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Women, Marital Status, and Law: The Marital Spectrum in Seventeenth-Century Glasgow

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 October 2019

Abstract

Early modern women are often categorized by historians in relation to their marital status—whether they appeared as single, married, or widowed women. These identifications reflected the effects of marriage on women's legal and social status. Focusing on the records of the burgh and commissary courts of seventeenth-century Glasgow, this article shows how Scottish women's legal status existed instead on a “marital spectrum,” including liminal phases prior to the formation of marriage as well as overlapping phases following remarriage after the death of a spouse. This spectrum situates women's legal claims in relation to their marital career, allowing for a closer reading of women's legal activities. Court clerks working in Glasgow documented women's varied marital, familial, and legal identities within the court records, a Scottish practice that can shed new light on how women negotiated the boundaries of justice in early modern courts of law.

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Original Manuscript
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Copyright © The North American Conference on British Studies 2019 

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References

1 Glasgow Commissary Court, Register of Decreets and Decrees Dative, CC9/3/4/ fols. 190, 194–95, 203, 225, National Records of Scotland (hereafter NRS).

2 By 1600, £12 Scots was worth £1 sterling, £1 Scots was worth 1s. 6d. sterling, and 1 Scottish merk was worth 1s. 1d. sterling. English monetary values are included in parenthesis throughout for ease of reference.

3 Glasgow Commissary Court, Register of Decreets and Decrees Dative, CC9/3/4/fol. 225, NRS.

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40 This phrase was commonplace in Scottish court records. See Cathryn Spence, “‘For His Interest?’ Women, Debt and Coverture in Early Modern Scotland,” in Beattie and Stevens, Married Women and the Law in Premodern Northwest Europe, 173–90.

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48 Her mother had died in December 1615 and bequeathed 400 merks to Drew in her last will and testament. See Glasgow Commissary Court, Register of Testaments, CC9/7/12/fols. 118–21, NRS.

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52 Glasgow Burgh Court, court book, B10/10/1/fols. 64–65, GCA.

53 The calculations are based on primary litigants to a suit whose names appeared at the start of the record, not on the total number of interested parties.

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74 Glasgow Commissary Court, Register of Deeds, CC9/14/27/fols. 15–16, NRS.

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