A Woman for Three Cows and Three Cows for a Woman: Property, Gender, and Agency in Early Medieval Ireland

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Date of Award

Summer 2022


Previous research, such as Nerys Patterson’s Cattle-Lords and Clansmen and Ruth Mazo Karras’s Unmarriages, do considerable work to provide interpretations of the laws guiding medieval Irish society and the status of medieval women throughout Europe. Researchers can continue building upon the historiography by addressing the laws that created systems that subverted gendered restrictions but also made room for increased agency and legal authority for women. This thesis contributes to the study of women and marriage and property laws of early medieval Ireland by providing a multifaceted survey of the laws’ effect on women and the basis of that effect on class. It finds that women often lived under the authority of male guardians, being used as pawns in their plays of power, being sold off or traded like livestock for their family’s gain, just as stereotypes of the medieval period would indicate. And yet, the same legal premises that often controlled women also granted them opportunities for greater legal and social mobility and authority through greater control of property.


Sharon Kowalsky

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | History