Participant Info

First Name
Last Name
John Jay College & Graduate Center, City University of New York
Website URL
medieval, legal, France, gender, women, crime, religion, Europe, canon law, marriage, sexuality, Christianity
Additional Contact Information

Personal Info

About Me

Sara McDougall is Professor of History at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and appointed to the faculty in Biography and Memoir, French, History, and Medieval Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center. She studies gender and justice in the Middle Ages, with a focus on women’s encounters with legal and religious ideas in the society and culture of Medieval France. She is the author of two books, Bigamy and Christian Identity in Late-Medieval Champagne (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), and Royal Bastards: The Birth of Illegitimacy, c.800-1230 (Oxford, 2017). She has co-edited special issues for Law & History Review and Gender & History on historical responses infanticide and on marriage in global history, and a six-volume Global History of Crime and Punishment is forthcoming with Bloomsbury Press in 2023. Recent articles examine punishing women for having sex, infanticide prosecutions, consequences of extramarital pregnancy, illegitimacy and the priesthood, and adultery prosecution in medieval France, as well as other writings on the family, marriage, gender, and crime. She has also written on these topics for Slate, the New York Times, and the Washington Post.

In 2023-2024 she will be a Fellow at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers of the New York Public Library. In 2022 she was a visiting professor at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and an Astor Visiting Professor at Oxford University. She was also the Norman Freehling Visiting Professor at the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities in the winter of 2020. Other fellowships include the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and NYU Law School’s Golieb Legal History fellowship. She completed her doctorate in medieval history at Yale University in May 2009.

Her third book is a biographical microhistory of a woman called Jehanne, a thirtysomething woman from the Lorraine with a remarkable story. Abandoned wife, migrant, priest’s mistress, mother of at least two bastards, sexual assault survivor; all these descriptors mark her as one of innumerable victims of medieval patriarchy. The story Jehanne told of herself, though, was instead one of survival, and on her own terms. It is a story that defies many of our modern assumptions about sex, gender, justice, and identity in the Middle Ages.

Recent Publications

Royal Bastards: the birth of illegitimacy, 800-1230 (Oxford University Press, Oxford Studies in Medieval European History, January 2017).

Bigamy and Christian Identity in Late-Medieval Champagne (University of Pennsylvania Press, March 2012). 

Editorial Projects:

with Felicity Turner, Law & History Review Forum: “Rethinking the Criminalization of Childbirth: Infanticide in Premodern Europe and the Modern Americas,” 38:2 (August 2021).

with the late Clive Emsley, A Global History of Crime and Punishment, 6 volumes. Bloomsbury Press (forthcoming, 2023).

with Sarah Pearsall, Gender & History Special Issue: Marriage’s Global Past (November 2017).

with Thomas Barton, Susan McDonough, and Matthew Wranovix, Boundaries in the Medieval and Wider World. Festschrift in Honour of Paul Freedman, Europa Sacra 22 (Brepols, 2017).  

with John Witte and Anna di Robilant, Texts and Contexts in Legal History: Essays in Honor of Charles Donahue, Robbins Collection, UC Berkeley (October 2016).

Journal Articles and Book Chapters:

“Judging Sexy Women in Late Medieval France,” postmedieval, August 2022.

“Canon Law and Marriage,” in the Cambridge History of Medieval Canon Law, eds. Anders Winroth and John Wei (CUP, January 2022).

“Singlewomen and Illicit Pregnancy in Late Medieval France: The Case of Marie Ribou (1481)” French Historical Studies, 44:3 (August 2021).

“Pardoning Infanticide in Late Medieval France,” Law & History Review 39:2 (May 2021).

“The Chivalric Family” in Knighthood and Society in the High Middle Ages, eds. David Crouch   and Jeroen Deploige, (Leuven University Press, 2020).

“Bastard Priests: Illegitimacy and Ordination in Medieval Europe,” Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies 94/1 (January 2019).

with Sarah Pearsall, “Marriage’s Global Past: Introduction,” in Gender & History Special Issue: Marriage’s Global Past (November 2017).

“The Monk-King and the Abbess-Countess: Dynastic Lineage in Twelfth Century Aragon and Boulogne” in Boundaries in the Medieval and Wider World. Festschrift in Honour of Paul Freedman, Europa Sacra 22 (Brepols, 2017).  

with Charles Donahue, Jr. “France and Adjoining Areas,” in History of Courts and Procedure in Medieval Canon Law eds. Kenneth Pennington and Wilfried Hartmann (Catholic University Press, November 2016).

“Enclosure as Punishment for Adultery,” in Proceedings of the Fourteenth International Congress of Medieval Canon Law, Toronto 3-9 August 2012, eds. Joseph Goering, Stephan Dusil, and Andreas Thier, Monumenta Iuris Canonici, Series C: Subsidia (Vatican City: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 2016).

“À la recherche des enfants illégitimes dans les archives de l’officialité de Troyes au xve siècle. Un exemple atypique?” in Bâtards et bâtardises dans l’Europe médiévale et moderne, ed. Carole Avignon (Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2016).

“Fiction and Lies: Adultery and Spousal Homicide Accusations in Fifteenth Century France” in Imagining Early Modern Histories, eds. Allison Kavey and Elizabeth Ketner (Ashgate, 2016).

“The Transformation of Adultery in France at the End of the Middle Ages,” Law and History Review 32:3 (August 2014).

Media Coverage
Slate, New York Times, Washington Post, Perspectives, Law & History Review "The Docket," Ms. Magazine online.
Country Focus
Expertise by Geography
France, Western Europe
Expertise by Chronology
Expertise by Topic
Children & Youth, Family, Gender, Law, Religion, Sexuality, Sexual Violence, Women