To Have and To Hold: Marriage in Pre-Modern Europe, 1200-1700 Abstracts

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To Have and To Hold:

Marriage in Pre-Modern Europe, 1200-1700

(in alphabetical order by speaker’s last name)
Alfieri, Fernanda Session 4B

(Italienisch-Deutsches Historisches Institut, Trento, Italy)

“Marriage, cross-dressing and sexual identity in 17th-18th Century Roman Inquisition Trials”
In 1705, the local inquisitor of a town in Northern Italy examined a marriage he feared might be flawed: under the appearence of Giovanni, husband of Maria Maddalena, might hide a female identity. Few years before, the two were legitimately married in facie ecclesiae according to the Tridentine prescriptions. The Vicar´s suspicion starts an enquiry whose picaresque plot leads to a sensational development: not only was Giovanni in truth Antonia. Before becoming Giovanni, she had lived in another town with her male partner and given birth to a baby. Moreover, the marriage with Maria Maddalena had been forced by the local priest, responsible for the latter's pregnancy. In 1720, Maria — after converting from Lutheranism to Catholicism and traveling from Vienna to Rome — asks the Holy Office for forgiveness for having dressed as a man and married the widow Anna, in order to get a job from her. In 1685 Tuscany, a woman disguises herself as man to hide her lover's concubinate. What do these unpublished dossiers, stored in the Vatican Archive of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, tell us about the use of marriage? What about the role of sex within marriage? How did Inquisition deal with such marriage transgressions?

Altbauer-Rudnik, Michal Session 2B

(The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel)

“ ‘The wounds of love are cured only by those who made them’: Prescribing Marriage for Love Melancholy in European Medical Writing, 1550-1650”
During the early modern period an impressive amount of European medical works were works devoted to love melancholy. Not only did the volume of writing increased dramatically, special attention was given to the social roots of the disorder, as is clear from the discussions on its etiology and therapy. Physicians were in agreement that only by union with the love object would the patients be healed completely. Difference in their bluntness corresponds to the social realities regarding love and marriage in their countries. Some state that this union can be realized only in accordance with divine and human laws, others directly attack the legal and social obstacles which prevent young couples from being joined in marriage. My aim is to show that medical discussion itself served as a technique to deal with the social distress: pathologizing love on one hand and prescribing love marriage on the other. My research focuses on three cases: French and English societies and the Italian Jewish communities.

Anderson, Judith R. Session 8B

(University of Alberta)

“’Get thee a new wife!’: Mrs. Noah, Her Gossips, and Domestic Disturbance in the Chester Cycle”
Noah’s wife is one of the most popular, and most criticized, characters in medieval drama, for her willful disobedience to her husband when it is time to board the ark, and for the altercation between husband and wife that ensues. This paper will argue that, rather than being an anomaly within the religious drama, Mrs. Noah is merely one extreme example of a dramatic convention of “domestic disturbance.” After briefly defining the term “domestic disturbance,” I will show that Mrs. Noah’s rebellion in the Chester cycle, taken in the context of this cycle’s emphasis on obedience, patriarchy, and authority, serves a challenge to these ideals in favour of affinity groupings such as that of Mrs. Noah’s gossips, thereby complicating the typological or religious significance of the Chester cycle, and its representation of domestic relationships.
Armstrong-Partida, Michelle Session 8C


“Married Priests? The Practice of Clerical Unions in Fourteenth-Century Catalunya”
Catalan clerics did not forsake marriage. In fact, many went to great lengths to engage in relationships that could offer them a sexual outlet, companionship, perhaps even love, as well as a union that would create a household and an economic unit. Fourteenth-century episcopal visitations and ecclesiastical court records reveal the widespread practice of clerical concubinage and how marriage-like unions offered many clergy the benefits of marriage that their predecessors experienced in the nine hundred years before the prohibition of clerical marriage was well established as a matter of canon law. This paper will outline the practice of clerical concubinage, including how clerical unions were formed, how they mirrored lay unions, and evidence that suggests clerical couples exchanged promises of commitment to each other before family and friends.

Azari, Motaleb Session 6B

(Islamic Azad University of Quchan, Iran)

“Marriage in Pre-modern Europe and Islam: A Case Study of Intercultural Dialogue”
This paper, as a case study in pre-modern Europe and Islam, examines the concept of marriage according to these ideologies. Religion has something crucial to contribute the way we understand and define marriage, in this regard; marriage is examined as a religious institution and cultural practice in both, pre-modern Europe and Islam. The practices associated with both pre-modern culture of Europe and Islamic culture is discussed and marriage is seen as a mediator for creating an intercultural dialogue between western and Islamic civilizations. factors associated with enhancement and enrichment of growing relationships to ease the transition from single to married life in those cultural contexts are considered. Finally, modernization in its various forms is seen as a force, affecting thinking and practices about marriage. In this case, regarding polygamy and homosexuality, cultural confrontations between pre-modern Europe and Islam are seen as natural outcomes of modernization.
Baernstein, Renée P. Session 7A

(Miami University, OH)

“Inter-regional Marriage Among the Italian Nobility in the Sixteenth Century”
Inter-regional marriages among aristocratic families served as part of the connective tissue of the pan-Italian elite in the period before national unification (Visceglia, Fosi) but are little studied for their contribution to the formation of a shared national identity. The 1566 marriage of the Roman noblewoman Costanza Colonna to a minor Lombard nobleman, one of many such exogamous matches for Roman noblewomen, is here situated in this context of peninsular exchange and communication. Part of a larger study of marriage in the Colonna family that places gender at the heart of Italian class formation, the paper exploits extraordinary archival documentation to study the negotiations of husband and wife on the charged terrains of sex, religion, politics, and whom to ask to dinner. These conflicts are contextualized in regional differences, political tensions between the two families, and rapid shifts in religious sensibility during the Tridentine period.

Bednarski, Steven Session 7C

(University of St Jeromes College, University of Waterloo)

“A Poisoned Union: Microhistory and Marriage in Fourteenth-Century Provence”
Margarita suffered greatly because of her marriage. After her wedding, she left her beloved brothers and family and moved to a strange place. There, far from familiar surroundings, she fell ill. Her husband, upon seeing her repeated seizures, agreed to allow her to return home for treatment. This, however, earned her the scorn of his family. When she returned to her husband, her illness prevented her from consummating their union. Lonely, sick, and celibate, Margarita existed in a constant state of anxiety. When her husband died suddenly at work, his doctor cited sexual frustration as the cause but her kin argued for poison. This was the beginning of Margarita’s prolonged legal battle to clear her name and reclaim her rightful inheritance.

I have been developing the tale of Margarita the Poisoner for several years, in preparation for a monograph. Last summer, I obtained new records from Margarita’s life. I propose, therefore, to deliver a paper on the trials and tribulations of writing a microhistory that addresses late medieval marriage, inheritance, and a woman’s ability to negotiate.

Bornholdt, Claudia Session 5B

(Catholic University of America, Washington, DC)

“German Tales of Celibate Marriage at the Transition from Spiritual to Secular Narrative”
Some of the earliest extant secular German narratives are the so-called bridal-quest epics, tales in which the young hero sets out to win a bride and secure his progeny. Contrary to the very logic of this narrative pattern, however, several of these German stories end with the couple’s marital chastity. Based on the findings in my recently finished monograph Saintly Spouses: Chaste Marriage in Secular and Sacred Narratives From Medieval Germany (12th and 13th Century), this paper will present examples of early vernacular German tales of celibate marriages in saints’ lives, historical sources, and secular bridal-quest tales. I shall discuss the arguments outlining the advantages of celibate as opposed to consummated marriage as well as the social consequences of this decision, which is always made by mutual consent of both spouses. The discussion will be placed in the context of the marriage debate of the twelfth century and in the socio-cultural framework of the canonization of Germany’s only holy couple, Emperor Henry II and Empress Cunegund, who observed perpetual conjugal chastity.

Breul, Wolfgang Session 3B

(Johannes-Gutenberg-University, Germany)

“Earthly Eva and Heavenly Sophia. Marriage and Sexuality in German Pietism”
Pietism is regarded as the most important reform movement of European Protestantism since the Reformation. Its influence can be seen up to the present. Following the reform of theology and the church in the 16th century, Pietism's goal was the »Reformation of life« focusing on a renewal of Christian piety and life's conduct. The subject of marriage and family as basic forms of human society was of particular importance. The lecture presents Pietism's view of marriage using examples of selected representatives of both church and radical Pietism. It will show that Pietism deviated considerably from traditional Protestantism and developed interpretations of marriage, which went in various directions. In some cases even sexuality was emphatically affirmed. The lecture will also inquire into the social and cultural-historical causes of this development. I am at present working on a comprehensive study on this subject, which is being supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG).Brizio, Elena Session 5C

(Medici Archive Project, Firenze, Italy)

“ ‘Given her determination that she wanted him for her husband’: Sienese Women Who Chose for Themselves”
In medieval and Renaissance Italy, women from the middle and upper classes were normally “assigned” husbands by their fathers or, in the case of orphaned girls, by their senior male kin (generally their brothers). It is therefore surprising to find archival evidence attesting to the ability of some women to choose their husbands themselves. In my paper I will present and examine several such cases which I have discovered in the archives of Florence and Siena. While one might have expected to find such anomalous cases in post-conquest Siena (that is, after 1555), when the republic’s political and social world was turned upside down and refashioned in the wake of the city’s annexation to the Duchy of Florence, one is surprised to note that even in the early 1400s, when the Republic of Siena was still a strong and viable social entity, some Sienese women were able to sidestep the standard male control of marriage alliances and form their own marital union (as a case from the 1410s seems to indicate). This paper will thus analyze these cases and the context in which they appear in order to determine to what extent, how, and why, some women were able to act independently of their male kin in such an important decision for their families as well as their own life.
Burger, Glenn Session 4B

(Queens College, CUNY)

“Conjoined Bodies and the Scene of Marriage: Sexual and Textual Hybridity in Le Menagier de Paris
This paper considers how the contradictions and incoherences that characterize the new space and time of late medieval bourgeois marital relations emerge with particular clarity and urgency in the narrative experimentation of a conduct book such as Le Menagier de Paris (written c. 1394). I argue that this text tries to articulate a hybrid space and identity—bourgeois, lay, metropolitan, married householder—that depends upon using the language of others and upon a necessary crossing of known boundaries (masculine and feminine, bodily and spiritual, lay and clerical, active and contemplative, laborer and leisured elite). In the process the Menagier constructs a theatre of marriage in which there is endless incitement to talk productively about marital relations as social relations, thereby inciting a process of textual enrichment through which the everyday body of the good wife and the desire of her “husbanding” readers (both male and female) can be made fully social.
Burke, Ersie Session 7A

(Monash University, Australia)

“The foreign wives of the Venetian ruling classes, 1500-1650.”
In Venice, non-elite women were legally obliged to undergo a potentially distressing enquiry into their 'suitability' before they could could marry into the elite. A number of women from Venice itself, from other Italian cities and from the Republic's sea empire - Greeks, Dalmatians, Albanians - survived the ordeal. But did they ever gain full acceptance? Did they have to renounce some of their identity and background - especially the colonial wives, who were ethnically, culturally, linguistically and sometimes religiously different from Venetians?

The legal and political aspects of the relevant legislation have been extensively discussed. This paper will focus on the stories of the foreign brides. Drawing on unpublished archival material, it investigates their ties with their in-laws and more particularly their families of origin and and whether they preserved their ethnic and religious identities, their language, customs and traditions, and passed them on to their children.

Campbell, Erin J. Session 3A

(University of Victoria)

“ ‘De la moglie che sia di più anni’: ‘Old Wives’ and Art in Early Modern Bologna”
Research on the early modern Italian domestic interior has revealed a rich array of objects associated with marriage, including betrothal portraits, wedding gifts, and furnishings, as well as objects related to childbirth. My work builds on this research to examine art created for the later stages of women’s lives, including menopause, sexual abstinence, grand-parenthood, and widowhood past the age of remarriage. Specifically, I will focus on the portraits of old women which were produced for the multi-generational households of the well-educated and socially-ambitious professional classes in Bologna during the latter half of the sixteenth century, when, under the impact of religious and social reform, old women became pivotal figures within the moral order of the family. I ask: How did women and other family members, including men and children, appropriate, maintain, respond to, and transform images of the old wife, mother, and widow in meaningful, dynamic, and even contradictory ways?

Carboni, Mauro Session 5A

(Università degli Studi di Bologna, Italy)

“Marriage Strategies and Oligarchy in Early Modern Bologna”
The subject of this essay is the relationship between marriage, civic identity and the successful establishment of a long lasting oligarchy of aristocratic families. I shall focus on the web of matrimonial alliances interwoven by Bolognese patrician families throughout the 16th and the 17th centuries. It will be argued that it was the web of obligations and expectations created by the exchange of individuals and property at the very top echelons of society which explain the resilience of the city's leading families and their ability to retain a position of privilege for over two centuries. Inter-family and intra-family cooperation followed precise strategies designed to protect – and whenever possible expand - both patrimonial assets and civic leadership. The key was a careful combination of endogamy and homogamy, resulting in the repeated exchange of spouses and wealth within a restricted group of city families.

Cossar, Roisin Session 8C

(University of Manitoba)

“Clerical concubines in Fourteenth-Century Italy”
Long-term, stable sexual relationships between clerics and women were common across Europe throughout the Middle Ages. Many scholars believe that these relationships were normally tolerated by local communities, if not Church officials. Such arguments are usually based on evidence about the sexual activities of male clerics, and only a few studies have examined the women who were clerics' domestic partners. In this paper, I employ notarial documents of practice from fourteenth-century Bergamo to analyze both attitudes towards clerical concubines and the women's own views of their relationships. The women considered themselves long-term partners of their clerical lovers, bearing them children and buying and selling property with them. Their neighbours, on the other hand, treated with women with ambivalence, accepting their presence in the community when their clerical partners were well-behaved, but speaking out against them when the clerics fell under the scrutiny of Church officials.

Crabb, Ann Session 7B

(James Madison University)

“A Domestic Partnership: Margherita and Francesco Datini, 1376-1410”
Several hundred letters, between Margherita, Francesco and others, document the Datini marriage. Francesco, the self-made and very rich “merchant of Prato” and his younger wife Margherita moved between Prato and Florence. They often chose to be apart, partly because they irritated each other – as their letters show. Problems included Margherita’s infertility and Francesco’s two illegitimate children. However, they also spent time apart so that one or the other of them would be present to administer their two households; they formed a domestic partnership. Francesco was the ultimate authority, expecting daily reports, and Margherita was his deputy. She had considerable freedom of action in overseeing apprentices, visitors, and harvests, and believed that carrying out her responsibilities well brought personal honor. In spite of his quibbles, Francesco’s confidence in her was apparent, and, between them, their households, defined broadly, functioned smoothly.

DeSilva, Jennifer Mara Session 2A

(Eastern Connecticut State University)

“Secular Ceremonies in a Liturgical World Weddings at the Vatican Palace, 1483-1521”
In the early modern period getting married was a mix of legal, religious, and social acts that altogether proclaimed the union of two people, two families, and two sets of possessions. Although the Church had formally established marriage as a sacrament in 1439, through the sixteenth century the act of marrying retained this tripartite identity, even in papal Rome. From 1484 to 1521 there were eight weddings held at the Vatican Palace of variously the pope’s children or nieces/nephews. These unions had significant political importance, but also held an unusual place in the papal court’s ritual life. Within an environment that was predominantly male, celibate, and focused almost exclusively on liturgical ceremonies, the legal and lay social rituals of these weddings strike an illicit chord. This paper will examine the papal Master of Ceremonies’ (Johann Burchard, Paris de’ Grassi) reactions to these weddings over five pontificates.

Drummond, Anna Session 2A

(University of Melbourne, Australia)

“The Matrimony of Mary: A cross-cultural comparison of the Iconography of the Marriage of the Virgin in European Art of the Renaissance”
During the Renaissance, many hundreds of images of the Marriage of the Virgin were produced in Europe, generally as part of narrative cycles illustrating Mary’s life. Artists portrayed the holy couple performing the nuptial rites practiced in their own region, depicting the gestures and settings with which they were familiar. As a result, the iconography of the subject varies greatly between northern and southern Europe, as well as within Italy, reflecting the diversity of marriage rituals on the continent during this period. While this tendency has been noted by a range of iconographic studies, it has not been explored in any detail. By presenting a range of images of the Marriage of the Virgin from both Italy and northern Europe, this paper explores the impact of marriage rites on the gestures, settings and participants portrayed in images of Mary and Joseph’s wedding.

Dunn, Caroline Session 5B

(Clemson University)

“Marriage by Capture in Late Medieval England”
Marriage by capture survived in England until the close of the middle ages, despite the promulgation of anti-abduction legislation in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. These royal statutes, targeting complicit abductions (elopements), failed victims of forced marriages because women could not accuse their ravishers once coercive nuptials had been solemnized (a wife could not prosecute her husband). Marital predators especially targeted wealthy widows, because they were less closely guarded than heiresses, and their inheritance was easier to access. These widows forced into remarriage hardly fit the Chaucerian Wife of Bath paradigm of the merry, lusty widow eager to find a new husband. Indeed, recent investigations into remarriage rates of late medieval and early modern widows largely reverse the stereotype. During the fifteenth century lawmakers finally recognized the problem of widows stolen and pressured to remarry, and enacted two more statutes designed to thwart and punish such kidnappings.

Frank, Karen Anne Session 8A

(University of California, Santa Barbara)

“Jewish Wives and Property in late Medieval Perugia”
This paper explores the range of economic opportunities available to Jewish wives in the central Italian town of Perugia in the later Middle Ages. That there were any such opportunities is exceptional, since medieval rabbinic law severely restricted wives’ financial autonomy. Wives could inherit property, but were not legally allowed to manage it. Instead, the law gave all control of wives’ assets to their husbands; the latter were the only heirs to their wives’ properties. And yet, the oft repeated injunction that the role of a woman was to be a “good” wife, caring for her husband and the household, necessitated women’s involvement in the material affairs of their families. Notarial evidence suggests that in late fourteenth- and early fifteenth-century Perugia, married Jewish women’s financial dealings sometimes extended far beyond the household budget, and included managing—and sometimes owning—family businesses and assets, as well as designating their own heirs.

Grendler Paul Session 7B

(University of Toronto)

“A Virgin for a Prince: Gonzaga Marriages Between Honor and Politics”
During the early modern period an impressive amount of European medical works were works devoted to love melancholy. Not only did the volume of writing increased dramatically, special attention was given to the social roots of the disorder, as is clear from the discussions on its etiology and therapy. Physicians were in agreement that only by union with the love object would the patients be healed completely. Difference in their bluntness corresponds to the social realities regarding love and marriage in their countries. Some state that this union can be realized only in accordance with divine and human laws, others directly attack the legal and social obstacles which prevent young couples from being joined in marriage. My aim is to show that medical discussion itself served as a technique to deal with the social distress: pathologizing love on one hand and prescribing love marriage on the other. My research focuses on three cases: French and English societies and the Italian Jewish communities.

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