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

Group V: Fornicating woman keeps her rights

Landrecht I, 5, 2

Oldenburg 10r
Dresden 6r
Wolfenbuttel 12r

see below for detailed page sections


We are still in the same paragraph of the law which set forth limitations on the rights of an unmarried daughter. It went on to state that if a woman leads an unchaste life, she will lose her honor, but not her property rights [limited though they might be]. A casual reading might see in this pronouncement a clause protective of women. Instead it manages to do unnecessary harm to them. In a text which can string out exceptions to exceptions, when it has a law without any, it can't let it rest there; it posits an undeserving woman who will inherit anyway. (Were there attempts to charge wives with adultery in order to disinherit them? Prohibitions in law arise to combat unacceptable social behavior.) The illustrator, instead of representing the positive aspect of the law, such as showing a virtuous woman receiving a Doppelbecher, shows her in bed with a lover. And not a lover of her class, say a knight or a nobleman, but a minstrel, socially and legally a non-person, by definition one of the rechtlose, those without certain legal rights [More on them in Group X]. The striped blanket and the fiddle are his attributes. The fiddle, too, has sexual overtones in this context. The German for fiddle, Fiedel, works also as a pun on Vettel, "hag." Wolfenb├╝ttel and Dresden show her as having loose hair, i.e. unmarried, but Oldenburg shows her with headcovering, meaning that she is more than unchaste, she is an adultress. It is uncharacteristic of Oldenburg to go out of its way to make a negative image of a woman.

It is interesting to follow Eike as he free-associates in his book. Here he leaps from noting a practice which limits the rights of an unmarried daughter to the fornicating woman who nonetheless retains those (limited) rights. This has the effect of distracting from the unfairness of the law by imagining an undeserving woman benefiting from it.