Patricia Turning (Arizona State University)
Medieval Feminist Forum, Vol. 46, no. 1 (2010)
When I first began my research in the archives of southern France, I soon came upon several medieval registers that contained criminal trial transcripts. At first glance, these are very masculine works. Male judges and lawyers presided over the affairs; a notary recorded the depositions and testimonies; and the majority of the cases involved men bashing in the brains of other men, brawling about drunk in taverns or in the city streets, or committing acts of theft in dark alleys. Beyond these central male figures, however, I discovered that these criminal records also tell us quite a bit about the lives of women in the urban realm. Many historians who use these sorts of documents as the basis of their research invariably mention women, but overwhelmingly they depict them as either the victims of violent crime or as monolithic perpetrators such as prostitutes and adulteresses.
In this respect, scholars set up two seemingly simplistic categories of women (the weak prey or sexual offender) and fail to pursue what else. Although men shaped and constructed the narrative of these registers, what else can the records tell us about women’s social networks in the city? What else can we learn about the ways in which women worked through municipal courts systems to achieve particular goals? This, then, is the purpose of my paper: to follow Dr. Joan Cadden’s insistence that we must use sources beyond those written by women to try and piece together the medieval woman’s perspective on the world around her.