Women's Bodies, Women's Property German Customary Law Books Illustrated in the Fourteenth Century

Group III: Men's crime, women's punishment illustrated

Landrecht III, 2,3

Heidelberg 12v
Oldenburg 64v
Dresden 36v
Wolfenbuttel 42v

see below for detailed page sections


Paragraph 2 points out that Jews and clerics are forbidden to carry weapons and they are under special protection for that reason. The illustration shows them in violation of the law with the cleric calling particular attention to the Jew's offense. We recognize the cleric by his tonsure, as required by the law, and the Jew by his pointed Jew's hat and wavy beard. Paragraph 3 states that the severest punishment that may be meted out to a pregnant woman is that of whipping and shearing of her hair. Although with individual differences, all illustrators show a woman being whipped and shorn. Thus in the same register male criminals are shown in the commission of a crime whose punishment is not shown, whereas in the case of the woman, no particular crime is mentioned, but the illustration shows the maximum penalty allowed by the law. The implication is that, in contrast to the relatively minor offense on the part of the men, the woman's crime was such that in getting the maximum for pregnant women she is escaping an even more dire punishment for a greater crime, even that she is getting away with something. Was it the life of the child or the woman that the law was trying to protect?

Beyond the fact of that choice, there are significant differences among the manuscripts. Dresden and Wolfenb├╝ttel leave the woman fully clothed and possibly with headcovering, meaning that she is married. Oldenburg shows her stripped to the waist, not obviously pregnant, and with her arm shielding her breasts from the viewer. Heidelberg is much more cruel; she is clearly pregnant, her breasts are revealed, and there are numerous welts from the whipping all over her body. The effect is one of gratuitous sadism given all the other possibilities the text would permit.