- Out of Love for my Kin: Aristocratic Family Life in the Lands of the Loire, 1000-1200
To humanize the dead and recognize the emotional life of people in past time is an important task, to which Amy Livingstone contributes in her study of aristocratic families in the Loire valley of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. A focus on prominent families within a region over time also speaks to questions of regional identity. The book can serve a wide readership since the author [End Page 1149] describes her sources (what is a chronicle, charter, cartulary), explains the monetary system based on £/s/d, and defines key terms (e.g., partible and impartible inheritance, patrilineage, cognatic kinship). The genealogical charts (237-245) are a useful accompaniment to the discussion based on charter evidence, though a fuller description of the database of charters (which is referred to only three times in the book, 92, 171, 213n31) would be helpful.
Livingstone argues that the model of "patrilineage, primogeniture, and patriarchy does not accurately describe the family experience" of the Loire aristocracy (3-4). Rather, "inclusivity," the "breadth of kin" and not the linear family is evidenced in the charters (235). Further, she sees no fundamental shift in family structure over her period, nor even much of a contrast with family structure and dynamics of the earlier Middle Ages. A deeper exploration of these findings and their significance would be welcome. She argues that noble families did not attempt to preserve their resources by limiting the number of offspring who could marry, pointing out that marriage and the "creation of new branches" added to family wealth and consequence (150). On the question of women's status, the appearance of feminine forms such as vicedomina and legedocta (176ff) suggest that medieval society recognized women's agency, even when they filled roles normally held by men (a point of tension that also merits further exploration). Fundamentally, Livingstone is deeply interested in "integrat[ing] the more positive marital experiences into the narrative of aristocratic marriage."
Recent scholarship supports her findings, though the scholarship she refutes is mostly older. Georges Duby (The History of Private Life, 1988) and Marc Bloch (Feudal Society, published in France in 1940) are cited as the "modern scholars" who have "assumed" that aristocrats were reluctant to allow women control of knights (135). Jack Goody (1983) argued that upon marriage a daughter lost claim to family property (223), and Duby (1978, 1983) posited a marriage pattern where young wives married old husbands, women married many times, and wives were regarded as "disposable" and thus were often repudiated. To frame questions about dowry she cites Duby and David Herlihy's Medieval Households (1985), rather than the scholarship (published between 1988 and 2002, cited on 130n36) which shows that women had control over their dowries in other parts of France, just as she finds for the Loire region. Who today sees a "profound rupture or wholesale adoption of primogeniture or patrilineage" in the eleventh or twelfth centuries (119)? Publications appearing between 1996 and 2007 (91) agree with her view that a "multiplicity of options" were used by noble families.
At times description is presented as analysis. No amount of witnessing charters, having children with the same names as their relatives, or receiving the consent of a relative to alienate a property necessarily adds up to close kin relations. Many of the questions posed are rhetorical, such as the "notions" that marriage was "exclusively repressive and violent for women," that parents didn't love their children, and that elites viewed kin as "chief competitors" (3-4). "Were women and younger sons seen as extraneous and relegated to powerlessness?" (61). Were interpersonal relationships between noble husbands and wives "as brutal and barbaric as some have implied?" (169). Was the granting of dowries a means of "sloughing off extraneous daughters...No indeed." (130).
More troubling is the tendency to make assertions that might be true, that are certainly possible, but that are not necessarily...