Pre-Marital Property Agreement and Will
[Surrey]: . Vellum manuscript measuring 520 x 670mm with text to recto only. Original horizontal and vertical foldlines. Some minor toning to recto and verso. £1 impressed duty stamp and seal of King George III adhered to upper left corner with tin. Married in Southwark Christ Church, Surrey on 27 June, 1808, Mary Poulter and James Danvers previously established through this document their shared property and inheritances in the event that one pre-deceased the other.
"As the nineteenth century began, real property owned by a married woman in a legal estate was subject to the management and control of her husband. Personal property of the wife became the property of her husband as soon as he reduced it to possession. Where equity courts existed, separate equitable estated could be created for married women's property, but the protections provided to a wife by the equitable forum had to be specifically delineated in the document creating the estate" (Chused). Even before the Married Women's Property Acts were established, beginning in 1870, there was a movement away from the traditions of coverture and increased attention toward the economic precarity these laws had left women facing. By 1800, women's property ownership had become a more complicated arena. "Studying the ability of women to own property, particularly land, reveals how patriarchal legal and social institutions operated to control and constrain women through economic means. Yet such constraints and controls are only part of the story. Also significant are the ways that system and its players made land ownership and control a reality for some women...the analysis of probate documents reveal that not insignificant numbers of 'ordinary' women did inherit and bequeath both real estate and chattel goods...even more expectedly, many of these women retained control of property during their marriages" (Crosswhite).
The present document invites this kind of study. Dated 62 years before the first Married Women's Property Act of 1870 allowed married women to retain ownership of earned and inherited property, the agreement between James Danvers and "Mary Poulter his intended wife" sets out the parameters of inheritance in advance of their union. While all property would revert to James and his heirs and assigns in the event of Mary's death -- something easily established within the document's first line -- the remainder of the document outlines the leases and rents due to Mary in the event of James' death. Further research could be conducted to determine the economic and class situations of the Danvers and Poulter families relative to each other and to their wider community. The terms of their agreement could further be compared to similar property documents of the predating or contemporary to this, as well as how the terms compare to later agreements following the 1870 Married Women's Property Law. While the women's movement had yet to establish legal protections for people like Mary Poulter, property laws in the U.S. had already begun shifting at the turn of the century. In these sense, trans-Atlantic comparison could also be beneficial, in considering whether or to what extent Mary Poulter's property ownership, income, or terms were influenced by negotiations happening in the United States. (Item #4911)