A Medieval Life

Quotes

Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained
3. As Cecilia’s kin argued over her lands, her mental health, and her last actions, they acted out the oldest and most enduring story in peasant communities: the story of inheritance, kinship, and land.

This remark, which occurs at the end of Chapter 6, “Kin and Household,” reveals the importance of birth and family as the chief determinants of a peasant’s quality of life. Just as Cecilia and her siblings benefited greatly from the inheritance that their parents left them, Cecilia’s family relied on taking over Cecilia’s assets upon her death in order to improve their social standing and fatten their purses. Cecilia may have lived independently as a singlewoman, but her familial ties nonetheless became increasingly relevant and fraught with complication upon her death in 1344. Her sister Christina and nephew Martin clamored to be chosen as Cecilia’s sole heir, a recognition that would have brought them Cecilia’s total landholdings, while the inheritors named in Cecilia’s will (Matilda Kroyl, Robert Malin, and John Penifader) attempted to defend their claims to Cecilia’s lands. The imbroglio that ensued centered on the jury’s opinion as to who was Cecilia’s closest relation, revealing the connection between inheritance and kinship. As Martin and Christina both believed, their close blood ties to Cecilia entitled them to Cecilia’s land. Ultimately, the jury agreed with them and awarded the land to Christina, who promptly transferred half of the holdings to Martin.

The argument that erupted over Cecilia’s will also demonstrates the value of land both as a source of family pride and as a source of wealth. Land was so important that family members would fight bitterly over its bequest. Clearly, Cecilia’s relative prosperity and high social standing in Brigstock were derived from her and her family’s massive landholdings. The fact that she did not leave her own land and migrate to another manor indicates that she was wealthy enough to remain where she had been born. Cecilia may have taken pride in the land that she held and managed, seeing it as an important part of her life and legacy. In battling for Cecilia’s landholdings, Cecilia’s relatives may have been after Cecilia’s wealth, but they also may have been motivated by their desire to uphold the Penifader legacy. Such familial pride with regard to land ownership was the impetus for innumerable territorial disputes throughout history.