Coke, the statute, wives and lovers: routes to a harsher interpretation of the statute of Westminster II c. 34 on dower and adultery

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Abstract

In the Statute of Westminster II (1285) c. 34, it was enacted that a widow could lose her action of dower, and the possibility of claiming the usual proportion of her deceased husband's real property, if, while he was alive, she had left him for a lover, and the married couple had not been reconciled during the husband's life. This new exception to the action of dower represented an important change in the balance between a widow and her husband's heir, or others with an interest in lands she might claim as her dower, and is therefore of great significance to the history of women, law and property in the common law world. The exception remained part of the law of England until dower itself was abolished in 1925, but, although the early years of the exception have been explored, its later history is less well known. As this paper will show, there was a slow and contested move away from the early literal and relatively ‘widow-friendly’ interpretation of c. 34 to a purposive, more moralising and much more ‘widow-unfriendly’ view, influenced by the opinion of Sir Edward Coke (1552–1634), and encouraged by a number of other legal and social factors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-142
Number of pages20
JournalLegal Studies
Volume34
Issue number1
Early online date31 Mar 2013
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2014

Structured keywords

  • LAW Centre for Law and History Research

Keywords

  • legal history
  • dower
  • adultery

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