sam worby refers to charles donahue jr.‘s Law, Marriage, and Society in the Later Middle Ages as “magisterial” and there’s no hyperbole in that i can assure you. at a mere 696 pages(!), it’s a very thorough examination of marriage litigation in fourteenth and fifteenth century england and, what donahue calls, franco-belgia. donahue himself describes the book as “obscenely long.” (^_^) it’s not at all! it’s just very, very complete. and very, very awesome!

donahue studied the records of five medieval episcopal courts: york, ely, paris, cambrai and brussels. and, afaict, he looked at the data from every which way possible. i haven’t read the whole thing … yet … but i’ve gleaned a couple of interesting points so far:

- apparently, there weren’t a whole lot of cases (requesting annulment or whatever) brought before the courts on the basis of consanguinity — it really seems to have been a (relatively speaking) non-issue at this point in time in england and franco-belgia;

- the types of cases brought before the courts in england indicate that there were more marriages entered into independently by the parties involved in that country, whereas in franco-belgia it seems that parents were much more involved in arranging their children’s marriages;

- property was held independently by husbands and wives in england (what property a woman brought to her marriage remained hers, although husbands usually managed those properties), while in franco-belgia the property was shared, communally, between husband and wife;

- primogeniture was the rule of the day in england, while all the kids (or all the sons anyway) inherited in franco-belgia.

the last three points are really interesting because those are the same ones made by emmanuel todd in The Explanation of Ideology, only he was referring to more modern times in england and france (1500-1900). it seems, however, that todd’s family types, and their characteristics, for these two nations — absolute nuclear family in england and egalitarian nuclear family in france — go right back to at least the 1300-1400s.

another, possibly minor, point to note — maybe it’s not important at all, or maybe it will turn out to be later — is that donahue’s “franco-belgia” seems to be more or less where early medieval austrasia was — and austrasia is significant because, according to mitterauer, that’s where manorialism got started in europe.

here are some bits from donahue:

pg. 604: “It is a characteristic, then, of English marital property patterns that husband and wife hold their property separately and of English inheritance patterns at all levels of society that one child takes his parents’ property to the exclusion of his siblings. In the Franco-Belgian regions, on the other hand, the tendency is to community property between the spouses and to partible inheritance among children….

“The Franco-Belgians, we might argue, were more concerned with their children’s marriages than were the English because under most Franco-Belgian inheritance customs, all of their children stood to inherit their property. In England, only the marriage of the heir needed to be arranged, whereas in the Franco-Belgian region the marriages of all children needed to be arranged because almost all children were heirs. Hence, we see more litigation in the Franco-Belgian region about marriage contracts because they were more common. We also see more concern with informal marriages — punishing them with automatic excommunication — but fewer informal marriages, in fact because more marriages were arranged….”

what a selection pressure!: “English inheritance patterns at all levels of society that one child takes his parents’ property to the exclusion of his siblings.” and going right back to at least the 1300s in england.

pgs. 609-610: “What we need, then, is some overarching explanation on which both the marriage practices and the property rules can be seen as dependent. The overarching explanation that I offer is both complicated and fuzzy, but it seems right now to be the most plausible: The difference we are trying to explain is a small one heightened by the litigation pattern. Many Franco-Belgian marriages were probably indistinguishable from many English ones. But the difference that produced the difference in results, I would like to suggest, is fundamental, in the sense that it goes to the very core of how people understood themselves. The legal difference are dependent on it. However strong the sense of family and of community was in England, it was weaker than it was in the Franco-Belgian region. The English, with their separate ownership system of marital property, with their winner-take-all inheritance system, with their abundant evidence of do-it-yourself marriages, with their strict attitude toward judicial separation, but with their apparent do-it-yourself system of separation, are, for the Middle Ages, an unusually individualistic people. The Franco-Belgians, with their community property, with their shared inheritance system, with their carefully planned marriages, their reluctance to hold that a marriage, particularly an informal marriage, existed, with their system of judicial separation that brought more cases before the courts but judged them by broader standards, are more communitarian. We are dealing here, we might suggest, with a cultural phenomenon that developed independently over the course of centuries and of which both the property system and the marriage cases are an expression.

i would, of course, say we are dealing here with a biological phenomenon. (~_^) i might be willing to go so far as to say a bio-cultural one, though.

“Like the property argument offered previously, this argument needs to be spelled out and qualified. The individualism of the separate ownership system of English marital property has to be qualified by the great power of the husband to manage his wife’s property while the marriage lasted and by the expectancy that each spouse had in the other’s land. The individualism of the English impartible inheritance system has to be qualified by the fact that the present holder of landed wealth had responsibilities to past and future generations in the management of that wealth, responsibilities that could, in some circumstance, be legally enforced. The evidence of English do-it-yourself marriage comes largely from court cases, and it may be that a disproportionate number of do-it-yourself marriages ended up in court. Despite these qualifications, however, and despite the fact that great variations could be achieved in the property system by private action, the core systems, the default systems, of succession and marital property in England seem to focus much more on the individual property holder than do the core or default systems reflected in the *coutumiers*. The fact that the default system of succession in England concentrated wealth in the hands of one person meant that in many families, the children who did not inherit were left to seek their fortunes, to a greater or lesser extent, on their own. Similarly, however aberrant the do-it-yourself marriages that we see in the English church court records may be, the records of all those *de presenti* informal marriages are there, and there are few, if any, like them in the Franco-Belgian regime. Similarly, there are many more records of judicial separation in the Franco-Belgian region than there are in England.

“The communitarianism of the Franco-Belgian marital property system also has to be qualified by the great power of the husband to manage the community while the marriage lasted. The communitarianism of the Franco-Belgian inheritance system needs to be qualified by the power of the current property holder in many of the customs to prefer one child over another by endowment or testament or both. The evidence of arranged marriages in the church court records needs to be qualified by the fact that many of the *de futuro* marriages in the Franco-Belgian records seem to be informal and made without much concern for family consent (consider, for example, Tanneur et Doulsot). Despite these qualifications, however, the core or default system of property in the Franco-Belgian region remains more communitarian than the English. One simply does not find many, if any, English wives seeking separation from their husbands for incurring obligations *ipsa inscia et absque eius [uxoris] proficuo*. The basic principle of inheritance remains *egalite entre heritiers*. The canonic system of marriage is modified, at every turn it would seem, so that concerns other than those of the marriage partners are considered.

“The distinction between individualism and communitarianism that we are seeking to make does not correspond exactly to the traditional distinctions in family types — joint versus stem, horizontal versus vertical, kin group versus lineage, extended versus nuclear — nor does it necessarily tell us much about authority within the family. Obviously, concern for the individual is more likely in situations where family ties are less extended and where authority within the family is weak. Too much depends, however, on the strength of the kinship ties and how the authority is exercised for there to be an exact correspondence between our dichotomy and any of the broader types of family or of authority….

“Can we go any further? Can we offer an explanation for why the English might be more individualistic than the Franco-Belgians, the Franco-Belgians more communitarian than the English? In a previous essay, in attempting to explain why the Franco-Belgians developed community property and the English did not, I suggested that after one took into account the technical legal explanations for the differences between the two regions and explanations based on the differences in the relative power and interests of lords and families, there remained an unexplained residue of variance that could only be accounted for by what I called the ‘anthropological’ explanation, a difference in attitudes toward the family, reflecting, perhaps, an historical difference in family type or structure. This difference in attitude was independent of any economic differences, for the two regions were remarkably similar economically, particularly in the thirteenth century when the difference in marital property systems seems to have emerged.”

hmmmm. what might the underlying reason for this “anthropological” difference between the individualistic english and the more communitarian franco-belgians be? my guess, of course, would be some sort of difference in mating patterns, but i haven’t come up with a whole lot of data for the medieval french yet (i’ll have to get to work on that!), so … can’t say much of anything about that possibility just now.

one social or economic difference between medieval england and the continent that mitterauer pointed out is that banal lordship did not develop in england whereas it did everywhere else in nw europe. this, i think, might have had a signficant impact on the genetic structure of both societies (england vs. everyone else in nw europe on the continent) because the banal lords controlled their subjects so much more directly — including, possibly, their mating opportunities. from mitterauer [pgs. 41, 45, & 56]:

“Most important among these transformational processes was the growth of the ‘immunities’ of ‘banal lordship’ (Bannherrschaft, seigneurie banale) that began in the tenth century. This primiarlity involved the manorial estates of the nobility…. Banal lordships of the nobility could practice jurisdictional and other rights of authority related to dues and services — including rights over subject on ecclesiastical estates….

“On one point, however, the English manorial system diverged from the continental one: banal lordship did not take hold in England….

“With the rise of banal lordship in the tenth century, these buildings [housing knights and their horses and equipment] were frequently converted to fortresses, so that they took on the particularly striking appearance of a seat of lordship. The numerous seats of noble and ecclesiastical lords demonstrated how decentralized the organization of lordship was — a pattern without counterpart in the formation of empires outside Europe. The decentralized organization of lordship contributed in turn to a certain autonomous heft shared by the peripheral regions over against the center. This would promote federalist tendencies in the later history of Europe.”

i have to admit that i don’t fully understand this banal lordship business. from what i gather, they seem to have been a middle order of lords (sort-of feudal middle managers) having power/control over a rather local population. if that’s correct, then it’s very interesting that there weren’t really banal lords in england, because that might mean that the english were that much freer to move about or to marry whomever they wanted, which seems to have been the case. if you have a system with local lords controlling what goes on in relatively small areas, then they might very well want to keep the local laborers on the land and not let them marry out very far — we actually have an example of this from the manors of eighteenth century poland.

if this is at all correct, perhaps this can (partly) account for the differences between england and franco-belgia that donahue picked up on. if franco-belgia had banal lords that restricted the population’s mating patterns and england did not — well maybe that’s part of the “anthropological” explanation donahue is looking for for why the medieval english were so individualistic while the franco-belgians were more communal and “clannish” (or “extended family-ish”).

dunno. just thinking aloud.

previously: “l’explication de l’idéologie” and traditional family systems in medieval britain and ireland and medieval manoralism and the hajnal line

(note: comments do not require an email. bipedalism – not just for humans anymore.)

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