History Oklahoma State University: Master of Arts, (2010)
Abstract: The Irish Brehon laws provided numerous freedoms to women that were not granted under the English laws. The Irish marriage law, known as the Couple’s Law in English, allowed for ten different types of unions, each with its own responsibilities and rules. The most egalitarian of these was the union of mutual contribution, wherein the husband and wife brought an equal amount of property into the marriage. Mutual consent was required for certain contracts, while either party could create others. The unions diminished in complexity until they reached the level of legalized prostitution. The law also dealt with seduction and rape, both of which were defined as crimes, and the penalties of these crimes. In addition, the Irish lawyers also took a liberal position, by today’s standards, on divorce.
They allowed for fourteen different reasons for divorce, grouped according to gender. For example, a woman could divorce her husband if he abused her, while a man could divorce his wife if she were unfaithful. These liberal laws, as well as the extensive authority given to women under the Couple’s Law, evidenced the respect the Irish lawyers had for their women. Under the English system, only one type of union was allowed, though two forms of marriage, contract and canonical, were allowed. The husband was considered to be the head of his house, with his wife and children owing obedience to him. Divorce was not permitted, though a legal separation could be granted if enough proof was gathered, and the separation was based upon legally accepted grounds. Thus, following the English conquest of Ireland, and the imposition of English common law, Irish married women lost their cherished rights, and were regulated to the status of a second class citizen.