In Gdansk, which was the most populated city of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until the mid 18th c. (50 000 inhabitants), an important social issue was the financial support for widows. The present article explores two aspect of this problem: the legal aspect, which concerns the extent to which widows' interests were protected by the law, and the financial aspect, which concerns the forms of financial support available to widows (private provisions, assistance funds). The analysis was based on legal documents (codices, testaments, statutes) and on accounting documents, both of the city (the cash ledgers of Gdansk) and of the guilds (the books of widow assistance funds). The law operative in Gdansk and other Prussian towns (ius culmense, Kulmer Recht), unlike the Polish law, in the case of intestate procedure gave widows the right to inherit a half of the couple's joint property. Testamentary bequest, which was often used in Gdansk, allowed to increase the widow's or widower's share to 7/8 of the joint property. When the property was substantial, such arrangements provided widows with sufficient financial means; additionally, when guild workshops were inherited, bequest allowed women to keep control over the management of the enterprise. The most common form of providing financial support to widows were special assistance funds organized by professional associations. The first funds were organized in the circle of Lutheran pastors in the city (1634) and in the country areas administered by the city (1666, 1697). In the 18th c. funds became popular in other professional groups and in guilds. The preserved statutes and ledgers of such funds allow for an analysis of their activities, the value of the contributions, the character of cash flows and the granting of allowances in the circle of Gdansk artillerists (the fund worked since 1727), the guild of bricklayers (1705), shipwrights (1747), carpenters (1763), surgeons (1765), bakers (1769) and millers (1792). The article also reflects on the role of private widow funds and individual legacies, which were aimed at supporting poor widows.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.