Abstract

With an acutely imbalanced power relationship, no financial control, and a Marian ideal of total passivity flaunted before them, wives are usually thought to have borne the brunt of medieval marriages. In particular, in a Catholic world where marriage was held up as a sacrament, and thus a permanent, monogamous union, it has often been assumed that medieval wives were caught in an earthly purgatory, suffering a life-time of marital misery. Over the past two decades, historians like R.H. Helmholz, Sue Sheridan Walker and Henry Ansgar Kelly have challenged previous ideals about the permanence of marriage. Helmholz has suggested that "self-divorce" among the medieval English may have been more common than we think. Walker and Kelly have made similar suggestions. The goal of this paper is to use their work as a foundation, to explore the various licit and illicit means of separation in late medieval England. Using marriage litigation, bishops' registers, ecclesiastical actbooks, manorial courts, chancery records, and assize rolls, this paper will attempt to discern the risks involved in husband desertion to both the wife and her "rescuers," common features of wife desertion, as well as contemporary attitudes held by both wives and society in general.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1897
Print ISSN
0022-4529
Pages
pp. 337-359
Launched on MUSE
2007-01-09
Open Access
No
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