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6 Mental Health as a Foundation for Suit or an Excuse for Theft in Medieval English Legal Disputes

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Chapter Summary

In the first half of the thirteenth century, in legal disputes when a party happened to be mentally incompetent, the king or his proxy presided over the quarrel or case with mental competency, or lack thereof, in mind. Wardship evolved out of the theoretical justification of succession to military fiefs. Mostly the system of warship had lords protecting and training underage heirs to feudal property. Men and women with property, even those with mental difficulties, were prized as spouses for the income from their lands and businesses. Mentally incapacitated landowners became the victims of abuse from relatives, neighbors, guardians, and strangers who wanted to steal their property or goods. Some wanted other, more rational, members of the family to inherit and so concealed a mentally disabled individual's existence from the crown, or married them off to protect family rights in the property.

Keywords: family rights; feudal property; legal disputes; mentally incompetent; thirteenth century; wardship

10.1163/9789004269118_008
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