in Women of the English Nobility and Gentry, 1066-1500
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This chapter contains a selection of translated and annotated texts on women and family. As with marriage, the woman's relationship to her husband and children has to be seen within the framework of canon and common law, the Church being concerned with the marriage itself, and the royal courts with property. Throughout the period, the family and its continuity were regarded as of prime importance, and the birth of the heir, preferably a son, was considered crucial. Far more can be learned about family relationships in the later Middle Ages than earlier because of the existence of a wider range of documentation, notably wills and letters, although legal and administrative documents also throw valuable light on the nature of families. Nobles and gentry were aware of wider kindred groups, and knew that death and accidents of inheritance might well lead to a distant relation achieving prominence.


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