Studying Genealogy can be as dry as dust. Yet every now and then a genuine nugget of gold is unearthed. Some years ago Buff and I unearthed a will made by one of her ancestors. It showed clearly the legal status of women at that time. Here is the beginning of that will, with the bolding done for my emphasis. It is dated to April 1729, less than 300 years ago.
In the Name of God Amen I Susanna wife of Robert Elsome of Whittlesey within the Isle of Ely in the County of Cambridge Blacksmith being of sound and perfect mind memory and understanding by virtue of a power for that purpose to me given by my said husband Robert Elsome in and by one Sunand[?*] it in writing bearing even[?] Date herewith or by virtue of any other power or Authority whatsoever to me given by my said husband Robert Elsome do (by and with the consent of my sd husband justified by his signing of these presents[?] make and ordain this to be my last Will and Testament in manner and form following . . .
The only legal reason Susanna was able to write the will was because her husband allowed her to do so. It was required that he, a blacksmith, declare her to be of sound and perfect mind, memory and understanding. And he had to do it in writing.
These quaint little folkways were justified by a reading of the Bible which proved that woman was inferior to man. Therefore man ruled his household by divine right and all within; wife, children and servants, were subject to his will. In reality, this was a case of the Bible being bent to fit the folkways of the Saxons and Normans who successively ruled in England. After all, it was the English who burned Joan of Arc, not because she was a general fighting against them but because she wore men’s clothing!
The accepted reading of the “fixed and unchangeable” Bible has since relaxed as women have gradually gained their independence from the tyranny of men and their institutions.
With my kangaroo mind, jumping from one subject to another, I wonder if the perceived subjugation of women within Muslim society through the use of Koranic authority is of a similar nature. FGM being justified in some parts of the world and not others through the pronouncements of the Imams, the Saudi experience where women are required to wear the totally black burka in a climate where white would be much more comfortable, the Afghanistan Mujahadeen rulings that women were not permitted to leave their abode even to get food. The list goes on.
Will the move away from their tribal origins lead to the Islamic Authorities to relax their differing interpretations of a woman’s place in society?
It is interesting to see the origin of the strange word in the will extract above.
* Sunnud or Sanad.. A deed of grant, charter, patent, warrant (From the Urdu and Arab = signature, deed). According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary it was first used in Britain in 1759.