Family FormationFor the last hundred and fifty years the study of the European family and marriage has been dominated by the growing preoccupation of scholars about their links with the great events that took place in the West at the outset of the modern period. What was the relationship of the family with the Reformation outside and inside the Catholic Church, with the growth of capitalism and the coming of industrial society? The question has world-wide implications . For the problem of ‘the rise of the West’, which gripped the intellectual imagination of Marx, Weber, and count -less others, is closely linked with ‘the uniqueness of the West’. What precisely did happen to marriage and the family at this period? What aspects of the pre-existing family might have assisted these changes? What features resulted from the new forms of socio-economic organisation?

Clearly the separation of production from the domestic group, the growth of non- familial education, the dispersal of kin, had important implications for the household. Demographically, the improvement in mortality and the control of fertility led to a sharp rise, followed by a drop, in the rates of population growth. a demographic transition that resulted in fewer and longer-lived children, and, according to some, in a radical change in our attitudes towards them.

Some of these developments, such as the demographic transition for example, clear-ly follow, even if they do not necessarily follow from, the vast socio-economic changes that have occurred in the West beginning in the sixteenth century. But were there earlier aspects of family, kinship and marriage that actually encouraged the mobility, the saving, the ‘bilaterality’, the ‘love’, the Individualism’ that is seen as characteristic of the modern world? Were these aspects peculiar to Europe, to Western Europe, to north-west Europe, or even to England? Some contemporary historians have seen features such as conjugal affection as following after, or developing concurrently with, the rise of the West. Others see late marriage for men and women, the close elementary family, ‘individualism’, as being unique features of the European scene at an earlier period, which positively assisted the socio-economic transformations in that continent.

Here is not the place to examine these various arguments in detail. What I try to do in this essay is to approach the problem from quite a different perspective, different in both time and space. As for time, most of the historians, sociologists and economists who have tackled these questions have done so from the standpoint of contem -porary concerns, looking from the present backwards to try and account for the rise of capitalism, for the advent of the Industrial Revolution or for those special features which they regard as unique to their own society. None of us can entirely divest ourselves of our cultural clothing, nor is such nudity always becoming. But one area where we need to exercise particular caution, indeed restraint, is in the study of the family itself, especially when examining the ‘affective’ aspects of the fundamental relations between its members, which we have all experienced from various angles . Assumptions based on an ethnocentric version of ameliorative evolutionism have to be worked over with special care. Looking back at the ‘Bad Old Days’ (the phrase used by Shorter in his history of the modern family) to see how things have ‘improved’ (neglecting on the way the higher incidence of divorce, suicide and mental breakdown) is not the most detached approach. Moreover, even to think of making an assessment of this (or any other) kind, we need to be quite sure of what we mean by concepts like love and lineage, individualism and patriarchy, not to speak of the more technical terms, because otherwise we are unable to assess similarity or difference, either before or after the rise of the West, or even when comparing the West as against the Rest.

Chronologically, the studies of these authors may begin in 1500 or 1800; conceptually, their orientation is backwards from today. The difficulty with this backward look is that it tends to overvalue the present — in either a positive or a negative way The concerns of the present, one’s own present, stand in the way of understanding the past, especially when one is offering, or more usually implying, some kind of causal or functional link between family and society. They lead to the adoption, as so often throughout the social sciences, or, indeed, in the folk concepts of everyday discourse (which are not so very different), of a dichotomous approach that draws a sharp line between we and they, between modern and traditional, capitalist and pre-capitalist. But this array of binary categories has limited value when the problem is to try and analyze differences and similarities in patterns of family, kin and marriage over the longer term and the wider range. Everything ‘traditional’ gets lumped together in one undifferentiated mass, as is the case with Weber’s concepts of ‘authority’ or with many notions of peasantry . Such dichotomies, rooted in the present day, inevitably tend to overstress the special, unique features of the modern” A recognition of this deep-rooted bias should lead one to query hypotheses that appear to privilege the West, not simply in its technological achievement but in its spiritual and moral claims both before and after the sixteenth century. Was Protestantism quite such a unique theological and ethical force in economic affairs? Were capitalist social relations characteristic only of the West? Was the world of tradit-ional authority’, of Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, of the ‘Asiatic mode of production’, really so different, then and now, as our categories and theories assume? Was it not these same ‘static’, ‘traditional’, ‘despotic’ societies that in the fifteenth century and before were intellectually, commercially and culturally ‘modern’, in contrast to arelatively backward Europe?

These questions highlight issues of great intellectual and historical importance. I raise them because my analysis of the structure and development of certain features of the European family focuses on a much earlier period than is often granted. I raise them to justify an approach to European institutions and attitudes that starts from the beginning of the present era, from the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern roots of the ideology which has been so pervasive over the last two thousand years, in domestic as well as in theological matters, in politics as in production. But in addition to a temporal and conceptual perspective on the family that tackles ‘la longue durée’ from the other end, I have tried to look at these European institutions and attitudes from the standpoint not only of our own past but from a comparative perspective that starts elsewhere. Hence the approach again differs from that of historians who seek to contrast their findings on the family with an undifferentiated traditional, pre-industrial, non-European, or ‘anthropological’ world.

My own starting point, at least in terms of field research, lay elsewhere, in West Africa. The research was concerned with domestic groups — their structure and sentiments, the role of the lineage, marriage arrangements — the whole area of what Morgan called consanguinity and affinity, what anthropologists now refer to as kinship and sociologists as the family; it is a field that covers the spheres of interest of Freud in the psychology of relationships, of Marx in the economics of production, and of demographers in the statistics of household composition. It was a subject that continued to be a central focus of my empirical research and theoretical problems, and it was mainly rooted in the African experience.

This research suggested that some general features of ‘African Systems of Kinship and Marriage’ (to use the title of a seminal collection of essays) stood out in contrast to those reported for the major societies of the settled areas of Asia, the Middle East and North Africa — for, like the distinguished editors of the series on African systems of politics, religion and kinship, I use the term Africa as a convenient ‘shorthand’ for Black or sub-Saharan Africa. It seemed that we needed to seek an explanation for these differences and similarities, an explanation which was not simply phrased in terms of African or Eurasian predispositions, whether cultural or genetic, but in the specific links of these features with other aspects of the social system, and particularly with the ‘modes of production’, the concerns of livelihood. The results of this enquiry were embodied in an earlier book, Production and Reproduction: a comparative study of the domestic domain (1976) where I tried first to predict, then test, the distribution of monogamy and polygyny, of dowry and bride-wealth, of in-marriage and out-marriage, of adoption and terminologies for kin, which seemed to be linked to attitudes and sentiments within the domestic group on the one hand, and, on the other, to interests of a socio-economic kind.

This enquiry went part of the way to resolving, for me at least, some of the problems raised in comparing Black Africa with the major societies of Asia and Europe. But from the later Roman Empire onwards, the situation in Europe raised further queries, for family and marriage differed in certain important ways from the more general pattern of the major Eurasian societies, from what existed earlier in Rome and other parts of southern Europe, and from what continued to exist on the other, North African, shore of the Mediterranean. That was the problem. How was it that after about A.D. 300 certain general features of European patterns of kinship and marriage came to take a different shape from those of ancient Rome, Greece, Israel and Egypt, and from those of the societies of the Mediterranean shores of the Middle East and North Africa that succeeded them? This was not true of all the variables I had earlier discussed — for example, monogamy and the dowry — but it did apply to some important aspects of the domestic domain which have influenced the course of social life until very recent times, and which continue to do so even today. The ones with which I shall be most concerned will be spelled out in the course of the next two chapters; others, perhaps not less important, will be discussed in the concluding chapters.


Of nothing is this truer than the many attempts to assess, in comparative or historical terms, the related problem of the changes in the position of women, Guichard’s item (5). That position clearly differed in the various regions of Europe, as in the rest of the world; for example, in Africa between matrilineal and patrilineal societies, in Europe between northern and southern France . And it obviously differed over time. But it is profoundly difficult to establish a composite measure that will summarise the whole span of relationships between men and women, and the extent, and especially the meaning, of differences between societies have been greatly exaggerated if only for this reason.

At first sight the difference between the polygyny typical of the Arabs and the mono -gamy which characterises Europe is very striking . But partly because of the influence of the devolution of property on conjugal ties, the difference in marital relat-ions between the two areas, while significant, is less than the dramatic contrast be-tween monogamy and polygyny would suggest. Under the system of diverging devolution wives require an endowment, whether at marriage or by inheritance, whether from parents or affines, and this fact alone places some restriction on their accumulation, except in the harems of the rich and powerful. Low rates of polygyny in North Africa and the Middle East, apparently a feature of earlier as of more recent times, meant that most men and women had only one spouse at any one moment (Goody 1973: 176), so conjugal relations were less rarely diffused by a plurality of spouses than is often supposed . In the Turkish city of Bursa in the seventeenth century, only 1 per cent of men whose details are entered in the lists of estates had more than one wife compared with some 33 per cent in Africa in the recent past (Gerber 1980: 232).

The Islamic world has often been looked upon as a purgatory for women, in implicit contrast to Christian Europe, a continent in which some see pre-industrial England as the particular paradise for the female sex (Macfarlane 1978). Once again the comparison is more complex than might be thought. What criteria are to be used and what types of evidence advanced? It has been claimed that the view of women expressed in the poetry of medieval Andalusia is very different from the main thrust of the Islamic tradition of the same period, providing evidence of the influence of marriages made between the Muslim conquerors and the women of the indigenous Christian population of Spain. Guichard denies that the conquerors came without women; and though they also married Spanish women, they usually sought brides from their own groups, still holding the same ‘endogamous’ ideals as other Arabs, those ideals characteristic of what Tillion (1966) has called ‘the republic of cousins’.


The dichotomy between the poetry and tradition reflect a situation that existed elsewhere in the Islamic world, where there were two major categories of women. Free women were normally ‘matériellement et moralement recluses’ (Guichard 1977: 169). But the slave singers, the djawäri, whose honour was not affected by exposure (that is, by non-veiling or even by nudity) and who were often well-educated for the purpose of pleasing their masters, engaged in very different types of behaviour. It was to such women that love-poetry was directed, not only in Spain but elsewhere in the Islamic world. The djawâri were an essential element in ‘la vie “courtoise” andalouse’ where they played a role rather similar to the geisha of

pre-war Japan and the hetairai of Ancient Greece.

The reference to the ancient world of the Middle East reminds one. of the very favourable position of women that Hopkins (1980), and before him, Hobhouse in Morals in Evolution (1915), identified in Egypt at the beginning of the first millennium AD. In practice the Islamic world was often very different from its traditional image and the image of its tradition. Even in the warrior empire of the Turks, women played a vigorous role both in public and in private life. In the central Anatolian city of Kayseri in the seventeenth century they appeared freely before court, sued other citizens (even members of their own families), and were sued in their turn. They were owners of property and made frequent transactions, no less than 40 per cent of all those recorded for the first quarter of the century (Jennings 1975). In contemporary Bursa, the Ottoman capital before the fall of Constantinople in 1453, they were directly involved in litigation over the inheritance and ownership of land, horses, shops and other property, which they even sold to members of their own families. They acted as shop-keepers, merchants, money lenders, investors, artisans and producers of textiles. The value of their estates compared poorly with the businessmen of Bursa but very favourably with poor males and even with male artisans. As Gerber (1980) remarks, modern Western society displays no greater equality: the position of women in seventeenth-century Turkey refutes any notion of ‘the large patriarchal family’ and its accompanying domination of social life by men


Under this heading Guichard draws a contrast between the Occident where honour is a question of being and the Orient where it is having (having, for example, a title); and in the former, the honour of males is active, that of women passive. Honour attached to whole persons and honour attached to roles or titles (if I may so express Guichard’s distinction in another way) are surely features of most of the societies under consideration, though there may well be differences of emphasis associated with the incidence of feud, acts of vengeance and other forms of aggressive activity (since honour once acquired, has to be defended). And it was defended as vigorously in early medieval Ireland (Patterson 1981) as it was in the Mediterranean.

However, the notion of honour associated with women does seem to have differed, connected as it is with their roles (including their particular, differentiated roles, in the fields and in the house) as well as with their age at marriage. When women marry early, the custody of their honour tends to pass from their natal to their affinal kin, from brothers to brothers-in-law (who may also be paternal cousins under Muslim practice). Initially at any rate young brides are more passive vessels. Breaches of faith or honour tend to be more deeply felt when they concern a virgin of sixteen or a young bride than for women who remain unmarried until their mid-twenties and who, at least in rural circles, may have undergone the pleasures and dangers of ‘bundling’, la frequentation or similar forms of courting (Flandrin 1975) . The virginity of older brides is less likely to be such an issue; and even preg -nancy may constitute no bar to marriage, possibly an advantage, for certainly it was quite widespread (Hair 1966; 1970; Laslett 1977).

The age of marriage for women differs not only between the Occident and the Orient but between northern and southern Europe. Commenting upon the sit-uation in nineteenth-century France, Segalen remarks that despite the greater difficulties in carrying out a comparative study for this period than for the sixteenth century, for which Yver (1966) had made an interesting attempt on the basis of the custumals, it is possible to see, as other authors have done (e.g. Flandrin 1979: 74-92), certain persisting differences between north and south. One of these differences relates to concepts of honour. In northern France in the sixteenth century the weakening of the ties of lignage (meaning here a complex household) was also accompanied by a strengthening of conjugal bonds (Segalen 1980: 181), one feature of which was quarrels about male and female authority. In the south, on the other hand, the supremacy of the lignage was maintained in such a way that it influenced social relationships down to the nineteenth century. Under such a regime, the conjugal pair was incorporated in the larger unit, male authority was supported by the kin group and a woman’s independent role in the household was minimal.

While well aware of the analytic problems, Segalen employs proverbs to examine the differences between north and south during this period. In the south, these oral forms insist upon the restricted movement of women, upon their beauty and its concomitant dangers, upon the sadness of a love match, upon the antagonisms between in-laws, and upon male supremacy. Referring to Blok’s work in Sicily (1974), Segalen notes how women in Mediterranean Europe are forbidden from working in the fields, since this activity would be seen as endangering a man’s honour (1980: 182). By and large this picture holds for Provence, Gascony and Languedoc, but in the Basque country, where the heir to a holding is the eldest child irrespective of sex, we find the ‘strong woman’ rather than the subjected one. In the north, men and women work together outside the house, and in Brittany and Lorraine both participate in village affairs. The role of women in the house is closely linked to the greater role they have in the fields, which is in turn related to differences in the concepts of honour.

The Gospels thus provide the scriptural basis br a rejection of family ties in favour of membership of the sectarian community. It is into this sectarian family that one should marry, or so Paul requires of widows: the wider obligation is implicit in the Pauline Epistles (I Corinthians 7:12—16, II Corinthians 6:17) and strongly recommended (sometimes insisted upon) by the Fathers (Gaudemet 1962: 524). No Christian could marry a Jew. Similar sentiments are expressed by many other sects and reform movements, in the present as well as in the past. Like Christianity, they have to take up an extreme position with regard to family life as the reproducer of culture, since they must attract individuals away from the beliefs of their fathers and forefathers . The despair of parents is the joy of the revolution. It is when the sects become established, when they are on the way to becoming Churches (to use the Weberian distinction), that they welcome doctrinal continuity in the family, ensured by the endogamy of the faithful. Then the routinisation of charisma, the establishment of the revolution, is, in one sense at least, complete.

In discussing what he calls the quest of Christians for legitimacy and consolidation, which occurred over the period from A.D. 30 to 312, Gager calls attention to a cluster of relevant factors; ‘growing numbers, geographic expansion, the need for administrators of community resources, the decline of End-time enthusiasm, and the inevitable instinct to preserve the ideal and material interests of the community itself, together with the inherent weakness of the idea of apostolic authority 1975: 72). Throughout most of the first century, Christian communities defined themselves in opposition to the world’ by the end of the third century, they had created their own world’ Initially recruiting from the poor and illiterate, the unprivileged the religion later attracted wealthy believers who provided a new basis of financial support but at the same time forced upon the Church a revaluation of the ideology of poverty permanently enshrined in the Scriptures. Doctrinally, the shift from ‘folly’ to ‘wisdom’. (I Corinthians 1:21) meant a synthesis of Christian faith and of Greek philosophy, Hellenistic Christianity taking over from Hellenistic Judaism, using the Greek translation of the Jewish Bible already available for Greek- speaking synagogues.

Early Christian communities used the synagogue as a model, adopting its liturgical calendar, its forms of worship, communal care of the sick and the elderly, and its system of financial contributions (Gager 1975: 128—9). For two hundred years they possessed to identifiable places of assembly, putting their emphasis upon the community of the faithful, which was especially important in the urban environ-ment in which they first flourished.

The process of establishing the Church, with places of worship and as a charitable, ecclesiastical and residential organization, required the accumulation of funds. Financial contributions provided part of the income needed. But once the missionary phase of the disciples had passed, a more permanent basis of operation entailed the acquisition of other forms of immovable property, land and buildings. The same process of accumulation is a familiar one in modern sects and communes, leading to contradictions in theory and conflicts among the members. For, even when acqu-isition is carried out by the organisation rather than by individuals, it frequently runs counter to the tenets of the reforming ideology. In Christianity the Scriptures explicitly reject the accumulation of all wealth. Christ’s instructions to his disciples ran as follows: ‘Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses.    (Matthew 10: 8-9)

And the instructions to his followers were equally unambiguous: ‘If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.’ (Matthew 19: 21)

The contradiction between the reforming creed and the acquisitive society was an obvious source of conflict, and not simply in the early stages. A characteristic of written creeds is that they perpetuate the early beliefs of the sect even when it has become an institutionalised Church, thus providing within itself a continuing focus for potential opposition. Such statements cannot be wished away nor erased by the passage of time, as is the ease in an oral society. The devastating demands of the revolutionary formulation can be re-interpreted in an allegorical fashion or be reformulated for ‘modern’ use. But there is always the possibility that, approaching the text without the mediation of the priesthood, someone will take the words literally and demand that the Church give up its possessions, or that the family be subordin-ated to other ends. ‘If thou wilt be perfect’ in the way that the Church could no longer be, but in the way the Cathars (or at least their elect) thought was possible.

In this way the writings that embody the ‘charismatic pedigree’ may themselves ‘become a recurrent focus of change and conflict’ (Gager 1975: 75). The very fact that the sectarian sayings of early Christians were preserved in sacred writings made them available as potential models for the behaviour of future generations, even though their teachings ran contrary to the accepted practices of Church and country. Sometimes the sayings were revived by a new sect attempting to combat the teachings of the dominant Church. Sometimes an individual might use their authority for his own personal ends.

The Christian Church did not at first own any landed property; those who had lands and houses sold them to give the money to the Church (Acts 4: 34). The revolution of the fourth century began with the conversion of Constantine and his victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312. The Christians were ready to take over the Roman Empire and to ensure the impossibility of a return to earlier conditions of inferiority and persecution’ (Momigliano 1963: 80). At this time Christianity was still largely an urban religion, despite the fact that the basic economic activity of the region was agricultural. Then in the fourth century it penetrated into the upper classes and the large number of conversions from that group gave its members a dominant position (Jones 1963: 21; see also (Gibbon 1898: 111,194). It was these propertied classes who were now to pass on some of their immovable property to the Church.

The edict of Constantine of A.D. 313 declared that Christians were known to possess property that did not belong to any individual, and from this time on immovable property was given to the Church in abundance. In some cases the donor gave the property absolutely; in others he reserved some rights of usufruct for himself or a near relative. But in general, Church property was freer than that of others; for example it was not subject to the statute of limitations. Again, legacies to the Church often received special treatment as under the Lex Falcidia.

It was in A.D. 321 that Constantine decreed that a dying man might bequeath property to the Church even orally . This ‘freedom’ for the individual encouraged a person to disinherit his kin in favour of God; indeed all religious bequests were a kind of alienation from kin and problems soon began to emerge. As a result of abuses that arose from excessive zeal in making ecclesiastical bequests, a reaction set in later that century. St Augustine would not allow the Church to accept a legacy from a man who had disinherited his son (Sermo 355: 4). This action was approved by St Jerome (Epist. CXXVII, To Principia) who applauded one Marcella for surrendering her own wishes to those of her mother and bequeathing her property to relatives rather than to the Church. On the other hand, he advised the widow Furia to leave her money to the Church in spite of the opposition of her father (Epist. LIV): ‘To whom then are you to leave your great riches? To Christ who cannot die. Whom shall you make your heir? The same who is already your Lord. Your father will be sorry but Christ will be glad; your family will grieve but the angels will rejoice with you. Let your father do what he likes with what is his own. You are not his to whom you have been born, but his to whom you have been born again, and who has purchased you at a great price with his own blood’ (Wace and Schaff 1893: 103). It is not simply that the sect replaces kin, but that Christians are adopted or purchased by God; physiological or natural kinship is less important than spiritual to those who are ‘born again’, and it is to their ‘adopted’ Father that they should leave their wealth. The implications are dramatic.

The reaction to this testamentary freedom took a variety of forms, some of which placed restrictions on the priesthood. A law of Emperor Valentinian III in A.D. 455 forbade clerics to receive legacies from virgins and other religious persons (Cod. Theod. XVI. 2. 20), while already in A.D. 390 the Emperor Theodosius had prevented deaconesses from making bequests to the Church. though they could offer gifts in their lifetime (XVI. 2. 27).

The reaction took on a more general character. St Augustine advised those with sons to include Christ as one more heir and give the Church an equal share with the res t (Sermo 86: 11 - 14; Enarratio in Psalmos 38: 12; Bruck 1956: 84-8). Thus some protection was given to children against the desire of their own parents to alienate familial property either for religious grace or for personal revenge. But kin beyond the elementary family had a thinner time. In A.D. 590 the first Council of Seville (c. 1) was asked by the deacons to annul certain manumissions of slaves owned by ecclesiastical bodies, since the alienation of Church property was forbidden by the canons. The freed men were allowed to remain free but under ius ecclesiae , which meant that they could leave their property to their Sons but to noone else. The direct line only had rights, collaterals were excluded. Such a restriction was part of a more general tendency in ecclesiastical legislation. In the case of the restriction of inheritance to sons, the property would revert to the Church in some 40 per cent of the cases, which, as we have seen is the rough proportion of families who, under this type of demographic condition, would be without direct male heirs at the death of the parents (Goody and Harrison 1976).

In earlier Mediterranean societies the state of heirlessness could be remedied by the use of one of the widespread strategies of heir-ship current in the region. namely, adoption, concubinage, plural marriage, widow remarriage (including the levirate). It does not seem accidental that the Church appears to have condemned the very practices that would have deprived it of property. For the accumulation of property was essential so that it could assume responsibility for the maintenance of those orphans and widows who, under the pre-existing arrangements, would have been cared for by their kin. If a widow was to remarry rather than enter a nunnery, then the property would come under the control of the new partnership. If an individual or a couple adopted a child, they provided themselves with an heir for their goods. So too, in a less direct fashion, does a man who takes a second wife or a concubine if his first wife is barren. Is it by chance that the Church forbade such strategies of continuity, that it set limits to the efficacy of kinship ties outside the elementary family in matters of property? Even within the immediate conjugal family, while the Church often protected relationships, it could also threaten them. The widowed daughter was encouraged by St Jerome to leave money to the Church against her father’s wishes. Such a policy was not only destructive of the idea of family property’, it also encouraged filial disobedience. Or to phrase the trend in another way, it promoted ‘freedom’ and ‘individualism’ at the same time as strengthening the independence of women.

The initial permission given to the Church to acquire inheritances led to problems which resulted in attempts of the State to limit some of the effects. It was a continuing problem. In a later period such restrictions took the form of mortmain. In the English sense of the term, the law of mortmain is one that limits the acquisition of property by permanent corporations, especially landed property vested in organi-sations of a religious character. Such restrictions arose for two main reasons. First, there was the desire to prevent property from being withdrawn for ever from the general pool of transferable goods, that is, from being grasped by the ‘dead hand’ of an artificial legal personality who would seize it and not let it go. Second, there was the wish to diminish fraudulent or extortionate pressures from religious advisers. These problems arose largely as a result of the freedom given to Christians. Only under special conditions did Roman law allow of such transactions: ‘we are not permitted to appoint the gods as our heirs . . .‘ wrote Ulpian c. A.D. 200 (Rules XXII. 6) . A collegium, a corporate body consisting of at least three persons, could not receive an inheritance unless it was specially privileged. As we have seen, the Christian Church fell into this category only after Constantine’s Edict of Milan (A.D. 313) which restored to the Church the property taken in recent persecutions and formally recognised its right to own land. It was in AD. 321 that the Emperor enlarged the Church’s power to inherit. Within fifty years the first restrictive law was established by the Emperor Valentinian I in A.D. 370. Trained as a soldier, the son of Gratian, who had heldthe military commands of Africa and Britain, Valentinian was elected in A.D. 364. Choosing his brother Valens (who adopted the Arian faith) as his co-ruler, he allocated him the Eastern Empire. His attempt ‘to restrain the wealth and avarice of the clergy’ was held by Gibbon to be the model for future regulations in the later Middle Ages, such as those introduced by the Emperor Frederick II, by Edward I of England and by various other Christian princes of the time. His measure safeguarded the property of widows and wards from alienation to ecclesiastical persons, though the later rulers were more concerned to protect royal and feudal interests than those of the weak (Miller 1952: 123-6).

The attraction of the priest to the riches of those without heirs was not without precedent in the secular sphere. In Rome, ‘the childless old man and woman (“orbus”, ~~orba”) and their courtiers (“captatores”), who were after their money, were a joke and a scan-dal . . . in the early Empire. Calvia Crispinilla, a most disreputable old noblewoman at Nero’s court, survived his fall and enjoyed great influence from her wealth and childlessness’ (Mattingley 1948: 154). Acquisition by flattery occurs in many societies with significant differences in wealth, and we might regard the ecclesiastical version as a ‘sublimated’ form which channels those resources not only to religious purposes but to wider social ends.

From one angle the appearance of the monastic way of life in fourth-century Egypt was a reaffirmation of the ascetic tradition, stressing celibacy as a spiritual alternative to marriage . It was equally devoted to poverty and represented both a move-ment of reaction against the concentration of power in a priestly hierarchy and the accommodation to the norms of the surrounding society. It was a deliberate attempt to recover the radical enthusiasm of early Christianity as preserved in the written Scriptures. In his life of St.Antony, Athanasius reports that the great hermit entered upon the ascetic life after reading the command of Jesus, ‘Go and sell what thou hast, and give to the poor’ (Matthew 19: 21; Gager 1975: 74).

The effects of the growth of the monastery as an alternative focus of ecclesiastical power had other important influences on marriage and the family, apart from providng a high-status model for the celibate life. The convent became a refuge for widows and daughters; the monastery, like the Church, attracted and sometimes protected family funds. The means it used affected the family very intimately in ways that were vividly proclaimed by Edward Gibbon. ‘The influence of the monastic orders’, he claimed, ‘acted most for cibly on the infirm minds of children and females’ (1898: IV,63). ‘They insinuated themselves into noble and opulent families; and the specious arts of flattery and seduction were employed to secure those proselytes who might bestow wealth or dignity on the monastic profession. The indignant father bewailed the loss, perhaps, of an only son; the credulous maid was betrayed by vanity to violate the laws of nature; and the matron aspired to imaginary perfection, by renouncing the virtues of domestic life’ . As he goes on to remark, ‘Time continually increased, and accidents could seldom diminish, the estates of the popular monasteries...’

The accumulation of property by priests and monks was not simply a way of lining their own pockets. For the Church needed revenue not only to support the clergy and maintain the buildings but to provide charity for the poor. Support for the poor, the Christian poor, was an important feature of early Christianity but by the third century it had become a major enterprise requiring full-time administration. Eus -ebius quotes Bishop Cornelius (c. A.D. 250) as claiming that the Roman Church alone supported some 1,500 widows and poor members of the Church (Eus-ebius, Ecclesiastical History VI. 43). Such philanthropy was later not confined to Church members alone. Julian the Apostate complained that ‘Galileans support not only their own poor but ours as well’, indicating that the wider social aspect of their teaching was, pace Troeltsch, a significant aspect of early Christianity that no doubt helped the rapid recruitment to the faith (Gager 1975: 131).

At first these charitable gifts were voluntary offerings (Jones 1964:11, 894), the Biblical custom of regular first fruits o r tithes (one-tenth) being a later revival. When the Church began to acquire its own property in the third century, though by questionable title, this consisted at first of places of worship and burial grounds. After the end of the Great Persecutions and the toleration edict of his uncle, Galerius, the Roman Emperor Maximinus Daia (308-314) turned against the Christians, instigated by the pagan priests, and restored any houses or lands which had been in the ownership of the Christians (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History IX. 10).

From the time of Constantine the property of the Church grew rapidly and steadily. The Emperor himself gave large gifts of land and houses. Vast properties were received from members of the Roman nobility as well as many small bequests from more humble people. ‘It seems to have become almost common form’, writes Jones, ‘for every will to contain a bequest to the Church’ (1964:11, 895), and he cites the example of a civil servant who bequeathed half his house.

Some of this property came from individuals or couples without offspring. Some came from the priesthood itself . By a law of A.D. 434 the estate of any cleric who died intestate without heirs passed to his church. Childless bishops often made their church their heir. An African Council of 409 anathematised any bishop who left his property to outsiders other than his kin, rather than to his church.

When the first rules were elaborated, clergy were permitted to marry. Hence the maintenance of a distinction between Church and personal property was a constant problem, since the latter normally went to a man’s heir. Those without heirs often left their wealth to the Church, which made efforts to limit the extent of possible inheritors (Jones 1964:11, 896). The Church was also concerned to see that its own property was not alienated to the kin of clergy, or indeed under any other cir- cumstance; an imperial law against such alienation was issued by Leo in 470 for the Church of Constantinople, banning all sales, gifts or exchange.

Most of the new wealth came from the members the Church recruited after its establishment at the beginning of the fourth century. ‘The Christians of Rome were possessed of a very considerable wealth’, wrote Gibbon, many among their proselytes had sold their lands and houses to increase the public riches of the sect, at the expense, indeed, of their unfortunate children, who found themselves beggars because their parents had been saints’ (1880: 11, 132).

This tension between the interests of the senior generation usin its earthly possessions to secure heavenly benefits and those of the junior generation more concerned with the production of material goods, was to mark much of European history, until a more secularized environment brought young and old together in a more single-minded concentration on the things of this world. But it was not solely by beggar-ing the children that the Church acquired land so rapidly. This was also achieved by discouraging those procedures that provided heirs to childless persons and by reducing the rights and duties of kin in favour of the sect and later of the Church.

The alienation of property to the Church at death was intimately connected with the development of the testament. The German tribes had recognised donations which, as Tacitus remarked, were buried or burned with the dead. Among the Anglo- Saxons as elsewhere the growth of Christianity led to a change in notions of life and death, in particular to the gradual abandonment of the idea that property should be buried with the dead (Sheehan 1963b: 7; Leeds 1936) . The original notion that a proportion of a person’s property needed to be devoted to his welfare in the other world was easily converted to the later view of this proportion as the ‘share of the soul’ (Seelteif), frequently a third, over which the owner had full right of devise, and which the Fathers of the early Church proposed should be used as alms for penitential purposes (Sheehan 1963 b: 6ff).

There were two traditions concerning the amount of alms one should leave for charity, the proportion of one’s estate to be given away. St Jerome (c. 342-420) and St Augustine followed St Gregory of Nyssa (c. 331-395) in advising that the poor should be given a child’s part. On the other hand, Salvian and Peter Chrysologus recalled the words of St Basil, brother of St Gregory and founder of the monastic rule of the Eastern Church (c.330—379), and of St John Chrysostom (c.347-407) which pressed the rich to give all (Lagarrigue 1971: 38).

In drawing a connection between the Church’s modification of the accepted strategies of heirship and its wish to encourage bequests from the faithful, I have relied on deductive arguments, although the advice of Jerome to the widow Furia gives some idea of the pressures placed upon the congregation to leave property to the Church rather than to family and kin. However, there is one remarkable contemporary text which makes the point very forcibly, especially with regard to adoption. Salvian, the fifth-century Christian writer who became a priest at Marseilles, apparently came from a well-to-do family, but in later life he divested himself of all his property in favour of the Church. In his work Ad ecclesiam, also known as Contra avaritiam, the author commended the giving of alms to the Church, even encouraging parents to leave their wealth to that body rather than to their offspring, on the plea that it is better for the children to suffer in this world than that the parents should be damned in the next. Salvian’s injunctions were more extreme than those of other writers, but there is little doubt that it was by bequests, left not simply by the few but by the many (Lesne 1910: 23) that the Church in Gaul built up its wealth so rapidly between the fifth and eighth centuries. Nor is there much doubt from the evidence of amendments in legislation, of the tone of Salvian’s writings, and of the disputes to which the process gave rise, that considerable conflict was stirred up between the generations. The Church’s doctrine was in favour of alienation, especially from the heirless and from women. It encouraged heirlessness by disallowing the use of collaterals, adopted sons and other means to plug the succession gap. No longer, as in Cicero’s time, could a man’s fictional heir keep alive the worship of the family; oblations placed this responsibility in the hands of the Church. The take-over of the worship of the ancestors was also a take-over of their inheritance.

In fifth-century Gaul the great expansion of Church property was brought about by bequests that were offered to the dead to refresh their souls (Lesne 1910: 4,25-6). The giving of alms destroyed sin, and Salvian insisted that the dying should make a legacy to the Church for this end, especially as those goods a man possessed were only his temporary possessions. So he castigated those who leave their property to relatives or to strangers and neglect the Church. A father should not love even his own children more than his Lord, and therefore he should leave the same share of his property to God as to his own children. If he had no children, then it is sure inexcusable to leave his property to others, even to an adopted son (Ad. eec/es. III. 2). In this way the Church would rapidly accumulate property in Gaul. Like bishops and clerics, laymen without children often madea saint their heir (Lesne 1910: 161). But such donations were not only made by the childless. Others too used the Roman formulae of disinheritance to leave property to a saint. And so women, more particularly the widows and daughters of kings, bequeathed part or all of their dower to religious establishments.


Not only the rules for whom one could marry, but the ceremony of marriage itself became increasingly the affair of the Church. In England between the seventh and the twelfth centuries the ecclesiastical authority in matrimonial questions was most slowly established’ (Howard 1904:1,333). At first the Church appears only to have concerned itself with the nuptial mass but gradually it became involved both in the betrothal and in that gifta or handing over of the bride which was regarded as the essence of marriage. Finally, in the twelfth century, Peter Lombard’s annunciation of the ‘seven sacraments’ proposed that marriage be included among them.

The law of the Church on the definition of a valid marriage varied over time and only became fixed in the course of the twelfth century. The older view, which was supported by Gratian and the school of Bologna in about 1140, maintained that marriage was initiated by the consent of the parties (desponsatio), but was only made indissoluble by sexual union (Helmholz 1974: 26). The view expressed by Peter Lombard and the Masters of Paris about twenty years later distinguished between two kinds of desponsatio, one by words of present consent (verba de presenti), the other by words of future consent (verba de futuro). Consent alone, and not coitus, made a marriage valid, at least in terms of its ‘present’ form. With future consent, an indissoluble bond was created only by means of sexual relations.

This second view prevailed under Pope Alexander III (1159—81). But it created a problem for the courts in deciding if consent had been given and accepted, whether the words spoken established an indissoluble contract. No public ceremony was needed to make a marriage valid, but, in order to make it fully licit, certain proced-ures had to be followed:

After financial arrangements had been made by the families concerned, the betrothal took place. This consisted of a promise to and often was expressed as a form of words before witnesses . Next the banns were read in the parish church. If no objection to the marriage resulted, or if objections had been dealt with in a satisfactory way, the couple publicly solemnised their union by an exchange of consent (per verba de presenti) at the church door. This would be seen as the moment when the sacrament was given by the couple to each other. The ceremonies before witnesses included the endowment of the bride, her delivery by her father to the husband, and various rituals, including a form of words and the giving of a ring. Finally, the bridal party entered the church for the nuptial mass. (Sheehan 1971: 237)

But while only this form of marriage was licit, other unions could be valid . The betrothal followed by intercourse became marriage, even without being solemnised in church. This being so, since men and women did not always get married in facie ecclesiae, some making their agreement at home, or in a field, a garden, or even in bed, problems often arose in proving to the satisfaction of the ecclesiastical judges that a marriage had taken place at all. Some 70 per cent of the marriages involved in cases heard in Ely between March 1374 and March 1382 took place in private surroundings. While it was doubtless the intention of most parties to follow the private with a public celebration not in all cases did this occur. One result was the ‘clandestine marriage’, a form of union that has been seen as the continuation of older traditions of matrimony. The court records, Helmholz maintains, ‘show the tenacity of the belief that people could regulate their own matrimonial affairs, without the assistance or interference of the Church’ (1974: 31).

Ecclesiastical recognition of clandestine marriages is seen by some as arising from the consensual theory accepted by the Church and the freedoms that it encouraged (Sheehan 1971: 229). But the doctrine of consent was no invention of the eleventh- century reformers, nor yet of Christianity itself; though, as we have argued, sectarian and ecclesiastical support certainly encouraged the individualization of choice in a number of social situations. Moreover, the acceptance of consent as the basis of marriage did not preclude any requirement that it be followed by a specific ritual. The explanation offered is based on the same universalistic ‘ethical’ interpretation of the Church’s actions in the domestic domain that mark much of the work on the Patristic period, whose developmental presuppositions are singularly difficult to reconcile with the characteristics of marriage in Protestant cultures of a much later period, which were in many ways more severe, less ‘modern’, as far as consent was concerned. That is to say, the consent of the partners was subject to the consent of parents.

A better explanation of the Church’s attitude to such marriages would seem to be based on the difficulties it experienced in imposing its will on the forms and patterns of marriage at all levels, whether that of the nobility as described by Duby, or in the more popular milieu of Ely. Only with the Council of Trent did the Catholic Church finally manage to impose its authority in this sphere by invalidating marriages that had not been performed in public before the parish priest, a notion that was later followed in Protestant circles. This resolution led to a vigorous attack on the traditional forms of extra-sacramental marriage. In Normandy in 1600, the fiançailles or betrothal still formed ‘a binding contract, cemented by exchange of gifts or passage of money and preceding the church marriage by a considerable time: it was still widely considered, even by canon lawyers, to be entirely proper that the couple should share a bed in the meantime. A century later, with the disappearance of fiançailles as a distinct contract, Trent and the principle of parochial conformity had achieved one of its most important victories over kinship solidarity’ (Bossy 1970: 57). But perhaps the victory was not as complete as one might now suppose. The extent of premarital pregnancies , ‘bundling’ and, in England ‘common law marriages’, were signs of continuity with the past; even today in some Christian communities in the Caribbean and elsewhere, the wedding in church is seen asthe climax rather than as the beginning of a marital career.

The Church had recognised the problems created by ‘private’ marriages long before the Council of Trent.’ From late in the twelfth century local attempts were made to ensure that the priest made a public proclamation of a proposed marriage sufficient- ly far in advance to allow anyone to make an open objection to the union. The procedure became generalised under canon 51 of the Fourth Lateran Council when the priest was required to announce the marriage and to investigate the possibility of impediments. In England the announcement took the form of reading the banns on three Sundays. In fact this procedure appeared to have more effect on the enforcement of the prohibitions than on the publication of the marriage itself, since a marriage was perfectly valid even before the publicity occurred. In his study of a register of court cases from fourteenth-century Ely, Sheehan remarks that it was possible to get round the banns not only for ‘the large group that avoided religious ceremonies entirely’ (1971: 239), but even for many who wished to have the blessing of the Church; the latter simply went to a distant parish where people were not aware of any impediment to their marriage, sometimes returning after its solemnization . Such measures operated even after they had been specifically prohibited in Hum ana concupiscentia, a canon emanating from a provincial council held in London in 1342.

When a marriage was discovered to have taken place outside the parish, the parties were liable to punishment. Nevertheless, it remained an important method of trying to get around the impediments, which while they had been ‘relaxed’ at the Fourth Lateran Council, were reinforced in other ways. If a couple did not wish to run the risk, it did not have to undergo a church wedding at all. In Ely such uncelebrated marriages were frequent at this time. Out of 101 unions mentioned in the register, 89 were of this ‘irregular’ kind. Of course it was precisely these marriages that were likely to come before the court, for the large majority of disputes were not about divorce but were demands to recognise a marriage as valid; pleas of nnulment were infrequent, as were references to parental consent. It would be wrong to imagine that either separation of spouses or control by kin were absent; but those kinds of issue were not often brought before the ecclesiastical courts.

Even in the form of annulment, divorce was very difficult in the Middle Ages. A marriage could be dissolved for precontract, which was a consideration in Henry Viii’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Others certainly employed the prohibited degrees in a similar fashion . But in general the impediments arising from blood’, marriage and ‘spiritual’ ties, which according to many commentators, offered an easy way out of marriage, formed the basis of relatively few disputes in the medieval English courts (Helmholz 1974: 77ff). When the Fourth Lateran Council reduced the prohibited degrees from seven to four in 1215, it also tightened up the proof necessary to establish these ties for legal purposes. While we know that the nobility treated these restrictions with little concern, obtaining dispensations when they were needed, surviving court records give little indication that the prohibited degrees presented any major problem for the bulk of the population. Helmholz argues that the actors accepted the rules, and sees evidence of this in the large percentage of marriages which were contracted outside the village (about 50 percent). Evidence from elsewhere would suggest that, even if the ordinary people may have found dispensations hard to get, the courts also found it difficult to obtain proof that a breach of the prohibited degrees had taken place, particularly as the villagers themselves do not seem to have been keen on bearing witness against one another in such matters . In fact, we simply do not know the extent to which such marriages were overlooked within the community itself. The real hurdle for the courts, as Helmholz remarks in another context, ‘was the persistent idea that people could regulate marriages for themselves’ (1974: 5). Once again lay traditions stood opposed to Church regulations.

Thus from the eleventh century, when the spiritual and lay tribunals were separated by William the Conqueror, the Church in England gradually came to dominate marital affairs (Morris 1967). From the time of Glanvill the ‘marriage law of England was the canon law’ (Pollock and Maitland 1895: iI,365—6). The same occurred in France where, at the end of the eleventh century, the Church finally won the exclusive jurisdiction over marriage that it had long claimed. ‘Henceforth’, writes Duby, ‘matrimonial disputes became the chief business of the episcopal courts’ (1978: 20).


This exclusive jurisdiction had important consequences, since the Church made no absolute requirement of parental consent, nor yet of an age of marriage (Howard 1904: I,338--9). The ‘irregular’ or clandestine marriages that resulted created many problems for the civil law and led to the attempt of the temporal courts to make the acquisition of certain property rights depend upon the publicity given to the marriage. Indeed a public marriage could render children legitimate, and hence serve to legalise heirs, in spite of the existence of impediments to a marriage, in the case where one parent at least was ignorant of that hindrance.

The effect of the Church’s doctrine on reducing familial authority is seen most clearly in the conflicts between the ecclesiastical and civil views on the necessity of parental consent . From the twelfth century the Church considered marriage as a sacrament, informally at least, which the partners administered to themselves by the exchange of consent, that is, the consent of the partners. While the Church agreed that disobedience to parents was a grave sin and that clandestine marriages were to be condemned, such unions were nonetheless valid. Their validity was confirmed by the Council of Trent, though it reaffirmed the condemnation of clandestine marriages, making the couple exchange their consent in the presence of a priest after the banns had been published.

Lay society, on the other hand, saw parental consent as essential and the French delegation to that Council were briefed to defend paternal authority. When they were defeated, the king refused to allow the Council’s decrees to circulate in France; by the edict of February 1556, the children of families who contracted marriages without their parents’ consent were disinherited and virtually outlawed (Flandrin 1979: 132), a position not dissimilar to that adopted by the Protestants whose rejection of the sacramental nature of marriage allowed for the re-establishment of parental authority. However, their positions differed in important ways, not only in how they were formulated but also in their consequences for the organization of the household.’ In England it was with the Reformation that ‘publication’ became essential . In 1538 (or possibly earlier) parish registers of births, deaths and marriages were introduced. Luther urged the need for public espousals, regarding parental consent as essential, but publicity was not indispensable. A betrothal continued to be recognized as the initiation into marriage. Nor was it unusual for husband and wife to live together before the nuptials (Howard 1904:1,374) and ‘bride-children’ were given full rights as legitimate offspring. The Reformation changed the English form of marriage very little at first except in terms of the prohibited degrees which were supposedly reduced to the levitical prohibitions in 1540. It was not until the middle of the seventeenth century that the ideas of the early German Reformation relating to the temporal nature of marriage gained hold in England and only during the period of the Commonwealth, in 1653, did a civil marriage service become essential.

It is important to recognise that the notion of mutual consent, in contrast to that of parental authority, was intrinsic to the ecclesiastical model of medieval marriage and in this significant respect it ran directly up against the secular model. ‘The Church’, writes Duby, ‘emphasized the union of two hearts in marriage and postulated that its validity rested more on the betrothal (desponsatio) than on the wedding, and especially on the consent (consensus) of the two individuals concerned’ (1978: 16—17). This feature was firmly emphasised following the ecclesiast-ical reforms of the eleventh century, a period in which some historians have seen the development of dowry as having a particularly strong influence on the nature of the father-daughter relationship. In about 1160 Peter Lombard insisted that a father could not force a daughter to marry against her will, although customary and statute law often deprived her of a dowry if she married against his wishes. The Church’s insistence on a consensual definition of marriage, on ‘what we might call love’ (Duby 1978: 21), continued until the Council of Trent, running counter to the lay emphasis on the control of marriage (Hughes 1978: 284)19 So too did its requirement that marriage be based on dilectio, that is, on ‘affection’ or ‘pleasure’ the word amor in medieval Latin meant ‘virile desire’, ‘concupiscence’ (Duby 1978: 36,59); its legitimate expression required consent.


The Church thus favoured a family which was bound by affective ties and created by mutual consent. Despite the thread of monastic and clerical celibacy running through the Christian tradition, it also favoured a ‘child-oriented’ family, which authors like Aries, Shorter and Stone, have seen as basic to recent developments in domestic life, while others have considered it crucial in accounting for the demographic transition (Caldwell 1976). But the ‘child-oriented” family was also intrin-sic to the religious ideology of the Christian Church from a very early period. Byzantine paintings of the Madonna and Child are found from the mid sixth century. possibly earlier. These pictures are somewhat stylised in composition, the mother and child often looking straight ahead and usually away from one another. A similar stance is evident in paintings of the early Tuscan schools of the fourteenth century, although mother and child are often closer in a physical sense, holding hands or with the Child clutching a piece of the Madonna’s garment. In the paintings of Rimini, Emilia and Siena we find pictures of the Madonna suckling the Child, a representation that must have stood as a perpetual reproach to those mothers, not only from the richer households, who had their children breast-fed by others, a practice that the Church had tried to stop as far back as the eighth century. Yet in many families the ‘nurse’ continued to be not only the one who looked after the child but the one who ‘nourished’ it as well ‘caring’ was ‘feeding’. It was the Church that would have it other wise and that provided another model of mother- child relations.

In the Late Gothic of the fifteenth century and in the Early and High Renaissance of the early sixteenth, the suckling Madonna was less frequently portrayed. In the big majority of paintings, Madonna and Child continue to look away from one another (or ‘towards the world’). In those cases where one of them is turned towards the other, the direction of gaze varies slightly over this period; earlier the Child is more frequently looking upwards at his mother, later it is the Madonna looking down at the Child.

The iconography of Madonna and Child displays only limited changes over time. Part of the overall change is no doubt due to developments of technique, in part due to fashions internal to painting and in part to the demands of patrons. Such paintings do not provide much by way of evidence about the nature of family life ex-cept to remind us that positive sentiments of attachment between mother and child were not an invention of modern man, that Christ was suckled at the breast of a Virgin mother and that the Child was the most important member of the Holy Family, indeed its raison d’être . There could hardly be a more child-oriented model than the journey and adoration of the Magi, with its annual reenactment at Christmas.

The Church’s insistence on consent and affection, as well as on the freedom of the testament, meant taking ‘a stand against the power of the heads of households in matters of marriage, against the lay conception of misalliance, and, indeed, against male supremacy, for it asserted the equality of the sexes in concluding the marriage pact and in the accomplishment of the duties thereby implied’ (Duby 1978: 17). Duby describes these effects as ‘unintentional’. The result was to encourage the love match rather than the arranged marriage, the freedom of the testator rather than inheritance between kin . But these features, sometimes seen as definitive of the ‘Western family’ (and sometimes only of the English variety), are surely intrinsic to the whole process whereby the Church established its position as a power in the land, a spiritual power certainly, but also a worldly one, the owner of property, the largest landowner, a position it obtained by gaining control of the system of marriage, gift and inheritance. Such factors are associated with the guidelines supposedly laid down by Pope Gregory for the German lands as well as with those Guichard sees as characteristic of ‘Western structures’. In ssence they owe little to the later transformations of feudalism, mercantile capitalism, industrial society, Hollywood or the Germanic tradition.

If we want to characterise these trends, they would be in the direction of the elementary family as we know it, a concentration on the small group of lineal descendants, with women and children as important members, each with their own individual rights, depending upon sex and age. As Violante remarks, ‘The ecclesiastical reforms begun in the eleventh century favoured the trend towards the strengthening of the family by widening the range of degrees of kinship between whom marriages were forbidden and increasing the severity with which the canonical rules were applied. All this made it more difficult, in effect, to restrain by means of kinship marriages, the dispersion of patrimonial property and the maintenance of the family community as well as the community of goods’ (1977: 117). Why the Church should interfere in the domestic domain in this way is the question with which we are concerned. But the answer does not rest upon the reforms of the eleventh century alone. Violante remarks that in the later Middle Ages the tendency towards la famille naturelle of parents and children or even towards la famille conjugale grew stronger. Yet this same tendency can be discerned not only under earlier Christianity, indeed at the very birth of Christianity itself, but elsewhere in the Near East. Patlagean observes how in fifth-century Byzantium consanguineal ties tended to be replaced by conjugal ones. It was a tendency embedded at a very general level in the nature of social life in the Mediterranean world. But, more specifically, it was associated with the emergence of the new Christian sect and with the subsequent transformation of this body into a Church by means of the vast accumulation of property alienated from the hands of kinsfolk.


The Development of the Family and marriage in Europe.

Copyright @ Cambridge University Press 1983

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