Subjects: Women

The Cause Papers illustrate many ways in which the position of women in the sixteenth century differed from today.

Control by family and friends

It was sometimes claimed that a woman was encouraged to leave her husband if the family had a grudge against him and she might then be kept as a prisoner, in effect.

EDC 5/1/5 – Anne Orell contra Piers Orrell


A claim for a marriage to be annulled might succeed if it could be proved that the wife was still a virgin. This would be established by a physical examination, usually carried out by a number of  ‘honest and willing matrons’.

EDC 5/1/1 – Ellen Knottisford contra Ralph Bury

Women as litigants

Married women were permitted to sue in the consistory court in their own name, similarly they could be sued. This differed from common law which did not usually recognise married women as litigants in their own right. Unmarried women also embarked upon litigation.

EDC 5/1/1 – Ellen Knottisford contra Ralph Bury
EDC 5/1/2 – Elizabeth Levar contra Adam Levar
EDC 5/1/3 – Margery Thornycrofte contra John Cokkes alias Stokes
EDC 5/1/4 – Joan Dutton alias Sompnor contra Richard Sompnor
EDC 5/1/5 – Anne Orell contra Piers Orrell
EDC 5/1/7 – Agnes Rosbothom contra Robert Haryson
EDC 5/4/1 – Pernell Danyell contra Joan Walton
EDC 5/9/2 – Elizabeth Stapultun contra Thomas Stapultun
EDC 5/17/4 – Isabelle Holden, wife of Ralph Holden, esquire, of Duckworth contra Roger Rishton
EDC 5/1560/2 – Joan Fitton, wife of Robert Fitton, contra Ralph Leche
EDC 5/1566/2 – Elizabeth Wilson contra William Gooddigar
EDC 5/1566/9 – Ellen Smith contra Katherine Moseley, wife of John Moseley
EDC 5/1566/10 – Ellen Smith contra John Moseley, Katherine Moseley, Isabelle Croft and Margery Powell
EDC 5/1575/1 – Jane Shepherd contra Francis Sefton and Margaret Sefton
EDC 5/1575/2 – Ellen Bamvile contra Rose Smith
EDC 5/1575/5 – Margaret Harper contra Margery Radcliffe
EDC 5/1580/1 – Elizabeth Cowley alias Johnson, wife of Richard Cowley alias Johnson, contra Richard Cowley alias Johnson
EDC 5/1580/4 – Elizabeth Meycock contra Thomas Davie
EDC 5/1580/8 – Alice Haselwall, wife of Christopher Haselwall, contra Ellen Barrowe
EDC 5/1580/9 – Jane Agard contra John Legh, esquire, of Ridge and Elizabeth Legh, widow, of Ridge
EDC 5/1580/10 – Anne Jackson contra Anne Jones, wife of Thomas Jones
EDC 5/1580/11 – Jane Chetam, wife of Henry Chetam, contra Richard Hall, clerk
EDC 5/1587/8 – Katherine Clubb contra John Ledsam

Women as witnesses

Attempts might be made to discredit the evidence of women witnesses because they were said to be unreliable on account of their sex.

EDC 5/1575/2 – Ellen Bamvile contra Rose Smith