Dower 2

Dower actions grew by the mid-thirteenth century to constitute about a quarter of all enrollments in the court of common pleas. Such actions declined as a percentage of all actions thereafter. Up to about 1300 the decline in percentage reflected only the increase in other kinds of litigation. Between about 1300 and the Black Death (1348) the percentage decline reflected the strength of dower right. Dower right could only be forfeited if the husband died while the wife was living in unreconciled adultery. Faced with the inevitability of dower, the husband's heir in the first half of the fourteenth century increasingly provided the widow either with her dower right or with an alternate life estate. Dower right would be a third of perhaps many different estates from multiple purchasers and could thus be hard to manage. A widow might accept a compact manageable life estate of somewhat lesser value without litigation; the heir would have realized she could enforce her dower right anyway and provision of a life estate would avoid inconveniencing those who had purchased land from the deceased husband.

After the Black Death, the decline in the percentage of dower actions reflected a decline in the social frequency of dower right as such because of the medieval use, as already explained.

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