Gender and Justice in the Eighteenth-Century Scottish Highlands: Women in the sheriff court of Inverness, 1748-1800

Lead Research Organisation: University of Stirling
Department Name: History and Politics


Women appeared in court in eighteenth-century Scotland as complainants, defendants and witnesses, but we know relatively little about their treatment and experience by comparison with men. This project will make the sheriff court records of Inverness substantially more accessible to researchers, and will then analyse the female presence and voices they contain. It will explain what court processes and assumptions hindered and helped women of different statuses and roles, and so transform our understanding of social and legal attitudes to women in the Scottish Highlands during the Enlightenment-questions still globally current in our own time.

The project will illuminate the nexus between gender history, legal history, Highland social history and the Enlightenment, and so transform our knowledge of the social construction of gender in this context and expand our understanding of the social construction of gender more broadly. Long-held popular views of Scottish Highland women in the eighteenth century either as romanticised, exotic creatures or as poverty-stricken, ignorant natives, are being dismantled by recent scholarship, and so we are beginning to recover an understanding of women's agency in the Highlands in this period. Further, there has been increasing interest in both the participation of women in the Scottish Enlightenment and of the discussion by Scottish Enlightenment philosophers of the nature and place of women in society. The law was also a major interest of Enlightenment philosophers, and Highland society fascinated both theorists and travellers.

This project will therefore build on the work of scholarship in the field of gender and law in this period and others, for other regions of Britain and Scotland, and it will deepen our understanding of the roles and agency of Highland women, and of social attitudes to women in the Highlands. By sorting and cataloguing the Inverness sheriff court records, which are held by the National Records of Scotland, the student will make these records much more easily accessible to academic researchers and members of the public interested in local and family history, as well as gaining exceptional training in archival work to professional standards.


10 25 50