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Domestic DangersWomen, Words, and Sex in Early Modern London$
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Laura Gowing

Print publication date: 1998

Print ISBN-13: 9780198207634

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198207634.001.0001

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Women in Court

Women in Court

(p.30) 2 Women in Court
Domestic Dangers

Laura Gowing

Oxford University Press

The church courts held in St Paul's Cathedral and known across England as ‘the bawdy courts’ administered spiritual justice covering issues ranging from church attendance and Sabbath-keeping to the regulation of sex and marriage. By the early seventeenth century, the deposition books are very largely given over to the meticulous recording of disputes about sexual insult fought largely between and about women. In late sixteenth-century England, slander litigation was increasing in both ecclesiastical and secular courts. In London, defamation rose to high levels in the early sixteenth century. At the same time, another dynamic was shaping the nature of court business: the growth of women litigants. When reconciliation was impossible, the court made its decisions based on depositions about sex and honour, slander and reputation, or marriage and its collapse. At the church courts, the depositions and defences that made up the legal narratives also had a rather different function to that of the examinations of witnesses at the quarter sessions or the assizes. Both litigants and witnesses represented a select sample of the community.

Keywords:   England, church courts, women, litigation, sex, marriage, sexual insult, defamation, slander, witnesses

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