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Reviewed by:
  • I tribunali del matrimonio (secoli XV-XVIII)
  • Benedetta Albani
I tribunali del matrimonio (secoli XV-XVIII). Edited by Silvana Seidel Menchi and Diego Quaflioni. [Istituto trentino di cultura.Annali dell'Istituto storico italo-germanico in Trento,Quaderni,68;I processi matrimoniali degli archivi ecclesiastici italiani,IV.] (Bologna: Società editrice Il Mulino.2006.Pp.v,848. €44,00 paperback.)

This volume is the final product of the research project on "Marriage Cases in Italian Ecclesiastical Archives,"which began in 1999 and reached a climax in 2001 with the conference at Trent at which the studies that constitute the present book were given as papers.

In the course of this investigation, by an interdisciplinary group of Italian and foreign scholars, three other volumes had been published, dealing respectively with legal separation and divorce (Coniugi nemici. La separazione in Italia dal XII al XVIII secolo, 2000), with marriage formation (Matrimoni in dubbio. Unioni controverse e nozze clandestine in Italia dal XIV al XVIII secolo, 2001), and with unconventional marital arrangements and cases where both ecclesiastical and secular jurisdictions were involved (Trasgressioni. Seduzione, concubinato, adulterio, bigamia: XIV–XVIII secolo, 2004). [End Page 364]

The object of the research project was to evaluate and exploit a genre of documents: the records of marriage cases surviving in Italian ecclesiastical archives. Until the 1990s these had been neglected or inadequately exploited, despite their extraordinary value both quantitatively speaking and in terms of continuity.

In the first part of the book is a presentation of the results of the first systematic survey of Italian marriage cases carried out in the ecclesiastical archives of Feltre, Naples, Trent, Venice, and Verona. This survey clearly provides a solid basis for future research, even though the results from the different archives cannot always be directly compared, because of gaps in the holdings and some inconsistency between the methods of recording data used by the various scholars involved. They incorporated into a database and processed more than five thousand marriage trials for the period between 1420 and 1803. From these it is possible to discover data relating to the tribunals that judged the cases, biographical information on the litigating parties, the typology of levels of courts and appeals, the types of judgment, and,where applicable, the sentence.Alongside the studies devoted to the direct analysis of the data, there are other contributions of a less systemic sort based on research in the ecclesiastical archives of Bologna, Florence, Leghorn, Lucca, Milan, Padua, Pisa, Rome, Siena,Trani, and Vicenza.

Nevertheless, the method of "thinking about concrete cases," which dominated the previous volumes, has not been abandoned: in fact all the contributions, touching as they do on a variety of themes or proposing interpretations of specific cases, bring to light the richness of this source genre, which can answer not only questions strictly relating to marriage but also about the functioning of ecclesiastical and secular courts; the variety of jurisdictions and their interaction; the types of negotiation practiced; the functions of judges; forms of sociability, social status and the choice of marriage partner; confession; dowry and family strategies; physical development; the times of year when people got married; shame, love, and the affections; techniques of seduction and rape; the signs, rituals, and symbols of marriage; and nuptial iconography.

The Italian perspective is broadened and enriched by contributions on other countries and cultures placed at the end of each thematic section. Several studies devoted to Protestant marriage tribunals in Switzerland and in Southern Germany, and to Calvinist tribunals in Holland, allow one to draw comparisons between the functioning of ecclesiastical courts, the conception of marriage, and the perception and control of sexuality in Catholic and Protestant worlds respectively. Other contributions deepen our understanding of marriage law and rituals in the Italian Jewish community.

The concentration on marriage cases has not precluded attention to other sources such as civic statutes and princely ordinances, conciliar and synodal decrees, legal codes, notarial documents, treatises on moral theology, and confessional handbooks, inquisition records and papal dispensations, literary [End Page 365] works, and iconographic evidence. All this gives the collections of studies a strong interdisciplinary character, for they move between history, law, theology, and iconography, covering a wide territory, and...


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