Widowhood in Early Modern Spain

Protectors, Proprietors, and Patrons


Based on clerical ideals of female comportment and Golden Age playwrights’ fixation on questions of honor, modern scholarship, whether historical or literary, has viewed women as subjects and objects of patriarchal control. This study analyzes tensions and contradictions produced by the interplay of patriarchal norms and the realities of widows’ daily lives to demonstrate that in Castile patriarchy did not exist as a monolithic force, which rigidly enforced an ideology of female incapacity. The extensive analysis of archival documents shows widows actively engaged in their families and communities, confounding images of their reclusion and silence. Widows’ autonomy and authority were desirable attributes that did not collide with the demands of a society that recognized the contingent nature of patriarchal norms.
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Biographical Note

Stephanie Fink De Backer, Ph.D. (2003) in History, University of Arizona, is an assistant professor at Arizona State University. Her interdisciplinary research and publications consider women, family, and gender in the early modern Habsburg Empire.

Table of contents

Acknowledgments ...vii
Genealogy Charts ...xi

Introduction ...1

Part I: Widows And The Literary Imagination
1. Subjects of Counsel ...17
2. Objects of Desire ...41
3. Sex in the City ...88

Part II: “To Her Alone Pertains the Governance of All Her House”
4. Master and Mistress of the Household ...111
5. Father and Mother of their Children ...148
6. A Widow’s Work is Never Done...185

Part III: Worthy Recipients and Pious Donors
7. Widowhood, Poverty, and Charity ...223
8. Family, Memory, and the Sacralization of Urban Space ...257

Coda. The Strange Case of a Wicked and Cruel Woman ...291

Bibliography ...301
Index ...315


Those interested in social, cultural, and economic aspects of early modern European history, particularly Spain and the Habsburg Empire, women's and gender studies, Golden Age Spanish literature, and family history.


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