The non-judicial confinement of women is a common event in medieval European literature and hagiography. The literary image of the imprisoned woman, usually a noblewoman, has carried through into the quasi-medieval world of the fairy and folk tale, in which the 'maiden in the tower' is one of the archetypes. Yet the confinement of women outside of the judicial system was not simply a fiction in the medieval period. Men too were imprisoned without trial and sometimes on mere suspicion of an offence, yet evidence suggests that there were important differences in the circumstances under which men and women were incarcerated, and in their roles in relation to non-judicial captivity. This study of the confinement of women highlights the disparity in regulation concerning male and female imprisonment in the middle ages, and gives a useful perspective on the nature of medieval law, its scope and limitations, and its interaction with royal power and prerogative. Looking at England from 1170 to 1509, the book discusses: the situations in which women might be imprisoned without formal accusation of trial; how social status, national allegiance and stage of life affected the chances of imprisonment; the relevant legal rules and norms; the extent to which legal and constitutional developments in medieval England affected women's amenability to confinement; what can be known of the experiences of women so incarcerated; and how women were involved in situations of non-judicial imprisonment, aside from themselves being prisoners.
Gwen Seabourne is Senior Lecturer in the School of Law, University of Bristol, UK. She specialises in medieval legal history, and has written on medieval crime, economic regulation and medieval women.
'Seabourne’s meticulous study examines the variety of creative ways the medieval English subjected women to abduction and confinement, focusing especially on women’s experiences of confinement and how those experiences altered over time.' Journal of British Studies '... this is an excellent study of the situations of confinement that medieval women all too frequently experienced. It is based on an impressive range of sources and it is well written and carefully argued. ... the wealth of detail relating to women’s experience makes this book an original and important contribution to the burgeoning field of medieval captivity and imprisonment.' Parergon '... this book generates a number of thought-provoking questions.' Speculum