Dutiful wives, ordained roles
"The Lord God has wanted three things made right again before the Last Day: the ministry of the Word, government, and marriage" (Luther, in Ozment, 1983, p. 381).
Elliot (2007) identifies a double attitude towards marriage, lasting over a number of centuries, as, on the one hand, over-implicated in flesh and, on the other, as hallowed institution. In parallel, women are, according to Elliot (1999), prone to true vision and revelation (cf. the female mystic tradition) as much as to superstition and hence temptation. By the time of the Reformation there was a vast scholarship and theology of marriage, as well as debates on the nature of the female ("querelle des femmes"), with one late seventeenth-century English preacher (John Sprint) proposing timely "reparation": " 'tis but fair and just, that she, who hath been so greatly instrumental of so much Mischief and Misery to Man, should be actively engaged to please and comfort him" (quoted in Hester, 1992, p. 93).
Big questions, such as, "Was there a renaissance for women?", or "Was the Reformation good for women?" are difficult to answer, at least when posed in general terms, and Eales (1998) provides a succinct overview of the matter, referring to two kinds of broad historical narrative: on the one hand, a story of progress, of gradual emancipation of women from a feudal, medieval background and, on the other, a story of decline or regression, with a reassertion of patriarchal control, a "feminisation" of poverty with the advent of new urban economies, and so on. Ozment (1983) develops the former view, arguing that women did indeed find new allies and advocates, with humanist/Protestant critiques of the exaggerated clerical ideals of celibacy and the cloister, creating dramatic new, potentially positive spaces. That husband and wife eventually triumphed over monk and nun is, in his view, a major consequence of Reformation liberalisation. Many would concur and see in Protestant reforms the arrival of a more realist and "naturalised" concept of sexuality and its place within marriage (see Keeble's collection of contemporary documents/views, 1994). Roper (1989), however, in her studies of Augsburg, argues the reverse, suggesting a "conservative shift" with the Reformation, and that women became enclosed and oppressed within a newly confirmed claustrophobic family and moral system.
With the "progress story", one still has to account for waves of increased prosecution, if not widespread persecution, of women, whether it be the witches, the child-killers (infanticide), unruly women, or scolds (Underdown, 1985). Was a "crisis of order" mirrored by a crisis in gender relations, in the sixty years or so before the Civil War in England (Underdown, 1985)? Amussen (1985) supports this view, noting the emergence of new, strict versions of distinct, prescribed behaviour for women and men, wives and husbands. With an "anti-progress story", one equally has to account for the apparent rise, in spite of such persecutions and patriarchal control, of conditions for increased companionable and more equitable domestic relationships, paving the way also for a more privatised, freely contracted ideology of family life (Amussen, 1985; Stone, 1977).
Whatever else it did not do, the Reformation created new spaces and domains within which women could be effective and, no doubt, when one takes the longer view, both losses and gains are evident; hard to avoid, also, with a retrospective glance, is the tendency to see the "modern family" as hero, because of its eventual ascendancy (Houlbrooke, 2000; Sharpe, 1997). The reality on the ground was inevitably mixed, with family models based on the idea of a mini-commonwealth, with fathers representing the king, alongside many single female households (widows, sailors' wives, some poor women living together), punitive-shaming rituals directed against unruly women (e.g., the cucking stool, mocking rhymes), and women refusing to be underlings, being occasional leaders of food riots, empowered by membership of positive networks of female company, and so on (Capp, 1996).
What follows concentrates on Protestant, reformist ideals of womanhood in marriage in particular, not because of the definite existence of uniquely Protestant families, but because Protestants had so much to say and contribute in the shaping of new household ideologies, the marital state becoming, in theory at least, the regulative ideal for all virtuous Christians (Collinson, 2003). Not only this, but marriage and womanhood (indeed, also manhood, in a different way) were increasingly tied as related signifiers, "destinies", with a woman's presumed nature (e.g., her qualities of gentleness and yieldiness) well "suited" to its office.
Eales (1998) considers the influence of classical, Biblical, and medieval arguments concerning women, arguments that tend to slice the female world up in a particular way, "virgins, wives and widows, thus placing a central emphasis on the importance of marriage to their status" (p. 23). Eales acknowledges a problem: how can we know how influential was the abundance of scholarly, preacherly, or conduct writing on actual behaviour, any more than we can know the direct influence of Malleus or King James I's speculations on demonology on the actual persecution of witches? The ideal family, as represented by a plethora of Elizabethan and Stuart conduct books (values echoed and transmitted via clapbooks, ballads, fiction, and plays) may not have really existed, such texts being the self-justifying rhetoric of the new, marrying clerics. Perhaps this is the point, however, in that ideals are regulative principles influencing actual conduct, rather than its precise realisation.
Luther wrote extensively on marriage and, once he had overcome the monk in himself, became husband and father of six children. Collinson (2003) argues that, "Luther, above all theologians, knew that we live in our physicality and social relations, not in some segregated spirit zone" (p. 81). Luther believed marriage as institution was in need of reform, no less than the church itself, and complained that "marriage has fallen into awful disrepute". Not only this, but he questioned and challenged much contemporary anti-female popular prejudice or propaganda, double standards, as well as clerical corruption, and so on. Lutheran views on women and marriage are particularly interesting examples of the formulation of new regulative ideals that shifted the riverbed and river flow of social unconsciousness. Of the features he and other reformers most emphasised was promoting the estate of marriage, rescuing it not so much, or not only, from supposed Catholic denigration, but from being seen as inferior to the celibacy embodied in monastic life. In a pivotal "moment" of rearticulation, Luther defined marriage as the pre-eminent institution within which sexuality should be expressed, not only for the cultivation of honourable wives and daughters but for the ordering of male sexuality as well; in this way, the family becomes a positive "hospital" for lust, a suitable container, whilst monastic and priestly vows of chastity were condemned as impossible, undesirable, unnatural in the demands they placed on human beings (Karant-Nunn & Wiesner-Hanks, 2003); a naturalising of marriage (Leites, 1982). If society were truly to reflect Divine purpose, then marriage is God's chosen institution, households become "little convents", with marriage gaining reputation as demanding, spiritual vocation. Connectable to this were prevalent notions of a link or analogy between the structure of authority in society (e.g., comparisons of the king with father), and that within the well-constituted family.
Although some feminists have criticised this "rationalisation" and replacement, given ultimate expression by some Puritans (Hester, 1992), of (male) priest by (male) head of house, even of Pope displaced by State, Luther consciously sought a new paradigm of freedom and harmony between the sexes. For him, if Adam and Eve represented the first married couple, Adam (man) was not far behind Eve (woman) in terms of a propensity to sin. Strohl (2008) notes that Luther appears realistic, acknowledging the inevitability of struggle and fulfillment within marriage, justifying reasonable divorce, and acknowledging the need for reasonable agreement between parental wishes and those of potential couples—it is only the Devil who abhors harmony and wishes to come between husband and wife. In an interesting Renaissance notion of "gender complemtentarity", did the Reformation create (reinforce?) new polarities of influence- men as "public" and "political" figures, women as more "private", "domestic" beings, with women having "authority of the keys" (Brauner, 1995)? And was there a downside?; "the female assertiveness still tolerated in the Middle Ages gave way to silent submissiveness—at least ideally" (Brauner, 1995, p. 24).
How idealised was the Lutheran notion of marriage, as distinct from realistic, offering in principle a more charitable version of relationships and negotiation between couples? To Ozment (1983), the purpose of marriage was to stabilise individuals and society, "filling the land with homes and communities, laying foundations for household and government" (p. 8). Luther was certainly fulsome in his appreciation of the role of ambivalence within marriage, which if resolved helps end loneliness and temptation. One way of seeing these supposed ideals, is to regard them as articulating problems and solutions, helping form new hegemonic versions of good conduct, "pulling" individuals and communities in particular, desired directions, such as woman being man's "helpmeet" (Amussen, 1985).
Amongst emergent ideals of womanhood, contained within the excellence of the institution of marriage, were those of being docile, lovingly gentle, "restrained in feeling and submissive in action" (Leites, 1982, p. 389). Consider a few details of the courtship of German couple Lucas Behaim (1587-1648) and Anna Pfinzing, reconstructed from family records by Ozment (1999), from Nurnberg—a cultural centre (it was referred to as the "Venice of the North") and the first city to officially adopt the Reformation (1525).
Fresh from his "bachelor journeying", Lucas fell in love with twenty-one-year-old Anna. Their exchange of private vows a year before the public ones, represented a considerable risk, especially to the urban upper classes, for whom "greater discretion and discipline were expected" (Ozment, 1999, p. 14); private vows were often suspected as being a pretext for sexual intimacy and, when proved, such intimacy could lead to public shaming, fines, even imprisonment. The letters between them give an indication of how they managed longings and of the terms within which "cultivated" feminine and masculine qualities were regarded and interpellated. "Precious, virtuous, kindest, beloved, trusted Maiden bride ... apart from your company, I have, praise God, no other unfulfilled desire or need" (in Ozment, 1999, pp. 18-19). Fretting over lack of certitude, whilst also being convinced of their love, as sure as his devotion to God, Lucas seeks assurances from Anna, anxious in particular that she overcome her "maidenly modesty" and be bolder in her expression of feeling.
In a moment of weakness, whilst separated again, Lucas requests a gift that he soon realises might be seen as "coarse and shameless", "a portrait of your beautiful physical form, so that I might, from time to time, know true consolation and singular joy ." (Ozment, 1999, p. 20). At times lusting, Lucas is tormented by his conscience and worried that his request might be read in purely carnal terms. He later admonishes himself, denying that he wanted the portrait for any "frivolous reason or passtime" (p. 29).
At a later point, as preparations for their marriage are underway, Anna moves to live with her pregnant sister. Lucas is delighted for Anna to be exposed to laudable "soronal service", which will serve her well in their future child-rearing. Their marriage proved successful and they had six children. Interestingly, in the light of the preceding discussion, there is reference to a less happy outcome, concerning a relative's illness and impotency, which is attributed to a witch (a common accusation at the time), the reverse of the godly female.
If the revolt-prone or wanton female, or the scold, are abjected figures, the demur but confident housekeeper and loyal housewife are the ideals. This did not exonerate husbands and there was cultural ambiguity between the degree to which a woman could act independently, guiding aberrant, wayward husbands, and her not being seen as a "woman on top" and thus usurping natural lines of authority. Similarly, if the drunkard, ridiculed, or cuckolded husband are abjected figures, the strong head and spiritually stable man is the ideal. Did such notions influence the evolution of sexuality itself? We have noted Luther's notorious insistence that man is naturally stronger, wiser, and that "natural womanhood" meant desiring of the states of marriage and motherhood, a desire that could reinforce women's sexual submissiveness. On the other hand, it could be argued that the Lutheran notion pulled women's sexuality away from its very association with "greater sin" and the unbounded carnality that has been noted in the discussion of witchcraft. Was this the story of another rearticulation, from women as inherently lustful/sinful to women representing "cultivated" (although it is equally assumed, natural) standards of modesty and gentleness?
Luther had much to say on witches as well as women, living in morbid fear of the former and justifying their persecution. Karant-Nunn (2003) attempts to capture something of the polarities within which he and other reformers might have thought about the two figures: "witches destroy, rather than sustain; they scold, curse or cast spells rather than be silent; they are lustful, independent and assertive, rather than chaste, pious and obedient" (p. 230). Yet the message is directed at both sexes, as the witch altered thresholds of shame in society, "frightening both man and woman" (Brauner, 1995).
Concepts of "social discipline" can help to conceptualise the operation of such ideas and the influence they had on actual conduct and subjective perception/experience. One big Reformation message, for example, was the need for couples to assume responsibility, to approach the tasks of marriage as serious ethical challenges, and, by implication, behave as though the home was the "cradle of citizenship". In this respect, with all its attendant hierarchies, the period promoted a version of "new" men as much as women (Collinson, 2003). All religious authorities wanted people to live in a proper and godly way, and "confessionalisation", in its varied forms (e.g., counter-reformist, Lutheran, Calvinist), promoted the external and internal social discipline to achieve such lives and to find within them the appropriate placing and meeting of human sexual desire.
The first part of this chapter explored social unconsciousness as discursive production and imaginary space. The sheer variation and indeterminate creativity of social imaginaries is balanced by their stability over time and the force of tradition. In complex societies one should really talk in terms of a number of overlapping social imaginarles, in the plural. There are productive contests, often stark contradictions, within social imaginaries between movements of "tradition" and "innovation", or to use the language of Husserlian phenomenology, between "sedimentation" and "reactivation" (Laclau, 1990; Ricoeur, 1984b). With "sedimentation" there is a layering or "forgetting" of earlier, "original" meanings, and with reactivation, an attempt to think again, anew. The distinction starts to merge, as not everything can be reactivated (assimilated) within a given culture—sometimes there is "no turning back"— and, equally, once new things are in place they often transmute into new traditions.
The case of early modern, European witchcraft, in all its diversity, offers fascinating insights into the formation of a social matrix that ordered the distribution of human kinds, the forces of the anti-Christ and the Kingdom of God. As abject beings at the margins of the social, the figure of "witches" condensed a veritable universe of discourse and power, which could not have been predicted from preceding eras, even if some many earlier discourses and symbols (e.g., of women's nature, heretical crimes, the ambivalence of magic) migrated and were rearticulated. Its eventual decline, like that of the category "devil", in the late seventeenth century (although it took until 1736 for the English
Witchcraft Act to be repealed; Bostridge, 1996), was equally hard to predict, except that its anchors within the social imaginary had long since loosened to the point of irrelevance and eventual unthinkability; it should be noted that, as Trevor-Roper (1978) puts it, "No mere scepticism, no mere 'rationalism' could have driven out the old cosmology. A rival faith was needed ..." (p. 110). By then, a very different kind of social world, with new symbols, myths and guiding ideals, was in ascendancy.
The analysis of changes in marital and gender ideals similarly illustrates the role of gradual, often subtle, changes in the composition of social unconsciousness. Some Lutheran innovations reactivated and reinscribed older values (e.g., surrounding the place of marriage in society, notions pertaining to the distribution of female/male duties; in the words of one authority, man's calling was to manage things "abroad, and women's with matters at home—'he without doors, she within'"; quoted in Thomas, 2009, p. 21), whilst creating new ones alongside. With relative secularisation, paradoxically alongside rearticulations of faith, there was increasing emphasis placed on new "disciplines" of self, and, for Puritans in particular, a "spiritualisation of the household" as the most basic unit of discipline. As we shall see in the discussion of the Reformation in the next chapter, this was a remarkable attempt to reforge lines of authority and spiritual responsibilities. As for the family-to-be, Stone (1977) has described critical changes from values and practices of "distance, deference and patriarchy" to "affective individualism", with a resultant intensification of affective bonding within the nuclear family.