Marriage Wars in Late Renaissance Venice

Marriage Wars in Late Renaissance Venice

Marriage Wars in Late Renaissance Venice

Marriage Wars in Late Renaissance Venice


This book brings to life the lost voices of ordinary Venetians during the age of Catholic revival. Looking at scripts that were brought to the city's ecclesiastical courts by spouses seeking to annul their marriage vows, this book opens up the emotional world of intimacy and conflict, sexuality, and living arrangments that did not fit normative models of marriage.


Do you think all the good qualities of men and all the good qualities of women
that historians claim are true? You should know that it is men that have writ
ten these things, and that they never tell the truth if not in error; and because
of their envy and ill will towards women, they rarely say good things about
us. Rather they praise their own sex in general and themselves in particular.

—Cornelia, in Moderata Fonte,
Il merito delle donne (Venice, ca. 1592)

This work explores stories of failed intimacies that circulated in the neighborhoods and courts of late Renaissance Venice, a city whose historical record of marital litigation is extremely rich. It captures sixteenth- and seventeenth-century individuals and authorities working to keep the last few threads of troubled marriages from unraveling, or untying the knots that held them together. the stories ring with contemporary relevance. Failing relationships badly marred by domestic violence, betrayals, sexual problems, and economic woes still occupy the attention of the mass media and generate debates about moral and social issues among legal and health care professionals, community organizations, and audiences around the world. Married Venetians faced similar problems, rooted in generational differences, avarice, philandering, betrayed loyalties, and marriage strategies that prioritized family honor, class, and wealth over affection and compatibility. Their bureaucratic structures and modes of communication were somewhat more limited than those of the modern world, but they were still prepared to confront the challenges of domestic conflict. Their response to family strife offers us significant insights into the history of attitudes toward intimacy, domestic partnership, and marital breakup.

The time frame of this study, 1563–1650, represents an important historical watershed. It was the century following the Council of Trent (1545–1563), an event that marked the resurgence of the Catholic Church as a force affecting many aspects of domestic life, particularly . . .

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