Nuns and sinners. The Legal Status of a Woman on the Basis of the Irish Penitentials
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Nuns and sinners. The Legal Status of a Woman on the Basis of the Irish Penitentials
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Vera Potopaeva 
Affiliation: Lomonosov Moscow State University
Address: Russian Federation, Moscow
Study of the Old Irish secular law could lead us to the conclusion, that the medieval Irish women were more legally independent than any womenfolk on the continent. They could own some property, even inherit land, if there were no any male heir, but in this case they possessed it only lifelong. A woman could demand a divorce and lay a claim to a part of joint property. They were also rather sexually independent: sometimes Irish women even lived with men or occasionally slept with them on the official legal basis. This kind of relationship, so-called “walking marriage” was also described in the Irish legal sources. If one of the spouses was barren, the other one could find another partner and have a child, and then reunite with his wife (or husband). But this sinful way of life contradicted the Christian ideals and morals. Therefore in the canon law we can find an absolutely opposite idea of the perfect women’s behavior. Let alone the fact, that the official Church disapproved divorces, it also strongly opposed fornication and adultery and in that case walking marriages as well. The very idea of crime and punishment was different in the secular and canon legal sources. In the medieval Irish law the main and most important concept was a social status of a person. Size of a penalty and compensation in the case of injury depended on the status of a victim. If a person of a high rank committed a crime of demonstrated inappropriate behavior, it could lead to the decrease of his (or her) status. Religious idea of a crime is closer to the concept of a sin. Therefore any crime is a crime against two persons: the victim and the criminal himself (more precisely, against his immortal soul). This article is devoted to the image of the female sinners and the rights and responsibilities of women on the basis of the Irish penitential literature. I take a particular interest in the contradictions between secular and canon legal practices, which were in use at the same time.
Middle Ages, Ireland, medieval law, family law, canon law, monasticism
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Additional sources and materials

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