"Acta est fabula, plaudite!" : the role of women in late medieval England : the evidence from wills
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The purpose of this thesis is to provide an insight into the role and place of women in late medieval England through a qualitative and quantitative examination of 403 women’s wills from 1300 to 1500. The sample used in this thesis is collected from different sources to establish a general profile of women from different regions of England as revealed by their distribution of property to wide range of relations formed within and outside the household. A woman’s right to hold property, and in relation to this, her testamentary behaviour were affected by her marital status, class, and most especially, by her gender. Though disadvantaged under testamentary law, women used an official arena such as wills to control the way their modest wealth and property were distributed after death. Medieval women’s wills were almost the only source in which women directly narrated their life stories, and by means of their iv wills, late medieval English women provided for their souls, their family and also their friends. It is apparent from the evidence of their wills that women not only followed the characteristics attributed to their sex but that the act of will-writing also gave most women an opportunity to be autonomous and assertive. Thus, women distributed freely their personal possessions for the well-being of those who were important and dear to them at least when they were close to death.