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Bigamy and Christian Identity in Late Medieval Champagne

Bigamy and Christian Identity in Late Medieval Champagne

Sara McDougall
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Bigamy and Christian Identity in Late Medieval Champagne
    Book Description:

    The institution of marriage is commonly thought to have fallen into crisis in late medieval northern France. While prior scholarship has identified the pervasiveness of clandestine marriage as the cause, Sara McDougall contends that the pressure came overwhelmingly from the prevalence of remarriage in violation of the Christian ban on divorce, a practice we might call "bigamy." Throughout the fifteenth century in Christian Europe, husbands and wives married to absent or distant spouses found new spouses to wed. In the church courts of northern France, many of the individuals so married were criminally prosecuted. In Bigamy and Christian Identity in Late Medieval Champagne, McDougall traces the history of this conflict in the diocese of Troyes and places it in the larger context of Christian theology and culture. Multiple marriage was both inevitable and repugnant in a Christian world that forbade divorce and associated bigamy with the unchristian practices of Islam or Judaism. The prevalence of bigamy might seem to suggest a failure of Christianization in late medieval northern France, but careful study of the sources shows otherwise: Clergy and laity alike valued marriage highly. Indeed, some members of the laity placed such a high value on the institution that they were willing to risk criminal punishment by entering into illegal remarriage. The risk was great: the Bishop of Troyes's judicial court prosecuted bigamy with unprecedented severity, although this prosecution broke down along gender lines. The court treated male bigamy, and only male bigamy, as a grave crime, while female bigamy was almost completely excluded from harsh punishment. As this suggests, the Church was primarily concerned with imposing a high standard on men as heads of Christian households, responsible for their own behavior and also that of their wives.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0654-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    In the course of the final three centuries of the thousand-year period known as the European Middle Ages, between the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and the early decades of the sixteenth century, the Christian institution of marriage became at the same time an object of veneration and a source of deep concern. On the one hand, marriage became widely and intensely valued. Men and women at all levels of the social hierarchy married, and these marriages were treated as entrance into a respectable and pious stratum of society, sometimes referred to as the “order of matrimony,” or the order of...

  4. CHAPTER 1 Marriage and Remarriage in the Later Middle Ages: Law, Theology, and Culture
    (pp. 9-48)

    The fifteenth-century registers of the Bishop of Troyes’s judicial court tell a strange story.¹ Amid the destruction and chaos of the Hundred Years’ War, in the Champagne region of northeastern France people were marrying more often than the law permitted. More curious still, in the course of concerted efforts to restore order in the diocese, the bishop’s judicial court investigated and prosecuted many of these oft-married men and women, detaining them in the bishop’s prison in the course of an investigation and fining the largest number of offenders. Those found to have willfully violated the law in their mode of...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Bigamous Husbands
    (pp. 49-70)

    Between 1423 and 1468, the officiality of Troyes convicted twenty men including one Franciscan friar for the crime of willfully marrying “de facto, cum de jure non posset”; in fact only, as not legally permissible. Who were these men, and why did the court in Troyes prosecute them? The second half of that question is a more appropriate topic for Chapter 5, “Why Prosecute Bigamy?” In this chapter we will seek out what information we can gather about who these men were, what common identity, if any, they shared, and what about them as a group led to their denunciation,...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Abandoned Wives
    (pp. 71-94)

    In 1448, the official of Troyes found that Perrette, the wife of Jean “le Gros” Jehan, had remarried “de facto” despite knowing her husband still lived.¹ For this crime Perrette was sentenced to one year in prison. She was the only woman, out of all the thirty-three women investigated on suspicion of bigamy, whom the Troyes officiality so punished. Meanwhile, her husband Jean, who had also bigamously remarried, was sentenced to an even harsher punishment. Jean was sentenced to both imprisonment and public punishment on the ladder of the scaffold. What can explain this difference in punishment? Why imprison only...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Why Commit Bigamy?
    (pp. 95-112)

    Men and women alike committed bigamy in late medieval Troyes. Whether abandoned or abandoning, separated by circumstance or design, by mutual consent or a unilateral desertion, men and women who found themselves at some distance from their spouses found new spouses to marry. Subsequently, at least some of these men and women found themselves at odds with ecclesiastical courts. The scattered surviving court registers include records of these proceedings for modern scholars to puzzle over, and scholars have identified and analyzed bigamy cases found across medieval Europe.¹ However, none of these scholars offer much by way of explanation of why...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Why Prosecute Bigamy?
    (pp. 113-134)

    In September 1448 the officiality of Troyes condemned two men to the same punishments: public exposure on the ladder of a scaffold in front of the cathedral one Sunday and six months’ confinement in the bishop’s prison.¹ The first man, a Dominican friar, had been convicted of brigandage. He had taken up arms in the Hundred Years’ War and in so doing took part in more pillaging, murdering, and stealing than fighting of pitched battles. Such behavior, even if restricted to the field of battle, was an egregious violation of his clerical status, which prohibited both carrying weapons and shedding...

  9. Conclusion: Christian Identity at the End of the Middle Ages
    (pp. 135-142)

    Some thirty years ago Natalie Davis first enthralled the world with the story of Martin Guerre; his abandoned wife, Bertrande de Rols; the impostor Arnaud du Tilh, who assumed Martin’s identity; and the great Protestant jurist Jean de Coras, who judged the case. For Davis, the story brought to life the central issue of identity in early modern France. The imposture attempted by a man like du Tilh, Davis argued, violated a deeply held belief in the importance of identity, which was intimately bound up with personal status and honor.¹

    There is no gainsaying the brilliance of Davis’s work on...

    (pp. 143-152)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 153-188)
    (pp. 189-210)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 211-214)
    (pp. 215-216)