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The power to decide: battered wives in early modern Venice.

Historians of the family in Renaissance Europe have devoted much attention to its patriarchal orientation. For the northern Italian cities, intense monographic study of elite behavior has illuminated the guiding principles behind strategies that preserved and enhanced family status.(1) Those principles also occupy a prominent position in the prescriptive writings of contemporary jurists, humanists, and moralists; from them historians have argued that women's powers of decision in the urban environment of Renaissance Italy were severely limited.(2) Similar conclusions have been reached for the Reformation period. Several scholars have advanced the notion that Protestant teachings, as well as the resurgence of the Catholic church, established further restrictions on women's freedoms and opportunities; and the growth of the state, particularly in France, reinforced the patriarchal structure of the family.(3)

While there is ample evidence to confirm that the experience of women in Renaissance and Reformation Europe was more restricted than that of men, we also have excellent examples of individual women whose actions are testimony to their real hopes of obtaining personal satisfaction within the patriarchal framework: Lusanna, the fifteenth-century daughter of a Florentine artisan, took Giovanni, her patrician lover, to court when he reneged on his promise to marry her;(4) and Bertrande de Rols, the sixteenth-century French peasant, accepted the imposter Arnaud de Tille as her husband despite the grave consequences she would face if her secret was discovered.(5) The experiences of Lusanna, a woman who turned to the courts for redress when her clandestine relationship dissolved, and of Bertrande, an abandoned wife who defied social convention to acquire a new husband, raise a series of questions: Were women able to work with or around formal legal structures to satisfy personal goals?(6) Were they able to have more influence outside political life, in the context of a village or neighborhood community? Did women outside elite circles break marital bonds more easily than daughters and wives within them? Systematic examination of sources that record the voices of women and trace their behavior will enable us both to draw a clearer picture of the options available to them and to evaluate their powers to make choices.

The records of marital litigation (Causarum Matrimonialium) housed in the Patriarchal Archives in Venice are an excellent place to begin exploring the queries posed above. The ecclesiastical court's investigations of requests for separation afford an important opportunity to study the experiences of married women from a variety of social ranks who attempted to protect themselves from physical, moral, and financial abuse and to redirect the course of their lives.(7) The investigations reveal that married women called upon established ecclesiastical and Venetian institutions to protect their welfare and interests, employing lawyers or proctors to build the legal framework of their cases. At the same time, they relied on a variety of kinsmen, servants, and neighbors crossing generational, class, and gender lines, to exert pressure and social control on misbehaving husbands.

Neither Lusanna nor Bertrande nor all of the Venetian women discussed here necessarily achieved their goals. The outcome of their attempts to receive favorable judgments, of course, was tied to many variables, among them the attitudes of the individual judges who heard their cases. In early modern Venice it is significant that the odds were good that women in bad marriages would be allowed to dissolve their nuptial ties, a reality that provided them hope of changing their domestic circumstances. This essay will demonstrate that the institutions of public life--church, state, community, and family--gave women in bad marriages some latitude to make choices. From these institutions women also received hope, direction, protection, and support.

During the second half of the sixteenth century the Italian peninsula witnessed a resurgence of the Catholic Church in all walks of life, including that of marriage and family. Theologians at the Council of Trent during the middle years of the century attempted to clarify the confusion over what constituted marriage, reiterating that it rested on mutual consent. Consent, however, was to be made more public. Partners were required to marry before their parish priest as well as two or three witnesses, the marriage banns had to be publicized three times in the local community, and the matrimonies had to be registered.(8) During the Tridentine meetings of 1562 and 1563 ecclesiastical authorities also reviewed the rules regarding separation. Divorce was not permitted; the Roman Church viewed the sacrament of marriage as a permanent spiritual union. However, under certain circumstances canon law did allow what was in effect a separation of bed and table. The Church granted separations when by mutual agreement husband and wife expressed a preference for a religious vocation, when either spouse committed adultery, or in instances of extreme cruelty where life and limb were in severe danger.(9) Theologians at Trent reminded Catholics that all marital disputes must be brought before the ecclesiastical courts.

The Venetian state joined the church in attempting to regulate and stabilize the institution of marriage, passing laws that were complementary to the Tridentine decrees. In 1577, for example, the Council of Ten, Venice's supreme judicial organ, established punitive measures against men who had sexual relations with women and then reneged on their promise to marry. A special Venetian magistracy, the Esecutori alla Bestemmia, was charged with prosecuting this crime.(10) The state, like the church, also established formal structures that in effect admitted the possibility of failed marriages. While for the most part the church adjudicated marital disputes,(11) a Venetian tribunal, the Giudici al Procurator, handled the related issue of dividing property. Beginning in the second half of the sixteenth century a Venetian woman was given the legal right to place a lien on her husband's patrimony if her dowry was in jeopardy. She could also file a complaint before this secular court if her husband was not providing adequate food, housing, and clothing. A law had been registered in 1553 stating that both wives and husbands had the right to present their property claims before the Giudici al Procurator.(12) Six years later Venetian legislators established another law authorizing this tribunal to appoint arbitrators, called confidenti, to help spouses decide on a fair property settlement in the event of separation.(13) It was common for litigating couples to file cases in both ecclesiastical and secular courts simultaneously.

The regularity with which requests for separation reached the patriarch's court in Venice after the Council of Trent, sometimes as many as one per month between 1564 and 1651,(14) suggests that men and women of all classes in this urban center thought they had a real chance to change their domestic circumstances. Word of the church's regulations on marriage and separation had reached the Venetian community in a variety of ways. First, the rules were publicized repeatedly in the city beginning in 1564. The first year priests received instructions to announce them every Sunday to parishioners. Thereafter they were to review them every Christmas and Easter. Second, no doubt the very presence in Venice of an important ecclesiastical tribunal and of lawyers who specialized in marital litigation made legal norms and practices public information. Finally, the knowledge came in all probability from the community at large. In the tightly-knit Venetian neighborhoods, word of domestic dramas spread as character witnesses were called upon to testify to the reputations of the litigating couples.

Though the particular details of every case for separation varied, the structural framework of the arguments that proctors, litigants, and witnesses presented fits into familiar patterns. The narratives revolved around the circumstances under which canon law permitted separation. Sex and gender made a difference in the plaintiffs grounds for separation. Men's requests were based largely on accusations of adultery. They challenged their wives' sexual reputation and honor. Women's requests, on the other hand, were often based on grounds of extreme cruelty. In those cases the husband's ability to provide food, clothing, and a safe living environment for his wife was thoroughly investigated.

Though many requests were filed with the curia, a much smaller proportion of cases was actually investigated or received a judgment. There are a variety of plausible explanations for this: the spouses may have decided not to pursue the separation, or ecclesiastical authorities may have judged their causes invalid. Unfortunately, archival records may also have been lost. The question to pursue here is whether the activities of the patriarchal court gave husbands and wives, but particularly wives, the prospect of changing their marital status, thus the incentive to file suit. The sentences for the periods between 1601-07 and 1621-26, two of the three surviving archival series that lend themselves to systematic study, shed important light on this query. An analysis of which partner sued for separation during these years and of the success rates of husbands and wives follows below.

The first observation that can be made is that women filed the preponderance of requests for separation. This is a strong indication that the ecclesiastical court was a place for them to seek redress.(15) Adultery was generally the motive in the few instances where men filed for separation. Men had other recourse, however, for adultery charges, which came under the jurisdiction of the Venetian Avogaria di Comun. It was common for husbands to file for separation on grounds of adultery in the patriarchal court as a counter measure against wives also formally seeking to dissolve their marriage ties: a favorable judgment for the husband in this instance would enable him to keep his wife's dowry. In fact, retention of the dowry seems to have been the prime motive of men who resorted to the patriarchal court. But women had the same incentive to obtain a formal judgment separating bed and table, because it would secure their property and their incomes from rapacious and negligent husbands.

The second observation that can be made about the data is that between 1601-07 the odds were good that women would succeed in obtaining separations, while between 1621-26 the judgments were actually working in their favor. We shall not attempt to account for the different outcomes for the two periods under examination; apart from the individual circumstances of each case, the results must be tied to the views of the individual judges. More to the point, what really stands out for both periods is the sympathy for the plight of women in bad marriages. Women from all social ranks were offered hearings and the possibility of change.(16) In the case examples that follow, we shall see that battered wives who filed suit in the patriarchal court in Venice found sympathy at all levels of public life, and they could avail themselves of a variety of established institutions to aid them in their efforts to obtain favorable judgments.

In 1584 Pasquetta Peregrini decided to change her unhappy domestic circumstances. No longer willing to live with Romano Cavatia, her husband of four years, she initiated proceedings for a separation in the patriarchal court.(17) Like many other women who left their husbands, Pasquetta retreated for the duration of the ecclesiastical investigation to a place that would preserve her honor and reputation, the convent of San Maffei on the island of Murano. A month later she moved to another refuge, the convent of Sant'Andrea.(18) There in dune of 1584, two months after she had left her husband, Pasquetta told her story to the notary who had come to record her deposition.(19)

Pasquetta painted a bleak picture of her life with her husband. She claimed she had never wanted Romano, a manuscript illuminator. She would have preferred a religious vocation, but her parents and relatives had constrained her to marry.(20) (This part of the testimony fits into a familiar pattern: women were aware, perhaps through their lawyers, that the issue of consent in marriage was important to the clerics who sat in judgment of their cases.) Pasquetta lamented that the marriage had quickly turned sour. Her husband had gagged and beat her; had denied her sufficient food; had demanded unconventional sex (contra natura); had been unfaithful; had squandered her modest dowry of 300 ducats; and had pledged her pearls, rings, and dresses, symbols of status among married Venetian women. She packed up four "old" blouses and a dress(21) and fled their house in the Venetian parish of San Moise to the island of Murano accompanied by her sister-in-law Isabella, the unhappy bride of her husband's brother.

Fed up with their dreary living standards, the two sisters-in-law had decided to abandon their husbands. The night of Saint Job, around 3 a.m., they hailed a passing boatman and asked to be taken to Murano. Perhaps a twenty-minute journey by row boat, the distance in the sixteenth century was significant, less in actual kilometers than in psychological space. On Murano, Isabella pleaded with a woman whom she did not know to give refuge to Pasquetta. The woman agreed, and Pasquetta stayed for eight days until her mother came to her aid.

Isabella, on the other hand, remained with people she knew in Venice, at the house of Andrea Castello, a weaver in the parish of San Canciani.(22) Eventually her husband Antonio Cavatia left the marriage to be a soldier, and the abandoned Isabella supported herself through domestic service. Though there is no evidence that Isabella filed for a separation in the ecclesiastical court, typical of many women she did take measures in the Venetian tribunals to protect her dowry. Later, she would testify before the patriarchal nuncio on Pasquetta's behalf.

It is surprising to learn how much latitude to make choices of serious consequence these two Venetian women from the artisanal class had. Isabella testified that before their departure she and her sister-in-law had procured a lawyer, Zan Jacomo Gradenigo.(23) Pasquetta pointed out in her testimony that she and Isabella had made the decision to leave their home on their own. Surely the flight from irate husbands in the early hours of the morning was a risky adventure, one that put their honor as well as their safety in jeopardy. Yet the actions of these two unhappy wives demonstrate how women who sought personal satisfaction found ways to change their life circumstances. It cannot be assumed, moreover, that their behavior invited disapproval, for the fact remains that they found help at every step along the way: the Muranese woman whose identity remains unknown, the religious institutions that sheltered Pasquetta, Pasquetta's own parents, some of her in-laws, and, ultimately, the Venetian statutes and courts that protected her property. There was consensus within the Venetian community that a wife had reason to leave her husband if his neglect and inappropriate behavior threatened her welfare. Pasquetta was not expected to be a patient Griselda!(24)

Nor were battered wives alone in taking their cases to court. Kinsmen and neighbors could build or destroy the reputations of accused husbands and therefore were an important resource for a mistreated wife. First, a series of witnesses who had frequented Pasquetta and Romano's house testified on her behalf. Two of Romano's in-laws expressed disapproval of his irresponsible management of money. The first was his brother's wife Isabella, who confirmed that Romano had gambled away Pasquetta's clothing and pearls. The second was his sister's husband, Giovanni Meneghetti. With his own grudge to bear Giovanni complained that Romano had not only taken Pasquetta's pearls but those of his own wife as well. He went on to confirm that Romano severely beat Pasquetta.(25) Romano's apprentice, Jacobo Vassalino, also came forward as a character witness against the misbehaving husband. He complained that his master still owed him wages and that he too had born the brunt of violent blows.(26) If the personal grievances of these intimate visitors to Romano's house cast some doubt on the validity of their testimonies, those doubts were cleared by the next series of witnesses, members of the community who described Romano's abusive and irresponsible behavior. A Florentine gold vendor, Benvenuto Doni, testified that Pasquetta had complained to him of her husband's misbehavior.(27) Other neighbors explained that Pasquetta and Isabella had left because they were going hungry as a result of their husbands' gambling debts.(28)

Whether the accusations of these witnesses were true or false, they carry significant weight. First, they constitute an important index of community standards, standards that Romano had violated by failing to provide adequately for Pasquetta and by placing her physical welfare in jeopardy. Second, they reflect the community anxiety that resulted from domestic discord. Domestic quarrels were disruptive because they were a public affair, and neighbors did not hesitate to come to the distressed wife's aid. Finally, criticism by witnesses is an example of the kind of control the Venetian community could exert over misbehaving husbands. Opinions of both men and women converged in open disapproval. It was important for both sexes that a husband materially support his wife in a fashion commensurate with her social class. Support included food, dress, and for the upper classes jewels (mannini--thin strands of gold--and pearls were very important) and servants as well. There was an explicit expression of disapproval over any husband's taking back, selling, or gambling away the gifts of clothing and jewelry that he had made to his wife.(29) Discipline was permitted but causing physical harm crossed the boundaries of accepted norms. Love and affection were occasionally mentioned, but material support seems to stand out as the most important criterion for a good husband to meet.

Natal kin could also be an important source of support for a mistreated wife. The links between a married daughter and her parents, at least in the Italian cities, have not been sufficiently explored. Some studies, particularly of the upper classes, tend to characterize the relationship between parents and a married daughter as distant.(30) This was certainly not the case for Pasquetta, who came from the popular orders. In fact she had had her parents' help for some time. Her mother Borthola had been taking her sacks of food, flasks of wine, oil, and wood three or four times a week throughout her marriage.(31) Borthola also made efforts to protect her daughter's valuables. A gold vendor who testified on Pasquetta's behalf remarked that Borthola had come to his shop questioning what had happened to her daughter's gold buttons. She saw to it that the gold vendor was examined by officials from the Uffizio di Petitione, a Venetian tribunal that handled property disputes.(32) Thus, there is good reason to believe that Pasquetta's parents, aware of her serious troubles, encouraged her to break the marriage ties.

Indeed, the alliance between parents and daughter is explicit in Pasquetta's case. When she summoned her mother to Murano, the latter quickly made arrangements to hide her in the convent of San Maffei, fibbing to the nun that her daughter, who was nineteen, was not yet married. Accompanied by a servant, Pasquetta's mother visited her frequently. She also arranged for her daughter to be transferred to the convent of Sant'Andrea, a hospitio, or place of refuge; Pasquetta's father would pay all her expenses. Romano attempted to see his wife at the convent,(33) but the abbess refused his request. This was probably yet another protective measure, for in the case of this violent husband there was sound reason to fear that Romano could harm his wife. It is entirely plausible that Pasquetta's mother decided to reveal her daughter's difficult situation to the abbess of Sant'Andrea.

When Pasquetta was safely tucked away, her father took legal action against Romano in both the ecclesiastical and secular courts in Venice. It was routine for litigating marriage partners to procure legal representatives called proctors. Technically, the proctor did not necessarily have to be a lawyer but simply someone who was legally charged with representing the parties concerned in court. In simple terms, the proctor was an executor, guardian, or administrator.(34) It could be a brother;(35) it could be a father or uncle or no relation at all. At the same time both husbands and wives could draw on a group of lawyers associated with the curia who specialized in separation and annulment cases. Pasquetta's father chose a proctor to present his daughter's case before the patriarch's vicar after witnesses had been interviewed in their homes by a nuncio from the curia. Romano, too, had a proctor who argued against the separation.

To protect his daughter's financial resources, Pasquetta's father also aided her in obtaining a favorable judgment from the Giudici al Procurator, the secular court in Venice that insured women's dowries against insolvent husbands. There were hundreds and hundreds of claims by wives against insolvent husbands registered each year by the Procurator.(36) In some instances married couples probably worked in collusion, using the interdetto or intervention to protect the dowry resources as a means of sheltering property from the husband's creditors. But in other instances it was meant to prevent the dissipation of the wife's patrimony. If she had children, that patrimony was by law designated for her heirs. The wife's natal family no doubt had some stake in protecting the dowry as well. Whether this was to guard the natal family's investment or reflected concern for the daughter's financial security is not readily apparent. Perhaps the answer is a combination of both. Besides the Procurator, the tribunal of the Avogaria di Comun was on hand if it became necessary to confiscate the property of either spouse.

Women like Pasquetta thus could avail themselves of sympathetic kinsmen and neighbors to change their domestic circumstances. Her parents were willing to admit the failure of her marriage and worked to protect both her welfare and her financial interests. The sentiments that reside within the closed circles of family life often remain masked behind more public concerns such as the preservation of status. Pasquetta's case, as well as others in the Venetian church archives, affords the opportunity to study women who were not necessarily bound by the patriarchal interests that governed families of the ruling class. Thus it offers a window from which to view the ties of affection and support that surrounded more fortunate women. We also have the opportunity to view the active role mothers and fathers took in protecting their daughters' welfare even after marriage.

With or without parental help married women in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Venice were finding ways to sever ties with husbands who grossly neglected and mistreated them. While the women who enjoyed the material, practical, and emotional support of their natal families in these separation proceedings held a distinct advantage over those who did not, married women, irrespective of social class, could call on other members of the local community to aid them in their efforts.(37) A bad marriage in a Venetian neighborhood was no secret. Urban space--close, even cramped, with windows opening onto courtyards or facing other windows but a meter or two away--lent itself to intimacy among neighbors. It was difficult to maintain privacy on Venice's narrow streets. Family life was both highly visible and highly audible. It was thus more a public--and neighborhood--affair than a private one. The close living quarters fostered some community power and control over the conduct of family members.

Neighbors whose daily lives were bound together by the events that unfolded in the parishes or even smaller units of space such as courtyards, canals, streets, and byways served as powerful witnesses in these marriage cases. Hearsay might be considered frivolous in other contexts, but in the ecclesiastical investigations the points of view presented by neighbors could be decisive. Gossip and lies carried their own weight and may be viewed as a form of power.(38) Moreover, for our purposes the testimonies from neighbors, whether true or not, serve as an important index of popular attitudes toward married life and toward domestic problems in general.

The ability to manipulate gossip was important to the success of women seeking to change their marital status without the help of natal kin. They needed witnesses for the ecclesiastical tribunal who would portray them in a sympathetic light and at the same time cast serious doubts on their husbands' reputations.(39) A case in point is Cecelia Bressan, whose marital problems resembled Pasquetta Peregrini's.(40) Cecelia's husband Orazio, a shoemaker from the hamlet of Piove de Sacco, did not provide the basic necessities for his wife. He beat her; he threatened to kill her; and he wasted her dowry away. In 1580 Cecelia's parents helped her file for a separation. They maintained that Orazio's violent behavior toward his wife was "public knowledge." They brought forth five witnesses from the vicinity of Cecelia's home to confirm that Orazio spent more money than he earned, that he said vile things to his wife which threatened her honor, such as calling her "prostitute," and that he beat her. One neighbor, Cornelia Venosa, a sixty-year-old widow, testified that Cecelia had miscarried twice as a result of Orazio's beatings.(41) Another neighbor, the spicier Baptista de Venetijs, explained that the community was aware of the couple's marital problems, that Orazio had attempted to kill his wife, and that he had heard that Cecelia had taken refuge in a (woman) friend's house.(42) Orazio defended himself with only one witness, a friend who denied any knowledge of his violent behavior.(43)

The evaluations of neighbors were also of critical aid to Paola da Venezia, who had asked to be separated from the wool beater Jacobo Furlano after three and one half years of marriage.(44) Her description of her domestic situation again mirrors those of Pasquetta and Cecilia. Paola testified that her husband had beat her and had consumed her dowry of 137 ducats. Instead of going home to eat with his wife, "as did every good Christian," Jacobo continually ate in osterie and got drunk. Then he returned home and beat his wife. He did not provide food for Paola. The neighbors took pity on her and fed her. He spoke to her with cruelty, as if she were a prostitute. Jacobo, Paola maintained, led a bad life of osterie, prostitutes, and gambling. He lived without fear of God and had not confessed for years. Her husband, she said finally, did not show signs of loving her. On the contrary, she thought her life was in danger and ultimately left Jacobo because he had threatened to poison her.

Jacobo's violent behavior aroused deep sympathy for the mistreated wife from the neighbors, who vividly discussed Paola's departure from her husband. When the nuncio from the curia came round to take depositions, the testimonies from neighbors in the parish of Santa Margarita became pivotal to her case. Joannes, a cloth merchant who lived below the couple, testified that Jacobo came home late at night inebriated and beat Paola.(45) Andriana de Venetijs, who lived in the same building, sew Jacobo take Paola's belongings little by little to pay his gambling debts. Andriana said her mother gave her and her siblings a little less to eat in order to feed Paola. The family saw Paola's bruises. Andriana and her family tried to exert some control: they told Jacobo to leave his poor wife alone.(46) Magdalena, the wife of the wool weaver who rented Jacobo a room, also witnessed the latter beating his wife. Besides expressing sympathy for Paola, the woman openly criticized Jacobo's behavior. Her husband, she testified, had shouted with disapproval that Jacobo should not treat his wife that way.(47) There was some attempt then on the part of neighbors in Paola's building to regulate Jacobo's misconduct.

Aid from Paola's family is less explicit but no less useful in this case than in that of Pasquetta Peregrini's. We find Paola's mother disseminating knowledge of her daughter's mistreatment to potential witnesses, men and women who eventually corroborated Paola's case. It was in one sense an appeal to the community to aid her daughter, and in another an effective arm against her son-in-law. A neighbor Jacoba, the wife of Joannis Organeotti from Santa Margarita, testified that Paola's mother Fiorenza gave her money to feed her unfortunate daughter.(48) Hieronymus de Arboribus, a customs official, testified that Fiorenza, who was a midwife, had complained to his wife about the terrible life that her daughter had. The couple had taken pity on Paola. Thus Hieronymus employed the unfortunate Paola to care for his pregnant wife.(49)

Besides family and neighbors, women in the upper ranges of the Venetian social scale who sought separations from cruel and neglectful husbands could rely on their servants for critical testimony about their married lives.(50) On the one hand, this could put the servant in a precarious position relative to the master. On the other, harboring family secrets potentially gave the servant some leverage. The Venetian noblewoman Isabetta Bembo, who was requesting a separation in 1623 after six years of marriage,(51) called on her women servants to confirm that her husband Francesco Priuli had mistreated her. They were not reticent to speak up. One by one the women, ages 15 to 44, came forward to relate that Francesco had doled out bread to his wife, had kept another woman in the house, and had given his wife the mal francese, a colloquial term for syphilis. In addition to the servants, several neighbors in Isabetta's parish, San Giacomo del Orio, verified these assertions, and a doctor came forward to testify that Isabetta was diseased.

The testimony from servants as well as neighbors was also critical in the case of Faustina Gradenici, a noblewoman who filed for separation from her second husband, Carlo de Cappis, on grounds of mistreatment and adultery.(52) Faustina had complained that Carlo beat her often and had impregnated one of the servants. When her husband asked her for money, she had taken the opportunity to flee, telling him she wanted to take advice from her brother, sister, and brother-in-law. At first she stayed with her sister.(53) Later, while the proceedings developed, Faustina retreated to the convent of Sant'Anna. Her servants came forward to corroborate her story. Lucretia, the widow of Bernardi Cadiani, had heard Carlo beat Faustina.(54) Sebastiana, the fifty-five-year-old widow of Dimitri Batron di Vassello, saw Faustina's body black and blue.(55) Sympathetic neighbors in the district of San Pietro di Castello, the area around the arsenal, testified as well. Camillo de Venezia, an arsenal worker, lived on the same street as Faustina. Word of Faustina's unhappy marriage had spread through the neighborhood.(56) Valeria, the twenty-eight-year-old wife of Aloisi Navetta, testified that Faustina had a black eye on occasion.(57) The neighbor upstairs, Isabetta, the wife of Gasparo Martini, a caulker at the arsenal, recounted that Faustina used to confide in her about her marital problems and that she had seen her bruises. The neighbors were filled with compassion for Faustina. Fearing for her life, they urged her to take refuge with her sister.(58) Attitudes about wife beating and adultery crossed class, gender, and generational lines. Young and old, men and women from the popular orders came to this noblewoman's aid, and Faustina was granted the separation.(59)

There were no guarantees that these women would be successful in their efforts to sever their marital ties. Given the importance of marriage alliances among the politically franchised, it was probably more difficult for a noblewoman than a commoner to dissolve a marriage. A husband from the ruling class who was unwilling to dissolve the marriage ties could potentially make use of his power and status to obstruct formal proceedings. The unhappy noblewoman Clara Gritti left her husband Paolo Priulo three times: in 1577, 1579, and 1580.(60) She complained that Paolo beat her. Once she had to have a tooth extracted because of one of his outbursts. Finally, she decided to leave him. Her brother took her to their mother's house, transporting furniture and valuables. Clara's mother came to her aid, sequestering 319 ducats, a fraction of her dowry of 8, 300 ducats, for her support. In 1581 Clara filed for separation, producing eight female servants, her brother, a physician, a nephew, and a sister-in-law as witnesses who provided clear evidence that her husband had mistreated her. She lived with her mother while the proceedings went on. The couple elected confidenti, friends or relatives who would help them make decisions regarding the division of property, alimony, and child support. Each of them wrote their requests and responses to these arbitrators. Clara asked for a house, furniture, servants, a teacher for her daughter, food, and clothes. Paolo was obliged by the arbitrators to cover her expenses for food. Despite the evidence that Clara produced to justify a separation, she lost the case.(61) Her husband claimed that her leaving the household had injured his honor. We cannot know why the judge ruled in Paolo's favor. It is plausible that he deferred to the power of the Priulo family.

What do these cases teach us about the options open to women who wished to dissolve bad marriages? First, wives did not have to submit to mistreatment in the interest of saving the marriage. Some had obviously decided that no marriage was better than a bad one. The more fortunate had family to sustain them. Others turned to religious asylums, friends, or other places in the community, depending on their networks of support and their financial resources. Giannetti's demographic study of the parish of San Canciano for the late sixteenth century gives us important information on the whereabouts of women from broken marriages, the malmaritate. Their names fill the registers of this parish.(62) Studies of religious asylums in Venice as well as other Italian cities also throw light on the kinds of decisions women in bad marriages were making.(63) Second, unhappy wives took the initiative to engage proctors and seek redress in both ecclesiastical and secular tribunals. That these tribunals in Venice were filled with denunciations from women is testimony that the legal environment was, at the very least, receptive to their needs and, in a more optimistic light, encouraging. Third, women turned to family, friends, neighbors, and servants to corroborate their stories in court, to attack their husbands' reputations, and to exert community control over their husbands' misbehavior. Here too they had ways of preparing the ground before the actual legal investigation by disseminating knowledge of their husbands' abuse to kinsmen, friends, and other members of the community. Women, thus, were not defenseless, nor were they without powers of decision.

The marriage investigations in the Venetian curia take us beyond where women stood in legal writings, treatises on the family, and inheritance practices tied to lineage.(64) These sources illuminate more readily the full range of women's options and allow us to observe how women pursued their personal objectives. The investigations in the Venetian curia give us snapshots of married women availing themselves of the formal legal structures of church and state. We also learn that neighborhood communities were an important part of public life, the part where women could perhaps more readily wield or manipulate the power of social control. Standards of behavior were not only regulated in the public spheres of church and state. Marriage was not a private matter in Venetian neighborhoods. Thus kinsmen and community had a decisive relationship with the married couple as well: the Venetian case demonstrates that they were, in effect, institutions of public life that protected women and disciplined men. Women in bad marriages had some powers of decision, and they were not alone.

Requests for Separation Results
 Favorable denied
 WIVES 29 17 12
 ((*)FOR WIFE)

 WIVES 19 16 3


Sources: ASCPV, Sententiarum (1601-1607), ff. 5-374, 4 June 1601-- 4 May 1607; Liber Sententiarum Civilium (1620-1631), ff. 57-152, 8 August 1621--8 June 1626.


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--. "`The Most Serious Duty': Motherhood, Gender, and Patrician Culture in Renaissance Venice." In Refiguring Woman: Perspectives on Gender and the Italian Renaissance, ed. Marilyn Migiel and Juliana Schiesari, 133-54. Ithaca, 1991.

Cohen, Sherrill. "Asylums for Women in Counter-Reformation Italy." In Women in Reformation and Counter-Reformation Europe, ed. Sherrin Marshall, 166-68. Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1989.

Cozzi, Gaetano. Religione, moralita e giustizia a Venezia: vicende della magistratura degli esecutori contro la bestemmia. Padua, 1967-68.

--. "Note e documenti sulfa questione del `divorzio' a Venezia (1782-1788)." Annali dell'Istituto storico italo-germanico in Trento 7 (1981): 775-360.

Davis, James C. A Venetian Family and Its Fortune, 1500-1900. Philadelphia, 1975.

Davis, Natalie Zemon. "City Women and Religious Change." In Society and Culture in Early Modern France, 65-95. Stanford, 1975.

--. "Boundaries and the Sense of Self in Sixteenth-Century France." In Reconstructing Individualism: Autonomy, Individuality, and the Self in Western Thought, ed. Thomas C. Heller et al., 53-63. Stanford, 1986.

--. The Return of Martin Guerre. Cambridge, MA, 1986.

Derosas, Renzo. "Moralita e giustizia a Venezia nel '500-'600. Gli Esecutori contro la Bestemmia." In Stato, societa e giustizia nella repubblica veneta (secolo XV-XVIII), ed. Gaetano Cozzi, 1:431-528. Rome, 1980.

Diefendorf, Barbara. "Family Culture, Renaissance Culture." Renaissance Quarterly 40 (1987), 661-81.

Ferrante, Lucia. "Honor Regained: Women in the Casa del Soccorso di San Paolo in Sixteenth-Century Bologna." In Sex and Gender in Historical Perspective, ed. Edward Muir and Guido Ruggiero, 46-72. Baltimore and London, 1990.

Ferro, Marco. Dizionario del diritto comune, e veneto 5 vols. Venice, 1780.

Flandrin, Jean-Louis. Families in Former Times: Kinship, Household, and Sexuality. Cambridge, 1979.

Giannetti, Laura. Venecia alla fine del XVI secolo: le parocchie di Santa Maria Nova e San Canciano. Tesi di laurea. Universita di Venezia. Venice, 1977-78.

Hanley, Sarah. "Family and State in Early Modern France: The Marriage Pact." In connecting Spheres. Women in the Western World, 1500 to the Present, ed. Marilyn J. Boxer and Jean Quataert, 53-63. New York and Oxford, 1987.

Kelly, Joan. "Did Women Have a Renaissance?" In Women, History, and Theory: The Essays of Joan Kelly. Chicago, 1984.

Klapisch-Zuber, Christiane. "The Griselda Complex: Dowry and Marriage Gifts in the Quattrocento." In Women, Family, and Ritual in Renaissance Italy. Chicago and London, 1985.

--. "Zacharias, or the Ousted Father: Nuptial Rites in Tuscany between Giotto and the Council of Trent." In Women, Family, and Ritual in Renaissance Italy. Chicago and London, 1985.

Marshall, Sherrin, ed. Women in Reformation and counter-Reformation Europe. Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1989.

Norton, Mary Beth. "Gender and Defamation in Seventeenth-Century Maryland." William and Mary Quarterly 44 (1987): 3-39.

Ozment, Steven. When Fathers Ruled: Family Life in Reformation Europe. Cambridge, MA and London, 1983.

Parte sostantiale delli decreti del sacro et general Concilio di Trento chefurono publicati nella sinodo diocesana di Venezia il di XVII di Settembre 1564. Venice, 1564.

Pullan, Brian. Rich and Poor in Renaissance Venice. Cambridge, MA, 1971.

Romano, Dennis. Patricians and Popolani: The Social Foundations of the Venetian Renaissance State. Baltimore and London, 1987.

--. "Gender and the Urban Geography of Renaissance Venice." Journal of Social History 23 (1989): 339-53.

Ruggiero, Guido. The Boundaries of Eros: Sex Crime and Sexuality in Renaissance Venice. New York and Oxford, 1985.

--. "'Piu che la vita caro: onore, matrimonio, e reputazione femminile nel tardo Rinascimento." Quaderni Storici 66 (1987): 753-75.

Safely, Thomas. "Marital Litigation in the Diocese of Constance, 1551-1620." Sixteenth Century Journal 12 (1981): 61-78.

Statutorum legum, ac iurium DD. Venetorum. Venice, 1619.

Stone, Lawrence. The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England 1500-1800. Abr. ed., New York, 1979. (*) I gratefully acknowledge the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation and the Graduate Division of San Diego State University for funding my research in Venice. I thank Marilyn J. Boxer, Stanley Chojnacki, and Francis Stites for their valuable criticisms of an earlier version of this manuscript; Yousri Boulos for making the Patriarchal Archives in Venice an efficient and delightful place to work; and Alessandra Sambo for her helpful insights into primary sources.

The following abbreviations are used throughout:

ASV = Archivio di Stato di Venezia

ASCPV = Archivio Storico della Curia Patriarcale di Venezia

AM = Actorum Mandatorum

BNMV = Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana di Venezia

CM = Causarum Matrimonialum

FC = Filciae Causarum

q. = quondam

u.d. = unfoliated document

(1) Klapisch-Zuber, 19852, 212; C. Davis.

(2) Kelly, 19-50.

(3) For an excellent summary of these developments, see Boxer and Quataert, 34-37. See also Hanley, 53-63; N. Z. Davis, 1975, 88-91; Flandrin, 118; Ozment, 98-99; Stone, 138-42; Diefendorf, 661-81. (4) Brucker.

(5) N. Z. Davis, 1986(2).

(6) Marshall, 2-3; Chojnacki, 1987, 745-51; idem, 1991, 133-54; N. Z. Davis, 1986(1), 53-63; Diefendorf, 676-77 and 679-80.

(7) It should be noted that the women who figure in these marital investigations lived in Venice but were not necessarily natives of the city. The venetian community was multicultural, populated with merchants from northern Europe and the Levant as well as immigrants from the mainland.

(8) BNMV, Misc. 2689.7, Parte sostantiale delli decreti del sacro et general Concilio di Trento, ff. 1-4.

(9) Cozzi, 1981, 303.

(10) Derosas, 450; Cozzi, 1981, 277. See also Cozzi, 1967-68, 16. On the problem of fornication in Venice during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, see Ruggiero, 1985, 16-44.

(11) Husbands also brought adultery charges to another Venetian tribunal, the Avogaria di Comun (the archival collection is in the ASV). For a systematic study of adultery cases in Venice during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, see Ruggiero, 1985, 45-69; see also his valuable bibliographic essay in ibid., 199-201.

(12) Statutorum legum, ac iurium DD. Venetorum, ff. 144; 195v, 4 November 1553.

(13) Ibid., f 199, 6 August 1559. The giudici confidenti were supposed to help make decisions concerning the division of property according to a law established in 1539. Cozzi notes, however, that the eighteenth-century canon lawyers discovered that this practice had lapsed as lawyers found it more lucrative to carry out these battles before the venous tribunals. Cozzi 1981, 310.

(14) The requests for annulment and separation for these years may be found in ASCPV, Actorum Mandatorum, according to date. Between January and October 1621, for example, there were 26 requests for separation. Ibid, (1620-21), ff. 126-26v, 134v-35, 152-52v; ibid., 1621-23, ff. 13, 24v, 46, 50v-51v, 52-52v, 54v-55, 73-73v, 77, 80, 89v-90, 102v-03, 112v, 113v, 117-17v, 129, 131-32, 135, 140, 144-44v, 147-47v.

(15) Venice may be compared with the diocese of Constance. Thomas Safely reports 11,778 marital disputes, mostly over contracts, between 1551 and 1620. Of these, only 379 were requests for separation. Seventy-five per cent of these requests were successful. Safely, 65, 72.

(16) Cozzi's study of the conflict between church and state in eighteenth-century Venice for jurisdiction over divorce offers supporting evidence for this point of view. The Venetian patriciate intervened between 1782-88, lamenting that the church had been granting divorces too liberally. Ecclesiastical lawyers were also blamed for the defects in the system for supposedly encouraging discontented wives to take their grievances to court. Cozzi, 1981, 275, 321. (17) ASCPV, CM, busta 78, Pasquetta Peregrinus and Romano Cavatia, ff. 1-46v, 26 April to 12 October 1584; FC, filza 16, Peregrinus and Cavatia; AM, Reg. 74 (1581-1887), f. 134, 26 April 1584; f. 136v, 5 May 1584; f. 139, 14 May 1584.

(18) Malmaritate, asylums for unhappy wives, had sprung up in many northern Italian cities, including Venice. They were, according to Sherrill Cohen, a Catholic alternative to divorce. Cohen, 166, 169, 182-83; Pullan, 388-94; Ferrante, 46-72.

(19) ASCPV, CM, busta 78, ff. 20-23v, 12 June 1584.

(20) It would be fruitful to study the attractiveness of this option for some women. Convents in sixteenth-century Italy were a refuge for unhappy wives. Those that accommodated women in Venice still require systematic study.

(21) Property is an important issue in these cases of separation. Women did not have the liberty to dispose of clothing purchased with the husband's resources. This remained the husband's property.

(22) ASCPV, FC, filza 16, "Pasquetta. Attestationes." Testimony of Isabella filia q. Nicolai di Pirano, ff 1; 8, 25 October 1584.

(23) Ibid., f. 9.

(24) See Boccaccio, rpt. 1982, 813-24.

(25) ASCPV, FC, filza 16, Giovanni q. Luca Meneghetti, ff 26-26v, 5 February (26) ASCPV, FC, filza 16, Jacobo q. Martini de Vassalino, brixien, baiulus, ff. 11v-16, 30 January 1585.

(27) Ibid., testimony of Benvenutus Doni, son of Laurentij, ff. 16-24v, 31 January 1585.

(28) Ibid., testimony of Lucretia q. Antonij Laurentij Patavini, wife of Jacobi Terrazzina; testimony of Claudia q. Domenico Pelizzarij, wife of Francesco, a brocheter mediolane, ff 34-40v, 12 February 1585.

(29) Klapisch-Zuber has characterized the husband's giving of gifts at marriage in fifteenth-century Florence as primarily ritual. She notes the temporary nature of the gifts. Klapisch-Zuber, 1985(1), 224-31. In contrast, the nuptial gifts of the husband to the wife take on a very different complexion in sixteenth-century Venice if we view them from a gendered perspective. Gifts might be viewed as temporary by husbands, as evidenced by the fact that they gambled them away. Wives, however, took a very different stance: when their husbands tried to take gifts back, they protested and fought through the courts to protect their trousseaus.

(30) Klapisch-Zuber, 1985(1), 224-25.

(31) ASCPV, FC, filza 16, testimony of Isabella, f. 7, 25 October 1584.

(32) ASCPV, FC, filza 16, testimony of Dominus Benvenutus Doni filius Domini Laurentij, f. 20. On the competencies of the Ufficio del Petizione, see Ferro, 4:202-04.

(33) ASCPV, CM, busta 78, testimony of D. Romanus Cavatri, son of Franci, ff. 23v-27.

(34) Ferro, 5:46.

(35) Angela Rossina, for example, named her brother Hieronimo her proctor, giving him the authority to appear on her behalf before any office, magistrate, judge, or forum. ASCPV, CM, busta 81, Angelo Barovier and Angela Rossina, ff. 36-36v, 25 July 1587.

(36) They may be found in ASV, Giudice del Procurator. Interdetti. On the functions of this tribunal, see Argelati, 27-30, and esp. 29.

(37) Dennis Romano has identified the urban spaces in fifteenth-century Venice commonly associated with women: houses, parish-neighborhoods, and convents. The neighborhood was the central place where a woman's honor and reputation were defended. Romano, 1989, 342-44.

(38) Ruggiero argues that gossip, particularly that of women, was a form of power that could shape honor and reputation. Ruggiero, 1987, 756. On the social functions of gossip, see Norton, 3-39, and esp. 4-7. (I would like to thank Eve Kornfeld for this reference.) Norton argues that for seventeenth-century Marylanders gossip was the community's method of defining standards of behavior, of identifying misbehavior, of targeting misbehavers, and of establishing social order. Women could not draft laws, but they could use gossip to advance and protect their interests and to define rules of behavior.

(39) Cavallo and Cerutti demonstrate that wives made their husbands' misbehavior part of the public domain by confiding in female neighbors. The authors argue that female solidarity should be read as "attempts to rebalance the power relationships between the sexes," Cavallo and Cerutti, 88-89; see also 90-94. In the Venetian marriage cases it is evident that wives were confiding in both men and women of their communities.

(40) ASCPV, CM, busta 75, Cecelia Bartholomei Bressan Garzoti and Horatij q. Baptista Cerdonis, 8 January 1580.

(41) Ibid., testimony of Cornelia q. Petri Baffo Venosa, widow of Domenici Cimatoris, u.d., 17 March 1580.

(42) Ibid., testimony of Baptista q. Hieronomi de Venetijs, spicularius, u.d., 13 April 1580.

(43) Ibid., testimony of Marcus Cerdo Gardolinus filius q. Jacobi, u.d., 24 October 1580.

(44) ASCPV, CM, busta 84, Paola da Venezia q. Andrea and Jacobo Furlano, unnumbered fascicoli, May 1610 to April 1611.

(45) Ibid., testimony of Joannes q. Petri de Federicis, unnumbered fascicolo, ff. 14-19, 19 July 1610.

(46) Ibid., testimony of Andriana filia Andrea q. Joannis Antonij de Venetijs, ff. 19-22v, 29 July 1610.

(47) Ibid., testimony of Magdalena q. Jacobi Apolonij de Venetijs, ff. 10v-14, 19 July 610.

(48) Ibid., testimony of Jacoba q. Bartholomeo Disdini, ff. 7v-10, 19 July 1610.

(49) Ibid., testimony of Hieronymus q. Nicolai de Arboribus, ff. 3v-7v, 19 July 1610.

(50) On Venetian women's networks in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, see Romano, 1987, 133-38; and their relations with servants, ibid., 134-38.

(51) ASCPV, CM, busta 87 Isabetta Bembo q. Clarissimo Dominici and Clarissimo Francesco Priuli q. Domini, 19 May, 1623; FC, filza 38, Bemba separationis, 16 June 1623.

(52) ASCPV, CM, busta 92, Faustina Gradenici q. Clarissimo Marco and Carlo de Cappis, fascicolo 1, ff. IV, 5 January 1637; f. 3, 14 January 1637.

(53) Ibid., fascicolo 4, evidence presented by Nicolau Noalum, Procuratore, on 26 January 1637, more veneto. Testimony of Francesca, wife of Dominico Garemberti, u.d., 5 March 1637.

(54) Ibid., testimony of Lucretia, widow of Bernardi Cadiani, u.d., 5 March 1637.

(55) Ibid., testimony of Sebastiana, widow of Dimitri Batron di Vassello, u.d., 8 June 1637.

(56) Ibid., testimony of Camillus q. Hieronimo de Venetij, u.d., 6 March 1637.

(57) Ibid., testimony of Valeria, wife of Aloisi q. Bilasij Navetta, u.d., 6 June 1637. (58) Ibid., testimony of Isabetta, wife of Gasparo Martini, u.d., 17 June 1637.

(59) ASCPV, CM, busta 9:, unbound document, fascicolo 1, 14 August 1637.

(60) ASCPV, CM, busta 75, Clara Gritti and Paolo Prinlo q. Hieronimo, ff 26V-34V. 21 August 1581; FC, filza 14, unnumbered fascicolo, Parte P. Priulo e Gritta positiones , 21 August 1581.

(61) ASCPV, CM, busta 75, Gritti and Prinlo, unbound document, 18 December.

(62) Giannetei, 219.

(63) See note 18.

(64) A model study of women's concerns and orientation within the patriarchal framework is Chojnacki, 1975, 571-600, which illuminates the bilateral character of the Venetian patriciate's kinship ties. See also idem, 1974,
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Author:Ferraro, Joanne M.
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Date:Sep 22, 1995
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