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1100 - 1400
A widower's right to use his wife's land

This town law reflects the 'law of courtesy' whereby a man was entitled to use his deceased wife's lands for his lifetime if a living child was born to the couple, even if the child died shortly after birth. The fact that the witnesses could be either men or women may reflect the custom of women in childbirth being attended solely by women, whereas men remained outside the birthing chamber. The requirement that the child be heard to cry might also reflect the fact that men were not in the same room as the mother at the birth.


Of borowage gefyyin in fre marriage [Of a burgage land given in free marriage]

If any man has taken a burgage land in free marriage with any woman and gets with her a boy child or a girl, and through chance the wife dies, and after the death of that mother her son or her daughter lives or dies, the man shall use the burgage all his life, but he may not mortgage or sell it. And if on the same night that son or daughter is born, both the mother and child die, then shall the man use all the goods of that land for his lifetime, if two trustworthy men or women neighbours give witness that they heard the child crying. And the same applies to lands that he has taken with his wife in marriage. And if his wife has no child with him, the lands shall pass to his wife's nearest heir.

Gif ony man has takyn a borowage in fre marriage with ony woman, and gettis with hyr a knayff chylde or a maydyn, and thruch aventure the wife deys, and eftyr the dede of that modyr hir son or hir dochter leffis or deys, the man sall ioys the borowage all his lyf tyme, bot he may nocht wedsett na sell it. And gif that ilke nycht at that son or that dochtyr be borne bathe the modyr and the barne deys, than sall the man ioys all the gudis of that lande in his lyfe, sua at that man sall have wytnes of tua leil men or of women nychtburis that herde the chylde cryand or gretand or brayand. And sua gif he haf tane ma landis with his wyfe in marriage. And gif he gettis with his wyfe na chylde the lande sall turn tyll his wyffis next ayre.


Ancient Laws and Customs of the Burghs of Scotland, Vol. 1.1124-1424 ed Cosmo Innes (Edinburgh: Scottish Burgh Records Society, 1868), Leges Burgorum, no. 41, p.20. Translation by E. Ewan

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