Competing Models of Marriage in Quattrocento Florence
By Genevieve Landis
Istoria: An Online Graduate History Journal, Vol.1:1 (2008)
Introduction: On August 24, 1447, Alessandra Strozzi wrote to her son about his sister’s new husband, Marco Parenti. “He is a young man of good birth and abilities and an only son, rich and twenty-five years of age, and he has a silk manufacturing business.” Although the union was a step down for a Strozzi woman, Alessandra stressed Marco’s wealth and social status as an only son, and also mentioned that the Parenti “take a small part in the government.” She quickly moved on to discuss the dowry, “because he who marries is looking for cash.” Alessandra’s outlook toward her daughter’s marriage focused on status and money, very different concerns from those promoted by the Catholic Church’s view of marriage.
In the early fifteenth-century, two models of marriage dominated Florence. The first was religious, consolidated by the Catholic Church in the twelfth-century and widely recognized throughout Europe by the fifteenth. This formulation stressed marriage as a sacrament, and relied on both male and female consent to determine validity. The second model, the socioeconomic, was especially influential among Florentine elites. Unlike the religious view, the socioeconomic model saw marriage as necessary for building alliances between families and highlighted the social and economic benefits of the union, including social status and the dowry.
The civic humanists of the early fifteenth-century proposed a third model, which sought both to correct perceived problems in the earlier models and to fashion a definition of marriage that would strengthen the patriarchy. Critically, the humanist model sought to strengthen the republican government by stressing female dependence on males and further removing women from the public sphere. In doing so humanists aimed to reinforce their republican government, which depended on the bonds between men. Whereas in a monarchy women had a more clearly defined role as the mothers of princes, female power was often limited to the royal family. In a republic, each wife could claim authority as mother to the next generation of citizens, potentially creating a large class of powerful women. It was in republics, then, that civic humanists were most concerned to define women’s roles as completely separate from the public sphere. In order to examine the new model promoted by early fifteenth-century humanists, this article will first describe the religious and socioeconomic views of marriage before discussing the humanist model. The final section will then demonstrate both how the humanist model differed and why the humanists believed Florentines needed a new model for marriage.