reviewed for H-Net/H-Law  by  Dana Y. Rabin, U of Michigan

Women, Crime and the Courts in Early Modern England. Edited by Jenny Kermode and Garthine Walker (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1994) 216 pages.

        This collection of articles edited by Jenny Kermode and Garthine
  Walker is the first historical study dedicated exclusively to the
  subject of women and the law in early modern England. The book is a
  welcome and overdue addition to the literature on the history of law and
  crime in England as it has developed in the past twenty years. The
  essays challenge the assumptions of traditional legal scholarship that
  excluded women from most legal history. This historiography
  accepted at face value the prescriptions of the common law which restricted
  female participation in the legal system. The articles in _Women, Crime
  and the Courts in Early Modern England_ explore the involvement of women
  in a broad range of legal situations revealing the extensive presence of
  women in the legal system. The book fulfills the editors' promise to
  "expand our perceptions of the legal process, of women's engagement with
  it, and of the gendered attitudes of early modern England." (p. 8)
        In their introduction Walker and Kermode attempt to place the study of
  women and crime within the historiographical traditions of social
  history, women's history, and legal history. Recent work on crime has
  stressed the integral part played by law in English culture. According
  to John Brewer and John Syles "it was a shibboleth that English law was the
  birthright of every citizen who, unlike many of his European counterparts,
  was subject not to the whim of a capricious individual but to a set of
  prescriptions that bound all members of the polity."1) Until now, the
  absence of a study which focused on women and their attitudes toward the
  law, their relationship to it, and their participation in the legal
  system certainly gave pause. In light of the neglect of half of
  England's population, could the thesis still stand? _Women, Crime and
  the Courts_ begins the re-evaluation of the place of the law in English
  culture by examining the significance of the law in the lives of
  English women and the influence of the presence of women on the legal system.
        The essays can be grouped into four categories. Laura Gowing
  ("Language, power and the law: women's slander litigation in early
  modern London") and Martin Ingram ("Scolding women cucked or washed": a
  crisis in gender relations in early modern England?) explore the place of
  'language litigation' in community relations. Using consistory court
  records Gowing convincingly demonstrates how slander litigation was used
  by women to fulfil their gendered role in the community as the negotiators
  of aspects of reputation and honor. Ingram's study of legal action
  against scolds offers a critique of David Underdown's contention that
  scolding legislation reflected a contemporary obsession with scolds and
  a crisis in gender relations.2) Ingram argues instead that the prosecution
  of scolds was highly selective; he tries to explain those prosecutions
  that did occur as manifestations of personal incompatibility and social
  tension. In light of the volume's attention to issues of gender, this latter
  argument is not as convincing as the rest of the article.
        Garthine Walker's essay ("Women, theft and the world of stolen goods")
  illustrates the differences between male and female patterns of crime.
  Walker's research qualifies generalizations about women's involvement in
  crime by explaining women's criminal activity in relation to the economic
  and social realities of women's lives. Walker's contribution is the only
  article in the volume that analyzes women's participation in felonious
  crime other than witchcraft. Her careful reading of the sources points to
  the need for further work on this subject which has been marginalized in
  much of the crime literature.
        The next two essays in the volume concern witchcraft accusations and
  trials. In his contribution, ("Women, witchcraft and the legal process")
  Jim Sharpe shows that although the vast majority of defendants in
  witchcraft trials were women, women were also actively involved in the
  processes of accusation and prosecution. Malcolm Gaskill's essay
  ("Witchcraft and power in early modern England: the case of Margaret
  Moore") attempts to assess the witchcraft trials within the context of
  early modern popular beliefs and mentalities. These articles are based
  on careful scholarship and they raise very important questions about the
  relationship between witchcraft and women; but neither explains why it
  was women who were so involved in every aspect of the trials.
        In the last two essays in the book Geoffrey Hudson and Tim Stretton
  analyze less familiar aspects of women's participation in the legal
  system. Using quarter sessions records Hudson ("Negotiating for blood
  money: war widows and the courts in seventeenth-century England") examines
  the strategies employed by war widows to secure the payment of their
  state pensions. Stretton ("Women, custom and equity in the court of
  requests") uses the records of the Court of Requests to reveal the shifting
  definitions of women's, and especially widows', property rights. These
  articles approach their sources with a sensitivity to women and gender
  and yield correspondingly fruitful results.
        The essays as a group are based on solid historical research combined
  with a creative use of legal administrative sources. They reveal women's
  knowledge of the law as well as their practical legal experience. The
  authors employ an interesting and readable methodology which combines case
  studies with more traditional social historical analysis. These essays
  represent the beginning of the study of women and the law: there are
  still more contexts and situations through which women experienced the
  legal system and developed their attitudes to the law.

 Dana Y. Rabin
 University of Michigan, Ann Arbor


 Notes on contributors                                         vii
 Acknowledgments                                              viii

 1. Introduction                                                 1
 Garthine Walker and Jenny Kermode

 2. Language, power, and the law: women's slander litigation in early modern
 London                                            26
 Laura Gowing

 3. "Scolding women cucked or washed": a crisis in gender relations in early
 modern England?                             48
 Martin Ingram

 4. Women, theft and the world of stolen goods                  81
 Garthine Walker

 5. Women, witchcraft and the legal process                    106
 Jim Sharpe

 6. Witchcraft and power in early modern England: the case of Margaret Moore
 Malcolm Gaskill

 7. Negotiating for blood money: war widows and the courts in
 seventeenth-century England                                   146
 Geoffrey L. Hudson

 8. Women, custom and equity in the court of requests          170
 Tim Stretton

 Glossary                                                      191
 Bibliography                                                  193
 Subject Index                                                 213

 1)John Brewer and John Styles eds., An Ungovernable People: The English and
 Their Law in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. (London, 1980), p. 14.
 2)Underdown makes this argument in his article "The Taming of the Scold: the
 Enforcement of Patriarchal Authority in Early Modern England," in Order and
 Disorder in Early Modern England, Anthony Fletcher and John Stevenson eds.,
  (Cambridge, 1985): 116-136.
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