Grandparents in Urban and Rural Lower Languedoc at the End of the Middle Ages
By Lucie Laumonier
Journal of Family History, Vol.41:2 (2016)
Abstract: This article analyzes the role and place of grandparents in their kinship groups in Lower Languedoc at the end of the Middle Ages. Based on the notarial documentation (wills, marriage, and donation contracts), the research demonstrates that, although rare in the archives, grandparents were objects of concern—especially if women—but could also take an active part in the administration of estates and families, particularly after the death of their own children. Some authoritative figures stand out from the documentation, whose stories shed light on the daily life of the medieval Languedocian families at times of personal difficulties.
Introduction: It was not uncommon at the end of the Middle Ages to live up to sixty or seventy years, to know one’s grandchildren and be a part of their lives. Outside of the British Isles, little research has been done on the role and place of grandparents in their kinship groups. For medieval France, especially for the Mediterranean area, although the elderly have received attention from historians through their representations in literature and narrative sources, studies were seldom based on documents of practice.
In a recent article, I demonstrated how the elderly were able to find their place in society, to enter a household when deprived of a kinship group, to negotiate care and attention when needed, even if some aging persons suffered from poverty, isolation, and from the loss of valued active social status. That research, however, did not seek to investigate the specificities of grand-parenthood and put aside that aspect of the elderly’s identity.
The present article aims to address that lack, by analyzing the place and role of grandparents in their families in Lower Languedoc, and more specifically in the diocese of Maguelone, of whichMontpellier was the main city, from the early fourteenth century to the late fifteenth century. Villages and small towns of the diocese were located close to the Mediterranean Sea and the lagoons(Perols, Lattes, Vic-la-Gardiole), in the plains and vicinity of Montpellier (Saint-Georges-d’Orques,Pignan, les Matelles), or in the direction of the foothills of the C´evennes (Saint-Martin-de-Londres, Ganges).