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The perils of patriarchy.

For at least a generation, historians have seen the elaboration of the family in Early Modern times as a crucial part of the development of social control, and an accurate reflection of the profound shift in civilization from a pre-industrial world where solidarities ran vertically, rooted into small and familiar worlds, to an industrial economy where different social classes glared across their boundaries. The earlier studies seeking to resurrect "a world we have lost" were based on demographic data, and sought the secrets of social life in patterns of residence and neighborhood, largely ignoring the more nebulous realm of interpersonal relations. Then the exploration of criminal court archives opened new vistas of human interaction, through the treacherous filter of court testimony and judicial sentences. Most recently, church court archives have yielded precious information on the dynamics of family life, and sometimes the most intimate secrets of households. The books examined here are all recent, but curiously span these three dimensions, each fraught with special pitfalls and theoretical implications.

Thomas Robisheaux's overarching concern is to determine "how social order and hierarchy [were] imposed and maintained and then reproduced" (p. 2). The study thus "focuses on the search for social order, discipline and hierarchy in a time of disturbing change and disorder," and proceeds to analyze this by combining social, economic and political history with a glimpse at the cultural context too. The book deals with the stability of a small German state - the County of Hohenlohe in southern Franconia - that never experienced the military fiscality over extended periods that forced peasants and townsmen out of autarchic modes of production and perception. More to the purpose here, Robisheaux emphasizes how any study of the patriarchal family, family roles, marriage rituals and inheritance practices rests upon stark Malthusian realities. This is indeed the strength of his treatment of these themes, as he studies the wrenching effects of the rise of population during the 16th century, its catastrophic fall during the Thirty Years War, and its slow restoration in the age of absolutism. Finally, Robisheaux is interested in the way in which the peasantry "shared in the fruits of their own domination," and effectively limited the range of action of their overlords. The author attributes to a large segment of the rural population an activist - and even voluntarist - role in creating and maintaining order, discipline and hierarchy. This last conclusion is an inference drawn from the various compromises established between local communities and the prince, rather than a demonstration founded upon explicit sources.

Robisheaux's attention soon focuses on moralists' attempts to impose order, hierarchy and social discipline on the general population, illustrating the social changes effected by a growing Malthusian crisis of land hunger. The capillary effects of rural capitalism between 1560 and 1620 further exacerbated the growth of massive rural poverty. In response to this, town and village male elites launched a "search" for social order, "laced as it was with a heavy emphasis on patriarchal authority, a rigid sense of hierarchy and status, and calls for obedience and discipline at every turn, (that) created new tensions in the village." The role of the princes of these small patrimonial entities remained quite modest, since they observed the Germanic tradition of splitting them up and merging them again over generations, multiplying the number of tiny courts and centers of power. In any case, these lords lacked the administrative machinery to control the lives of peasants, or intervene in any way but to uphold custom (p. 32). There was never an armed force in the hands of the princes which could be used to coerce the peasantry or townsmen to pay unconsented taxes or obey "innovations." The Peasant Revolt of 1525 shook the limited power of the counts to its foundations, by simply removing the essential pillar of peasant cooperation. But even it was epiphenomenal, of little lasting consequence save for the way in which it ushered in the Lutheran Reformation and swept away the old Catholic institutions. The counts who stooped to sign treaties with their subjects were loathe to go on the offensive once the revolt was over. Nor did church courts have much hold over the peasantry before the late sixteenth century, due largely to their lack of property in the region and the policy of the counts to acquire the patronage rights to many cures. Robisheaux's concept of power and domination here underlines the fundamental relationship of reciprocity. The peasantry paid its lords to provide order and some measure of protection so that they could get on with their lives in a climate of security.

Of more importance for the social and cultural history of the region was the growing population that began to court famine by the 1560s. The process created or exacerbated inequalities in wealth among the villagers themselves, and between one zone and another. Only the tenant farmers on estates kept intact through impartible inheritance customs enjoyed some stability. The disruption of a traditional equilibrium triggered a fear of disorder and a search for stability that characterized the next century, in which princes, pastors and villagers "struggled" to find solutions. Robisheaux then focuses on the disruptive roles attributed to women, youth and the village poor, although his evidence is largely derived from normative literature. The Lutheran reformers saw family and marital discipline as the cornerstones of rural society. The family head, "the patriarch, would have to have secure and unchallenged authority over the members of his family, especially his children, and the dependents of his household." The key issue for them was the tightening of parental control over marriage and the elaboration of judicial mechanisms by which parents could annul the rash impulses of their children. Marriage courts with the power to dissolve unauthorized unions were established throughout the region in the 1540s and were bolstered by a comprehensive new Marriage Law in 1572. Robisheaux's demonstration begins to break down here, primarily due to the insufficiencies of his material, and partly to the nature of the concepts he employs. The visitations of the region in the 1550s underscored how far short practice was of precept, and the consistories and tribunals established in the county never compared to those of stronger states, even at their peak activity in the 1590s. More to the point, however, the court records themselves shed little light on the relationships between couples, the "youth culture" that Robisheaux surmises was so vibrant, nor even the dynamics of family relationships around each of the cases (p. 107). All we learn is that the wealthier families used the courts to enforce the authority of parents over the family's marriage alliances, without ever discovering how little power parents might have wielded before the Reformation. The author further qualifies his conclusions by stating that young people never seem to have assimilated the sermons and judicial threats enjoining them to filial obedience. Nor were the courtships and clandestine vows nullified by these courts the work of intransigent fathers alone, but rather anyone who wished to defend a claim to familial property and honor. Village women seem to have been the most relentless guardians of public morality, by exposing scandal, especially when it involved irrepressible pre-marital sex. Robisheaux dismisses their activism by claiming that they were ostensibly reinforcing "patriarchal values and marital discipline" (p. 114). Legitimate weddings unfolded along a more elaborate set of ceremonies and rituals which were "meant to create order, to impose social discipline [the author's italics] in a world many saw as unstable and in flux" (p. 120).

Following hard upon the chapter on the patriarchal marriage, Robisheaux returns to the Malthusian underpinning of the whole, whereby the basic aim of families was to defend the patrimony from fragmentation and undue risk. The patriarchal family was above all a set of property relationships, and its ideological constructs were a mere expression of material interest. The order that came to family life by the early 17th century was that which the church and state embraced in the patriarchal family, elaborating "as strict a marital discipline as the society would bear." The Marriage Law of 1572 decreed that property arrangements of the marriage, and the ensuing inheritance of the offspring, were to be established before kin and the local officials. What complicated matters was that inheritance customs were not easily codified and enforced and were subject to continual change. Robisheaux here echoes Pierre Bourdieu by affirming that "customs only came to life in the hands of the villagers themselves, not as rational laws separate and apart from social action, but as rules that had meaning only in the actual practice of passing on and defending the patrimony."(1) Villagers continually argued over the key principles in the customs, the justice of them, and the practical ways in which the principles were to be carried out" (p. 127). Peasants treated these customs only as rough rules to be manipulated to fit the relationships of power in the family. The most frequent result was a kind of preferential partibility. When a man died, his widow was left with only one-third of the patrimony; a widower, two-thirds. The rest was divided into equal parts, going to the children. Robisheaux mentions but does not expand upon the existence of usufruct clauses, which in practical terms annulled the significance of ownership in the beneficiary's lifetime, as long as she remained in the widowed state. Most arrangements, however, left much open to negotiation. There was no clear preference for one son over another, and even daughters sometimes inherited through their husbands to the detriment of living sons. On the other hand, the sibling inheriting the bulk of the estate did not always pay off the others promptly, but rather stalled by paying small amounts of it over a long period, or sometimes neglected to transfer the others' share at all. Parents could also deprive their children of patrimony by remarrying and merging the estate of the first spouse with that of the second. All of these maneuvers were fraught with conflict. One can easily see how one generation wielded power over another, but in Robisheaux's telling, it is not at all clear that this gave men, and patriarchs in particular, a commanding position, nor a firm advantage to sons designated as future patriarchs. The author confesses surprise that widows, and sons-in-law (presumably urged on by their wives) acquired power and wealth in this system. "Once we break through the rhetoric of the Lutheran pastors, once we look beyond the letter of the laws to the actual practice of inheritance, peasant women appear in a rather different light" (p. 133). For one, widows threatened with poverty were granted extraordinary powers to protect themselves and their children. But even conventional arrangements benefiting a single son could split the family into rival factions, since siblings contested the legitimacy of inequality. For the author, the rule of impartibility came first, the separate interests of the kin second. Ultimately, the division and transmission of patrimony were influenced by a number of conditions: the shrewdness of individuals in manipulating custom; the balance of power between blood relatives and affines; the ages of the heirs; the alliances of family members with village notables or the authorities; the availability of land; the marriage market; the family's wealth and debts; the strength of personalities; luck and circumstance; and by the 17th century, the power of the state. The label of "patriarchy" can thus be taken with a grain of salt, since "positions of power and wealth in the family were never assumed to be permanent in this society" (p. 146).

Such sustained attention to the demographic and economic background is wanting in the work by James Farr, whose preoccupation with power, social order and, presumably, sexuality is guided instead by a strong dose of American gender theory. Rather than the hard realities of land hunger, Farr is more interested in "cultural representations" and ideologies which attempt to "fix" social reality. This is because "the groups or individuals who guide the ordering process that frames choices are obviously powerful, and the social group or groups that articulate the nature of the order and its manner of application possess the lion's share of power in a given society." The Burgundian elite's representation of family dynamics, Farr labels "patriarchy." "From a prescriptive patriarchal perspective, the female body must be controlled because of the woman's role in reproduction. Her mediation in this process was essential and in that mediation, men perceived a potential threat to their patriarchal power. Social control rooted in an order of patrimonial descent erected upon property and power - an elemental assumption of rational and order-loving men dedicated to erecting the new moral order - was thus dependent on men restricting women from realizing the potentiality of their power" (p. 139). This power is not so monolithic as to prevent "contests" over the affirmation of a given order, however (p. 5). The argument meanders into a semantic minefield around the meaning of "patriarchy." The semantic precision - one could say orthodoxy of jargon in certain interactionist social scientist circles - does not always make for easy reading, especially when dealing with the "dialectical dynamics of the formulation of the new order" (p. 9). These considerations he terms "methodological assumptions," but it would probably be more accurate to consider them theoretical premises. The book intends to analyze the relationships among law, religion and sexual morality, through the prism of discourse in its Foucaultian sense, and like Foucault, Farr pays scant attention to the broad swath of documents shedding light onto real situations.

The argument is deployed in two parts: first to illustrate what Burgundian lawmen and officeholders felt about the family and the authority of patriarchs, through an analysis of their use of law and their projects for religious reformation; and second, a consideration of the world of concrete situations, viewed through the criminal cases in the higher courts preserved in Burgundian archives. The first part sketches the program of the "increasingly powerful and dominant elite" to "reinforce social hierarchy and the maintenance of patriarchy" through the disciplining of the passions, which was voiced in the prescriptive moralistic literature of the age. For Farr, concerns for honor, hierarchy, social distinction, rank, precedence, honnetete, bienseance and obedience, are part and parcel of social station. Male contemporaries (why just male ?) were obsessed with honor, rank and precedence, and were correspondingly hostile to disruption which came in many forms, from war, to witches to vagrants. Social fence-building was the order of the day, to render order with greater clarity. Their measures to build such fences gave them an "authoritarian mind set" (p. 19). Since discipline was the byword of the morality of order, the passions and women were deemed most in need of discipline; "the polarities of high and low, male and female, pure and impure, were essential to the masculine morality of order, because the fiction of a fixed social hierarchy was predicated upon assumptions held by early modern men about unequal gender relations. This is why human passions were of such concern to moralists: they were the wellspring of disorder" (p. 20). As stoicism emerged as the dominant intellectual stance of educated and powerful men, the destructive nature of amorous passion was underlined. This takes up Norbert Elias' "civilizing process" which increased the difference between the elite and the vulgar, a difference that had as its characteristic mark the repression of man's animality.(2) These elites, who were a mixture of judicial officeholders, aristocrats, ecclesiastics and landowners, from interrelated families sharing the same clerical-controlled education, fashioned a literature of etiquette and civility that demanded adherence. One could object that this increased social distance only in the first instance, for the prescriptions it called for were increasingly imitated down the social ladder, even in the 17th century. For Farr, however, "the essential principle of the patriarchal order, (was) that of social stratification."

Farr is probably correct to insist that the judges, or robins shared the same world view as the ecclesiastics, and viewed the law as a means to attain the "sacralization" of society - although he might have used another, less ambiguous term designating the project to render individuals more godfearing. The general aim of Catholic religious reformers was not very different from the Lutherans, for they meant to instill discipline among the masses, develop a new educational curriculum, reform the church's administration, foster an internalization of Christian values and an emphasis on activism, to quote Wolfgang Reinhardt. This was not utterly new in the 17th century, but it did change in intensity. For both judges and clerics, there was a propensity to confuse crime and sin in Early Modern Europe, with sin ultimately equated with disobedience. Farr is also probably correct in noting that this moral vision insisted on two interrelated premises: an internal discipline of the individual, and an external control of the presentation and representation of the body (p. 40). The internal discipline was enhanced by frequent and regular confession. The external features could be molded and inculcated by the etiquette manuals which enjoyed an unprecedented vogue - but this in part debilitates his argument, for no social group was ever forbidden to learn from them, and cultural transmission outward was almost immediate. His conclusion, that "many lay and clerical people associated civility (and thus hierarchical distinction and obedience) with piety" is not compelling, for the religious zealot was recognized and celebrated by his or her indocility and lack of compromise with the world.

As part of this program, women were placed under the constant surveillance of their fathers or husbands within the patriarchal family, in the institution of marriage which was like a tightly locked house. Patriarchy demanded female chastity and fidelity unconditionally, although Farr's only example of extremely tight surveillance is drawn from a novel. A woman's honor was also held to be a form of property, making fornication or adultery forms of theft. These precepts were instilled into the population through pulpit exhortation, missions, the disciplining of wayward clergy, charity to the obedient and enclosure of the incorrigible. Farr emphasizes that this was a campaign to reign in female sexuality, although there is no demonstration here that this in fact was the dominant trend of stoic literature, for he makes no mention of moralists' condemnation of male concupiscence. Most surprising is a real absence of any investigation into "sexuality," either before or after this campaign, for either men or women.

The second part of his work deals with the encounter of this "discourse" with social practice. The Godly Reformers separating the sacred from the profane began logically by disentangling the clergy from the vices of the laity, and taking special care of the education, celibacy, morals, obedience and self-control of priests. The shortcomings of the clergy in this regard had been a common complaint of the 16th century. Both bishops and judges sought to rectify this by meting out harsher penalties. The judges took particular interest in the women involved in these affairs and were usually unsympathetic to them; after all, the women could not ever hope to marry these men. The priests were more difficult for the judges to collar. One procedural weapon in their arsenal was the appel comme d'abus whereby secular royal judges of the Parlement took jurisdiction over causes in the church courts when they felt it was in the public interest. Nevertheless, there was no takeover of the church courts by secular judges, but rather convergence of efforts by the early 17th century, when occasional capital sentences were handed down. Worldly priests were not only persecuted by judges and diocesan officials, but were increasingly harassed by their parishioners for good reasons and bad. Strong-willed priests were likely to ruffle the feathers of local seigneurs or notables, especially in affairs of status or local function, and accusations of immorality were the most effective way of ridding the parish of their presence.

Farr next investigates the "marital ethic" and how individuals may have abused it to obtain their ends, particularly the crime of "rapt," or seduction with the intention to marry without parental approval. Royal legislation of 1579 advocated death sentences for men who took that route, but Burgundy's judges found the legislation too severe, and their jurisprudence slowly decriminalized "rapt" in favor of awarding remuneration to the wronged parties. The judges came to suspect that guilt was not as clear as the royal legislation presumed. Until then, rapt assumed violent abduction, but royal legislation expanded the notion to include nonviolent seduction involving fraudulent promise of marriage. Until 1670, we are told, lower court judges regularly handed down punishments including hanging and service in the galleys, "aimed at shoring up the edifice of paternalism," although the author neglects to examine the tenor of letters of grace and remission that were a counterweight to harsh sentences. Over time, however, judges, still "supporters of paternalism," favored monetary remuneration, child support or dowries, and sometimes ordered the parties to be married even though such sentences made a mockery of both canon and civil law requiring free consent and parental approval. Farr's sense of the value of female honor is bluntly reductionist, especially in view of the absence of women's own views of the matter which abound in church court archives and of his own admission that the arrets which constitute his source contain little information about the relationship. "A primary purpose of the judicial process in cases of rapt came to be the rehabilitation of the honour of the woman, or more accurately her family. The judges conceived of a woman's honor as a commodity with a monetary value pegged to her social situation and therefore her marketability in marriage" (p. 102). Cash settlements aimed to "repair" honor, in the context of marriage markets and marital strategies.

The author notes how women and men knew that legal recourse was available either in church courts or in secular courts if rapt were alleged to have taken place, although it is difficult to understand how this squares with patriarchy. Women often pursued a strategy in which their pregnancy constrained men to marry them. Most of the plaintiffs were domestic servants, a population of marriageable age, not living under the parental roof. Their declarations of pregnancy often relate their predicaments frankly, although Farr characterizes them as "formulaic and self-serving" (p. 114). He notes that they do not necessarily reflect what actually transpired, and avoids the blunder of Cissie Fairchilds who takes at face value the girls' claims that deflowering usually took place through violence.(3) A man's only defense in this situation was to charge the plaintiff with sexual promiscuity or prostitution. The judges, however, believed that social stability could best be protected by encouraging marriage between the litigants, or more commonly by returning the woman to the father by blocking marriage and sentencing the accused to make support payments they thought he could afford. Magistrates suspected that culpability was not clear cut, and that seduction was bound up with female marital strategies as much as with male aggression and perfidy. Few of the cases Farr studies could be considered mesalliances in the strict sense of the word.

After 1670, judges confronted with daily experiences were "forced to innovate in the pursuit of their ideology" (p. 106). He thinks that the judges were upholding the ideology of paternalism to demand marriage of the parties. The judiciary "kept the public welfare continually before its eyes, and social stability was its unswerving goal." Simultaneously, ever more women abandoned their newborn babies on the doorstep of the father or at foundling hospitals. Abandonment was not without risk for the parents, for if identified, they could be held to provide support payments. Concealing pregnancy and infanticide were very difficult crimes to prove, so the number of cases represents an unknown fraction of the actual incidence of the crime, even though judges felt that its incidence was frequent.

In addition to the repression of rapt, and the rooting out of practices of infanticide and abortion, the campaign to instill self-control embraced other forms of deviant behaviour. Farr claims that prosecution of female crimes like infanticide, prostitution and procuring rose steadily in the 17th century, and then fell off, and provides tables (pp. 126-127) of their proportion of all crimes to prove it. But this is based on the (mistaken) assumption that all of the other important crimes remained constant over the period. A drop or an increase in the rate of any of the important categories, like assault and battery, homicide or theft, renders his percentages meaningless. The frequency of other sexual misdemeanors, and the propensity of judges to combat them over time, is also difficult to establish. Lay concubinage was theoretically not prosecuted, unless it was accompanied by "scandal"; but what constituted scandal was a very subjective thing. The authorities seemed to prosecute concubinage in conjunction with other punishable transgressions, like sexually scandalous behavior, or "vie libertine" (p. 135). He draws attention to the fact that such sexual licentiousness was accompanied by other antisocial forms of behavior. Prostitutes operated on the margins of this world. Baroque men shuttled back and forth between repressive regulation and permissive toleration. Royal legislation of 1561 (like similar legislation today) seemed to be aimed specifically not at the prostitutes, but at the disorder that erupted wherever they did business, such as the gambling, blasphemy, larcenies and burglaries of the men who frequented them. In Burgundy, corporal punishment of prostitutes ceased in the mid-17th century. Where the judges drew the line, however, was in procuring, which was deemed to be a feminine crime. The procuress might also be an accomplice to a rapt, might arrange for abortions, clandestine births or wet nurses for unmarried women. Their victims appear to have been women who had lost their virginity and lived below the threshold of poverty. Only those who became too "scandalous" found themselves prosecuted.

Farr's general conclusion is very sweeping; "Lay and clerical reformers aimed to restore the traditional order in society, but the unintended result was the emergence of a new moral order built on a new type of community, linked vertically rather than horizontally, comprised of dissociated individuals held together hierarchically by an increasingly authoritarian church and state." This book claims to have explored the nature and meaning of authority as it related to human sexuality, but falls far short of its objectives. A reductionist mindset on the part of the author is one of its shortcomings. Judges are held to be upholding "patriarchy" when they applied harsh sentences, and similarly when they opted for lenient ones. Social stratification is posited as the central feature of "patriarchy," yet no consideration is given to social hierarchy before the Counter-Reformation, or even after. Perhaps Farr means that the adoption of a stoic ethic enhanced, for a time, the social and cultural disparities in French society, but this is not apparent in his argument. It is also epistemologically and logically dubious to posit what amounts to a universal condition (social inequality) as the underpinning of an ideology fixed in time and place. Farr's rigidity here is perhaps the outcome of fixing upon "representations" rather than the complex cases the judges had before them, for their culture and their personal insights were no doubt much broader than their views upon one subject, assuming of course that conventional views ever sum up someone's reaction to a given problem. For example, judges and ecclesiastics could repeat the nostrums about female lasciviousness and lack of self-control. Yet did they apply these concepts to the behavior of their mothers, sisters and daughters? Was their consciousness of the asymmetry of sexual behavior between men and women very different from our own? These are crucial questions that fall outside the realm of the conventions of rhetorical culture. Discourses can operate in multiples, in a "field" of reinforcing prescriptions and interpretations, like the judicial and religious programs Farr describes.(4) But they also carry contradictions. Discourses are not isolated theses that encapsulate social actors' views and predict their subsequent behavior, for they are always multiple and intersect each other. Individuals were most likely to pick and choose between contradictory prescriptions according to their feeling of what seemed the "right" decision in the situation at hand.

It is often claimed that North American historians practice "discourse history" because archival research is prohibitively expensive, and because universities often neglect the mechanics of archival training in favor of theory and bibliography. This is not the case here, for Farr is an historian of some considerable potential. Yet one wonders who the audience is expected to be for a work long on references to American gender historians working on limited archives, and yet which contains some extraordinary bibliographical lapses. He would have been more prudent to have consulted more and better sources, and to have supplanted the more theoretical literature of dubious empirical credentials, with studies such as those of Jean-Marie Gouesse and Maurice Daumas. The first has examined the church court archives for the dispensations to marry relatives: this option was commonly employed by parents to marry their children and economize on a dowry, but dispensations were also obtained to regularize after the fact a marriage accomplished in contravention of canon law. They were accompanied by an inquest into the circumstances of the marriage and the preceding courtship, in which both parties and a number of witnesses were called upon to testify in secret.(5) Of related interest in the same archives is the resiliation of the marriage promise, sometimes requested by the prospective groom, but most often by the maid who tells the church court judge - in her own words - what she expects of her upcoming marriage, and how she feels towards her spouse-to-be. Why did Farr not consult, still in the same archives which he had at hand, the annulments, often requested by daughters who claimed they were coerced into a union by their parents and relatives?(6) One of the chief interests of these kinds of documents relating authentic cases is the profile of the brides' mothers, very often the sole surviving parent, and keenly sensitive to considerations of status and property themselves. The crucial role of mothers returns in notarial documents too, such as the marriage contracts, which exist in their millions for Early Modem France. Testaments would have illustrated the limits of filial control over their mothers' estate, too. Any assertion of "patriarchy" would have to come to terms with the power married and widowed mothers had over their offspring, and also the wide array of dispositions aimed at shielding them from poverty and exploitation by their children. A non-feminist reader familiar with such archives will not easily be convinced that harsher application of existing marriage laws reinforced male prerogative and control. In an economic system where wealth was inherited rather than created, a dowried marriage provided honor and protection, and improved the social status of the brides more often than for grooms. It is difficult to understand, moreover, how binding men to support women with children would be in the sole interest of the men.

The work by Maurice Daumas on family conflict amongst lay elites in 18th-century Franche-Comte emphasizes not so much gender tensions, which were very much in the background, but rather the wayward behavior of frustrated young men in search of status and autonomy, to the anguish of their parents.(7) The derangement of a son was an occurrence that abounds in both Protestant consistorial registers and in criminal archives. It occasioned no small number of clandestine marriages or rapts, and it is surprising that Farr makes no mention of it. One also wonders why no mention is made of any of the important studies of family dynamics by French historians, most notably Pierre Lamaison, Elisabeth Claverie, Andre Burguieres and Alain Collomp, to mention only a few of the most prominent.(8) Surely the judges who had to come to terms with real cases, the focus of the second part of Farr's work, were aware of the array of motivations and tensions brought into the courtroom.

While ostensibly dealing with similar subject material, the book by Oscar Di Simplicio is a world apart. Its premises avoid the heavy polemical formulations and the jargon dear to North Americans, in favor of simple questions about the contours of the individual conscience, and how the Post-Tridentine church helped foster it in Italy. Having no countervailing political power to hem it in, the Church's teachings on the family, sexuality, and liberty of conscience "made" the conscience of the modern Italian until the second half of the twentieth century. Here we are on the same terrain as the two preceding books, but the scope is larger, the archival base is much broader, and the theoretical premises less constraining.

On the face of it, Di Simplicio's study adopts the traditional "priest's eye view" of a godly reformation of the population by a conscientious array of ecclesiastics and lay judges. He focuses first on the work of the secular courts to limit the competitiveness and tensions inherent in an agonistic society. Behind the courts was the brute force of the modern state, with its monopoly of military power. The high-level history of states and institutions had filter-down effects that ultimately modified people's behavior, that he calls semi-facetiously a "genetic alteration" (p. 22) visible in the sources. Coercive institutions operated selectively and focused particularly on the nobility and the secular clergy for the exemplary role they played in society. The nobles, particularly young males, reined in their traditional bellicosity and elaborated habits of self-control during the course of the 17th century that would permit the order to retain responsibility for public order. Similarly, the ecclesiastical courts multiplied censures against the secular clergy in order to inculcate in it a sense of service.

Di Simplicio notes how, at the end of the 16th century, behavior was "physical" and expansive for all classes. In the late 16th century, and for much of the following century, such violence was a feature of masculine sociability without class distinctions. The most turbulent actors were those nobles on the edge of poverty and threatened with loss of status. While the magistrates showed an indulgence and clemency with regard to the nobility, in deference to its status, nevertheless, they were motivated by the desire to make the law prevail, and punished most harshly those crimes committed in public view, as an example. When the upper classes raised their level of self-control, this had a mimetic effect on the rest of society, save in the lowest classes saddled with heavy physical tasks. The urban nobility would be precocious in passing from a vendetta reflex to one animated by legalistic conceptions. Di Simplicio sees the motor of the evolution in the maturation of the modern state, which sought to eliminate the vendetta as a psychological necessity resulting from both the weak nature of the judiciary, and also from the sharp sense of personal and family honor that was characteristic of most segments of Mediterranean society. The consolidation of the state transformed the concept of honor, sublimated it and severed its connection to physical force and retribution. Simultaneously, the church wove its influence that manifested itself in a tight web of urban demonstrations and ceremonies. The code of honor of one generation transmuted itself into a devout civil and moral code that created concepts of individual identity around values like discretion, respectability and decency, which incidentally distanced the elite from the behavior of the popular classes.

How did this evolution come about? First of all, the princes acted conscientiously themselves, and felt answerable to clerics of their choice. Church and state then collaborated to reduce a territory to holy obedience. Di Simplicio sees his inquest as a study of the spiritual, moral, psychological and behavioral mutation between the 16th and the 19th centuries through the enactment of state legislation, and the fear and menace instilled by Inquisitors into the population at large. Unlike Farr, however, Di Simplicio proceeds to examine crucial social actors in more detail, beginning with the secular parish clergy. In 1575 they resembled strangely their confreres in Southwestern France in their absenteeism, lack of education, undiligent administration and laymen's manner. The imposition of a greater uniformity and central control over the diocese of Siena took only a couple of decades. The priests' adoption of morals and habits of service in conformity with the Council of Trent took longer. After 1650 these clerics were manufactured by the seminary along a standard model, continually improved by the virtuous hounding of the diocesan Vicars-general responsible for the church courts. In this way, a service mentality could replace the client mentality which had characterized the parish clergy. The priests, in turn, were responsible for the morality and good conduct of their flocks. Di Simplicio sees the process concluded by the end of the 18th century. This transformation was aided by the prodigious increase in the number of priests in the diocese, according to the law of supply and demand, to cope with the ever-increasing demand for religious services. A greater proportion of clerics with minor orders continued their careers to become priests. Only the noble clerics showed a lack of enthusiasm to continue on. Nevertheless, the nobility would occupy all the crucial points of the religious hierarchy in the 17th century, in Siena and in the suffragan dioceses. Most of the parish clergy originated amongst the middling classes. Ecclesiastical careers were often not personally motivated, but rather were decided by parents, who appreciated not only the revenues of the benefice, but also the fiscal and judicial privileges inherent in the ecclesiastical state. Those who succeeded in acquiring such benefices could be expected to have a reasonable level of culture, further honed by diocesan initiatives at the end of the 17th century. The parish priest was to use this knowledge to instill in his parishioners a horror of sin and to mobilize them with words to work towards their moral transformation and redemption. Di Simplicio displays a real command of his sources by examining their libraries to determine the theoretical thrust of their formation.

The parish priest was not only a visible example of good behavior, but also shaped consciences through his sermons, confession, catechism and school teaching. However, early in the 17th century, their behavior was identical to that of their lay counterparts. The noble clerics were particularly turbulent. Their parents sometimes used their right to have them imprisoned in order to render them more amenable to their clerical condition. This tonsured nobility was not in itself perverse, or a "dangerous class," but rather its behavior took no account of the ecclesiastical status. Hereafter, the author's interpretation diverges sharply from the apologists of the leading role of the clergy. The impact of the lay behavior of clergy, Di Simplicio deduces, was to scandalize the faithful, and to provoke in them a dissonance that sharpened their own consciences. The clergy's violence was only one characteristic that scandalized others. More shocking still was their frequentation of prostitutes. The vigorous campaign to end this was an important stage in the process of the moralization of the church. The urban police - the sinister sbirri - took special pleasure in collaring them in flagrante or on mere suspicion. The public impression was that priests transgressed sacred laws more than anyone, and practised a scandalous sexual double standard. Only over the long duration would they recover their compromised reputation.

The first stage in the transformation of the rural clergy was the disappearance of the nobles, who affected to follow different rules from the rest of the population, from those benefices. Priests aspired to a special leadership status in their parish, that of "Granduca," an intermediary between God and man. What changed next from the 17th to the 18th century was their greater control over their own impulses, an increase in "psychic self-control" that contemporaries called gravitas. The peasantry was not at all docile, apart from the deference they accorded the priest's function. They expected him to be modest in his economic ventures, and not give scandal by consorting with married women, deflowering virgins or causing pregnancy. As long as the priest fulfilled his liturgical, charitable and arbiter's mandate to popular satisfaction, some such sexual peccadilloes were forgivable. The focus here is on what the peasantry felt was the essential. A passage focusing on the priest's conscientious execution of confession makes this a novel book.

The establishment of a virtuous circle (p. 177) leads to a consideration of the Church's success in annexing the private life of the population into its sphere of action, and subject to its strictures. This is perhaps exacerbated in the Tuscan case by the propensity of the later Grand Dukes to assign this role to the clergy. The judges too administered their charges with due deference to established religion. But Di Simplicio avoids the manichean schema of Farr by pointing to the large support this policy had amongst the lower urban classes, the artisans and the sharecroppers in the countryside, individuals who were wealthy enough to have a "stake" in the social order. The lay and ecclesiastical courts supported each other in their denunciation and arrest of suspects, and lay tribunals supported the Church's repression of "seductions." The difference between the two jurisdictions was not so much the methods of justice and control, but in their aims. The lay courts were oriented towards the punishment of offenders: the church courts on the other hand sought repentance and redemption. But the church courts for many decades still administered justice with fines, imprisonment and mild corporal penalties. There prevailed a pedagogical vision of punishment in which the faithful who deviated must be constrained to become good. Di Simplicio calls this the "Islamic phase" of canon law, in which there was no distinction between sin and crime which is typical of Islamic cultures. The Church's firm guidance resulted in a convergence of the practice of the population with the prescriptions of the Church in the 18th century.

The great moral crusade began with the popular denunciation of concubines and fornicators. The moralizing atmosphere generated a "hysteria" of denunciation that fed on itself (p. 185). This "moral contagion" caught the hierarchy by surprise, to the point where it would take several years before the repression of sin could take on a minimum of bureaucratic decorum. This was part of a program of Tridentine matrimony which included the repression of concubinage, the greater attention to the eligible marital status of the spouses, harsh punishment against those who abandoned their spouses, and the firm rejection of requests for separation, but it also aimed at the sexual escapades of husbands with other women. Wives were imprisoned on suspicion of adultery, but they also denounced their husbands to the courts to force them to send away their concubines. This climate was maintained in every social group and, eventually, all frequentation of men and women became suspect, including working relations (p. 190). The motivations for such denunciations were probably multiple; vendetta, opportunism, but people were also defending their own families, their houses and their neighborhoods from sin and scandal and its consequences. This design to moralize society was born of the Council of Trent, but it could not have succeeded without a general attachment of people to its principles.

One of the consequences of this collective struggle against sin was to confine prostitutes in specific areas of the city, although this took much longer to achieve. Religious orders, particularly feminine ones, were in the vanguard of that campaign, to remove the prostitutes from their sight and earshot. Identifying prostitutes and subjecting them to vigilance of the authorities also subjected them to the fiscal system. Prostitutes could leave their condition too, however, with the assent of the tax assessor, after a short trial in which the parish priest and witnesses could attest to a woman's "rehabilitation" (p. 213). All traces of this fiscal evasion and subjection disappear by the end of the 17th century, when the system of rewarding the arresting officers had fallen into disuse, and crimes against morality were no longer prosecuted with such vigor. The author speculates that 18th-century judges may have found distasteful the arbitrary intrusion of the law into the private life of subjects. One might link this to the widespread sigh of relief after the exasperating intensity of the moralistic legislation of Cosimo III (1670-1723).

This virtuous circle was imposed on the countryside too. What led to the expulsion of deviants there was the visibility and shamelessness of their behavior. Behind a denunciation in the countryside, however, we should not read a unanimous condemnation by the population, for factions of notables frequently fought for pre-eminence. Rural churchgoers were easier for the parish priest to control, through the surveillance of non-participation in communion. In many cases, priests noted that individuals refused to confess and take communion out of enmity; but their exclusion from the altar created internal conflict in a community where religious practice was ever more frequent. A few people were stubborn enough to defy the Church's sanctions and braved excommunication. But excommunication as a penalty had moral and behavioral implications difficult to dismiss. It was a frequent enough penalty in the 17th century, with ten people subject to it in 1675 alone, including three prostitutes, three women separated from their husbands, a man accused of concubinage, and two men who frequented prostitutes. By the 18th century, this sanction virtually fell into disuse. Religious conformism and a diffuse religious zeal probably peaked in the last years of the 17th century, and the first decades of the 18th (p. 236).

The Council of Trent opted for the tacit admission of parental initiative in contracting marriage alliances. Even in the lower classes, it is difficult to tell just how much liberty the young had to choose their prospective spouses, subject to the confirmation by their fathers and mothers. Nevertheless abuses of forced consent could be prevented by allowing resiliation or retraction of the marriage promise, cases of which appear amongst the lower classes in the city and the countryside. They were not to be undertaken lightly, for going back on one's promise was a serious offense for the relatives of the bride, in particular. The rupture of the marriage promise had devastating consequences on the family of the dishonored bride-to-be, for the ex-suitor could only be brought around by increasing the dowry, even though the ecclesiastical court could threaten imprisonment, fines or excommunication to punish this manuever. Some kind of fiancailles was common enough not only in the elite, but also amongst established artisans and sharecropping families. Once the consent was given, the couple was permitted various kinds of amorous expression, but always excluding coitus. In Siena the most widespread form of such bonding was accomplished at the veglia.

A man could attempt to override a girl's parents' objections by kissing her "violently" in public, thus dishonoring her to dissuade other suitors. The trials for voluntary rape, what Farr refers to as rapt, denounced to the secular courts in Siena gradually increased in number, but retained very modest proportions; less than one annually before the mid-18th century, and only slightly higher thereafter. As in France, the girls had confidence in the tribunal's likelihood of condemning the culprit to marry or dowry her. The tactic could be used by young men to force their family's hand and allow them to marry. What was contested here was the family's propensity to select an heir on the basis of the number of offspring and the available resources. For those excluded from marriage, the church's preaching, its vigilance, the force of its laws and popular missions, especially in the countryside, all weighed against their sexual activity. Smaller communities were also efficient vectors of behavior and social control by the watchfulness that reigned there.

Di Simplicio affirms in a footnote that there is no trace in the trial material of a conscious Church policy to limit the authority of the heads of families; at best the material suggests that the marriage decisions and choices of their children were not ignored, but the family had the last word. Few seem to have had recourse to clandestine marriages before the 1750s; it was the work of a "galantuomo" who wished to avoid shaming the girl and her family by deflowering her first. Only in the second half of the 18th century do we see a burgeoning of "romantic love" in the trial documents, although I suspect that such expressions would have been more common in the dispensation inquests that Di Simplicio does not examine. Although he admits that it had probably always existed, the cultural climate of the 18th century was fertile ground for its growth, as the economic climate eased and interpersonal violence declined, dedramatizing religious fervor and uncoupling romantic love from a sense of sin (p. 306). Precisely in the last decades of the 18th century we begin to see in the urban middle classes a gradual sentimentalism in the formation of couples.

The last chapters however pass from romantic love to a much bleaker analysis of divorce, or separation. In the great majority of cases, wives left husbands because of physical and verbal abuse, adultery and mismanagement of family resources. Similar to modern situations, these types of trials reveal in their origins an incompatibility of personalities, gradually leading to mutual hostility and legal confrontation over property and alimony. In pre-industrial Europe, even where divorce was in theory permitted, what was requested was the separation of bodies and goods. Marriage contracted legally could only be dissolved by the death of one of the spouses. Couples could be separated, according to canon law, on seven conditions: mutual decision to take vows; heresy of one of the spouses; incitation to mortal sin; physical and verbal abuse; a vow to leave for the Holy Land on crusade; the danger of contracting a contagious disease; and adultery. Between these legal conditions and the restrictive interpretation of the Sienese courts, however, there was considerable discrepancy. The number of cases in the archives is not overwhelming - about 241 requests for two full centuries, about half of which occur in the second half of the 18th century. They occur frequently amongst the nobility and the broad swath of the lower middle classes in the city, and least frequently amongst the peasants in the more remote countryside. What triggered the proceedings in general was the flight of the wife from the house. It is difficult to interpret its gravity, since it may have been a desperate measure used to extort better behavior from their spouses in future. Generally the husband appeared before the chancellor of the ecclesiastical court demanding his wife's return. Before 1700, only a quarter or a third of these spouses appeared to explain. The wife responded to her subpoena by claiming that her desertion was motivated by a "just cause." The role of physical abuse is given careful treatment here. Women's submission to their husbands entailed his right of administering a physical "correction," such as both parents applied to their children, but the ethic cut both ways, placing the husband in the role of his wife's protector and safekeeper. While both canon and secular law permitted some slapping and punching spouses, wives almost always claimed that in their case such abuse was frequent and cruel. The wider community never seemed to intervene or offer shelter, and even the secular court could only imprison the violent husband for a short period. If he persisted in cruel treatment, however, he could be fined heavily and his spouse authorized to live separately and recover her dowry. The judges tended not to be moved by most of these claims, since they considered that the threshold for beatings varied according to the social classes involved; and also, realistically according to Di Simplicio, the beatings were often just the symptom of economic dysfunction in the couple. Frequently the issue revolved around the dowry, both its nonpayment by the relatives of the bride, or its dilapidation by the husband, which contravened social norms. Women worried by their husbands' handling of money often hid their dowry belongings. Finally, many cases of physical abuse were spawned by the mental attitude the author calls the patrimonial conception of marriage in which his honor and male status were determined in part by his wife's obedience. Its stoutest pillar was in the husband's retention of her dowry and his responsibility to feed and clothe her. The women who best succeeded in their requests for separation were those who retained access to enough revenue to hire a lawyer. The ecclesiastical judge was usually unsympathetic to her plight, and generally ordered the couple's reunion. This forced reunion of split couples appears to be a common attitude of European Christian churches, based on the teachings of Saint Paul. In the 17th century, the courts conceded only 31 divorces in 96 cases. For the author, the trial data tend to refute the more blissful image of domestic relations contained in the Sienese testaments studied by Sam Cohn, but I wonder if this isn't rather the reflection of his source which provides a glimpse of failed marriages only.(9) He speculates that, given the enormous vigilance against sin and the heavy moralistic climate of the 17th century, the negative response of the Church to separation ultimately modified the behavior of women who "interiorized" the church's message of passive resignation. Fear of falling into moral sin, of excommunication and of eternal damnation must have weighed more heavily on contemporaries than they let on in the judicial sources.

In the 18th century, however, there was a significant shift in attitudes, with the number of cases increasing. In starker terms, the percentage of divorces granted in the first half of the 17th century was 7.6%; and in the second half of the 18th century, no less than 83%. By that time, the population's obedience to the clergy permitted the church hierarchy to soften its stance and reformulate its policy on the family. Wives were now petitioning the Church for a separation before leaving their homes. Perhaps this reflects a notable drop in the level of violence, including domestic violence. In launching the proceedings from their homes, the wives were demonstrating their obedience to the strictures of the church, a very sensitive point for the ecclesiastics. Reassured on the essential, the Church now found it appropriate to deal with failed marriages and the social peril occasioned by a too visible disorder. Now, for the first time, children were frequently mentioned, and they gradually became the focus of the Church's concept of the family. For the author, there were few events more important in Italian history that the Catholic Church's emprise over private life, that defined the population's global attitudes until the late 20th century, and which elevated women's moral status to that of wife/mother responsible for the spiritual welfare and education of her brood.

Di Simplicio curiously confines some of his most important methodological points to footnotes. He justifies using trial sources because they are more accurate windows on behavior than prescriptive literature like sermons, and less socially selective than information drawn from correspondence (p. 388). We can regret with the author the absence of the archives of the Roman Inquisition, whose presence in Siena was intrusive and probably added powerfully to the repressive capacities of the Church. One neglected source that sheds light on the state's collaboration with ecclesiastical authorities in its moralizing campaign is the massive correspondence of the Governatore. The head functionary of the Sienese state was both a conduit of orders from Florence, and the recipient of denunciations from many origins, not least from rural clergy seeking to remove scandal from their parishes. Nevertheless, the author's study is by far the most deeply researched of the three books reviewed here, and this is apparent in the finesse of his analysis.

Even for a circumscribed territory, the influence of state and ecclesiastical institutions and ideologies on popular behavior is too huge a topic to be confined in its generality in the breadth of a single work. Each of the titles under review here attempts to measure a change in behavior over time, while neglecting to sketch the broad lines of social behavior at the outset. The transformations are therefore situated in a void that needs to be filled. Each author has argued that parental control over families tightened over the course of the 17th century, but was such power negligible at the outset? Before it is possible to elaborate a theory of general power dynamics in society, one must first elaborate an anthropology of family life that integrates courtship and domestic coexistence with property relationships and succession strategies in their complexity, from a multitude of sources. Such an anthropology must take into account patterns of residency; real access to resources, including usufruct and dowry arrangements and customs; the "marital ethic" in families not in conflict; the different roles of men and women and how contemporaries viewed their complementarity; the frequency of deep conflict within the household, and its origins, and so on. The particulars might vary from one ethnic group to another. It would nevertheless only become apparent over time, through the multiplication of such studies, exactly how sweeping the transformations were. Cultural representations of such relations are not entirely without interest, but since such projections of reality focus very narrowly, and tend to incorporate only those traits consonant with the most simplistic reduction of those relations, historians would be unwise to linger there.

We are also lacking an historical psychology, that is, a set of empirically based theories regarding individual reactions, concerning domestic relations, attitudes towards power and authority, and conformity to new precepts, which could help explain the very process of social change. Our understanding of the concept of honor might gain in its transfer from the domain of anthropology to psychology; it may be much closer to our concept of "self-esteem" than we have yet recognized. It is unlikely that such a corpus of concepts would reduce the history of the family, that of the Counter-Reformation, or that of social control, to a single interpretation, but it could replace the limited explanatory possibilities of "discourse," "cultural representations" or "genetic alterations" that historians apply whether seriously or not. In the history of the individual conscience, this should become the next frontier.

Department of History Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3J 3J5


1. Pierre Bourdieu, "Marriage Strategies as Strategies of Social Reproduction," in Family and Society, ed. Robert Forster and Orest Ranum (Baltimore, 1976), pp. 117-144.

2. Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process, 2 vols. (New York, 1978).

3. Cissie Fairchilds, "Female Sexual Attitudes and the Rise of Illegitimacy: A Case Study," Journal of Interdisciplinary History (1978): 627-667.

4. On the concept of ideological "fields," see Robert Wuthnow, Meaning and Moral Order: Explorations in Cultural Analysis (Berkeley, 1987), p. 149.

5. Jean-Marie Gouesse, "Parente, famille et mariage en Normandie aux XVIIe et XVI-lie siecles; presentation d'une source et d'une enquete," Annales: Economies, Societes, Civilisations (1972): 1139-1154. See also his article, "La formation du couple en Basse-Normandie," Le XVIIe siecle et la famille: XVIIe siecle (1974): 45-58.

6. A glimpse of both of these documents is contained in my book, L'Univers des Gens de bien: Culture et comportements des elites urbaines en Agenais-Condomois au XVIIe siecle (Bordeaux, 1989), p. 103,107-110.

7. Maurice Daumas, "Les Conflits familiaux dans les milieux dominants au 18e siecle," Annales: Economies, Societes, Civilisations (1987): 901-924.

8. For a general synthesis, see the survey by Andre Burguieres, Christine Klapisch-Zuber, Martine Segalen and Francoise Zonabend, Histoire de la famille. Vol.2, Le choc des modernites. (Paris, 1986). For exemplary studies of more restricted themes, see Elisabeth Claverie and Pierre Lamaison, L' Impossible mariage. Violence et parente en Gevaudan, 17e-19e siecles (Paris, 1982). See also the very meticulous work by Alain Collomp, "Alliance et filiation en Haute-Provence au 18e slide," Annales: Economies, Societes, Civilisations (1977): 445-477; and his more general book, La Maison du pere: Famille et village en Haute-Provence aux 17e et 18e siecles (Paris, 1983).

9. Samuel K. Cohn, Death and Property in Siena, 1200-1800: Strategies for the Afterlife (Baltimore, 1988), pp. 202-209.
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Author:Hanlon, Gregory
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Date:Dec 22, 1996
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