Worthless witnesses? Marginal voices and women's legal agency in early modern England

Shepard, A. (2019) Worthless witnesses? Marginal voices and women's legal agency in early modern England. Journal of British Studies, 58, pp. 717-734. (doi: 10.1017/jbr.2019.85)

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Abstract

This article explores the distribution of women witnesses in a selection of English church courts between the mid-sixteenth and early eighteenth centuries, in order to assess the extent to which women's participation as witnesses in these jurisdictions might be characterized as a form of legal agency. It shows that women's participation was highly contingent on their marital status and between places and over time and was shaped by the matters in dispute as well as the gender of the litigants for whom they testified. Although poverty did not exclude women witnesses (higher proportions of female witnesses than male claimed to be poor or of limited means), women were more vulnerable than were men to discrediting strategies that cast doubt on their authority in court. Such findings show that the incorporative dimensions of state formation did not deliver new forms of agency to women but depended heavily upon patriarchal norms and constraints.

Item Type:Articles
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Shepard, Professor Alex
Authors: Shepard, A.
College/School:College of Arts > School of Humanities > History
Journal Name:Journal of British Studies
Publisher:Cambridge University Press
ISSN:0021-9371
ISSN (Online):1545-6986
Published Online:24 October 2019
Copyright Holders:Copyright © The North American Conference on British Studies 2019
First Published:First published in Journal of British Studies 58:717-734
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
170379Women negotiating the boundaries of justice: Britain and Ireland c.1100-c.1750Alexandra ShepardArts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)AH/L013568/1Arts - History