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During the period 1300 to the mid 1600s Europe experienced its great boom in trade and commerce Newfound riches were pouring in and a new class of people arose basing their wealth on this influx Economic instability ensued upsetting many old trade patterns and businesses Also during this time disease warfare and economic downturns added to the turmoil of everyday European life It was amidst this changing world that the residents of Douai France reformed their traditional customary law to a new legal system The Douaisiens shift in inheritance preferences was not the consequence of any single specific factor Rather it was due to the instabilities in the socioeconomic system a slowly formed result of many issues in Douaisien life including aspects of the economy gender relations and inheritance ideals This shift from custom to contracts brought with it a dramatic change in the gender code as well as a greatly altered set of rules pertaining to the distinction between a wifes chattels and her husbands As Howell herself states The reform was not a direct response to any single event in this local history or even to a particular set of events However one can identify some of the influential factors involved with this reform The economy at this time as was previously stated was rapidly changing and Douais chief industry drapery production was under constant pressure During these years of economic uncertainty the drapery of Douai lost its distinctive mark as a major producer for export markets in these years it fell into the ranks of simple producer for local markets the same role that most cities had always played and even then that role gradually diminished in importance Douais chief industry lost its importance to the world market leaving Douai no longer a booming prosperous rich city Instead Douais economy was reduced to that of the other nearby towns relying on local trade and commerce instead of extremely profitable
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