Company, Kinship, and Authority: Competing Claims about Marriage in Colonial Mexico

Sunday, January 8, 2017: 9:00 AM
Mile High Ballroom 4A (Colorado Convention Center)
Jessica L. Delgado, Princeton University
In colonial Mexico, marriage was a contested affair. Men and women understood it as a contractual relationship, and they utilized various courts and authorities to negotiate its terms. Among other things, men complained that their wives refused to live with them and women sought to live apart from their husbands. Though violence motivated many of these petitions, many were cases of women resisting relocation; conflict emerged when a husband wanted to change residences or move to a different town. Frequently this meant a separation from the wife’s family—some instances, literally moving out of a home the couple had shared with relatives, and others, moving to a far away town. Sometimes women asked judges to formally place them in “deposito” in private houses or cloisters, rather than following their husbands. Other times, women simply refused to relocate, or went to live with their families of origin, and the case only came before a judge when the husband petitioned to have her cloistered if she continued to refuse to live with him.

            These cases illustrate a different kind of negotiation of patriarchal authority and the marriage contract than those related to violent conflict.  They point to tension between marital bonds and those of biological kinship and a willingness to use religious and judicial authorities to pursue competing claims; men overwhelmingly expressed the need for their wives’ company, and failing that, their self-evident right to demand that their wives be cloistered rather than live in inappropriate “liberty.”  Women expressed anger and despair at being forced to leave their hometown, family, and community, and presented their proposals to live apart from their husbands as reasonable and legitimate. This paper explores these competing claims about the marital relationship in relation to other family connections, freedom of movement, location, and the limits of patriarchal authority.

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