Marital Affection and Expectations in a 14th-Century Parisian Court–By Kristi DiClemente

On July 31, 1386 the Archdeacon’s Court of Paris legally separated the marriage of Jean and Jeanne Trubert.[1] The separation was “quo ad bona, salvo jure thori,” [“as far as goods, saving the right of bed”] a separation of goods, not of bed, which meant that the physical household was split, i.e. the goods, but the spiritual household was not, meaning that neither part could remarry, nor could they refuse the conjugal debt.[2] The reason for this separation, according to the court scribe, was “because it is evident that enmity [“inimicitias”], rancor [“rancores”], and hatred [“odia”] had arisen between them, and in order that nothing worse occur in the marriage.”[3] This entry was not the first, nor would it be the last time this couple appeared in court. From September 29, 1385 until their last appearance on April 26, 1387 Jeanne and Jean appeared in court on five separate occasions.[4] Jeanne Trubart’s suit against her husband is an exemplar for the other separation litigation within the register, and contains most of the elements found within the other cases. Through a more detailed examination of this case in conjunction with other separation cases from the archdeacon’s court between 1384 and 1387, I argue that the women in fourteenth-century Paris expected affection, or at least a lack of hatred, within their marriages. Examining the separations within the court system presents an image of individual expectations of marriage, but the comparison to normative narrative sources—in this case, saints lives such as the vita of Saint Godelieve (Godelina) of Gistel—places these ideas in their cultural context.

Separation cases in particular provide evidence of marital expectations by presenting the complaints of the parties involved, and the opinions of the court in their final decisions. The separation cases in the present study are from the Archdeacon’s court of Paris from 1384-1387.[5] The medieval Church controlled marriage disputes by the fourteenth century, and in Parisian marriage cases, separations as well as contract disputes were heard in this court. Through an examination of the notary’s use of emotion words, an emotional community—Barbara Rosenwein defines this as a system of feelings within a social community—emerges, one that indicates an expectation of good treatment and affection within marriages.[6]

The Trubert Case
Jeanne Trubert initially brought Jean to court on September 29, 1385; unfortunately, this entry presents little pertinent information about the details of the case, merely that they showed up and Jeanne paid the 8d. fee.[7] The couple does not appear in the records again for seven and a half months, and it is unclear whether they did not come to court during that time or they were simply not recorded; Charles Donahue suggests that due to the high volume of cases within the Parisian Archdeacon’s court the notary did not record every appearance.[8] It is not until their second appearance in the register on May 11, 1386 that the notary recorded pertinent information about the couple: Jeanne claimed that she wanted a separation from Jean because he was cruel, and had squandered their communal goods. Although Jean did not disagree with his wife’s accusations, he claimed that Jeanne was bitter and disobedient to him, perhaps citing this as an excuse for his mistreatment of her.[9] The court attempted a reconciliation and ordered “under penalty of excommunication and a fine of 100 livres” that “the husband must neither beat nor mistreat his wife, and he may not alienate the communal goods without the preapproval of his wife.”[10] The proviso for all of this was that Jeanne must be obedient to her husband under similar penalty of excommunication and a fine.[11]

In addition to the attempted reconciliation, here the notary also presented Jeanne’s reasons for bringing the suit: the cruelty of her husband. The courts did not define what actions constituted saevitia, [“cruelty”] but the possibility of physical violence reared its head in the prohibition at the end of the case where the husband could not “dictam uxorem suam verberet aut maletractet” [“beat or mistreat his previously mentioned wife”].[12] The court’s later addition of verberare [“beating”] in the prohibition indicates that excessive physical violence could be subsumed into the category of cruelty, but domestic violence itself was not an actionable offence in canon law.[13] In fact, clear physical abuse is not part of any initial separation complaints, and it is used in the court’s reason for a separation in only one case.[14] In addition, cruelty could also include neglect of physical needs; for example, denial of food or even excessive insults and verbal abuse. Although a certain level of violence was not only common but expected within medieval marriages, the courts took excessive violence seriously in their rulings, which I will discuss further below. In addition to interpersonal issues, Jeanne was also concerned about her financial future, and felt that it was her husband’s duty to see to that future, rather than squandering their goods.

Judging by the majority of cases contained within the register, the court’s initial attempt to reconcile the Truberts’ marriage should have been the end of the litigation; however, in this case the couple returned three more times in the next year. At their next appearance on July 27, 1386, Jeanne wanted a separation “propter infirmitatem mulieris” [“because of the woman’s illness/weakness”], but the notary did not go on to describe this illness, nor did the court use this reason in the separation decision that occurred four days later.[15] By the time of their separation on July 31, the problems in the Truberts’ relationship had gotten more serious. The couple agreed to share out the common goods between them, and hold nothing back from the reckoning. [16] This separation of goods allowed the couple to legally live apart, but still required the conjugal debt should either party request it. According to Charles Donahue, this type of separation was particular to the courts in Paris, as he did not see instances of this in the courts of Ely or York.[17] Donahue found that this type of separation case was highly successful for the plaintiff, with the court granting 64% of the separations of goods it heard.[18] The majority of separation cases in the archidiaconal court of Paris fell into this category.

Unlike in most cases, the court’s ruling did not end the Truberts’ marital disputes, and they returned for a final appearance roughly nine months later, on April 26, 1387. It is clear from the records that the separation of goods had not gone as planned:

Regarding Jeanne, the separated (of goods) wife of Jean Trubert, plaintiff, against her previously mentioned husband. The plaintiff proposed that the said husband had not given the property to her and owed her part of the communal goods, and that he held back and concealed certain goods. The previously mentioned defendant said that he had divided the goods between them and gave to his wife her portion, and there were some things that still had to be divided, from which he was prepared to give the share to the self-same wife. [19]

This final complaint is financial in nature and illustrates that although Jeanne and Jean no longer had to live together, they were still having marital issues. In this case, Jeanne accused Jean of theft of communal property, the division of which had been ordered in the separation decree. The accusation was not purely monetary, however, as we also discover that Jeanne had not been providing Jean with the conjugal debt, and in order to receive her apportioned part of the property, she must “obey the said husband and furnish the conjugal debt, under the previously mentioned penalty,” which was excommunication and fifteen livres.[20] The husband was forced to pay the 12 deniers court fee for this appearance. The Trubert’s separation case presents a story of a marriage torn apart because of hatred and enmity; in a more dramatic way, the marriage of St. Godelieve illustrates the damage these emotions can do, ending in the tragic death of the saint.

St. Godelieve of Gistel: A Reverse Model for Marriage
The vita of Saint Godelieve of Gistel—the patron saint of difficult marriages—illustrates in narrative form the marital expectations found within the court cases. With kind and affectionate words and the promise of a more loving marriage, Godelieve’s husband, Bertolf, convinced her to follow the men he had hired to murder her. He expressed a sadness for his harsh words and the many months of physical and mental abuse that he and his mother perpetrated. In this way, Bertolf showed Godelieve that he could be the kind husband she desired. Bertolf’s persuasive monologue presents an image of an ideal marriage that many modern Americans would recognize as an emotionally fulfilling union: he promised “to cherish [her] as a dear wife.”[21] In a comparison of Saint Godelieve’s life with the Parisian separation cases one can see a pattern of expectation: in the case of Godelieve, Bertolf reflected her desire for a loving and affectionate marriage in his final monologue. As for the women of Paris, their expectations appear in the court cases where they complained of the bad feelings within their marriages. In both the vita and in the court cases, hatred and enmity within a marriage were enough to cause its failure.

Hagiography can often be a problematic genre for medieval historians, and for many reasons we often avoid these sources. Saints’ lives have serious flaws for the historian, not the least of which is the fact that they are formulaic, and in most cases draw on the tropes of earlier lives: both miracles and life events. Emma Campbell in her examination of Old French hagiography states, “saints’ lives rely on subject matter and narrative structures that are unapologetically predictable, formulaic and antique.”[22] This formulaic nature gives historians pause about the veracity and usefulness of sources in this genre.

Even considering all of these objections, hagiography can be a useful source for historians if we look at them not as biographies, but rather as litmus tests of what cultural aspects were important to the society in which they were recorded or repeated. George Duby, in his examination of the lives of Saint Ida of Bolougne and Saint Godelieve, states that,

if one takes these writings [vitae] for what they are, that is to say, some of the most polished weapons of an ideological struggle, then they prove to be very instructive. They show how the memory of an actual experience is manipulated for the purposes of a particular cause, how it is dislocated, revived to secure indoctrination.[23]

Thus through the use of hagiography, Duby was able to examine how the Church viewed the role of marriage in a Christian context. In a similar way, I will examine the life of Saint Godelieve of Giselle not with the intention of proving that she was holy or that her miracles were, indeed, miraculous, but rather to show that the Church had a specific view of what marriage should be. Saints were “models for personal conduct” and important figures in the lives of many medieval people.[24] Saint Godelieve’s vita illustrates the opposite of an ideal Christian marriage in the late Middle Ages, and from this we can infer, at least in part, what religious authors expected of husbands and wives. It is clear from the focus on Bertolf’s hatred of Godelieve, as well as his monologue to convince her to follow her murderers, that wives were concerned with excessive hatred within their marriages. Saint Godelieve’s complaints in her marriage, when compared to the Trubart’s case and others from the register, illustrate the importance of affection within marriages.

Several hagiographers wrote versions of Godelieve’s vita throughout the Middle Ages, and there are medieval images of her life and death as well. Monastic author Drogo of Sint-Winoksbergen wrote the first account of Godelieve’s life around 1084, less than twenty years after her death. [25] Although scholars argue that the focus of this vita was her obedience to “God-given authority of the bishop and the count, with which she earns the highest possible reward,”[26] much of the text was devoted to descriptions of her marriage to Bertolf. In a later fourteenth-century version of the life, called the Vita Altera S. Godelievae Virginis et Martyris, the author focused on Godelieve’s virginity as central to her sainthood, as suggested by the title, but retained the descriptions of Bertolf’s hatred and anger.[27] Renée Nip argues that the reason for this difference in focus was embedded in the purpose of the text. She claims that Drogo wrote his vita to bring peace to an unstable Flanders: “The failure of authorities, and the pointless death of a young woman which resulted from it, was now given some meaning.”[28] Later retellings of the story did not retain the same political instability that Nip sees in its late eleventh century iteration. In this article I will focus on Drogo’s version of the events; his vita was repeated throughout the Middle Ages and is the version that eventually made its way into the Bollandists’ Acta Sanctorum in the seventeenth century. Drogo’s Vita of Saint Godelieve presents a picture of a troubled marriage with a tragic outcome.

Godelieve was born in the city of Boulogne in the eleventh century to well-born parents. Even as a child she took her religious devotion seriously, which manifested itself in complete obedience to those whom she was expected to obey: her parents, and later her husband. The future saint was beautiful and was courted by many worthy men, and her parents eventually betrothed her to a castellan named Bertolf. Unfortunately for Godelieve, on the very day he took his fiancée home, Bertolf’s mind was assaulted by the devil and he began to hate her.[29] In the text, the author uses a form of odium [“hatred”] numerous times to indicate the feelings Bertolf had for his wife. The author assures the reader that this was an act of the devil because Bertolf occasionally regretted his hatred for his bride; however, the regret was short lived, and the hatred was further increased by Bertolf’s mother, who mocked him for choosing a foreign bride. With these two forces at work, both demonic and maternal, Godelieve was destined to not have the loving relationship she had hoped for.

Bertolf brought Godelieve into his mother’s home in preparation for the wedding, and immediately abandoned her to her future mother-in-law’s care. Bertolf did not even attend his own wedding, instead having his mother stand in for him and say his vows. He realized that his servants were treating Godelieve better than he had planned and ordered them to abuse her in hopes that she would leave the household. By abandoning the home, Godelieve would have given him reason to repudiate her legally. In order to accomplish this abandonment, Bertolf set out to make her life miserable: he gave her only salted bread and water once a day, half of which, because of her holiness, she gave to the poor.[30] This attempted starvation went against the expectations wives had that their husbands would provide for them and their household.[31] Bertolf expressly denied his role as husband and provider, which a medieval audience would have seen as a serious flaw, a point that is reflected in many separation cases where the wives complained about their husbands’ misuse of communal goods. Finally, due to these wrongs committed against her, Godelieve fled her husband’s house, barefoot and hungry, and stayed with her father until the father decided what he should do with her. With Godelieve’s abandonment of the marriage, Bertolf could have extricated himself from the union; however, Godelieve’s parents were powerful and asked for advice from the bishop in Bertolf’s diocese, who forced Bertolf to take Godelieve back, and swear that he would no longer treat her badly.[32]

Although Bertolf took her back and agreed to begin treating her well, the reader would have recognized the deception. Godelieve herself knew that she should have experienced some affection in her marriage. She hoped that “God may pour forth the grace and goodness of his heart, let such hatred of me cease, and let my husband cherish me accordingly.”[33] Bertolf recognized that he could not extricate himself from the marriage through starvation or legal means; therefore, he believed his only option was murder. The most telling part of the vita, however, was when Bertolf convinced Godelieve to follow the men he had hired to murder her. It was at this point that Bertolf revealed societal expectations of a loving marriage in the form of a monologue. Bertolf kissed her, soothed her fears with kind words, and said,

It is no small grief to me that I am of such cruel spirit toward you and seem to be so unyielding that you are not accustomed to my presence and kind address and do not delight in mutual fleshly pleasure…. But I want to put an end to this spiritual separation, to cherish you as a dear wife and thus, putting hatred behind us little by little, our minds and bodies will come together as one.[34]

With these words, and her saintly obedience, Bertolf convinced Godelieve to go willingly to her own death. What is more, these words illustrate the affection that she did not receive, but expected, from her husband. She wanted kind words and mutual pleasure. He blamed the Devil for making him hate her, and he knew that it was through an apology that she could convince her to follow the two men who eventually killed her. Godelieve expected to meet a woman who would join them “in steadfast devotion” and unite them “in love constantly, cherishing each other like no couple anywhere in the world.”[35] If we view saint’s lives as litmus tests of cultural expression as Duby suggests, Drogo’s presentation of the themes of devotion and constancy within the saint’s marriage illustrates a cultural expectation of affection.

The repetition of Godelieve’s life throughout the Middle Ages, in both text and art, indicates that its themes resonated with the public. Although the major focus was on Godelieve’s holiness and her post-mortem miracles, much of the text was taken up with descriptions of her marriage. Her eventual murder was an extreme case of domestic abuse and hatred, but similar events were taking place in households all over Europe, as Trevor Dean notes, “it has been long and widely known that husbands had the legal right to use limited violence to ‘correct’ their wives, and it is clear that this right was enacted in legislation, respected by the law courts, endorsed in juristic discussion of disputed points of law, and assumed by husbands in their daily lives.”[36] There are few instances where modern historians can glimpse into medieval marriages, but sometimes when the wife or husband could no longer remain in the household they brought their spouses to court, and it is in these separation cases that we can see the ideas in Godelieve’s vita reflected in the lives of regular people.

Emotions in the Court
The majority of the separation case entries in this fourteenth-century archdeacon’s register provide little specific information about the couple, and can appear quite formulaic, as most of the terms used to discuss the relationship and the court case are present in multiple cases. Despite the repetitions in the entries, these apparent formulae can still be useful in uncovering reasons behind separations, and— as with the Trubert case— from there the general expectations of couples in their marriages. Rosenwein, in her exploration of emotional communities argues, “Banality as we have seen is useful to the historian of emotions telling us what sentiments or non-sentiments are socially normative under particular circumstances.”[37] It is in these banalities, as she calls them, that the historian can see what emotions and actions were deemed appropriate by society, or, as in the separation cases, the court and notary.

The scribe chose a handful of specific words, of both action and emotion, to explain the reasons for the separations. It is through these carefully chosen words that we can discern motivation and expectation within the marriages. Although the court’s notary did not use the words for love or affection in the text, he often included odium [“hatred”], rancor [“rancor”], and inimicitia [“enmity”] as the primary reasons for the suits. He used one or more of these words in around 20% of the separation cases, and described a group of relationships in which the parties, usually the husband, did not have affection for his/her spouse. These three words were often used in conjunction with instances of cruelty and adultery; but in a handful of cases, the sole reason for the separation was a lack of affection. If we view the court as one of Rosenwein’s emotional communities, the use of particular emotion words in the text indicates what expectations married couples had of their spouses; and by examining these emotional cases in conjunction with Godelieve’s vita, a pattern of expectations for companionate marriage emerges. It was the lack of positive emotions, and the actions resulting from that lack, that most often resulted in the plaintiff bringing the case to court. In addition to the hatred and enmity, many of the actions the plaintiff—usually the wife—described as the cause of the separation were similar to actions that separate modern marriages: sevitiam [“cruelty”], was the most common; austeritatem [“harshness”], and in fewer cases adulterium [“adultery”]. These actions were the most common reasons the scribe presented for the separation of the marriages appearing in the court, and appear in roughly half of the separation cases in the register.

Odium, Rancor, et Inimicitia: Hatred, Rancor, and Enmity
Emotion words were often used in conjunction with words of action. Of the 102 total separation cases recorded in the register, twenty two included odium, rancor, and/or inimicitia [“hatred,” “rancor,” and/or “enmity”] as one of the reasons for the separation. While the majority of cases name emotional reasons as secondary to physical and economic ones, in six separation cases the notary used only these emotion words to explain the presence of the litigants. The cases that focus on emotion words show an expectation of affection within the marriage, reflected in Godelieve’s vita in the Acta sanctorum with the use of odium to describe Bertolf’s feelings for his wife. In cases of cruelty and physical violence, the actions were perpetrated by one party against the other; usually, the husband was cruel or abusive to the wife. When the litigants used words like “hatred” and “enmity,” often these feelings arose between the litigants: the phrase ortos inter eos [“arose between them”] appears numerous times throughout the register.[38] The most telling evidence for the importance of marital affection is the record of plaintiff’s success in court: in all six cases for which odium, rancor, and inimicitia were the sole reasons for the case, the plaintiff was successful. The use of odium, rancor, and inimicitia as the sole reason for suits, the mutuality of the hatred that brought the couple to court, and the success rate of such cases suggests an expectation held by both the court and the couple that husbands and wives should have a degree of affection for their partner.

Emotions were not part of the history of medieval families until the late 1990s. Scholars in the 1960s and 70s—such as Philippe Ariès and Lawrence Stone—argued that companionate family relationships did not exist prior to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In Centuries of Childhood, Ariès used medieval depictions of children both in art and literature to conclude that medieval parents viewed their children as mini-adults. In addition, he argued that parents did not value their children because of the high infant mortality rate of the time; the general question was, why invest emotional energy into a child who had a high chance of dying within a year? Although Ariès focused on the parental relationship, which is different from the marital relationship I am discussing, his argument became the basis for arguments against the presence affective, companionate marriage. Despite these early theories, which viewed medieval emotions as primitive and childlike, the evidence is mounting to show that although the manifestation of emotions was different in the Middle Ages, the emotions themselves were as complex as the emotions of modern people. Within the past twenty years, historians have begun to examine this complexity in greater depth. Most notable among these scholars are James Brundage, in his survey of medieval sexuality and law; Barbara Rosenwein for the early medieval period; and Ruth Mazo Karras for the late medieval.[39] Each of these scholars has found evidence for companionate marriages throughout the Middle Ages.

In the separation cases wherein emotion words are used in conjunction with action words—such as cruelty, or mismanagement of communal goods—it is easy to argue that it was the actions rather than a lack of affection that caused the split. The existence of cases featuring purely emotional reasons for separation, however, speaks directly to the importance of emotional attachment in marriage. In each of the six cases featured in this study, the notary included two or more terms of hatred, rancor, and enmity, which added a more nuanced description of the marital relationship. The most common term the scribe used in purely emotional cases was odium, which he recorded in all six cases. Although it can mean many things, as is the case with most Latin words, odium generally translates to “hatred” or “anger.” Along with being the most common emotion word in the sources, it is also the one that speaks most to a lack of affection within the marriage. Rosenwein finds odium in Cicero’s list of Stoic emotions, and notes that it was used by patristic authors in the late antique and early medieval periods.[40] In addition to patristic texts, a form of odium also appears extensively in the Latin Vulgate Bible: roughly sixty times as a noun, and over 100 times as a verb throughout the Old and New Testaments.[41] The first appearance of both the nominal and verbal forms of odium/odisse appear in the story of Joseph from Genesis. Joseph’s brother, Esau, always hated him for the blessing from his father: “Oderat ergo semper Esau Jacob pro benedictione qua benedixerat ei pater” [“Esau therefore always hated Jacob for the blessing wherewith his father had blessed him”]. [42] Later in the story when Israel made Joseph his famous coat, his brothers hated him for the love of their father, “oderant eum,” and for his miraculous dream, “which occasioned them to hate him the more.”[43] In the New Testament, Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount and the Latin Vulgate uses odium in one of the most famous themes of the text,

Audistis quia dictum est: Diliges proximum tuum, et odio habebis inimicum tuum… Diligite inimicos vestros: benefacite his qui oderunt vos,

[You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thy enemy… love thy enemies: do good to them that hate you.] [44]

This word therefore appears to be a fairly standard form of hatred/to hate, and the court notary had similar connotations in mind when using it in the court entries.

The second most common word the court used was a form of rancor, which appears in five cases in the register. Rancor is the precursor to the English word “rancor” and gives a more nuanced meaning than odium. Rancores implies a longer-lasting bitterness, anger, and resentment that mere hatred does not; it holds the connotation of a grudge rather than simple anger. Although this term appears neither in Rosenwein’s lists nor in the Latin Vulgate, Jerome used it in his letter to his maternal aunt, Castorina with whom he was in a dispute: “Scilicet ut veteri rancore deposito, mundum pectoris Deo paremus habitaculum” [“Of course, in order that putting aside old animosities we may prepare for God the dwelling place of a clean heart”]. [45] Thus, it was a word known to patristic authors and into the Middle Ages, and, as it was never used without another emotion word within the register, its addition to the cases added evidence of a deeper and longer-lasting animosity within the marriage. The court cases used the term in a similar way to Jerome’s understanding of it, describing a family relationship that was falling apart.

The final word that was used in purely emotional cases was inimicitia, which was used in four of the six cases. Inimicitia, meaning roughly “enmity” or “hostility,” implied a more active form of anger. As with odium, Rosenwein includes inimicitia in both her Cicero and Patristic lists, and equates it with “enmity”.[46] Inimicitia appears in the Latin Vulgate nineteen times, both in the Old and New Testaments.[47] The first appearance of this term in the literature is in the famous confrontation between God and the serpent after he tricked Eve into eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: “Inimicitias ponam inter te et mulierem, et semen tuum et semen illius” [“I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed”]. [48] With these words God cursed the serpent, and by extension humanity. Inimicitia does not appear in any of the Gospels, but the Vulgate versions of Saint Paul’s letters to the Galatians and to the Ephesians both include various forms of enmity. In his letter to the Galatians Paul included inimicitia in his list of “works of the flesh” along with such other sins as witchcraft, fornication, murder, and drunkenness, and he insisted that those who do these things will not enter heaven.[49] In his letter to the Ephesians he used inimicitia twice to illustrate Christ as a peacemaker, breaking down and killing enmity with his grace.[50] In the first instance, inimicitia was presented as a specific sin that would cause the damnation of the soul, whereas in the second it was a general state of being that Christ would fix. Of these biblical examples, the Old Testament usage and Paul’s letter to the Galatians align most closely to the usage of the word in the Parisian court cases. There is no evidence in the records to indicate that the court considered enmity a sin on the same magnitude as fornication or witchcraft, but it was a significant reason for a marital separation.

In addition to biblical and legal texts, odium in particular was used in narrative texts to illustrate hatred between husband and wife. In the vita of Godelieve, the marriage has problems before it even begins because of Bertolf’s and his mother’s various forms of hatred for the saint. Bertolf immediately begins to hate his fiancée thanks to the machinations of the devil and his mother. In the Latin version of Drogo’s life, the word the author uses for this hatred is odium, “Acerrimo igitur odio illam prosecutus est, ita ut odium vinceret amorem, quo prius arserat” [“An intense hatred then followed, so that the hatred replaced the love, which earlier had burned”]. [51] It is hatred that arises and replaces love, the same type of hatred that we find in the court cases. Despite the fact that Bertolf’s hatred for Godelieve was supernatural and created by the Devil, the use of odium indicates that the sentiment was the same as in the more mundane hatred described in the court cases.

The first separation case in which the sole explanation for the dispute was emotional appears in the register on May 4, 1385. Jeannette Ligier brought her husband, Jean, to court to legally separate their households “propter inimicitias, odia, et rancores orta inter ipsos” [“because enmity, hatred, and rancor had arisen between them”].[52] According to the register, the court was granting this separation lest something worse happen within the marriage, “ne deterius inde contingat,” [“to prevent worse from happening”], implying that nothing serious—perhaps this is a reference to a fear of physical abuse—had happened up to that moment, but that the situation was deteriorating and a separation would be best.[53] Jeanette brought Jean back to court roughly a week later on May 10 to negotiate the property settlement, and this entry presents a bit more information about the life of the couple.[54] Most importantly, we can tell that the separation was fully complete by this point, as Jeannette was called the “uxor separata,” the “separated wife”, of Jean. Jeannette requested a moderately small portion of the marital property, which Jean refused to provide; instead, he offered her the bridal bed only if in the future she did not commit adultery. Jeannette refused this offer, but the court accepted it and added the exception to their ruling.[55] Their final appearance in the register was on May 15, an entry which unfortunately provides little information besides the affirmation of the previous decision and the appearance of a witness for the husband.[56] Jeannette and Jean Ligier thus left the record. We cannot know if the couple had more problems with the separation of goods, as we saw in the Trubart case, but the court made clear in their final decision that the reason for the separation was the couple’s hatred of each other.

On June 15, 1385 the court separated the marriage of Alice and Jean Marcelet. The reason for the separation was “propter odia et rancores ortos inter eos” [“because hatred and rancor had arisen between them”], [57] and they swore to the official that they had already appropriately separated their communal goods.[58] Although we do not have specific information regarding who brought the original case to court, several things suggest it was Alice. First, in the twenty-two cases where odium, rancor, and inimicitia are primary or secondary reasons for the separation, only one case clearly states a male plaintiff, whereas eight cases name the wife as the plaintiff.[59] Second, Alice was responsible for paying the court fees of 12d, “mulier XIId” [“wife XII denarii”]. [60] Court fees were usually paid by the person who brought the suit to court, unless there were punitive damages, which suggests that Alice, having paid the fees, was the plaintiff in this case. The couple does not appear again in the records, indicating that the separation of goods was probably successful.

Another such case is that of Boniface and Pierrette Charronis, whose marriage the courts separated on June 27, 1386.[61] Odium, rancor, and inimicitia were the reasons listed for the separation—a separation which the courts agreed was necessary lest something worse arise–
and as with the previous example, the couple swore they would separate their goods fairly between them.[62] The notary inserted an unusual clause regarding the harvesting of communal crops, pointing out that this ruling was in place only until the ripening of the grape crop, when the couple would have to return and help harvest regardless of personal feelings.[63] This statement is a reminder that the couple was not divorced, and still needed to assist one another in communal household obligations as well as provide the conjugal debt. The notary did not name the plaintiff in this case, and there was no recorded fee; however, the high percentage of female plaintiffs in cases of hatred indicates that Pierrette probably brought the case to court. As with the Marcelet case, the couple did not return to the court.

The previous examples were all separation of goods; a mild form of separation that still required the conjugal debt, and that the courts were likely to grant. Two further cases specifically pointed out that the conjugal debt was still required regardless of disposition of goods, and as with the Trubart case the court granted a separation of goods “salvo jure thori” [“saving the right of bed”]. One example of this specific addition appeared on May 15, 1385, in the case of Guillelmus Poitier and his wife Perreta who were separating, again because “odia et rancores” had arisen in the marriage.[64] This is the only entry for this couple, and the court granted the separation of goods, “postmodum quittaverunt alter alterum de bonis predictis” [“subsequently they separated the previously mentioned goods between them”]. [65] The husband then paid the 2 solidii fee, indicating that he was the original plaintiff. The second case with a similar emphasis on the conjugal debt was that of Matheus and Colette de Laigni on October 19, 1386. The court separated them because of hatred and enmity between them, about which both parties agreed.[66] The fee payment indicates that the wife was the original plaintiff, although, again, plaintiff and defendant are not specifically stated. Overall, “salvo jure thori” occurs in roughly half of the total separation cases in the register.[67]

In these five examples of separation cases, the only reason the notary provided to explain the suit was a form of hatred. There is no evidence in the text to indicate physical violence, ill-treatment, squandering of goods, or any of the other more material reasons for a marriage to fall apart. While these more physical reasons may have been present in the marriage, the court saw fit to separate the couples simply for the reasons stated. There was some fear that worse might happen in the household, as the phrase ne deterius contingat, [“to prevent worse from happening”], indicated, but that is not evidence that these “worse things” had yet happened. This phrase reminds the reader of the result of Bertolf’s anger, and the death of St. Godelieve: the worst-case scenario. According to the court, the feelings of the participants, and especially the feelings of the wives who brought the majority of the separation cases to court, were sufficient evidence that the couple should separate.

If we think of this fourteenth-century Parisian court as one of Rosenwein’s emotional communities, the cases describe the institutional and cultural expectations of marriages. The entries may not reflect the actual feelings these couples had about their spouses or their marriages, but they do show the court’s view that good feelings were critical to a successful marriage. In the cases for which we only have the entry for the court’s decision to separate the couple, the notary presented the legal opinion using the words odium, rancor, and inimicitia as the sole reasons for the separations. Of these examples, only in the case of Jeannette and Jean Ligier do we have the reasons they came to court in the first place; those reasons are the same as the ones recorded as the court’s reason for granting the separation, which indicates that the cultural expectations in the eyes of both the court and the plaintiffs were good feelings within the marriage.

While in the Ligiers’ case the court’s final opinion was the same as the initial complaint, there are two cases for which the court’s reason for separating the couple did not coincide with the original reason for the suit. In the entries for Colin and Isabel de Barre, and Jeanne and Stephen Burgondi, the notaries included emotional words in the reason for granting the separation that were not present in the original claim. Colin de Barre brought Isabel to court because of the wife’s mismanagement of communal goods and the cruelty of the husband, as revealed by a third party who worked for the court named Jean Careti.[68] These reasons were not uncommon in the separation of goods cases in the court, but what is surprising in this case was the result, which the court handed down later that day. The court separated the couple “fuerunt separati quoad bona propter inimicitias et odia inter eos orta et certis aliis de causis, etc” [“they are separated regarding goods because enmity and hatred had arisen between them and the other specified causes, etc.”].[69] In this case, the court clerk added emotional reasons to the more common reasons of the wife’s mismanagement and cruelty that the third party had presented. Not only did the official add emotional words to his decision, but he relegated the seemingly more important matters, i.e. cruelty and loss of communal property, to the phrase “certis aliis de causis” [“various other reasons”], which could either indicate their lack of importance, or the notary’s lack of space and time.

Similarly, Jeanne Burgondi brought her husband, Stephen, to court on January 9, 1387 for sevitium, [“cruelty”], and claimed that Stephen had squandered their communal goods against her advice and wishes.[70] As with the previous case, this information was brought to court by a third party (identified as Melleti) but it was originally presented by the plaintiff. It was not until their second appearance in front of the officials on January 26, 1387, when judgment was handed down, that more information was provided about the emotional expectations of the court.[71] The court agreed to separate the couple salvo jure thori because of cruelty, rancor, and hatred, “quia de sevitiis, rancoribus, et odiis.”[72] Again, the official added emotional words to his decision, when cruelty was sufficient grounds for a separation; there was no legal reason for the addition of hatred to the final ruling.

It is telling that the court’s reason for the separation in both cases included language about feelings in the relationship that were not mentioned the first time the couple appeared in court. There are two possible reasons for such additions: first, the plaintiff may have added emotional language to her complaint in order to bolster her case; or second, the official took it upon himself to add to the complaint to provide further support for his decision to separate the couple. Plaintiffs and defendants often had a legal counselor during their hearings, who advised his clients as to what phrases to use in order to move the officials to their side. It is possible that the court-appointed counsel included these complaints in the deposition, which no longer exists, in order to garner a positive verdict. On the other hand, if the official added the phrase to his opinion, it perhaps gave his decision to separate the marriage more conviction. In essence, the court was claiming that not only did the defendant perform inappropriate actions, but these actions caused hatred between husband and wife, a hatred which did not allow for reconciliation. In both scenarios the implication is that good feelings were expected within marriage, and the lack of these good feelings may have helped a woman separate from her husband, or vice-versa.

While there is evidence to suggest the court was amenable to hatred and enmity as a reason for separating marriages, in some cases the court may have needed a more physical reason to justify the separation. On July 6, 1385 the court separated Thomas and Mariona Boudart “propter odia, rancores, et verberationes de quibus constat” [“because [of] hatred, rancor, and beatings, which is well-known”].[73] The scribe did not name the abuser, but based on other cases in the register we can assume the husband was the abuser. Under penalty of excommunication, Thomas was prohibited from beating or mistreating his wife, “above the proper marital limit,” and Mariona paid her two solidi fee.[74] A certain level of violence as a means of chastisement was expected within a marriage, but immoderate violence in the household was unacceptable. What is surprising is that this is the only case in the register in which physical beatings were a reason the court gave for the separation, and there were no cases in which the litigants presented verberare [“beating”] as the initial reason for the suit; indeed, beating one’s wife was not an actionable offense. Other than in this case, the court only used verberare as a prohibition against physical violence during reconciliation attempts, and in the medieval form of a protection order, which also appeared at the end of this entry. Its use in the case may indicate well-known, outrageous domestic abuse perpetrated by the husband, which the notary or official chose to highlight.

These emotion words—odium, rancor, and inimicitias—are present throughout the register, and were clearly important in the cases in which they were used: in six of the cases the only reason for separation was an enmity and/or hatred between the parties. In the cases of Colin and Isabel de Barre, and Jeanne and Stephen Burgondi, the court added emotional reasons to the final ruling even when they did not appear in the initial complaint. As with cruelty, emotions were only sufficient reasons to separation the couple quoad bona, and there was not a single separation of bed in this register due to hatred or enmity. Even adding beatings, as in the case of the Boudarts, were not enough to separate the marriage bed of the couple.

Conclusion
Neither the separation cases in the Paris register nor the vita of Saint Godelieve present normal marriages: the vast majority of medieval marriages did not separate, nor did husbands customarily murder their wives. Despite arising from a small subset of the total number of marriages, however, these separation cases illustrate social and cultural norms and expectations for marriage. Through a comparison of narrative and legal sources we can see a societal expectation of basic affection, or at least a lack of active hatred, between married couples. Court officials accepted anger, enmity, and rancor as both primary and secondary reasons for separating couples, and in some cases they added these emotions to their opinions, despite their absence from the initial complaint. Overall, the reasons the litigants presented for their complaint, and the reasons court officials gave for their final decisions, provide evidence for cultural expectations of companionate marriages.

Kristi DiClemente


Kristi DiClemente is a PhD candidate at The University of Iowa. She is currently completing her dissertation titled, “Agency and Expectations: Women’s Experiences in Marriage Disputes in Fourteenth-Century Paris,” which examines the role women played in the formation and dissolution of their marriages, as well as the expectations that women and men had within their marriages. For more information about her work, and a few blog posts about medieval marginalia, see her website kristidiclemente.wordpress.com.


[1] Paris, Archive Nationales de France, MS Series z 1o/26, fol. 203v. All translations are my own. Transcriptions were verified using Joseph Petit, Registre des Causes Civiles de L’Officialité Épiscopale de Paris : 1384-1387 (Paris : Imprimerie Nationale, 1919).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid. “propter inimicitias, rancores et odia orta inter ipsos de quibus constitit et ne deterius contingat etc.”

[4] AN z/1o/26 fols. 112v, 180r, 203r, 203v, and 280r.

[5] A full discussion of this court can be found in Charles Donahue, Law, Marriage, and Society in the Later Middle Ages: Arguments about Marriage in Five Courts (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

[6] Barbara Rosenwein, “Worrying About Emotions in History,” American Historical Review. 107:3 (June 2002): 842.

[7] AN z/1o/26 fol. 112v. “De Jeanne, uxore Johannis Trubart, actrice in causa separationis contra dictum suum maritum, ad octo in statu cum partibus; mulier VIII d.”

[8] Donahue, Law, Marriage, and Society in the Later Middle Ages, 303.

[9] AN z/1o/26 fol. 180r, “actrix proposuit sevitiam, dilapidationem bonorum, etc., et reus proposuit econtra austeritatem et inobedientiam dicte mulieris, etc.”

[10] Ibid. “dictam uxorem suam verberet aut maletractet et ne bona communia inter ipsos dissipet aut se obliget in prejudicium dicte uxoris sue.”

[11] Ibid. “et fuit eidem mulieri injunctum sub consimili pena quatenus obediat dicto marito suo, etc.”

[12] Ibid.

[13] Hawkes, Emma. “The ‘Reasonable’ Laws of Domestic Violence in Late Medieval England,” in Domestic Violence in Medieval Texts. Ed. Eve Salisbury, et al. (Gainsville, FL: University of Florida Press, 2002): 57.

[14] AN z/1o/26 fol. 85r. Thomas Boudart c. Marie Boudart, the notary recorded the courts reason for the separation as “odia, rancores et verberationes,” [“hatred,” “rancor,” and “beatings”].

[15] AN z/1o/26 fol. 203r.

[16] AN z/1o/26 fol. 203v. “Hodie Johannes Tribart et Jeanne, eius uxor, fuerunt separati quoad bona, salvo jure thori, propter inimicitias, rancores et odia orta inter ipsos de quibus constitit et ne deterius contingat etc., et juraverunt facere bonam partem alter alteri de bonis communibus inter ipsos, etc., et nihil recelare, etc.; mulier 2 s.”

[17] Donahue, Law, Marriage, and Society in the Later Middle Ages, 307. For a longer discussion of this type of separation and a comparison of separation cases in these three courts, see Donahue, Chapter 10.↩

[18] Ibid, 534.↩

[19] AN z/1o/26 fol. 280v. “De Jeanne, uxore separata quoad bona Johannis Trubert, actrice, contra dictum maritum suum, actrix proposuit quod dictus maritus sibi non fecerat bonam et debitam partem bonorum communium inter ipsos et quod retinuit et reclavit certa, etc.; dictus reus dicit quod de bonis divisis inter ipsos fecerat eidem uxori sue bonam partem, et quod aliqua dividenda de quibus paratus erat facere bonam partem eidem uxori, etc.”↩

[20] Ibid. “et fuit inunctum eidem sub pena excommunicationis et parjurii ac XV l. ut faciat bonam partem, et eidem uxori ut obediat dicto marito et sibi prestet debitum conjugale sub penis preditis, cum partibus.”↩

[21] Drogo of Sint-Winoksbergen, “Life of St. Godelieve,” trans. Bruce L. Venarde, in Medieval Hagiography, An Anthology. Ed. Thomas Head. (New York: Routledge, 2001): 369. In the Acta Sanctorum version of this life, the Latin is “teque charae instar conjugis colere.” Johannes Bolland, et al. Acta Sanctorum: Julii Tomus II. (Paris: Victorem Palme, 1867): 413.↩

[22] Emma Campbell, Medieval Saints’ Lives: The Gift, Kinship and Community in Old French Hagiography, (Cambridge, UK: D.S. Brewer, 2008), 7.↩

[23] Georges Duby, “The Matron and the Mismarried Woman,” Love and Marriage in the Middle Ages, trans. Jane Dunnett (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994): 37.↩

[24] Sarah Salih, “Introduction: Saints, Cults, and Lives in Late Medieval England,” A Companion to Middle English Hagiography, ed. Sarah Salih, (Cambridge, UK: D.S. Brewer, 2006): 6.↩

[25] Drogo of Sint-Winocksbergen, “Life of St. Godelieve,” trans. Bruce L. Venarde in Medieval Hagiography: An Anthology, ed. Thomas Head, (New York, Routledge, 2001), 359.↩

[26] Renée Nip, “Godelieve of Gistel and Ida of Boulogne,” Sanctity and Motherhood: Essays on Holy Mothers in the Middle Ages, ed. Anneke B. Mulder-Bakker (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1995): 208.↩

[27] Ibid, 209.↩

[28] Ibid, 208.↩

[29] Drogo, 364.↩

[30] Ibid, 365.↩

[31] Daniel Lord Smail in his examination of dowry disputes in medieval Marseille, discusses the importance of a husband’s solvency in the outcome of the case. If the wife or her representatives provided sufficient evidence of insolvency, she could remove her dowry from the estate for protection. “Witness Programs in Medieval Marseille,” Voices from the Bench: The Narratives of Lesser Folk in Medieval Trials. Ed. Michael Goodich. (New York: Palgrave, 2006): 227-250.↩

[32] Drogo, 366-7.↩

[33] Ibid, 367.↩

[34] Ibid, 369.↩

[35] Ibid, 369.↩

[36] Trevor Dean, “Domestic Violence in Late-Medieval Bologna,” Renaissance Studies. 18:4 (2004): 527.↩

[37] Barbara Rosenwein, Emotional Communities in the Early Middle Ages (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006), 61.↩

[38] The phrase, which translates to “arose between them,” or one similar, is found in nine separate cases: z/1o/26 fols. 32v, 60v, 76v, 166v, 192r, 197v, 199r, 225v, 251v.↩

[39] James Brundage’s Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe (The University of Chicago Press, 1987) is an extensive survey of the topic. Rosenwein has an extensive discussion of emotion in early medieval Europe beginning with Anger’s Past: The Social Uses of an Emotion in the Middle Ages (Cornell University Press, 1998), and culminating with her forthcoming book Generations of Feeling: A History of Emotions 600-1700 (Cambridge University Press). Karras’s most recent book, Unmarriages: Women, Men, and Sexual Unions in the Middle Ages (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012) presents alternative views of companionate relationships in the late Middle Ages.↩

[40] Rosenwein, Emotional Communities, 40 and 53. Tables 2 and 3 where she defines odium as hatred.↩

[41] The most common forms of the noun are odium (16 instances), and odio (37 instances). As a verb the most common forms are odit (30 instances), and oderunt (34 instances).↩

[42] Genesis 27.41. Latin Vulgate from http://drbo.org/lvb/index.htm, English translation is from http://drbo.org.↩

[43] Genesis 37.4-5.↩

[44] Matthew 5.43-44. This is a classic, and frequently used Christian ideal. This sermon also includes irascitur [to get angry] to discuss anger between brothers, Matthew 5.22, a word that is not used in the court texts.↩

[45] Jerome, Epistle 13, PL 22, http://www.patrologia-lib.ru/patrolog/hieronym/epist/epist01.htm, accessed 6/2/14. Translation from Jerome, Thomas Comerford Lawler, and Charles Christopher Mierow. The Letters of St. Jerome. (New York: Newman Press, 1963), 57.↩

[46] Rosenwein, Emotional Communities, 40 and 52, tables 2 and 3.↩

[47] The related word inimicus [enemy] appears much more frequently in the Bible, but while it implies enmity it does not explicitly use the emotion word.↩

[48] Genesis 3.15.↩

[49] Galatians 5.19-21: “19. Manifesta sunt autem opera carnis, quae sunt fornicatio, immunditia, impudicitia, luxuria, 20. idolorum servitus, veneficia, inimicitiae, contentiones, aemulationes, irae, rixae, dissensiones, sectae, 21. invidiae, homicidia, ebrietates, comessationes, et his similia, quae praedico vobis, sicut praedixi: quoniam qui talia agunt, regnum Dei non consequentur.” Emphasis mine.↩

[50] Ephesians 2.14, 16: “14. Ipse enim est pax nostra, qui fecit utraque unum, et medium parietem maceriae solvens, inimicitias in carne sua,… 16. et reconciliet ambos in uno corpore, Deo per crucem, interficiens inimicitias in semetipso.”↩

[51] Acta Sanctorum, 410.↩

[52] AN z/1o/26 fol. 60v.↩

[53] Ibid.↩

[54] AN z/1o/26 fol. 63v.↩

[55] Ibid, “reus excipiendo dicit quod dicta mulier, que peccaverat in legem matrimonii, fuerat alias contenta de portione sua pro uno lecto furnito; lite negative contestata per actricem, ad lune ad probandum summarie et de plano exeptionem ex parte rei.”↩

[56] AN z/1o/26 fol. 65v.↩

[57] AN z/1o/26 fol. 76v.↩

[58] Ibid, “juraverunt facere bonam partem alter alteri, etc.”↩

[59] The single case of a male plaintiff is that of Colin de Barre who brought his wife, Ysabella, to court on July 11, 1385, which I will discuss further below.↩

[60] AN z/1o/26 fol. 76v.↩

[61] AN z/1o/26 fol. 192r.↩

[62] Ibid. “Bonifacius Charronis et Perreta, eius uxor, fuerunt separati quoad bona propter odia, rancores et inimicitias ortas inter ipsos, ne deterius contingat, quousque ad melioris vite frugem redierint, et juraverunt facere bonam partem alter alteri.”↩

[63] Ibid. “quousque ad melioris vite frugem redierint.” The husband’s family name Charronis could indicate a connection with the Loire Valley, a region with extensive viticulture in the Middle Ages.↩

[64] AN z/1o/26 fol. 65r.↩

[65] Ibid.↩

[66] AN z/1o/26 fol. 225v. “Matheus de Laigni et Coleta, eius uxor, fuerunt separati quoad bona salvo jure thori, propter inimicitias et odia orta inter eos de quibus constitit, et juraverunt facere bonam partem alter alteri, etc.; mulier XII, item XVI.”↩

[67] Donahue, Law, Marriage, and Society, 535.↩

[68] AN z/1o/26 fol. 197r. “super malo regimine mulieris et sevitia viri.” This is one of only a few cases in which the husband accused his wife of squandering or mismanaging their communal goods.↩

[69] AN z/1o/26 fol. 197v.↩

[70] AN z/1o/26 fol. 242r, “super sevitia et dissipatione bonorum ex parte actricis propositis etc.”

[71] AN z/1o/26 fol. 251v.↩

[72] Ibid, Jean Careti is listed as the commissarius [commissioner] of this case.

[73] AN z/1o/26 fol. 85r.↩

[74] Ibid. “Thomas Boudart et Mariona, eius uxor, fuerunt quoad bona [separati], salvo jure thori, propter odia, rancores et verberationes de quibus constat; juraverunt facere bonam parten alter alteri de bonis inter eos communibus et fuit inhibitum dicto viro ne ipse sub pena excommunicationis ex XX l. predictam suam uxorem verberet [aut] maletractet ultra modum conjugalem, etc.; mulier II s.”↩

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