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



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Scarci, Manuela Session 6C

(University of Toronto)

"He Loves Me Not: Della Casa and the Question of Marriage"

Most likely written in Rome in 1537 but set in Venice, Giovanni Della Casa's Quaestio 


lepidissima An uxor sit ducenda
was first published in 1733. Finding his inspiration in 
classical Greek and Roman literary tradition, but also in earlier Italian literature, in 
it Della Casa has a venerable old Venetian Senator instruct a group of young noble men, 
in whom he detects a propensity for marriage, on the perils of taking a wife. The 
formulation of the issue in these terms opens the door to some of the most virulent 
diatribes against women in Italian Renaissance. As this is not a dialogue, the injurious 
accusations remain unanswered and go unchallenged.

Critics of Della Casa's treatise maintain that is a literary divertissement whose main 


characteristics are rhetorical and comical in nature. The ideology of the brief tract has 
been ignored beyond the usual remarks that it is fitting and usual for the time, 
especially as it seems to be undercut by humour and irony. The author, of course, is 
better known for his treatise on manners titled Il Galateo; An uxor shares with that 
many a trait. I propose to look at the short treatise in light of these common traits and 
against the background of other similar contemporary treatises, both in Latin and in 
Italian vernacular, to argue that the ideology it promotes is less harmless than it seems 
at first and that, much like Il Galateo, it can be read as a manifesto expressing 
principles and presuppositions that governed Della Casa's world.
Shadis, Miriam Session 4A

(Ohio University)

“Sexual Politics: Marriage, Concubinage, Historians and the court of Jaume I of Barcelona-Aragon”
According to his own Book of Deeds, King Jaume I of Aragon and Barcelona had a sexually fraught marriage to his first wife, Leonor of Castile. An (un)fortunate discovery of consanguinity enabled Jaume to divorce Leonor and turn his attention to rescuing the Countess of Urgell, Aurembiaix, from threatening neighbors. Historians have assumed this relationship was sexual, and indeed have read the charter whereby Aurembiaix handed over her county to the king as a “concubinage contract.” Based on recent historiography on Aurembiaix, queenship, and Jaume himself, as well as my research in the Crown of Aragon Archives this past summer, I argue that sex (and the promise or absence thereof) formed a key element of the evolution of the king’s power, even as it was freed from the constraints of marriage.
Smith, Jamie Session 5C

(Alma College)

“Keeping It Together: Marriage, Family, and the Albergo
In scholarly studies on marriage, the creation and the dissolution of the union have received the most attention. To complement the current body of research, this paper examines what happened during marriage using late thirteenth-century Genoa as a case study. Contrary to the ideal, many Genoese men spent significant time away from the commune and relied on a kin network, which often included their wives, to maintain the family. Genoese wives functioned not only as the heads of the domestic households, but also the public ones. This paper incorporates new research on Genoese families and their respective albergo (the formal and spatial alliance of families in the commune) to determine if there was a correlation between intra-albergo marriage and wives in positions of prominence in the legal records. The paper also asks if understanding what was likely to happen during marriage affected the choice of marriage partner.


Smith III, William E. Session 5C

(Indiana University)

“Anne Wentworths Apocalyptic Marriages”
Anne Wentworth, a seventeenth-century English Anabaptist, wrote three fascinating tracts in the late 1670s that revolve around marriage. Wentworth describes her highly dysfunctional and at times violent union with her unnamed husband. She labors to justify publicly her bold actions of setting up a separate household, which includes keeping her daughter in her custody, while her husband rallies their congregational leaders in an attempt to force her return. This narrative grips the reader, but it is Wentworth’s second marriage to Jesus and related phenomena that makes Wentworth a compelling marital case study. In this paper I argue that Wentworth performs an innovative and highly unconventional deployment of both apocalyptic theology and visionary experience. Wentworth connects her heavenly and earthly marriages in order to both justify her separation from her husband and to dramatically relocate the center of salvation history onto her first marriage.

Soranzo, Matteo Session 2B

(McGill University)

“When Elegy Encountered Marriage: Self Fashioning and Intertextuality in Giovanni Pontanos De Amore Coniugali
In this paper I combine literary analysis and intellectual history in order to rethink the significance of Giovanni Pontano's nuptial elegies De Amore Coniugali in the context of Quattrocento humanism. Latin, Courtly and Petrarchan poets acquainted readers with different portraits of lovers, whose common feature is their unmarried status. Based on a work of revision of these three traditions, Giovanni Pontano constructed himself as the first "elegiac husband," who celebrates the joys of marriage and the birth of his son in the language of Catullus and Propertius. Pontano's collection is generally approached as a strictly literary experiment and investigated exclusively in its dialogue with Latin sources. However, I propose to frame De Amore Coniugali in the context of humanistic treatises on (or against) marriage, and to read it as a highly innovative and even polemical literary experiment whose primary goal is to construct a new figure of poet and scholar.

Sperling, Jutta Gisela Session 8A

(Hampshire College)

“Dotal Marriage and Domestic Partnerships in Early Modern Portugal”
Requests for marriage dispensations at the Holy Penitentiary show that in sixteenth-century Portugal, clandestine marriages or domestic unions were ubiquitous.  Despite the marriage reform of the Council of Trent, Portuguese kings reaffirmed until the 17th century and beyond that marriages among commoners were based on mutual consent, joint ownership, and co-habitation.  My analysis of notarial acts from 15th, 16th, and 17th century Lisbon shows that women profited materially from the informal nature of marital partnerships: widows inherited from their deceased husbands, daughters from their parents, and illegitimate children from their fathers.  In contrast to Renaissance Italy, where dotal exchange came to be practiced even by the virtually propertyless,  marriages among Portuguese aristocrats resembled the more egalitarian arrangements of couples establishing joint ownership.

Spierling, Karen E. Session 6B

(Ohio State University)

“Making Marriages, Breaking Boundaries in Reformation Geneva”
In mid-sixteenth-century Geneva, church and city officials viewed the control of marriage as one key to safeguarding the independence and religious integrity of the city. Marriages were to be performed within the city only if both parties were faithful members of the Reformed Church, and Genevan inhabitants were forbidden from marrying Catholics outside of Geneva. But as this paper will discuss, some Genevans continued to make family alliances with Catholics, arranging for their children to marry Catholics outside of the city, and sometimes bringing Catholic spouses into Geneva. Using the records of the Consistory and City Council, this paper will address the following questions: How did Genevan inhabitants negotiate official policies regarding intermarriage with Catholics? And more generally, what can this specific case of Geneva tell us about the place of marriage at the intersection of social, religious, and political concerns in pre-modern Europe?

Tsoumis, Karine Session 3A

(University of Toronto)

“Tokens of Matrimony: Medallic Portraits of Spouses in Early Modern Venice”
In Early Modern Italy, the portrait medal was a favoured means for the circulation of one’s likeness in multiple copies. Medals presenting portraits of married couples - with the profiles of husband and wife on each side – constitute a small portion of the corpus of surviving objects. Scholarship on marriage portraiture, however, has not addressed this phenomenon. Taking the Venetian Republic as a case study, I will push the boundaries of the genre and engage with this aspect of the material culture of marriage. In light of Venice’s matrimonial ideals, and considering how medallic portraits relate visually to representations of spouses in other media, the possible functions of the object will be discussed. Where such medals strictly commissioned to commemorate marriage and publicize family alliances? Or were they bound to other important events in the life of spouses and their families, such as births and deaths? Finally, by recreating a corpus of dual portrait medals, I will seek to assess if this was a predominantly Venetian phenomenon.

Wessell Lightfoot, Dana Session 8A

(University of Texas, El Paso)

“The Power to Divide?: Germania Marriage Contracts in early Fifteenth-Century Valencia”
Using notarial contracts and court cases from 1419-1439 in the city of Valencia, this paper seeks to examine the relative power given to wives over their marital property, in two very different systems. The dotal regime, which mandated a separation of goods, was recognized by the prevailing legal code in Valencia. In contrast, the germania, based on a community of goods was not. Theoretically, the germania system was advantageous as it gave women access to the fruits of the marital union; however, in practice it held many drawbacks when marital relations broke down.

Williams, Deanne Session 6A

(York University)


Isabelle de France, Child Bride”
Isabelle de France (1389-1409) married Richard II (1367-1400) in 1396, when she was just seven, and Richard twenty-nine. However, scholarship on Shakespeare's history play, Richard II, remains unwaveringly committed to the notion that Shakespeare transforms this historical figure into an adult woman. My paper argues that it is possible to read Shakespeare's character of Queen Isabel as a girl, and as a child. This is more consistent with Shakespeare's historical and poetic sources, in which the queen is famous for being a child bride. But it is also more dramatically effective, as it intensifies sympathy for her character and for the political alliance with France that she represents, thus providing a powerful counterpoint to the play's ostensibly pro-Bolingbroke trajectory. As my paper recovers the historical figure that informs Shakespeare's Isabel, it highlights the attitudes to and anxieties about child marriage that shape critical receptions and dramatic conceptions of this Shakespearean character.Williams, Linda K. Session 3A

(University of Puget Sound)

“Marriage in Mind: the Farnese Gallery and Iconographic Tradition”
Annibale Carracci’s Farnese Gallery frescoes (c. 1600), are some of the most celebrated works of the early baroque; however, scholars continue to debate the specific nature of the commission. Do the frescoes relate to the marriage of Ranuccio Farnese and Margherita Aldobrandini? Or do they reveal the cultured taste of the patron, Cardinal Odoardo Farnese, in a celebration of the arts? This study concurs with Giovanni Pietro Bellori’s suggestion that the four pairs of fighting putti provided important evidence for the program, but not in the way that he imagined. By analyzing broad patterns of marital iconography, I argue that the vault was planned to address not just love, but marriage and dynasty in specific ways that have not been probed. Significant details and a long tradition of nuptial imagery reveal that the Gallery was executed, if not conceived, with the long-awaited marriage of the Farnese heir in mind.
Woodacre, Elena (Ellie) Session 6A

(Bath Spa University, UK)

“The Queens Marriage: Matrimonial Politics in Pre-Modern Europe”
Although somewhat unusual, the laws of succession and inheritance in most kingdoms in Pre-Modern Europe did allow for the succession of women to the throne in the absence of male heirs. Matrimonial politics always played a vital role in building alliances and securing the frontiers of the realm, but the marriage of a Queen regnant or an heiress was an especially significant diplomatic opportunity. The selection of the Queen’s consort could have major positive or negative consequences for the realm. The right choice could bring new territory, a powerful warlord for the army and an able partner to rule alongside the Queen. The wrong choice however, could bring disastrous results; embroiling the country in war with its neighbours or destabilizing the realm internally through the creation of factions which supported or opposed the consort’s rule. This paper will explore the selection process for the Queen’s husband and discuss several relevant examples from the period 1200-1700 to highlight the possible ramifications of this momentous decision.

Zajac, Talia Session 6A

(University of Toronto)



Fratres ad Ruthenorum principem procedunt: Exile, Hospitality, and Marital Diplomacy under Yaroslav the Wise”
While for most of the pre-Mongol period (to 1240) Rus’ princes pursued regional policies towards their neighbours, during the period of territorial unification under the sole rulership of Yaroslav “the Wise” (1036-1054) it is also possible to see a unified marriage policy, favouring union with western noble houses, outside the “Byzantine Commonwealth.” This paper aims to re-examine Yaroslav’s marital policies from the perspective of the Rus’ value of hospitality, drawing on Birnbaum’s study of Yaroslav’s Scandinavian roots. Yaroslav supported at least three exiled rulers during his reign: Harald Sigurtharson of Norway, Casimir of Poland, and Andrew of Hungary. The paper will explore both how the choice of Yaroslav’s courts as a place of refuge for these rulers was influenced by previous marriage alliances, and how the “debt of hospitality” was used by Yaroslav, in turn, to cement further alliances for his kin when these rulers were restored to power.


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