Women, attorneys and credit in late medieval England
By Matthew Stevens
Women and Credit in Pre-industrial Europe (Brepols, 2017)
Abstract: This article is a path-breaking attempt to assess systematically women’s use of attorneys in English royal common law courts c.1400–c.1500, comprising a case study of women’s litigation before the king’s national Court of Common Pleas, at Westminster. It focuses on credit- and debt-litigation, the most common type of litigation before the court.
First, it assesses the availability of lawyers to women. Second, it establishes which women (that is, by condition or marital status) employed attorneys in credit- and debt-related lawsuits as plaintiffs or defendants, and explores the extent to which records of women’s use of attorneys can serve as a proxy measure of women’s confidence in their ability to interact with the legal system. Third, it examines the attorneys who served women, asking if lawyers either specialized in representing women or discriminated against them, and whether they typically had geographical associations with the women they represented.
It is concluded that women capitalized on the wide availability of lawyers, whose representation would have bolstered their confidence in using the courts and thereby helped to keep them engaged in lending and borrowing irrespective of the perceived declining social position of women at the close of the Middle Ages.