Contrary to early modern patriarchal assumptions, this study argues that rather trying to impose obedience or enclosure on women of their own rank and status, noblemen in early modern Spain depended on the active collaboration of noblewomen to maintain and expand their authority, wealth, and influence. While the image of virtuous, secluded, silent, and chaste women did bolster male authority in general and help to assure individual noblemen that their children were their own, the presence of active, vocal, and political women helped these same men move up the social ladder, guard their property and wealth, gain political influence, win legal battles, and protect their minor heirs.
Drawing on a variety of documents-guardianships, wills, dowry and marriage contracts, lawsuits, genealogies, and a few letters-from the family archives of the nine noble families housed in the Osuna and Frías collections in Toledo, Guardianship, Gender and the Nobility in Early Modern Spain explores the lives and roles of female guardians. Grace Coolidge examines in detail the legal status of these women, their role within their families, and their responsibilities for the children and property in their care. To Spanish noblemen, Coolidge argues, the preservation of family, power, and lineage was more important than the prescriptive gender roles of their time, and faced with the emergency generated by the premature death of the male title holder, they consistently turned to the adult women in their families for help. Their need for support and for allies against their own mortality meant, in turn, that they expected and trained their female relatives to take an active part in the economic and political affairs of the family.
Reviews: 'Coolidge's book is a significant addition to the scholarship on women and gender in the early modern world. Her thorough archival research and astute analysis add greatly to our understanding of the power and agency of Spanish noblewomen.'
Elizabeth Lehfeldt, Cleveland State University, USA, and author of Religious Women in Golden Age Spain.
'In addition to extremely informative annotations, there is a well-selected and complete bibliography that closes the book. Coolidge excels at compiling excellent documentation to demonstrate in a well-organized study that maintaining a very flexible patriarchal system was, in fact, in the best interest of a nobility that depended on its women for success. By analyzing female guardianship in some of the most important families of early modern Spanish society, the author presents us with a very solidly documented work that contributes to the recent revision of the importance of women in the historical narrative of early modern Europe. This book is a recommended reading for anyone who wants to increase his or her knowledge of the importance of female guardianship and the intersection of gender and power in early modern times.'
'This valuable book is a painstakingly elaborated treasure trove of detail and of glimpses into the particulars of noblewomen's lives, from the late Middle Ages until the mid-eighteenth century,'
Sixteenth Century Journal
'Coolidge's book is a work of solid scholarship based on a rich range of primary sources with which the author is clearly deeply familiar. Running through this volume… is a thematic thread that binds various people, regions and circumstances together: the idea that the relationship between noblemen and noblewomen was one of mutuality, where women played an essential and active role in the wider 'strategies' of a lineage. Legal and theological texts may have drawn a picture of the ideal woman as passive and secluded, but the reality was far more dynamic.'
English Historical Review