. The Power to Hold: Women and Property

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pp. 48-80

The conjugal life of Sibila and her husband Pere de Sala ended badly. In 1329, in the first of what turned out to be a series of bitter court battles, Sibila alleged that her husband had abandoned her and their daughter and had maliciously refused to support either of them financially; she was, therefore, suing her husband for the financial...

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Chapter 3. Crimes of Passion: Sexual Transgression and the Legal Taxonomy of Women

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pp. 81-111

In the previous chapter, we saw how an individual woman’s place in the law’s relational taxonomy of women (in this case, wife or widow) determined how she would engage with the gendered assumptions concerning female vulner-ability and incapacity that permeated the legal culture of the later medieval Crown of Aragon. But a woman’s legal identity was also governed by a third ...

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Chapter 4. Gender and Violence

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pp. 112-144

At the close of the previous chapter, we mentioned the case of Maria, daugh-ter of Miquel de la Serra, whom the justicia of Cabanes d’Arc and his con-federates publicly accused of being a whore. Verbal insults of this kind were common in the Middle Ages, and verbal violence directed against women tended to consist chiefly of slurs on their sexual promiscuity.1In Maria’s ...

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pp. 145-148

By the year 1300, the legal system in the Crown of Aragon was firmly grounded in both the principles and procedures of the ius commune. Although areas of seigneurial jurisdiction, both lay and ecclesiastical, persisted throughout the Middle Ages, and although Jewish and Muslim aljamas maintained at least limited judicial autonomy, by the early fourteenth century, aspiring lawyers ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. 149-150


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pp. 151-192


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pp. 193-208


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pp. 209-214

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pp. 215

Like any other book, this one would not have been possible without assistance from many quarters. I am grateful to the Department of History and the Col-lege of Liberal Arts at California State University, Long Beach for providing me with both time and financial support to research and write. The Program for Cultural Cooperation between Spain’s Ministry of Culture and U.S. Uni-...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812205343
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812242560

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2010