Law versus Practice combines traditional empirical and digital humanities’ approaches, utilising datasets from a wide range of manuscript and printed sources to evaluate the nature, commonality and evolution of women’s property ownership in early modern Ireland. Sources used include Chancery records, the Books of Survey and Distribution, submissions and evidence from the 1663 Court of Claims, A list of claims ent[e]red with the Trustees at Chichester-House on College-Green Dublin and the Registry of Deeds. The methodology accounts for disparities in the structure and quality of information provided by different sources, with the identification of common elements and the categorisation of data underpinning a viable schema. Categories include but are not limited to name, gender, marital status, property owned/claimed, date and geographic location (i.e. townland, barony, county). This approach ensures quality control and optimises the functionality of the resulting database.

Significantly, Law versus Practice will supply geographical, as well as personal, temporal and legal data, to a central database. By linking to distinct geographic locations through GIS, it will be possible to ‘map’ women’s ownership across time. This will allow the project team to identify episodes of conveyance, inheritance and loss; to interrogate women’s role within the family and society, particularly during periods of upheaval; and to highlight divergences between common law and common legal practice in early modern Ireland. In so doing, the project will explore the importance of the life cycle, which was rooted in and defined by the binary institution of marriage, with women categorised as femes sole (single women), femes covert (‘covered’, i.e. married women) and widows. The project will also interrogate the importance of gender in the context of the legal system, using case studies to explore the ways that women and their representatives relied upon or manipulated contemporary expectations of womanhood (e.g. vulnerability) to secure favourable adjudications in court.