The laws of the medieval time period offer a partial answer regarding the legal rights of women. They offer insight of how women may have lived their lives, which were dictated by the law. With a closer analysis, they can also offer clues of how women identified themselves legally and in society. Not much was written about women during this time period, most women were not encouraged to write, nor did they keep personal journals. In result, it is quite difficult to get a grasp on any identities women associated themselves with. However, court rolls, personal accounts, and analysis from scholarly authors offer an in-depth insight. This paper will focus on the twelfth and thirteenth century region of Western Europe. Three issues will be addressed; how a woman’s identity is formed, how it differed from men, and how legal identity of a woman reflected and influenced other aspects of their identity. The legal identity of gender made women identify themselves as inferior, powerless, silent, and unequal. In comparison, Gratian’s text on church laws will also be analyzed, as it offers an opposing argument of women identified as equals to men in Church Law.
The identity of inferiority for women was constructed before the Medieval Ages. Medieval law was influenced by Roman law, whose concepts constructed the ecclesiastical, secular law, and Church laws dictating society . Roman law was patriarchal; women could appear in court but the encouraged custom was to have themselves represented by a man, since they believed women should uphold the traditional value of modesty. It paved the road for medieval society to create their own form of Roman law. Ecclesiastical law placed women in a secondary place in creation based on her part of the Original Sin. Secular law justified the patriarchal societies restrictions on the basis of women’s limited intelligence, and weaker in nature.
Medieval laws were based off characteristics and stereotypical behavior women were believed to have. The characteristics of limited intelligent, gullibility, deceitfulness, greed, modesty shaped the many restrictions the legal society placed on women in order to restrain them and ‘protect’ them. Distinctions on the legal rights of women were based off marital and social status. The law restricted all women to participate in any official public office which required an education. According to the English jurist Glanville “They are not able to, have no need to, and are not accustomed to serving their lord the king, either in the army or in any other royal service.” It was believed women were not capable of filling in any public office, and they must devote their lives and identities to feminine and domestic work, upholding tradition. Since society was patriarchal, run by men and powered by men, women were always placed second, which could have easily influenced how she identified herself.
In England, a woman’s legal status was coverture. This stated that a husband was responsible...