Napoleonic Civil Code &Treatment of Women

Napoleon Crowned by Chronos

Figure 1. “Napoleon I, crowned by the Allegory of Time, writes the Code Civil” Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse, 1833.

The Civil Code of 1804, systemizing family and property law, denied a woman all civil and political rights, banished her from professions, and did not allow her even to enter into a contractual agreement without the written consent of her husband or father, much less to live outside of his domicile.

Rather than viewing the Civil Code as a set of laws that disenfranchised women in every sense, it could be interpreted as a codified step towards socio-economic equality. Regardless of whether a woman was of nobility or of lower class, under the Civil Code, all women were treated in the same rigid way. The punishment for upper class women who disobeyed laws was no less than the punishment for lower class women. While the Civil Code brought equality to men in terms of citizenship, it brought equality in terms of treatment towards women.

However, it is important to remember that the “equal” treatment that women were given through the Civil Code was based on rigid patriarchal ideas. The Civil Code in no way intended to improve women’s subordinate position and as a result, the “equality” brought about by the Civil Code only led to more oppression.

–Excerpts from the Napoleonic Civil Code of 1804–

Of the respective Rights and Duties of Married Persons:

  • The husband owes protection to his wife, the wife obedience to her husband.
  • The wife is obliged to live with her husband, and to follow him to every place where he may judge it convenient to reside: the husband is obliged to receive her, and to furnish her with everything necessary for the wants of life, according to his means and station.
  • The wife cannot plead in her own name, without the authority of her husband, even though she should be a public trader, or non-communicant, or separate in property.
  • The authority of the husband is not necessary when the wife is prosecuted in a criminal matter, or relating to police.
  • A wife, although non-communicant or separate in property, cannot give, alienate, pledge, or acquire by free or chargeable title, without the concurrence of her husband in the act, or his consent in writing.
  • When the husband is subjected to a condemnation, carrying with it an afflictive or infamous punishment,… the wife, though of age, cannot, during the continuance of such punishment, plead in her own name or contract, until after authority given by the judge…
  • The wife may make a will without the authority of her husband.


  • The wife may demand divorce on the ground of adultery in her husband, when he shall have brought his concubine into their common residence.
  • The married parties may reciprocally demand divorce for outrageous conduct, ill-usage, or grievous injuries, exercised by one of them towards the other.
  • A woman cannot contract a new marriage until ten months have elapsed from the dissolution of the preceding marriage.

Conditions required in order to be able to contract Marriage:

  • The son who has not attained the full age of 25 years, the daughter who has not attained the full age of 21 years, cannot contract marriage without the consent of their father and mother; in case of disagreement, the consent of the father is sufficient.
  • The father, and in default of the father, the mother, and in default of the father and mother, the grandfathers and grandmothers, may oppose the marriage of their children and descendants, although they have accomplished twenty-five years.
  • There can be no marriage where consent is wanting.

Of the Guardianship of Father and Mother:

  • The father is, during marriage, administrator of the personal effects of his Children being minors.
  • If at the time of the husband’s decease, his wife is with child, a curator for the unborn issue shall be named by a family council. At the birth of the child the mother shall become guardian thereof, and the curator shall be its deputy guardian in full right.
  • If a mother being guardian desires to marry again, she is required before the act of marriage to convoke a family-council, who shall decide whether the guardianship ought to be continued to her. In defect of such convocation she shall lose the guardianship entirely.

Image References:

Figure 1. “Napoleon I, crowned by the Allegory of Time, writes the Code Civil” Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse, 1833.,-crowned-by-the-allegory-of-time,-writes-the-code-civil/index.htm. April 10, 2013.

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