The oldest continuous records of ordinary economic transactions between private individuals from Ghent reveal a gender construction that allowed women access to legal performance, property management, and middling-status occupations throughout their adult lives. By focusing on the short period between 1339 and 1361 rather than on the process of change and the more numerous documents from later centuries, I have mapped the contours of this economic gender construction that helped to make Ghent one of the premier wool cloth production centers of Europe. Approaching the customary law as a site where norms are constructed and negotiated, I have used the sources of actual practice to recover mid-fourteenth-century norms while questioning as many assumptions as possible. Statistical analysis, prosopography, and examination of language have shown that many of the restrictions on women’s legal economic acts inscribed in the sixteenth-century prescriptive sources did not exist in actual practice in the mid-fourteenth century. The story of the loss of women’s opportunities and the growth of patriarchy by the sixteenth century has been told by others. But in 1350 that teleological outcome was unknown. Although seeds of the patrimonial construction were certainly present in mid-fourteenth-century Ghent, most Ghentenars seem to have been comfortable with women performing legal economic acts and managing property.
KeywordsSixteenth Century Wool Cloth Fourteenth Century Male Relative Gender Construction
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