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A late age at marriage, in the mid twenties, common in urban areas, does not seem to have occurred in rural Sussex. Both the practice of ultimogeniture on much of Sussex customary land, and the ability to subdivide property, facilitated early marriage. Furthermore, although married women could supplement their income with brewing and intermittent paid labour (especially at harvest time), the increased size of holdings meant that most married women spent more time on unpaid work on their own land than had been the case before the plague.
Legal changes brought mixed fortunes. While some widows succeeded to larger portions and a more secure title to land, others were deprived of any land at all. It is hard, in the author's view, to accept from the evidence available that in general a widow enjoyed more power and independence than at any other point in her life. Likewise, women's lives continued to be constrained by social factors, and matters of class remained by and large inflexible: the age at which women married, their social horizons, their power within the household, their vulnerability to rape, and sundry other matters, were all affected by social class.
Professor Mate's study compels a rethink on women's lives in the late middle ages. Her alertness to economic fluctuations within the period gives particularweight to her arguments about the relationship between economic change and women's welfare, while her observations on aspects of social change have a value that extends beyond the confines of women's history.
Professor MAVIS E. MATE teaches in the Department of History at the University of Oregon.
|List of Tables|
|Genealogies: The Lewkenore, Pelham, Etchingham and Oxenbridge Families|
|1||Fluctuations in the post-Black Death Economy||11|
|2||Marriage and the Economy||21|
|3||Married Women and Work among Labouring and Craft Families||50|
|4||Women under the Law||76|
|6||Standards of Living||135|
|7||Social Horizons: Power versus Authority||154|
|8||Class and Gender in Late Medieval Society||179|