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Thames Consortium’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnership Scheme

People Involved

Dr Amanda Capern
Senior Lecturer in Early Modern Women's History

Project Description

The project investigates the role of women as plaintiffs, defendants and witnesses, in law suits brought before the late 17thcentury Court of Chancery. It will be the first research to use TNA's newly-searchable early-modern catalogue data created under Dr Bevan's leadership. The project will result in a substantial contribution to our knowledge of the role of women in early-modern society, providing a clearer idea of their defence of property rights and the extent of their wealth and property holding, at widely different levels of society. It will add a new dimension to the current debate on female networking and bonds, especially the languages and material resources used by women to succeed at law and gain social capital in their families and local communities. The key research questions of the project are: Did Chancery really offer women equitable justice as it was intended to do? How did women interact with the court, especially at a distance? What made women bring a bill of complaint in Chancery? How did they do it? Did women and their lawyers use feminised constructs of legal rights? What linguistic strategies did women use to put their case or defend themselves? What relationships were drawn upon for witness statements? Did women plaintiffs succeed at Chancery as well as men did? The research will use the pleadings in C5 to pull out samples for the late 17th century. An initial analysed search on C5 for Yorkshire causes, 1680-1700, shows that about 10% were causes brought by women. The project will identify causes brought by women acting without men and cases where men and women were acting in the woman's behalf. It will clarify and fully identify the full names and status or occupation of all plaintiffs and defendants in these causes and clarify what disputes over land and property lay at the heart of the causes. It will also investigate the arguments used by female complainants and defendants when putting their cases before the Lord Chancellor and will compare/contrast female cases with male cases over subject, legal arrangements, strategies and social transaction within family and kin networks and neighbourhoods. The project will also investigate who acted as witnesses for women and how witnesses articulated statements about the credit-worthiness of female litigants. The project will contribute to a fuller understanding of the structure and work of Chancery and how people used the court during a crucial period of its expansion. It will also contribute to the research context of a growing interest in women's land, capital and property ownership in early-modern society and female agency in the growth of modern finance industries (e.g. Laurence, Maltby and Rutterford, 2009). It will also contribute to the vibrant historiography on gender, honour and reputation (Stretton, 1998; Pollock, 2004; Cust & Hopper, 2006; Shepard, 2004; Capern, 2014 forthcoming).

Type of Project Project
Status Project Complete
Funder(s) Arts & Humanities Research Council
Value £55,827.00
Project Dates Oct 1, 2014 - Sep 30, 2017

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