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Marriage and the Family in the Middle Ages (Perennial Library)by Frances Gies
Synopses & Reviews
Chapter OneHistorians Discover the FamilyNo element in social history is more pervasive than the family, the universal environment where human beings learn to eat, walk, and speak, and acquire their sense of identity and modes of behavior. Every culture that we know of, past or present, has included the institution of the family, a necessity for survival and common denominator of the society.The family today, changing even as we write, is the product of human history, its evolutions and revolutions. Some of the events that have made their mark on the family have been relatively swift and dramatic, such as the Industrial Revolution, whose effects have been repeatedly catalogued and analyzed. Others have been slow and obscure, like the massive changes that occurred during the thousand years of the Middle Ages. These have received less attention, yet in sum they transformed the family in significant and enduring ways.In investigating the history of the family, a problem is encountered at the outset: the ambiguity of the very term "family." In modern usage, the word has three meanings: a lineage or line of descent; a given person's living biological relations, including parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, whether co-resident or not; and finally, most commonly, a parent or parents and children living together — the nuclear, conjugal, or simple family, constituting a household. We habitually identify the conjugal family with the household because in modern society they typically coincide, but the two are not necessarily the same. Anthropologists and historians have had difficulty in developing a consistent definition of either to cover the numerous permutations thathave flourished. Does the household include all unrelated persons living under the same roof, or all related persons living on the same property but in separate dwellings?The word "family" in the sense of residential and biological unit is relatively new. Before the eighteenth century no European language had a term for the mother-father-children grouping. The meaning of the Latin cognate, "familia, from a common Indo-European word signifying "house," persisted from Roman times throughout the Middle Ages into the early modern period: the people who lived in a house, including servants and slaves. Usually the "familia was large, and sometimes the majority of members were biologically unrelated, as for example, in the "familia of a king, a great lord, or a bishop. Relationships of consanguinity played an important part in the society of the past, a more important part than they do today, but family boundaries were more blurred. The conjugal unit did not exist in isolation as it does today; therefore it did not need a name.Neither historians nor anthropologists have ever developed a general term for the family outside the conjugal unit. "Extended family," sometimes incorrectly used, properly refers to a kind of household, that is, to related persons living under the same roof, including brothers, widowed parents, nephews, nieces, or others outside the parent-child relationship. For the broader family group, composed of a variety of relatives not sharing a residence, no general term exists, though anthropology has provided terms for certain specific forms of it. This larger family group, an entity very important in pre-industrial society, might be called the supra-family.The study ofkinship and the family was initiated barely a century ago by a trio of brilliant amateur anthropologists, J. F. McClennan and Sir Henry Maine of England, and Lewis Henry Morgan of the United States. They were followed by sociologists, of whom one of the earliest, Fré dé ric Le Play of France, an engineer by profession, was also an amateur. In 1871 Le Play published a study of the European family of the recent past that extolled the "stem family," in which three generations lived together, parents, eldest son and his family, and younger unmarried brothers and sisters. Stable, moral, authoritarian, responsible, sacrificing the interests of the individual to the welfare of the larger group, Le Play's idealized "traditional" family contrasted with the small post-industrial family consisting only of parents and children. He characterized the latter as unstable and selfishly individualistic. He found it guilty of substituting impersonal external relationships for intimate kinship feelings, and sexual gratification for self-sacrifice (that is, late marriage or nonmarriage) practiced in the interest of the family. A conservative social reformer, Le Play recommended a return to the old ways for the good of society, morality, and the family. Much of the study of the family in subsequent years has been concerned with correcting Le Play's picture of the pre-industrial family.Nearly a century after Le Play, Philippe Ariè s, another amateur — a French "Sunday historian" ("historien de dimanche in his own words-stimulated wide interest among both historians and the lay public by the publication of "Centuries of Childhood, subtitled "A Social History of Family Life (1960). Relying oniconographic and literary sources, Aries presented the thesis that the concept of childhood as a distinct phase of life did not develop until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the child became the center of the new, close-knit nuclear family. His evaluation of the modern family was not far removed from Le Play's: what the family had gained in privacy and intimacy was outweighed by what it had lost in "sociability" and community feeling. Ariè s parted company with Le Play by arguing that the nuclear family enforced conformity and so curbed rather than fostered individualism, and by viewing individualism as a desirable quality.Ariè s's book proved a stimulus to academic historians. It was followed by three influential studies relating to the family.All dealt with the early modern pre-industrial period, two limited to England, the other to Western Europe, but all in some measure echoing Ariè s's thesis: Peter Laslette's The World We Have Lost: England Before the Industrial Age (1965), ...
< center> A compelling, lucid, and highly readable chronicle of medieval life written by the authors of the bestselling < i> Life in a Medieval Castle< /i> and < i> Life in a Medieval City< /i> < /center> < p align=justify> Historians have only recently awakened to the importance of the family, the basic social unit throughout human history. This book traces the development of marriage and the family from the Middle Ages to the early modern era. It describes how the Roman and barbarian cultural streams merged under the influence of the Christian church to forge new concepts, customs, laws, and practices. Century by century it follows the development — sometimes gradual, at other times revolutionary — of significant elements in the history of the family: < /p> < ul type=disc> < li> The basic functions of the family as production unit, as well as its religious, social, judicial, and educational roles.< /li> < br> < li> The shift of marriage from private arrangement between families to public ceremony between individuals, and the adjustments in dowry, bride-price, and counter-dowry.< /li> < br> < li> The development of consanguinity rules and incest taboos in church law and lay custom.< /li> < br> < li> The peasant family in its varying condition of being free or unfree, poor, middling, or rich.< /li> < br> < li> The aristocratic estate, the problem of the younger son, and the disinheritance of daughters.< /li> < br> < li> The Black Death and its long-term effects on the family.< /li> < li> Sex attitudes and customs: the effects of variations in age of men and women atmarriage.< /li> < br> < li> The changing physical environment of noble, peasant, and urban families.< /li> < br> < li> Arrangements by families for old age and retirement.< /li> < /ul> < /p>
Historians have only recently awakened to the importance of the family, the basic social unit throughout human history. This book traces the development of marriage and the family from the Middle Ages to the early modern era. It describes how the Roman and barbarian cultural streams merged under the influence of the Christian church to forge new concepts, customs, laws, and practices. Century by century it follows the development — sometimes gradual, at other times revolutionary — of significant elements in the history of the family:
Includes bibliographical references (p. 341-358).
About the Author
Frances and Joseph Gies have been writing books about medieval history for thirty years. Together and separately, they are the authors of more than twenty books, including Life in a Medieval City, Life in a Medieval Castle, Life in a Medieval Village, The Knight in History, and Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel. They live near Ann Arbor, Michigan.
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