The social and economic status of widows in early modern France is characterized by a paradoxical dichotomy. On one hand, they gained social and political authority not only within their household but also within their communities through their new marital position, which granted them a wide spectrum of rights and duties. Indeed, widows could contract, ask for justice, appear on tax roll, lend and borrow money, or serve as collaterals. Yet, on the other hand, their position within the society was considered suspicious –women living without men- and always been subject to caution. Witchcraft trials in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, for instance, have particularly highlighted their target status. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, judicial records continued to underline the conflict and difficulties that many of them encountered in their daily life and exchange with men.
But because their marital status could possibly weakened widows and engendered social resentment towards them, they, I argue, gradually came to negotiate their social position within their community, especially through economic means and extensive cooperation such as the re-allocation and redistribution of capital in the credit market, for instance, contributing not only to secure their old days but also, and above all, to achieve social consideration and honor.
Through a cross analysis of loans and judicial records from 1700 to 1789, I am able to retrace widow’s political agenda and negotiations with special reference to the strengthening of their social and economic position within their community. In the first part, I study the political status of widows in traditional communities and its evolution. Then, in a second part, I focus on their economic position and strategies in the credit market—a public and cooperative sphere—that progressively became important in a context of general indebtedness through the redistribution of wealth and allocation of capital. Finally, I argue that widows gradually developed strategies to negotiate their marital status and their honor through cooperative means.
Routledge, 2016. 123-140 p.