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Misbehaving Women

Trespass and Honor in Late Medieval English Towns

Teresa Phipps

Keywords: customary law; honor; litigation; medieval English towns; trespass; women

Abstract

England’s medieval town court records reveal significant information on the social and economic relationships of ordinary urban residents. These relationships and conflicts concerning them are particularly evident in trespass litigation: complaints about physical and verbal assaults and the theft of goods. This article uses trespass pleas from the towns of Nottingham, Chester, and Winchester in the fourteenth century to explore the gendered nature of trespass litigation and the implications that this misbehavior had for understandings of honor and reputation in urban society. It demonstrates the ways in which women were involved in trespasses as both complainants and defendants. While women were less frequent litigants than men, the records reveal continuity between their actions in trespasses. This article thus broadens the framework of female honor beyond sexual behavior to encompass interpersonal relationships, a broad range of physical and verbal attacks, and concerns about economic fidelity.

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