- Love, Marriage and Family Ties in the Later Middle Ages, and: The Medieval Household in Christian Europe, c.850– c.1550: Managing Power, Wealth, and the Body
For over thirty years, research concerning the medieval household and its domestic economy has flourished. Discussions of the impact of economies, both internal and external to the household, and of class were developed by Marxist scholars. Later researchers working from a gendered perspective considered not only the role of gender and lifecycle but also the relationship between the private and the public spheres, initially discussed as separate. More recently, investigations of representation, its relationship to reality and to mentalité have captured the interest of medieval scholars. The essays collected in these two volumes, representing papers from the Domus and Familia stream of the 2001 International Medieval Congress, Leeds, refer to all of these theoretical perspectives but are not limited by any. Rather, the authors' generally eclectic approach to theory, while not constricting their interpretation, assists their reading of the evidence.
Martha Howell, who gave the keynote lecture for the conference stream, re-examines a major creator of the household, the bond of marriage. She argues that the development of companionate marriage over the late medieval and early modern periods is more bound to a history of property than has previously been understood. Her address ranges over ecclesiastical ideals of marriage with their secular reworkings and artistic representations, medieval land markets, urban economies and distribution of estates including details such as the dispersal of personal clothing. She situates her discussion in medievalists' approaches to the subject, and thus sets the tone of the conference strand.
Love, Marriage and Family Ties collects papers whose topic is family relationships, including affective relationships, and the means by which these were regulated in the public arena. Davis, in introducing this volume, reminds us that the specificity of the papers undermines common and unexamined beliefs that the family is natural, timeless, unchanging, and warns about assumptions concerning the meaning of words and the effect of our own subjective experiences [End Page 131] on our interpretations. An example of the latter might be the overall sense that family relationships may be more pragmatic than has at times been assumed, while relationships between servants or workers and their employers may have had a more emotional tone. Particularly notable are papers drawing distinctions between representations and reality, using normative or prescriptive sources alongside evidence of practice.
The Medieval Household, by contrast, looks at the institutional and physical structures of the household in their widest meanings. Separate sections concentrate on 'The Public Household and Political Power', involving readings of the formation of power through upper-class households' public display, and 'The Moral Household', which discusses how 'private' culture produces a system of social morality essential to the smooth running of public institutions. While some of these papers refer to the public/private divide, they nevertheless problematise this relationship. Further sections cover 'Household Economics: Money, Work, and Property', elucidating the specificities of livelihoods of four very different households, and 'The Material Household', where physical space is imaginatively reconstructed to be used as a category of historical analysis.
Unlike many collections focusing on a restricted geographical area, topic, time period or research discipline, these often interdisciplinary essays consider the specificity of the household across Europe, from Portugal to Dalmatia, Italy to Holland, and from the ninth to the sixteenth centuries. The range does depend on topic: not surprisingly, Love, Marriage and Family Ties, with its focus on affective experience, is confined to the later Middle Ages.
The range of evidence used across the two volumes is impressive: conduct literature, letter collections, records from church, town and manorial courts...