Presented by Teresa Phipps of the University of Nottingham.
Nottingham in the fourteenth century was a medium-sized provincial borough, and one of the key privileges of borough status was the right to hold a court dealing with the civil complaints of the town’s residents. It is generally assumed that women, particularly married women, had few legal rights and little capacity to act as litigants in interpersonal and economic disputes. This lecture will use the voluminous records of Nottingham’s Borough Court to explore the actions of women at court in different disputes. It will look at the legal procedures of the court and the main forms of litigation – debt and trespass pleas – which arose from everyday trade and interactions within the local communities. These provide a rare opportunity to uncover the identities and relationships of ordinary Nottingham residents, including many of its women.
The court rolls reveal that women were not rare legal actors but were able to pursue wrongdoings at the court, and were equally pursued by others for their own transgressions.
The lecture will highlight the differences between the legal status of single and married women, while suggesting that marriage did not necessarily exclude women from legal action. Women were able to work within the restrictions of patriarchal medieval society to claim a role within the legal, social and economic community of the town. Through fascinating examples of individuals and their specific interpersonal disputes, the lecture will consider the extent to which there existed a gendered system of justice in medieval Nottingham.