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Response to Review of Stepfamilies in Europe 1400-1800


I would like to thank Maria Cannon for her careful and encouraging review that shows we were on the right track in opening up stepfamilies as a theme for discussion and research within the history of the family in Europe. This response allows me an opportunity to underline several years of collaboration – drawing on the expertise of eleven scholars from subfields within the history of the family who could cover the geographical range of Europe from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean and from England across to the continent stretching to Hungary in the east.(1) My role was in recognizing, as Cannon asserts, the ‘significant gap in the history of the European family’ (2) and setting out to enlist historians willing to build a historiography of the stepfamily in Europe from 1400 to 1800 within a range of Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist, Jewish, and converso families from the working poor to ruling dynasties.  Thus, Stepfamilies in Europe is the type of book that to be successful could only grow out of a collective effort.  In its use of diverse primary sources from notarial archives to letters and songs, the collection is intended to provide a framework and help situate future research, with ‘Suggestions for further reading’ and a guide to the wide array of visual sources we uncovered.  From my work on European widowhood, gender, family portraiture, and lawyers’ pleadings in France and the southern Low Countries, I had hunches about some stepfamily patterns and sought the expertise of collaborators to address them. Other themes emerged as we met at conferences, discussed the challenges of the source material and exchanged drafts to ensure a consistency and coherence within the volume. When I finally had all of the chapters assembled before me, some of the ‘big picture’ came into fine focus and these insights informed the introduction and the ‘beginnings of conclusions’ about changes and continuities over four centuries. Thus, I am most grateful to my fellow researchers who shared their archival experiences, linguistic expertise and helped shape the collection.

The conversation of the Stepfamilies in Europe book continues with Gabriella Erdélyi (who wrote chapter 9) of the Institute of History in the (currently beleaguered) Hungarian Academy of Sciences.(3)  Together we organized a conference at the end of May on ‘Stepfamilies in the Early Modern World’ to bring together scholars (such as Maria Cannon) working on aspects of stepfamilies within Europe and beyond to its pre-1800 colonies, as well as Asia and the Ottoman Empire – the first phase in preparing a special thematic issue of the journal History of the Family: An International Quarterly.(4) We have three further sessions entitled ‘Stepfamilies Across Cultures and Religions’ planned at the ESSHC in Leiden, March 2020 and we are seeking further collaborators at the International Committee of Historical Sciences (ICHS) in Poland, August 2020 for which we will issue a call for papers. Any interested researchers can contact us through the Stepfamilies in the Early Modern World website or Gabriella Erdélyi’s Integrating Families: Stepfamilies and Children in the Past website.


  1. Alexandra Guerson, Dana Wessell Lightfoot, Anu Lahtinen, Anna Bellavitis, Grace E. Coolidge, Tim Stretton, Sebastiaan Roes, Cornelia Moore, Gabriella Erdélyi, Margareth Lanzinger, Sylvie Perrier.Back to (1)
  2. Lyndan Warner, ‘Stepfamilies in early modern Europe: paths of historical inquiry’, History Compass, 14, 10 (2016), 480–492.Back to (2)
  3.; Hungarian scientists mull legal action over government controls (Reuters), 12 June 2019> [accessed 19 June 2019].Back to (3)
  4.> [accessed 19 June 2019].Back to (4)