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Kvinnors rätt i stormaktstidens Gävle
Umeå University, Faculty of Arts, Historical Studies.
1998 (Swedish)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)Alternative title
The Judicial Status of Women in 17th-Century Gävle (English)
Abstract [en]

The purpose of the present dissertation is to investigate the judicial status of townswomen in 17th- centuiy Sweden. How is the gender system reproduced during this period? Did any decisive changes in gender relations take place, and if so, how should they be understood?

Both secular and church legislation is studied, along with the deliberations of the legal commission of 1686. The investigation of actual legal practice concentrates on the municipal court of Gävle.

Differences between town and country as far as inheritance and marital property are concerned in­dicate that the married couple was seen as the central unit in the urban environment, while the male members of the family, particularly those belonging to the paternal line, had greater importance in the countryside.

Women could be prosecuted for the crimes they committed. In special cases, women were allowed to act as witnesses, and in practice, they were allowed to witness in criminal cases. Unmarried women appeared in salary conflicts and criminal cases, while affluent unmarried women did not appear bef­ore the court.

Wives were under the legal guardianship of their husbands, but the law gave women the right to en­ter into contracts and appear in court in certain instances. They could buy and sell, enter into debt, hire and dismiss servants. The legal capacity of the wife was dependent upon her husband's. As a rule, affluent wives did not appear in court. The husband administered his wife's property, though her con­sent was required in land transactions.

Widows "reacted" more often than they acted as far as concerns property. They were prevented from influencing the rules of the economic game in which they were involved. During the 17th cen­tury, affluent widows were increasingly represented by male delegates, which can be explained by the professionalization of the courts. This meant that the women actually seen and heard in court by the end of the century were often destitute and criminal.

Church orthodoxy implied that the "double standard" was weaker during the 17th-century than it was both before and after. Men as well as women turned to the courts to defend themselves against de­famation of their sexual character.

Matrimony was the basis for controlling women. It was in their best interests to marry, in order to establish a household, raise children and achieve the status of married woman. Matrimony was im­portant to men, too, in order to make contacts and create a network, acquire property, and establish a household. Marriage was basically hierarchical, though built on an idea of consensus.

The implements available to the legal system for restraining wife-beating were very blunt. Matri­mony was the responsibility of the church. Here, one spoke rather of the "obligations" a man had tow­ard his wife — who was his own "flesh" — than defined exactly when a man crossed over the boundary of the acceptable. The woman's own actions — fulfilling her marital duties and remaining subordinate to her husband — were also significant for the rulings of the court.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå Universitet , 1998. , 246 p.
Umeå studies in the humanities, ISSN 0345-0155 ; 144
Keyword [en]
gender, judicial status, women, early modern, urban and rural laws, town, Sweden, marriage, property, work, violence, sexuality
National Category
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-56491ISBN: 91-7191-539-7OAI: diva2:535264
Public defence
1998-12-04, Humanisthuset, hörsal E, Umeå universitet, Umeå, 10:15
Available from: 2012-06-21 Created: 2012-06-19 Last updated: 2013-03-11Bibliographically approved

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