restricted access Marriage in Premodern Europe: Italy and Beyond ed. by Jacqueline Murray (review)
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Marriage in Premodern Europe: Italy and Beyond. Edited by Jacqueline Murray (Toronto, Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2012) 393 pp. $32.00

For more than forty years, the history of marriage has been the subject of broad scholarly interest, generating important research from continental Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Murray's collection of sixteen essays is a welcome addition to this literature. The three overall themes presented in the collection include the ways in which marriage served political, diplomatic, and economic purposes; the status of brides in their marital households; and the free will of children and widows to make choices that did not necessarily align with the long-term designs of the patriarchal family. The chapters also provide examples of how religious values and canon law interfered with the secular model of marriage, the purpose of which was to serve wealth conservation and family status over the long term. From this body of work Murray [End Page 116] concludes that the values, customs, and practices of marriage were generally flexible, a conclusion that fits well with scholarly studies that have documented the ways in which people ignored the parameters of class, wealth, and dynastic status to shape their own lives.

A brief review cannot do justice to the wealth of new scholarly insights that this volume presents, particularly as it reaches beyond strictly urban venues to draw connections within larger territories or across international borders. Students of marriage, of married women, and of widows will be particularly interested in the new data. Eleven of the chapters are situated on the Italian peninsula, one in Flanders, three in England, and one in Scotland. Several scholars assess the function of exogamy: Shennan Hutton examines how exogamous marriage aided the mobility of patricians and burghers in fourteenth-century Ghent. Katalin Prajda finds that Florentine merchants settling in the Kingdom of Hungary used marriage as a means of introduction to political and social circles. Renee Baernstein sheds light on the important consequences that the marriage of Roman nobles outside the city had for the divided Peninsula's diplomatic relations. Heather Parker introduces the Carnegies of Scotland to illustrate how endogamy consolidated relationships with neighbors and kin. Other scholars dwell on uses of endogamy that are less arcane, such as Mauro Carboni's profile of the Bolognese oligarchy. Marriage was also used as a diplomatic tool—as shown by Jennifer Mara DeSilva's study of ceremonies tied to the pope—and as a tool of territorial accumulation—as shown by Sally Hickson's examination of negotiations surrounding Federico II Gonzaga.

Another theme in this volume is the power of married women and widows to make their own decisions. Jamie Smith finds that Genoese wives with traveling husbands were entrusted with guardianship over their children. Ersie Burke shows how Greek women who married Venetians maintained their own networks of association with members of the expatriate Greek community as well as with their Italian marital families. Elena Brizio recounts the life of a Sienese widow who chose a member of the occupying enemy's army as a husband. According to Elena Woodacre, Elizabeth I of England and other queens were wary of marrying, lest they become subjects of their husbands.

Representations of marriage are a third common denominator among several of the chapters. Erin J. Campbell relies on visual evidence to document the important ways in which older wives and widows in sixteenth-century Bologna became matriarchal symbols to their families. Other scholars examine representation through texts: Lesley Peterson's study of husbands who memorialized their wives; Matteo Soranzo's study of Giovanni Pontano's elegiac poetry as a vehicle to praise his own marriage; William E Smith III's analyses of Anne Wentworth's writings; and Reinier Leuhuis' contention that the novellas of Matteo Bandello were intended to criticize the church's emphasis on consent to marry at the expense of secular interests.

The chapters in this volume demonstrate that marriage in pre-modern [End Page 117] Europe was a critical unit of social organization, serving family and inheritance but also politics and society. Although it was a religious sacrament, it was also the secular tool...