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Master And Mistress Of The Household

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Chapter Summary

Retirement to the convent was an option for some widows, but it was hardly the norm. The capacity of widows to head their households was firmly grounded in laws that upheld their economic position. The practice of requiring husbands to legally guarantee the return of their wives' assets underscores the importance given to ensuring the financial security of widows and children. A widow's social identity, and with it that of her family, was intimately linked to her economic capacity as head of household. Consumption and display thus tied the elite household to the economic life of the urban community. Household headship and its attendant property rights constituted a key mechanism whereby widows engaged legal and social norms to leverage their prerogatives into routine participation in the activities of their families and communities.

Keywords: household headship; legal empowerment; property rights; urban elite widows



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