Family and Social Trends: Documentary Sources

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1350 - 1600: Family and Social Trends: Documentary Sources

Note: The vast majority of people during the period 1350-1600 could not read. Most individuals received their ideas about the family and the proper roles of men and women, as with everything else, from listening to other people, attending sermons or formal presentations, or looking at stained-glass windows, statues, or other images. If they were literate, most of what they read was religious material. Thus the most influential work on family life, sexuality, personal development, and gender roles was the Bible.

Leon Battista Alberti, On the Family (1435-1444)—An advice book by an Italian humanist. Alberti wrote the text in the vernacular (as opposed to Latin) in order to make it more accessible to the general population.

Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron (1348-1353)—Also known as Ten Days’ Work. Ten fictitious people, fleeing from plague-stricken Florence, tell stories of adventure, deception, and love. Boccaccio declares that true happiness is found in accepting one’s fate without bitterness as well as the consequences of one’s own actions.

Baldassare Castiglione, II cortegiano (The Courtier, 1513-1518)—A classic of Italian literature, II cortegiano examines in the form of dialogue the qualities of the ideal courtier or royal court attendant. Among these qualities are graceful behavior, sprezzatura (the impression of effortlessness), humor, proper speech, discreet modesty, and honorable love. Castiglione’s book went through many editions (at least one a year for the century after its initial publication) and was translated into Spanish (1534), French (1537), Latin (1561), English (1561), German (1565), and Polish (1566).

John Knox, First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (1558)—A vehement expression of the common belief that the exercise of power by women is both unnatural and irreligious. The pamphlet was aimed specifically at England, Scotland, and France where females held the reins of government.

Luis de León, La perfecta casada (The Perfect Married Woman, 1583)—Written by a Spanish monk, this text provides a picturesque glimpse of feminine customs of the day.

Martin Luther, On Marriage (1566)—Luther’s major statement on the religious and social responsibilities of matrimony and family.

Christine de Pizan, Le Livre de la cite des dames (The Book of the City of Ladies, 1405)—A volume on contemporary women known for their heroic and virtuous behavior.

Pizan, Le livre des trois vertus (The Book of Three Virtues, 1406)—A sequel to The Book of the City of Ladies which classifies women’s roles in medieval society and provides moral instruction for women in various social settings.

Juan Luis Vives, Instruction of a Christian Woman (1540)— A guide to women’s proper religious and moral education by the Spanish humanist who was tutor to Princess Mary Tudor of England.

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Family and Social Trends: Documentary Sources

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