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

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

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

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

Synopsis

Emlyn Eisenach uses a wide range of sources, including the richly detailed and previously unexplored records of nearly two hundred marriage-related disputes from the bishop's court of Verona, to illuminate family and social relations in early modern northern Italy. Arguing against the common emphasis on the growth of law and government in this period, her study emphasises the fluidity of the principles that governed marriage and its dissolution, and deepens our understanding of the patriarchal family and its complex relationship with gender and status during the sixteenth century.

Excerpt

In 1528 or 1529 Caterina Mantuanella, the foster daughter of a small-scale merchant of Verona and sometime soldier named Sebastiano Tessar and his wife, Lucia, married a soldier called Mancin Napolitano, who as his last name suggests hailed from the south of Italy and was currently serving in a company in the Veneto. Court records from the diocese of Verona describe the multistep and notably male-dominated nuptials that began in Caterina's parish church. There, before male witnesses and the parish priest, don Giacomo, but in the bride's absence, the groom and Caterina's foster father stated their consent to the marriage. After confirming the union, the male company moved from the church to the bride's family's house, where the bride, her foster mother, and other guests waited to watch Caterina and Mancin exchange words of consent and join hands. Later, recounting this process before the court as one of many witnesses questioned in an investigation of Caterina's marital history, her foster father emphasized his own control of the proceedings, specifying that at the church he had “directed” don Giacomo to put the relevant questions to the groom and acted as Caterina's “governor” himself in consenting to the union. At his instructions, he added, the priest accompanied him and the groom to the house for the second exchange of consent.

The style of Caterina's and Mancin's wedding would appear to illustrate the common assertion that early modern Italian society, like European society more generally, was “patriarchal.” Historians use this term to mean not merely male domination, but the organization of society in an all-encompassing father-centric hierarchical structure. Looking at wedding ceremonies as an important way to discern such structures, historians of medieval and early modern Europe point to the ways in which the men in families and especially fathers controlled nuptial matters (as they did other important business), while the women were relegated to minor or nonexistent roles in deciding upon and effecting marriages, as well as practically all other matters. Such marital practices, historians argue, expressed the entrenchment of the patriarchal social-familial hierarchy, a mutually reinforcing

Cause, b. 1540–1560, 1542 Off. episcopatus v. Joannes dictus Moretus.

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