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Scolds, Personal Liability, And Marital Violence

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Chapter Summary

Literary representations of disobedient wives, like Uxor Noe or the Wife of Bath, reflect a very real concern in late medieval society. Perpetrators of marital disharmony dealt with in an unofficial capacity prior to the fourteenth century suddenly found themselves presented and fined by manorial and borough courts as the century wore on and new ideas concerning personal liability emerged. Both Chaucer’s Wife of Bath and Uxor Noe draw the conclusion that a wife’s scolding behaviour reflected poorly on her husband. The records of the courts confirm that a scolding wife was judged to be a heavy burden for any man. If scolding was a recognised cause of marital violence, and an acceptable excuse for a husband’s violent behaviour, then it seems likely that an increased aversion to and prosecution of verbally aggressive women was accompanied by a greater tolerance of domestic violence.

Keywords: disobedient wives; late medieval society; marital violence; personal liability; scolding behaviour; Uxor Noe; Wife of Bath



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