Other Laws Applying to Women

Cáin AdomnánDíreHonor-Price ExceptionsRapeSick Maintenance

Cáin Adomnán - The Cáin Adomnán is a law code dated to the late 7th century that protects women, children, and clerics by instating harsher punishments if anyone harms or kills them. It states that "whoever kills a woman shall be condemned to a twofold punishment" because "great is the sin when anyone kills one who is mother."[1] The reason the law code gives for protecting these three groups of people is because these are supposed to be three groups incapable of killing another person, so they themselves should not be harmed. There are also rules included about rape, molestation and insulting a woman by accusing her of lust.[2] The rules about rape and compensation seem slightly contradictory to the Rape laws. In the Rape laws, full or half éraic is demanded along with the honor price of the highest ranking man with authority over the woman.[3] In the Cáin Adomnán, only seven cumals for the rape of a girl. Seven cumals is the equivalent of the full éraic, but there are no difference based on whom the offense was committed upon and no honor-price is demanded. Laying hands on a woman for sexual reasons earned a fine of "ten ounces" (probably of silver) and if it was with intent to injury, there was a fine of "one cumal and seven ounces".[4]

Díre - This text gives a description of how women's offenses should have been amended in Irish society. It distinguished between types of unions of which a woman could be part:
  • cétmuinter (primary wife status), with sons - 2/3 sons, 1/3 natal family
  • cétmuinter without sons - 1/2 natal family, 1/2 spouse
  • "a wife who is recognized and contracted in marriage by her family" - unspecified division between sons and natal family
  • "a wife who is recognized but who is not contracted in marriage by her family" - 2/3 natal family, 1/3 children
  • a union of abduction - éraic and legacy belong to natal family, liabilities belong to abductor and children

The text also says that a woman with no liabilities may donate "the product of her own hands" to the church if she so chooses, however it also requires the approval of the woman's family before donation.

The last section of the text concerns women's abilities to make contracts. It gives them little control, stating that "the worst of transactions are women's contracts."[5] Women are given no right to buy or sell without consent of a superior authority. This idea contradicts the Cáin Lánamna, which states that contracts made be made which are mutually beneficial in a marriage of common contribution, and (while not made entirely clear) seems to give heiresses the right to form contracts without the approval of their husbands. As the introduction to the Dire text mentions, it is well to treat this text as "an extreme statement of general principles, to which there are exceptions, as in Cáin Lánamna."

Honor-Price Exceptions - There were seven types of women who were not entitled to honor-price fines or penalty-fines:
  • a thief
  • "a woman who lampoons every class of person"
  • a traitor
  • a gossip/slanderer (at least until her family paid off the fines incurred by this)
  • a prostitute
  • a murderer
  • "a woman who refuses hospitality to every class of person"

These women were looked upon as having no honor because of the things they had done or the rules that they had broken, so they were considered outside the scope of the honor-price system.[7]

Rape - Rape was a serious offense in early medieval Ireland and came with harsh penalty. A man was fined full éraic for raping a virgin, a cétmuinter, or a young nun; half-éraic was paid for the rape of a secondary wife. In addition the man also had to pay the full honor price of the highest ranked man (or woman) that had power over the raped woman. The Rape laws list eight types of women who were not allowed to claim rape, or at least the fines paid for rape:
  • prostitutes
  • "a woman who conceals her rape"
  • a woman raped who does not yell for help
  • "a woman who agrees to have illicit intercourse in despite of her husband"
  • "a woman who trysts with a man in the bushes or in bed"
  • "a woman who offers herself for something trivial"
  • "a woman who invokes hostage-surety" in exchange for sex
  • "a woman who stays silent about her sleith"

Several of these sound very similar and can be summarized into three categories: those who are having sex outside of marriage anyway, those who don't tell someone about their rape, and those who do nothing to help themselves. There were exceptions to these conditions made in some cases, but not many to our current knowledge.[8]

Sick Maintenance -Bretha Crólige lists 12 women who were excluded from receiving sick-maintenance in the traditional sense (eg. they were taken to the injurer's residence to be fed and cared for). Instead, the following women received special treatment, as the law requires they be paid a fee, rather than being brought away from their homes.
  • "a women who turns back the streams of war" - an abbess who prays for the territory
  • "a ruler entitled to hostages" - a ruler such as Medb
  • "one who is abundant in miracles" - a virgin or an "exile of God"
  • "a woman satirist" - also could have included poetess
  • "a woman wright" - including a midwife or embroideress
  • "a woman revered by the territory"
  • "a woman leech of a territory" - also includes a hospitaller
  • "a sharp-toungued virago" - one with "fierce words"
  • "a vagrant woman" - one who is half-witted and "goes with the fairies"
  • "a werwolf [sic] in wolf's shape"
  • "an idiot"
  • "a lunatic" - including one with the "magic wisp"
As can be seen from this list, not all were denied sick-maintenance for negative reasons; in fact, at least half are excepted due to their importance to the territory. These women are implicitly placed on equal footing with kings, bishops, and male hospitallers, who are also excluded from the removal for sick-maintenance.[9]

  1. ^ Bourke et al. "Cáin Adomnán" The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing 4. p. 19, Section 6.
  2. ^ Bourke et al. "Cáin Adomnán" The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing 4. p. 22, Sections 23-24.
  3. ^ Bourke et al. "Rape." The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing 4. p. 29.
  4. ^ Bourke et al. "Cáin Adomnán" The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing 4. p. 22, Sections 23.
  5. ^ Bourke et al. "Díre." The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing 4. p. 26-27, Section 12.
  6. ^ Bourke et al. "Díre." The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing 4 p. 26-27.
  7. ^ Bourke et al. "Honour-Price -- Some Exceptions." The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing 4. p. 27-28.
  8. ^ Bourke et al. "Rape." The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing 4. p. 29.
  9. ^ Osborn Bergin and Eleanor Knott. "Bretha Crólige." Eriu 12 p. 13, 27.