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Widow-right in Durham, England (1349–1660)

  • Peter L. Larson (a1)

A customary tenant's widow in County Durham had a right to his holdings for her life, and did not forfeit the lands for remarriage or fornication in contrast to customs found elsewhere in England. In this case study of three neighbouring villages, more than 80 per cent of widows with the option exercised this right, and did so consistently over three centuries. The persistence of this pattern indicates that widows as tenants were common and capable of cultivating or managing holdings. It suggests complex interconnections of gender with local social and economic structures, which include marriage, migration, and household formation.

La veuve d'un tenancier, locataire coutumier dans le comté de Durham, avait droit d'usufruit sur les avoirs de son mari pour toute sa vie, et ne perdait pas son droit sur les terres en cas de remariage ou de fornication, contrairement à d'autres coutumes que l'on peut trouver ailleurs en Angleterre. Dans la présente étude de trois villages voisins, plus de quatre-vingt pour cent des veuves bénéficiant de ce droit l'ont exercé et l'ont fait dans les mêmes proportions au cours des trois siècles étudiés. La persistance de ce modèle montre que les veuves en position de tenancières étaient chose commune et qu'elles étaient capables de cultiver ou de gérer des exploitations. Cela suppose des interconnexions complexes entre sexes et structures économiques et sociales au niveau local, tout particulièrement en matière de mariage, migration et formation des ménages.

In der Grafschaft Durham hatte die Witwe eines Pächters ein lebenslanges Nutzungsrecht an seinem Besitz, das sie auch bei Wiederverheiratung oder Unzucht nicht verlor, im Gegensatz zu den Gepflogenheiten anderswo in England. In dieser Fallstudie über drei benachbarte Dörfer nahmen über 80 Prozent der Witwen dieses Recht in Anspruch, und zwar gleichbleibend über drei Jahrhunderte hinweg. Die Konstanz dieses Musters lässt darauf schließen, dass Witwen als Pächter häufig waren und ihre Güter kultivieren oder verwalten konnten, und verweist auf komplexe Wechselbeziehungen zwischen geschlechtsspezifischen und lokalen sozialen und ökonomischen Strukturen, die Heirat, Migration und Haushaltsbildung einschlossen.

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1 L. R. Poos and Lloyd Bonfield provide a concise overview of dower and free bench in manorial courts, and they warn against reading too much consistency of practice into the two terms: Poos, and Bonfield, eds., Select cases in manorial courts 1250–1550: property and family law, Selden Society, 114 (London, 1998), cxxicxxvii. See also Smith, R. M., ‘Women's property rights under customary law: some developments in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 36 (1986), 181–6, esp. 186 where he contrasts joint tenancy with free bench. Smith warns against seeing common and customary law as opposites in regard to women and land; ibid., 192–3, and Coping with uncertainty: women's tenure of customary land in England c. 1370–1430’, in Kermode, Jennifer ed., Enterprise and individuals in fifteenth-century England (Stroud, 1991), 4367. Joint tenancy was unusual in the medieval bishopric of Durham, and in the early modern period for these villages the idea of joint tenancy was found more often in a sublet by a son to his parents.

2 Whittle, Jane links this custom with the land market in the manor: The development of agrarian capitalism: land and labour in Norfolk, 1440–1580 (Oxford, 2000), 131.

3 This study echoes the approach of Miriam Müller on coverture and the medieval English countryside in which she argued that peasant women need to be understood in a local, manorial context: Peasant women, agency and status in mid-thirteenth to late fourteenth-century England: some reconsiderations’, in Beattie, Cordelia and Stevens, Matthew Frank eds., Married women and the law in premodern northwest Europe (Woodbridge, 2013), 91113.

4 Bardsley, Sandy, ‘Peasant women and inheritance of land in fourteenth-century England’, Continuity and Change 29, 3 (2014), 297; Müller, ‘Peasant women, agency and status’; Smith, ‘Women's property rights under customary law’ and ‘Coping with uncertainty’; Whittle, The development of agrarian capitalism, 131–41 and Inheritance, marriage, widowhood and remarriage: a comparative perspective on women and landholding in north-east Norfolk, 1440–1580’, Continuity and Change 13, 1 (1998), 34.

5 A query (intended recipient unknown) from 1601, written primarily in English, uses the term ‘widow right’, and later jus vidual’, when discussing whether a widow lost her right if she failed to come to the halmote after the three proclamations following the death of her husband: Durham University Library Archives and Special Collections, Church Commission Deposit of Bishopric Estate Records: Miscellanea, CCB B/218/3/1.

6 A tenant while living had the right to surrender the lands to family or an outsider. In the sixteenth century a new but minor trend emerged of a man surrendering lands to a son, who then demised them back to both the man and his wife for their lives. This eliminated widow-right in that holding but still provided a life right to the widow.

7 Widow-right featured in a major dispute between the bishops and tenants in Weardale over leasehold in the sixteenth century: Drury, Linda, ‘More stout than wise: tenant right in Weardale in the Tudor period’, in Marcombe, David ed., The last principality: politics, religion and society in the bishopric of Durham, 1494–1660 (Nottingham, 1987), 71100. A similar dispute vexed the estate of the Dean and Chapter of Durham in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries: Longstaffe, W. H. and Booth, J. eds., Halmota Prioratus Dunelmensis, Surtees Society, 82 (Durham, 1889), xxxix; David Marcombe, ‘The Dean and Chapter of Durham, 1558–1603’ (unpublished PhD thesis, University of Durham, 1973), 141, 149–50; and Morrin, Jean, ‘The transfer to leasehold on Durham Cathedral estates’, in Whittle, Jane ed., Landlords and tenants in Britain, 1440–1660: Tawney's Agrarian Problem revisited (Woodbridge, 2013), 117–32. In both cases, the tenants won regarding inheritance practices and the rights of widows.

8 Smith, R. M., ‘Some thoughts on “hereditary” and “proprietary” rights in land under customary law in thirteenth and early fourteenth century England’, Law and History Review 1, 1 (1983), 123–6; see also his ‘Coping with uncertainty’, and Ravensdale, Jack, ‘Population changes and the transfer of customary land on a Cambridgeshire manor in the fourteenth century’, in Smith, Richard M. ed., Land, kinship and life cycle (Cambridge, 1984), 197225. Poos and Bonfield include a discussion of ‘custom’ and ‘customary law’ that includes the balance of general principle with contingent factors: Select cases, xxvii–xxxv.

9 Bardsley, ‘Peasant women and inheritance’; quotation from 320. On the need to reassess the relationship of gender and demographic change, see Kowaleski, Maryanne, ‘Gendering demographic change in the Middle Ages’, in Bennett, Judith M. and Karras, Ruth Mazo eds., The Oxford handbook of women and gender in medieval Europe (Oxford, 2013), 181–96.

10 Only male tenants could hold village offices and serve on the jury, and the wealthier tenants tended to monopolise these positions in the Durham bishopric and priory estates: Larson, Peter L., ‘Village voice or village oligarchy? The jurors of the Durham halmote court, 1349–1424’, Law and History Review 28, 3 (2010), 675709, and Conflict and compromise in the late medieval countryside: lords and peasants in Durham, 1349–1400 (New York, 2006), 5861. The exclusion of women from public authority and political power was common throughout medieval England: Bennett, Judith, ‘Public power and authority in the medieval English countryside’, in Erler, Mary and Kowaleski, Maryanne eds., Women and power in the Middle Ages (Athens, GA, 1988), 1836.

11 Here I am particularly influenced by Judith Bennett's discussion of dispersed patriarchy in her Ale, beer, and brewsters in England: women's work in a changing world (Oxford, 1996), 154–5, and Barbara Hanawalt's description of late medieval London having a ‘“constrained” or “self-limiting” patriarchy’ that protected ‘their women from the predatory action of other males’ and allowed capital and resources to circulate via widows’ remarriage in The wealth of wives: women, law, and economy in late medieval London (Oxford, 2007), 12.

12 Whittle, ‘Inheritance, marriage, widowhood and remarriage’.

13 Howell, Cicely, Land, family and inheritance in transition: Kibworth Harcourt 1280–1700 (Cambridge, 1983), esp. 253–62.

14 See, for example, Raftis, J. Ambrose, Tenure and mobility: studies in the social history of the English village (Toronto, 1964; repr. 1981), 3640, and Britton, Edward, The community of the vill: a study in the history of the family and village life in fourteenth-century England (Toronto, 1977), 20–2.

15 Spufford, Margaret, Contrasting communities: English villagers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Cambridge, 1974), esp. 88–9, 112–14 and 161–2. For a summary of the earlier historiography and its problems, see Gates, Lori, ‘Widows, property, and remarriage: lessons from Glastonbury's Deverill manors’, Albion 28, 1 (1996), 1922.

16 Bennett, Judith, Women in the medieval English countryside: gender and household in Brigstock before the plague (Oxford, 1987); Mate, Mavis, Daughters, wives and widows after the Black Death: women in Sussex, 1350–1525 (Woodbridge, 1998); Erickson, Amy Louise, Women and property in early modern England (London, 1995).

17 Mullan, John and Britnell, Richard, Land and family: trends and local variations in the peasant land market on the Winchester bishopric estates, 1263–1415 (Hatfield, 2010).

18 For example, Gates covers the period 1280–1380 but most of her transactions come from 1300–1350: ‘Widows, property, and remarriage’, 22–3; Peter Franklin's study of Thornbury Manor (Gloucestershire) spans 1328–1348: Peasant widows' “liberation” and remarriage before the Black Death’, Economic History Review n.s. 39 (1986), 168204.

19 In addition to socio-economic studies of the general population, Bennett's Ale, beer, and brewsters has demonstrated the simultaneous continuity and change possible in women's lives over a long period.

20 These lands are best described as customary rather than villein or unfree because many peasants in Durham were free by the time of the Black Death: Larson, Conflict and compromise, 62–7.

21 Cf. Lomas, Timothy, ‘South-east Durham: late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries’, in Harvey, P. D. A. ed., The peasant land market in medieval England (Oxford, 1984), 112–14. On the process of surrender and admittance, see also Smith, ‘Women's property rights under customary law’, 174–9.

22 This was not as strong as holding lands et heredibus suis (‘and to his heirs’). Tenure at will (ad voluntatem domini) was nearly extinct. Tenure in jure already possessed many of the hallmarks of copyhold tenure even at the start of the fifteenth century, at which time some lands began to be held for a term of years (leasehold).

23 The number of instances is too small to determine priority of inheritance beyond children.

24 For example, in 1456, Joan Short leased for three years the messuage and husbandland in Cornforth that her deceased husband Thomas Short had held at lease: The National Archive: Public Record Office, Kew, London, Palatinate of Durham: Chancery Court: Curistor's Records: Halmote Court Books DURH (hereafter TNA PRO DURH) 3/15, fo. 386v.

25 David A. Kirby ed., Parliamentary surveys of the Bishopric of Durham, vol. II, Surtees Society, 185 (Gateshead, 1972), 189–219; Longstaffe and Booth, Halmota, xxxviii–xxxix.

26 Raftis argued that in the Ramsey Abbey villages, husband and wife were co-tenants because the widow paid no entry fine: Tenure and mobility, 26–39. Widows on the Dean and Chapter estate in the late sixteenth century and onward paid no entry fine unless they remarried, in which case they paid a fine equal to two years’ rent: Longstaffe and Booth, Halmota, xxxix.

27 Some men did take up the lands held or recused by the widow they married in the same halmote session (or soon after), and some entered the lands after the widow's death, but there is no evidence to contradict the assumption that the court followed normal inheritance customs in offering the lands to other heirs if there were any.

28 Durham University Library, Special Collections, Durham Bishopric Halmote Records: Court Books (hereafter DUL-SC) DHC 1/I/79, fo. 902Av.

29 Gaps in the record make it impossible to trace the remaining holdings.

30 TNA PRO DURH 3/27, 37, 118, 220.

31 TNA PRO DURH 3/28, fo. 21v.

32 Müller, ‘Peasant women, agency and status’.

33 The only exception discovered so far is when Ralph Cokky, clerk, inherited one cottage and six acres in Bishop Middleham in 1548 from his brother Robert Cokky; in 1559, the lands passed to their nephew Thomas Cokky and the scribe named Robert as the prior holder: TNA PRO DURH 3/23, fos. 273v, 503r. This cannot be a simple error (Robert for Ralph) because the inheritance should be reckoned through Thomas's relationship to Ralph.

34 In addition to a manerium, Bishop Middleham was the site of an episcopal castle still in use in the fourteenth century: ‘Parish of Bishop Middleham’, British History Online, taken from Surtees, Robert, The history and antiquities of the county palatine of Durham: volume 3, Stockton and Darlington Wards (London, 1823), 124, [accessed 8 March 2018].

35 Cornforth remained part of Bishop Middleham parish until 1868, when it too was made into its own parish. There were additional, small settlements in the parishes that were not part of the bishopric main estate. Lands for the village or manor of Mainsforth were conveyed in the halmote under the three villages, but these have been excluded.

36 ‘Co. Durham’, from Samantha Letters, Online gazetteer of markets and fairs in England and Wales to 1516, [accessed 8 March 2018].

37 Although the halmote courts recorded licences to dig coal in Cornforth in the fifteenth century, the mining industry did not really affect the villages until the 1830s. Cornforth colliery only operated from 1835 to 1851 although other collieries (including the Thrislington / West Cornforth colliery) and an ironworks in Thrislington did spur growth in the town, and a pit was not sunk in Bishop Middleham until 1846: ‘Bishop Middleham colliery’, website of Durham Mining Museum, [accessed 8 March 2018], and ‘Thrislington colliery’, ibid., [accessed 8 March 2018. For a study of a Durham village in the coalfield, see Levine, David and Wrightson, Keith, The making of an industrial society: Whickham 1560–1765 (Oxford, 1991).

38 Greenwell, William ed., Bishop Hatfield's survey: a record of the possessions of the see of Durham, made by order of Thomas de Hatfield, Bishop of Durham, Surtees Society, 32 (Durham, 1857; repr. London, 1967), 180–92; DHC 1/ M64 (a survey of the bishopric estates from 1588); Kirkby ed., Parliamentary surveys.

39 Wood, H. M. ed., Durham protestations, Surtees Society, 135 (Durham, 1922; repr. London, 2014), 157–8, 179–80; Green, Adrian, Parkinson, Elizabeth and Spufford, Margaret eds., Durham hearth tax: Lady Day 1666 (London, 2006), xcix, cxvii. Further population information can be found that included all of the smaller settlements in the parish(es): in 1563 there were 286 households total; in 1641–1642 there were 442 adult males; and in 1666, 406 households: Dyer, Alan and Palliser, D. M. eds., The diocesan population returns for 1563 and 1603 (Oxford, 2005), 136–7; Wood ed., Durham protestations, 157–8, 179–80; Green et al. eds., Durham Hearth Tax, xcix, cxvii.

40 Russell calculated a household multiplier of 3.51 for the county of Northumberland (on the northern border of Durham) for use with the 1377 Poll Tax returns, and I have multiplied this by 1.69 and 1.10, based on the suggestions of by Broadberry et al. to better account for children and non-paying adults. This process assumes that a Durham tenant would have paid the poll tax had it been levied in Durham, and that assumption adds an element of uncertainty into the equation: Russell, J. C., British medieval population (Albuquerque, 1948), 27–9; Broadberry, Stephen, Campbell, Bruce M. S., Klein, Alexander, Overton, Mark and Leeuwen, Bas van, British economic growth 1270–1870 (Cambridge, 2015), 633. The crude back projection was accomplished using the proportions of overall population in England from 1545 to 1666 as estimated by Wrigley and Schofield: they estimated that as many as 30 per cent of marriages in the period involved a bride or groom who had been married previously: The population history of England, 1541–1871: a reconstruction (Cambridge, 1989), 531–2; Arkell, Tom, ‘Multiplying factors for estimating population totals from the Hearth Tax’, Local Population Studies 28 (1982), 55. It should be kept in mind that these are crude approximations of the population, attempting to provide a general sense of scale and change.

41 The decline in holdings and tenants in the villages to circa 1500 is not as steep as the decline Lomas documented for Durham Priory, but he was able to use a starting point prior to the Black Death: Lomas, R. A., ‘Developments in land tenure on the prior of Durham's estate in the later Middle Ages’, Northern History 13 (1977), 32–7. More widespread leasing, as well as the leasing of entire villages by tenant syndicates, also played a significant role in engrossment (and possibly polarisation) on the Priory estate: ibid., 37, and Larson, Conflict and compromise, 167. Alex Brown puts these into a broader chronological scope and notes the conflicts between the Priory/Dean and Chapter and their tenants in his Estate management and institutional constraints in pre-industrial England: the ecclesiastical estates of Durham, c. 1400–1640’, Economic History Review 67, 3 (2014), 699719, and later in Rural society and economic change in County Durham: recession and recovery, c. 1400–1640 (Woodbridge, 2015). He notes the continuing divergence between estates with the Priory tenants having ‘a relatively uniform experience across the sixteenth century, with similar holdings and living standards’ while ‘the estate of the bishops of Durham contained a diverse mixture of tenures’: Rural society and economic change, 224. In terms of engrossment and polarisation, the experience of Bishop Middleham, Cornforth, and Sedgefield stands in marked contrast with developments in the coal-mining village of Whickham as discussed by Wrightson and Levine, The making of an industrial society, 136–9; see below n. 62.

42 The data for the database derive from TNA PRO DURH 3/12-28 and DUL-SC DHC 1/I/1-83.

43 This includes transactions for these three villages that were entered under other villages.

44 Excluding lands taken in hand when no heir came forward and no one else was willing to take up the lands, as these instances were not regularly recorded even though there was a procedure for summoning heirs and recording their failure to appear. Because the court was required to proclaim the call for heirs up to three times, by the sixteenth century it could take a year and a half for the court to be satisfied.

45 Leasing was practised in the other villages but not to the extent as in Cornforth, where it became the primary form of tenure.

46 TNA PRO DURH 3/13, fo. 308v.

47 Howell, Land, family and inheritance in transition, 232, 256–7.

48 For consistency, I have rounded up all percentages including those taken from other sources.

49 Franklin, ‘Peasant widows’ “liberation” and remarriage’, 189; Mullan and Britnell, Land and family, 104.

50 Smith, ‘Coping with uncertainty’, 48. He suggests that the deathbed transfer ‘effectively displaced [dower] as a customary right and that the grant by the dying husband may have served as a substitute or alternative’: 54–5.

51 Although the present article focuses on widows, it is clear that among tenants possibly almost as many wives predeceased their husbands, so while being a widower was not necessarily ‘the more common experience’ in Durham, it would be worthy of study: Bardsley, Sandy, ‘Missing women: sex ratios in England, 1000–1500’, Journal of British Studies 53, 2 (2014), 306.

52 In Thornbury, 66 per cent of male tenants left a widow: Franklin, ‘Peasant widows’ “liberation” and remarriage’, 189.

53 TNA PRO DURH 3/14, fos. 404v, 417r. There was one instance where the widow and son jointly held a holding, but she was described as having right for her life: DUL-SC DHC 1/I/81, fo. 33v. This instance has been included as widow-right.

54 Durham County Record Office, Sedgefield Parish Registers, EP/Se 1/1 (Microfilm M42/152), 8.2; TNA PRO DURH 3/24, pp. 78, 209. On the problems of identifying and tracing widows see also Barbara Todd, ‘The remarrying widow: a stereotype reconsidered’, in Mary Prior ed., Women in English society (London, 1985), 57–8.

55 TNA PRO DURH 3/24, p. 802; DUL-SC DHC 1/I/77, fo. 1173v and /82 fo. 686v.

56 Whittle draws a similar conclusion: ‘Inheritance, marriage, widowhood and remarriage’, 58–9.

57 Some of these may have included land, for example a cottage might have been a ‘cotland’ but the acreage was not specified.

58 DUL-SC DHC 1/I/20, fos. 7v–8r; 1/I/30, fos. 53r–5v; 1/I/31, fos. 216r–25r.

59 Austin, David ed., Domesday Book supplementary volume 35: Boldon Book, Northumberland and Durham (Chichester, 1982), 3843; Greenwell ed., Hatfield's survey, 60–73. The double holdings put tenants at the upper end of what R. C. Allen considered to be family or peasant farms, with farms of 60 to 100 acres being ‘transitional’ and 100 acres being capitalist’: Enclosure and the yeoman: the agricultural development of the south Midlands, 1450–1850 (Oxford, 1992), 56–7.

60 Excluding lands for which the size was not given or was incalculable. Sometimes the clerks referred to a ‘place’ or ‘parcel’ with no acreage specified; the size of the holding could be reconstructed with reasonable certainty in seven of the eight instances when the court clerks wrote down ‘the total tenure’.

61 Brown, Rural society and economic change, 241.

62 Ibid., 227–43. Wrightson and Levine found a greater level of stratification in Whickham, where their ‘impression is that the traditional pattern of mixed agriculture on the manor had been disrupted by the mining of the best arable land’ and ‘the pattern of copyhold tenancy had changed radically’ with the disappearance of nearly all those holding 30 to 50 acres, replaced by many smallholders and a small number of ‘very substantial copyholders’: The making of an industrial society, 136–9.

63 Britnell and Mullan note that widow-right delayed inheritance on the Winchester bishopric estates: Land and family, 104–05. Franklin's data implies it: ‘Peasant widows’ “liberation” and remarriage’, 189–90. Eleanor Searle asked ‘whether on some manors and in particular cases the peasant heir would ever possess his father's tenement or whether, with the lord's permission, it might pass through a succession of widows and widowers’: Seigneurial control of women's marriage: the antecedents and function of merchet in England’, Past & Present 82 (1979), 39. While the practice of widow-right should have prevented this state of affairs in the bishopric, some situations came close, as when John de Hedlam of Sedgefield did not acquire his father's lands until after the death of his stepfather, some 36 years after his father died and at least five years after his mother the widow died: TNA PRO DURH 3/14, fo. 56r; 3/15, fo. 111v.

64 In Whittle's study, the average length was just under six years but she found instances of widows holding lands nineteen and twenty years: ‘Inheritance, marriage, widowhood and remarriage’, 59–60.

65 TNA PRO DURH 3/23, fo. 302v; 3/26, fo. 114r.

66 TNA PRO DURH 3/23, fo. 228v; 3/24, p. 737.

67 The state of the widow could not be determined in five instances.

68 Barring complete village reconstructions, the possibility remains that some lands that apparently left the family's owenership, in fact went to a family member.

69 TNA PRO DURH 3/12, fo. 149v and 3/14 fo. 539v. Agnes Cape is not noted as a widow but given the situation she likely was and has been counted as such.

70 Franklin, ‘Peasant widows’ “liberation” and remarriage’, 193; Mate, Daughters, wives and widows, 105, see also 132.

71 The other periods with low rates of widow-right can be dismissed due to the low numbers involved.

72 Although it is difficult to generalise about manorial courts, it is wise to heed Richard Smith's warning that ‘[a] number of changes in English manorial courts between c. 1250 and c. 1330 led to quite profound alterations in the way women functioned in those tribunals in matters concerning land’: ‘Coping with uncertainty’, 43.

73 The land market in the parish was particularly active at this time, although this may not have been a sign of prosperity or confidence: Larson, Peter, ‘Peasant opportunities in rural Durham: land, vills and mills 1400–1500’, in Dodds, Ben and Liddy, Christian eds., Commercial activity, markets and entrepreneurs in the middle ages: essays in honour of Richard Britnell (Woodbridge, 2011), 146–52.

74 It also may indicate the expectation of an heir coming to claim the land.

75 A few holdings became divided, but even then they were reckoned not in acres but as portions of a holding (for example, half of a bovate, not seven-and-a-half acres) and often the connection to the original holding was maintained; this even applied to holdings that could be divided into smaller integral units (such as a husbandland into two bovates).

76 This was similar to the practice in Cottenham (Cambridgeshire), although if the widow refused the holding then it went to the youngest son, following Borough English custom: Ravensdale, ‘The transfer of customary land’, 198–9.

77 TNA PRO DURH 3/23, fo. 248r; 3/24, p. 286.

78 Compare this to the greater descent of land to sons in Hevingham Bishops (Norfolk): Whittle, The development of agrarian capitalism, 123–5.

79 Bardsley, ‘Missing women’, 306–07; see also Kowaleski, ‘Gendering demographic change’, 182–90.

80 The emphasis needs to be on recorded marriages, as Smith points out that merchet rates reported in other studies are not viable and concludes that merchet was linked to landholding: Smith, ‘Women's property rights under customary law’, 170–2. See also Poos, L. R. and Smith, R. M., ‘“Legal windows onto historical populations”? Recent research on demography and the manor court in medieval England’, Law and History Review 2 (1984), 145–6. For merchet in Durham, see Larson, Conflict and compromise, 92–7. Marriage fines for widows in Cottenham could be very high: Ravensdale, ‘The transfer of customary land’, 202, 209–10.

81 Smith, ‘Some thoughts’, 124. The two are also similar in that the lord of Cottenham charged high marriage fines for widows with lands, seeking to profit from their desirability; the bishops of Durham did the same in the aftermath of the Black Death: Larson, Conflict and compromise, 94–7. Bennett, Judith, ‘Medieval peasant marriage: an examination of the marriage license fines in the Liber Gersumarum’, in Raftis, J. A. ed., Pathways to medieval peasants (Toronto, 1981), 205; Mullan and Britnell, Land and family, 105. Although not presenting firm numbers, Mate argued that widow remarriage was not significant in the late fourteenth century but had become ‘fairly common’ in the fifteenth century with perhaps two thirds of widows remarrying: Daughters, wives and widows, 126–7. Even before the plague the rates could be low; Titow found that from 1270–1315 widow remarriages as a percentage of all marriages ranged from 22–33 per cent in Taunton (Somerset), 5–15 per cent in Wargrave (Berkshire), and 16–26 per cent in Witney (Oxfordshire), while for Brigstock (Northamptonshire) Bennett found that only 1 in 13 widows remarried: Titow, J. Z., ‘Some differences between manors and their effects on the condition of the peasant in the thirteenth century’, Agricultural History Review 10 (1962), 8, and Bennett, Women in the medieval English countryside, 146. The rate could be higher; Franklin found in Thornbury that 4 of 12 widows holding gavel land remarried, and 6 of 8 holding customary land remarried, and in Halesowen (Worcestershire), 63 per cent of widows remarried before the Black Death but only 26 per cent after: Franklin, ‘Peasant widows’ “liberation” and remarriage’, 193, and Razi, Zvi, Life, marriage and death in a medieval parish: economy, society and demography in Halesowen, 1270–1400 (Cambridge, 1980), 138. Spufford argued that remarriage of widows with land was common (though she admits her evidence is anecdotal) although some would find shelter with their sons: Contrasting communities, 116–18. Cf. Smith, ‘Women's property rights under customary law’, 169–72, where he argues that ‘the relatively abundant evidence shows that landlords, particularly where widows possessed a secure life interest in their late husband's holding, were driven to goad them into matrimony’; Ravensdale finds no such evidence in Cottenham, however: ‘The transfer of customary land’, 203–04.

82 Whittle, The development of agrarian capitalism, 131.

83 Bennett, Women in the medieval English countryside, 33; Mullan and Britnell, Land and family, 130.

84 Smith, ‘Some thoughts’, 123–6; Ravensdale, ‘The transfer of customary land’, 216–19.

85 See, for example, Mate, Daughters, wives and widows, 126–7, 132, and Hanawalt, Wealth of wives, 106–07. Amy Erickson found that only 17 per cent of widows remarried: Women and property, 197. B. A. Holderness, in his survey of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, reported an aggregate rate of about 11 per cent: ‘Widows in pre-industrial society: an essay upon their economic functions’, in Smith ed., Land, kinship and life cycle, 430. Wrigley and Schofield estimated that as many as 30 per cent of marriages in the period involved a bride or groom who had been married previously: The population history of England, 258–9. For Barbara Todd, growing individualism among men contributed to the decline in remarriage by widows in Abingdon as the percentage of remarrying widows in her sample of men with proved wills declined from 50 per cent in the sixteenth century to 37.5 per cent in the seventeenth century then 23.5 per cent by 1720, or in her sample of widows from couples married at St Helen's Abingdon, from 48.4 to 38.5 to 15.8 per cent: ‘The remarrying widow’, 60–1, 74.

86 Erickson, Women and property, 196.

87 Todd, ‘The remarrying widow’, 65–72, here 68.

88 Fleming, Peter, Family and household in medieval England (New York, 2001), 91; Franklin, ‘Peasant widows’ “liberation” and remarriage’; Bennett, Judith, ‘Widows in the medieval English countryside’, in Mirrer, Louise ed., Upon my husband's death: widows in the literature and histories of medieval Europe (Ann Arbor, 1992), 103.

89 Gates, ‘Widows, property, and remarriage’.

90 Hanawalt, Wealth of wives, 12. Smith, ‘Some thoughts’, 125. See also Howell, Land, family and inheritance in transition.

91 Bennett, Women in the medieval English countryside, 150–72. For early modern Ryton (County Durham), Chaytor argues that remarriage was not an economic necessity, and that young widows remarried against their best interests; drawing primarily on Continental studies she states that remarriage was discouraged socially and culturally and that community pressures were strong enough that a charivari was not needed; Chaytor, Miranda, ‘Household and kinship: Ryton in the late 16th and early 17th centuries’, History Workshop Journal 10, 1 (1980), 43–4.

92 Mate, Daughters, wives and widows, 132.

93 This is in contrast to communities in the coal mining areas of Durham; see Levine and Wrightson, The making of an industrial society.

94 On the claims of tenants to hold by tenant-right including border service in Weardale and the Dean and Chapter estate, see Drury, ‘More stout than wise’ and Morrin, ‘The transfer to leasehold’. Weardale was more like the border counties than south-east Durham so such service would make sense there; however, Drury's earliest example comes from 1494 and there is no record of such service for bishopric customary tenants in either the twelfth-century survey Boldon Book or in Hatfield's survey, either for Wolsingham and Stanhope, so any attachment to tenure (rather than a general array of fencible men) came very late, although the claim was still being made in 1648: Drury, ‘More stout than wise’, 77, 96 n. 23; Austin ed., Boldon Book, 38–43; Greenwell ed., Hatfield's survey, 60–73; Kirby, D. A. ed., Parliamentary surveys of County Durham, vol. I, Surtees Society, 183 (Gateshead, 1971), 149. For the villages of Bishop Middleham parish, there is neither evidence nor claim of such border service, in the halmote books or in other records: Austin ed., Boldon Book, 22–5; Greenwell ed., Hatfield's survey, 180–92. Although no comparable medieval survey survives for the Priory / Dean and Chapter estate, surviving rentals do not mention border or military service by customary tenants: Lomas, R. A. and Piper, A. J. eds., Durham Cathedral Priory rentals, vol. I: bursar's rentals, Surtees Society, 198 (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1989). David Marcombe judged the Dean and Chapter tenants’ claims to be ‘largely fictitious’ and despite Morrin's arguments to the contrary, the limited medieval evidence supports his position: Marcombe, ‘Dean and Chapter’, 141, 146–9. It would seem that border service by customary tenants was a post-medieval development, and the specious claim associating border service with those customary lands was a rhetorical strategy. That would accord with some of R. W. Hoyle's observations for sixteenth-century developments in tenant-right in north-western England, and he also is very careful to indicate the diversity of tenant-right and its development: An auncient and laudable custom: the definition and development of tenant right in north-western England in the sixteenth century’, Past & Present 116 (1987), 2455.

95 Kowaleski, ‘Gendering demographic change’, 191.

96 Bennett, ‘Public power and authority’, 29.

97 As Bennett demonstrated for brewing in Ale, beer, and brewsters.

98 Such alterations clearly happened in Cottenham: Smith, ‘Some thoughts’, 125–7. Bardsley suggests this possibility was behind the denial of inheritance to daughters: ‘the jury, manorial officials working on behalf of the lord, and/or the court at large … decided that a male tenant was a better choice’ than the woman who should have inherited: ‘Peasant women and inheritance’, 317. Whittle suggests that women's possession of land was tied to the land market: ‘Inheritance, marriage, widowhood and remarriage’, 66, but the regularity with which those widows who had the option to take land did so demonstrates that widow-right in the parish could be independent of the land market.

99 The widow of a Durham freeholder would have been entitled to one third of her deceased husband's lands and he may have made other provisions for her, and while more than nothing that might still have left her in a diminished state economically. On early modern widows and their husbands’ wills more generally, see Erickson, Women and property, 156–86. Erickson also points out that the husband's debts were another important factor in a widow's financial situation: ibid., 200–2.

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Continuity and Change
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  • EISSN: 1469-218X
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