One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
The entitlement, in certain circumstances, of a married woman to the retention and use during her lifetime of land or property after the death of her husband; the land or property held by such entitlement, the widow's dower.
Late Middle English; earliest use found in Domesday Ipswich. From free + bench, originally after Anglo-Norman franc banc frank bank. Compare post-classical Latin francus bancus, francbancus, liber bancus.
free bench/ˌfriː ˈbɛn(t)ʃ/
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