History

In many respects, war widowhood has changed a lot over the last two hundred years. Women’s roles in society have shifted considerably, and there have been landmark developments in how the state provides for war widows in the form of pensions and other benefits. On these pages, you can find out about what war widows’ lives were like in the past, including what help was available to them and the challenges they faced after the loss of their husbands.

Who Is a War Widow?

Who is a war widow? This may seem an unnecessary question. But who is classed as a war widow in the eyes of the government and who qualifies for the associated pension or benefits payments has changed considerably over the years. When we think of war widows, we usually imagine their husbands died […]

The Post-War Period

War Widows’ Pension continued to be taxed at 50% after the end of the Second World War in 1945. Members of Parliament raised the issue of widows’ pensions again and again, criticising both the low amount paid and its high taxation. But it was not until widows took matters into their own hands as a […]

The World Wars

The outbreak of the First World War prompted the British government to introduce a national War Widows’ Pension scheme. All war widows were eligible, be they on-the-strength, off-the- strength, or widows of volunteers. Yet, the weekly payments made to them under this scheme were far too little to cover their living costs, and hardship increased […]

The Victorian Period

With no universal pensions or benefits system in place, in the nineteenth century for many wives the loss of their life partner also meant the loss of their entire household income, or at the very least a significant portion of it. According to the Poor Law Amendment Act (1834), widows were entitled to outdoor relief […]

Working-Class Women & War Widows’ Pension in the First World War

  By Angela Smith Angela Smith is Professor of Language and Culture at the University of Sunderland and author of Discourses Surrounding British Widows of the First World War (Bloomsbury, 2012). Using extensive data – mostly gleaned from the National Archives – the book examines the way in which British widows of servicemen who died in the First […]

War Widows During the English Civil Wars

In October 1642, the Long Parliament took the unprecedented step of allowing the widows of its fallen servicemen the opportunity to claim regular state pensions, rather than letting them fall onto parish relief. This became an enormous commitment because 3% of the population died in England and Wales alone, leaving tens of thousands widowed. […]

Scottish Widows of the Thirty Years’ War

  By Steve Murdoch and Kathrin Zickermann Steve Murdoch is Professor of Early Modern History at the University of St Andrews and Kathrin Zickermann is Lecturer in History at the University of the Highlands and Islands. Together, they research the roles of women in the Thirty Years’ War through the lives of the widows this conflict created. In doing […]

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