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The sumptuary laws of manuscript Montpellier H119.

THE thirteenth-century Old Occitan manuscript of customary law, Montpellier H119, contains an interesting set of laws, passed between 1227 and 1273, which regulated the customs involved in wooing a fiancee. These are introduced as "Aquestz establiments foron fagz per las novias." ("These laws were passed for fiancees.") Several concern romantic gestures, such as the construction of maypoles near the home of a fiancee or the sending of jongleurs to recite poetry for her. Others regulate the expense of gifts that can be given to one's betrothed and the quantity and value of clothing given to her during courtship. This article attempts to situate these laws in their legal and historical context, and, where necessary, will provide their English translation. It will also consider the societal and political reasons for the enactment of this legislation. Before considering these specific laws, perhaps a few comments upon sumptuary legislation in thirteenth-century Europe will be useful.

During the late thirteenth century in Montpellier, a heavy degree of governmental control over consumerism existed. This was imposed by a municipal council of twelve bourgeois or noble men and by the representative of the king of Aragon in Montpellier. Consumption and purchases of food, clothing, and gems were restricted by what are known as "sumptuary laws." What members of society, delineated by class, could wear, eat, or spend on items, often considered to be items of luxury, was determined by rulers or municipal councils in many parts of southern Europe. Critics, such as Sarah-Grace Heller, discuss the prevalence of sumptuary legislation around the Mediterranean. During this period, cities such as Montpellier were important centers of trade and saw the emergence of an increasingly wealthy bourgeoisie. Montpellier was a major center for the dyeing of cloths, specifically in the color scarlet, and traded with Narbonne, Marseilles, Pisa, Genoa, Spain, Majorca and the Arab countries from the beginning of the thirteenth century (Paterson 160). Members of the bourgeoisie who grew rich from this commerce were better able to consume goods than previously, causing government to restrict consumption by its constituents. The wearing of goods considered to be of luxury was most often restricted by sumptuary legislation: in H119, the material goods whose consumption is most often restricted are seda (silk), aur (gold), argen (silver), perlas (pearls), pena vaira (shiny fur) camisas cozidas ab aur ... ab lasses (shirts sewn with gold [thread] ... with laces). Both material and clothing styles were restricted, and this sort of ornamentation was discouraged by government officials for reasons that Kovesi Killerby describes as the "three cardinal principles" of dress used in the demonstration of wealth: they are expensive, often need to be replaced, and indicate that one does not perform physical labor. In other words, they demonstrated "expensiveness," "novelty" and "ineptitude" (116). It was also feared that pride and greed for luxury goods would drive citizens to commit immoral acts. This increasing economic power of the bourgeoisie created difficulty for municipal administration on religious, economic, and social levels.

For religious reasons, immodesty and pride in dress was undesirable. It is likely that, in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, increasing overindulgence in dress was a concern of church leaders and it is thus reflected in legislation. Religious motivation for enacting such legislation is described by the redactors of H119, in a law of 1273:

... cobesejans despensas sobrefluozas que aras se fan en vestiduras et en ornamens de totas femenas et encaras lo perill de l'arma esq[ui]var, ad honor del altisme creator et ad utilitat d[e] la comunalesa de Montp[es]l[ie]r ... (42,c).

... wishing to avoid superfluous expense that was spent earlier on women's clothing and ornaments, and the danger for the soul that is [there] inherent, in honor of the highest Creator and for the utility of the town of Montpellier ... [Translation mine].

The laws concerning fiancees were passed in the years after, although not immediately following, an 1195 Montpellier church council. Heller explains:

In 1195, the papal legate assembled the Narbonnais council at Montpellier, admonishing laypersons of both sexes for the lasciviousness and vanity of their slashed or << tongued >> garments, as well as women's long trains, especially in the face of the Saracen threat in Spain and Jerusalem (125).

This is a rare instance in which the church mentions the dress of the laity, since, before 1200, there was very little mention of laypersons' dress in church decrees (Kovesi Killerby 21). During this period, the church would have discouraged the excessive display of wealth through dress to encourage humility, in imitation of Christ, and because of the symbolic meaning of clothing. As Kovesi Killerby suggests, clothing is a reminder of original sin and can be interpreted as shameful proof of our sinful nature: Adam and Eve were naked in the Garden of Eden and, through sin, found the need to dress themselves. Clothing can thus be seen as the result of temptation: we are now clothed as a symbol of our shame (118).

Excessive expense on dress posed the economic problem that funds would not be available for lords to borrow if they were spent by the bourgeoisie on clothing and jewels. Until gold and silver thread began to be manufactured, furs were the most important dress article of luxury (Baldwin 33). They became so expensive that Charlemagne decided to regulate their price, prohibiting the sale or purchase of "sayon double" (a thick, doubled cloth) for over 20 sols, or "sayon simple" at over ten sols (Giraudias 47). Of course, the nobility was often exempt from these restrictions, or pardoned:

Nulle bourgeoise n'aura char. Nulle bourgeoise ne portera vair ni gris, ni hermine, et se delivrera de ceux qu'elle a, de Pasques prochaines en un an. Elle ne portera ni ne pourra porter or, ni pierres precieuses, ni couronne d'or ni d'argent. Nulle demoiselle, si elle n'est chastelaine, n'aura qu'une paire de robes par an (Ordonnances des rois de France, t. I, p. 324, Baudrillart 252).

No bourgeois woman shall have a chariot. No bourgeois woman shall wear shiny or grey fur, or hermine, and shall render those that she has within one year of next Easter. She will not wear gold or precious stones, or a gold or silver crown. No young lady, if she is not the lady of a manor, shall have more than a pair of dresses per year [Translation mine].

Socially, increased spending on dress and ornamentation led to the blurring of class lines and increased competition on the part of the bourgeoisie to demonstrate wealth. Relatively more wealthy than earlier, bourgeois women could afford some items of luxury, and thus appear to be of higher social status. The queen of Philipe le Bel, responding to the display of the wealth of women in Bruges and Gand, stated, "Je croyais etre la seule reine, et j'en vois ici par centaines!" (Baudrillart 250). Saint Louis, upon returning from Palestine, noted that prostitutes had begun to resemble noble women in their accoutrements. Forced by legislation to cease ornamenting themselves in this fashion, they quickly began to

dress more modestly (305). It is worth noting that sumptuary legislation, whether it concerned betrothal or not, was often aimed at women (Kovesi Killerby 112). Kovesi Killerby explains, in discussing Italian sumptuary legislation of the period, that men could demonstrate prestige by their position in society, whereas women were more limited to displaying social status through clothing and accessories (114). If the manner in which a woman dressed was considered to be a sign of the wealth of her husband, unnecessary competition could be encouraged between men in purchasing clothing and jewels for their wives, thus creating social tension (117). Medieval mores encouraged modesty in women's dress for reasons of prudence and respectability as well, more so than in the case of men.

The legislation contained in H119 regulating the courting of fiancees and wedding expenses demonstrates that the rulers of medieval Montpellier shared similar concerns with much of Europe in regard to material consumption and excessive displays of wealth. Legislators provided examples from the Bible in order to encourage modesty. A manuscript containing much of the same text, but that is later than H119, Le Petit Thalamus, also of Montpellier, describes the town council's reasons for enacting sumptuary legislation, specifically limiting dress in a 1365 decree (too late to be included in H119), states:

E nom de Nostre Senhor Dieu Jhu Crist, le cal per sobbeyrana humilitat volc dissendre del cel en terra et esser encarnat de la preciosa humil verge madona Sancta Maria, le cal li plac per vergenitat ... [omission mine] et encaras per maior humilitat sieua volc naysser en paure et en vil luoc, car en l'estable et en le grepia entre doas bestias brutas, et aqui volc esser envelopat en paures e petitz draps, non ges en palays ni en draps daur ni de seda ... (161).

In the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who by sovereign humility wished to descend from Heaven to Earth and to be incarnated in the precious and humble lady Saint Mary, who, by her virginity pleased him [...] and for his [Jesus'] further humility wanted to be born in a lowly and poor place, in the stable and in the manger between two brutish beasts, and there wished to be wrapped in poor and small sheets, and not at all in a palace or in sheets of gold or of silk ... [Translation mine].

The text implies that, since Jesus was born into poverty and dressed with humility, Christians should follow his example. This text contains further legislation created later than that found in Montpellier H119, enumerating the various rules established for the ways in which members of the court and ordinary citizens could dress. The H119 laws in question differ, however, in that they very specifically delineate courtship practices. This is a particularly unique set of laws of a sumptuary nature, but that also arose from other considerations. Although the reasoning behind legislation is almost never discussed in H119, it is apparent that maintaining municipal peace, safety, and decorum in Montpellier was the motivation for several decrees. For example, from fear of fire, this law prohibits the carrying of torches to the home of a fiancee at night:

... neguns hom ni neguna femena, privatz ni estranhs, d'aissi e[40,b]nant en Montp[ es]l[ie]r no[n] ane ni venga per visitar ni per solas tener a novias, ni ad alberc en que novia haia, ni per occaizo[n] de la novia, ab lum ni ses lum, pueis que dia sera claus. Empero de jorns hi puesco[n] venir e far corts en la forma que es acostumat, empero ses torcas e ses brandons e ses tot autre lum.

... no man or woman, from Montpellier or foreign, from this point forth, shall travel in Montpellier or come to visit or walk to [visit] a fiancee, or to a dwelling in which a fiancee might be, with a lamp or without one, after the day shall have ended. However, in the daytime one may go there and court a fiancee in the accustomed fashion, but without torches and without burning bundles of straw and without other light [Translation mine].

Other entries prohibit the employment of jongleurs or the use of specific instruments in courting a fiancee. This was perhaps to avoid disturbances and to maintain the peace, as well as to avoid excessive expense:

Encaras establem que [39,a] negun joglar ni neguna joglaressa no[n] auze anar a novias de jorns ni d[e] nuegz, ni auze anar en maiso[n] que haia dona jazen, mais trompas puesco[n] anar a las novias.

We also establish that no minstrel, male or female, shall dare to walk to the home of [someone's] fiancee at night or in the daytime, or dare to walk to a house in which there is a lady present, but trumpet players can travel to the homes of fiancees [Translation mine].

Still others are concerned with Christian decency and the desire to break from pagan traditions. The use of maypoles is prohibited in H119:

... negu[n]s hom ni neguna femena no[n] [39,d] fassa mayas en Montp[es]l[ie]r ni els barris, ni fassa hom cortz ab candelas ni ab lampesas ni ab esturmens, ni planto[n] albres, ni fasso[n] ramadas p[er] occaizo[n] de mayas.

... no man or woman shall erect maypoles in Montpellier, nor in its surrounding areas, nor shall one court [a fiancee] with candles, lamps, or instruments, nor plant trees, nor shall one use branches as maypoles [Translation mine].

This was a pagan tradition, symbolizing fertility and intercourse. During the Middle Ages, young men would build maypoles outside the homes of women whom they wished to court. It seems that the legislative council wished to maintain Catholic decency and to prohibit citizens of Montpellier from practicing these pagan traditions.

Let us consider legislation that was more sumptuary in nature and specifically regulated expense in gift-giving during betrothal, as well as expenses related to the wedding celebration itself, since it is perhaps more revelatory of medieval engagement and marriage traditions. In an attempt to understand the origin of this legislation, it is necessary to consider the customary law and marriage traditions of other southern European towns that shared a similar legal history. Montpellier, until 1349, was ruled, through his representative, by the king of Aragon and by its municipal council, which was established in 1204 upon the marriage of Marie de Montpellier to Peire II of Aragon. It shares aspects of its legal and social history with Aragon and other towns of southern Europe that had formerly been under Roman and Visigothic rule. For example, in medieval Montpellier, Aragon and Castile, the marriage process consisted of betrothal, or the promise to wed, which was accompanied by a financial guarantee of the transfer and sharing of property. Gratian saw betrothal as "initiating" the marriage process, as an "irrevocable promise to complete or consummate the marriage" (Dillard 38). Interpretations of the meaning and significance of the stages between betrothal and consummated marriage varied, but the financial engagement was nearly always present at betrothal. To be thus engaged in the H119 text was referred to in financial language: "fermar molher," the word, "fermar," meaning to guarantee a financial transaction. It was the financial aspect of marriage that was of great influence in the passing of this legislation.

Another key factor in the creation of this legislation was the effort, on the part of town officials, to attract able-bodied young men for military defense or to increase the municipal tax base. This occurred in several medieval towns, and in Montpellier H119, even in legislation not regulating courting practices, laws tended to encourage foreigners to move to Montpellier. Kathryn Reyerson explains that Montpellier, far into its past, had always been welcoming to foreigners (265). They benefited from exemption from military duty (for a limited time), and were sometimes admitted to certain trades through marriage to an inhabitant of Montpellier, from which they would otherwise be excluded. For example:

When a foreign man takes a wife

A foreign man who takes a wife in the town of Montpellier and keeps Montpellier as his place of residence shall be free, for one year and one day, of the obligation to serve militarily and as watchman.

Foreigners could choose the lord of Montpellier as their liege if they renounced their fief to a previous lord:

Freedom of foreign men

If any foreigner is the liege of another man and he should come to inhabit Montpellier, he shall be free of his feudal obligation; however, he must return his fief to the former lord. Only the carefully-protected dyeing trade was prohibited to them (265):

Of the sheets of foreign men

No foreign man may dye sheets with the grain of holly [a red colorant] or in any other color. A foreigner can individually sell only the amount of sheets that he can carry into the town.

Commercial opportunities in Montpellier did attract many foreigners: tradesmen came from distant areas--the Massif Central, Cevennes Mountains, and the Lot River district to work as money-changers, apothecaries, and drapers (272). The university also attracted foreigners, and many exiles from Lucca, fleeing political troubles, emigrated to Montpellier (276-8).

Newcomers to Montpellier, although often desired, did not always have impressive sums of money at their disposal. It is very likely that government viewed betrothal and weddings as occasions that could easily lead to excessive spending, and that they could even create societal conditions that were inconvenient to municipal interests. In the fueros of medieval Castile, one finds similar customary legislation, contemporary to the laws found in Montpellier H119. Dillard explains several reasons for the enactment of such laws. Arras, meaning "a financial guarantee," money pledged by the groom (and often the bride) as a guarantee of his intentions, were given upon betrothal. This endowment obligated both the bride and the groom to complete a transaction: their marriage (Dillard 47). It was feared that, if the arras were too high, promising young men whom the town wished to attract, but who had not yet amassed great wealth, would not be able to afford to marry. In the Fuero Juzgo, the groom's endowment was limited to a tenth of his property (Dillard 47). Other Castilian towns set a fixed amount of money to be paid as arras, which varied according to the estimated desirability of the bride: Dillard cites Ucles and Valfermoso de las Monjas for having established a maximum of twenty maravedis as the arras of any woman (51). Other towns set arras at twenty maravedis for virgins and ten for widows (51). In case the wife became widowed, the endowment could be used for her sustenance. Gift-giving was also regulated by legislation, due to concern that women could be seduced by lavish gifts during courtship and thus be persuaded to make an unwise marriage decision. Further gift-giving was discouraged, beyond the traditional endowment: under Visigothic law, no other gifts aside from the wedding ring and endowment could be given between the husband and wife for a period of one year (47). Restriction on gift-giving is present in H119:

Encaras establiem q[ue] neguns hom d'aissi enant quant penra molher no[n] fassa vestirs de seda, ni camisa cosida ab aur ni ab argen ni ab perlas a la novia ni pueis por l'aura presa, ni li fassa mais uns vestirs ab pena vaira quant la penra; ni fassa a la suogra negu[n] vestir ni a la baila de la novia ni a la soa, mais tan solame[n]s una gonela o un blizaut puesca far a quascuna; ni neguna autra persona no[n] auze far re[n] d'aisso per lo novi ni per la novia.

We also establish that no man, from here forth, when he takes a wife, shall have clothing of silk made for her, or a shirt sewn with gold or with silver or with pearls for the bride, or anything made to look like gold, and he shall only make her one garment with shiny fur when he shall take her. He shall make no garment for his future mother-in-law or for the governess of the fiancee, nor for his own, but can make only one tunic or souquenille for each. No other person shall dare to do any of this for the fiance or the fiancee [Translation mine].

H119 contains many decrees prohibiting excessive gift-giving, which nearly always specify which materials could not be worn and the fine for infraction of this. We can see that this sort of legislation would be intended to encourage economy and savings. Expenses related to the wedding ceremony itself were also reduced by legislation. In H119, this is achieved by stipulating the number of guests that one could invite to a wedding:

Encaras establiem q[ue] neguns hom quant penra molher no[n] fassa condug mais ad aquels del alberc d[e] la novia et ad aquels del alberc [39b] del novi e que .XX. personas puesca mais haver entre proshomes e donas, otra los .II. albercs; empero si parens o amics del novi o amics de la novia si venia[n] que fosson defora la vila estatjans, que aquill hi puesco[n] manjar ab lo novi o ab la novia, d'otra.

We also establish that no man, when he takes a wife, shall dine with anyone outside of the household of the fiancee or of his own, and that there may be twenty people, between noblemen and ladies, outside of these two households [with whom he may eat]. However, if relatives or friends of the fiance or friends of the fiancee come, who are living outside of the town, they may eat with the fiance or the fiancee, as well [Translation mine].

Thus, the guest list is limited to the household of the bride and groom, as well as twenty members of the nobility, and any visiting relatives. The limitation of spending on the wedding ceremony itself is also regulated in the Castilian fueros. Dillard states:

The evolution of the customs during the early thirteenth century, especially at Salamanca, Soria and Madrid, also demonstrates a desire to limit display by the rich at their weddings. This concern is paramount in diverse sumptuary legislation enacted by royal charter and the Cortes, especially in the later thirteenth century. It restricted the size of wedding processions, the numbers of guests from each side, the amount of food and drink to be served, gifts exchanged between hosts and guests, extravagance in dress and other nuptial luxuries, not excluding the bribes given by grooms to the families of the townswomen they wanted to marry (54).

El Privilegio de Fernando III limits the number of guests of the bride and groom to five each:

Et otrossi mando que non comam alas bodas mas de diez omnes, cinco de la parte del novio et cinco de parte de la novia quales el novio et la novia quisieren ... (860).

And I further command that not more than ten men shall eat at weddings, five from the side of the groom and five from the side of the bride, whom the groom and bride shall wish [to be present] [Translation mine].

As in Montpellier, a fine was also imposed for infraction of this. El Privilegio goes on to regulate the amount one could spend on the wedding ceremony itself, which we do not see in H119:

Et mando que tod omne que casare con Manceba que/nol de mas de Sessaenta morabetis pora pannos pora sus Bodas. Et qui casare con Bibda nol de mas de Cuarenta morabetis pora pannos pora sus bodas. Et qui mas diesse desto que yo man-/do pecharie cinquaenta morabetis en coto, los veynt ami et los diez alos Jurados, et los diez alos Alcaldes, et los diez al que los descubriesse (Urena 860).

And I rule that any man that shall marry a maiden/ shall not spend more than sixty maravedis for his wedding. And he who marries a widow shall not spend more than forty maravedis for his wedding. And whoever shall spend more than this, I rule that he shall pay fifty maravedis as a fine, twenty to me and ten to the administrative authorities, and ten to the judges, and ten to he who discovers this [Translation mine].

We can note a similar motivation for this legislation regulating expenses related to betrothal in medieval Castile and Montpellier, which represents a municipal response to a changing reality: that of the emergence of a consumer society.

One can conclude that, in Montpellier as well as in other towns of medieval southern Europe, government and economic control extended to private, interpersonal practices, and that this was enacted for reasons that were both religious and that responded to municipal needs. To what extent were these laws effective? It was difficult for sumptuary legislation to keep up with ever-changing style. As tastes changed, or as citizens conformed to the laws, these became obsolete and needed to be modified. There is a progression in the specificity of the H119 laws in the years during which they are recorded in the manuscript: 1227, 1253, 1255 and 1273, from more general decrees prohibiting the use of materials entirely to more specific legislation that prescribed the maximum weight or value of luxury items worn by women of Montpellier. The laws of 1273 stipulate that women could not wear necklaces with pearls, precious stones, or gold on them, but they could wear gold or silver buttons, as long as they did not contain more than one ounce of these metals. They could not wear gold or silver chains, but they could wear necklaces made of silk, containing no gold, as long as these did not cost more than thirty sols. In these later laws, there is concern over whether only the purchase of new luxury items was prohibited, or if one could, in fact, continue to wear what one already owned. It is stated that items purchased before the interdiction could be worn for the longevity of the accessory. These later precisions in the law could suggest that these rules were being largely obeyed and that legislators needed to create new prohibitions to keep up with trends. In order to more specifically determine the extent to which these laws were followed in practice, more archival research will be needed. Although legislation of a generally sumptuary nature is present in the customary law of many medieval towns, I have located legislation specifically relating to betrothal and marriage in Castilian sources only, so far. Much more can be learned about medieval marriage from the laws that regulated it and I hope to explore this in additional texts that provide a glimpse into the lives of the thirteenth-century inhabitants of Montpellier and that demonstrate legal solutions to the increasing wealth of the bourgeoisie.



Primary sources--Manuscripts


Bibliotheque de la Faculte de Medecine, fonds anciens H 119 Archives Municipales de Montpellier Le Petit Thalamus

Primary sources--Texts

Societe Archeologique de Montpellier. Le Petit Thalamus de Montpellier, publie pour la premiere fois d'apres les manuscrits originaux. Montpellier: Aine, 1840.

Urena y Smenjaud, don Rafael de. Fuero de Cuenca (Formas Primitiva y Sistematica: Texto Latino, Texto Castellano y Adaptacion del Fuero de Iznatoraf). Madrid: Tipografia de la Revista de Archivos, 1935.

Secondary sources

Baldwin, Frances E. Sumptuary Legislation and Personal Regulation in England. Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 1926.

Baudrillart, Henri. Histoire du luxe prive et public depuis l'antiquite jusqu'a nos jours. Paris: Hachette, 1880.

Dillard, Heath. Daughters of the Reconquest: Women in Castilian Town Society, 11001300. New York: Cambridge UP, 1984.

Giraudias, Etienne. Etude historique sur les lois somptuaires. Poitiers: Societe francaise d'imprimerie et de librairie, 1910.

Heller, Sarah-Grace. "Limiting Yardage and Changes of Clothes: Sumptuary Legislation in Thirteenth-Century France, Languedoc and Italy" in Medieval Fabrications: Dress, Textiles, Clothwork, and Other Cultural Imaginings. E. Jane Burns, ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Kovesi Killerby, Catherine. Sumptuary Law in Italy 1200-1500. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002.

Paterson, Linda M. The World of the Troubadours: Medieval Occitan Society, c. 1100c. 1300. Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 1993.

Reyerson, Kathryn L. Society, Law, and Trade in Medieval Montpellier. Vermont: Variorum, 1995.
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Author:Widmayer, Jeffrey S.
Publication:Romance Notes
Date:Jan 1, 2006
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