Gender, Kin and Guardianship in Early Modern Burgundy

Document Type

Book Chapter

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"In his analysis of guardianship cases in Burgundy, Corley explores relations among parenthood, kinship, and law. Like jurists in other provinces, those who codified Burgundian custom restricted women’s legal prerogatives, for example, by privileging lineal rather than conjugal property and restricting a widow’s control over her husband’s estate. But women nonetheless exercised authority in specific matters, such as guardianship, into the eighteenth century.... Corley emphasizes the occasionally unexpected nature of gender practices and women’s access to legal power. Specifically, he argues that kin groups’ investment in the lineage property of their daughters and sisters encouraged them to override attempts to weaken the influence of widowed mothers. Customary law required paternal and maternal relatives to deliberate after the death of one or both parents, and these family councils routinely selected widowed mothers as guardians with responsibility for property. Perhaps in response to changes in jurisprudence, maternal kin played a larger role than paternal kin (except in noble families) in the proceedings, and their involvement often tipped the balance. Corley poses a question often ignored by family historians: how did kin shape gender dynamics? He demonstrates that kin groups not only remained involved in family dynamics and decisions but also, at times, supported and enhanced the legal authority of wives and mothers. This authority could be defined as much by women’s positions within extended families as by the letter of the law." – quotation is from introductory chapter of book., by Desan and Merrick