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

Group XI: Life estate--the law giveth and the law taketh away

Landrecht II, 21, 3

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The point the law makes in this paragraph is that even when a woman has life estate on private property or property held in fief with buildings on it, she cannot bequeath these to her heirs, because on her death everything reverts to the actual owner. But, analogous to the right of any vassal to improve the buildings or let them deteriorate, though this may be contrary to the wishes of the overlord, she has the right to improve the buildings. The linking of a woman's property rights to those of a vassal is powerful--and rare in the Sachsenspiegel--suggesting the possibility of challenges. The effect is to empower the woman in a restricted way, while at the same time in an economy in which land is power, to deny her the right to transfer control to her heirs. (Heidelberg, Dresden, and Wolfenb├╝ttel, fourth register), show a noblewoman directing a workman to repair a roof. The workman in a corroborating gesture points to her as having the authority to order the improvement. (second register) Because this gesture is missing in Oldenburg, she stands more independently on the site with considerably enhanced authority. Oldenburg repeatedly takes advantage of opportunities to introduce such nuances favorable to the imaging of women.