Friday, 30 January 2015

Writing - Magna Carta and women's rights



In a week where the UK has dropped from 5 to position 26 in a list of countries regarding the effectiveness of their support for women I'm taking a look at similar attitudes in 1215.


I have never believed that it was right to discriminate against women simply because of their sex. However, it happens as does discrimination for other reasons such as race, religion and age. The fight against discrimination has been going on hundreds of years. The Magna Carta is a particularly aggressive document and deserves some examination.


Magna Carta highlighted the way in which women were sidelined in public life. Not one woman is named in the charter's 63 chapters. It must be said that the term 'man' would refer to 'human beings' in the charter so its stipulations would apply to both.
However, Magna Carta reflected the inequalities between the sexes. A woman had far fewer property rights than her male counterparts, she could only inherit in default of a brother , and, in marriage, her property was controlled by her husband.

Although women were entitled to the judgement of their peers, those peers would have been entirely male - women did not sit on juries and they, except on very rare occasions, did not hold public office. The only chapter in Magna Carta where 'femina' did appear put women on a lower level than men. This stated that no one was to be arrested for murder on a woman's accusation, unless the deceased was her husband.

Legal records suggest that women were lodging a high number of appeals at the time of Magna Carta. As they could not be made to back up their accusation in a trial by battle, the suspicion was that women were making accusations irresponsibly - either on their own account or because they were being manipulated by men.


There were good points to the charter for women. It protected free women from arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, dispossession and 'destruction', it reflected their limited role in public affairs.

In writing it is important to ensure that discrimination in any form is avoided but if writing an historical work then such discriminatory acts need to be dealt with accurately.
God Bless