“Et vedoando sia donna et madonna”: Guardianship and Remarriage in Sixteenth-Century Venice
By Anna Bellavitis
Less Favored – More Favored: Proceedings from a Conference on Gender in European Legal History, 12th – 19th Centuries, September 2004, edited by Grethe Jacobsen, Helle Vogt, Inger Dübeck, Heide Wunder (Copenhagen, 2005)
Introduction: The Roman law was very clear: widows couldn’t have guardianship of their minor children, because, according to Yan Thomas’ interpretation, the juridical capacity of women was limited to their own person. In fact, in most cases, Roman widows or divorced women kept their children with them, to bring them up and to educate them, but there was always a male guardian, to whom accounts could be asked.
In late medieval Florence, a noble widow was remarried soon after her husband’s death by her family. Widowhood was quite a common experience in this social group, as patrician girls were married at an extremely young age (13 or 14), to much older husbands (30 or even 40 years old). A young widow couldn’t be left alone too long for evident moral reasons, but when she remarried, she had to leave her children to her first husband’s family, as they were the heirs of their father’s blood and fortune. Christiane Klapisch-Zuber has given us a powerful description of these “cruel mothers” who were forced to be “cruel” by their former in-laws. In early modern Florence mothers could be chosen as guardians, if they didn’t remarry. Giulia Calvi studied and described the negotiations between the two families to designate the guardians of young children after their father’s death. According to her, there was a kind of a “moral contract” between the mothers and the State: if they were usually chosen as guardians it was more because they couldn’t inherit from their children, than because this was their “natural” role.