Piedmont, 1712: Son forced into monastery by his father manages to get out

by Anne Jacobson Schutte (f)

Early modern parents often determined that one or more of their offspring would enter monastic life, whether or not they had any desire to do so. Usually, the main purpose was to eliminate individuals from the inheritance stream, thus fattening the patrimony that would pass to a single heir. By employing force and fear, elders achieved this objective. Eventually, however, spiritual advisers persuaded some of them to repent and allow sons and daughters in religious houses to petition the pope for release from their vows. When interrogated under oath on an unspecified date not long before his death in April 1710, Francesco Bottati - a notary in Trinità, near Mondovi in the northwestern Italian region of Piedmont - admitted that eight years earlier he had compelled his son Francesco Antonio to become a friar. He now affirmed support for his son’s attempt to return legally to secular life.

The elder Bottati began by “recognizing myself, unfortunately, to be an irascible, ill-tempered, rather passionate man, both in words and in laying hands on my children, servants, and anyone else who contradicts me in the slightest way.”1 On one occasion, he recalled, when he was suffering from quartan fever, his son (about sixteen at the time) came to the door of his bedroom to apologize for having offended him:

“I got out of bed, enraged, and said to him, ‘Rash and impertinent as you are, you have the nerve to come before me! Go away! Get out of here! Go to the devil, go to hell, and never show up again or dare to call me father!,’ and many other injurious and inappropriate things. And as he left, he said, ‘Oh, poor me, what in the world will I do and where will I go?’ Hearing this, I told him, ‘Go make yourself a Discalced Augustinian friar,’ and with that he left. I told him that if he didn’t become a religious in that order, which he now is, I never wanted to see him again or put up with his carefree, lazy behavior, paying no attention to his studies or undertaking any other worthwhile occupation.”

At a servant’s suggestion, Francesco Antonio apologized again the following day. “Having persuaded myself that he would change his life and behavior,” his father suspended the order. Francesco Antonio, however, continued to neglect his studies and refused to amend his life. About a year later, another confrontation occurred in the presence of Francesco’s brother-in-law and nephew: “Overcome by rage,” the father testified, “1 began to yell at and reprove him,” insisting that he must enter the Discalced Augustinian friary near Mondovi. Beating Francesco Antonio with his cane, he shouted, “You little idiot, you still dare to disregard my wishes and refuse my orders!” Not long thereafter, thoroughly intimidated by his father’s verbal and physical violence, Francesco Antonio unwillingly took the habit in a Discalced Augustinian house near Turin. On 9 April 1702, under the religious name Angelo Francesco di San Benedetto, he professed the solemn, irrevocable vows that made him a full-fledged friar.

His son, Francesco Bottati went on to say, became a friar not of his own free will but solely “on account of the insults 1 used.” He made clear to Francesco Antonio that he must forget about returning home, “for I absolutely did not want to recognize an unfrocked friar as my son.” When he learned from some Discalced Augustinians that the young man intended to apply for annulment of his monastic profession, Francesco sent a message reminding him that unless he remained a friar, their father-son relationship would be over. However, five or six months before testifying, Francesco had a change of heart. He stated in the conclusion of his interrogation that, “counseled by a religious of complete integrity who is my confidant, I repented of the error 1 had made.” Therefore, he decided to withdraw his objection to Francesco Antonio’s seeking release. His only motive, he insisted, was “relieving my conscience.”

Another witness whose testimony was included in the printed submission presented by Francesco Antonio’s attorneys to the Congregation of the Council, whom the pope regularly charged with adjudicating such cases, told a rather different story. According to the petitioner’s elder brother, Carlo Lorenzo, Francesco Antonio had originally been studying to become a secular priest. When the bishop deferred his ordination, father Francesco flew into a rage, “telling him that he no longer wanted to incur so much expense in sending him back and forth, and he didn’t want any more priests in the house.”2 First he tried unsuccessfully to force his son into the Discalced Carmelite order. When those friars refused to accept him, Francesco sent him to the Discalced Augustinians, one of whom was the young man’s uncle. Around Christmas of 1709, after learning of his brother’s intention to petition for release, Carlo Lorenzo tried to persuade his father to put up the money for legal expenses; after Francesco’s death, he himself assumed that responsibility.

The newly available money to finance an appeal was crucial. On 12 April 1710, the cardinal-members of the Congregation of the Council had rejected Bottati’s petition, most likely because it was inadequately supported. On 5 April 1712, having received his lawyers’ summary of evidence demonstrating that force and fear exerted by his father had driven him into the friary, they approved his release from monastic vows. Assuming that he had been ordained during his years as a friar, he probably took up a career as a secular priest, as did most male religious who won their cases.

Son forced into monastery gets out 141

Francesco Antonio Bottati’s ordeal illustrates several common features of forced monachization. Elders employed harsh words, threats of financial and emotional alienation, physical assaults, and much else to thrust sons as well as daughters into monastic life. Few adolescents disinclined to become religious could resist such pressure. In most cases, ingrained ‘reverential fear,’ which persisted as long as their forcers remained on the scene, dissuaded them from appealing. That Bottati’s legal effort swung into high gear only after his father’s demise is no coincidence.


  • 1 This and the following quotations are from Archivio Segreto Vaticano, Congr. Concilio, Petitiones, 354, Turin, Bottati, Summarium, Rome: De Comitibus, 1712, fols Alr-A3v. Translated by Anne Jacobson Schutte.
  • 2 Ibid., fols A6v-A8r.

A mother tries to reform her son: Elisabeth of Braunschweig’s “Motherly Admonition” to her son Erich, 1545

by Jill Bepler

With one notable exception, Maria of Jever (1500-1575), there were no women in early modern Germany who ruled a territory in their own right. This stands in stark contrast to the number of widowed dynastic women who ruled territories as regents and co-regents for their sons until they came of age. These regencies could last for very extended periods and the transition of power from mother to son was not always without complications. The female regent had to come to terms with a marked change in her own status within the court system in which she was relegated to the position of dowager. One contemporary source stressed that this meant that from one day to the next her capacity to command and be obeyed was replaced by the mere right to request and an expectation that she would be treated with respect.

Many women regents had steered their territories through difficult periods of political or confessional strife and were proud of their achievements - women like Amalie Elisabeth of Hessen-Kassel (1602-1651), who was recognized as a skilful military strategist and political negotiator in the Thirty Years’ War. Elisabeth of Braunschweig-Lüneburg (1510-1558), also known as Elisabeth of Calenberg, was 15 years old when she married Erich of Braunschweig-Lüneburg (1470-1540). In 1538 the young duchess openly converted to the Lutheran faith. Two years later her husband died, and Elisabeth became regent of the territories of Calenberg-Göttingen which she ruled in the name of her son Erich, who was 12 years old at the time. Elisabeth introduced the Protestant Reformation into her territories and carried out a number of social and economic reforms aimed at improving the ruinous financial conditions left by her husband. The political and confessional situation in Germany in which Elisabeth handed over the reins of power to her son Erich in 1545 was highly unstable. Erich himself was a difficult and recalcitrant son, and Elisabeth was right in fearing that he might revert to the Catholic faith and undo her work of Reformation.

In Germany there was a tradition of ‘political testaments’ written by male rulers laying down their principles of government for their successors. It is in this tradition that the “Motherly Admonition,” a text written in the form of a manuscript letter from Elisabeth to her son Erich, should be seen. In 1545

A mother tries to reform her son 143 she set out on 392 small pages the moral, political and administrative advice which would make him a good ruler:

“Our, Elisabeth, by God’s grace born Margravine of Brandenburg etc., Duchess of Braunschweig and Lüneburg, widow, instruction and order, which from motherly affection and a true heart we have set out for the high born Prince Erich, Duke of Braunschweig and Lüneburg, our friendly beloved son, as a friendly and useful instruction for the beginning of his future rule, showing how he may direct and comport himself in the same in blessed manner towards God and in his worldly government towards all people. In the Year 1545.”'

In her preface Elisabeth stressed the value she attached to her manual of advice, which was why she had written it in her own hand. She stated that she expected it to be kept as a family heirloom and used not only by Erich but by successive generations of male rulers from their dynasty. Elisabeth clearly anticipated the problems which soon ensued by imploring her son to remember that she had sacrificed her youth and health to the good of his realm and his education and reminding him not to treat her disrespectfully or badly after his accession to power:

“Please note diligently that I would like to see you, my beloved child, warned about and protected from ruin and misfortune, both in eternity and in this life, and that I ... wish you well. Therefore, I hope that as a pious son you will follow your beloved mother in this [i.e., her advice] and be mindful of the fact that ... I have, both through my own person and through this written exhortation, conveyed to you what leads to godliness and princely welfare, ...”2

The ideal which Elisabeth projects in her text is the princeps christianus, the Christian prince guided by biblical example, which remained a mark of Lutheran political theory well into the seventeenth century. Elisabeth divides her text into 49 sections in which she touches on all aspects of government, all of which she underpins with biblical examples and citations. She begins with the most important articles of the Lutheran faith, exhorting Erich to personal piety and the upholding and enforcement of the Ten Commandments as the only good works leading to salvation. She attempts to bind him to the precepts of the Lutheran catechism and her own published church ordinance of 1542. She instructs him on baptism, communion, and prayer, and warns of the dangers which stem from religious radicalism and the Anabaptists, a movement he must suppress at all costs.

In a section entitled “What pious princely works pleasing to God consist in,” Elisabeth sets out ten precepts for Erich, the first of which is: “Consider God as great and majestic and yourself as a nothing.” She commands him “to bring comfort to, protect, nurture, and defend widows and orphans,” be a patron of the clergy, build up the school system, and ensure that the Ten Commandments and the catechism “are taught diligently to the young.”3 The sick and the poor should be his particular concern and he should punish vice severely and administer justice equitably.

Elisabeth’s instructions on his marriage express the contemporary view of the requirements of a good consort, above all her exemplary piety. Erich is warned that he must take a wife in order to avoid sinful relationships, and also that adultery will be punished with eternal damnation. On the other hand, Elisabeth warns of the dangers of excessive love in marriage, which can lead a ruler to neglect God’s will or set his wife up as an idol. In all matters, the wise Christian prince should seek the middle path: “And when God gives you a pious wife, do not despise her, but honor her as is her due; for an honest and virtuous wife brings honor to her husband’s household. Rule over her with love and reason and don’t be bitter towards her, but cherish her as your own body; ...”4

Elisabeth’s instructions on the running of the territory go into the greatest detail. She addresses the administration of monasteries, hospitals, courts, and the minting of coins. She advises her son on ways of finding good counsel, the necessity for care in forming alliances, and exerting moderation in taxation. She goes through the entire office structure of the court, giving advice on appointing good staff and implementing control mechanisms, from the councilors’ meetings to the stables and kitchens.

Elisabeth’s instructions to Erich did not fall on fruitful ground. He converted to Catholicism, tried to rid himself of his wife Sidonie of Saxony, and became a mercenary leader who spent most of his life abroad, neglecting his territories in northern Germany. Elisabeth herself died after years of impoverishment and resistance to Erich’s efforts to return the territory to Catholicism.


  • 1 The original manuscript was kept in the library at Königsberg, but was lost during the Second World War. The Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel has a certified transcription dating from 1823. The text was edited by Paul Tschackert, Herzogin Elisabeth von Munden: Die erste Schriftstellerin aus dem Hause Brandenburg und aus dem braunschweigischen Hause, ihr Lebensgang und ihre Werke, Berlin: Giesecke und Devrient, 1899, pp. 22-44, here p. 22. Translated by Jill Bepler.
  • 2 Ibid., p. 23.
  • 3 Ibid., p. 27.
  • 4 Ibid., p. 28.

Old age outside the bosom of the family: Elizabeth Freke of Norfolk (d. 1714)

by Lynn A. Botelho

One of the most enduring stories about the past is that families were always close-knit and loving, and that it was typical for three generations -grandparents, parents, and children - to happily and harmoniously co-exist around a single family fire. Then, like now, this was not always the case. The Remembrances of Elizabeth Freke, 1671-1714,' is an account of one old gentlewoman, a mother and grandmother, who was usually neglected by her husband, son, and grandson. As a result, she grew increasingly frustrated and bitter. After having nursed her husband through a long illness before his death in 1706, she lived out her final years in ill health and at the hands of thieving servants. Elizabeth’s family relations were a far cry from that warm and loving fireplace scene of our imaginations. Instead, her old age was mostly spent physically separated from her immediate family. Elizabeth’s account records what life could be like for the elderly who struggled with difficult familial relationships and who therefore had to live outside of the bosom of the family.

Elizabeth’s marriage to her husband, Percy Freke, had broken down, so they lived apart for years on end. In addition, she started to be in poor health by her 60s, and both her husband and her son ignored Elizabeth during the best of times and even when she was ill. When Elizabeth was sixty-one, she suffered an illness that confined her to her bedroom for more than two months: “In all which time neither my husband or son have binn soe kind to lett me heer a word from either of them, which has much aded to my greatt misery and sickness.”2

Elizabeth’s son would go years without visiting his mother. After a nearly seven-year absence, he snubbed his mother at church, so that Elizabeth concluded that he wanted her dead and his inheritance secured:

“And twas with the greatest of difficulty and the help of fowre servants I compassed to my church and misery I sate ther (and nott lessened to see my son sett frowning on me ther for an howr for I know nott whatt) (except itt were his feare of my coming alive home againe). This his cruell usuage of me gave me a greatt trouble, ... And afifter diner ..., I asked him iff hee had nott latly received mercyes enough from God: first from his deliverance by the severall tempest by sea..., and since thatt, his youngest son, John Redman, lay sick heer with me (and att my charge) allmost a month given over of the small pox; besids severall other mercyes received. His answer to me was I talked to him as iff he were butt eighteen years of age, ...”3

To her dismay, Elizabeth found that both her son and her grandson continued to ignore her, even when she was bedridden after her outing to the church:

“And since Sunday, which is now fowre days, my son hass gone by my chamber doore and never called on me to see how I did butt twice (and I soe very ill). My greatt and good God forgive hime and supportt unhappy mee, his wretched mother, ... The like was his eldest son Percy Freke dereicted to doe, who for above a week pased my chamber neer twenty times a day [and] never once call’d in to see mee, his grandmother.”4

Away from the nuclear family, the elderly were forced to rely upon their own resources or to call upon the charity of others. Being physically alone when in frail health was dangerous. Elizabeth knew she was vulnerable, writing: “I am confined to a chaire and helpless.”5 In 1710, she narrowly escaped being killed by a house fire:

“Fryday nightt, November 3d, I were sitting in my chamber all alone reading, when on a suden my head caught on fire and in three minits time burntt all my head close close [sic] to my haire. And I being all alone could nott gett them off or any body to me thatt it was Gods greatt mercy I was nott burntt to death, ...”6

As a gentlewoman, Elizabeth was wealthy enough to be able to hire servants to do what her family would not, but she knew, too, that she was at her servants’ mercy. When she feared she would die, she took what she regarded as the necessary precautions:

“I being very ill sentt for my cosin John Frek downe to me to settle my affaires and my will,... and to remove five hundred pounds of mine which lay in the house by me of which 1 expected every day being robed by my servants and other rogues iff I should dye - which I dayly expected, I were soe ill.”7

On another occasion, she found out “thatt my servantt John Preston was a rogue ... and thatt he had gott into my service under a falce cirtificate contrived with by my own maid Sarah Flowrs, who had lived with me above three years [and] was privy to itt and all this his theiffreys and rogeryes whilst with mee. ... 1 nott knowing the many severall things they had stole from me, haveing hardly gon cross my chamber for allmost two years and then with a hard shifft8 to see my house allmost gutted by this rogue and whore [her servant Sarah].”9

Another maid, whom she had cared for during a bout of smallpox, with “as much care ... as of a neere relation,” proved equally unsteady; when she recovered, “after neer all my care and charge, ... she run away.”10 Sadly for Elizabeth, neither kin or hired help provided her with steady care and comfort during her later years.

Because this handwritten book was written about Elizabeth by Elizabeth, we never learn how her tale ended. Did Elizabeth continue to worry about theft and runaways? Or did her son return to her during her dying days? We

Old age outside the bosom of the family 147 do not know. This remembrance draws our attention to the complexity of family life in the early modern past: Husbands might not have loved their wives, children their parents, and grandchildren their grandparents. Families could be every bit as fractured as some are today, and the elderly did not always receive the respect ordered by the Ten Commandments: ‘honor thy father and thy mother.’ What also emerges from Elizabeth’s account of her old age is the vulnerability and emotional strain that can accompany living alone and feeling helpless. In many ways, the life of Elizabeth Freke illustrates the many continuities between our world and the past.


  • 1 Raymond A. Anselment (ed.), The Remembrances of Elizabeth Freke, 1671-1714, Camden Fifth Series, 53 vols, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993-2017, vol. 18.
  • 2 Ibid., p. 76.
  • 3 Ibid., pp. 197-198.
  • 4 Ibid., p. 198.
  • 5 Ibid., p. 99.
  • 6 Ibid., p. 156.
  • 7 Ibid., p. 157.
  • 8 Great effort.
  • 9 Anselment (ed.), Remembrances of Elizabeth Freke, p. 159.
  • 10 Ibid., p. 194.
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