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Marriage and the Family in the Middle Ages

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From bestselling historians Frances and Joseph Gies, authors of the classic “Medieval Life” series, comes this compelling, lucid, and highly readable account of the family unit as it evolved throughout the Medieval period—reissued for the first time in decades. “Some particular books that I found useful for Game of Thrones and its sequels deserve mention. Life in a Medieval From bestselling historians Frances and Joseph Gies, authors of the classic “Medieval Life” series, comes this compelling, lucid, and highly readable account of the family unit as it evolved throughout the Medieval period—reissued for the first time in decades. “Some particular books that I found useful for Game of Thrones and its sequels deserve mention. Life in a Medieval Castle and Life in a Medieval City, both by Joseph and Frances Gies.” —George R. R. Martin, author of Game of Thrones Throughout history, the significance of the family—the basic social unit—has been vital. In Marriage and the Family in the Middle Ages, acclaimed historians Frances and Joseph Gies trace the development of marriage and the family from the medieval era to early modern times. It describes how the Roman and barbarian cultural streams merged under the influence of the Christian church to forge new concepts, customs, laws, and practices. Century by century, the Gies follow the development—sometimes gradual, at other times revolutionary—of significant components in the history of the family including: The basic functions of the family as a production unit, as well as its religious, social, judicial, and educational roles. The shift of marriage from private arrangement between families to public ceremony between individuals, and the adjustments in dowry, bride-price, and counter-dowry. The development of consanguinity rules and incest taboos in church law and lay custom. The peasant family in its varying condition of being free or unfree, poor, middling, or rich. The aristocratic estate, the problem of the younger son, and the disinheritance of daughters. The Black Death and its long-term effects on the family. Sex attitudes and customs: the effects of variations in age of men and women at marriage. The changing physical environment of noble, peasant, and urban families. Arrangements by families for old age and retirement. Expertly researched, master historians Frances and Joseph Gies—whose books were used by George R.R. Martin in his research for Game of Thrones—paint a compelling, detailed portrait of family life and social customs in one of the most riveting eras in history.


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From bestselling historians Frances and Joseph Gies, authors of the classic “Medieval Life” series, comes this compelling, lucid, and highly readable account of the family unit as it evolved throughout the Medieval period—reissued for the first time in decades. “Some particular books that I found useful for Game of Thrones and its sequels deserve mention. Life in a Medieval From bestselling historians Frances and Joseph Gies, authors of the classic “Medieval Life” series, comes this compelling, lucid, and highly readable account of the family unit as it evolved throughout the Medieval period—reissued for the first time in decades. “Some particular books that I found useful for Game of Thrones and its sequels deserve mention. Life in a Medieval Castle and Life in a Medieval City, both by Joseph and Frances Gies.” —George R. R. Martin, author of Game of Thrones Throughout history, the significance of the family—the basic social unit—has been vital. In Marriage and the Family in the Middle Ages, acclaimed historians Frances and Joseph Gies trace the development of marriage and the family from the medieval era to early modern times. It describes how the Roman and barbarian cultural streams merged under the influence of the Christian church to forge new concepts, customs, laws, and practices. Century by century, the Gies follow the development—sometimes gradual, at other times revolutionary—of significant components in the history of the family including: The basic functions of the family as a production unit, as well as its religious, social, judicial, and educational roles. The shift of marriage from private arrangement between families to public ceremony between individuals, and the adjustments in dowry, bride-price, and counter-dowry. The development of consanguinity rules and incest taboos in church law and lay custom. The peasant family in its varying condition of being free or unfree, poor, middling, or rich. The aristocratic estate, the problem of the younger son, and the disinheritance of daughters. The Black Death and its long-term effects on the family. Sex attitudes and customs: the effects of variations in age of men and women at marriage. The changing physical environment of noble, peasant, and urban families. Arrangements by families for old age and retirement. Expertly researched, master historians Frances and Joseph Gies—whose books were used by George R.R. Martin in his research for Game of Thrones—paint a compelling, detailed portrait of family life and social customs in one of the most riveting eras in history.

30 review for Marriage and the Family in the Middle Ages

  1. 4 out of 5

    Angela Boord

    Excellent reference material, but a bit dry.

  2. 4 out of 5

    J.M. Hushour

    Although only mildly titillating with its frank and all-inclusive discussions on how the church viewed oral sex (you will burn in hell), out-of-wedlock pregnancies (no biggie), and gutterpunching ("thou shalt not thy own genitals kick", St. Anselm of Rudeberry, Tractatus de exinanitio eventus est unus in viscera De diebus festis Sanctus 1279), this work is only mildly interesting. If learning about 40th degree incest taboos is your cup of...tea, then you may find much here to love. A lot of the Although only mildly titillating with its frank and all-inclusive discussions on how the church viewed oral sex (you will burn in hell), out-of-wedlock pregnancies (no biggie), and gutterpunching ("thou shalt not thy own genitals kick", St. Anselm of Rudeberry, Tractatus de exinanitio eventus est unus in viscera De diebus festis Sanctus 1279), this work is only mildly interesting. If learning about 40th degree incest taboos is your cup of...tea, then you may find much here to love. A lot of the actual historical bits focus on the upper class and "elites" because that's who could read and write and leave things for us to laugh at later ("Non enim tollitur alterum patruelem suam percutere quadraginta octo", lol!). There's some scanty things on everyone else and some nice extrusions from other works on how folks lived. Big takeaways: people actually cared about their kids and each other a lot more than people do now; marriage wasn't always obligatory; medieval people made fun of each other's genitals.

  3. 4 out of 5

    MargaretDH

    This academic examination of marriage and family begins with the Roman and Barbarians and finishes just after the Black Death. I found this to be extremely readable social history, with a nice balance between descriptions of overarching trends and stories of individuals that illustrate those trends. Despite addressing most locations in Europe, and most social and economic classes, it's not obsessively detailed. I don't know anything about the scholastic literature of this field, so I can't speak This academic examination of marriage and family begins with the Roman and Barbarians and finishes just after the Black Death. I found this to be extremely readable social history, with a nice balance between descriptions of overarching trends and stories of individuals that illustrate those trends. Despite addressing most locations in Europe, and most social and economic classes, it's not obsessively detailed. I don't know anything about the scholastic literature of this field, so I can't speak to the place of this particular study. To me, it seemed to situate itself within the existing work. I also appreciated their discussions of primary source materials. If you're interested in a survey of the way people formed and contracted significant relationships, and the way people built their households in medieval Europe, I think you'll find this a useful entry point.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lynnet

    An enjoyable read that focused on providing information rather than trying to prove a point. I learned a lot and appreciated that the author's tried to provide as much information on the lower classes as the upper classes, even though the dearth of reference materials on the lower classes made that difficult. An enjoyable read that focused on providing information rather than trying to prove a point. I learned a lot and appreciated that the author's tried to provide as much information on the lower classes as the upper classes, even though the dearth of reference materials on the lower classes made that difficult.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Squirrel

    Solid, accessible, interesting if a bit dense. I'm sure that scholarship about the Medieval family has advanced that this would be a very different book if written now. Two brief passing mentions of homosexual behavior. The pictures are all underexposed and so virtually useless. I found this very useful for having a better understanding for reading English literature, such as why the Bennett's home was entailed, and why Hamlet's uncle marrying Hamlet's mother was considered incest. It also confi Solid, accessible, interesting if a bit dense. I'm sure that scholarship about the Medieval family has advanced that this would be a very different book if written now. Two brief passing mentions of homosexual behavior. The pictures are all underexposed and so virtually useless. I found this very useful for having a better understanding for reading English literature, such as why the Bennett's home was entailed, and why Hamlet's uncle marrying Hamlet's mother was considered incest. It also confirms something that I've thought for a while: it's a better to be a medieval peasant as a woman than a woman of means at just about any time in Western history. The premise of this book is: what factors go into shaping how families are formed? Using scholarship regarding families from about 400AD to 1500AD in what is now England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, the Gies argue that many factors from the Catholic Church to financial fortunes to climate contributed to the significant changes in family structure. Especially interesting are the ways in which the Catholic Church succeeded and failed to make marriage about love and monogamy rather than financial benefit and concubinage. In general I appreciate the Gies' agnosticism with regards to the moral value of certain family structures over others. They are far more interested in exploring the permutations than they are assigning moral value to certain family structures. This books goes into the sheer complexity of the factors that go into deciding on family structure, from legal to religious to financial, and how these factors play out in an era of extremely high mortality rates. The Gies even point to the Church's enforcement of the single/married dichotomy as removing a good deal of family structure flexibility that has only reemerged in the 20th century with the rise in unmarried cohabitation. This book examines in detail what makes families form, from methods of inheritance to dowry size to age of marriage to the legal bounds of incest. Before reading this book I had never really thought about how people formulated ideas about incest. I know why successive generations of family members repeatedly marrying their siblings or cousin are bad for genetic reasons (See: the Habsburg Dynasty or Queen Victoria's progeny). But with an absence of that kind of information, what does make someone too close to marry? And it turns out that this determination of who is too close to be married and who was not had huge consequences in the Middle Ages. To the point where it was easier to get out of a marriage by finding proof that your wife was your 6th cousin than it was for any other reason, including adultery. This church adjucation and the ways in which it could be corrupted for the price is noted as a major cause of the Protestant Reformation. Especially interesting to me was the exploration of how all systems of family creation had unwelcome negative externalities. Give every child part of the estate? That fosters a thriving land sale market causing prudent and lucky people to win big, and unlucky and unwise people to lose everything. Give everything to the eldest child? Lots of younger sons with no prospects and elder sons who can only afford to marry when their father dies, causing middle-aged men to marry prepubescent girls. Etc. etc. The lack of queer people in this book is a notable silence to me, and I am left wondering how this book would be written today as a result of thirty years of queer scholarship into relationships and families. There's a lot of complexity present in this book, which I appreciate, and it definitely has lead me to have a better understanding of how modern families form and why.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Susan K.

    A historical perspective of marriage from 700's on,showing the differences between the nobility and the peasantry. For the nobility this involved marriage for political or trade reasons. High ranking women had virtually no say in the matter. Women seldom had any power. The main object was for her to produce as many sons as possible,with the rule that the eldest son would inherit title and property. Youngest sons often struggled,never able to marry. Peasants often formed more recognizable family A historical perspective of marriage from 700's on,showing the differences between the nobility and the peasantry. For the nobility this involved marriage for political or trade reasons. High ranking women had virtually no say in the matter. Women seldom had any power. The main object was for her to produce as many sons as possible,with the rule that the eldest son would inherit title and property. Youngest sons often struggled,never able to marry. Peasants often formed more recognizable family units, working for their lord, living at subsistence level. Many of the children died. Marriage for sons and daughters was with peers in their local communities. The Church had strict regulation in community life providing punishment for all marital indiscretions. Later by 1500's the position of the Church has been reduced to religious matters due to other matters becoming the realm of lawyers. One of the major impacts on all people was the Black Plague in the 1300's. Severe decimation greatly impacted mainly younger people but often whole families. It totally changed the economics of most of Europe.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

    An interesting description of how the idea and practice of marriage evolved in Western society from the time of the Roman Empire through the Medieval period. It also offers some interesting contrasts and comparisons of different family structures and practices during that time across Western Europe. The book covers all of the different strata of society, and while a little dry at times still was an interesting read. 3.5 stars

  8. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    I am giving this four stars. For me, it was more three stars, because it contained way more detail and reference material than I was looking for, making it a slow read for me. However, it was still interesting, and important to get a historical perspective, instead of just relying on recent culture norms. If you are more interested in the textbook-like approach, you would probably find it a five-star book. Average the two, and get four stars!

  9. 5 out of 5

    David

    A very interesting book describing marriage and the family in the Middle Ages. It is a must read for those who are interested in social history, which is the real history of us all, not just of the small numbers making up the ruling and privileged classes.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    A remarkable combination of research and readability. More complexity and development over 1000 years of history than one might suspect, and condensed in a sprightly text filled with anecdote and entertainment.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Dave Jorgenson

    Interesting at times, dull at others.

  12. 4 out of 5

    English

    Chronicling the subject from the end of the Roman Era to the Black Death, this is amongst the longest of the Gies works. Nevertheless, it is well worth the read, not just for those interested in Social History, but also for the more general reader- such is the appeal of these authors. The chronological approach makes it relatively easy to find what you might be looking for, and looking at examples from across Europe and the social specturum gives a more well-rounded approach. There are some- sur Chronicling the subject from the end of the Roman Era to the Black Death, this is amongst the longest of the Gies works. Nevertheless, it is well worth the read, not just for those interested in Social History, but also for the more general reader- such is the appeal of these authors. The chronological approach makes it relatively easy to find what you might be looking for, and looking at examples from across Europe and the social specturum gives a more well-rounded approach. There are some- surprising revelations here- in the later half of the fifteenth century for instance, some female agricultural workers in the Midlands of England were paid the same wage as their male counterparts. This was a condition that would not be achieved again for many ordinary women until well into the Twentieth century. Altogether, a very worthwhile read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Adrian G.

    The Gies know how to write a history book for the non-historian, without seeming shallow. "Marriage and Family in the Middle Ages" aprsies readers of the major workings and much minutae of family life in the middle ages, and does not shy away from comparing peasant life to noble life. As you explore the changes in quality of life since the fall of Rome up to the comparative richness of the Late Middle Ages, you may see an analog of your own countries creation. The book also clarifies the shiftin The Gies know how to write a history book for the non-historian, without seeming shallow. "Marriage and Family in the Middle Ages" aprsies readers of the major workings and much minutae of family life in the middle ages, and does not shy away from comparing peasant life to noble life. As you explore the changes in quality of life since the fall of Rome up to the comparative richness of the Late Middle Ages, you may see an analog of your own countries creation. The book also clarifies the shifting opinions of the church, the nobility, and the peasantry on such issues as abortion, divorce, adultery, family size, gender issues, and more. A great resource for writers, reenactors, history teachers, and roleplayers. To see a review of the book in the context of roleplaying games, check out my review at http://murkypool.blogspot.com/2014/07...

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Albert

    An easy to read discussion of the subject of family in the Middle Ages. Because so many other institutions and cultural matters intertwine with that of family life, it can occasionally seem like you're being pulled off topic in discussions on things like land ownership and the Black Death. But they are all crucial to an understanding of family. Of particular note (and which I really liked) was their starting the book with discussions of the Roman, German and Christian "roots" of Middle Age famil An easy to read discussion of the subject of family in the Middle Ages. Because so many other institutions and cultural matters intertwine with that of family life, it can occasionally seem like you're being pulled off topic in discussions on things like land ownership and the Black Death. But they are all crucial to an understanding of family. Of particular note (and which I really liked) was their starting the book with discussions of the Roman, German and Christian "roots" of Middle Age family life.

  15. 5 out of 5

    J C Landwer

    If wanting to understand the mindset of Europeans during the Early and High Middle Ages, of their fears and hopes for themselves and their family members, you'll find this book of great value. As a reading supplement in Humanities classes, the book brings a relevance that students can identify with as they explore and contrast family values within their own sphere of experience. Well written and timeless (ignore the pub date). If wanting to understand the mindset of Europeans during the Early and High Middle Ages, of their fears and hopes for themselves and their family members, you'll find this book of great value. As a reading supplement in Humanities classes, the book brings a relevance that students can identify with as they explore and contrast family values within their own sphere of experience. Well written and timeless (ignore the pub date).

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    The Gies offer reliable history, a bit too meta-study-quotey at times, but solid info in readable prose. And such interesting information to think about in light of both Medieval history and modern life and assumptions! No match for Georges Duby but still interesting, although at times I'd like to draw my own conclusions about the data instead of being led a bit patronizingly to the Gies's. The Gies offer reliable history, a bit too meta-study-quotey at times, but solid info in readable prose. And such interesting information to think about in light of both Medieval history and modern life and assumptions! No match for Georges Duby but still interesting, although at times I'd like to draw my own conclusions about the data instead of being led a bit patronizingly to the Gies's.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Michael Barnette

    I really enjoy reading books by the Gies and this book was no exception. This husband and wife team convey their love of history and their style is wonderful and accessible rather than being a cut and dried listing of dates and facts. I highly recommend all their books to anyone interested in medieval studies or who plan to write historic fiction. You cannot go wrong with any of their well researched titles.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    I picked this one up at a bookstore in Denver when stuck in town there for two weeks while in the process of moving the Ares Press, my previous employer, from Chicago to Golden, Colorado. I read most of it at the Paris on the Platte Cafe with coworker, Robyn Canning. I finished it out of sheer willpower and for lack of any alternative because it was rather boring.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Dimitra

    Informative This was a scholarly look at life in the Middle Ages. It was well researched and had interesting information. It reminded me of the books I read in college. I learned more about this time period and have always been interested in history. Others may find this book too dry and lacking excitement.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sarah - All The Book Blog Names Are Taken

    Informative and easy to read. I like the specific focus on different families the ought Europe. Interesting also to see the comparison from the Romans and barbarians to what marriage and family evolved into.

  21. 5 out of 5

    ambyr

    Not the most exciting nor groundbreaking read, but a pleasantly thorough background of things I probably should have already known. It worked very well as an audiobook; the Gies tend to repeat their points, which I think I would have found frustrating in print but as background reading was perfect.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Cornerscribe

    This is a very readable, enjoyable book about what we know about the family and marriage in the middle ages. There's a lot of focus on the church and its influence as well. This is a very readable, enjoyable book about what we know about the family and marriage in the middle ages. There's a lot of focus on the church and its influence as well.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    An excellent compendium of Medieval family life, including church and social expectations, inheritance laws, and varying attitudes toward women, childbirth, and old age. Ages 15 and up.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Minna

    A great insight into the reality of the Middle Ages. This is the fascinating part of History. The real stuff.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Linda (Miss Greedybooks)

    I would keep these (all by Gies books) next to me while reading historical fiction books that I like. I would look up castles or other items of interest. fantastic books!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Diana

  27. 5 out of 5

    Liz

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kent Miller

  29. 4 out of 5

    Peggie Taylor

  30. 4 out of 5

    Maranda

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