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Georges Duby 4. Women and Power The word "power" (pouvoir) is vague in French. Let it be clear that I shall not be speaking of all kinds of power, but only of that expressed by the Latin termpotestas in records of the period we have chosen to study. That is, the power to command and to punish. My question is this: in what measure did women share in this power? It is a difficult problem. I have my own idea about it. Some of our medievalist colleagues do not agreewith me; often I found myself in debate with K. F.Werner, formerly Director of the GermanHistorical Institute of Paris, who did me the honor of attending my seminar. Our disagreement arose partly from the fact that Werner insisted more than I on the letter of the documents, and I more than he on mental representations, but also because Werner tended to think primarily of imperial lands while I had the kingdom of France chiefly in view. Look at the abbesses of the great German monasteries, Werner would say: they are imperial princes, who exercise potestas fully. Yes (I would say), but in France feminine monasticism was much less developed. Yes, but in France (and the same is true in Germany) abbesses wielded potestas by means of a substitute, an advocatus . Moreover, the monastic world was a world apart where the position of women in particular, brides of Christ, was very singular. Hence a further limitation. Having already said that I shall not speak of all powers, I add now that I shall not speak of allwomen. I shall consider women who remained in the world, married women, wives of one with power, of a dominus. I shall speakofdominae, of "dames." My question becomes a little more precise: to what extent and in what ways did ladies, the wives of the aristocracy, in northern France from 1050 to 1235 take part in the power of command and of punishment:1 In seeking to answer this question, I rely mainly on two types of documents: the admonitions of men of the church to women, and more especially on what remains of the genealogical literature, that genre which flourished so vigorously in this region of Christendom, notably in the second half of the twelfth century. My intention is to examine behavior as 7O Georges Duby really lived. YetI must begin with aword about the rules and mentalrepresentations that determined this behavior,that imposed conduct on people, the conduct of men and women of this socialmilieu. The rules are those imposed by custom, the unwritten law; they appear with less precision in northern France than in the southern regions. They are nonetheless clear enough for us to discern the principal elements. In northern France, by contrast with the Empire, potestas in the twelfth century was fully incorporated in the patrimony. "Honors" had long since ceased to be conferred by the king or his agent; they were transmitted by inheritance. But this incorporation of the public power to command and punish was accompanied by a transformation of the structures of kinship. On a royal model the families possessed of this power were organised in lineages, which is to saythat the rules of successionwere based on the primacy of boys over girls and of the eldersoveryounger sons. Normally, sons prevailed over their sisters and inherited thepotestas. But if it happened that there were no sons, it was a woman, the eldest of the girls, who inherited. This is an important point. Important because, by virtue of this fact, the daughters of the dominus had great value: their right on the inheritance. They were coveted. They represented, in the hands of the men on whom they depended—their father who had begotten them; their father's heir, their brother; or the partners in their father's power, the "barons," the "knights of the castle" which was the seat of the potestas, of the "honor"—a desirable and desired property which these men traded in ceding these women (with their consent, say the texts of the later twelfth century, for on this point the requirements of the church had triumphed) in marriage.Cum ea, these texts also say,"with this woman," the husband receivedthe rights she held: that is, with the other girls, a dowry consisting of that part of the familial fortune reserved for the women. But the primary right was their claim to the dominium, to the lordship. If the maleswho blocked them from possession of...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780812200768
Print ISBN
9780812215557
MARC Record
OCLC
794702344
Pages
400
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-16
Language
English
Open Access
N
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