Women and Wills in Catalonia: Sterility and Testacy in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries
By Nathaniel L. Taylor
Mediaeval Encounters, Vol. 12:1 (2006)
Abstract: Abundant surviving wills from before 1200 present medieval Catalan women as testators. Existing wills, as well as indirect evidence, including legislation and complaints about the mals usatges of exorquia (sterility) and intestia (intestacy), show the degree to which women enjoyed testamentary freedom even at a humble social level.
Approximately twenty percent of pre-thirteenth-century (non-clerical) testaments are by women, though barriers to women’s testamentary rights existed that were both traditional (rooted in Roman law) as well as new (the mals usatges). Women’s wills more frequently indicate them as single (especially as widowed parents) than men’s wills, thus supporting a traditional view of women as fiscally less independent than men.
While some wills show women acting from positions of relative political strength or social independence (undertaking pilgrimages, even to Jerusalem, on their own initiative), the imposition of various restrictions on testamentary rights in the twelfth century reflects tightening limits of suchfiscal independence, especially for rural women of middling means.