The Emergence of the Medieval Family
By Andrew Theyken Bench
Undergraduate Honors Thesis, Franklin and Marshall College, 2006
Preface: The study of the medieval family is less than 120 years old. The earliest attempts at a study were conducted by legal historians who typically saw the growth and maturation of the family through the vantage of either legalistic models. These studies carried out in both England and Germany dramatically colored the way in which the medieval family has been conceived by historians in the 20h century.
It has only been in the past ten years or so that historians have begun to look at the family outside the rubric of earlier historical models. By in large, the consensus is now that there was nothing linear, nothing coherent or historically invariant about the emergences and maturation of the medieval family. It is a wild, chaotic, and often difficult story to follow.
Indeed, from the perspective of the careful historian, there are few harder periods to study, than those surrounding the emergence of the medieval family (AD 750 – AD 1050). The evidence on either side of this period is somewhat firm—we have good Roman and theological sources before, and somewhat complete sources after; however, the three hundred years within that range are conspicuously bare of any evidence. Therefore any discussion concerning the emergence of the medieval family is necessarily synthetic, relying upon elements of Roman, German, and Church culture.
This thesis is somewhat unique in its vantage, in that it hopes to describe something substantive about the early medieval family by looking specifically at those societies which form its cultural ancestry. It is the first time such a study has been made by any historian at anywhere near this length and completeness, and of that I am proud. Of course, in any survey of a topic as broad as the medieval family, there are bound to be omissions. The omissions are sometimes conspicuous and occur for two reason. The first is space. This paper is not meant to be a multi-volume history of the early medieval family; rather it is meant to examine important cultural elements that combine together in readily apparent ways. This limits the breadth of material available. The second reason resolves around the availability of sources. In many places, it is impossible to comment with confidence regarding aspects of the medieval family—primary sources simply do not exist. This thesis, I hope, if nothing else is factually correct, and, for the most part I have attempted to let what primary evidence speak for itself without weaving in elaborate theories or suppositions.
It is also important to note that this paper is primarily textual in its emphasis. This did not, necessarily, have to be the case. Recent work in archeology is revealing many new findings about both Roman and German life. Where these findings are undisputed and germane to the discussion, I have included them. Where such findings are in dispute, I have omitted them entirely. This, I hope, adds clarity, rather than distracting the reader. I have also moved away from some of the analytical techniques being applied by many contemporary historians, such as gender theory. Again, the aim is to create a paper based on discernable evidence from textual sources, and not to introduce experimental analytical techniques. The result is an approach somewhat dated in its application—to let the primary textual sources speak without too much intervention by the historian—though it is a tact I think works well for this thesis.