Where There's a Will: Gendered Patterns of Inheritance in Early Modern Oxfordshire
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This study utilizes will and administrative bonds from early modern Oxfordshire, 1535- 1700, to examine the relationship between gender, patterns of inheritance, and the bequests found in wills. This thesis argues that patriarchal cultural attitudes and societal norms in early modern England shaped both individual testators’ decisions in their wills and Oxfordshire’s overall inheritance patterns. A system of primogeniture and patriarchal inheritance practices drove the testamentary decisions of patriarchs and limited the types property available to women. As a result, wills and inheritance acted as an arena for perpetuating patriarchal attitudes and norms. Despite this, women will authors found ways to exercise power over goods and heirs within their wills, leaving bequests to a wide network of family, neighbors, godchildren, friends, and servants. This thesis uses gender as a historiographical methodology by analyzing how the perceived differences in the sexes contributed to the social order in early modern England and consequently shaped the power dynamics between men and women. This thesis explores the legal implications of patriarchy for women and will making, as well as the participation of women in the inheritance process. This study also examines gendered patterns of inheritance in early modern wills by analyzing the differences between men and women’s bequests, as well as the impact of patriarchal legal structures beyond wills on the inheritance process.