To begin my series of posts on the papers I heard at the ASPHS, here is a summary of Ed Behrend-Martínez, “Domestic Violence and Discipline in the Marital advice Literature of Early Modern Spain.”
While the larger project of which this paper forms a part is on domestic abuse based on court cases, Behrend-Martínez here is discussing the prescriptive advice of the humanists Erasmus, Vives, and Luxan (and he made no claims that these three influenced behavior, only that they reflect learned opinion on the issue). All three were concerned with the bounds of legitimate correction – that is, they acknowledged that while husbands had the right to physically discipline their wives, they placed limits on how much violence they might apply. Interestingly, Vives used the example of his own mother, it seems, to discuss the issue of a “good wife,” and he blamed bad wives for the problem of domestic abuse. Similarly, Erasmus acknowledged that batter is bad, but especially battery in public – and the worst was when wives took to the streets to complain about ill treatment from their husbands. This leads to Behrend-Martínez’s larger point, which is that early modern humanists recognized domestic violence as a problem, but no so much because of the suffering of the victims, but because of the disturbance of social order – they were anxious to put curbs on men’s behavior with the aim of achieving an ordered society.
The paper in turn led to an interesting discussion by the audience on whether our idea of “victim” is anachronistic, and on the nature of what “escandalo” meant in early modern Spain.