Medieval Domesticity: Home, Housing and Household
25th Annual Medieval Studies Conference
Saturday March 12-Sunday March 13, 2005
Daughters and Domesticity: Inheritance in Late Medieval London

Kate Kelsey Staples, University of Minnesota

By considering the wills enrolled at the London Court of Husting between 1300 and 1500 this paper examines the types of movable and immovable property that medieval individuals bequeathed to their daughters and sons. These wills not only reveal the gendered dimension of domesticity, but they also disclose the material culture of domesticity by detailing the goods in parents’ legacies. In talking about domesticity and inheritance, I am casting a relatively large net as I see little distinction between work and domestic areas in late medieval London.

Scholars tend to assume that, in general, in the Middle Ages sons inherited landed wealth from their parents, such as houses, tenements, and commercial buildings, while daughters inherited movable wealth, such as money and goods. However, my quantitative analysis of over 3,000 wills reveals that in late medieval London inheritance patterns were more complex than this. Close readings of individual wills shed light on the rhetoric used by parents who dictated the wills. How parents divided their property and how they described it provides a window onto material culture of late medieval London households. Examination of these wills divulges the types of property daughters inherited and how such inheritances shaped daughters’ lives. My analysis of the effects of the presence or absence of male siblings on daughters’ inheritance illuminates late medieval understandings of daughters’ and sons’ roles in the domestic family unit.


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