On this day in 1711, John Hungerford of Lincoln’s Inn Fields replied to questions Thomas Bowrey had sent him. The single sheet manuscript does not mention Elizabeth Gardiner, Bowrey’s sister-in-law, who had died just over five weeks earlier but the queries appear to relate to her estate.
The first question asked how Elizabeth’s chattels could be valued so that they could be used to pay what Bowrey was owed to which Hungerford suggested using the right appraiser. In the next two questions, Bowrey was concern that his wife and mother-in-law retained all the rent during their lifetimes rather than use the rent to pay Bowrey what was owed him. The answer to this depended on whether the land had been mortgaged. If not, they would not be liable for any debts and were free to do what they wanted with the land. The final question asked how Mary Bowrey could sell the land left to her to her husband.
It is difficult to be certain what was in the mind of someone over three hundred years ago but it does seem that Bowrey was concerned to protect the financial independence of his mother-in-law, Francis Gardiner, and his wife. He wanted them to keep all Elizabeth had left them rather than repay him. He even wanted his wife to be able to sell her land to him providing her with a lump sum rather than an annual income.
At a time and place when a woman completely lost her financial independence when she married, this was an enlightened attitude. The law in England in this respect was harsher than in any other European country at the time. Bowrey was widely travelled. He had witnessed the total dependence of English women on men in India where widows had no choice but to remarry so that they and their children could survive. He had lived among men from countries where married women were more financially independent. His experience had clearly shaped his beliefs.