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Cambridge Forum for Jewish Studies


Van Houts 1‘Marriage and Domesticity in the Middle Ages’ is a research project for which Professor Liesbeth van Houts was awarded a Leverhulme Research Fellowship for 2015.

This project will offer a fresh perspective on the experience of medieval married life in its domestic environment. Although the emphasis will lie on Christian society in western Europe, contrasts and comparisons with other religion communities (Muslim and Jewish) will be made.

During the central Middle ages (c. 1000-1200) two developments caused a profound change in the experience of marriage amongst Christians. On the one hand the Church forbade its priesthood to be married, causing initial fierce protest from the clergy, while on the other hand these celibate priests were expected to advocate and police the laity’s marriages. Paradoxically, literature emanating from the protesting married priests provides a rich source for the practice of marriage in priestly households which was deemed by the pro celibacy faction to be indistinguishable from that of lay households.

Jewish and Muslim communities did not face such a crisis as their religious leaders were allowed to be married. The juxtaposition of such different attitudes to the home life of religious leaders, with special reference to their wives and children (rejected amongst Christians after c. 1100) provides a stark contrast.  A second new strand of the research project concerns married households of mixed ethnic couples in post-conquest areas (e.g. Visigothic/Ummajad Spain, Sicily or Norman England) in that I will concentrate on the practice of married life rather than on the normative legal or religious sources and their ideology of marriage with full use of recent studies from fields such as archaeology and material culture. The research will be published by Taylor and Francis for the series Medieval World.


Description of image: Emmanuel College, Ms 26 fol. 67r St Augustine, De bono conjugali (On the Good of Marriage), early 12th c. England or perhaps Normandy. Reproduced with kind permission of the Master and Fellows of Emmanuel College, Cambridge.