The Marriage Exchange: Property, Social Place, and Gender in Cities of the Low Countries, 1300-1500

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Author: Ellen Kittell
Date: Spring 2000
From: Journal of Social History(Vol. 33, Issue 3)
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Document Type: Book review
Length: 1,006 words

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The Marriage Exchange: Property, Social Place, and Gender in Cities of the Low Countries, 1300-1500. By Martha C. Howell (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1998. xv plus 278pp.).

Historiographical debate in pre-modern European history has recently centered on whether women's historical experience differed substantially between the medieval and the early modem periods--on whether there existed a "great gap" dividing the two. In this work, Martha Howell comes down firmly on the side of those arguing in favor of such a hypothesis.

Howell's work challenges that of French legal historian R. Jacob, who maintains that the reformation in marriage practice is tied to the relationship between social position and legal preferences. Like Jacob, Howell focuses specifically on the marital property regime in Douai, a city currently part of northern France, but historically linked to the Low Countries. In the fourteenth century, the marital property regime was governed by custom; by the mid-sixteenth, custom had been replaced by contract. But as she explains it, marriage practice was embedded in the economic and social conditions that characterized the city. It was commerce that sustained the city, and property in Douai was both diverse and impermanent; business was conducted on a credit basis, which left the city's economy vulnerable to fluctuations. Residents were understandably concerned with the orderly transmission of property, particularly movables, upon the demise of the holder. Custom focused on the immediate preservation of assets, and pr operty management correspondingly centered on the conjugal couple. By the sixteenth century, with the...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A61372245