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RHEA Research Seminar: "The ‘constrained’ or ‘self-limiting patriarchy’. Wives, household authority and law in sixteenth-century Antwerp"

maandag, 12 februari, 2018 - 12:30 to maandag, 12 februari, 2018 - 14:00
Campus: Brussels Humanities, Sciences & Engineering campus

By Kaat Capelle, PhD Candidate (FWO) at Vrije Universiteit Brussel


The theory of ‘linear grouping’, a late medieval or early modern shift of preference towards kinship to the disadvantage of the surviving spouse, has been widely debated. Due to these changes in family structure and inheritance practices, many scholars argue that women lost power. However, there are many reasons to believe that this was not the case in sixteenth-century Antwerp, the leading commercial metropolis between c. 1520 and c. 1565. From an examination of marital property law, marriage contracts, wills and court cases, it becomes clear that Antwerp was generous to the conjugal pair. Daughters, wives and widows were given access to power through inheritance rather than having their power reduced by inheritance. This emphasis on the conjugal pair seems to harbour the key to women’s power, because it influenced the legal capacity of wives in sixteenth- century Antwerp. The household was legally understood as a partnership rather than a unit exclusively managed by the husband.