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Medieval Households

Medieval Households

David Herlihy

ISBN 9780674038608

Publication date: 07/01/2009

How should the medieval family be characterized? Who formed the household and what were the ties of kinship, law, and affection that bound the members together? David Herlihy explores these questions from ancient Greece to the households of fifteenth-century Tuscany, to provide a broad new interpretation of family life. In a series of bold hypotheses, he presents his ideas about the emergence of a distinctive medieval household and its transformation over a thousand years.

Ancient societies lacked the concept of the family as a moral unit and displayed an extraordinary variety of living arrangements, from the huge palaces of the rich to the hovels of the slaves. Not until the seventh and eighth centuries did families take on a more standard form as a result of the congruence of material circumstances, ideological pressures, and the force of cultural norms. By the eleventh century, families had acquired a characteristic kinship organization first visible among elites and then spreading to other classes. From an indifferent network of descent through either male or female lines evolved the new concept of patrilineage, or descent and inheritance through the male line. For the first time a clear set of emotional ties linked family members.

It is the author’s singular contribution to show how, as they evolved from their heritages of either barbarian society or classical antiquity, medieval households developed commensurable forms, distinctive ties of kindred, and a tighter moral and emotional unity to produce the family as we know it. Herlihy’s range of sources is prodigious: ancient Roman and Greek authors, Aquinas, Augustine, archives of monasteries, sermons of saints, civil and canon law, inquisitorial records, civil registers, charters, censuses and surveys, wills, marriage certificates, birth records, and more. This well-written book will be the starting point for all future studies of medieval domestic life.

Praise

  • Immensely stimulating…[this book] contains a vast amount of original scholarship. Herlihy has a rare talent for incorporating lively narrative evidence into the context suggested by quantifiable data and writing about it with grace and verve… This book will provide the analytical framework against which all subsequent regional studies will be tested.

    —David Nicholas, American Historical Review

Author

  • David Herlihy (d. 1991) was Barnaby Conrad and Mary Critchfield Keeney Professor and Professor of History at Brown University.

Book Details

  • Harvard University Press

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