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Response to Review no. 227

Firstly, I should like to thank Dr. Beattie for a comprehensive and, generally speaking, fair and balanced review.

I am grateful to Dr. Beattie for the positive things she has to say about the book: I see no point in dwelling on these, and so will turn straightaway to her criticisms. These tend to relate to two areas. The most serious criticism is of the structure and cohesiveness of the book; the other concerns its balance between the ‘external attributes’ and ‘internal life’ of the family.

On the first point I readily acknowledge that I should have made my approach clearer. As Dr. Beattie observes, the organising principle is that of the ‘life cycle’, but my conception of this is rather different from her interpretation. Faced with the daunting task of reducing such a complex subject into a relatively short book, I decided to organise my material around the life cycle of the family, rather than the individual, which latter option is, I think, the sense in which Dr. Beattie interprets the phrase. Given that marriage lies at the core of the medieval family, this meant that I was effectively following through the process by which marriages were made, lived and unmade. Thus, after an initial discussion of the development of late-antique and medieval theory regarding the nature and making of marriage, the book proceeds to look at who could marry whom, how and why couples were brought together, the nature of the marriage ceremony and so on, ending with the unmaking of marriage through separation, annulment and death, and the consequences that this had for the survivors. In adopting a ‘life-cycle’ approach, there is of course the inescapable problem of deciding at which stage in the cycle one should begin one’s account: there is no doubt, for example, that an individual’s share of an inheritance (dealt with here largely as part of the consequences of the dissolution of marriage) might have a crucial bearing on their marital prospects, and so take us back to the beginning of the cycle. There is no perfect solution to the problem, particularly bearing in mind the constraints of space.

I would defend some of the more detailed criticisms made of my organisation of material with reference to this overarching structure. For example, Dr. Beattie takes me to task for separating my discussion of age at first marriage from that of inheritance and marriage strategies. Of these, I judged that the discussion of inheritance made more sense seen from the perspective of those who had to provide for the next generation, rather than that of the prospective bride and groom, and so placed this section within the chapter on the Dissolution of Marriage, but I freely acknowledge that there is an argument for doing it either way. With regard to the strategies adopted by families in choosing marriage partners, this surely follows on naturally from the discussion of marriageable age via the issue of coercion and freedom of choice: the plans of parents and guardians are dependent on the extent to which potential marriage partners accept, or can be made to accept, them, and there is a strong relationship between this factor and the age at which people can legally be married, as explained on p. 19.

To take another example, Dr. Beattie suggests that the title of my third chapter, ‘The Dissolution of Marriage and its Consequences’, is inappropriate, since of the chapter’s five sections it relates to only two: ‘Annulment and Separation’ and ‘Widows and Widowers’. I think that, seen in the context of a ‘life-cycle’ approach, the next two sections, ‘Wardship’ and ‘Inheritance’, make perfect sense as consequences of the dissolution of marriage through the death of the husband. I admit that the final section, ‘Retirement’, need not necessarily follow on from the ending of a marital relationship, but nonetheless retirement often did, and it seemed appropriate to end the main body of the text with this subject.

With regard to Dr. Beattie’s second main criticism, that there is an imbalance in favour of ‘external attributes’ over the ‘internal life’ of the family, I agree that greater coverage of the emotional lives and affective relations between medieval family members would have been desirable. I would have very much appreciated the opportunity to explore saints’ lives and other literary, and indeed artistic, sources, but once again, considerations of space prevented me from so doing. I decided, with great regret, that a token nod in the direction of these sources would do more harm than good (although I suppose I must own up to this sin in relation to saints’ lives); I made a similar decision about any sustained discussion of the physical environment of the household, despite – or rather because of – the large and fascinating body of material now available on this subject. Rather than try to sketch everything, I opted for a more targeted approach. Dr. Beattie is very generous in what she says about my explication of the legal and political frameworks of family life, and I was delighted that she was so positive on this point, since when embarking upon this book it seemed to me that this was an area in which I could offer something of particular value to students and other scholars. In my experience of teaching the history of the family and gender relations in medieval and early-modern England, the necessary understanding of the legal complexities of family formation, the distribution of property through marriage and inheritance, wardship and other related matters was one of the things with which students had the most difficulty. A concise and clear explanation of these matters would also, I judged, be of use to many scholars whose interests lay with ‘softer’ aspects of the history of the family and social relations. I am certainly not a legal historian, and so ventured into this field with some trepidation, but for one reader at least, my efforts were evidently worthwhile.

Finally, I blush to acknowledge the typo on – of all pages – page 69: Dr. Beattie’s suggested emendation is of course correct.