By Force and Fear

By Force and Fear: Taking and Breaking Monastic Vows in Early Modern Europe

Anne Jacobson Schutte
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 304
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    By Force and Fear
    Book Description:

    An unwilling, desperate nun trapped in the cloister, unable to gain release: such is the image that endures today of monastic life in early modern Europe. In By Force and Fear, Anne Jacobson Schutte demonstrates that this and other common stereotypes of involuntary consignment to religious houses-shaped by literary sources such as Manzoni's The Betrothed-are badly off the mark.

    Drawing on records of the Congregation of the Council, held in the Vatican Archive, Schutte examines nearly one thousand petitions for annulment of monastic vows submitted to the Pope and adjudicated by the Council during a 125-year period, from 1668 to 1793. She considers petitions from Roman Catholic regions across Europe and a few from Latin America and finds that, in about half these cases, the congregation reached a decision. Many women and a smaller proportion of men got what they asked for: decrees nullifying their monastic profession and releasing them from religious houses. Schutte also reaches important conclusions about relations between elders and offspring in early modern families. Contrary to the picture historians have painted of increasingly less patriarchal and more egalitarian families, she finds numerous instances of fathers, mothers, and other relatives (including older siblings) employing physical violence and psychological pressure to compel adolescents into "entering religion." Dramatic tales from the archives show that many victims of such violence remained so intimidated that they dared not petition the pope until the agents of force and fear had died, by which time they themselves were middle-aged. Schutte's innovative book will be of great interest to scholars of early modern Europe, especially those who work on religion, the Church, family, and gender.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6317-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Illustrative Materials
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. [Illustrations]
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  7. Chapter 1 Forced Monachization, 1668–1793: An Overview
    (pp. 1-22)

    Sometime in the late 1750s or early 1760s, the Venetian painter Pietro Longhi executed the group portrait on the facing page. It depicts an elite family of six—husband and wife, three daughters, and a son—with two servants. Since Longhi had patrons in Verona, where the painting has apparently always been, the family may have lived in that city.¹ Their identity is unknown, which allows us the liberty to perform a thought experiment.

    The four children in the family portrait are young. The eldest girl may not yet have reached puberty,² and the boy in the female servant’s arms...

  8. Chapter 2 Literary and Historiographical Contexts
    (pp. 23-51)

    Over the past decade, when someone has asked what I was doing research on, I have replied, “Forced monachization.” “Oh, you’re working on nuns,” my interlocutor has invariably responded. “Not only on nuns,” I have retorted. Therein lies one of the arguments I intend to make in this book. To frame it, this chapter traces through imaginative literature and expository prose the long history of the traditional assumption, almost universally held, that only women were coerced into entering monastic life. As I show, a minority view with just as venerable a pedigree—that the lives of men, too, were blighted...

  9. Chapter 3 Elders and Forced Monachization
    (pp. 52-88)

    Having seen how forced monachization was characterized in literary and prescriptive writings, we now turn to the problem in real life. Almost always, close relatives, mainly those in previous generations, served as the primary agents of involuntary monachization. By employing physical and psychological intimidation, they forced adolescent offspring, nephews and nieces, grandchildren, and wards into monastic life without regard for these young people’s unwillingness to enter it. Usually they acted for financial reasons. In many instances, their efforts were seconded or at least not opposed by the victims’ siblings. I open this chapter by introducing the legal doctrine of patria...

  10. Chapter 4 Waging Law in the Congregation of the Council
    (pp. 89-129)

    Judicial sources constitute the main evidentiary base of this book. Since most readers will instinctively think in terms of law in its Anglo-American version, the very different workings of the ecclesiastical court considered here require explanation. The SCC operated on the basis of canon law, which from the twelfth century on followed the principles and practices of Roman civil law. The term processus applies to the entire course of legal proceedings, not just what happened in sessions of the court that adjudicated the case. Because the English translation of that word, “trial,” would convey a misleading impression, I do not...

  11. Chapter 5 Contracts and Fear in Monachization and Marriage
    (pp. 130-158)

    Many young people forced into convents and monasteries would strongly have preferred to remain in “the world” and wed. Some of them—most strikingly, the Savoyard Marianne Williel, whom we will encounter shortly—had already exchanged promises of marriage with their loved ones when shifting parental strategies thwarted their plans. Although cause papers do not record their saying so explicitly, they must have envied full, half, and step siblings selected by their parents for marriage. The pill they had to swallow became even more bitter when a “favored” sibling taunted them. Recall the glee expressed by Francesco Gagnoni, an eldest...

  12. Chapter 6 Witnesses to Forced Monachization
    (pp. 159-186)

    Had involuntary monachization remained a closely held secret, known only to alleged perpetrators and their victims, determining whether or not it had occurred would have been very difficult. Restricted to dealing solely with statements by petitioners and those charged with forcing them into religious life (inevitably of the “he said, she said” variety), the SCC would have had to make either/or judgment calls: that one party was telling the truth and the other was lying. In fact, except in the most fragmentary cases, evidence put before the cardinals came from a broader array of informed parties, whose testimony was gathered...

  13. Chapter 7 Degrees of Separation
    (pp. 187-212)

    If adolescents were willing in the first place to enter monastic life, or rapidly resigned themselves to doing so, placing them in religious houses presented few problems. When they expressed reluctance or outright aversion to doing so, relatives had to employ coercive techniques aimed at reducing them to obedience. These measures were designed to inculcate fear and desperation by demonstrating to the young people selected for monachization that they no longer had a place in the family.

    Almost always, forcers achieved their objective. Progressively alienated from their kin and without further access to financial and emotional support from relatives and...

  14. Chapter 8 War and Coerced Monachization
    (pp. 213-234)

    From 1668 to 1763, the first ninety-five years of our period, armed conflict involving European states was under way most of the time. Even when it was not, troops stationed near potential hot spots stood by in readiness for the next outbreak. Only in 1763, when the Peace of Paris brought the Seven Years’ War to a conclusion, did combat on land and sea come virtually to an end until the 1790s, when the wars of the French Revolution began.¹

    With a few cross-dressing exceptions such as the Basque “nun-lieutenant” Catalina de Erauso (1592–1650),² women did not serve as...

  15. Chapter 9 Continuity and Change in Forced Monachization
    (pp. 235-264)

    As noted earlier (chapter 3), forced monachization in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries requires a primarily synchronic treatment. Let me recapitulate what I have shown. From the 1660s to the early 1790s, parents and other relatives compelled adolescents in their families to enter religious life. Their main reason for doing so, preserving as much of the patrimony as possible to pass on to a single (almost always male) heir, remained the same. So did the means used to accomplish this objective: treating offspring destined for the monastery or convent much more harshly than their siblings selected to remain in...

  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 265-280)
  17. Index
    (pp. 281-286)