Licit and Illicit Sexuality in Medieval Iberia: A Survey of Las Siete Partidas
By Shangching Cheng Huitzacua
Master’s Thesis, San Diego State University, 2013
Abstract: This thesis examines Las Siete Partidas, a thirteenth-century Castilian legal code of laws, including on marriage and illicit sexual behaviors. Within the scope of medieval marital studies, there are few academic works focused on medieval Iberia in English. This study on the regulation of licit and illicit sexual conduct will analyze the embedded social expectations and stereotypes placed on both sexes. To establish a working definition of this social construct, a pan-European survey of contemporary theological studies on medieval sexuality and marital theories will place the Castilian law into perspective. This definition will be applied to Las Siete Partidas to establish the congruency of the Castilian laws versus other regions of the Medieval Europe. This thesis finds that licit and illicit sexuality shared a symbiotic relationship, where the licit served as a foundation to formulate the illicit. While the Castilian outlook on marriage and illicit sexuality were similar to practices in western Europe, regional variations could be detected in Castilian jurists’ synthesis of marital dogma and the particular needs of the community. Las Siete Partidas can thus be seen as the product of a vibrant cultural exchange and an interpretation between the clergy and the laity that challenged the stereotypical image of a culturally stagnant Middle Ages.
Introduction: Due to Iberia’s multiethnic population, the medieval Iberian Christian authorities were concerned with the issue of sexuality, which is reflected in their legal codes and literature. The notion of sexuality was shaped by the dominant Christian society’s values with some influence from religious and ethnic groups, such as Jews, Muslims, and Arabs. Evaluating their laws can shed light on how individuals conceived gender and sexuality, since these laws epitomize normative social conduct. An analysis of the thirteenth-century Castilian legal compendium Las Siete Partidas makes it possible to understand the socially and legally accepted sexual behaviors. The objective of this thesis is to examine the correlation between regulations on family and marriage in Las Siete Partidas and the predominant medieval European concept of sexuality by examining the fourth and seventh parts of the Castilian legal code. In addition to Las Siete Partidas, modern scholarship on licit and illicit sexual behaviors is consulted to contextualize that legal code. Given the multiethnic population in medieval Iberia, moreover, a parallelism in Christian, Islamic, and Jewish jurisprudence regarding licit and illicit sexual behaviors is revealed. This thesis is limited to the perspectives of Christian jurists and secular authority on matters of licit and illicit sexuality. Although Islamic and Jewish perspectives on this same issue merit exploring, it is not within the scope of this thesis to delve into further comparative study.