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Favoured or oppressed? Married women, property and ‘coverture’ in England, 1660–1800

  • JOANNE BAILEY (a1)

Abstract

In the eighteenth century, the condition of English wives under ‘coverture’ was both defended as one of privilege and attacked as worse than slavery. This article suggests that married women were not in reality confined within coverture's regulations on credit and property ownership. Their economic activities were fairly broad and flexible and they had an instinctive sense of possession over some goods during wedlock, perceiving their contributions to marriage as a pooling of resources for familial benefit. It will be suggested that wives did not necessarily think that their conduct in acting as if some marital property was legally theirs was illegitimate, because it was facilitated by coverture and the legal devices that allowed it to function.

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Continuity and Change
  • ISSN: 0268-4160
  • EISSN: 1469-218X
  • URL: /core/journals/continuity-and-change
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