- Trasgressioni. Seduzione, concubinato, adulterio, bigamia (XIV–XVIII secolo)
Transgressions is a tantalizing title, and indeed there is a treasure trove of information in this collection of sixteen articles about couples ignoring or defying the legal and social norms defining marriage. Trasgressioni is the third in a series of important books that have resulted from the interdisciplinary and transnational seminar on matrimony in Italy during the Ancien Régime directed by Silvana Seidel Menchi and Diego Quaglioni. In this volume scholars of the law and social history study bigamy, concubinage, sexual seduction, and adultery and trace the evolution of juridical concepts, judicial practice, and social behavior during the fourteenth to eighteenth centuries. The overarching goal is to understand the ways in which the lines defining marriage and cohabitation blurred in medieval and early modern Italy.
The volume is divided into three sections. The first focuses on evolving doctrinal and juridical definitions of bigamy, adultery, concubinage, and rape. Anna Esposito studies definitions of these crimes and their punishments in Rome from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries. Giuliano Marchetto analyzes concepts of bigamy over the longue durée. Andrea Marchisello examines adultery through the writings of jurist Prospero Farinacci, while Lucia Ferrante and Marco Bellabarba endeavor to understand the ways in which doctrinal sources and local statutes were interpreted and enforced in cases of concubinage and adultery, respectively. The second section of the collection focuses on actual court investigations of seduction, concubinage, and bigamy, and scholars endeavor to reconstruct the social contexts of these crimes. Ermanno Orlando provides an intriguing study of seduction and feigned marriage in fifteenth-century Venice and Padua. Emlyn Eisenach brings to light concubinage in sixteenth-century Verona. Daniela Lombardi compares claims of defloration brought to both secular and ecclesiastical tribunals. Kim Siebenhüner examines the act of bigamy as a crime of faith in seventeenth-century Rome. Pierroberto Scaramella investigates the judiciary's treatment of bigamy in pre- and post-Tridentine Naples. Cristina Galasso looks at second marriages in a seventeenth-century Jewish community in Livorno. The third section of the book is a collection of microhistories. Laura Turchi treats us to a fascinating interpretation of adultery among nobles in Correggio in 1570. [End Page 138] In contrast, Sara Luperini recovers the past of a Pisan peasant woman whose village defended her status as a concubine before ecclesiastical authorities. Alessandra Contrini reconstructs the life of an eighteenth-century Florentine woman making her living through needlework who engaged the support of her community to induce her lover to marry her. Giorgia Arriva follows the trail of another eighteenth-century Florentine woman who turned to the courts when her lover reneged on his promise to marry her after they had had sex. Unfortunately, space does not permit an adequate treatment of these rich cases, all of which merit close readings and comment.
From these findings Professors Menchi and Quaglioni conclude that historians cannot reconstruct a universal model of marriage during the Ancien Régime. Modes of cohabitation between women and men varied, as did the assigned meanings of these relationships by villagers, townspeople, nobles, and commoners, and church and state authorities. Moreover, perceptions about cohabitation were not fixed in time but were fluid and evolving, as evidenced in the "flexibility of norms, the plurality of doctrinal responses, the evolution of the criminal lexicon, and, linked to this, the shifting moral and social parameters" (12, my translation).
This places different parameters around the conjugal alliance and raises questions about the strength of the institution of marriage in the medieval and early modern periods. Perhaps the variety of beliefs and behaviors these studies expose is not surprising, but the wide body of evidence presented is an important confirmation of the range between cohabitation and marriage, with new, fascinating material from the Italian archives. Moreover, the recovery of the sentiments and behavior of ordinary people constitutes an important contribution to our overall understanding of individuals and society in Italy during the Ancien Régime.