Правен статус на жените в кралствата на франки и англосакси (V–ІХ век) [Legal Status of Women in the Kingdoms of Franks and Anglo-Saxons in the Period from the 5th to the 9th Century]
Епохи. – В. Търново: УИ „Св. св. Кирил и Методий”, 2000, Том 10, бр. 2, с. 161-191. ISSN 2534-8418 (Online); ISSN 1310-2141 (Print).
The present paper is a comparative study of the legal status of women in the kingdoms of Franks and Anglo-Saxons conducted by outlining the range of their rights to inheritance and their property rights over movable and immovable property and by specifying the way laws treated women as victims or offenders.
The comparative study of law codes of Germanic tribes, which inhabited the kingdoms of Franks and Anglo-Saxons in the period from the 5th to the 9th century, shows a general trend to moderation of the restrictiveness regarding women’s rights to inheritance in the direction of widening their possibilities to inherit land as daughters. In the Frankish Kingdom, most restrictive as far as these rights of women were concerned remained the law codes, which functioned in the least Romanized territories inhabited by Germanic tribes where the conversion to Christianity took much more time.
The situation in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms was similar and the possibilities of the Anglo-Saxon women to own land during this period were a result of gifts made by their husbands rather than of their inclusion (though under restrictive terms) into the circle of heirs of paternal real estate.
As far as movable property is concerned, in principle in Germanic common law women were not excluded from inheriting. In the law codes of Germanic tribes, differences could be traced out regarding the circle of female relatives included in the group of those stipulated as heirs as well as with respect to the order in which they ought to inherit.
Somewhere at the end of the 8th century, with the gradual rising of the Carolingians, in the Frankish Kingdom, the restrictive Germanic traditions, which limited women’s possibilities to inherit property, were consistently evaded in documents used in practice for settling the handing down of land and movable property. Source material from a later period (the 9th–the 11th century), testify to the existence of similar tendency among the Anglo-Saxons as well.
The reasons for the establishing of this tendency of extending of women’s rights to inheritance were complex and were connected with the process of gradual withering away of the lineal structure and the rising of the role of the nuclear family, as well as with the influence of the Roman legal institutions and principles – an influence, whose instrument was the Church. The different objective conditions in which the societies in the kingdoms of Franks and Anglo-Saxons developed determined the relative lagging behind of the process of extending of women’s rights of inheriting among some of the Germanic peoples (for example among the Anglo-Saxons, the Saxons from the continent, the Thuringii).
The range of women’s rights of inheriting was directly dependent on the social and political organization of the society. This process was in the interest of the noble families with political power, which, with the new demands of the Christian Church regarding marriage were not always able to secure a rightful male heir and did not want to allow the squandering of the accumulated lands among relatives of the lateral branch because the concentration of land meant political power.
Being a form of political organization of society, feudalism imposed a new statute of property and persons. The inheriting of fiefs, after it was allowed, was subjected to strict rules, which were connected with the real foundation of the feudal system. The idea of the indivisibility of the fief logically led to the recognition of the right of inheriting only for the first-born son – a principle, which was unknown to the “barbarian” law codes as well as to Roman law. In fact, the coming up tendency of new restriction of women’s rights to inheriting, no matter how paradoxically it rings, was developing at the same time when the process of extending of these rights was going. This tendency was connected with the reforms in the army, which, for different reasons Frankish and Anglo-Saxon rulers were forced to make and whose result was the rising of the role of the heavily armed cavalrymen.
Germanic laws treated the property accumulated by women from marriage gifts as something separate from the rest of the family property, which could not be alienated because its purpose was to be used after an eventual termination of the marriage. This narrowed the possibilities of married women to dispose freely of the received gifts especially if the question was about immovable property. As long as both spouses were alive, the whole of the family property was under the control of the husband who had the right to manage his wife’s property but could not alienate it without her consent.
If a woman became a widow, she got greater possibilities to dispose of her property: if the couple had children then the widow possessed her property until the end of her life as a beneficial owner but could not alienate it; if the couple was childless, the widow could dispose of a certain share of the property stipulated by the law and could marry again.
In other words, by the property assigned for a woman the law meant, on the one hand, to provide for a widow until the end of her life, and, on the other hand, defended the interests of the offspring giving them the right after the death of their mother, to get the property secured by their father even if meanwhile their mother had married again. Although there is data that widows were put under the guardianship of relatives of their late husbands, some sources give information that there were widows who possessed great freedom and managed their affairs on their own.
As far as unmarried girls are concerned, after having reached a certain age, those of them who had lost their parents probably defended their interests on their own and were responsible for their acts.
In Germanic law codes, serious compensations are stipulated for hurting, killing or selling women into slavery. This was the logical reaction of a society, which functioned in the conditions of violence and wars, and in which infant mortality was especially high.
The analysis of legal sources from the epoch shows that women were responsible before the law for committed crimes although in some law codes, the idea is defended that because of her subordinated status regarding her husband a woman could not be treated as an accomplice to a crime committed by him.
During the period from the 5th to the 9th century a gradual rising of women’s legal status in the kingdoms of Franks and Anglo-Saxons could be observed – a process, which was interrupted with the beginning of the feudalization of the societies on both sides of the English Channel.
Franks, Anglo-Saxons, a right to inheritance, property rights, morning gift, dowery (dos), seduction, rape, abduction, murder, wergild, Lex Ribuaria, Lex Burgundionum, Pactus Legis Salicae, Lex Salica Karolina, Lex Thuringorum, Lex Saxonum.