Women before the court

Law and patriarchy in the Anglo-American world, 1600–1800

Women before the court: Law and patriarchy in the Anglo-American World, 1600–1800 is a ground-breaking study of women in Britain and British America. Drawing from archival sources from both sides of the Atlantic, it offers an innovative, comparative approach to the study of women’s legal rights during a formative period of Anglo-American law. It traces how colonists transplanted English legal institutions to America, examines the remarkable depth of women’s legal knowledge, and shows how the law increasingly undermined patriarchal relationships between parents and children, masters and servants, and husbands and wives. While in the seventeenth century these relationships had been defined by mutual obligations of authority and submission, the economic and legal developments of the eighteenth century gave women increasing opportunities to break the patriarchal mould. This book will be of interest to scholars of Britain and colonial America, students of legal history and to laypeople interested in how women navigated and negotiated the structures of authority that governed them in the past. It is packed with fascinating (and sometimes shocking) stories that women related to the courts in cases ranging from murder and abuse to debt and estate litigation. This study adds a valuable contribution to our understandings of law, power and gender in the early modern world.

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