On Mirrors

During our discussion of the bourgeois during the French Revolution, the subject of mirrors was brought up in relation to the affluent lifestyle the bourgeois lived. Such an example is Marie Antoinette’s “Hall of Mirrors”, a room housing 587 mirrors alongside decadent tapestries and beautiful chandeliers. The cost of mirrors ranged from several hundred dollars, to several thousand dollars. Because of such a high cost, mirrors were generally accessible to only the wealthiest in Europe. One of the reasons for the excessive bourgeois use of mirrors during the 17th century have been a result of Louis XIV’s 1689 decree that all private silver be confiscated to melt into coins to pay for military campaigns. This mean the wealthy had to give up their jewelry and other decorations. In light of such a loss, it is thought that mirrors became the replacement for such trinkets.  Additionally, mirrors provided additional lighting, and made rooms look bigger.




The Individual in the French Revolution

It is interesting how during the French Revolution divorce was first legalized in France. Additionally, in his article “The Social Revolution in French Revolutionary Families”, Suzanne Desan reminds us that the French Revolution made families into a more political role, and family relationships became more public, rather than intimate. Therefore, during the revolution Desan points out the two transformations which occurred within the family. The first transformation is the decline of “paternal authority” and the second transformation is the rights for “natural children” and divorce rights. What Desan describes in her article is interesting to me, because I begin to see a breakdown of the family in that no longer are people considering the family unit, but rather they are individually considering their own benefit. An example given in the text is of Marie Godfrey who declared that “she could not longer convince herself to sacrifice her liberty and put herself into slavery.” Here we have the obvious divide between the self and the family unit. For it is her personal liberty which is pitted against her role in the family unit as a wife and mother. Such individualism also applied to the inheritance laws. For the laws primogeniture, where the first son was rewarded with a large inheritance were replace with egalitarian inheritance laws, where illegitimate children were given the right to inherit. Such ideas of individual liberty are discussed further by Lynn Hunt in The Family Romance of the French Revolution, where she writes “the rights of every family member and of family relationships were now to be regulated in the interests of liberty and happiness”.


One of the most interesting aspects of Medieval Europe I have noticed is the presence and power gossip holds in Europe. I did some preliminary research on gossip in Europe among the peasantry. One article, written by Chris Wickham entitled “Gossip and Resistance Among the Medieval Peasantry”, examines the Campango vs. Passignano in Italy. The Passignano family was a powerful monarchy, while the Campango family was of the peasant class. The case was over a land dispute, and according to Wickham, all the witnessess called forth were of peasantry class, and were split between the two sides.

In Italy, I found it interesting there witnesses are categorized ; “per visum” is a visual witness, “per aditum” an audio witness, and publica fama is the general knowledge everybody knew. Yet the problem with publica fama is that, though was accepted in the Italian courts as evidence, it was essentially gossip. Wickham demonstrates the danger of trusting gossip, as Campango creates his own “gossip” in order to place the publica fama on his side.

What is interesting, is Wickham notes that “peasant do not speak in any medieval texts” , or if they do “it is not directly”. Therefore the witnesses of others is as close as we can get to hearing and understanding what the peasants were like. One peasant culture which is more known about then others is the one existing in Iceland. This is because in Iceland the peasantry relied on public opinion and gossip to win land disputes. Public narratives from Iceland are therefore more rare then others.

I think it is interesting that the few accounts we may hold of peasantry can be categorized as gossip, thus raising the question, can we ever know truly what the peasantry was like?

Premarital Sex in Early Modern Europe

“Prior to the sixteenth century, marriage had not been the dominant lifestyle for adult men and women, and those who did marry often waited until their mid to late twenties before they were financially able to do so. Given the large numbers of unmarried freemen, clergy, and religious single young adults made up a sizable segment of society…..”

“For the majority of youth in the late medieval and Reformation Europe, premarital sex seems not to have been a great issue of conscience, despite the clergy’s determination to make it such”

– Ozment

I find it interesting that in this 16th century Europe described in Ozment’s book, The Burgermeister’s Daughter, premarital sex was not an uncommon practice. In fact, according to Ozment’s description, the church and moral contingents of the day seemed to struggle as much as modern day with enforcing such moral codes as no sex outside of wedlock. It seems in fact, that it wasn’t until the sixteenth century that “laws regulating proper sexual behavior” were enforced. This is compatible with the information I found in Mary E. Weisner’s book, Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe, where one of the “occupations” for women was “selling sex for money”. Weisner explains how later this exchange was called “prostitution”, and how as Europe moved into the late 15th century, women who prostituted themselves were increasingly alienated from society.  So they would not be mistaken for “honorable” women, women prostitutes were made to wear arm bands or headcoverings in public. There was a switch from selling sex as an economic terms, to seeing it in a moral light, which Weisner indicates was encouraged about by protestanism. She references how Luther detested the word “whore”, and saw it as the lowest insult to throw at his theological opponents. Women during this period could in some cases  expect to be formally punished in court for their prostitution. However, those of a higher status were often not brought to court for their sexual misdeeds. Rather, as Johanna Rickman writes in, Love, Lust License in Early modern England ,  they were sometimes shunned by their social group for their misconduct. Thus it seems that their was a double standard concerning the punishment of sexual misconduct, yet this double standard led to the same end of alienation for those who had participated in sex outside of wedlock. The law was enforced on those of a lower class, yet for those of a higher class, the law was not enforced, yet in a different, and equally shameful way. 

Fairytales in Early Modern Europe.

Reading Liselotte Von der Pfalz’s letters, one small detail I was intrigued by was the intermittent mention of fairytales. Such mention made me curious as to the origin of fairytales in early modern Europe, as well as the role they play in children’s lives. 

Ruth Bottigheimer writes about the role of fairytale in early modern European families in her article. Such tales, she writes, began to circulate throughout Europe in the 1400’s, where the protagonist was usually a prince or a princess “driven from royal hierarchy” and therefore forced to set out on their own. Once such stories however were published by Venetian Gian Francesco Straparola in a collected works entitled “Pleasant Nights” in 1551. Consequentially, renditions of these stories began to appear, re-working the main prince or princess characters, and making them instead poor rich boys and girls of the lower class. Such stories gained popularity in Italy during Renaissance Venice, where they caught the eye of many literary artists. 

   The two main fairytale story writers in Venice Italy during this time were Giambattista Basile and Gian Francesco Straparola. Their fairytales copied the 14th century fairytale writer, Boccaccio, in which the fairytales were told verbally by a troupe of storytellers. 

Bottigheimer devotes another article, “Fertility Control and the Birth of the Modern Fairytale Heroine,” to the roles of women and girls in early European fairytale. In this article, she argues that in during the 1500-1700’s, girls roles in fairytales experienced a major shift from the independent protagonists, to damsels in distress. Such a shift is partly due to how Grimm’s fairy tales were constructed, in which the girl was labeled “bad” and the boy merely “bold” for preforming the same deed. 

When Father’s Ruled

In their article, “The republic of God or the republic of children? Childhood and child-rearing after the Reformation”, authors Jeroen Dekker and Leendert Gorenendijk write,

A common feature of much writing about the history of the family was the notion that Protestantism had played a significant or even decisive role in the establishing of the main traits of the modern family. Protestantism exalted the household above the parish. Aries had already pointed to the fact that in French Protestant circles family piety took the place of public worship. Labelled as the “spiritualisation of the household”, this idea (which was considered as a Protestant invention) was further elaborated by Christopher Hill (1964) and subsequently adopted by Lawrence Stone. Protestantism, patriarchal though it was, strengthened the bond between man and wife and between parents and children. The most fervent defendants of the view that the ruling fathers of Reformation Europe were highly responsible for the `humanising’ of relations within the home was published in 1983 by Steven Ozment.

The role of the church diminished in the family is one I noticed in reading Ozment’s book, “When Father’s Ruled”. For though during the reformation period there was “shared responsibility” (page 51) between the husband and the wife, the husband alone was the “master of his house” (page 51). Though great “social pressure” was put on the husband not to abuse such a position, there was no external religious institution to enforce good behavior.


Thus the father, derived his authority from God (153) to rule over his children. I find this a disturbing model. For, if the hiearchy of a household is God  → Father → Wife → Children, then the father is closest to God. As the closest to God and the master of his house, his word is final. Therefore, if he says “God told me to do this” – who is to argue with him? Without an external religious authority, the Father is given complete control over not only his own actions, but how God is represented in his family. For it is the husband, who is closest to God, who is telling the family what God wants them to do.


On the subject of Divorced Children

Our conversation in class regarding the effects on divorce among children got me pondering on the subject, and delving into further research. Before I present my findings, let me first clarify that though I found this information regarding the effects on divorce among female children interesting, as a rule I like to stay away from generalizations. I have never found it helpful to say “x group is x”, because that is treating individual humans as a entity – rather than individuals, and I believe that for every “group” of people you find, a personal story.

According to Verna Keith and Barbara Finlay’s article, The Impact of Parental Divorce on Children’s Educational Attainment, Marital Timing, and Likelihood of Divorce, research suggests that children of divorced parents are less likely to be successful in their marital lives.  Research also suggests that education attainment is lower in the children of divorced parents, children of divorced parents will marry younger, their  chances of getting married shorter, and their probability for divorce higher.

A similar article examining the effects of divorce on children in Britain and the U.S. was researched and written  in the American Association for Advancement of Science. The article stated that 40% of todays modern children will be subject to divorced parents. The article recorded how in both Britain and the U.S., children whose parents had divorced before they turned 11 displayed serious behavior problems. However an interesting difference is that this statistic was not applied to girls, whose behavior remained the same regardless of whether they came from divorced homes or not.

In “How to Do It”, we learned that Catholic families in the Renaissance attempted to teach their children how to act according to how they themselves acted. For, in bringing their children up, they must themselves set an example by being “reverent mothers and fathers” (page 158, How to Do It) Parents during the Renaissance who held to such belief therefore might respond to these studies saying, “of course children of divorced parents are more inclined to have marital problems themselves! They learned from their parents”.

But that is merely what (I am guessing) would be a Renaissance family’s take on it. I myself would like to withhold judgement until I have evaluated every cased of every child from a divorce family. Until one does that, generalizations of how children from divorced families are effected are just – generalizations that perhaps do not take into account individual stories, such as some of the individual stories we heard in class on Wed.