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Law, Marriage, and Society in the Later Middle Ages
Arguments about Marriage in Five Courts


  • Date Published: May 2008
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9780521877282

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About the Authors
  • This is a study of marriage litigation (with some reference to sexual offenses) in the archiepiscopal court of York (1300–1500) and the episcopal courts of Ely (1374–1381), Paris (1384–1387), Cambrai (1438–1453), and Brussels (1448–1459). All these courts were, for the most part, correctly applying the late medieval canon law of marriage, but statistical analysis of the cases and results confirms that there were substantial differences both in the types of cases the courts heard and the results they reached. Marriages in England in the later middle ages were often under the control of the parties to the marriage, whereas those in northern France and southern Netherlands were often under the control of the parties' families and social superiors. Within this broad generalization the book brings to light patterns of late medieval men and women manipulating each other and the courts to produce extraordinarily varied results.

    • Applies fairly rigorous statistical methods to the records of the medieval ecclesiastical courts
    • Explores in detail and comparatively the patterns of litigation in two different geographical areas in roughly the same time period
    • Integrates our knowledge of medieval canon law and institutions with what can be learned about the social background of cases
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'There have been good studies of marriage litigation in medieval Europe but nothing on this monumental scale. The writing is unostentatiously vivid. The direct style and the human interest of the situations discussed make it an easy book to read. Donahue's own intellectual personality comes through in the right kind of way: he writes as if about people he knows, and indeed he does know them, and reacts to their predicaments, or speculates about their veracity, as one might about contemporaries.' Journal of Ecclesiastical History

    'This book is the impressive culmination of a life's work on late medieval marriage law and litigation in north-west Europe … This book is a vast resource for scholars of marriage in late medieval Western Europe who will find answers to questions on the canon law of marriage and its application, important statistical analysis of patterns of marriage, and fascinating rich detail of individual cases - guided by the judicious and entertaining voice of Professor Donahue.' Population Studies

    'It is a book that one would consult rather than read through for the pleasure of learning so much about law and its application … Combined as they are in this excellent study with the author's amazing grasp of canon law and administration of the ecclesiastical courts, they make the book a tour de force in comparative history.' The Journal of Ecclesiastical History

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    Product details

    • Date Published: May 2008
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9780521877282
    • length: 696 pages
    • dimensions: 240 x 164 x 47 mm
    • weight: 1.1kg
    • contains: 37 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. The background rules and institutions
    2. Lying witnesses and social reality: four English marriage cases in the high middle ages
    3. Statistics – the court of York, 1300–1500
    4. Story patterns in the court of York in the fourteenth century
    5. Story patterns in the court of York in the fifteenth century
    6. Ely
    7. Paris
    8. Cambrai – the courts and the numbers
    9. Cambrai and Brussels – the content of the sentences
    10. Divorce a mensa et thoro and salvo iure thori (separation)
    11. Social practice, formal rule, and the medieval canon law of incest
    12. Broader comparisons: English and Franco-Belgian marriage cases in the later middle ages and a glimpse at the rest of western Europe
    Epilogue and conclusion.

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    Law, Marriage, and Society in the Later Middle Ages

    Charles Donahue, Jr.

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  • Author

    Charles Donahue, Jr., Harvard University, Massachusetts
    Charles Donahue, Jr., is the Paul A. Freund Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and president of the American Society of Legal History until December 2007. Among other books, he is the coauthor or coeditor of Select Cases of the Ecclesiastical Courts of the Province of Canterbury, c. 1200–1301; Year Books of Richard II: 6 Richard II, 1382–1383; The Records of the Medieval Ecclesiastical Courts, and Cases and Materials on Property: An Introduction to the Concept and the Institution. He is also the author of more than seventy articles in the fields of ancient, medieval, and early modern legal history. Donahue teaches legal history in both the Law School and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard and has taught at the University of Michigan, the London School of Economics, the Vrije Universiteit te Brussel, Columbia University, the University of California at Berkeley, Boston College, and Cornell University. Donahue is vice-president and literary director of the Ames Foundation and a councillor of the Selden Society (UK). He is a life member of the American Law Institute and the Medieval Academy of America, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and a previous Guggenheim Fellow.

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