Manuscripts and Special Collections

Property Ownership

Decorative flourish from LM6 in the Wollaton Library Collection

'... for Dame Joan for the term of her life, as her dower and allowance'

In medieval feudal society, female landowners had to depend on men (either family members or hired retainers) to fulfil the military service owed to their lord.

Married women were also legally considered subordinate to their husbands, and a woman’s land automatically became the property of her husband on marriage. Married women were not legally entitled to own landed property until the passing of the Married Women's Property Act in 1870 and the Married Women's Property Rights Act in 1882.

However, single and widowed women were able to buy and sell land and participate in the ‘outer’ world of business, in contrast to the ‘inner’ world of the domestic household. Wealthy women would also have spent some of their money on expensive furnishings, clothes and books.

Widows received income from their ‘dower’ – money or land to which they were entitled after the death of their husband. Specific estates were sometimes identified for dower in the negotiations preceding the marriage.

The following extracts from literary and historical texts give some insights into women’s property in medieval society.


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Manuscripts and Special Collections

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