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  • Marriage, Dowry, and Citizenship in Late-Medieval and Renaissance Italy by DeLloyd J. Guth
  • DeLloyd J. Guth
Marriage, Dowry, and Citizenship in Late-Medieval and Renaissance Italy, by Julius Kirshner. Toronto, Buffalo, London, University of Toronto Press, 2015, 463 pp. $39.95 Cdn (paper or e-book).

Think marriage in generic, secular, functional terms. It is a law-created instrument: a breeding contract, a licence to copulate, a unit of property ownership (sole or shared), a custodial obligation for child-rearing, a sworn and witnessed merger, a domestic regime for provision of food, shelter and healthcare inside a household, a place to enjoy mutual affection (or not), to celebrate family rituals, blood-lined identity and heritable materialism.

Think citizenship in terms of origins, whether as natio (birth right) or locatio (residence right) and both, a lawfully created personal and political status, with rights and duties conferred by the polis (community), whether secular or religious.

Julius Kirshner's collection of nine re-published studies saturates you with such thoughts and immerses you in legal procedures and systems. It has unity of family law themes, as each piece flows elegantly into a whole, a lively and erudite reconstruction of mainly fifteenth-century Florentine lives of wives, widows, and husbands. Marriage creates their internal identities, citizenship their externalities. What's love got to do with it? Damn little, but that is probably the product of Kirshner's rigorous reliance on archival administrative evidence, which can suck life out of human scenarios when reduced to bureaucratic parchment.

Whether or not the reader has enjoyed the Tuscan sun, you will learn much from the tour Kirshner gives from Lucca to Padua, Milan to Pisa. His new "Introduction" perhaps too succinctly summarizes how his nine chapter-articles taken together expand the "field-shaping research of David Herlihy and [of] Christiane Klapisch-Zuber" (6), the medieval law studies of Manlio Bellomo, and more recently of Thomas Kuehn and of Charles Donahue, Jr. The North American scholarly take-over of central Italian Renaissance research was complete by the 1970s. The William Francis Kent versus Richard Goldthwaite battle over nuclear families and kinship lineage generated the focus that is Kirshner's throughout: the legal status of women.

The first six chapter-articles, based mainly on administrative records, run the marital gamut from betrothal contracts (sponsalia) to the groom's duty to pay for adorning his bride and the wedding event as extravagantly as possible, to the brides' parapherna or donora (non-dowry assets) brought into the groom's household, to the dowry received after a sexual consummation that expressed their conjugal debt, and then to the "wives' claims against insolvent husbands" (131). The final three chapter-articles locate females as political persons, as legally circumscribed citizens as well as wives. Following Roman law norms the free woman attaches to her [End Page 330] husband's domicile (locatio) and no longer is a citizen of her place of origin (natio) because marriage makes her a citizen of his place. Kirshner's evidence here is full of legal opinions (consilia) related to individual cases. He occasionally tries to reference a fifteenth-century legal issue's standing to twenty-first century law; but this reminder of relevance is not needed, if only because the richly abundant Archivio di Stato for each city-state yields gems that glisten for their own time, place, and peoples.

Aside from a scholar's vanity in making a single published house for pre-built rooms, there is not always readership value in such collections; but in this case the geographical focus is narrow, the human topics universal, the time period everyone's favourite, the types of primary evidence varied and inter-related, surviving in cumulative series (for example, piles of annual files for marriages, wills, contracts, estates). Besides, none of the nine articles was originally published in a professional periodical, hence easily accessible; four are in festschriften and five in other essay collections, published between 1985 and 2011, with each here updated to 2015. Kirshner's method admirably puts the anecdotal into its aggregative contexts, so we can know what is unique and what is typical, concerning dowries, debts, taxes, inheritances, and the twists-and...


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