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Charting Female Property and Patrimonial Rights in Law and Practice Across Western Europe (12th-16th Centuries)

Project description

A closer look at Europe’s historical gender disparities

From the mid-12th century, laws throughout Europe began to impede women’s ability to acquire and manage wealth, leading to a significant decline in their economic prospects. This trend persisted into the early modern period, perpetuating gender disparities in financial autonomy. The roots of this phenomenon remain obscure, despite its profound impact on European society. In this context, the ERC-funded PatriFem project will unravel this historical mystery. Focusing on France, German-speaking areas, and Italy, researchers will analyse legal traditions, socio-economic contexts, and political frameworks. By collecting and managing extensive data from archives, including statutes and private sources like notarial records, the project seeks to understand why these laws emerged and how they varied regionally.


From the mid-12th century, all over Europe, laws started to be enacted that hindered women from acquiring and managing wealth, triggering a long process that on the threshold of early modernity led to a dramatic reduction in their economic opportunities. The importance of the issue is undeniable, not only because female agency has been a central theme in gender studies, but also because the effects of these developments are still felt today, yet the underpinnings of these developments are far from clear.
The period which is being taken into consideration coincides with a foundational phase of contemporary Europe which saw profound economic, social and political transformations, changes in family structures, and complex legal developments. So why certain laws began to be enacted at this precise moment? How is the cutback in female economic rights connected to the late medieval developments? To what extent and how did female economic rights vary from one context to another? The aim PatriFem is to provide answers to these crucial questions through an innovative and extensive research covering three regions with extremely diverse characteristics in terms of legal traditions, and socio-economic and political frameworks: Italy, France, and the German-speaking area. Research will involve the collection and management of large data sets. It will be carried out in different archives across Europe using two main bodies of sources: statutes (to chart the developments in property and patrimonial rights) and private sources (eg. notarial records, to observe how laws were interpreted or even preempted in practice). The methodology, which can be adopted for different areas across time, will be instrumental to future research. The data will enable to develop an interactive digital atlas which will represent an unprecedented attempt at charting a chronological geography of female property and patrimonial rights in law and practice across Europe over the span of five centuries.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 960 215,00
16126 Genova

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Nord-Ovest Liguria Genova
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 960 215,00

Beneficiaries (1)