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The family has become a subject of increasing scrutiny in recent years, giving special relevance to this work by the late Michael Sheehan. Collected here for the first time, Sheehan's papers contain the fruits of a forty-year-long career of archival research and interpretation of documents on property, marriage, family, sexuality, and law in medieval Europe. Marked by an early orientation and developing focus on the status of women in the Middle Ages, the work of Michael Sheehan displays a unique tapestry of the social and legal realities of medieval marriages and family life.
Sheehan's research focused on the parallel study and interpretation of Church law and cases drawn from ecclesiastical court registers. By analysing the emergence of the last will as a legal and social document, he brought a new interpretation to the definition and codification of Christian marriage and the family and how these institutions functioned in society. Although his approach was largely by way of canon law, he was invariably at pins to incorporate solid support from such related fields as theology, the social and popular history of religion, and the history of sexuality and sexual behaviour. As a result, these essays throw light on many social realities in medieval Europe and illustrate the development of a methodology for others to follow.