The Law of the Father? Patriarchy in the Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism

By Mary Murray | Go to book overview
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Chapter 4

Property and patriarchy

This chapter comprises an analysis of patriarchy and rights in and to property. First of all I shall consider material which relates to the Anglo-Saxon situation. I will then move on to analysis of the feudal period. Finally I shall look at the development of the form of property characteristic of capitalism.


PROPERTY AND PATRIARCHY BEFORE THE NORMAN CONQUEST

Some historians consider that the Anglo-Saxon period brought a significant improvement in property rights for women. McNamara and Wemple, for example, note that 'as the smaller family group began to replace the tribe as the basic social unit, the incapacity of women to inherit property began to disappear'. 1 More recently, Christine Fell has discussed the extensive landholdings of upperclass women, 2 and queens as owners and givers of estates. 3

In both theoretical and empirical terms this view is disputable. As Viana Muller points out, 'It would be just as logical for these historians to praise the development of the state for liberating men, who could as a result own private property and become wealthy, whereas in tribal society they couldn't really own anything as an individual'. 4

Empirically too, whilst women were by no means excluded from ownership of property, evidence relating to both inheritance and acquisition shows men still at an advantage over women. Bookland, being property which was acquired rather than inherited, was not governed by rules of kinship. Early records indicate that gifts of bookland were first made to religious orders in an attempt to provide the Christian church with a permanent

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