The Project

A medieval depiction of a woman reading to children

Between 2014-2018, Deborah Youngs, a Professor in the Department of History was the Principal Investigator on an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project – worth £854,599 – along with her Co-Investigators: Prof. Garthine Walker (Department of History, School of History, Archaeology and Religion at Cardiff University) and Prof Alex Shepard (School of Humanities at the University of Glasgow).

This 48 month project explored women's access to justice across various parts of Britain and Ireland between c.1100-c.1750. Its intention was to look beyond the single jurisdiction or region, and to draw on less well known materials in Ireland, Wales and Scotland. The resources for the project included records from both secular and church courts, encompassing civil, canon and criminal jurisdictions.

Taking a distinctly comparative focus, the team asked questions about women’s access to justice and the legal process, the choices they had, the obstacles and opportunities with which they were confronted as ‘women’. It also explored the extent to which the answers to these questions were determined by and varied according to national boundaries, language, ethnicity, confessional identity, and social status. In which judicial and cultural contexts were women more or less legally disadvantaged? How and with what success did they negotiate these limits? How did this change over time? Such issues were addressed by making new comparisons across borders and time, including Jewish, Irish, Welsh and Scottish women operating in courts where their first language was not spoken, and processes imposed by a dominant or colonial power.


The Team

The project brought together a team of experienced researchers – Youngs, Shepard, and Walker - alongside a number of early career Research Associates. Dr Sparky Booker (2014-2016) examined the position of English and Irish women in secular and ecclesiastical courts in the English colony in Ireland c.1300-c.1500. Dr Emma Cavell (2015-2018) focused on the under-explored issue of Jewish women’s access to justice in the courts of England c.1100 – c.1300. Dr Teresa Phipps (2016-2018) extended her research into female litigation in late medieval English towns. It also funded two AHRC PhD students, who have successfully completed their doctorates: Dr Rebecca Mason (Glasgow) on married women and the law in Scotland, 1600-1750; and Dr Elizabeth Howard (Cardiff) on women and courts in Wales, c.1530-1660.

Conferences and Publications

Over the course of the project, the team delivered 60 conference papers in 30 international and national locations. We also organised a number of workshops, panel sessions, and a two-day conference in Swansea (June 2017), which drew delegates from across the globe. Collaborations and publications continue to develop from the project. Among those published (20 and counting!) so far include: the special Issue on ‘Women Negotiating the Boundaries of Justice, 1300-1700’ Journal of British Studies, 58:4 (2019). Teresa Phipps’s new monograph: Medieval Women and Urban Justice: commerce, crime and community in England, 1300-1500 (Manchester, 2020). 

Coming soon: Deborah Youngs and Teresa Phipps (eds) Litigating women: gender and justice in courts of law, c.1300-c.1750 (Routledge, 2021)