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

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Guenther, Genevieve Session 5B

(University of Rochester)

“The Theology of Marriage in The Winter’s Tale
In No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive, Lee Edelman argues that the politics of modernity are grounded on a secular theology of futurity at once manifested in and symbolized by the child produced by the affective heterosexual marriage. The Winter’s Tale stages Leontes’ conversion to precisely this secular theology of futurity, but it also encodes that theology as a form of idolatry, by conflating Leontes’ final devotion to his wife with his willingness to legitimate the idolatrous magic that seems to animate her (“if this be magic,” he famously proclaims, “let it be an art / Lawful as eating”). The Winter’s Tale thus marks the historical moment in which modern affective marriage contested theological norms to establish itself as the locus of men’s hopes for their own immortality.
Guerson, Alexandra Session 4A

(University of Toronto)

“Marriage, polygamy, and the protection of Jewish autonomy in the late fourteenth-century Crown of Aragon”
The issue of polygamy has loomed large in studies of Jewish marriage and family life. By the twelfth century Northern European Jews had outlawed polygamy, under penalty of banishment from the community. In the Crown of Aragon the practice persisted but, as I shall show in my paper, by the late fourteenth century it had become restricted to cases of a sterile marriage. While in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, monarchs were quick to give licenses of polygamy under the assumption that the practice was indeed permitted under Jewish law and in exchange of a hefty sum, by the 1370s-1380s, this picture had changed and licenses were issued specifically to procure an heir. A study of cases of bigamy not only sheds light on Jewish family life in the Crown of Aragon but also tells us much about royal policy towards Jews in the decades before the violence of 1391.

Hickson, Sally Session 7B

(University of Guelph)

“The Compromise Bride: The Marriage of Margherita Paleologo”
In 1531 Margherita Paleologo, princess of Monferrato (d.1566) wed Federico II Gonzaga, the first Duke of Mantua. Their union occurred only after the death of Margherita’s older sister Maria, who had originally been betrothed to Federico, and at the height of his long affair with Isabella Boschetti, the wife of Francesco Calvisano Gonzaga of Mantua. The marriage between Mantua and Monferrato was brokered between two powerful mothers, Anna d’Alencon and the formidable Isabella d’Este, and happened only after failed negotiations between Federico and the Neapolitan princess Giulia of Aragon. While the marriage has been examined in the context of Federico’s own political ambitions, this paper examines Margherita Paleologo’s role; as the compromise bride, the first Duchess and, eventually, widow and co-regent of her children and co-ruler of Mantua alongside her brother-in-law Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga, with whom she assumed a new role as pious widow, dutiful mother and public spouse to the Mantuan state.

Hutton, Shennan Session 5A

(Napa, CA)

“Mixed Marriages: Family Strategies and Choosing Spouses Across the Noble-Burgher and Rural-Urban Divides”
In late medieval Europe, poor noble families bettered their fortunes by marrying a son to a wealthy burgher heiress. But in Ghent, the second-largest city in northern Europe in the fourteenth century, every woman from the urban elites held property from her family’s “patrimony,” typically a mixture of urban and rural land, annuities, and investments, and wives had considerable rights to manage their personal property during the marriage. By rural feudal custom, however, land held in fief was supposed to pass down along the patrilineage, and preserving the family patrimony was crucial to noble families. This paper investigates contracts and legal judgments recorded in the annual registers of the aldermen of Ghent to examine how noble-burgher couples and their extended families negotiated gender roles in property management. It will also compare this evidence from actual practice with the ideals expressed in courtesy books, courtly literature and the new Flemish burgher literature.
Kooistra, Milton Session 3B

(Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, Toronto)

“The Challenges of Clerical Marriage in Reformation Strasbourg (1523-1532)”
Marriage and the taking out of citizenship were the two most common ways of publicly announcing one's conversion to the evangelical movement. Anton Firn, parish priest of St Thomas in Strasbourg, led the way by marrying his housekeeper in November 1523. Many fellow priests followed suit, including the chief reformer, Wolfgang Capito, provost of St Thomas, who married in 1524. This paper, based primarily on the correspondence of Capito, will examine the challenges faced by the Strasbourg reformers as they struggled to overcome their vows of celibacy and enter into godly unions. These clerical marriages provoked a bitter response from the Catholic contingent in Strasbourg, which threatened the course of the Reformation and the stability of the city. Attention will also be given to the process of finding a wife, dealing with concubines and illegitimate children.

Koss, Stephen James Session 6B

(Graduate Center, CUNY)

“Unhappily Ever After: Monstrous Desire and Interfaith Marriages”
This paper will argue that medieval interfaith marriages constituted not simply questions of appropriate marital theology and long winded discussions of concerning the meaning of “disparity of cult.” Rather, these unions contained the virulent power to imperil the very humanity of the believer. Originally, this paper began as an investigation of the efficacy of medieval interracial marriage. Initially, I suspected that these marriages could be validated if bodily changes occurred as two individuals of drastically different bodies demonstrated physical manifestations of becoming one flesh. As my studies progressed, however, the validity of interracial marriages gave way to the queer possibilities that this desire opened up within the body. In the heady mix of sacramental marriage, formed of consent, sex, affection, and desire, marriage functions as a became a catalyst, taking on a Eucharistic power to transubstantiate not only the bodies, but the very form of being the commingled parties. With the grudging admission that sex happens, medieval canonists were forced to investigate what actually happens in sex. Their exploration produced a broad spectrum of acts and issues that could be considered sexual in nature and thus productive of a bodily change. At the same time, prevailing attitudes characterized the bodies of Christianity’s “others” (such as Jews, Arabs,) as debased and corrupted. The desire between a human and such bodies thus opens an interstice through which the bestial other jeopardizes not only the body of the believer, but also his or her humanity. In this way, these marriages might provide a fascinating tool for addressing the recent queer recognition that a challenge to embodiment must entail bankrupting both the classification of the human as well as what counts as a viable life.

Lee, Becky Session 2A

(York University)

“Marriage Rites and Churching Rites: Complementary Strategies for Inculcating Clerical Marriage Reforms”
Marriage rites and churching rites made their way into the liturgical life of the medieval Christian Church around the same time, yet little attention has been paid to their relationship. Michael Sheehan and Christopher Brooke have established that marriage rites, which encouraged the celebration of marriage in public at the door of the church in front of a priest, promoted and reinforced the consensual model of marriage and the Church’s jurisdiction over it. This paper will examine the relationship between those marriage rites and churching rites, arguing that churching rites, which were also publicly celebrated at the door of the church before a priest, played as important a role as marriage rites in promoting and reinforcing the consensual model of marriage and clerical jurisdiction over it. Marriage rites and churching rites were, in fact, complementary strategies for inculcating the eleventh-century clerical marriage reforms.
Leushuis, Reinier Session 6C

(Florida State University)

“ ‘Col publicamento del matrimonio sgannar ciascuno’: Marriage and Betrothal in Bandellos Novelle
Bandello’s novellas exploit the tragic consequences of the ecclesiastical position that marriages contracted merely by the partners’ spoken words of consent, i.e. without a priest, witnesses, banns, and parental consent, fulfill the sacrament and are indissoluble. Social historians and literary critics have focused on the ‘clandestinity’ of these unions, in particular in the cases of impatient lovers seeking to avoid family ordained marital bonds. While Bandello, a cleric with ties to the aristocracy, features this situation (e.g. in the Romeo and Juliet story), I argue that several novellas prefigure a shift in perspective from ‘legal vs. clandestine’ marriage toward marriage as opposed to betrothal: while marriage is contracted publicly in the present tense, betrothal is a private and non-binding promise in the future tense to eventually solemnize the matrimonial bond (a distinction that would not be institutionalized until after Trent). In close textual readings my paper studies how Bandello’s narrative dynamics exploit this shift and the social confusion it triggered.

Luckyj, Christina Session 3B

(Dalhousie University)

“Marriage and Politics in ‘Feminist’ Polemic: Rereading Rachel Speghts Mouzell
Criticized in the 1980s for her "weak . . . religious orientation" and described as “hobbled by her faith,” apologetically defended in the 1990s for assuming “the only possible position from which to confront Joseph Swetnam’s misogyny within the terms of the woman debate,” Rachel Speght in her much-anthologized Mouzell for Melastomus (1617) is now largely viewed as a radical re-reader of patriarchal religious discourse for protofeminist ends. However, such gender-inflected readings miss Speght’s engagement with contemporary religious politics, and specifically with politically subversive Puritan doctrines of marriage also evident in the contemporary sermons of male preachers such as William Whately and William Gouge. When, in a 1604 address to parliament, King James renaturalized the political marriage metaphor, claiming, “I am the Husband, and all the whole Isle is my lawfull Wife; I am the head, and it is my body,” he opened a space for the analogy between marriage and politics to serve as a foundation for contractually-based resistance theory. In 1617, the same year Speght’s Mouzell was printed, William Whately’s A Bride-bush: A Wedding Sermon (1617) asserted that in “this domesticall kingdome” of marriage, “most men governe not well, because they doe wholly serve themselves in governing, and not the wife” (21). The political charge of Whately’s text, and especially his support for divorce, eventually led to his censure by the High Commission in 1621. If a woman’s rights within marriage could come to signify the rights of the subject under a monarch, Speght’s own contribution to marital literature in the guise of a counter-attack on Joseph Swetnam can, I argue, similarly be seen as articulating the conscience of a country bitterly opposed to an increasingly autocratic monarch. “Yet a truth ungainsayable is it, that the Man is the Woman’s Head, by which title yet of Supremacie, no authoritie hath hee given him to domineere, or basely command and imploy his wife, as a servant; but hereby is he taught the duties which hee oweth unto her,” asserts Speght. This paper will argue that, in political terms, Speght’s marriage discourse in her Mouzell becomes a coded critique of incorrigible absolute monarchy.

McCue Gill, Amyrose Session 6C

(Cornell University)

“Spousal Relations on the Italian Renaissance Stage (1520-1530)”
Based upon an eclectic blend of material from late medieval and Renaissance novelle, ancient Roman theatre and contemporary oral tradition, the humorous, carnivalesque and often obscene plays of the early Cinquecento became incredibly popular as public entertainment in Italy, especially among the upper classes. This paper focuses upon the representation of marriage in three Italian comedies composed during the 1520s: Aretino’s Il Marescalco, Beolco’s La Moscheta, and the Accademia degli Intronati’s Gl’Ingannati. By exploring the ways in which the commedie rework, parody and critique conjugal ideals from the previous century, I ask how these rich literary sources actively engaged with pressing contemporary debates on marriage, and show how early sixteenth-century drammaturgi simultaneously delighted audiences with ribald jests and produced a textual venue for serious commentary on the complex socio-political institution that is Renaissance marriage.

McDougall, Sara Session 4A

(Yale University)

“Bigamy in Late-Medieval France”
In fifteenth-century Northern France, how was bigamy practiced and prosecuted? What patterns of behavior can be found in the cases of men and women accused of bigamy, and how were these alleged bigamists prosecuted and punished for their crimes? To answer these questions, this paper turns to the fifteenth-century records of the officiality court of Troyes. Drawing on sentences passed against bigamists by the bishop of Troyes’ judicial official, this paper aims to reconstruct the strategies adopted by male and female bigamists. These records show bigamists engaged repeatedly in the same tactics. They also reveal much about the underlying priorities and circumstances of the men and women who sought out second marriages in this time and place. Turning from the practitioners of bigamy to those court officials who brought them to justice, we seek out these judges’ motivations and concerns in the prosecution and punishment of bigamy.

McSheffrey, Shannon Session 7C

(Concordia University)

“Law and Legal Record as Marriage Strategy in Late Medieval London”
In January 1488, Agnes Skern, a gentleman’s widow, was one of the litigants in a three-cornered marriage suit brought before the Consistory Court of the bishop of London. Both Agnes and another widow named Margaret Niter claimed to have made a contract (a binding vow) of marriage with the same man, Piers Curtes. Through the detailed depositions from this case and a substantial number of other surviving records concerning the litigants and those attached to them, I will explore how Agnes Skern pursued litigation and, in particular, what role documents or legal records played in that strategy. In doing so, I hope to elucidate both the choices faced by a young widow of substantial wealth but ongoing legal problems, and the role played by law and legal records in late medieval Londoners’ social negotiations.

Nardizzi, Vin Session 4B

(University of British Columbia)

“The Marital Graft in Sidneys Old Arcadia
In The Old Arcadia (ca. 1580), the manuscript romance Philip Sidney composed after retiring from court in the wake of his untoward intervention in Elizabeth’s marriage negotiations with the Duke of Anjou, Pamela, the elder daughter of a duke, and the duke Musidorus carve “pretty knots” into the bark of trees. These eloping lovers, the narrator tells us, “tied together the names of Musidorus and Pamela, sometimes intermixedly changing them to Pamedorus and Musimela.” I argue that this example of inscriptional improvisation on the surface of trees constitutes a marital graft, not merely in the sense that it is an act of graphesis. It also wittily engages discourses of plant grafting, the horticultural practice often described in Elizabethan “how-to” guides for gardening as a conjugal “mixing” of disparate plants and which required grafters to carry a penknife on their tool belts for incising small cuts into the bark of stock trees. Sidney’s romance, then, not only dangerously glances once again at Elizabeth’s marital affairs (Musidorus almost rapes Pamela just after their dalliance in tree-writing), but, more importantly, it keys us into a green vocabulary for imagining dynastic marriage and sex in early modern Europe. Tellingly, at the end of the romance, we learn that the fruit of Musidorus and Pamela’s marital graft is a “fair daughter” named Melidora.

Parker, Heather Session 5A

(University of Guelph)

“The Management of Marriage in Pre-Reformation Scotland: Family Power and Social Status”
Despite ecclesiastic efforts, marriage among the late medieval Scottish noble and merchant classes was often governed by secular ambitions. Drawing upon marriage contracts from family papers, notaries’ books, and burgh records, this paper will examine the familial strategy in the contraction of these marriages in pre-reformation Scotland. The early contracts and court records will be compared with the development of marriage patterns in the years after the reformation in Edinburgh, highlighting similarities and differences among the wide range of social classes that were included in the new system of record keeping. I will focus on questions of power in the creation of marriages between families interested in controlling the exchange of money and advancing their social status. I will also examine the balance of power between parents and their children in the development of these marriage agreements.

Pedersen, Frederik Jakob Galster Session 8C

(University of Aberdeen, Scotland)

“Privates on Parade: Impotence and the Medieval English Church Courts”
The Impediment of Impotence appears relatively infrequently as an argument for the annulment of marriage in medieval English cause papers. Although the number of impotence cases is relatively small, the fact that so few men successfully defended themselves against the charge of impotence requires explanation. The paper will show that most surviving impotence cases deal with persons with relatively common genital malformations. This paper will investigate the English Cause paper material anew and suggest a further reason: the men who failed the court’s examination of their potency were suffering from identifiable physical malformations of their genitals that made it impossible for them to function sexually and will include analyses of social and gender issues arising from a consideration of the legal evidence.

Peterson, Lesley Session 8B

(University of North Alabama)

“To Have and to Hold Still: Marriage and Monumentalizing in Early Modern English Drama”
Both Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great, Part 2 and Elizabeth Cary’s Tragedy of Mariam dramatize the monumentalizing impulse directed by powerful men at wives who are also queens and to some degree captives: an impulse evident both during and after the women’s deaths. Marlowe’s grieving Tamburlaine finds the strength to continue living in the moment he decrees that Zenocrate’s corpse be embalmed and preserved uninterred to accompany him on his journeys; Elizabeth Cary’s Herod makes the continued survival of his queen Mariam dependent upon her willingness to imitate the marble fixity of a statue, a performance on which his own sanity also depends. Both texts script complex performances that engage Restoration debates on idolatry and materialism, Renaissance conventions of commemoration, the discourse of the emerging science of anatomy, and changing models of marriage through their treatments of that unfixable liminal figure: the theatrical representation of the regal, wifely body.

Prajda, Katalin Session 7A

(Università degli Studi di Firenze, Italy)

“Unions of Interest; Marriage and Economical Strategies among Florentine Merchants in Medieval Hungary”
The aim of this paper is to analyse the connections between spouse selection and economic ties throughout the case of a Florentine consorteria. In medieval families marriage had important role in maintaining not only social, but economic connections among fellow citizens. The present investigation considers a magnate family, the Scolari and their marriage ties which were usually overlapped by economic relations. Strong evidence for conscious selection among suitors is seen in the relations between the Scolari and several other families inside their business circle. Relationships between kin did not end with the death of the spouse but were reshaped on the basis of common economic interests or with a new marriage. The paper focuses on Pipo Spano’s network and that of his counterparts in the Hungarian Kingdom and take into consideration the phenomena of successful marriage politics which provided not only economic but political advantage to Florentine families.
Procida, Alysa Session 8B

(University of Toronto)

“Representations of Marriage in the N-Town Mary Plays
The late fifteenth-century plays in the N-Town cycle dealing with the early life of the Virgin contain two of the most depictions of marriage within the cycle: that of Mary and Joseph and Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anna. In this paper, I examine the plays’ significant deviations from their source material in order to highlight the importance of gender and power relations presented onstage. While The Marriage of Mary and Joseph draws extensively on the fabliau tradition in order to minimize Joseph’s masculinity, Joachim and Anna makes significant changes to its source in the Protevangelium in order to diminish Anna’s role by staging the only extant depiction of their meeting in Jerusalem with Anna crawling on her knees. Though Joachim and Anna’s marriage seems calculated to mediate the relative unorthodoxy of Mary and Joseph’s marriage, this tension creates particularly interesting models of marriage in medieval East Anglia.

Rothman, E. Natalie Session 7C

(University of Toronto, Scarborough)

“ ‘To remove the occasion for scandal’: Same-sex love, homosocial domesticity, and patriarchal authority in inter-imperial relations”
In the summer of 1588, Giovanni Moro, the Venetian bailo (resident consul) in Istanbul, sent a secret report to the Heads of the Council of Ten, the highest security authority in Venice. Attached to the report was a transcript of the interrogation of some sixteen people, mostly current or former employees resident in the bailo’s house. Their testimonies revolved around a scandal, which the bailo was keen to keep from Ottoman officials’ ears: a love affair that had blossomed between two young men under his employ, a local apprentice dragoman (diplomatic interpreter) and a Venetian barber-surgeon. By following these testimonies and situating the affair in the context of the foreign diplomatic milieu of early modern Istanbul, this paper explores contemporary perceptions of same-sex love, intimacy, homosocial domesticity, and patriarchal authority in the European-Ottoman contact zone.

Rothstein, Marian Session 2B

(Carthage University)

“Clandestine Marriage in Sixteenth-Century France”
Marriage was both sacrament of the Church and a tool for civil order. It became a battle ground in the struggles between France and the Papacy. Matrimonial politics had a major role in building the fortunes of great noble houses and alliances among European powers. Given this, clandestine marriage, a binding marriage based on a private exchange vows, possible in the absence of witnesses or clergy, presented a real threat to the social order. In France, clandestine marriages were effectively outlawed by an edict of Henri II in 1557. I will examine the causes and intent of this edict and the status of clandestine marriage in France before and after Council of Trent which eliminated the practice (1563) by very different means. (The decrees of Trent were not accepted by the Gallican Church but analogous procedures were instituted.) I will also consider clandestine marriages in sixteenth-century novels which use them to enhance their plots, and consider how chaste heroines looked like women living in sin to readers a generation later, unable to recognize clandestine marriages.

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