Women and the adoption of charters in Scotland north of Forth, c. 1150–1286

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Women and the adoption of charters in Scotland north of Forth, c. 1150–1286

By Matthew H. Hammond

The Innes Review, Vol. 62.1 (2011)

Abstract: This article traces the adoption of charters by women in Scotia, the core region of the kingdom of the Scots north of the Firth of Forth, in the twelfth century, and the developments in charter diplomatic employed primarily by monastic beneficiaries over the course of the following century. Initially, charters were produced in the name of countesses making donations of churches and lands to religious houses, and monastic scribes developed idiosyncratic methods of ‘strengthening’ these gifts through the confirmation of a husband or male relative. In the thirteenth century, charters in the name of women became more plentiful, especially in the case of widows, and more standard formulas emphasising the ‘lawful power of widowhood’ were employed widely. Charters also increasingly recorded donations and other acts by married women across the social scale, either on their own or jointly with their husbands. Moreover, gifts by men of lands which came to them de jure uxoris included standard diplomatic phraseology recording the consent of the wife. This article examines these trends broadly as well as through several case studies. The appendix lists 160 documents relating to women during this period.

Introduction: A minor explosion has been taking place south of the border in the field of medieval women’s studies.1 Work by Pauline Stafford, Lois Huneycutt, Susan Johns and others has leant a new focus to our understanding of the lives of English women, from queens down to local gentry. In Scotland, green shoots are beginning to appear in a field that was previously sadly neglected, but the study of women in the central middle ages is clearly still in its infancy here. The purpose of this article is to lay out the evidence for the adoption of charters produced in the names of women, especially noblewomen, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and to examine the specific forms of language which were employed as monasteries sought new diplomatic strategies for ‘handling’ women’s legal status as landholders.




The body of documents analysed herein is drawn from monastic and private archives based north of Forth, and east of Lennox and Argyll, in the region known in Latin in the twelfth century as Scotia or Albania, but also including the handful of surviving relevant charter texts from Moray and the far north. At the time when women’s charters first appear, the mid-twelfth century, the kingdom of the Scots was ruled as a collection of lands with divergent identities, such as Scotia or Albania, Lothian, Strathclyde and Galloway, all loosely held together under a single monarch. I have chosen Scotland north of Forth, the ancestral heartland of the kingdom, encompassing the great earldoms as well as central regions of royal demesne (such as Gowrie), as my focus for this study. Furthermore, whereas the kingdom came to be more closely tied together by the mid-thirteenth century, Scotland north of Forth retained a distinct legal identity throughout the period under study, as the justiciarship of Scotia. An appendix of documents is provided to allow the reader to peruse the material in greater detail. It is hoped that this analysis of the evidence for women’s charters will help provide a springboard for more fruitful study of this theme in the future.

Click here to read this article from the University of Glasgow

Sharan Newman