chapter  7
20 Pages

Which Shall It Be? Multiple Testamentary Documents and the Revocation of Wills

This chapter argues that women were empowered by the 'culture of will-making' that obtained in early modern England. It uses the testamentary litigation observed to document that by the late seventeenth century women figured in oft-times critical roles in guiding property transmission between the generations, in particular in will-making, as well as in will probate and testamentary litigation. Women were also active in directing the testamentary destinies of others, their friends, neighbors, and relations, indeed even their betters, such as their employers, by serving as scriveners,6 witnesses to wills, and executrices. It was often their testimony that was crucial in determining the validity of a proffered testamentary act: whether the requisite mental capacity had been present; coercion absent; signature made; interlineations present at the time of execution. The chapter argues that witnesses were likewise empowered: they provided the facts to which the norms were applied, and these crucial voices were often those of women.