Husbands, Wives, and Concubines: Marriage, Family, and Social Order in Sixteenth-Century Verona

By Kuehn, Thomas | The Catholic Historical Review, October 2006 | Go to article overview

Husbands, Wives, and Concubines: Marriage, Family, and Social Order in Sixteenth-Century Verona


Kuehn, Thomas, The Catholic Historical Review


Husbands, Wives, and Concubines: Marriage, Family, and Social Order in Sixteenth-Century Verona. By Emlyn Eisenach. [Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies, 69.] (Kirksville, Missouri: Truman State University Press. 2004. Pp. xxiv, 240. $36.95 paperback.)

Husbands, Wives, and Concubines places Emlyn Eisenach among the best of a large contingent of international scholars studying non-normative heterosexual relationships in early modern Europe. These scholars, many Italian or researching Italian materials, have already contributed to three volumes edited by Diego Quaglioni and Silvana Seidel Menchi, covering topics like separation and divorce, clandestine and contested marriages, and concubinage, adultery, and bigamy. Eisenach's monograph ranges across many of these topics.

Eisenach exploits ecclesiastical court records, but she does not pose her findings in terms of the changes worked by Tridentine reforms, if only because the period from which she draws her cases, 1538-1593, did not really see their effect. Instead she frames her analysis in terms of patriarchalism-a normative model centering on the padre di famiglia. She sets out to problematize this model against actual cases with their variations of social class. She also distinguishes the concerns of churchmen, notably Verona's famed bishop, Gian Matteo Giberti, who saw limitations and responsibilities in paternal power.

A short review cannot convey how rich this book is. The heart of Eisenach's approach is her second chapter. There she argues that, alongside the conventional model of patriarchal arranged marriage, there was a second form prevailing among "ordinary" folk. Lack of economic leverage gave poorer parents less control of children's marriages, and where they were in control that did not mean marriage was forced or without spousal affection. Eisenach argues, convincingly, that the style of wedding ritual in which the bride's father was prominent was not designed so much to publicize the legitimate union but to stress his influence in it and his continuing interest in his daughter (and her dowry). Wedding rituals in which there was no father tried to fill the void with evidence of the groom's affection and commitment.

Clandestine marriages had their uses. Secrecy avoided contrary kin and bought time to win them over. Pregnancies threw such plans awry and tended to land parties in court.

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