Marriage Matters: The Politics of Marriage in Western Culture, Part 1: Marriage, Community, and Law in Pre-Modern Europe

AHA Session 131
Saturday, January 4, 2014: 9:00 AM-11:00 AM
Maryland Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Martha C. Howell, Columbia University
Sarah Hanley, University of Iowa
Shannon McSheffrey, Concordia University (Montreal)
Philip Reynolds, Emory University

Session Abstract

During the central Middle Ages, Christian theologians came to regard marriage as both a temporal contract to be regulated by civil law and a spiritual sacrament to be regulated by divine law, thus providing the basis for Catholic regulation of marital life in later centuries. From the late medieval period civic officials took this conception to more radical ends, arguing that secular governors had a sacred duty to govern marriage because they were charged to produce the properly ordered earthly community. In early modern France, the relationship between marriage law and the state was more complex, for French marriage law evolved through a process that that began with citizens themselves and the courts where they litigated. This “marital law compact” explicitly expressed French culture --- and the French nation – but was not imposed by the state; it was the joint creation of the citizenry, its lawyers, and its rulers. Scholars in this session will describe these developments and discuss their implications for the history of marriage and the state in western culture.