Anglo-Saxon England

Research Article

The early Kentish ‘divorce laws’: a reconsideration of Æthelberht, chs. 79 and 80

Carole A. Hougha1

a1 University of Nottingham

Evidence concerning the position of women in Anglo-Saxon England, particularly during the early period, is sparse and often difficult to assess. Surviving law-codes constitute an important source of information, but due to their cryptic phraseology and sometimes archaic vocabulary they are notoriously open to misinterpretation. Two clauses from the earliest extant code, issued by King Æthelberht of Kent towards the beginning of the seventh century, are commonly treated as evidence of the independent status of divorced women in early Kentish society. So far as I am aware this view has never been challenged, although it remains uncorroborated by other sources and is by no means the only possible interpretation of the text. In this paper I wish to put forward an alternative reading.