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.
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.
Herlihy’s work will undoubtedly form a centerpoint for subsequent debate on the development of the medieval household. There is much to ponder here… Provocative…unearthing a rich vein of narrative and other material, it commands the attention of all historians interested in the early European family.
Here is a happy marriage: a preeminent historian tackling the thorniest of problems, household and family in medieval Europe. The result is altogether felicitous, a rich, detailed, well-written, and fascinating book of extraordinary range, one designed for students and general readers that will also be invaluable to specialists.
Herlihy’s excellent work makes accessible persuasive counterarguments against the theory that affection for children developed only recently. Herlihy…demonstrates how modern society moved toward its definition of ‘family’ and shows its emergence in the medieval period. He uses scattered and diverse source material to trace the development of the family from Roman times to the medieval development of common expectations of family life applicable to all classes. The sources, ranging from well-known classical and medieval writers such as Aristotle, Tacitus, Aquinas, and Augustine to monastic archives, sermons, lives of saints, and civil archives, provide models and reflections of family life, including the church’s use of scripture to establish marital and family standards applicable to ruler and serf alike… Herlihy helps overcome the negative stereotype of the medieval family by showing how present-day standards for family life emerged in that earlier time. This book will become the standard source for family history in cultural context. In spite of its erudition, it is accessible to undergraduates… [A] fascinating, readable, and scholarly work.
Written in a clear and vigorous prose, Herlihy’s history of the European family and his compelling explanation for the emergence of our very concept of the family should become starting points for any further discussions of this much discussed topic.
- 272 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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