To Love, Honor, and Obey in Colonial Mexico: Conflicts over Marriage Choice, 1574-1821

By Patricia Seed | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Love

Why were Gerónimo and Juana, the Mexican Romeo and Juliet, so eager to marry each other? Their motives were not mentioned in the case, and indeed there are many possibilities: desire to be independent of a domineering parent, a moral obligation, even love. Although we can never know Gerónimo's and Juana's motivations, we can learn more generally about the culturally accepted motives for marriage, and about Hispanic beliefs concerning love, so central for the question of marriage.

Catholic doctrine emphasized the right of the individual to exercise free will in marrying, because such intentions were a manifestation of God's wishes for the world. "Will" was the word that denoted individual intentions; the popular gloss on the term was "love." Love was the expression of will, and since will was a manifestation of divine intention, this popular understanding lent young people in conflict with parents great normative support.

Spanish cultural beliefs about motives for marriage were sometimes articulated in the prenuptial disputes, but rarely elaborated. One reason for this is their very transparency to other members of society. There was no need to explain these notions at length: the vast complex of beliefs, shared by members of the culture, could be referred to with a single phrase or word. It is only to the modern mind that such ideas are obscure. Our culture, our code words, and our values are different.

Since detailed information about the cultural beliefs of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Hispanic society does not emerge from the

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