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The History Of Ideas: Medieval And Early Modern Europe

Category: Aesthetics

  • Book Title: The History of Ideas: Medieval and early modern Europe
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  • Author: Jeremy L. Tobey
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  • Synopsis: The extensive bibliography in Morris Kline, Mathematical Thought from Ancient to Modern Times, is a convenient source for students, while Derek T. Whiteside, " Patterns of Mathematical Thought in the Later Seventeenth Century," Archives for  ...

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BA (Hons) Medieval and Early Modern History

BA (Hons) Medieval and Early Modern History

Our B.A. (Hons) degree offers the opportunity to study 700 years of local, national and international history.

You will be able to select modules ranging from the aftermath of the Norman Conquest, through Tudor England, to Napoleon and will learn how to analyse politics, literature, art, architecture, textiles, landscapes and other cultural artefacts as well as written sources.

Modules include traditional survey courses covering Medieval Europe, the Wars of the Roses, the Renaissance and Reformation World and the Age of Revolution, 1776-1848.

They will also introduce you to specialist subjects like The Court of Henry VIII, Louis XIV’s France, The Eighteenth Century Enlightenment and the Cultural History of Death.


Our modules examine a wide variety of themes and concepts to understand how pre-modern society functioned, failed and evolved.

This is a flexible degree where you can select your own preferred periods and subjects investigating social, political, cultural, military, religious and economic history including modules on the Black Death, the Hundred Years’ War, Witchcraft & Magic, Stuart England and the French Revolution.

Topics studied include:

  • Renaissance & Reformation Europe
  • Torture to Terror: European Order & Repression
  • England in Europe
  • Rethinking History: Theory and Practice
  • History, Heritage and Interpretation
  • The Material World: Interpreting Objects & Environments
  • The Tudors
  • The Black Death
  • Game of Thrones - The Hundred Years' Way
  • The War of the Roses
  • The Slave Trade
  • Europe and the Mediterranean World
  • Culture & Civilisation in Late Medieval England
  • Enlightenment Europe
  • Stuart England: Rebellion, Restoration, Revolution
  • Medieval Heresies
  • Witchcraft & Magic in Early Modern Europe
  • Crime, Deviance and Punishment in Early Modern Europe
  • Commerce and Consumption in Early Modern England
  • Sixteenth-Century France
  • Georgian Britain
  • Louis XIV's France
  • Kingship, Queenship & Power in Late Medieval Europe
  • The Physical Past: Landscape and Heritage from Antiquity to the Present
  • The Cultural History of Death
  • Kingdom of Heaven: Crusading and the Holy Land
  • Henry VIII & Court Culture
  • The French Revolution: Origins & Outcomes
  • Women and Gender
  • Chivalry, Knighthood and Masculinity
Our facilities

Bishop Otter campus – where you will be based
Over the past few years, we’ve redeveloped both of our campuses so that you have the best facilities available for your degree. We pride ourselves on the quality of the learning environment we can offer our students. We offer a substantial collection of books, journals and other materials to help you further your research. A range of study areas for group and quiet study including Wi-Fi areas for laptop use are available, or you can use our open access PC and Mac areas.

Our Learning Resource Centre is the hub of the learning environment. It has two upper floors of library resources, one for silent study and one for quiet study, both of which have recently been refurbished. On the ground floor, you’ll find the Support and Information Zone, Media Centre, Otter Gallery, Costa Coffee and a variety of IT resources. It also offers:

  • 130 open access PC workstations
  • 45 Apple iMacs
  • Ample printing facilities
  • Netbooks available on loan
  • Professional editing suites
  • Media loans counter
  • Wi-Fi and plug points throughout
Where this can take you

Key skills include research, analysis, report writing and oral presentations. Emphasis is put on analysing contemporary sources, which will stand you in good stead for postgraduate study.

In addition, students selecting the Work Placement, History, Heritage and Interpretation or National Curriculum modules will gain experience and specific employment skills for heritage or teaching careers.

You will emerge from the degree with an acute critical mindset and an appreciation of cultural diversity enabling you to take up any number of graduate employment opportunities.

Employers tell us that they value History degrees because they cultivate initiative and the ability to work independently or as part of a team, as well as enhancing traditional skills of analysis, writing and research.

Many students continue to study to become teachers (PGCE), undertake postgraduate study (MA/PhD) or gain employment in the heritage sector.

Either way, feedback tells us that our graduates believe that studying at Chichester has equipped them very well for the next stage in their careers and lives.

Work placements

On the BA (Hons) History you will have the option in year two to work with a sector-leading museum, gallery or heritage site. This optional module is ideal if you want to develop a career in the heritage sector.

You will be able to benefit from our long-term associations with university-partners in Canada and the United States of America mean that History at Chichester is well placed to offer its you a further international dimension to your undergraduate experience.

In 2010, two of our students spent a fortnight at Franklin & Marshall, researching the thought of the Founding Father of the US Constitution and exploring the Watergate scandal. They were named Visiting Research Scholars and received full access to internet and library privileges. But the experience comprised far more than study. They were given a personal tour of the United States Capitol and the Watergate building, as well as experiencing a Lancaster Barnstormers baseball game.

Teaching assessment

Teaching is delivered over two 15 week semesters with 4 modules taken in each and a diverse range of assignments set from portfolios to exams and oral presentations.

Contact time is maximized through tutorials, lectures, seminars and field-trips.

The degree is supported with methods and skills-based teaching. In seminars you will discuss key historical debates and texts (all translated into English) with further instruction available via independent tutorials with module leaders.

In the final year you are tutored one-to-one to complete a substantial research project of your choice. You can also select a specialist module on the teaching of History in schools.

The city of Chichester, with its medieval cathedral and Georgian architecture, provides the perfect backdrop to the degree, which is taught in collaboration with important partners including the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum (the setting for the BBC’s recent ‘Tudor Monastery Farm’), housing many mostly medieval and early modern buildings. Equally importantly, student feedback confirms that our medieval and early modern modules offer a vibrant and stimulating learning experience that demonstrably enhances historical skills.

The course is run by a friendly, dedicated team, who also produce acclaimed international research that further enriches the learning experience. In addition to the extensive array of modules students are supported with specialist research training, and are allocated academic advisors to guide them through their three-year programme.

The National Student Satisfaction Survey and The Guardian regularly award Chichester’s department of History with outstanding results for student achievement and 10 out of 10 for ‘Value Added’ in 2013 and 2014. This is because we focus intensely on contact time with students to ensure success, which makes Chichester special.



Late Medieval Early Modern Europe

Late Medieval Early Modern Europe

The Late Medieval/Early Modern European History doctoral field at Georgetown University is strong and diverse. The research interests of its faculty encompass cultural, educational, intellectual, and social history, as well as the histories of gender, law, and religion. Doctoral students in the field benefit from faculty expertise not only in the Balkans, England, France, Germany, and Italy, but also in eastern Europe and Russia, the Atlantic World, the eastern Mediterranean, and East Asia. The History Ph.D. program at Georgetown, while grounded in the discipline of History, encourages doctoral students to take advantage of numerous supporting faculty in other disciplines and departments with specialties in the medieval and early modern European field. The program is also enriched by the university’s internationally renowned programs in European and Mediterranean languages, including classical, late antique and medieval Latin. Students in this field are also invited to attend the seminars presented by the Institute for Global History’s Early Modern Seminar Series. Important resources for medieval and early modern European research in the city beyond the university campus include the Folger Shakespeare Library, the library at Dumbarton Oaks, and the Library of Congress. Doctoral students in the late medieval/early modern European field compete successfully for highly prestigious dissertation fellowships, and the program enjoys a strong placement record at universities in the U.S. and abroad.

ordinary Faculty

Agoston, Gabor. Associate Professor (Ph.D. Hungarian Academy of Sciences, 1994). Ottoman military, economic and social history 1450-1800, Ottoman rule in Southeastern Europe.

Astarita, Tommaso. Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies (Ph.D. Johns Hopkins, 1988). Early Modern Europe, the Mediterranean

Collins, David, S. J. Associate Professor (Ph.D. Northwestern, 2004). Medieval Germany

Collins, James. Professor (Ph.D. Columbia, 1978) Early Modern France and Europe

Games, Alison. Professor (Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania, 1992) Colonial America, Early Modern Britain, the Atlantic World

Goldfrank, David. Professor (Ph.D. Washington University, 1970) Medieval and Early Modern Russia; Eastern Europe

Kaminski, Andrzej. Professor Emeritus (Ph.D. Jagellonian, Poland, 1966) Early Modern East Central Europe; Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth

Leonard, Amy. Associate Professor (Ph.D. Berkeley, 1999) Early Modern Germany; the Reformation

Moran Cruz, Jo Ann. Associate Professor; (Ph.D. Brandeis, 1975)

Olesko, Kathryn. Associate Professor (Ph.D. Cornell, 1980) Early Modern European Science and Technology

For More Information

For more information about the Early Modern and Late Medieval Europe field, contact Professor David Collins (faculty representative to the Graduate Studies Committee). In addition, we encourage you to contact current graduate students for their perspectives on the program; they will also be glad to answer any questions you may have. This year's field representative is Jenn de Vries .



The Significance of Twins in Medieval and Early Modern Europe

The Significance of Twins in Medieval and Early Modern Europe

By William Viney

Paper given at the 10th Annual Conference of the Association for Medical Humanities (2013)

Introduction: On giving this paper I attempted to access a past that is remote to me. I have, for the most part, avoided working outside the safety of the modern and contemporary period, and the idea of pursuing the meaning of twins in the medieval and early modern period filled me with a distinct sense of unease. I am neither an historian nor am I a specialist in medieval and early modern medical culture. The second confession that ought to preface this post should acknowledge how over excited I got about the more medieval parts of my research; I have to apologise for not even coming close to balance suggested by my title. In the end, perhaps what I have to say about medieval and early modern approaches to twinship reflects a certain kind of license that I think the medical humanities offers to me, a license to roam and to test some generalisations, to find differences and continuities across different times and in different places, to make global some critical perspectives on twins and their study. To me, in times of narrowing historical reach and a policy environment which has encouraged an increase in specialisation. I feel it an opportune moment to pursue twins as subject that reaches beyond a particular ‘context’ or ‘location’. I hope this isn’t an all-together negative or reactionary position – I lean heavily on some extremely detailed historical work. But when looking at the significance of twins across human cultures we cannot isolate and keep twins separate from all the times, people and places that have informed the variety of our ideas about them. With all this said I present some rather rough ideas that will, in the coming years, be polished up into something more coherent.

Click here to read this article from the Wonder of Twins Blog



Project MUSE - Authenticity, Antiquity, and Authority: Dares Phrygius in Early Modern Europe

Dares Phrygius, “First Pagan Historiographer”

In his Etymologies. Isidore of Seville—the seventh-century compiler whose cataloguing of classical erudition helped lay the groundwork for medieval and early modern encyclopedism—offered a seemingly straightforward definition of historiography, with clear antecedents in Cicero, Quintilian, and Servius. 1 Before identifying historical writing as a component of the grammatical arts, and distinguishing histories from poetic fables, Isidore confirmed that “history is a narration of deeds [narratio rei gestae ], through which things done in the past are discerned.” 2 Thereafter, he equated historical writing with eyewitness observation, insisting that “among the [End Page 183] ancients, no one wrote history unless he had been present and seen those things to be recorded.” 3 But Isidore’s further treatment of historiography grew more perplexing. Upon affirming that “among us, Moses first composed a history, on the beginning of the world,” he unexpectedly declared that “among the pagans, Dares Phrygius first composed a history, concerning Greeks and Trojans.” 4 Only later did the encyclopedist mention more well-known Greek historians (to modern audiences at least) like Herodotus. 5

Isidore’s invocation of his “first pagan historiographer” referred most likely to the De excidio Troiae historia (henceforth DET ), a fifth- or sixth-century Latin pseudo-history billed as an eyewitness account of the Trojan War. Conveyed in sparse, dry, and inelegant language, the DET was long thought to have been the war diary of one Dares Phrygius, purportedly a Trojan participant in the conflict. 6 In reality, the Latin DET was a two-part forgery, as its spurious dedicatory epistle—supposedly from the Augustan-era biographer Cornelius Nepos to the historian Sallust—claimed that “Nepos” had discovered the work in an Athenian archive and rendered it “truly and simply” (vere et simpliciter ) from Greek into Latin. 7 While potentially derived from a Greek antecedent, perhaps composed as an anti-Homeric jeu d’esprit during the Second Sophistic, the Latin Dares was assuredly not an accurate and verbatim translation of any lost Greek original. 8

Notwithstanding its uncertain origins, Isidore’s pagan counterpart to Moses would go on to achieve canonical status in the medieval Latin West, and survives today in approximately 200 manuscripts. Moreover, Dares’s authority was extended through practices of compilation integral to medieval [End Page 184] textual culture. 9 This compilatory impulse—which spawned countless multi-text anthologized codices and similarly animated Isidore’s encyclopedism—encouraged the Phrygian’s codicological pairing with numerous sources both ancient and medieval. Not only did the DET serve, codicologically, as a prologue to Trojan origin narratives like Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britanniae, but it was also integrated into the structure of universal history, utilized as a means of augmenting the Chronicon of Eusebius-Jerome. 10 Throughout the Middle Ages, Dares served not only as a name to invoke, but also as a source to appropriate and rework: to insert into universal chronicles, append to Trojan genealogies, or render into epic verse. Moreover, the pseudo-author’s status as “first pagan historiographer” was hardly lost on medieval sources: for instance, when William of Malmesbury inserted the DET into his anthology of ancient Roman histories, he made sure to include Isidore’s endorsement directly before the text’s incipit. 11 For nearly a millennium, Dares’s fabricated claims of antiquity and autopsy constituted airtight guarantors of textual auctoritas.

Between Criticism and Credulity: Dares in Early Modern Scholarship

But Dares did not remain undisturbed in the canon. Instead, the DET saw its first recorded challenge with the advent of the early Renaissance. Writing in 1400 in his De tyranno. the Florentine Chancellor Coluccio Salutati turned to the Phrygian when debating a favored subject of nascent Italian humanism—the history of early Rome. Here Salutati sought to counter the long-held claim, attested in the DET. that Aeneas was not a pious hero driven from Troy, but rather a duplicitous traitor who had himself betrayed the city to the Greeks. 12 The Florentine Chancellor correctly acknowledged that Aeneas’s treason was alleged by “the most ancient historians Dares [End Page 185] Phrygius and Dictys Cretensis” (Dictys, another late antique.

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Ecologies and Economies in Medieval and Early Modern Europe

The edited volume, Ecologies and Economies in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. is a collection of research articles from leaders in the field of medieval environmental history. It was designed as a Festschrift for Richard Hoffmann, with the goal of showing “the integrity and vibrancy of the field of pre-modern environmental history” (xvii). Though we have an increasingly cohesive community of pre-modern environmental historians, connected to each other through conferences and joint projects (like this volume), we are not cohesive, and have many different scholarly interests and backgrounds. This topical and methodological diversity is, I would suggest, a hallmark of the field, and this collection of essays highlights the many perspectives that are brought into play. One of the good things about this variety is that it is bound to introduce medieval environmental history to a wider range of readers, who might pick up the book for any number of interests: ancient agriculture, the history of the Rhone, past species diversity, and modern fisheries restoration, to name but a few. And the essays, individually, are of high quality, detailed in their discussion of methodology, and representative of the work of the scholars, all leaders in their respective fields.[1]

To help readers new to these topics or this sub-discipline, the volume opens with a thoughtful and critical essay by Richard W. Unger on the work and interests of Richard Hoffmann within the broader contours of the field. Unger assesses where things stand at a crucial point – the first forays are past, and the research agendas set by early leaders like Hoffmann (and many of the authors represented in this volume) have, as Unger points out, been developed and expanded. These have led to new collaborations and new questions, and those of us trained by these leaders are now ourselves both deepening these probes and launching off in new directions. Unger’s piece reflects both the victories won and the challenges just now opening up, and this essay will be a stepping stone into the field for graduate students and senior scholars for years to come.

The multidisciplinarity of this volume stands out – both in the topics and methodologies represented in the articles and in the academic backgrounds and research fields of the contributors. These include, quite naturally, economic history, medieval history, and the history of technology, but also bio-archaeology, water history, religious history, and history and human ecology. These different backgrounds allow the tapping of an incredible range of sources – written and non-written. In her essay on rabbits and environmental change in early modern Holland, for example, Petra J.E.M. van Dam draws on ‘traditional’ historical documents and on plant ecology, ecological theory, geology, and historical and modern maps, and Verena Winiwarter explores ancient agronomy treatises and how they were transmitted over time. The topics are equally varied: Paolo Squatriti investigates chestnut agriculture, van Dam rabbits, Constance Berman eels, and Marianne Kowaleski fish – but this varied collection is held together by several themes, including an attention to knowledge systems, economic systems, and the ways that the past can be useful in informing our decisions about current environmental actions.

Of course, these authors were chosen in no small part because of their ties to Richard Hoffmann, itself a sign of how increasingly connected the leaders in this field are to the methods and ideas stemming from many different disciplines. As Unger points out, “pre-modern environmental history has taken on a more consistent shape in the time since Richard Hoffmann became a practicing historian…[and he] has used the amorphous and highly fluid nature of a nascent discipline to leave his extremely positive stamp on what should be done to advance the field.” (1) These essays show the strengths of the partnerships between historians and scientists, the essential role of economic historians in drawing out the environmental possibilities of medieval records, and the many different ecologies that have been included in the work of pre-modern environmental history – from Mediterranean chestnut groves and North Sea fisheries to Dutch sand dunes and the Rhone delta.

But what I would encourage readers to do is to think about the windows that the volume opens not only to the past and current state of our field, but also to the potential direction of future research, and the potential value of the field for scholars in other disciplines interested in the past and present of the European environment. There are ever-expanding opportunities for interdisciplinary research in Europe, and even modern policy and scientific grants often require the participation of humanities scholars. I think that these essays are an encouraging sign that pre-modern environmental historians can continue to contribute to regional and interregional European Union (EU) projects on ecological health, ecological heritage, and agricultural sustainability. River systems, eco-zones, and protected areas stretch not only across national borders but also across centuries, and as public policy increasingly strives to include the human heritage in landscape protection and to look to the past for models of ecological restoration, it is important that environmental historians continue to widen some of the dialogues that are visible in this set of essays.

Many of the scholars in this volume provide examples of how complicated it is to establish past human uses of resources, to understand the degree of environmental transformation that took place over time, and to understand the role of people in those transformations. Yet these very issues are drawn in to modern science and policy (for example, as ‘reference points’ for ecological targets). This volume suggests the value for non-historians of a richer and fuller engagement not only with the past, but also with the practitioners of history who can point out the economic, social, cultural, and (lacking in this volume) religious factors that contributed to the ‘state of nature’. In fact, it is those reference standards (in accordance with the Water Framework Directive (WFD)) that Wim Van Neer and Anton Ervynck wrestle with in their article, showing the ways that historical work and evidence can (and cannot) contribute to present environmental management discussions. They use historical data on fishing alongside archaeozoological evidence such as bone assemblages to extrapolate ways to deal with and think about modern EU mandates and scientific goals of restoring ‘natural’ fish communities in EU waterways that have, in fact, been influenced by the impact of human communities for millennia.

This essay, the last in the volume, serves as a fitting capping piece, as it effectively reflects the conclusions of the other pieces – that pre-modern people affected the natural world, that they adapted to its constraints, altered their economies in response, and even reshaped and re-configured nature in ways that supported human goals and needs. There was, Van Neer and Ervynck clearly show, no idealized pre-industrial Europe that lived in an “undisturbed, ‘natural’ condition” (195) (sought by the WFD fish index). Instead of searching the medieval and pre-modern past for a wilderness or a tranquil set of relations with the natural world, medieval historians, modern ecologists, and present-day activists will build a fuller understanding of both past and present by acknowledging that the medieval past can be seen to “represent a less disturbed past situation that is not too distant from the present-day conditions” and motivations (195). If we treat the past as relevant, we might also find what Winiwarter sees in her sources and subjects: “examples of societies and their techniques well-adapted to local circumstances, and thereby potentially more sustainable than ‘modern,’ non-adaptive concepts and practices” (113).

Ultimately, the reason for non-specialists to turn to this book is the deft way that it demonstrates that the pre-modern past is not only interesting in its own right, but can also be connected to the concerns of the present. Learning to understand pre-modern Europe, these essays show, is as useful as other, contemporary approaches to “traditional ecological/environmental knowledge,” or TEK. Winiwarter points this out directly, noting that “with renewed interest in such collective wisdom as part of the search for a sustainable future…looking back into the knowledge base of pre-industrial, solar-based, and hence potentially more sustainable societies is deemed useful” (97–98). Pre-modern European history has the added benefit of the fact that many Western approaches to nature themselves spring from this very set of practices, policies, and inherited knowledge and traditions. If we follow the model of these essays and look more closely at the distant, pre-modern past, we will be able to see more clearly how our own environmental actions, decisions, and knowledge both reflect and build upon those of our predecessors, and that the study of their decisions, actions, and knowledge can help us continue to reframe and reshape our own.

Reviewed by Ellen Arnold of Ohio Wesleyan University

[1] In his review of this collection, available through H-net (<www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=32798 >), Rick Keyser treats the essays individually and focuses on how each contributes to pre-modern environmental history.



Widowhood in Medieval and Early Modern Europe

Widowhood in Medieval and Early Modern Europe

How does one define widowhood? In spite of its widespread acceptance, the classic definition of widowhood as the phase of marriage following the death of one of the partners is never entirely satisfactory. Even if we leave aside the methodological problems of identifying who had and who had not been widowed, given that contemporary documents were far from consistent in their readiness to record widowed status, and, as several contributions to this collection point out, contemporaries were often not able to differentiate between women whose husbands had died and married women whose husbands had left them and moved away, widowhood was a highly subjective condition. The state of widowhood can be considered as one of personal loss, encompassing everything from the immediate psychological impact of the loss of a partner to the material deprivation of an income, a home, or of unpaid contributions to the domestic economy. On the other hand, widowhood was also a new conceptual framework or frameworks within which the widowed individual now had to function, the fact of being no longer married, with all that this implied in terms of moral reputation, relationships to one's kin, relationships to property-ownership, and even one's potential as a future marriage partner. The subjectivity of widowhood was the starting point for the symposium on Widowhood: Condition or Construction held at the University of Exeter in 1996, which forms the basis for the present collection of essays on widowhood in medieval and early modern Europe. It is debatable whether any aspect of social history can escape the conclusion that it is a construct. Even the most enduring indices of all, the laws controlling the rights of the widowed individual were constructed in the light of the customs and prejudices of lawmakers. As a result, the question as posed in the original symposium loses much of its force. On the other hand, this collection raises a much more interesting set of questions about the individual experience of widowhood and how successfully widows and widowers negotiated a position for themselves within a complex framework of contemporary attitudes. Cavallo and Warner are to be congratulated for making a contribution not only to the history of widowhood, but also for raising a number of broader issues.

The first is the recognition that the experience of widowhood was deeply gendered. Although widowhood was a condition which was shared by men and women alike, their contrasting experiences reflected the patriarchal society in which they lived. While publications on widows began with a trickle in the 1970s and a flood in the last decade, work on widowers has been much more sparse. Explanations for such an imbalance are not difficult to find. While widowhood is a recognised dimension of women's history, widowerhood has been considered until recently for its demographic rather than it's social significance.(1) Widowers were only of interest to historians because they remarried, and since they remarried faster and to a greater extent than widows, with a correspondingly shorter period of being widowed, their numerical presence in society was smaller and less prominent than widows. Above all, the loss of a wife rarely altered a man's status, while the loss of a husband invariably and irrevocably brought about a change in a woman's life. Widowerhood receives its due share of consideration in this collection, and yet the main conclusions to be drawn from the three essays in which widowers are discussed tell us more about attitudes towards widows than they do about widowers. Warner's study of the legal debates in France over the extension to remarrying widowers of the 1560 edict about remarrying widows and their property rights demonstrates that the threat to property upon remarriage had major implications for both sexes, and that a man's property in particular needed to be defended in the interests of social stability. In spite of the widespread view in contemporary literature that men were stronger and more rational than women, the law suit which eventually persuaded the Parlement of Paris to extend the 1560 edict was taken by many commentators to be an illustration of the way in which a second wife could manipulate her husband in her own interests (the stereotype of the scheming widow). Pelling's Norwich widowers came from the opposite end of the social spectrum. Her statistics of male remarriage rates are consistent with earlier studies. Here, though, they take on an added resonance. High male remarriage rates can also be taken as a measure of the essential roles played by a wife in the economy of the poor. While women sometimes had the economic independence to live alone, men, and particularly poor men, simply could not afford to do so. This conclusion is also implied by Sharpe, writing about a later, early industrial, England, when there was a correlation between reduced remarriage rates among both men and women and the growing recourse by widowers in the absence of any support from the state to seek shelter with adult daughters. Much more could be said about widowers, however, and it is unfortunate that none of the contributors were able to consider any of the parallels between descriptions of affective loss in the autobiographical writings of both men and women in the early modern period. There are several examples of writing by widowers in Ralph Houlbrooke's anthology of English family life.(2)

Many of the contributions to this collection discuss the long-standing issue of choice in widowhood. How far did widowhood enable a widow to assert her own identity and chart her own waters in life, and how far were these choices constrained by the society in which she lived? The main focus of the debate has moved on from discussions of the extent to which control over an independent income gave widows autonomy of action to embrace broader questions about the range of empowerment opened up to widows upon entering their new status. The evidence does not all lead in the same direction. The dividing line between widowhood empowerment and the empowerment of adult females in general is often uncertain. Some widows are acclaimed for their business acumen, their ability to supervise law suits, to administer their property, to supervise their children's inheritance, or to negotiate new relationships, but the case can often be made that these skills had been developed while they were still married. Tim Stretton's essay on widows and the law in Tudor and Stuart England confirms that widows were prominent among female litigants before the Court of Requests. He makes it equally clear that some of the lawsuits in which they were involved were a continuation of litigation which they had initiated jointly with their husbands, as in the case of Jane Fellowes, who accused two men of having made her late husband drunk in order to trick him into signing agreements which he was unable to keep.

Studies of remarriage by widows also highlight the continuities in experience and skills which stretched across the period of widowhood from a first marriage to a second. If anything, the empowerment which a woman experienced during her first marriage was enhanced by a period of widowhood and then exercised in subsequent marriages. Elizabeth Foyster's vigorous contribution to this collection may be entitled Marrying the experienced widow in early modern England: the male perspective. but it is the wives who come to the fore in her study of failed marriages. Their experience as sexual partners enabled them to conduct extramarital affairs in their own homes. Where money was a source of contention widows who remarried knew the value of what they had brought with them. They also had expectations of the kind of lifestyle to which they were entitled. Catherine Beverley complained before the court that her new husband, a Frenchman, had maltreated her by providing only a meagre diet amply flavoured with herbs, so that she was forced to visit her neighbours in order to eat meat. Beverley, in common with many unhappy wives, had the support of a network of family, friends and acquaintances to help her. Many of these dated back to the time of their first marriages and clearly persisted during widowhood, offering a cushion of reassurance in a world of negative stereotypes such as the lusty widow, the scheming widow, the masochistic widow, or the widow as imbecilic victim.

Widows' freedom of choice often pitted them against conventional authority however. Several cases arise from this collection. It remains to be seen whether they were typical of widows' behaviour or not. What are we to make of Maria Maddalena Landucci, an eighteenth-century Tuscan widow, who should, according to the law, have given up her two daughters to a guardian appointed by the state because she had remarried? Landucci did everything possible to avoid separation from her daughters, but Giulia Calvi's essay on widows, the state and guardianship in early modern Tuscany suggests that she went much further to take control over her first husband's property. When her elder daughter returned home from a convent because she was seriously ill, Landucci aided her to write a will which effectively left all the paternal patrimony to her mother. By the time Maria Maddalena had drawn up her own will, both her daughters had died, leaving their property to her. She had succeeded in transferring her first husband's property to a number of heirs from her natal family. Her second husband does not seem to have benefited at all, unlike the cause celebre which engendered the 1560 French edict discussed in Warner's essay. While Maria Maddalena was responding to the rules established by the Tuscan state to safeguard the property of orphaned children when their widowed mothers remarried, the independent actions of her German contemporary, Barbara Maurerin, took place in an entirely different context. While both women fought for the right to keep their children with them, Maurerin was motivated by a sense of religious injustice. According to Dagmar Friest's essay on religious difference and the experience of widowhood in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Germany, the Elector Palatine subverted legislation permitting widowed parents to bring up their children in the faith of their choice, in order to privilege the dominant Catholic religion in his state. He required their children to be taken to a Catholic orphanage after Maurerin's estranged husband converted from being a Mennonite to Catholicism on his deathbed. In spite of Maurerin's appeals and those of her two older daughters, the latter were eventually banished from the territory of their birth. Even the case of widows who chose a life of religious devotion could give rise to tensions. Patricia Skinner's study of widowhood in medieval Southern Italy poses the problem faced by wealthy contemporaries that, in spite of the wholehearted support by the Church for the claustration of widows, the supply of places in convents rarely matched the potential demand for them. Their families were obliged to take responsibility for them, an action which soon merged with a clear sense that a widow's future had to be subordinated to the perceived dynastic requirements of their families. In this context, the fury of the fifteenth-century Florentine Davizzi brothers in the face of the actions of their sister Lena, studied by Isabelle Chabot, is entirely comprehensible. As Chabot points out, her case was exceptional. Most Florentines insisted that their widowed kin returned under their roofs by the evening of their husband's funeral. Lena Davizzi, on the other hand, a member of a powerful banking family, took advantage of her brothers' absence from Florence on business in London to arrange for her dowry to be passed to the Church rather than her natal family as part of her decision to join the nuns of Foligno. Her organisation of the property to which she had access could be said to show considerable financial acumen. Chabot does not state whether Lena Davizzi received any outside advice, however. Much more preferable in the eyes of elite families was the reflected glory to be found by association when widowed members acted as sponsors of ecclesiastical institutions. According to Jordi Bilinkoff's essay on the elite widows of early modern Avila, wealthy families encouraged their widows to extend their social hegemony by adorning the buildings of religious institutions to which the widows had given their personal and financial support with prominently placed coats of arms, as well as providing members of these families with additional honorific posts in convents and hospitals. On the other hand, by taking an active role in these institutions, these widows were able, if not to escape from their families, then at least to distance themselves in all-female households where which they played the dominant role.

The final evidence for female empowerment arises from a context in which widows were able to manipulate conditions laid down by the state in their own favour. Sharpe's essay stands apart from the others in this collection in both chronological and socio-economic terms, and her argument that widows took advantage of prevailing legislation and morality to present their claims in the most favourable light, emphasising their respectability and capacity to support themselves when seasonal work presented itself, should be seen partly in that context. On the other hand, both the image presented by widows in their written claims for relief and the ideas underlying poor relief in nineteenth-century Britain show strong continuities with those which ran through the society of early modern Europe.

The question still remains whether this collection has achieved one of its objectives: to provide a contribution to the history of widowhood in medieval and early modern Europe. Unfortunately, it does not quite live up to its title, and, in so doing, it has missed a number of opportunities to permit comparisons between different societies, religious confessions and social groups to be made. Its geographical range is less 'European' than might be expected. Instead, the book permits the reader to draw comparisons between the English experience from pre-conquest times to the nineteenth century (seven essays), and Italy, (three essays, mainly about Tuscany), France, Germany and Spain (one each). This is only partly compensated for by the bibliography. Readers would do well to look at the work of Diefendorf and Gager on France, Wyntjes and Marshall on the Netherlands, Robischeaux on Germany, and at Fiona Colclough's recent Northumbria PhD on early modern Venice.(3) There are substantial imbalances too in the book's chronological range and in the social groups considered. In retrospect, it would have been better to omit the essays by Julia Crick and Patricia Skinner, which, for all their individual merits, contribute little to the book's central themes, where the focus is on the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries. This might have permitted some further discussion of the extent to which widows' conditions improved over time. Amy Louise Erickson's study of property and widowhood in seventeenth-and eighteenth-century England argues that the increase in sentimentality and sensibility in English society during this period was matched by a tightening of the laws circumscribing widows' access to property. Calvi's evidence from eighteenth-century Tuscany, on the other hand, suggests that the opposite was taking place, and that the case of Maria Maddalena Landucci discussed above reflected a much more relaxed attitude about the disposal of property in Italy. The absence of more continental material also prevents the reader from gaining more than the occasional insight into the impact of the Reformation and the Counter Reformation on widows' experience. Todd's study of the virtuous widow in Protestant England is an honourable exception, and while Friest highlights the casualties of mixed marriages in an age of confessionalisation in Germany, there is little overt discussion of widowhood and Counter Reformation Catholicism. The emphasis on the widows of the wealthy and well-born is also open to criticism, although it does reflect the distribution of surviving written sources. Only Pelling and Sharpe introduce us to the poor widow, while the work of Foyster, Friest and Stretton demonstrates that there is some highly suggestive material about the middling groups in society. Much more needs to be done to explore how far the experience of the wealthy widow was shared by those who were lest fortunate, or whether the social construct of widowhood in European patriarchal societies was deeply nuanced by the economic and social background of each widow. With these reservations in mind, Cavallo and Warner have succeeded in bringing together a useful and suggestive collection, which both reflects new thinking about aspects of the experience of widowhood and will stimulate much further debate.

  1. J. Dupaquier et al (eds.). Marriage and Remarriage in Populations of the Past. (London, 1981).Back to (1)
  2. R. Houlbrooke, (ed),English Family Life, 1576-1716. An Anthology fromDiaries. (London, 1988).Back to (2)
  3. F. Colclough, Widows and Widowhood in Early Modern Venice. unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Northumbria, 1999.Back to (3)
Author's Response

Sandra Cavallo, Lyndan Warner

Posted: Tue, 20/10/2009 - 10:26

I thank Alexander Cowan for his long and detailed discussion of the volume I co-edited with Lyndan Warner. In my response, I will deal not so much with his comments to individual chapters but with his general understanding of our project, and restate the aims which underlie the collection and which, in my view, Cowan does not take in due consideration. It is significant that his first comment is based on a misreading of the title of the conference (held in Exeter in 1996) from which the volume arises. The symposium's title (see p. vii of the present collection) was 'Widowhood: Conditions AND Constructions', not 'Conditions OR Constructions', as Cowan assumes; its intention was to integrate (not to oppose and contrast) approaches which are often kept separate in the study of widowhood - the analysis of ideals and prescriptions with the consideration of demographic and economic 'realities', so as to investigate the complex relationship between representations and social practice. This misunderstanding continues in the following pages, for Cowan entirely disregards those parts of the volume which clarify the rationale underlying the collection, what the book intends and does not intend to be. Forward and Introduction are ignored and the organisation of the volume in four sections is not commented upon. Part of the reviewer's discussion revolves around concerns quite alien to those which are at the core of our project. So the volume is criticised for including a limited range of social conditions and religious confessions, an insufficient number of countries, and for its chronological 'imbalances'.

Clearly Cowan has a model of comprehensiveness in mind which is quite distant from the one pursued in this volume. The purpose of the book, summarised in the Forward and discussed at length in the Introduction, was to explore new areas of research, new perspectives of analysis which could contribute towards a reassessment of accepted interpretations. This concern for innovative approaches has directed the choice of contributions (only partly based on the papers presented at the symposium). The title, as in many other volumes of the kind, simply gives an indication of what the collection does and does not include (essays on Europe, not just on England, but not on other parts of the world; essays on the medieval and the early modern period rather than on more recent or previous eras), it does not imply, as Cowan seems to assume, that 'the history of widowhood' will be given full geographical and chronological coverage.

The emphasis in the volume is rather on unfamiliar questions and on objects of study which may throw new light on our understanding of the subject. One of these novel dimensions, as suggested by Cowan, is the shift in focus from widows to gender. By concentrating on the experience of the widowed man and investigating, for example, his reasons for remarrying and the anxieties surrounding the lone male, essays in this collection operate a refreshing reversal of perspective, which moves the emphasis away from the vexed issue of female dependence and compulsion to remarry. Another example is represented by the new attention paid to children of the widowed - their presence or absence, their being male or female, from a first or a second marriage - an under-investigated factor in the literature which complicates our understanding of the relationship between widowhood and property and add nuances to the range of opportunities associated with this status.

A more general feature in this collection has been the attempt to balance the impact of imperatives, constraints and models and the working of human agency. This aspect of the project is discussed at length by Cowan who does however simplify the argument somewhat, by overemphasising the element of 'choice' and 'empowerment' we see as existing in widows' lives. In reality, essays in this volume overcome the tendency, often encountered in the literature, to reduce the image of the widow to the two opposite clichés of the poor and dependent woman or of the powerful and resourceful virago. They pay thorough attention to the normative framework of widowhood and its formation but at the same time they stress the existence of competing logics in the normative discourse (religious, absolutist, patrilineal, etc..), and the fact that these could be exploited to negotiate inequalities, playing for example the language of motherhood or of piety against the social expectations surrounding widowhood. Articles in section I Definingwidowhood deal with the emergence of a gendered terminology of widowhood in the middle ages and through the sixteenth century and stress the consequences on the differing visibility of widows and widowers in the sources available to the historian; section II Models and paradoxes analyse the normative images presented by moralists and legislators for the widow and widower, highlighting at the same time the internal contradictions in moral and religious imperatives which opened up room for negotiation. Section III, Marital and Family constraints turns to the kinds of conflict triggered by the death of a spouse, the legal and customary assumptions concerning inheritance and the unequal rights of mothers and fathers to exercise authority over their children. Chapters in section IV. Narratives and Constructions of widowhood focus on self-construction; they see in courts, institutions of poor relief, guardianship wards and convents some of the institutional contexts in which widows succeeded in subverting social expectation and legal prescriptions and manipulated stereotypes to their advantage.

These brief remarks will make clear, I hope, the kind of questions and methodological concerns which create a common focus for this collection. Clearly, these essays conceptualise important issues such as the role of religion in a way different from the one advocated by Cowan (for example, they are not concerned solely with the impact of the Reformation and Counter Reformation) but the religious dimension is far from absent from their analysis. Their shared concerns confer to the volume a unity which is often lacking in collections characterised by the more 'balanced' picture (in terms of time, place, religion, class) favoured by the reviewer. It is unclear why the presence at the same time of more countries, more social groups, religious confessions etc. should in itself be an advantage. I wonder whether Cowan is invoking here a (questionable) criterion of 'representativeness'.

Surely, the fragmentation of contexts deriving from a greater variety of situations would not make the volume more representative. And would it really increase possibilities for comparison 'between different societies, religious confessions and social groups'? To be comparative the volume would need to have gone in a different direction than the one desired by Cowan, limiting rather than increasing the number of variables at play: it would need to have narrowed considerably its focus to examine specific aspects of the experience of widowhood (the relationship between widowhood and property for example, or widowhood and guardianship, etc..), applying similar questions to the same phenomenon observed in different conditions. Comparison in any case was not the prime purpose of this project. The objective was that of pushing out the boundaries, providing examples of new ways of approaching the study of widowhood. It is hoped however that the findings and methodological perspectives presented in the volume will stimulate research in different contexts and encourage cross-cultural comparisons.



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