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Women, Private Property, and the Limitations of State Authority in Early Modern Venice

From: Journal of Women's History
Volume 14, Number 3, Autumn 2002
pp. 32-52 | 10.1353/jowh.2002.0071

Abstract

This article explores the relationship between middle-class women and the early modern state in Venice by examining the wills of women who entrusted charitable institutions with the oversight of their wills. Women's testamentary practices helped to shape political power in early modern Venice by entrusting charitable institutions rather than the central government with the oversight of wills. Furthermore, women used these charitable institutions to protect their private property against claims by male kin, especially husbands. This article builds on recent reinterpretations of the nature and configuration of state power in early modern Europe, especially Italy, which emphasize how the boundaries between public and private power were contested and redrawn. Women's sizeable gifts to charitable institutions helped sustain these institutions as alternative sites of political power, different from and at least partially autonomous from the centralized state.



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